Winter Quarantine Kitchen

When they were closing the old grocery building to open the new one next door they didn’t want to bring any of the old food over, so they marked everything down to get rid of it. They marked the seafood down to criminally low prices. I swung by the seafood counter after my shift on the last day and picked up the last piece of wild sockeye salmon and a lb of wild shrimp. I also stocked up on batteries. The salmon was just beautiful. No fishy smell and the piece was a deep rich red color. I was giddy with excitement. I hadn’t eaten seafood all year! It wasn’t exactly on the menu in penny pinching pandemic times. My mother and grandmother had bought me canned salmon in my birthday grocery boxes back in august and i savored every last bite of it but this was going to be next level deliciousness; fresh fish. Fresh sockeye fish. 🤤 It was absolutely the tastiest fish i have ever savored in my life. It was a fresh and beautiful piece of fish but i am fully certain that the bulk of the flavor was born out of appreciation during this weird year. I had some watermelon, an avocado, and some radishes i had baked sprinkled in lemon juice from imperfect foods so i made a little meal of it. I had a shrimp recipe that was to die for; Smoked paprika citrus shrimp. You marinate them in this smoked paprika and orange juice liquid mixture with the shell on and a slit cut into it. Then, you put the shrimp on a cookie sheet and spoon more marinade over them. You put a little pat of vegan butter on each shrimp and pop it in the oven, taking it out once to spoon more marinade on them, and then finish cooking them. It comes out so sweet and buttery and smoky and its wonderful. Well, i had neither orange juice nor smoked paprika so the shrimp would have to be done with lemon and curry powder instead. It was not legendary but i loved it for the sheer fact that it was shrimp and i couldn’t believe i had gotten them at 3.99 a lb. The next picture was me using up the last of my mother’s home-made soup stock powder. There wasn’t enough to make a soup of any decent size but there were a couple more spoonfuls in the jar. I put the remainder of the powder in the liquid when i was cooking soaked chickpeas and brown rice. It came out so good! The herbs and spices in the soup stock flavored the rice and gave it that taste as if it had been cooked in chicken broth even though there was no chicken involved. One day imperfect foods offered a bag of mock chicken chunks made from vegetable protein. I bought them. They had a good texture; kind of like dense chicken but very little flavor of any kind. I had been to my friend’s house for thanksgiving and she had sent me home with the left over bok choy which was amazing, caramelized in its own juices in their oven. I had a jar of italian herb pasta sauce from imperfect foods. I also had some leftover rice. I put the bok choy, rice, and mock chicken in a skillet and cooked it in some of the italian herb pasta sauce. It was to die for. That same friend gifted me a bunch of her thyme before the hard freeze of winter set in and killed off the last of her herb garden. I was delighted to get my hands on some fresh herbs and used the thyme in everything i thought of that might tolerate or benefit from its flavor. I put it on some potatoes in the skillet and they came out amazing. Fresh thyme smells so good when cooking! Imperfect foods began offering acorn squash mid-winter. It was an absolute treasure and they always arrived in pristine condition. I bought one or two every week. The key to cooking a good winter squash is to rub it in oil so it wont burn, turn it face down when cut in half, and bake it for a long time on a low heat. The best thing to do is caramelize it in its own sugars rather than add extra sweetness in the form of sugar or honey. If done right the squash will come out of the oven with a nice brown caramelized side where it touched the cookie sheet and the flesh will be sweet and hearty. Living on a homestead, especially during a pandemic, you learn to use every little bit of food available to you. This year, not a squash came through the door where i did not roast the seeds. It doesnt matter what kind of squash it is. The seeds can be roasted and eaten. I pick out all the squash strings that can make the seeds soggy and prevent them from crisping up if left in. I spread the seeds on a cookie sheet, drizzle with olive oil, and sprinkle with salt and spices. I watch them closely in the oven. It only takes around 10 + minutes and they are a golden color. They come out crispy like chips. Then i scrape them up with a spatula and they are ready to eat.

Why CBD Should be Considered as a Viable Alternative to the Conventional Western Medicine Approach:

I think the image makes the case for itself but i’ll explain anyway. Without CBD i can’t get out of bed. I took one dose of CBD this morning and then sat down and made this list. It was a list of everything i needed to do today around the property. Every one of those things crossed off is something that got done. It got done thanks to CBD.

