Since COVID-19 arrived like a storm in Michigan, my day job has pretty much consumed my every waking moment, Monday through Friday. With the exception of very few Saturdays and Sundays, however, I have vehemently guarded my weekends as time for me, from sunup till sundown, to focus on activities that I love or need to take care of, including … especially … time with my husband. We go for long walks each night unless I’m at work super late. He reads me the latest headlines of the day to get me caught up on the political shit-show that’s been brewing. He and his dad built me a sweet little vegetable garden, and I filled four large City Pickers, four Grow Bags and every available garden space with additional goods – yellow peppers, Thai peppers, banana peppers, shishito peppers, San Marzano and Amish Paste tomatoes, grape tomatoes, tomatillos, red and yellow onions, chives, shiso leaves, lavender, basil, cilantro, oregano, dill, lettuce, beets, eggplant, cabbage, broccoli, kale, cantaloupe, parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme. We planted three Yoshino cherry trees, a fig tree and a peach tree. I canned tons of jams and chutneys, salsas, pickles, relishes and sauces. I’ve been baking bread, making homemade tortilla from masa and learning new recipes – my favorite is Bang Bang Beef, which is mouth-watering delicious; and I’m in the middle of knitting a tried-and-true one-armed wrap called The Marley. And wishing I could play with clay.
Since fall 2019, Dane and I have been working hard to manage our home, repairing broken things and getting rid of junk that’s accumulated in the basement over the course of our 20 years in what, when we moved in, was a brand-new house. Most people have a junk drawer. Having raised four children and accommodating all of our various interests, we have a junk basement. Yup, the whole thing.
I decided to move my pottery studio into the basement while COVID-19 ravaged our county and executive orders precluded public gatherings.
But junk can be found throughout the house. Therefore, in early spring, I tackled my closet and purged long unused items and donated two shopping carts mounded with gently used business suits, dresses, casual and active wear and shoes. There was none of that self-introspection as to whether items brought me joy, just a lot of sorting, folding, chucking and dusting. As a reward, Dane installed a lovey closet chandelier and a matching chandelier in our bedroom. I hired a sustainable junk hauler to dispose of two old recliners, an old coffee table, Dane’s sweet Grandma Pugsley’s older-than-the-hills side table with an attached lamp, old lamps, old pieces of wood from an old Ikea bed (forgot to give him an old broken sewing machine, old chest of drawers, old plastic fencing and other old, useless items). He even took our piles of cardboard boxes and styrofoam that we were saving for recycling centers.
In late May, Dane and I successfully (finally!) moved my KM1027-3 Skutt Kiln (which I’d purchased used on New Year’s Day 2019 from a divorcee in Ypsilanti who was moving to The Villages in Florida) from our second-floor office into my basement studio and hooked it up without much ado … the bonus is, it worked, despite having been disassembled and idle for nearly two years and our going by feel to put it back together. By June, we’d done all the necessary prep work to allow our contractor to install my Utilitwin sink, Bailey Air Cleaner system and my Skutt’s Environvent2 system, only to have him go completely dark after all that work. Missing. In. Action.
I get it – COVID-19 happened, and suddenly the construction industry, like many other businesses, was forced to close, and as soon as our governor slowly reopened the state, all the contractors had to catch up on backlogged projects. Dane reached out by email, phone and text. No response. We figured he’d say, “We’re three months behind, but we can get to you in September or October” or a “Yeah, we’re not interested.” Maybe something happened to him? Maybe his business didn’t survive the shutdown? Maybe he got COVID-19? Maybe … well, anything is possible, and it’s all very unnerving.
Later in May my sister and Denver Daughter (Hännah) visited. They descended on my kitchen like Marie Kondo. My husband and kids mostly stayed out of the way, because it was kind of scary. I dropped $1,000 on new shelving units, large storage bins, small storage containers, shelf organizers, drawer organizers, pullout racks for cupboards and cleaning supplies.
