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Dorrance Dance

Kennedy Center

At this point it is almost becoming a tradition that Matt and I see Dorrance Dance in December. Back in the Before COVID (BC) times, we would go to New York in December. The impetus for the trip was always a Dorrance Dance show. We would tack on a play and some ridiculously delicious and sensory overwhelming dinner at Aquavit and then merrily take the train home.

But alas, this is the COVID Times and going to New York was not really in the cards. But that was okay because Michelle Dorrance brought her troupe to us. Dorrance Dance is a tap dance company. But not just tap dancing. This is spirited choreography that takes the percussion to new levels. It is masterful and imaginative at its core. Plus, it just makes a person smile. You cannot be sad watching tap dancers. It is a feel good experience. If you ever have the opportunity, just go.

The Chain Saw

Lumberjack

The change in climate is not helping our trees. We have hemlocks. They suffer in the mid-Atlantic as it is. We get diseases, bugs. I spend a lot of money trying to keep them healthy. But one was dying a slow death and I decided to put it out of its misery. I could have called a tree company to cut it down but that was going to cost quite a lot of money seeing as it was a 20 footer. I decided to buy a chain saw and cut it down myself. Then I channeled Dubya and cut up the brush. I could have cut it with the lopper but why when I have a chain saw?!

Matt was very worried that I was going to let this tree fall onto our fence or even worse our neighbor’s house. I assured him I was my father’s daughter and I could control where it would fall. And I did. It fell smack dab between the oak tree and some bushes. I was more concerned about the chain saw itself. I have a fear of anything with a spinning blade. Even table saws make me nervous.

Blackberries

berries

the farm

In August we make trips to the farm to pick blackberries.  We pick and pick and pick some would say obsessively.  Picking fruit can be very zen. The focus.  The here and now.  Thinking only of berries, examiningberries to see if they are ripe to pick, searching under leaves for the biggest ones.

When I was a kid we went blackberry picking in the evenings after we had dinner.  The best spots were along old mine roads and coke heaps, places where cows roamed.  The berry bushes were wild and had thorns so in the middle of August we had to wear long sleeves and pants.  It was hot but we filled buckets.  My mom would make blackberry jelly (topped with wax) that would last us for the winter.  I don’t make jelly from my berries.  I eat them straight, sometimes I make a cobbler.  But mostly we just eat them fresh with some yogurt.  Yummy.

FRUIT!!!

The fruits come in fast from August through September.  First, scuppernogs.

Scuppernogs

Oh how I love them!  I did not even know they existed until 2017 when we went to South Carolina to see the Solar eclipse.  I am a random shopper.  I very much look at something and say, “what is that?” and “Hey, let’s try it!”  Food in particular.  I was in a farm stand and saw what were called scuppernogs.  I later learned they are also called muscadine grapes  These are wild grapes that grow in the south. (They have everything in the South.)  They are huge and sweet but not too because the skin is tart.  The idea is to put them in your mouth, work off the skin and pop the seeds them enjoy.  It is a lot of work, yes, but no more than concord grapes which I also love.

I already have a concord grape vine.  I’d like to plant a scuppernog vine and see what happens.  The idea of wild grapes makes me giddy.  I just love the idea of wild growing fruit.

figs

Then figs, figs, figs  I just cannot eat enough figs, particularly green figs.  Little bundles of honey sweet joy.  Mmmmm. Mmmmm.  I ate all the green figs so I only have a picture of black figs which are almost but not quite as good.  (Brown turkey figs are very much last on the list of figs worth eating, purchased only when there are no other figs to buy.  (Sorry turkey figs.)

passions

Then come passion fruits.  Hello, California? Can you ship me some passions please?  They come five pounds at a time and we just eat them up. Floral, tart, juicy, crunchy.  We met these fruits in Sri Lanka, where they have them just everywhere.  Here, they cost a fortune to buy if you don’t buy in bulk.  And I am all about bulk passion fruits purchases. 

Then finally, last but not least, we have pawpaws, from right the midwest and Appalachia, these are native fruits that are not well known but should be. They started as a tropical fruit millions of years ago and when the glaciers left, we kept the trees. They grow wild in the East but many farmers cultivate them.

What does a paw paw taste like? Kind of like a mellow custard, not too sweet with banana aromas, some floral tones and just plain comfort food. A call out to the internet brings them to our door if we don’t make it to the pawpaw festival. The PA mean Pennsylvania Gold and A = Allegheny.  Allegheny is richly delicious.  

