Taking Stock: One Year into The Pandemic

Here we are, one year into the pandemic. Other bloggers are noting this anniversary and rightly so. Covid-19 is one of the seminal events of our lifetimes, affecting not only states, regions, or certain countries but also the entire world.

Did I see it coming? Yes, I did. Starting in January 2020, I was keeping close track of where the virus was and how fast it was spreading. When Covid-19 left China at the end of that month, I knew it would travel easily to the rest of the world. Planes, trains, and automobiles became friends of the virus. (Click here for NBC’s timeline of the pandemic.)

In February, I started preparing. I can smugly report that I stocked up on toilet paper and other essentials that became nearly impossible to find. We put up plastic shelving in my husband’s office, and the room soon came to resemble a grocery store. I like to think I wasn’t hoarding and instead was stock piling, but I know there can be a fine line between the two.

What I hadn’t anticipated was how long the pandemic was going to last. In my naivety, I expected Covid-19 to be gone by summer, much like the seasonal flu. How wrong I was. Despite what certain politicians initially wanted us to believe, Covid-19 is no seasonal flu. Instead, it is a new and deadly virus that our bodies are unprepared for.

The first week of March, Clif and I went into a personal lock-down. How lucky we are to have our own modest but snug home and pensions that  cover the necessities of life.  We could easily hunker down and stay safe.

But our eldest daughter Dee lives in New York City, which soon become one of the epicenters of the pandemic. Day and night, ambulances rushed patients to the hospitals, and in the background we could hear sirens wailing, one after another, when we spoke to her on the phone.

Again, luck was with our family. Despite having plenty of opportunities to be exposed to Covid-19, Dee, along with the rest of her office, somehow dodged the bullet. More good fortune: She can do her job from her own apartment. Sometime in March 2020, Dee’s office allowed everyone to work from home and has continued to do so.

Still, we worried terribly about her, and many is the time I wished Dee were with us in Winthrop instead of by herself in a tiny apartment in Brooklyn. But that woman has fortitude in spades and has weathered the pandemic with courage and resourcefulness.

Ditto for our North Carolina kids, Shannon and her husband Mike. North Carolina, so far away from Maine, was another Covid-19 hotspot, but Shannon and Mike were able to work from their apartment much of the time and thus far have not contracted this dreadful disease.

Hoo-boy! Worrying from afar is no fun. At all.

What to say about the rest of year? Holidays spent lonely and alone. Zoom calls serving as visits. Socially-distanced gatherings with friends on the patio. Masks, an essential accessory.

On a national level, it has been nothing less than a surreal experience as we watched politicians lie and deny and make a bad situation ever so much worse. You all know whom I’m talking about. History will not judge them kindly even if today they are still bloviating and lying and in the news.

This country endured a nail-biting election, a big lie about the outcome, a beautiful if subdued inauguration of a new president who has hit the ground running and is doing his best to get the country back on track.

Then, the assault on the Capitol. With horror and grief, we watched on the news as this horrible event happened in real time. Another impeachment followed by more lies and an acquittal.

What. A. Year.

However, there have also been bright spots. Essential workers—doctors, nurses, grocery store clerks, farmers, bakers, teachers, and many others—kept society running, often at great risk to themselves. Building on past research of other coronaviruses, scientists from many countries worked together and raced to find vaccines for Covid-19. And by gum they have. The roll-out has not been smooth. How could it be when our goal is to vaccinate the world? But great progress is being made.

Technology has been a blessing, a way to stay in touch with loved ones.

And you, my blogging friends, have also been a blessing. Near and far, you have helped keep me connected and sane.

I will end with this song by R.E.M. Oddly enough, despite this crucible of a year, I do feel fine.

The Return of Snow-Gauge Clif, the First Week of March 2021

Long-time readers of Notes from the Hinterlands will know what March brings to central Maine—the return of Snow-Gauge Clif.  Each week until the snow is gone, usually sometime the end of April, my husband, Clif, will venture forth with his trusty red yard stick to record the melt rate.

Not to put too fine a point on it, but by the time March rolls around, even Mainers who like winter—guilty as charged!—are ready for the snow to melt and for spring flowers to start blooming. But in northern New England, Winter is no hurry to make way for Spring.  We just have to wait. And wait. And wait some more.

So without further ado, here is Snow-Gauge Clif, measuring the snow the first week of March 2021.  When this picture was taken, it was raining, and there was about a foot of snow on the ground.

Here is Clif in the front yard.

And then in the backyard.

We always hope the snow will be gone by April 22, which just happens to be our youngest daughter’s birthday.

  • Although I am confirmed homebody, this time of year my thoughts turn to places that are warm and free of snow. “Island in the Sun,” by Weezer, exactly captures my longing to escape March in Maine. (As I write, the rain has stopped, an Arctic wind is blowing, and the temperature, with the wind chill, approaches 20 below zero. And that’s Fahrenheit, friends. Plus we have lost our power.)