I use the cbd isolate powder to treat pain, which in turn helps with insomnia because if i’m not in pain i can sleep. I use the full complex cbd oil with thc removed to treat anxiety. It was a side effect i discovered when i was trying to treat pain. Wouldn’t you like it if instead of “possible anal leakage, stroke, kidney failure, or death” you were hearing the commercial announcer list “feelings of wellbeing” as the known side effect of the medication you were about to take? I have tried conventional anti-anxiety medications before. Though i still have some for emergencies, i dare not take them because i worked in a facility in the past where i got to see what happened to the people who had been given this same medication that i had by the state for decades and you know what? They all developed “parkinson’s-like symptoms”. I decided i would rather live with my anxiety than end up like them. The price for taking those anti-anxiety meds looked pretty steep to me. The shorter term side effect was memory loss. When i took those anti-anxiety meds it was like whole days were missing from my memory. I was aware, in the moment, that i didn’t know where i was or how i got there or where i had been the moment before. Every two minutes i rediscovered what room of the apartment i was in and who was there with me. It got to a point where i realized this was how the drug was preventing anxiety. I couldn’t think, so therefore i couldn’t obsess. Multi-step tasks were not a good idea because it was easy to forget what i was doing or whether a step had been done already. It was best to stick to well-worn routines. I could drive myself to the dentist, sit for the dentist appointment, find my car, and drive myself home, but afterwards i had no recollection of ever leaving the house. Huge chunks of time were gone from my memory and a neighbor begged me to stop taking the medicine after he told me he noticed a difference in my personality when i was on them. He said i wasn’t bothered by anything and also nothing made me laugh. It was as if i had no personality and was just existing in the room. I stopped taking the medication and just dealt with the anxiety because he was right. I might as well have been a zombie. I didn’t want to be a zombie with parkinson’s later on down the road. So, that’s my reason for avoiding taking anxiety medication. As for pain medication…firstly, its hard to get a doctor to prescribe pain medication long-term because the pain meds nowadays are so addictive, they feel they are not meant for long-term use. That should be red flag number 1. They are notorious for causing constipation, to the point that after a major surgery when the patient is requesting more pain relief, the doc will refuse to prescribe more in order to avoid having to surgically correct a fecal impaction; where the poop gets stuck and nothing is moving down so it all comes up. The patient can’t poop and vomits everything they swallow. Also, pain medication puts stress on the liver and mine is already not in tip top shape. Finally, and this is a biggie; that commercial list where the lady on the screen suddenly talks really fast to fit in all the horrible things that can happen to you if you take this medication. We want to solve the problem of pain. The solution may cause ulcers, internal bleeding, difficulty breathing, heart palpitations, stroke, liver failure, and death. But it will solve the problem of pain. Cue “really?” Face. I don’t want to make five new problems to solve the first one.

I could talk about this all day but we have things to do so i’m going to summarize here. What it comes down to is cost, side effects, and results. It’s cheaper than conventional meds. It’s only known side effects are a decrease in insomnia and a decrease in anxiety. Those side effects are fine with me. The results are pretty good. The isolate does not yield full and complete pain relief like the cbd with thc in it, but, for people like me who live in states where thc is still illegal and hold a day job, we must stick to the cbd isolate or the full complex with thc removed. It does take a good chunk of the pain away, as demonstrated by the to-do list pictured above. I’m just sitting here thinking how crazy everybody thought i was that i was going to go against doctor recommendation and value my own opinion above “the professionals”. Sometimes it pays to think for yourself. If you analyze how each medicine holds up in the three categories i used to evaluate which direction i wanted to go in when handling this problem…CBD wins.

Satsuma

I first bought the tree in the spring, right before i came down with covid. They were closing all the businesses down and they had given us a date by which all the non-essential businesses would have to shut their doors. I was working and didn’t often have the opportunity to go to the store on a weekday. That day i made a point of getting in to work early and finishing up with enough time to go to the plant nursery for one last run before the decree went into effect. I had already been once before and gotten a couple fruit trees but this time i was determined to fit as many fruit and nut trees in my suv as i could before the plant nursery closed. I put down all the seats and laid them on their sides, cramming them in there and trying to drive slow all the way home on those winding country roads. Everyone had the same idea i did. The nursery was packed full of panicking people buying up everything in sight. I quickly put one of the last citrus trees on display in my wagon. At that time the grocery was empty if you didn’t wait in line for it to open and rush in at 8 am. I was already working by that time and so i never had an opportunity to get the food before others cleared the shelves. By the time i went after work everything was pretty much gone and i’m not exaggerating. My mother suggested the imperfect foods service where they fedex food to your door weekly and that along with eating insects and wild onions saved me for most of 2020, as i couldnt stand in line at 8 am and wasnt often appreciated in my scrubs because everyone was afraid of me. When i bought the orange tree i was hungry and all the stores were out of vitamin c. I didn’t know how much the tree would mean to me until later when i came down with covid and couldn’t find the vitamin c i needed to get well. I had ordered some but it was on back order. The stores were cleaned out and no-one was sharing from their stash, because then they would have to admit they were part of the problem…one of those that was hoarding 40 bottles of it in the garage just in case. I ended up eating 10 of those little cutie oranges at a time in order to get the dose i was looking for. I couldnt get my hands on vitamin c so i was eating food with vitamin c in it. The cuties went fast so i had to rely on friends to get to the store early and drop the oranges in a bag on the barbed wire fence before driving away from my property and texting me that they were there. Eventually i realized nobody knew the dollar general carried vitamins and i cleaned them out of their 1000 mg vitamin c, which i then consumed in an effort to get well. All the while these tiny green orbs were growing on the potted satsuma i had purchased and placed in the yard. If every other tree died and only one survived the winter, i prayed, Lord, let it be that tree. Let the one that survives be the satsuma because oranges had come to mean something more than just fruit to me. Oranges were the answer. Oranges were life. Oranges meant being able to breathe. Several people have brought it up to me over the past few months “that’s not an orange tree. That’s a satsuma.” I wasn’t sure what they were talking about. It didnt make any difference to me. They were round, in the category of fruits, and tinted orange. It seemed like they’d be good, whatever they were. I now know they are considered a “mandarin” which is different than an orange in that they are smaller and easier to peel. Works for me. The reason i love the thing is that it protects itself from predators. It has two inch thorns all over it and they are mighty sharp. I dont have to fend off hoards of critters and insects that would like to eat it. It battles those itself. Gotta love a tree with a built-in defense system.

Anyways, as i said before, the little satsumas started out as green orbs hanging from the tree. Eventually they began to turn orange and my excitement mounted until they were a perfect rich halloween color and i decided to pick one and see if it was any good. Pretty as it was, it was not good. It was sour. Oh so sour! I had not waited long enough. I would need to be more patient with the other 13. When i picked that first fruit the insides were firm and held their shape when pulled apart. The peel was thick and easy to pull off in huge chunks. I had been taught what a ripe orange was by the grocery store. I’d never had one off the tree and i wasn’t exactly sure how to gage when they were edible. I knew from growing strawberries and watermelons that i had to limit my water to the plant while the fruits grew in order to concentrate the sugars or the fruit would turn out watery and flavorless. I limited the water the plant got; just enough to keep it alive, and the oranges continued to hang there.

