After an interminable string of hot, humid days, the weather gently cracked Monday night. Off and on showers and light silvery storms popped up yesterday to open the first day of meteorological autumn.
Astronomical autumn doesn’t start until the 21st or 22nd. That’s fine. My head and heart have already switched into fall mode way ahead of the curve. The transition starts when the very first faint tinges of gold and scarlet rim the edges of the leaves and the acorns begin to drop. Then a bare handful of leaves in full fall colors drift to the ground on the soft wind. Next come the geese honking their way into flocks, just a couple here and there, gradually increasing in numbers as they find their places in the V-shaped formation gliding across the sky.
And then noticing that the lights need to go on earlier, and a little earlier the next night, and stay on a little later the next morning.
As the days grow shorter, this not-so-young woman’s fancy turns to thoughts of comfort food. Two recipes I want to try this fall are risotto–I’ve never made it but have wanted to do so–and two new soups. One is Finnish salmon soup which kind of resembles chowder; the other is plokkfisker, a potato and fish dish from Iceland that looks like chowder on steroids. I will report on the results.
Books are a necessity any time of year, but more so in the months where a person needs to gather by the hearth. I started rereading The Mists of Avalon by Marion Zimmer Bradley over the weekend. Ms. Bradley retold the Arthurian legends from the point of view of the female characters. It weighs in at over 700 pages and a couple of pounds, but worth the time and (physical) effort. In addition, I have a couple of cookbooks requested for my birthday next month, Mimi Thorrisson’s newest, Old World Italian, and The Nordic Cookbook by Magnus Nilsson. I’ll review them after I play with them.
In the mean time, there are preparations to be made. Blankets? Check. Go through the pantry and freezer to inventory what we have and what we need? Check. Get outside and enjoy it while we can before the really cold weather sets in? Check.
I took Oakley out to tend to morning business. As we sauntered around the back yard, the sun that spilled through the cracks in the clouds was intense, the breeze blew cold, and the air felt as if a wet towel had been draped over everything.
Well, storms, probably severe ones, had been in the forecast since Friday. Once Oakley freshened up his boundary markers, we went inside and turned on the TV to check the weather.
And I was greeted with special reports about overnight looting in downtown Chicago. All I could do was watch the footage of windows getting smashed and the shards of glass glittering in the early morning sun.
Finally, they went to weather. This was not an ordinary storm; this was a derecho coming at us. A couple of years ago one trashed the Boundary Waters area in Minnesota. It’s a huge (in this case from well into Wisconsin to Peoria) storm complex with thunderstorms, straight-line winds of 58 miles or more, and 240 mile wide swaths of damage. It wasn’t expected until after lunch time.
Even though Chicago proper is some 50 miles east and this wasn’t going to impact us directly, it combined with the storm to relieve me of the desire to leave my house. “Oakley, just tell me when you need to go out, but I don’t think we’re going to go anywhere today,” I told him.
Oakley didn’t mind since I gave him a liver cracker while I told him about the change in plans.
Now what? Plug in phone. Have candles and flashlights at the ready. Bring in the trash can and lawnmower. And wait. And keep the TV on but muted.
It finally arrived around 2:45. My phone went off with news of the tornado watch as the crawlers on the TV rattled off the counties under watches and warnings. Off in the distance the siren wailed a song of incoming danger. On the TV the weather guys posted a red rectangle stretching from Sugar Grove (about eight miles north of me) to one of the tiny towns on the Route 47 corridor about five miles south).
And then we lost power.
Not much to do. I grabbed a biskie for Oakley and joined him in his storm shelter between the coffee table and the love seat. A bit of thunder. A bit of lightning, but mostly wind driving the hail and the rain into the windows.
I don’t know how long it lasted, but it had tapered off by about five. Called the power company. Made my report and waited.
Checked to make sure the sump pump pit hadn’t overflowed, hauled a ladder upstairs so I could pull a smoke alarm that sang its own death knell out of the ceiling in one of the bedrooms, and then sat and read.
And took Oakley out so he could touch up his boundary markers.
