Conversations with a Prius

So here I am, three months into owning this rolling work of art named for Gaia, the Greek goddess of the earth. The transition from a combustion to a hybrid hasn’t been too bad despite my queasiness with technology. I still don’t know what three-quarters of the features do. As long as I have my air conditioning and can listen to WFMT (classical) or WDCB (jazz, folk, and blues), I don’t care. The really important things for me include Oakley having a comfortable back seat to stretch out in like a rock star in a limo and the features that give me feedback on energy efficiency. When the engine goes off, a screen comes up on the dashboard to give the driver information such as how many miles they’ve driven, gas milage, and their EcoScore for the trip, or how well they’ve driven on a 1-100 scale. I usually get 70 to 75. Most of the subtracted points have to do with air conditioning settings and braking versus acceleration. Which is all well and good, but it’s a little hard to drive smoothly in small towns replete with stop signs.

The biggest adjustments have been with the size ( driving a midsize car after driving the compact GTI and the Corolla for years feels at times like I’m driving an RV) and the sensors that let the driver know when there’s a risk of bumping into something. The latter comes in handy when I take Oakley to day care. There’s a hedge delineating the border between the parking area and the neighbor’s yard, making it hard to see if anyone’s coming. Sensors in the rear emit a pleasant mid-range beep and give the driver a picture of what’s behind them as they back up and take the pitch up a few notches if something’s coming. That’s handy.

What gets a little nerve-racking is pulling into the garage. The two-car side is inhabited by Hubby’s woodworking equipment. The one-car side is a bit on the tight side, and Gaia lets me know about it in no uncertain terms. “Beep.”

Pull a millimeter to the right to avoid the door frame. Aim directly ahead and….

“Beep.”

“No, I won’t let you hit the shelves.”

“BEEPBEEPBEEPBEEP!!!”

Brake, push the park button. “I told you I wouldn’t hit anything. Geez, do we have to go through this every time?”

I swear she took points off the EcoScore in retaliation.

Notes from the Mat

For the first time in…how long would that be…forever? I felt like myself as I rolled up my mat after class. Despite the sweat, despite the stiffness that began creeping into my shoulders and lower back as I walked to the car, the endorphins, serotonin, and dopamine released by the morning’s practice had swept me to a place of calm alertness.

While that morning’s hatha vinyasa practice had demanded a lot from me, it had given me a sense of well being that I hadn’t felt since before my passage through menopause. Coupled with pride in having accepted and met the challenge, I felt nearly invincible.

I had tried to keep up with classes via Facebook and videos posted by different teachers on YouTube, but it just wasn’t the same. The studio where I take classes did offer them through Zoom, but my technological ineptitude and concern for cybersecurity (one too many hacking incidents targeting Macs for my taste in the early days of the stay at home orders) overrode my desire and need to participate in classes, even remotely.

I struggled. I grew bored and stuck and dug the rut deep enough to feel the heat from the earth’s core, and then, finally, the vaccines came and the state opened up and we could get back to some semblance of normal. With a sigh of relief, I signed up for a workshop on opening one of the chakras, and I invested in a 10-pack of lessons.

Most of the classes I had taken fell on the side of more gentle, meditative styles, but I needed to do something more active. With a gulp, I signed up for the vinyasa class.

I silently gulped again as I looked around and saw a roomful of lithe students young enough to be my children. A couple of exceptions, another woman who was a little older than the average age of the other students, and a man a bit older than me who looked as if he’d been doing yoga the better part of his life.

Good teachers will help you succeed, whatever it takes. This teacher is excellent. Use blocks; modify; and if all else fails, go into child’s pose or downward dog until you can join the flow, she advised.

Begin with a little breathing, then off we went. The pace was gentled enough so everyone could keep up, but not allow enough to allow one to dwell on one’s chances of surviving the class. Stay in the moment, keep going, keep going, do some modifications and before I knew it, we took the last stretches and went into savasana, the relaxation pose that ends most practices. Even just a couple of minutes helps the body, mind, and spirit incorporate lessons learned in the practice.

My lessons included: 1. I had been grossly underestimating my physical abilities 2. I am not that old and 3. I need to set some new goals to push myself into the next phase.

And I’m doing it all again tomorrow.