Neptune and Me

For those who know my history, I have been in a decades long battle with Neptune, the god of the sea.  Neptune has it in for me and he tortures me with water leaks.  He drives me crazy.  In this house alone we have had five water leaks in the basement–two pinholes leaks from water pipes, one of which destroyed half of the ceiling as it collapsed from the strain, and three bouts of water damage from gutters misbehaving.

Recently,we had a torrential rainstorm–four inches in an hour.  There was a raging river in our backyard and in the front yard.  One of our gutters that feeds into an underground drainage system backed up (because the drainage system is clogged, which is a whole ‘nother story) and the water poured out of the gutter, down the foundation, and into the basement.  We did not even know it until two days later.  I was vacuuming and when I passed over the carpet next to the wall, the vacuum moaned.  My hand confirmed that the carpet was soaked.  We had to move the furniture, rip out the carpet padding and run fans for a week.  Then we had carpet repairs and cleaning.  I cannot tell you how disruptive this is when you spend a lot of your time in the basement.  My gym was closed for repairs.

I then had to go to work figuring out how to manage that gutter.  It took me a few tries but I finally decided to disconnect the entire downspout and redirect it away from the underground system to another part of the yard.  It took a lot of trips to Lowe’s, a lot of cussing, a lot of mud all over me, but I wrestled it to the ground. I made a nice little rock fall for it so it looks nice too!  Hey, you have to be creative.

gutter spout rocks

But I confess, Neptune wins again.  I wish I knew what I did to earn his wrath. I have tried to apologize but he just will not listen.

Crowns – “I suddenly discovered something I did not know existed and now I cannot live without!”

 

Sometimes I get on Etsy and I am looking for something specific and one thing leads to another and I am on some website I had no intention of visiting, looking at things I never had any intention of buying. As Calvin of Calvin and Hobbes once said about catalogs coming in the mail, “I suddenly discovered something I did not know existed and now I cannot live without!”

This journey led me to buy some outrageously gaudy earrings that are so over the top I just giggle while I wear them.  They just make me feel alive and present.

But then I really went for it and bought the crowns with matching earrings.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

But Marsha, where do you wear them?  Right now, around the house. But trust me—that strawberry crown and matching earrings will be on my head when we head to the strawberry festival next year (virus willing).

This lovely gentleman from FestyDesigns just produces the blingiest accessories you ever will see.

Diane Von Furstenburg and Me

DVF dress

When I get stressed which is..okay all the time…I shop on-line.  A while back I went on a bit of a buying binge of Diane von Furstenburg wrap dresses.  I am not sure what set me off.  But I must have seen someone in a DVF dress, remembered them as flattering and set off to find one.  I am not sure how many dresses later but now I have closet full of really wonderful DVF dresses (Don’t be too impressed.  Most are “like new” or “new with tags” which I think means someone went to a store and bought it off the sales rack to resale it for more money on Ebay or Poshmark.  No matter.  None were full price.)

But with COVID-19, now what?  I have nowhere to go to show off my dresses. That means I just have to wear the dresses at home.  Or actually to Walmart to buy paper towels.  Yes, I went off to Walmart in my DVF dress.  Here I am showing it off.  This one is vintage.  It has lady bugs on it. I thought it was fun.  I did dress down with plain sandals so I was not too flashy while I stood in the checkout line!

Our Backyard

I thought you might like to see some of the visitors we have had this year.  Oddly, there are few frogs and toads this year which is beginning to alarm me.  When we first moved here, I would see half dozen or more at night.  But not now.  The groundhog is back, but no picture.  He is pretty shy and if he has any sense I am around he runs, his belly wobbling between his legs.  We have not seen the fox since the spring.  We always worry he has been run over by a car or something.  We can hear the owl but never see him.  I am very tempted to put out some meat and a night camera to see if I can get a sight of him.  There are deer everywhere and who cares?  Nuisances really.

I accidently killed the turtle that lived in our yard.  He got caught up in some netting I had put over my blueberry bush.  I cried long and hard about that and I gave him a proper burial while I sobbed.  That was hard.  It was heart breaking to find him.  I saw him every year hiding in the flowers and we would have a lovely talk.

Bluebirds are just beautiful.

Blue bird

 

Then there is the pileated woodpecker that is so much a dinosaur.

Pileated

And my favorite, the sharp shinned hawk.  In this picture he is still young.  Now he soars over the house and his shadow crosses my window looking out from my desk to the backyard.    He hunts the bird feeder, which is okay by me.  There are red tailed hawks around too.  You can hear them and the birds chase after them in the sky.  But they don’t come to the feeders.