Thankfully, all the shingles were in place and the car parked outside was intact. Windows solid. Everything looked good.
Still no power and no signs of when it would be back. I lit several candles and read while Oakley sat next to me and napped.
I called the power company one more time, but the system had crashed. Turned out that about half a million people were in the same electric-less boat.
We went to bed a bit early. Not really anything else we could do. I took the battery operated lantern upstairs and read some more while the cricket songs floated in through the open windows accompanied by the rustle of the wind in the cornstalks.
The next morning sunlight filtered through the gaps in the curtains, gently waking me up. I went downstairs about 5:45. Just as I was putting water to boil on the stove, the electricity came back.
Again, I turned on the TV for weather. Seven confirmed tornados, including one in Chicago proper and one that damaged a church on the Wheaton College campus. A possible eighth one is being investigated about twelve miles to my west, suspicion raised by the downed utility lines and other damages.
Other than not being able to get to one of the forest preserves for a walk due to cleanup operations, it blossomed into a predictable Tuesday. Oakley went to daycare; I did some bits and pieces around the house. I picked Oakley up. He came home, inhaled dinner, and fell into a deep nap.
Cleanup at the little forest preserve continues today. The big forest preserve was open for business this morning, and we walked there to celebrate safe passage through the storm.
I watched too much TV yesterday and Saturday. Granted that a lot of it involved watching Rep. John Lewis make his final trip over the Pettis Bridge, but still too much of it. It wasn’t the worst thing that I could have done, but it may not have been the best.
In other times, I would have seen who was available for lunch or gone to physical yoga class. But not these days. We have the accursed COVID-19 still in play, messing with most restaurants and many retail establishments. The yoga studio went back to online classes only. And we have had a long stretch of days topping 90 (I wilt at 85 and curl into a blackened ball over 90, especially when humidity comes into play) that’s been interfering with our ability to walk.
But these are extraordinary times we live in. Not unprecedented, since we’ve had the Spanish flu about 100 years ago and the sweating sickness and before that the Black Plague. And countless other epidemics that didn’t get recorded. Oh, and the political upheaval on this scale is nothing new. Just highly unusual.
How, then, does a person cope?
I’ve been reading. A lot, specifically rereading Jane Austen. The rogues, rakes, and scalawags in her books behave with a modicum of propriety and panache, unlike the miscreants grabbing the headlines of the moment. Otherwise, it’s a steady diet of books and websites about England, France, and Italy. I’ve found inspiration and entertainment through reading menus from places such as Cafe de Flores, one of the great literary hangouts in Paris. Sigh.
I don’t know if I’ll ever get back to France, or finally to England or Italy, but I’ll be ready. Thanks to YouTube, I’m learning Italian. I feel confident that I can order coffee and something to go with it. Plus I’m picking up more of what they’re really saying when I watch an Italian mystery on MHz and not just what the subtitles say.
And there’s period dramas. Still on the hunt for something to replace “Downton Abbey.” Or at least fill in the gaps. (Yes, I tried “Poldark,” but when Ross came home from fighting in the Revolutionary War to find that his father had died and his girlfriend was engaged to his cousin all in the first five minutes put me off.) (Oh, and “Victoria?” They killed off two of my favorite characters. One they had to for historical accuracy, but the other was a shoddy way to advance the story line.)
But there comes a time when one must turn off the tube, put down the book, and get outside. The problem is finding the sweet spots of the day when it’s relatively cool and the forest preserve isn’t overrun with other walkers, especially the ones who don’t mask up or respect social distancing. Technically, the preserves don’t open until 8 AM, but as long as you don’t bring a marching band with you, the workers pay no mind if you sneak in at 7:30 give or take a few minutes. We go after 5 PM when the hoards thin out. If we walk on the back trails and horse paths, it’s not too hard to avoid other walkers.
If the nuances of weather and thinned crowds fall into place, we walk out to the observation platform on the east end of the preserve. I sit for a few minutes and watch the river tumble to the southwest while Oakley sniffs around the the platform’s edges to see which critters have been there.
Refreshed, we walk up the trail to meet the common world, ready to take on whatever gets shown at us.