A couple weeks later i tried again. It was well into the winter temps now, probably the last day or two of november, and the tree was now living in the shed in an attempt to keep the fruits from freezing during the nights. Again i pulled one of the little orange orbs off of the thorny branches. There was some sweetness, but still a considerable amount of sour. Now i had 12 of the little orange fruits left. I would have to wait or i would waste them all looking for something i couldn’t be patient enough to obtain.

December 15; It was around 8 pm. I had gone to the shed to get a bag of tea and the little orange orbs caught my eye in the light of the lantern. I felt around until i found the one with the most give when squeezed. I picked it. I stood there in the dark and ate it. My mind was blown. At first i thought i had waited too long. Its little pieces were soft and floppy. I figured it had rotted. The juice escaped the divisions and ran down my fingers. I hurried to catch it with my pajama pants clad leg lest the ants and bees find my mess and invade the shed in numbers. When i popped that first piece into my mouth everything stopped and i realized i had been wrong. It had not rotted. It had ripened. This floppy fruit dripping with sticky juice was what a ripe mandarin looked like. I popped another and another into my mouth and each time i bit down an explosion of cold sugary liquid was obtained. I had spent so much time thinking i was botching this orange growing project here that the fact that i had achieved the goal did not and could not register. I picked up the tea bag and returned to the house.

The next morning around 9 am i returned to the shed to pick the remainder of the mandarins with give. The others should be left to ripen more but three of them were ready to go, so i picked them.

I brought them back to the house. I had hoped to save two in the refrigerator to eat throughout the week but as soon as i peeled that first one and put the pieces into my mouth, i realized the others weren’t going to make it past the hour. Since it had been 33 degrees outside and the tree had been in the shed, the juice in them was ice cold and delicious. The peel was thinner and came apart in smaller slivers. The pieces leaked juice and stuck together, bending over when pulled apart. I hoped to put the tree in the ground when the weather was warmer and i was feeling up to it. I wanted this to happen again. I wanted to be eating satsumas again in years to come. This was a good tree. This was a tree i wanted to keep.

Dreams of a Different Time

It was 1 in the afternoon before i got all my aches and pains under control and was able to get out of bed and do things that needed to be done. I tracked down the post office packages. I ground some oat flour. I made some gluten-free peanut butter cookies out of the flour, peanut butter, water, and raw honey. if you use the well water after its been softened you don’t even have to add a pinch of salt. It’s already there. I cut up a pear and a persimmon and ate those along with a few of the peanut butter cookies for breakfast around 1:45. I took 6 freezer bags of compost material to the pile at the edge of our land. I filtered massive amounts of well water a half-gallon at a time in preparation for refilling the chicken water dispenser the following day at dawn. I washed laundry and hung half of it to dry while putting the other half into the dryer in the house. I boiled water on the stove and put the stopper in the sink to let the dishes soak in hot water before washing them. I cleaned the counters, the mirror, the stove, and the toilet in preparation for christmas company. I would leave the sinks and the sweeping of the floors for the following week as the tiny house was always so dusty and the sink full of make-up residue; it didn’t make sense to clean it so far out from the date. I would just have had to do it again. I thought of the 1950s housewives who had powdered and vacuumed the mattresses, fluffed the living room pillows, and dusted daily and chuckled to myself at how useless an activity that seemed to me now, a single person in a dusty little tiny house where no one but me could see crooked pillows or turmeric on the stove. I didn’t imagine i would have been a good housewife in the 1950s. At least, if my vintage-obsessed friends were an accurate rendition of what life was like back then. Everything in their house was from a different time. Even their car, their hair, their clothes, make-up, and glasses. It was as if they were living in a different decade of the past. Though i knew i wouldn’t have conformed to the norm in that decade, i did enjoy quite a few things of the past. I had cassettes for the car instead of an ipod shuffle. I had a record player for when i wanted to listen to music. I had a manual hand-mixer for baking. I had a vcr and old vhs tapes to watch on my little box television. The hardest thing i did when moving to my tiny house was downsize my vhs collection to nearly a sixth of what it was. What it came down to was that i had to decide to get rid of all my westerns with the famed john wayne and my beloved clint eastwood with his signature scowl before he shot all the bad guys who didn’t believe he was a threat. Though i enjoyed them immensely i rarely watched them and that was my justification for getting rid of them. Beyond this i had a metal tub for bathing and did all my mending by hand. I didn’t subscribe to the theory “newer is better”. I saw that the forward march of progress sometimes left old treasures in the dust of history, especially when it came to technology. My hand mixer never needed repaired or replaced. It was powered by me, and it was my grandmother’s before it was mine, if that tells you how long it has lasted. Things don’t last 3 generations nowadays. They are manufactured to be broken and replaced or upgraded. Once upon a time things were manufactured to last and be handed down. That time is nearly unknown to my generation. We have all subscribed to the “replace and upgrade” model and we need the salaries we pursue in order to maintain such a life norm.