Friday Favorites: A Chinese New Year Card, Call My Agent, Leon Bridges

A few days ago, I received another unexpected treat in the mail—how lucky am I?—this time from my blogging friend Ju-lyn of All Things Bright and Beautiful. She sent me a Chinese New Year’s card, all the way from Singapore, along with two lovely bookmarks made by “crafty older daughter.” What nimble fingers crafty older daughter has.

Such a delight! Thank you, Ju-Lyn. The card is on the metal bulletin board by my desk, where all I have to do is glance to my right to see  the jaunty lanterns and the impressionistic market. And thank you crafty older daughter. The bookmarks, ready for action, are on my nightstand, next to my TBR pile of books.

On Netflix, Clif and I have been watching—all right, binging—a delightful series, Call My Agent (Dix pour Cent in French).  Set in Paris, the show is about ASK, a company of agents and their assistants that works with promotes, soothes, and takes care of actors. The agents and assistants are quirky, competitive, and flawed without being hateful. Famous French actors—Juliette Binoche, Isabelle Huppert—make hilarious guest appearances. Sometimes the episodes are laugh-out-loud funny, and sometimes they are moving as Call My Agent explores issues that actors, especially women, must face. If you love movies, especially French cinema, then this is a series to watch. As Arlette, one of the agents, notes, “When things are getting you down, there’s always the cinema.”

Yes, there is.

Now onto music! I am a huge fan of R & B, and Leon Bridges, only twenty-six when this Tiny Desk Concert was filmed in 2015, seems to be channeling those who came before him, especially Sam Cooke. Music for the ages.

Here are some favorites and simple pleasures from other blogging friends:

Ju-lyn, of All Things Bright and Beautiful, features a gorgeous pineapple cake that is also a work of art.

Thistles and Kiwis features, along with mouth-watering food, the fabulous Botanic Gardens, which are within walking distance of where she lives.

Piglet in Portugal has many things to smile about: a new website, a new book that identifies wild flowers in her local area, and weight loss.

 

Shadows in the Backyard

Yesterday was a glorious winter day—sunny, bright, and warm with a hint that spring might be on the way. Before making soup for our supper and doing a bit of decluttering down cellar, I headed outside to see what was going on in the backyard. The weather was so warm—at least to this Mainer—that no gloves were needed. Or wanted.

Immediately, I was struck by the shadows on the snow.

The broad sweep of blue grey, in the shade, at the far end of the yard,

the wisp of a tiny evergreen tip that had fallen into the snow,

the solid square of the bird feeder favored by the cardinals,

the hook for our hummingbird feeders, tucked down cellar until late spring,

the bulky outline of trees punctuated by the slim slats of the fence at the edge of the woods,

and finally me, with a wave of my hand, to blogging friends near and far.

 

Friday Favorites: Donuts, A New Yorker Piece, Tiny Desk

At the top of this week’s list of favorites is a bag of Mrs. Dunster’s Bakery Donuts we bought at our local supermarket. Once a week, I allow myself a treat day, and for me, a donut connoisseur from way back, there are few treats better than a donut. In all my long years of eating donuts, I have never had  commercial cake donuts better than the ones made by Mrs. Dunster’s.  I will even go one step further: Few local bakeries make better cake donuts than Mrs. Dunster’s does. They have the satisfying heft, tang, and taste of homemade donuts, that special je ne sais quo that is often missing even from locally made donuts.

But here comes the bad news. Mrs. Dunster’s Bakery is located in New Brunswick, Canada, and Maine is the only state in the nation where you can get these nuggets of deliciousness. Maine might be a small, poor, remote state, north of north in the lower 48, but dang we have a good source of commercial donuts readily available at our local supermarkets. Best of all, these donuts freeze beautifully. And a good thing, too, because as much as I love donuts, I am not about to eat a whole bag in one day. While these donuts might be fresh, they are not going to last a whole week in the bread drawer without going dry. So into the freezer they went, where they will wait for future treat days.

Now for a literary pleasure. In this week’s New Yorker, I came across Rivka Galchen’s excellent personal history essay “Better Than a Balloon,” in which she describes what it’s been like to have lived for ten years in a decidedly untrendy neighborhood in New York City, near Port Authority and Penn Station. As someone who has been to both these places many times, I can vouch for the truthfulness of Galchen’s descriptions of the sleaze and the shabbiness of the area. And yet this neighborhood—where people work, live, shop, and eat—is also full of vivid life, a community even, where much is made of Galchen’s young daughter when the two go out and about.

“Better than a Balloon” is New Yorker writing at its finest. Galchen expertly weaves in the personal with her observations of people and place. We get a sense of her and her daughter and this dirty but dear neighborhood that she has called home for a decade. It is a long piece, and I was sorry to come to the end. How often does that happen?

In the United States, February is Black History Month, and from the NPR website, I learned that “NPR Music’s Tiny Desk series will celebrate Black History Month by featuring four weeks of Tiny Desk (home) concerts and playlists by Black artists spanning different genres and generations each week.”