The weekend’s ear worm was this. Replace “dance” with “ants” and you get the picture.
It’s not uncommon for us to see a creepy-crawly here and there. Usually I prefer to scoop them up and toss them back outdoors where they belong. With the exception of wasps, yellow jackets, and other undesirables, that is.
However, on a Saturday evening when one opens the door to the cabinet beneath the sink to discard some bit of flotsam into the garbage can and the top of the the garbage is black and crawling with ants, it is time to take steps. As many of them as it takes to get the back out of the door and into the trash can.
After that, Hubby sat down with his tablet and googled ants. After examining several specimens and comparing them to pictures, he deduced that we had carpenter ants. They chew through wood to enlarge their colonies. In nature, it’s to be expected and encouraged to clear the way for new growth. In the 2’x6′ framing of a house’s supporting wall, however, well, that could be a big expensive problem.
Usually, Hubby, despite many, many conversations with me about chemistry not always making life better, goes for remedies of a non-organic nature. Luckily, he came across a formula of 1 cup hot water, 1/2 cup of sugar or honey, and two tablespoons borax (available in laundry aisles and hardware stores). Mix, then soak cotton balls in it, and leave in the affected areas. The ants eat some there and take the rest back to the colony for the others to consume. The borax interferes with the ants’ digestion. Eventually, the ants will meet their fate without harm to humans or pets. It might take a couple of applications, but it’s less toxic and exponentially cheaper than calling in an exterminator.
So far, the borax and sugar is doing its job. We’ve only seen a few since yesterday. Here’s hoping it does the job.
The other suggestions for ant eradication involved making sure the area is clean. Hubby did so, and the dog-proof step-on trash can that’s not unattractive and doesn’t need to be stashed beneath the sink in en route. The one we keep forgetting to buy when we’re out running errands.
It will be here Thursday. I look forward to it. And garbage that doesn’t crawl when I open the lid or door.
There are the springs the park is named after. Even in the most f-all cold weather, they still flow through the green cress lining their banks
And there are the Mother Maples, still standing after ten years of storms, their roots like knobby toes gripping, digging into the forest floor.
Ahead of us is the river, shining silver in the early sunlight. Oakley and I turn west on the trail, following paw prints that faded from the trail over time but never from my heart.
The last time I was on this trail was ten years ago. Solo, around Labor Day. back. I hadn’t been out there since the next to last week in May when Orion had crossed the Rainbow Bridge. I just couldn’t bring myself to walk there for three months. One of the other dog persons saw me walking alone, guessed what had happened, and threw her arms around me.
I hugged her back. No words were needed.
Before that, before the damned heart condition and the double damned lymphoma took him, Orion’s last hurrah echoed through the park. He caught the scent of a rabbit, the quarry of Brittanys across North America and around the world. With an unexpected burst of energy, he dragged me down the trail, up the hill to the larger lake, around the west end of the lake, up another hill, then turned us east and slowed to a tentative crawl as we went back to the car.
The final decline began the next day. He had problems getting up and walking and just wanted to lie in the grass in the back yard.
And then he didn’t even want to do that. He stayed in his spot by the back door. I stayed next to him, begging any deity who was listening to please intervene, to please guide me. Was it time to call in the vet?
No, he just had a rally and ate a little banana and a bite of turkey. He was acting more engaged and a little cuddly.
Maybe. He’s not in any pain, but I couldn’t get him out in time.
We’ll try sub-q fluids. That’s helping. He perked up.
And then on the last day, a Saturday, Hubby brought home a garden cart, one of the mesh ones, put one of Orion’s beds in the bottom, loaded Orion into it, and took him on a ride around the property lines and up and down our road.
We spoke of taking him for a ride the next day at the park, but then he crashed and burned.
I called the emergency number for our vet clinic. No one was able to come out and help with that final act of kindness. The nearest emergency vet was a half-hour away.
If he starts acting like he’s in pain, if he has respiratory problems…yeah. Otherwise…
We took him to his spot. I stayed with him through the night, candles lighting his way. Whispering that I would miss him, but I understood if he needed to go.