I don’t know what possessed me but i pulled out one of my records and put it on the player for the first time in nearly a year to listen to while i was hanging the dried laundry. It was “music in the night” by the pittsburgh symphony orchestra. As i opened the case and carefully set the record into place, dropping the needle ever so softly onto the edge of the record, it seemed like such a treat, something special; music. Nowadays it was obtained at the click of a button on thousands of devices. It was taken for granted, expected as background noise. It was no longer something profound and special, a treasure on a fragile black disc that had to be handled with care. And i’ll say it though some will think i am crazy. No cd or computer speaker has ever achieved the quality of sound that a record provides to my ear. It seems to fall flat in comparison. I perked up as i heard the familiar snapping and popping that let me know the music was on the way and then i watched as the needle traveled ever so gradually inward towards the center of the record with each turn. The music began. It was clear as a blue-sky day and beautiful. I went about the laundry and other chores while listening to the record. When it was finished i played the other side. When that was finished i put on another one. I thought about why i didn’t play records often, though i so loved to listen to them. I think listening to them couldn’t help but remind me that at one time in the past i had planned to share these treasures with another generation of human beings. I had wanted to raise a child or two. I had dreams of teaching them to cook, exposing them to music (in record form of course), teaching them to grow their food in the garden, to be kind to animals, to live in harmony with the wilderness around them. I had dreams of watching little ones form their own opinions about the sights and noises and concepts they were interpreting; watching them transition from tiny helpless beings that needed total protection and care for survival to independence-seeking individuals that were developing unique characteristics and personalities of their own. I was aware there would indefinitely be times when i regretted the day i desired to parent, like when a child screams “i hate you” or begins bullying other children. I was aware that there would inevitably be days when one would find their child doing something they hadn’t taught them to do, something they viewed as unacceptable, and the adult would sit with their head in their hands wondering when and where things had gone so terribly off the rails that this child was no longer behaving as the parent hoped they were raising them to be. There would also be times when the child was searching for answers and the parent didn’t have them and felt inadequate or when the parent fell short of the super hero the child thought them to be and was unable to provide what was needed. I had no misconception that parenting would be a picnic, but it was something i had dreamed of in the past. When i listened to my treasures, i now knew that i was the only one that would be hearing them for the next 50 years, and that saddened me a little, so i didn’t pull them out often.

Sitting here in 2020, plagued by my own anxiety, riddled with arthritis, and struggling to hustle enough to pay my share of the mortgage my family was helping me with until i could launch myself into the next career…watching my friends try desperately to explain this world we are living in to scared and confused children developing their own anxiety disorders and struggling with the idea that hugs and cheek pinching were no longer signs of affection but a danger to be avoided…i didn’t question God’s decision to make me barren, a poor candidate for adoption and unable to afford surrogacy before my golden years. It has become even less of a picnic now; parenting. I don’t envy them. They have a big job, teaching little ones how to be in this world right now. The other day i witnessed two moms trying to teach their toddlers appropriate socialization skills in the grocery. They had parked their baskets 10 feet apart from each other on the chip aisle and they were going through the motions of having the children greet each other, wave, ask them how they’d been, and then wave again and tell the other child they’ll see them later when it was time to go. They did this on several other aisles and before long the children began waving and saying hello and goodbye without being prompted. I admired their commitment to the cause. They were not giving up on these children. They would have them know all the skills they would have known had they not been growing up in a global pandemic. These were mothers with fight, tenacity, creativity, and hope in them and they soldiered on in teaching their children the skills that they felt they needed, with bright eyes and in all probability a smiling face, though it was partially concealed by a mask. These toddlers didn’t know anything dire was going on. That would have been hard for me to do and i knew it. I would not, in all likelihood, have been able to hide my own anxiety and depression and be enthused about life each day for the sake of a child who drew their sense of normalcy from me. I didn’t question God’s decision. I just sometimes felt a sadness for dreams of the past when playing records that had once been collected for a different purpose.

“I’ll be in the car.”

There’s a really pissed off bee in my 384 square foot 1 room house. I guess he didn’t like being blown around by the gusts outside. A front is rolling in. I took a look at it, assessed its temperament and identified it was not a wasp, hornet, or fly. That was all i needed to know. There are some things you don’t mess with in life and my neighbor’s bees are one of em.

A Trip to the Big City

i had to make a trip into the big city, a 2 and a half hour drive, in order to go to the dentist. Thanks to all the strange happenings of 2020 it had been nearly a year since i had been and it was time. It was a strange visit. There were all sorts of new measures in place to protect the dental hygienists from the germs in the patients mouths, including a giant rubber thing making a sucking noise that was supposed to be sandwiched between my teeth and cheek along with the water, the air thing, and whatever utensil she was using at the time. It was a very busy event, i’ll say that. Also, the hygenists were instructed to wear face shields and not get too close to the patients they were working on. It was a much rougher experience, the hygenists pulled as far away from the target as possible, picking at anything remotely near the gum line. But, i knew they were doing the best they could under the circumstances and i was grateful that they cleaned my teeth and i really did get a good clean when it was all said and done. It was the first time i had been to them without any dental insurance. They took 40 dollars off my bill and i was touched by the act of mercy as i paid out of pocket. I had recently seen a grocery manager reach into his pocket to cover the remaining 3 dollars on a food stamps order that a lady and her son couldn’t afford as an early christmas gift. I thought about how one small act of kindness spurned another and had a ripple affect throughout the community. Perhaps kindness was not dead.

My dental hygienist had mentioned that one of my favorite restaurants that i frequented back when i was in my teens and twenties had closed its doors for good. She said all the restaurants were doing so one by one. Even the one mom had always taken us to as kids was gone. I realized that the next time i returned to the big city, the restaurants i was waiting to go back to once the pandemic was over, would not likely still be in existence. With this thought in mind, i decided to visit my two favorite restaurants while i still could.