My two LA daughters – Los Angeles Daughter Jenny and Lansing Area Daughter Sachi – assembled and installed the shelves and the drawer organizers, and everything had a place. We sorted each adult offspring’s refrigerator and pantry items in their respective bins. The countertop was completely cleared of any evidence of life. Seldom-used Chinaware was stored; anything that was chipped or faded was tossed (Jenny objected and reclaimed them for herself) or replaced. We sorted into storage, donation, recycling bins or the Granger (Dumpster) whatever we laid eyes or hands on. Expired dry and canned goods were tossed, beans and dried fruit were poured out of torn bags into glass containers. This, my sister proclaimed, was my birthday present, and I was inspired, thrilled and exhausted.
In June, Dane and his dad built me a small but charming vegetable garden, and I filled it – along with four City Pickers, four jumbo-sized Grow Bags and huge old pots – with lettuce, broccoli, kale, cabbage, dill, cantaloupe, cilantro, chrysanthemum, chives, lavender, basil, shiso plants, green and wax beans, sweet peas, green peppers, shishito peppers, Thai peppers, banana peppers, red and yellow onions, eggplant, grape, San Marzano and Amish Paste tomatoes, tomatillos, parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme. We gave the Magnolia tree a much-needed pruning. We battled deer, chipmunks, groundhogs, rabbits, cabbage worms, scale, blackspot, slugs, grubs and bugs of every kind.
I grew pink geraniums and vines, and the family deck was a welcome refuge. I started a fairy garden in a shady area on our property. One day, I hope to have grandchildren who’ll enjoy it on hot summer days. Throughout the summer months, I canned jams (strawberry, blueberry, peach, fig), chutneys (fig and onion), sauces (tomato, peach habanero), salsas (peach, salsa verde), relishes and dill pickles. They now fill some of the shelves in our basement and our bellies. Additionally, we’ve enjoyed fresh-from-the-garden vegetables.
I learned to make homemade tortillas from masa; took turns making dinner with my husband, son, daughter; learned to make Bang Bang Beef (so delicious), spicy vegetarian burritos and honed my bread-making skills – enough to rationalize the purchase of a bread lame.
We’re still looking for an electrician, HVAC professional or general contractor who can install my 200-lb. air filtration system and EnviroVent. I’ll now add to that list a gas stove. There’s no shortage of things that need to be taken care of (and I haven’t even begun waxing about my transit job yet, which is normally quite demanding. COVID-19 has amped up the demand quotient exponentially).
In September we planted three Yoshino cherry trees, a fig tree and a peach tree. We’ll need to dig up a dead maple seedling and care for a mulberry tree/bush, which we translated from the vegetable garden. We cleared dead brush and suffocating frost grape vines from hawthorn that grows around the fairy garden.
Last weekend, I started preparing my vegetable gardens for winter. Tomatoe vines were cut back, unless they were still producing fruit. City Pickers and terra-cotta pots were emptied and disinfected. I gutted Sachi’s old playhouse, which her grandpa lovingly built when she was about 5 years old. She refused to use it, because of the creepy-crawlies in the dark places, so I use it as an adorable garden shed. I recycled a bunch of old plastic containers that once held potted plants, organized my shovels and rakes, swept out all the leaves and brush, and added them to our compost pile; rerolled landscaping and hardware cloth, and rolls of edging. Before the first snowfall, we’ll wash the house, clean the gutters and, likely, find more things that need tending.
Life is a balancing act. COVID-19 makes achieving balance so much more challenging, but we’re learning that we can achieve it if we focus and remain disciplined. With my sink installed, I’m back in my studio, making pots and goddesses on order for old friends and new, for my children and my family. I used to spend hours and days on end in my studio. Now, I get up in the wee hours when the household is still fast asleep, quietly slip downstairs, turn on the radio to listen to news, a podcast or music, and immerse myself for a few hours in clay work. Then, as my honey or kids start to stir, I wrap up and spend the rest of the day with them.
We remain safely masked and isolated, completely avoiding those who do not reside with us. COVID-19 isn’t going anywhere anytime soon and, given that the Michigan supreme court has challenged Big Gretch’s (our governor) executive powers, we’ll take extra precautions to stay and keep others safe. Doing the things we’ve been doing and, in the process, rediscovering our peace, joy, happiness and love is our way of shooting COVID-19 the bird.
So, from this old Crackin’ Crow, f*ck you, COVID-19 and the horse you rode in on.