Finally…

The clouds parted; the stars aligned. The little things that needed to fall into place did so as did some of the larger things, and on we went.

On the large end, the weather decided to moderate. I was able, at last, to get the garden going. Usually, I plant around Mothers’ Day weekend, but that brought frost. F-R-O-S-T. The white stuff that clings to grass after a chilly damp night. A few days later, we had to turn on the air conditioning. I don’t deal well with hot weather, so only short ventures in the yard with Oakley and early morning walks were on the daily agenda. Memorial Day brought cold and rain. Not a good weekend for planting.

And then there was more heat, and then, finally, this past Monday brought a window of a few days suitable for outdoors work without risk of heat stroke, so Oakley and I went to a local home improvement center and bought tomatoes in various sizes and colors and some herbs. We went to the other home improvement center and bought more herbs and some flowers this morning. Another trip to the blast furnace is on the weather horizon, but no matter since the plants are in the ground. I threw in a few green bean seeds for posterity, too.

Also in the large department, the state of Illinois opened up this past Friday. With a sigh of relief, I went back to yoga class in person. It was good to see the people there, and good to open my eyes after savasana (the relaxation pose that usually closes out classes to give your mind/body a chance to process what it’s learned), look out the studio window, and watch the gentle sway of the locust tree’s branch in the breeze.

In the small department, I shopped in person at the Aldi in town for the first time since…well…all this began. I needed a handful of minor items, not enough to justify a curbside pickup at the big grocery store that’s 15 miles away. I masked up, went inside, grabbed cucumbers, a little fruit, yogurt, those sorts of things, paid, and went back to the car. The first song was a choral arrangement of “Jesu Joy of Man’s Desiring” featuring Alison Balsam on trumpet. I choked up with gratitude–my family and friends were/are still here (not counting one friend of a friend whom I’d enjoyed conversations with at gatherings at a mutual friends house. May her memory be a blessing). It was safe to shop in person again. And I was there, here, to do it.

And to plant my garden.

And to start the world over again.

Summertime Is Here…

Getting a little nostalgic for the day trips to see my sister (my brother had moved to the east coast by then) when she lived in western Michigan with this in the background: https://youtu.be/gSQAlfyaKyc. (“Summertime Is Here” by War.) The drive to St. Joseph-Benton Harbor is about two and a half hours from Lansing. Once at our destination, we’d stop at a store, grab supplies, and have a picnic at one of the state parks with a view of Lake Michigan spreading before us and the wind in the pines and the waves . While Dad tended the grill and Sister tended the place settings and related matters, I would take Fritz the Wonder Schnauzer for a walk along the beach. He didn’t like water, so that made it more of a drag when I wanted to dip my toes in the lake. Any time in nature with a dog is well-spent, though, even with a lack of cooperation.

Flash forward to present day. It’s quite hot and muggy already, more like July or August out there than mid-June. I limited this morning’s walk to 30 minutes. Oakley and I were both pretty uncomfortable by the time we returned to the car.

I don’t think we’ll go back to the forest preserve today. We’d have to go rather late, and I’m not comfortable going there after five or six by myself. Not as if we live in a high crime area, but safety first.

I have other plans this evening, though. When the sun moves to the front of the house and the raised bed lies in the shadows, I will finally unveil the raised bed and plant some seeds. I tried growing my own seedlings, but they all died. This week’s errands include a stop any place with plants. They will join their younger siblings after I pick them up. Water, cross fingers, hope for the best.

According to sources, I can still plant up to July 1. At the rate things are going, that might happen. Mothers’ Day weekend, the traditional last date for frost, brought it as well as snow not that far north of here. Then we had a heat wave, and then Memorial Day weekend brought another round of frost and freeze advisories along with measurable snow in Eau Claire, WI, about three hours to the northwest of me. And then came another heat wave.

Seeds will be planted, however. Period.

The other hallmark of the summer, Renaissance Faire, is up for grabs. We’re leaning towards a pass this year. We’re vaxxed, masked, but we aren’t going to relax until Dr. Fauci says it’s over. The one we go to is encouraging masking up, but there are always the few that impact the many. It’s why they’ve had do purse and diaper bag and backpack searches on entry for guns since Wiconsin became a concealed carry state despite signage all over the front gates and website forbidding guns.