I drove to my favorite ethiopian restaurant first. It was located along the access road of a major highway in a tiny green shack. The parking lot was empty. There was one car present…which i would soon learn was the owner’s. I had never seen it where there wasn’t a game of circle the runway and beat the next car to the space as someone was pulling out…a time consuming attempt to get one of the ten existing parking spaces next to the shack. Now i had my choice of 9 of them and it was eerie. I walked up and opened the door. Inside, the usually half-stocked drink cooler was perfect and uniform, fully-stocked and missing nothing. The room was quiet. Coats and personal items were strewn about two tables and there sat three generations of the family i had always known as jovial and smiling, solemn faced and quiet. when i walked in they looked as if they’d seen a ghost. I think i startled them. The clean dishes, normally dwindling to 5 or 6 plates as the dish washer rushed to keep up, were stacked nearly to the ceiling in the back of the room. One of them rose from the table, stuffing the jackets down onto a chair and out of sight. The patriarch said, “Yes, how can we help you?”. I asked if i could have a to-go plate. He said yes and with that everyone rose to their feet and tied on aprons, returning to the kitchen. The man watched me as i read the menu, selecting my favorites and asking for the gluten free injera. He looked sad. Inside, my heart was breaking. I loved this restaurant. I loved this family, who had always been so kind and so happy, and seemed to enjoy working together in their little hole in the wall restaurant of turmeric and ginger goodness. It was the best kind of food. The kind of food that made you feel full, the kind of food you would be willing to walk ten miles to get, neon yellow long-stewed on low heat comfort food that was actually nutritious, with just the right amount of spice, to be eaten with fingers, pinched between fermented flat bread. It was the best. My mother being a chef, i knew i could probably get her to recreate some of it if they went under but nothing would recreate the environment and culture in that little green shack with astroturf and tables in the area screened in with plastic. Nothing would recreate the joy and love and family of three generations working together. Pictures of the grandchildren hung on the wall. They sold tea and lentils and jewelry from ethiopia in the corner near the register, and the little linoleum tiles on the floor seemed to make the space. I wanted to say something, but nothing i could say would make this any better. It seemed i was the first customer they had seen in a while. I wondered if the fact that ethiopian cuisine was typically eaten with one’s hands was helping to keep customers away during a pandemic. I wondered if people knew they had forks ready upon request. I quickly emptied all of my dimes, nickles, and pennies into their tip jar. It wasn’t much, but, it was all i had to give. Thankfully, they were all in the kitchen by then and i avoided a moment if awkward apology that i didn’t have a full dollar to contribute. Most businesses had gone to plastic only and i hadn’t had dollars in my wallet for a while. I thanked them for the meal as they handed me my treasure in a black to-go bag with a set of plastic silverware. I returned to the car with a heavy heart. I knew they wouldn’t be here next time i came…not if this was a typical day of business. My heart broke for them and for all the people coming up who would never know the amazingness of their food. I hoped i was wrong.

I put the to-go bag in the car and set out to my next destination. It was more of a community than a restaurant. There was a school, a dance studio, a store, a playground, a restaurant, and a sort of jungle area full of old trees, vines, hammocks, strings of lights, and wind chimes. I remembered, when i was a child growing up in the city, the lot next door to it was an RV park. All the traveling gypsy/hippie type folk would come to eat there. Dogs would lie sleeping, leashed at their owners’ feet under the table. Babies clothed only in diapers would sit in wooden high chairs eating with their families, bracelets or necklaces of beads adorning them. The children were sun tanned with tangled curly hair and bright eyes. People shared tables with strangers and everyone sat in any open chair available. People served themselves hibiscus tea, soup, and this wonderful dressing-soaked salad that a person could live on alone happily. Then a waiter would come and place a meal in front of you. Everyone got the same meal. There was always a grain, a bean, pickled vegetables of some sort, cooked vegetables with some kind of nut sauce, sometimes avocado, and every table had a shaker of seaweed flakes, toasted sesame seeds, and soy sauce. When i was a kid, they made and sold bread as well. They had shelves of warm plastic baggies full of condensation from freshly baked beautiful goodness. Their glass dessert case was a vegan kid’s dream. They had puddings and parfaits, cookies and pies. They usually had soy candles for sale too. Returning as an adult in 2020, it was a bit different. The RV park was long ago moved and a high-rise of expensive condos now provided eternal shade where there was once blinding sun streaming through the windows. Great efforts were made to keep the children and dogs quiet so that the condo occupants would not complain whereas the hippies that inhabited the RV park when i was a kid never cared about the free and careless shrieks and squeals of kids playing tag on the playground. It had a more subdued and calm feeling about it, but it was very much still an oasis of nature in the middle of a city of glass and concrete. It had stood the test of time and bent rather than broken, changing as needed through the decades but remaining ever true to its roots. Because of 2020 the tea, salad, and soup was moved into the kitchen and served by waiters instead of self-serve in order to reduce risk of germ transmission. The tables were no longer shared by strangers and the place was not packed to the brim with people. It was one party per table and each table was at least 6 feet from the next. The sesame seeds, nori, and soy sauce were gone from the tables. But, other than that, the place looked the same as i remembered it from childhood. The meal was beautiful. The salad was soaked in the nut-cheese dressing and it was creamy, tangy, and salty; the perfect amount of wilted. I could have eaten that salad all night. The soup was a hearty ginger, coconut cream, sweet potato soup with chunks of yellow japanese sweet potato in it that tasted just like granular cubes of creamy sugar. There were pickled beets, which i loved! Short-grain brown rice with a toasted nut topping, refried black beans and nut cheese on a rolled tortilla (i had to leave the tortilla cuz im allergic to wheat and corn but you better believe i scraped off every smidgeon of beans and “cheeze” sauce and ate it before leaving the tortilla)…there was cooked greens with a kind of creamy mustard sauce on top. The greatest thing about these plates is all the sauces taste good on everything. I mixed each bite. I got a little bit of rice, scooped it through the beans, and dipped it in the guacamole and cheeze sauce on the way to my mouth. Everything is good on everything. I even dipped the greens in mustard sauce in the black beans and that was equally good! I don’t know if those vegetables were steamed or sauteed but they had a topping of toasted nuts and seeds that was so crunchy and wonderful and they really took the cake, texture and flavor-wise. I was in culinary heaven.