Hawk 2

Political Mail

Political mail

I have no idea how this happened, but I am clearly on the RNC mailing list.  I regularly get stuff from conservative politicians asking for money.  Here is what I do.  I pull out my pen and I make some middle school marks on the photos—you know, devil horns and such.  Then I go through the letter and put comments in the margins pointing out the idiocy of their positions.  Lindsay Graham got “John McCain is looking down embarrassed by you.”   Martha McSally (who the hell is Martha McSally?) got a lot of comments along the line that she is a Trump bootlicker.  You get the point.  Then I fold it all back up and stuff it into the pre-paid envelope and send it back so they have to pay for the postage. They probably think there is a check inside.  Instead they get snail mail trolling.  I’ve been doing this for years.  It is very satisfying in its own I-do-what-I-can way.

Swimming

The one thing I miss most during this pandemic is swimming.  I love to swim. I want to be in water.  I have had five shoulder surgeries and yet, I persist.  But the pandemic put a stop to it.  The pool I usually go to has been closed since March.  It is indoor and it has a sand filter.  It does not rely entirely on chemicals to clean the water.  So as you can imagine, they are trying to figure this out.  Other indoor pools are open but you have to make a reservation to swim and that is not easy with limited lanes and a whole lot of people who want to get in the pool.  Not only that, it is indoors.  I am not fully comfortable with that because swimming entails a lot of exhaling and inhaling and spit kind of going everywhere.  Without proper ventilation, it gives me pause.

We decided to try the outdoor pool.  The have limited capacity and you have to make a reservation.  Lap swimming is first come first serve and one person per lane, which is a good distance apart.  We went on a Sunday evening figuring there would be less people there.  It is true, the number of people from normal pool capacity was far less.  But here is what I realized.  People forget to distance when they are having fun.  Or maybe they just don’t care.

When we arrived, the lap lanes were all taken so we had to make do with an open area, trying to get some laps in. (Matt does water running.)  There was a group of young men, teens and early 20s, going off the diving board and just horsing around.  The problem is that horsing around entails yelling and laughing and jumping and splashing.  And it also entails not really paying attention to other people around you.  So they were getting mighty close to us as they chased each other round the end of the pool we were occupying.  It made me cringe.  I just wanted them to go away.  But they did not because they were oblivious to the stink eye, Matt and I and every other swimmer were giving them.

After a while the lap lanes opened and we were able to segregate ourselves. But it was not an encouraging experience.

Matt bakes a cherry pie

Matt pie#1pie2

Inspired by the Great British Baking Show, Matt took up baking.  Every year we go off to the pick your own farm to pick tart cherries.  This year was a bumper crop. There is a zen to picking fruit. Sounds, concentration, attention in the moment. Once the picking gets started, it is very hard to stop.  In this case, the trees were so loaded that we did not even need to move.  We just cleaned off two trees and called it a day. Now we are swimming in cherries.

Matt turned some of them into a pie.  It is called a double bake pie because you cook the shell empty, then fill it, then cook it again.  Because the crust is baked and then filled, it stays nice a flaky and does not get mushy. It was yummy and pretty too.

Missed Celebrations

 

25th anniv#1

25th Anniversary (in the drawing room!)

Yes, we are all missing something during this time of shut in. For us, it was milestone celebrations.  We had two.  Matt turned 50 in March.  It was right as the crisis started so we had no opportunity for a party or to go out for a fine meal.  I made him a nice dinner, but it is not the same as going out for a big splurge meal with fifteen tastings and you roll out of the restaurant wishing you had not eaten all of that food and drunk all of that wine.  Someday that pleasure will return.

Then we had our 25th wedding anniversary in May.  Again, no parties.  No visits.  I made a nice dinner.  This time it was close to a splurge.  I found sea urchin on the internet and I made spicy sea urchin pasta, one of our favorites.  We first tried sea urchin as a pasta sauce in Positano Italy.  Sea urchin, known as uni in Japanese cuisine, is often served as sushi.  So we knew we loved it.  After we had it on pasta, we were completely hooked on a new way of eating it.  So we roamed around Italy looking for more.  Sea urchins have large spines like a porcupine and can do some damage if you step on one.  They can also be an invasive species and they are wiping out the kelp forests off the coast of California.  So it is good to eat them.

We are hoping that when this is finally over we will have a multi-purpose party/celebration for all that we missed. Better late than never.