I laid on the floor next to him, watching the stars crossing the night sky through the skylights. The classical station played a lot of Bach for some reason through the wee smalls.
Just before the first cracks of daylight opened, I felt my heart get torn from my chest and had a mental image of Orion giving me a play bow, running around our back two acres, then taking off towards the east. I sat up. Checked the pulse points.
That stage of his journey was done.
Mine was beginning. The journey of fumbling through the darkness, the numbness. Not being able to even drive past the entrances to the park without tears scalding my cheeks.
Eventually, while the gaps and holes remained, they shrank, and the raw edges scabbed over and turned pink with new growth. I could walk at the park again.
And then came Oakley. While Orion had been exposed to the outdoors from nearly birth as part of his hunting dog training, Oakley had spent his first six months in a shelter with little exposure to the world outside the building. Walking him and showing him the world of his big brother was nearly impossible due to the anxiety triggered by the overwhelming scents and sounds.
Even with all the training mitigating his early lack of exposure, I just couldn’t take Oakley back to that park. He learned to love the other parks in our area, but the state park I just couldn’t…
But then came the current plague where social distancing became a must. Hard to do at the forest preserves and their weekend crowds. A couple of weeks ago we took a little drive and checked the parking lot to see if it was at 50% capacity or less per safety recommendations.
Deep breath, bite lip behind my scarf. Get out of car. Yes, I’m OK. Oakley’s OK. New playground gear? Great. That tree is still standing. Those outhouses, the ones where Orion and I took refuge from an out of nowhere electrical storm, finally came down. That final hard wind probably did them in. The flowering trees, the picnic areas hadn’t changed that much. We walked. Oakley sniffed. He may have listened as I pointed out Orion’s favorite places to sit and watch the river go by. But I think he was too busy sniffing to hear me.
Since then, we’ve worked the park back into our rotation. Early morning is best for contemplating the abundance of beauty around us in quiet and semi-solitude while we walk, my feet and his paws padding down the mulch covered trail by the river.
Sometimes in the silence occasionally punctuated by a bird’s call or the wind in the leaves, if I listen with my heart, I can hear an unseen set of paws running alongside us.
So how the heck are you, Gentle Readers? We are slightly bonkers here from the monotony of the days in the soybean field, yet we are grateful that we are well off in so many other ways.
We’re making an effort to stick to some kind of schedule. Meals and walks get served up at pretty much the same time daily as they were before the stay at home order went into effect back in March. The two changes: afternoon walks are later to avoid crowds at the parks, and we stop at 2:30 for tea, species-appropriate treats, and to watch the daily briefing from Governor Pritzker, Dr. Ngosi Ezike, the head of the Illinois Public Health Department, and other dignitaries with important information pertaining to this accursed modern-day plague.
Those, too, have patterns and rhythms. If Gov. Pritzker’s opening remarks include acknowledgements of people on the front line in one capacity or another, or introducing additional speakers, the statistics will run low. If he hands it off to Dr. Ezike right after thanking everyone for tuning in, we know the numbers are even less pretty than usual. It’s been interesting to listen to a National Guard commander detail what’s gone into transforming McCormick Place from a convention center into an alternative care facility for COVID-19 patients. I felt uplifted by the motivational speech by a young man who created a NFP to mentor teens in his tough neighborhood reminding them and others to use this time at home to set goals and work out game plans to achieve them. Next come the questions from reporters, and then everyone is thanked and that’s it for the day.
Sometimes we watch “Jeopardy” to cleanse our palates. Sometimes nothing short of time in the woods will shift gears. And sometimes as it’s been too many days this spring, it’s too cold and rainy, so we have another snack.
Luckily, the weather has shifted gears, finally. My plan, subject to change due to factors beyond my control, is to get the garden planted in the next week. One of my local organic farmers is selling plants with curbside delivery. I know that I can trust him to pick good ones for me. Usually, I would buy them form the ag store, but many shoppers there believe that masks and distancing are but suggestions.