On top of this experience…their signature hibiscus tea that hadn’t changed a bit since my childhood. It was ice cold, smooth, a deep maroon color, and slightly minty. There was nothing in the world like it. I sat there and drank a refreshing glass of it, which i had saved for last. The room was lit by battery powered candles and the tables were the same wooden ones from my childhood. The same cement floor. The same little store near the cash register. The same glass case of pies and parfaits. I sat and looked around. I told the waitress, who looked about 18, that she had something special here. She said, “oh” and laughed. She couldn’t know what i was talking about. She hadn’t been alive long enough to know what i was talking about, but i spotted a bearded man sitting at a table by the window nodding in agreement with my comment. He knew.

As i stepped outside i was overwhelmed with emotion as i saw a man sitting cross legged, playing a lotus drum and blowing into a long wooden tube as a woman danced before him, twirling round and round, her hands bent sharply at the wrists. I was immediately transported back to the days of the sunlight on the playground, the rv’s and shiny metal caravans with their christmas lights and lawn chairs and potted plants next door…the babies running wild with long hair and bracelets, clad only in diapers and barefoot, children playing tag or returning from swimming in the creek…everyone barefoot and sun-tanned and happy. There was always music and dogs and wind chimes. There was always someone playing guitar, someone singing, someone dancing, just for the sake of artistic expression. I sat on the bench and cried. I tried not to, but lost in the memory of something beautiful, wild, free, and sunny…i couldn’t help it. I sat on the bench and hoped my mask hid my face while i listened to the man play his lotus drum and watched the woman dance. Soon a mini-aussie was watching too. The dancing woman ran to the aussie and hugged it, calling its name. They had clearly met before. The dog was happy to see her. It wagged its majestic tail furiously and licked her hands as she tried to pet it. She scooped the dog into her arms and returned to the lotus drum to dance. She rocked and bounced the dog during her dancing. The little dog was thrilled and seemed to be bobbing its head to her bounces. Soon it began trying to lick her face as she twirled the dog around. It tried to use its legs as a launching device as it hung in her arms, trying to get close enough to lick her chin. She began laughing. Then the man playing the lotus drum howled like a wolf. So did the dancing woman. The dog began barking and wagging its tail furiously against the dancer’s hip. I began to laugh. I was grinning so wide behind the mask, but i didn’t think anyone could see. As i walked past the man playing the lotus drum to get to my car he said “Thank you for your smile”. I nodded my head and smiled again. I wished i could have told him thank you for the music, told the dancer thank you for her performance, but i was so wrapped in my emotions it was all i could do to get to the car before i busted into tears once more. In 2020 community was dead…everywhere but there, in that little oasis. it was still well and alive…albeit spaced 6 feet apart and with more waiters and less self-serve…community lived on in that jungle from my childhood, with or without the barefoot babies from the RVs. I hoped that restaurant would be the one exception that survived.

I had a long drive home and though i had intended to eat the ethiopian cuisine the following day, by the time i was done unloading the car in the dark and finishing the chores by moonlight i was hungry again. I opened the to-go container and began salivating as i smelled the sour aroma of those delicious flat breads.

I had picked all my favorites…the restaurant lets you choose one main dish and three sides to eat with your flat breads. I chose the cabbage, carrot, and green bean dish for my main, as i always did. It was buttery and greasy and flavorful and totally vegan. The turmeric would also help my arthritis. There were cubed potatoes in a gingery tomato sauce, spicy mashed eggplant in a tomato base, and stewed yellow lentils. It was the best! My favorite part was and had always been eating the flat bread the food had been placed on…for the flat bread on the bottom was always soft and soaked in the flavors of whatever had been placed on it. It was delicious. I washed my hands well and ate it with my hands. A fork just didn’t seem right. I pinched the food between pieces of flat bread and savored every bite. So, was eating out the frugal option during my trip to the city? No. Did i need two dinners? Probably not. But, now, if this ends up being my last chance to savor my favorite flavors, at least i have these photos and this memory of them to hold onto. I had to taste them one last time in case (knock on wood that they don’t) they join the ever mounting list of restaurants that have closed up shop in 2020.

2020 isn’t done with the surprises.