We’ll be able to get back to the bookstore, though, shortly. Illinois is slated to reopen, masking encouraged, on June 11th. I’m going back to in person yoga then.

No matter what else happens, we’ll have some produce.

So Summer Begins…Sort Of….

A chilly rain and strong northeast wind rattled the leaves. As I drove to pick Oakley up from day care, I wondered for a brief moment if somehow we’d skipped Memorial Day and all of summer, landing at Labor Day.

No, the leaves were too green.

We had to put the heat back on yesterday. I’m not going to torture myself (the thermostat read 64 yesterday morning) to prove toughness to my Nordic ancestors or conserve energy. And I’m not going to ask that of Hubby. Between his Mediterranean genes and being of an age where it’s getting tough to maintain a comfortable body temperature, we just did it. He was freezing, so he dragged himself out of bed and turned it on.

Bless him.

In a few days we’ll likely have to put the air on again, so no worries there.

I gave up on plans last year. Too fragile, too brittle in this ongoing pandemic. Desires, intentions, and preferences abound. Ren Faire? We’re both vaccinated; masks at Bristol will be mandatory. How many will be unvaccinated; how many will refuse to mask up? Too many variables could spin the experience towards the negative, so as of today we’re leaning towards a pass. Day trips during the week to less crowded destinations? A possibility. New parks to explore? Yes, definitely. What will unfold will do so in divine right order, so we’ll let it do so in its own time.

This week, things will be planted. The seedlings that I planted in early April all died, so a trip to one of the local garden centers will be in order. Again, during the week when crowds dissipate. Not sure where I’ll go, though. There are a couple of good ones closer to our nearest large suburb. The ag store where I’ve bought seedlings in the past has turned into a club for the people who refuse to mask up. Last time Hubby was there, he dodged a mask-less shopper. The mask-less one proceeded to follow Hubby around the store, six feet away, but still followed him around. Needless to say, Hubby was rattled to his core. Management took no action. I don’t think I can go back there.

One thing is certain, however: sometime this weekend per Hubby’s request, I’ll barbecue some chicken. Some potato salad will join it. That will provide the needed fuel to poke holes in the garden and plant some stuff.

Last Dance with the VW

Or maybe it isn’t. Hubby, engineer that he is, wants to try a few more of those ubiquitous last things before he gives up on the VW altogether. He’s watched innumerable YouTube videos and visited VW forums and read and re-read the owner’s and repair shop manuals. In my opinion, he needs to read Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley’s Frankenstein as well for ideas on reanimation projects.

According to his research, the transmission, or a component of it called a “solenoid,” has gone kaput. When the car is warmed up, she still runs as well as ever. The problem is that warming it up took two minutes, then five, then ten, and almost twenty even in warmer weather. And even then the car didn’t shift properly, forcing me to pull over and warm it up some more.

Long time readers of this blog may remember that the (’93) Ford truck, the ’95 Corolla, and the VW (’03) created a suicide-murder pact in the summer of 2019. We’d spent six weeks running between dealers, independent auto repair shops, and automotive supply stores. That Labor Day weekend culminated in the VW’s electrical system cutting out on me in heavy traffic. And now it was trying to kill me again with the transmission problems.

So after a trip to the VW dealer’s to see what could be done (flushing and changing transmission fluid, replacing this bit, changing that part? They were concerned that any of those options make things worse), he called. Did I want to go ahead and get the Prius I’d had my eye on for the last two years?

Yes, please.

The Toyota dealer had three in my first color choice. It’s called sea glass pearl, a green-blue that shimmers in the sunlight as if coated in pearls. Test drive, paperwork, learn how to at least start it and turn it off from the sales rep dedicated to teaching we of a certain generation about new electronic features, and off I went.

Driving the Prius home was quite a Zen experience. The gas engine is very quiet, and the electric one doesn’t make a sound. It’s comfortable; the audio system is fabulous; and I have peace of mind knowing that I’m conserving gas while reducing emissions. And turning heads. This car is an instrument of grace and beauty. It’s bigger than the VW, but not awkwardly so. In time, we will learn to dance together.