The tough parts for me have been keeping Oakley amused (day care starts again next week–it’s located in a county that will start opening nonessential services on Monday) and not being able to shop for food in person. Well, I could. I don’t because as with the ag store, a lot of people in these parts see social distancing and wearing masks as a government plot to strip civil liberties. We’ve been getting curbside from a mom-and-pop near Oakley’s day care and as much as it gags me, Wal-Mart.
Will we have markets this summer? I don’t know. Right now, I would love to have tea or lunch in person with a friend, but because so many are in risk groups, and Hubby is in a risk group because of his age, I can’t and won’t take that chance.
Even back in the days of the Black Plague, people understood that isolation and quarantine was the best way to shut it down. In fact, did you know that “quarantine” is derived from the Italian word for forty? Now you do. And if this was something new, you may go take a nap.
The plague passed. So will this, eventually. Not unlike a kidney stone, but it will.
I’m going to whisper this: it looks as if winter’s finally let go of us. Don’t let winter hear you repeat this; it might get ideas about returning.
Yesterday some redwing blackbirds sang in the day as I took Oakley out for his first round of social networking. It was breezy, but not to the point where walking and standing were neat tricks. The mild air smelled fresh and slightly milky with notes of green. Beneath my feet, the tender soil yielded to each step, making a slight sucking noise as I pulled my feet from the mud.
Yes. Hello, spring and all the things that come with you: the mud, the bird songs, the unstable weather. Welcome.
We are under a tornado warning until 5PM Central today. It’s to be expected when the day’s high spikes near 60 only to be chased out by a cold front during the afternoon hours. Starting tomorrow daytime highs will be more in line with averages for mid-March. After a winter with a polar vortex, they will feel subtropical.
So far today, we’ve had three short rounds of rain followed by crystal blue skies. The southwest wind is howling away. A little while ago hail smashed against the windows. No damage, just noise.
Oakley has spent the last few hours either sitting next to me with his tush glued to my hip or taking refuge in his storm shelter between the arm chair and the love seat. The flying debris smacking into the house and other solid objects is a bit nerve wracking for both of us. I don’t blame him. A seat next to Mom soothes his anxiety.
We tried to walk at the big forest preserve this morning, but bailed. The thunder under a half-blue half-clouded-over sky was disconcerting enough, but throw a couple of bus loads of elementary school students in and you can kiss any semblance of peace goodbye. We missed our 30 minute goal by about five minutes, but the speed of return to the car likely compensated for it.
I made sure to charge my phone last night in case of power outages, both so I can contact the power company and communicate with the outside world. We’re prepared. We don’t really have much else to worry about as this system makes its way to its next destination. For that I am truly grateful.
(No polar bears in the field just yet, but I would not be surprised if one sauntered past us.)
Today Oakley and I experiment with the Danish art of hygge. There’s no direct translation of the word, but the gist of it means making things as nice as possible inside with candles, knickknacks, good music, books, DVDs, dog treats, and of course, chocolate and red wine along with having friends over. We have all of the above, and while I’d love to have friends over, not in this weather will I ask them to leave their homes, so I’ll make a couple of calls. It’s how Danes survive their winters without going totally mad.
Our winter chugged along in mild beauty and splendor until last week when weather turned into more typical January patterns of snow and co. This week, Mother Nature decided to send a cross-pole vortex our way. We’re going to make history for the next 48-72 hours out here in the soybean field. Tonight’s low will be -23F. Tomorrow’s high will be -15F. Thursday we’ll be hovering around zero, but all will be right again on Friday with a subtropical high of 20F. Right now it’s 4F above with the wind kicking up the top layer of the snow.
As much as it irritated both of us, I kept Oakley home from day care today. Usually he goes twice a week, but attendance this last month has been erratic due to weather. Today local weather people call for blowing and drifting later this afternoon, right about the time I usually pick him up. That’s the rub. The route I vastly prefer cuts through open farm fields. It gets blown in after snowstorms no matter how diligently they keep after it. I’ve been blinded by ground blizzards before and don’t wish to risk that, thank you. The other route involves a US highway that follows the railroad line stringing together the largest towns in the county. It’s better sheltered and the first road plowed after storms. However, accessing it involves doubling back to the east which jacks up drive time as well as negotiating a two mile stretch of construction. As in 30 minutes to go two miles. Nope.