I didn’t realize that what i was dealing with was in all likelihood rheumatoid arthritis until my new job pointed out that i wasn’t making my time requirements and i began downing 2 monster drinks a day in order to meet my quota (which i then began doing). It felt like i had electricity in my veins and i was fast fast fast for 8.5 hours. My phone clocked me as jogging 10 miles per shift and i sprinted the orders through the parking lot rather than moseying. however, the faster i got, the more my right knee began to buckle. My ankles felt like they were eating themselves from the inside and it got to a point where i couldn’t make it from the bed to the bathroom without my knee dislocating every step or every two steps. My life became a regiment of braces, wraps, tape, and ointments. I had to get up 4 hours before it was time to leave for work every day and had to bind my joints with ace wrap just to stand in the shower. My fingers began to ache at the joints and things began to swell. My legs looked like they belonged to a really heavy person at the end of the day and my finger joints became swollen and knobby. Sleeping became harder and harder. I would clench my teeth at night and wake up with lock jaw. I would be aware of the pain through any hours of sleep i managed to obtain and sleep itself ceased to be restful. Friends and family started mentioning arthritis to me. They would say “you ought to cut out the caffeine” or “that sounds like rheumatoid arthritis”. But, it wasn’t something that had occurred to me. I was 32. Then i remembered when the joint pain had first started. During the second week of my first bought with Covid in March. I had excruciating joint pain and muscle aches. It had gotten better over time but it never went away. Then i began downing 2 monster drinks a day and i guess i made it ten times worse. I googled “covid – rheumatoid arthritis” and realized scientists were studying patients in china who presented with rheumatoid arthritis in one or several joints following their recovery from covid with no prior history or family history of arthritis. As far as they could tell, the longterm side effect appeared permanent as the arthritis did not subside once the patients tested negative for covid-19 for several months. I sighed. I had survived but it was hard to fully understand at what cost, because, we haven’t really studied this beast yet. We don’t really understand it. I can’t open a textbook and read about it at length. Well, i tried all sorts of creams and ointments. Eventually, i went to the local health food store and asked for a cbd product for arthritis. They sold me one and i popped one of the beige horse pills. As i sat in the car reading the label, i realized i had to take it back. I knew they wouldn’t give me a refund because i opened the bottle, but i realized it had to go back. It said “full complex cbd”. When i googled those words it said that meant the thc was not extracted. It could cause you to fail a drug test if taken over time and allowed to build up in the body. Disappointed, i dutifully returned it to the store. I went about running my errands for the day. About thirty minutes later, i was getting into the car in a walmart parking lot and i realized my fingers didn’t hurt. My knee didn’t hurt. My ankles didn’t hurt. I had no pain. It was utterly and completely gone. I mean, gone. I felt like i was 30 again. I felt at rest. It was so good to feel good. I sat behind the steering wheel and cried. I cried because i was happy to be out of pain and i cried because i knew i could never experience this again…not if i wanted to hold a job. It lasted 6 hours. I got the chores done in 15 minutes. I carried bags of chicken feed and dog food and jugs of water. I walked around the kitchen. I cooked. I made trips to the bathroom without my ankle and knee braces. I couldn’t believe how blissful pain-free time could be. 6 hours after i had taken the pill the effects wore off and i was riddled with pain and joint instability once more. I buried my face in my pillow and cried; this time tears of sadness and anguish. It was like a light had been turned on, illuminated everything, and then gone out, and it was dark once more. I wanted that pain relief again. I wanted it not to be over. I began researching online. I found a company who was top rated and used a third party lab to ensure their products contained 0% thc. I bought a vial of thc free cbd oil. It would take 5 to 7 business days to ship. Unfortunately, i bought it on a friday night. In the meantime i completely quit caffeine and began downing turmeric tea and putting turmeric in everything i cooked. I popped advil like candy and waited eagerly for the cbd to ship. At work, because i was no longer on insane amounts of caffeine, my superiors were hounding me to be faster. So, i had to hustle that much harder to make up for the fact that i was not on energy drinks. This meant wrapping and bracing all my joints tightly and ignoring pain. But, something else was happening. I was losing sensation in my fingers. I could feel pain in my finger joints but i could no longer feel if i was holding the plastic bag handles in my hand, nor could i feel how tightly or loosely i was holding an object. All this amounted to me dropping items i was trying to grasp, which my coworkers covered by saying “i got you” and running to the appropriate aisle to grab the replacement item before i had to take the order out to the customer. I was already older than most of them there. I was slower without my energy drinks. I was now having to use my eyeballs to see if my fingers were grasping the items i reached for. All i could do was wait for this cbd to come in the mail. More than anything, it was my knuckles that bothered me. When i looked at them i saw an old person’s hands. I wished “express ship” was an option but it wasn’t. I would have to wait. Patience was never a strength i possessed. I hoped that the damage being done to my joints was reversible, i prayed for the thc free cbd oil to arrive, and i hustled to make up for it all at work. I hustled hard, pushing myself to make those time quotas, running on determination alone and willing myself to ignore buckling joints and screaming pain. Lord help me…send cbd.

The Early Morning Shift

I woke up with a start. The alarm was not on. I must have turned it off. Exhausted in a way i had never known by my very physical new job, my actions couldn’t be trusted. I couldn’t for sure say that i hadn’t hit the snooze button all 13 times and slept many extra hours. My shift was supposed to start at 5 am which meant i would have set an alarm to wake me at 11:45 pm to get up and do the chores around the homestead, get the animals fed and tend to the chicken coop, cook breakfast and pack a lunch, and wrangle myself into a cold shower in an ace bandage. Then i would have some time left to wrap and brace my foot, get dressed, pin my hair in place, and apply makeup. Finally i would spend some time praying before checking to see that the stove was off, setting the a/c unit, crating the dogs, and loading the car. When i sat up abruptly i looked at my phone. It read in big digital numbers “6:00”. 6:00? My shift started at 5! I was already an hour late! I could see the sky lightening outside of the windows. Oh how had this happened?! I would have to call my supervisor right away and apologize and swear i was on my way! How would i manage to get ready in no time with a bum foot!? It was the whole reason i woke up 4 hours before it was time to set out…to have enough time to get everything done without having to worry about rushing. I grabbed my phone, hopped over to the bathroom to get things ready for the shower, and suddenly realized the dogs weren’t in the house. Where had i left the dogs? What on earth was going on? Oh gosh, i had missed my 3 o clock supplements and enzymes. I had better go ahead and take those! I frantically clamored about the kitchen, grabbing all the supplements off the shelf and whipping plates and cups around, trying to get an oatmeal started on the stove. How had this happened?! It was about this time that i noticed the sky outside was getting darker rather than lighter. It was not 6:00 am. It was 6:00 pm. The dogs were outside, where i had left them when i had returned from my 5 am to 1:30 pm shift and decided to go to bed until my 8 pm meds and the duty of adding the door to the chicken coop for the night. I guessed it would get dark around 6 so i guess i had set my alarm for 5:55 pm so i could get the braces and wraps and a shoe on in time to go out and put the door on at 6. I had turned the alarm off at 5:55 pm and then woken out of guilt 5 minutes later with a terrible sense of dread that i had somehow missed my shift at work, when in fact, it was still the previous day. I breathed a sigh of relief and stopped trying to boil an oatmeal on the stove. I put the pot in the fridge to be used the following morning. I sat down and put my chin in my hands. Good thing i didn’t yet call the supervisor at work. She would have been very confused as to what on earth i was talking about.