The technology in the Prius is a quantum leap from the VW just as the VW was from the Nissan Pulsar that I drove before (the one who died of a broken timing belt while I was driving). There are beeps and a backup camera and lots of little things that I’ll be getting used to before it becomes as intuitive as driving the VW has been, but that will come with time.

As for Hubby, well…he’ll be taking it to a repair shop that specializes in German cars to discuss the solenoid (whatever that is) and if they can do it reasonably or get him the parts to do it himself. The engine and body are still in decent shape, and he needs a new-to-him ride for his trips to Detroit. If not, he will drive it until it really dies and we will donate it.

And if it gets stolen on one of the trips to his mom’s, as far as I’m concerned after this last round of issues, the thieves can help themself and I’ll throw in a kiss and six months of insurance.

Tea, Tears, and Tradition…or a Very Decent and British Event

Image courtesy of The Graphics Fairy https://thegraphicsfairy.com/wp-content/uploads/blogger/_CarNcodpCMA/TEeR88RjsyI/AAAAAAAAIgg/O-GeZUzm37Q/s1600/britishflag2.jpg

I spent the week between Prince Philip’s passage and the funeral watching unhealthy–well, some might judge it as such–amounts of videos about the British monarchy on YouTube. Check out the ones by Darren McGrady, former chef to the Queen, for some fun and non-toxic tidbits about the Royals, both two- and four-legged ones (like favorite foods, cooking for the Corgis, him getting chased down the hall by said Corgis, those sorts of things). In addition to the heavy days marking time between the passing and the funeral, that week also brought a round of automotive growth experiences*, the start of Hubby doing his yearly month of religious fasting, and another frantic run to the vets’ to get Oakley a refill on his IBS medication.

Maybe binge-watching royal gossip videos is not that unhealthy a choice if it kept me from stabbing anyone or away from mood-altering substances. Especially when the algorithms kindly toss in Monty Python clips, especially the ones of Graham Chapman in his Army uniform popping out of the woodwork to end skits with an announcement that it was getting too silly and to move on to something decent and British.

In a way, I had hoped that he would come out of nowhere and do the same in real life, but the Prince’s death was too real, and not silly at all. Nor were the plans as they unfolded.

So on the morning of 17/4/21 with mug in hand, scone on plate, and Oakley at my side, I watched Prince Philip’s funeral while seated on my comfy sofa. Like we who were in northern Illinois that day, the Mountbatten-Windsors had cold but sunny weather for the ceremony, making the short walk for the relatives following the coffin from the residence to St. George’s Chapel not too uncomfortable.

By royal standards, the service proved to be quite simple. The liturgy was the basic Anglican order for funerals. While they still had military units with some tie to him participating in the sendoff, HRH had requested that no eulogy or sermon be given, and had told the Queen to just chuck him in the back of a Land Rover (in this case, one tricked out with an EV motor) when the time came to send him off to the Great Beyond.

His wishes for a relatively austere sendoff were honored. Mostly because he’d planned them out in advance, like the EV Land Rover; a few were due to pandemic protocols. Only 30 family members could attend and had to follow distancing guidelines, leading to the attendees sitting in household bubbles. William and Kate here. Harry over there. Edward and Sophie and their kids there. Anne and Charles with their respective spouses as well. And the other grandchildren along with nephews from over on the Continent were there. I will save my judgmental rants about Andrew for another time.

That lead to the Queen sitting by herself. Couldn’t share the pew with anyone. Couldn’t even bring one of her dogs into St. George’s for support.

Alone. For the first time in 73 years without the man she’d described as “my strength and my stay.” I’d like to think Philip in spirit form was sitting with her. But in common reality she just looked so small (she’s not that tall to begin with, under 5’4**) and bowed by grief and alone in her huge black hat and dress seated by herself in that huge cavernous chapel where Harry and Meghan were married a couple of years ago.

I discreetly dabbed my eyes. I cannot imagine.

I hope that the Queen found a measure of comfort in the beauty of the music and knowing that she was in the hearts of many around the world.

NBC’s coverage kept the play-by-plays limited to before and after the service, and had the courtesy to cut to the bagpiper playing a traditional Scottish mourning song while Prince Philip’s coffin was lowered to the vault below the chapel. Then came the benediction, and the Queen departing in her car while the other mourners walked back to the residence.