So we nibble a couple of extra treats, play some games, do some puzzles as we listen to the wind underscoring the current selection playing on WFMT. We only have to get through 48-72 hours of this, and we will.
I can’t speak for Oakley, but I intend to enjoy it as much as possible.
Winter finally came to town this weekend. We didn’t get that much snow, but it was one of those storms that just strolled in early Saturday, pulled up a chair, and made itself at home until finally leaving in the wee smalls Sunday morning.
Luckily, we didn’t have to be anywhere this weekend. We made the big haul grocery trip a few days before, so we didn’t have to worry about perishables and had a fresh supply of nonperishables. Such is the joy of having a pantry and a freezer.
Oh, what’s in them? Something like this:
Fish, canned and frozen
Chicken from the place that meets both our specifications
Jarred pasta sauce and canned tomatoes: crushed or diced
Rice, basmati and jasmine
Different canned beans and lentils. I’ve never been able to cook beans from scratch. Yes, it’s cheaper and more ecologically sound to do so, but beans just won’t cooperate under my direction. Except lentils.
A few cartons and cans of soups: chicken broth for homemade, tomato soup from Trader Joe’s, clam chowder, and a vegetable soup Aldi gets from Germany a few times a year
Onions and potatoes and garlic
Frozen blueberries and green beans
Baking supplies including oatmeal
Nuts and nut butter
Shelf stable Indian foods for the days when neither of us just can’t
I always have seasonings on hand so I can create tasty meals such as soups and curries out of a few items from the pantry. While I have the luxury of a dedicated room (about the dimensions of a good sized closet) for storing canned goods and supplies such as toilet paper and paper towels, I know a lot of people don’t. I wish they did. I know some other bloggers who have their stashes in plastic storage bins that fit under their beds or tucked into closets. That’s not a bad alternative.
Being well stocked mostly prevents the temptation of making runs for fast food, so our investment saves money as well. Plus if the weather goes bad, we don’t have to pick our way over crappy roads to go shopping.
And while we’re on the subject of pantries….please don’t forget your local food banks. With the chaos and insanity in DC, the most vulnerable (children, elders, and disabled) are at risk for being forgotten. Thank you.
Yesterday afternoon, rose gold light tinted the bare oak trees and open fields along the back road I take between our house and Oakley’s day care and boarding. The road skirts a semi-residential area with a reduced speed limit and light traffic, so no one honked at me as I slowed a bit to take in the beauty.
The days lengthen in increments of a minute here, a few seconds there. I didn’t have to turn on the headlights as I had to last week on the way home from picking up a happy, tired pooch.
Oakley hopped in the car, looked out the windshield and the passenger side window, then curled into a snoring ball on the front seat for the trip home.
I kept the radio on the classical music station for a score befitting a drive home under a winter sunset. Much had happened in the news yesterday, so I chose respite from it during the drive.
Once home, the aroma of salsa chicken* in the slow cooker greeted us. Oakley did his dinner dance, crashing afterwards into a hard nap on his spot on the sofa. Hubby watched woodworking videos on his tablet. I watched “A Craftsman’s Legacy” on PBS. We minimized news watching, choosing tranquility over the need for being well informed.
Somehow last night, things felt more OK than they have in sometime. The pieces scattered from by last fall’s losses are settling into their new shapes and forms. The lines in Hubby’s face have relaxed. There still are moments and there will be moments when missing his sister and brother in law overwhelm him, but like an outgoing tide, those will fade away in time.
For last night anyway, everything faded with the evening light.
*Salsa chicken: one jar of salsa of your choice (I like Aldi’s house brand Casa Mamita organic fire roasted vegetable) and enough chicken to cover the bottom of a 5-quart slow cooker. Take the skin off the chicken if need be, place in the slow cooker, pour enough salsa to cover on top, then cover and let it go until falling apart tender. Works with any part of chicken. Pick it off the bones if need be. Use in tacos, on salad, in enchiladas, or in rice bowls.