Losing a friend

Izzy 2

I lost a friend.  His name was Izzy.  Izzy was a different kind of cat.  He was extremely social. And curious. And very much into attention.  Okay, those last two are most cats.  But combined, it made him an animal who participated in everything we did, almost like a dog.  So when we learned that he was terminally ill, we were suddenly presented with the prospect that someone we had talked to, sat with, played with and petted for 12 years would no longer be part of our lives.

I always knew that Izzy was really my best buddy.  Sometimes I think I spent more time with him than I did Matt.  I work at home so while Matt was off at work, Izzy and I hung out.  We woke up together, we had breakfast together.  He always shared my chair at the kitchen table.  It was the most convenient way for him to get hugged and petted.  Sometimes he sat next to me while I did yoga.  If I was exercising, he would come to check things out.  If I was laying on the floor, he came over and gave me a nudge.  He came to see me in the afternoon when I was working.  He liked to sit on my desk and lay over my computer.  He sat on my lap every night while we watched the news.  He sat on my lap when we watched movies.  He liked to spoon with me when I was napping.  Sometimes he just could not get close enough to me, particularly if I had been away. He was just always there.

Izzy was a big cat–18 pounds at his heaviest, about 16 inches tall and 32 inches long.  He was just huge.  He was an alpha male and walked with a big cat swagger. His tail was always up.  He had a big loud purr. I used to tell him he had the biggest purr ever.  It really was impressive. Sometimes it sounded like an organ playing three levels of music.  He was incredibly strong, with big paws, and a grip that was kind of scary.

He really knew how to live and he lived large.  I’d tell people Izzy was my role model. He could relax with the best of them.  Sleep was his thing.  He slept wherever whenever.  Sleeping on his back, big belly up, legs splayed.  That was Izzy.  He had no worries.  I made this hilarious video of him enjoying the fire in the drawing room. (We call it “the drawing room” because, well, why not have a drawing room?  What is a drawing room anyway?  I am not sure, but we decided to have one.  I think this would be called the more formal “living room” in other homes, as opposed to the family room, which we also have.)

But more than anything, if we were there, he was there.  We were eating, he was with us.  We were watching a movie or tv, he was with us.  We were sleeping, he was with us. He just liked being around people.  Anyone who came in was greeted at the door and promptly  asked for a pet or attention of any kind.

We had a whole back story for him.  He spoke with a British accent, ala Winston Churchill.  As you can see from the picture, he had a mustache and when we adopted him that was his name.  I changed it to Izzy and we decided that Mustache was his spy name.  We talked to him all the time.  Or I should say I talked to him and Matt answered in his voice.

After the vet told me he was dying, I was stunned for a bit and then I just cried.  A lot.  It did not seem possible.  He was so big and strong.  Matt used to say a little bigger and he could eat us.  But we could see he was going quickly.  It was maddening trying to figure out when he should be put to sleep.  The vet said, wait until he stops eating. The vet who was going to euthanize him advised we check his life score.  Is he still participating, eating, doing what he likes?  He certainly tried to the very end to be with us.  He would hide but he kept coming out when he heard us.  He came for dinner, he sat with us while we watched tv.

We have three floors and his favorite thing was to charge up the stairs.  One day, he tried to charge and realized he did not have the energy or the ability to go fast.  He seemed to not understand why his strength had gone.  We encouraged him to take his time.  Then he could barely make the steps anymore.  He sat on my lap for a movie one last time. Finally, he stopped eating and we called the vet.

We learned he had liver cancer on June 1. On July 1, it was time to say goodbye.  In between we cried a lot.  And hugged and petted him and just tried to make him as happy as possible.  Most of the time I cried and cried and cried.  I still cry.  I am trying not to cry while I write this.  But that is a lost cause. I am crying.  I lost my best friend.  Truly.  They say in Washington, if you want a friend, get a dog.  I had a cat named Izzy.  There will never be another.

Izzy 1

 

The Pandemic Months March-July 2020

 

Marsha circa 2020

Marsha circa 2020 – my office

We had a last trip to Pittsburgh in early March for a Pens game. Then I had to rush to New York for work.  It was on that trip that I could see the country was going to shut down.  The virus was lurking.  I did not like being on a plane.  I did not like travelling.  It was making me nervous even then.

I got home and the cancellations began, the closures, the shut down.  Yes, we have been home bound since March and I have to be honest with you, not much in my life has changed.  I have worked at home for 20 years.  I was telecommuting before it became a thing.  And I kept right on working. I have been incredibly busy dealing with coronavirus issues.