The pictures of her sitting alone were all over the internet. One of my friends tagged me on a post with that picture and a beautiful poem about her really not being alone because Philip would always be with her. (Thank you, Claudia….)

So now comes a brief period of formal mourning for the family, until this coming Saturday (24/4/21), I think. At that time, they will pick up and carry on with royal duties. They already have done so, with Charles and the Queen and I think Anne making appearances at some low-key events.

And maybe I will quit expecting Graham Chapman’s uniformed alter ego to pop up and say “Now THAT was decent AND British!”

Indeed it was.

*We gave up and bought a new car. More on that later.

**Fun random fact: Because she’s on the small side, Her Majesty wears a lot of bright colors when she makes public appearances so her security detail can keep better tabs on her.

Premonitions and Princes: Au Revoir, Prince Philip

This past Thursday found me running an errand. As I waited for a light, an unbidden thought came into my mind: Prince Philip is not going to make it to the weekend.

I’d seen the pictures of him when he was on his way back to Windsor about three weeks ago after undergoing the heart procedure and treatment for the infection. The unbidden thought then: hospice.

Well, at 99 and getting discharged after a month in the hospital, no one can be expected to retain the glow of youth. But the bruising and drawn cheeks did not bode well.

Que sera sera. The light changed. I pressed on the gas and went home.

The next morning, Friday, I called Hubby. “Did you hear the news?” he asked.

“No…” I don’t turn on news until I’ve had a cup of tea and written my morning page.

“Prince Philip died.”

Despite my morning page lying there blankly, I turned on the TV. Not quite time for “Today.” This shooting; that vaccine story; yet another carjacking. Prince Philip finally appeared on the crawler. Died peacefully at Windsor at 99.

A small, thin chill ran through me.

I flipped back and forth between the three networks. Their morning shows lead with the story and the summaries of a long life. Not always the nicest person, a definite relic from a harder, more structured world invested in keeping it that way; yet his work for the World Wildlife Fund pointed to a progressive streak that I didn’t know about.

Friday and Saturday found me camped out on the BBC website. Details about the funeral were finally posted mid-afternoon yesterday: 17/4 at 3 pm BST (that’s April 17 at 10 AM eastern, 9 central). Very paired down due to COVID, but would be televised.

In between new postings on the BBC live blog, my thoughts went in two directions: 1. The Queen. She had just lost her husband of 70+ years. How will she cope with his absence? and 2. What is the future of the British Monarchy?

On the first count, I silently wished her and her children strength and comfort. If she’d been a neighbor I would have made a cake or some cookies and taken them over, but since I’m not, and don’t live anywhere near Windsor, and her pastry chef is likely better than me at cakes and whatnot anyway, that was out of the question. All I could do was spare some thoughts as I would for any other woman in her later years. And hope that when the funeral’s done and she can relax her upper lip a bit, go out into the woods near Balmoral with the Corgis, and wail like a banshee until the grief subsides.

My hope is that she’ll get the love and support she needs to carry on around the great gawping canyon of Philip’s absence and stick around a few more years. I’ve always seen them as the type of couple that literally would not be able to live without each other and the survivor would follow the first to slip this veil in a short amount of time. We’ll have to see.

The second one is a lot trickier. The Monarchy reaches back into the mists of time a thousand years ago. It’s been argued that it’s provided structure and continuity since then. There have been calls to abolish it, and after the current Queen passes into the next world, will Charles or William be able to keep it going?

I don’t know. Oh, it needs to be updated without a doubt. But to do away with it altogether…

Perish the thought. It wouldn’t be Great Britain without a monarch. Would it? I don’t know. I have several British friends in the world of social media who feel that it should have been done away with years ago due to costs, creating a more egalitarian society, and so on. However, the last time that happened, England endured years of civil war. I would hope that wouldn’t happen, but in these crazy times, who knows?

As this week plays out, there will be tea to steep and scone recipes to be researched for Saturday. Until then, there are visits to be made to the BBC to see if any new related stories have popped up while hoping for a few more years with Her Majesty before Charles takes charge.