Here is the fabulous Meshell Ndegeocello—quiet, powerful, honest, poetic.

 

Favorites and small pleasures from other bloggers:

From Thistles and Kiwis, an adorable cat puzzle for Valentine’s Day.

From All Things Bright and Beautiful, visual Valentine’s Day treats in Singapore.

From Change is Hard, jaunty daffodils, which always brings a smile.

Spicy Bean Soup for a Cold Winter’s Night

In Maine, notorious for its long stretches of cool and sometimes downright cold weather, we can eat soup eight months out of the year. (If June is rainy and cool, the way it traditionally has been, then make that nine months.)

Fortunately, Clif and I love soup, and we make a big pot at least once a week, which lasts the two of us for several nights. We have many different recipes, which we make in rotation, and this means we have a variety of flavors to enjoy. We are never bored with soup.

Warm, nourishing, filling, frugal, there is so much to like about soup, not the least of which is that it can accommodate many different diet requirements and tastes—vegan, vegetarian, meat-lover, low-carb, low-cal, lower sodium. As an incredible bonus, soup is one of the few dishes that actually tastes better the next day. And the day after that.  Finally, soup is a forgiving medium, well suited for improvisation and seat-of-the-pants cooking. (Yes, that is my style.)

Last night, I made a spicy bean soup, good enough to serve to family and friends. I look forward to the days when we can gather around the table again, and talk about books, politics, movies, television, nature, gardening, and other interesting things. A crusty bread would go perfectly with this soup and so would a green salad with a homemade vinaigrette. For dessert, baked apples with a bit of vanilla ice cream.

Blogging friends, I wish you could join us. Friends who live nearby…after the pandemic! Clif and I are planning to host soup nights on a regular basis.

Here is the basic recipe, which includes kidney beans, peppers, and mushrooms. After that, you could add ground beef, ground chicken, veggie crumbles, Beyond Beef, meat sausage, or veggie sausage. After the broth, beans, and veggies simmered, we added a cup textured vegetable protein (TVP) and a cup of Israeli couscous, both of which gave the soup a satisfying bulk.

Spicy Bean Soup

Ingredients

  • 2 Tablespoons of oil
  • 1 medium onion, diced
  • 3 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 4 cups of broth
  • 2 cups of water
  • 1 (28 oz) can of diced tomatoes, including liquid
  • 6 cups of cooked kidney beans—4 (15 oz) cans
  • 1 cup mushrooms, chopped
  • 1 cup sweet peppers, diced
  • 2 tablespoons of tomato paste
  • 1 tablespoon of chili powder
  • 1 teaspoon of cumin
  • 1/2 teaspoon of oregano
  • 1/2 teaspoon of coriander
  • 1/2 teaspoon of salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
  • Soy sauce, to taste—I just splash a bit in
  • Add ins: cooked ground beef or chicken, TVP, pasta, rice, couscous, whatever you have on hand or strikes your fancy

Instructions

  1.  Heat the 2 tablespoons of oil in large stockpot. Sauté onions for 5 to 7 minutes. Add garlic and sauté for a minute or so. Add broth, water, tomatoes, kidney beans, mushrooms, peppers, tomato paste, and spices, including soy sauce. (If using ground meat, add now.) Simmer for 40 minutes. Taste and add more spices, if so desired.
  2. Ten minutes before serving, add TVP, crumbles, couscous, or pasta. Simmer until done.

 

 

 

Friday Favorites: Fudge, A Tiny Desk Mug, and the Luminous Alicia Keys

An unexpected gift came in the mail yesterday—a box of fudge from Sweet Tooth Fudge. I have long been a fudge enthusiast, and Sweet Tooth Fudge, right here in Winthrop, makes some of the best. Ever. This treat was sent by Shane Malcolm Billings, the much beloved former Adult Services Librarian of our town’s library. On the enclosed card, Shane wrote that he was sorry to learn of Sherlock’s passing and hoped the treat would provide some comfort during a sad time.

How very thoughtful! I really miss our punk of a cat and was moved by Shane’s lovely gesture. Many, many thanks, Shane. And the fudge is utterly delicious.

As for music…I have another Tiny Desk Concert to share. Are you surprised? I am so keen about Tiny Desk Concerts that for Christmas Mike and Shannon got me my very own Tiny Desk Mug, which I regularly use for the many cups of tea I drink during the day.  This mug, sturdy and large, is now one of my favorites, and I use it all the time.

Anyway, this week’s Tiny Desk Concert features the luminous Alicia Keys, who combines an astonishing musicality with warmth and mindfulness. What a musician!

 

Here are some favorites from other blogging  friends:

Thistles and Kiwis, once again, showcases some delicious food she ate this week.

Ju-Lyn at All Things Bright and Beautiful celebrates Chinese New Year during this time of the pandemic: “In the spirit of togetherness, we will usher in the Lunar New Year in the best way we can.” Happy Chinese New Year to you and yours, Ju-Lyn!

A blog about nature, home, community, books, writing, the environment, food, and rural life.