The rest of our life did not change much either.  We don’t have kids, we don’t have commitments.  We are unto ourselves in that way.  While I know you would not believe this, Matt and I are quite happy to stay home.  We aren’t big socializers.  We have a few friends, but it is not like we go out and see people every weekend.  We have everything we need right here in our own house—restaurant, gym, movie theater, garden and park.  We are on-line shoppers so who cares about going to the mall.  I haven’t been in a mall in years.  So we are fine staying home.  I go out to do the grocery shopping, mask and gloves at the ready.  But other than that, we are existing in our own world.  We eat take out on Saturday to help restaurants. We watch movies.  Oddly, I don’t miss hockey.  It is just too late now.  I have no interest in whatever they plan on doing to start up again.

Concerts are one thing we really do miss.  We had tickets to see the Foo Fighters this summer and a few other shows.  All of our theater and concert tickets were cancelled, and I had to navigate refunds and credits.  But somehow, we carry on.

It is the inability to travel that is killing us.  We had plans to go to Peru this year.  Well, that is not happening.  Back in May we talked about taking a car trip in the U.S. later this year, but given the current situation, where would we be able to go and feel okay about it?  This country is a mess.  Places we thought we could drive to are hot spots now.  It is just not worth the hassle.

So we wait.  As we wait, I realized that this has taken away something very basic to us–we have nothing to look forward to.  Our trips, even the ones to Pittsburgh or New York were something we could always call on to get us through the week.  We are going somewhere.  Some adventure.  We would have a trip planned and head toward that date knowing we were on our way to something new and different.  When we are at our wits end, we look at each other and say, let’s get out of here.  Twice we have ended up in the South Pacific.  Sometimes we have ended up in Bermuda.  Now we are going nowhere.  Maybe we will pull off something spontaneous if the circumstances change but I am not going to put much hope in it.  Aye, there is the rub.  No hope.

That does not mean our lives have been static.

Matt’s mom has pancreatic cancer.  She is going through treatments and we have to take care of a lot of stuff because, you know, the U.S. health care system is based on the assumption that family members are part of the medical staff.  Matt goes to doctor’s appointments, talks to the doctors and nurses to straighten out issues.  After she had major surgery, they sent her home, too early in our opinion, and Matt had night nurse duty for several days.  I work on cooking things she might be able to eat and keeping her pantry filled.

We have been to two COVID funerals—Matt’s uncle and his 99-year old grandmother, both contracting the virus while in nursing homes.  Matt helped to put his grandmother’s funeral on Zoom.  Imagine.

And just this past week our beloved cat Izzy had to be put to sleep.  He developed liver cancer, the tumors had spread throughout his organs, and he went downhill pretty quickly.  We had a few weeks with him after diagnosis.  Nothing could be done, and we finally made the decision to let him go.  We’ve been crying for weeks.  I’ll write about that separately

Hey, and let’s pile on top of all this stress a pandemic and righteous protests and that horrible person in the WH and, man, I am depressed and angry.

How do I handle that?  First, I have started trolling Trump on Twitter.  It sure does help me vent.  He puts himself out there to be called a dumb ass and I am happy to go there. When I hear journalists covering the WH say that you have to respect the office, well, no.  The man in the office should earn or warrant our respect.  You don’t get respect based on a title.  Trump has done nothing to suggest that he is entitled to any respect.  In fact, he invites derision by acting like a third grader.  So just like in third grade, we give back what he gives.  God bless America and free speech.

We did not go to any BLM protests, mostly because we were not willing to ride the subway and we were never going to find parking close enough for Matt to make the walk.  But our spirit was with them and if there is a protest on the Mall in the coming months (I believe there will be) we may be able to attend that.  I look forward to it.

I have been pining to help tear down a confederate statue.  That would give me so much joy.  Pulling down Robert E. Lee would be something to check off my bucket list.  The Lost Cause has been an irritant to me for decades.  But I never know when they are going to do it.  I am not on all of the social media apps so it is not easy to find folks who are planning an ambush.  But I am with them in spirit and maybe one day I can get in on one.  And by the way, good riddance to Columbus as well.

That is my mind set and activities during the pandemic.  Just trying to stay sane but with nothing to look forward to.

My Back Yard

Since I am sharing frog stories, here are some pics of the rest of the animals I have seen in my back yard.  Matt wonders why I go outside and pull weeds. This is why!  There is always a surprise waiting.

bunny2018

Baby bunny

turtle2018

Box turtle hiding in the lillies.

toad 2018

Toad hiding in the mint.

tiny frog 2018

Tiny frog on the garage door. One day Wog will grow up to be this big (about the size of a quarter)

swallow tail 2018

Swallow tail on the butterfly bush

 

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