Darkness fell as i collected the eggs, fed the chickens, and put the door on the coop. I had to water the aloe vera plants, rosemary, and fruit trees by lantern light while the dogs ate their supper inside but i was not very bothered by the darkness. I was relieved that it was dark and not light. It meant it was not 6 am and i had not missed my 5 am shift the following morning. Folks, sometimes going to bed at 2 pm can have unintended consequences. That being said, the 5 am to 1:30 pm shift is absolutely my favorite, hands down. There are less people in the store so its easier to move about and a faster process all around. Also, its peaceful and i get to say hello to the night crew in the break room. 🙂

A Cold Winter Ahead

It was 36 degrees outside. The windshield of the suv was frosted over with ice. i slept with the space heater pointed towards my legs from across the room and it seemed to keep the chill off just enough for comfort. However, now that i was awake, the space heater had to be moved into the bathroom. I placed the heater on the floor facing the shower and slid the bathroom door shut. The water heater provided 8 minutes of hot water at best when the weather was warm. During 40 degree temperatures there were only 2 minutes of warm water and if the weather was in the thirties there was no warm water. The shower would start out cold and when the water in the actual heater was exhausted it would begin pulling from the ground through the well pump, turning the water from cold to icy. Normally, if the weather was 40 or below it prompted me to get up an hour early and boil water on the stove for a bath in my metal tub. However, with a torn ligament in my ankle i knew that this year i would not be able to pretzel myself into the small tub (a bigger tub would be too heavy to lift and carry across the floor to empty following the bath). I had 2 options. I could sponge bathe with a towel or take cold showers through the winter. Being that my job involved a great deal of sweat and jogging over 7 miles by the end of each shift, i didn’t feel that sponge bathing would be sufficient to remove all the grime and the extra strength sport deodorant that seemed to become one with my skin about four hours after application. 2020 had not been a fun year. I realized it was about to get worse. I had a long cold winter ahead of me. The good news was that i had a space heater and a vest and jacket filled with down feathers. Every morning i would get up four hours before it was time to leave for work. I would tend to the chickens and the dogs and get all my morning chores done by lantern light. Then i would place the heater in the bathroom while i cooked and ate breakfast. For half an hour i would sit in the rocking chair watching videos on youtube and playing sudoku on my phone, trying to will myself towards the bathroom to begin the cold shower. Eventually duty and responsibility would trump my desire to be warm and i would gather my clothes and toiletries and prepare to take a shower. Once inside the bathroom i would again stand and procrastinate, psyching myself up for the experience. It would be over soon. Quick shower. Quick shower. I would stand in front of the space heater one last time, soaking in its warmth. When my skin felt it might burn if i lingered any longer i would turn the knob, foot wrapped in ace bandage, and step into the shower. The water was always a stark wake up call. If i had been drowsy i wasn’t any longer. I shampooed every other day so some days the shower just involved soaping, rinsing, and leaving the dratted freezing stall. Other days i had to actually shampoo and condition my hair, turning the water on briefly to rinse each detergent away. When i was finished with the water i could step out of the stall and back into the warmth of the space heater where all would be well again, but during cold weather, nothing good happened in that freezing cold shower stall. Getting myself washed and dressed in the morning became quite the accomplishment. Come sunrise, when i was clean, the chores were done, the animals handled, lunch packed, wearing shoes and putting gas in the car to drive to town in my uniform and name tag, i felt i had already run a marathon and won. I looked forward to winter as a needed break from the wasps, mosquitos, scorpions, and grasshoppers. However, this winter would be just as fraught with difficulty as the spring and summer had been. I told myself there was nothing to be done but keep moving forward and wait for better times. My foot would heal. Covid would likely eventually mutate into something with a different host target, set of symptoms, or level of severity, though it would probably take years, and one day i’d have a hefty salary again and i’d buy the best hot water heater i could find and pay home depot to deliver it and take the old one away. I’d have to clean the house for that occasion so the delivery crew didn’t witness the usual tooth paste grime in the sink, dog hair on the floor, and dust over everything. I frowned at the thought, but it didn’t immediately matter…that would be a task for another year. For now, i’d just have to keep getting up early and using the space heater as a bribe to hop in. I felt like i’d read somewhere that kids in iceland were sent out in the dead of winter in their bathing suits for 15 minutes of recess per day in order to strengthen their immune systems by exposing them to extreme cold in short bursts. I wondered if this winter would strengthen my immune system. It would be a nice side effect, i had to admit.