Initiation

Throughout time, societies have held rites of passage to acknowledge passages into life stages or into service to the tribe or becoming a spiritual leader. In general, they have a community gathering, some kind of a ritual that may or may not involve mood altering substances or pain, and then emerging on the other side into the new role in the community.

Maybe I’m making too much of it, but it felt kind of like that when I had my COVID vaccine this past Thursday. The Johnson and Johnson one-and-done. Since I am the queen of all side effects (Hubby is too much the gentleman to tell you about the time I was on Vicodan after a procedure and it made me think that Jerry Springer explained everything, so I will), it was my vaccine of preference.

I arrived at the site about a half hour early. The health department had set up camp in an office building recently purchased as the new city hall. Park, follow the lines around the building. Follow the person directing foot traffic with her clipboard. “If you’re here for your second shot, please go to the second floor. First shot people, this way. You’re getting the Johnson and Johnson vaccine today!”

My relief and joy over finally getting the vaccine of my choice combined with everyone else’s made it feel a margarita machine and Lady Gaga playlist away from a party as the line snaked towards the check in station.

Show ID and email with QR code. Go this way. Go that way. Take a seat at the station with nurse in the bright purple top. Scan the code again; verify identity; swab arm, and poke! All done; here’s your card. Wait in your car for 15 minutes to make sure you don’t have a reaction and have a great day.

My arm felt tingly, but it was OK. I made phone calls, went home, ordered and picked up lunch from a local takeout place to celebrate.

The side effects crept up that afternoon. Mostly fatigue, a nagging slight headache. Later that night, I did have some minor chills. Friday I was fatigued and headachy, but it started dissipating late afternoon.

I slept the sleep of the just, the dead, or the just plain dead last night. Oakley began pacing and dramatically flopping onto the floor about 6:30 to let me know that it was breakfast o’clock, otherwise I would have slept longer.

And now I hang out in the liminal space while the vaccine does its job in the next two weeks. I will be protected, but will not be reckless–I’ll continue to to keep my distance from the maskless wonders and will mask up until Dr. Fauci says otherwise. I will continue to wash my hands like Lady Macbeth. And keep social distance.

But in two weeks, barring another surge, I can get my hair cut. I can go back to in-person yoga. I can go to the store without wondering if I’m going to die from it, even if I go directly after the time reserved for seniors and special concern shoppers.

I didn’t glean any insights from the dance with the side effects, but I do know that it will be great to mask up and join the world at large. And that it should never be taken for granted again.

Wind

Last time I looked at the National Weather Service website, we had a 23 MPH wind hooking around from the northeast with gusts up to 40. And a wind advisory until 7 P.M. Whee.

Well, we are on the brink of spring. There’s roughly 48 hours left of astronomical winter, and it’s making the most of it remaining time here in the northern hemisphere. After a week or so of warm weather, we had snow last weekend that melted quickly followed by a rainstorm that whipped against the windows.

The wind woke Oakley up about 5:30, a not too obscene hour. Pace, pace, flop. Pace, pace, flop. Pace, pace–OK, OK, I’m up. Took him out. Productive. Then we had a micro power failure, one that lasted long enough to knock the microwave and stove clocks off line before the lights came back on. Adjusted clocks. Settled for a few minutes, then had to go back out to stare at the things that only dogs can see in the dark wind. Dragged him back inside. Tend to the clocks again after another micro-failure, then another run to tend to more business.

Five minutes is not long enough to steep tea some mornings, like this blustery cold one. My mug may be fused to the palm of my left hand by the end of the day.

In the mean time, we stay inside and make the day the best possible one. Hubby hangs out in his office, learning a software program that enables him to design cabinets and other nifty things. Oakley perfects his starving orphan puppy act, trying to convince Hubby that I didn’t feed him and that no one gave him his half mini-bagel this morning while I start a fresh batch of dog food.

Me? I found a new recipe that we’ll try for dinner. It’s called harira, a Moroccan lentil and chickpea soup with plenty of warming spices, something we dearly need today. I found the recipe on https://www.themediterraneandish.com. If you haven’t checked out Suzy’s recipes, do so. Especially the cod with lemon and garlic.

Between looks out the window to see if the neighbor’s cows have started flying, we’re just quietly doing our own things, riding out the unstable weather, and looking forward to the calmer, warmer days ahead.