I’m in my office (still working from home), minding my own business when I feel a scratch on my leg.
Blinker is ready for dinner.
Yes, you heard me right, dinner.
Back in the before times, when I went into the office every day, I fed my cat Blinker twice a day—once in the morning before work, and once when I got home around 5:30 pm.
There is nothing in the world Blinker likes more than breakfast and dinner.
When I began working from home, she began demanding her dinner earlier and earlier. I started feeding her at 5:15, then 5:00. What harm could there be?
At noon (a mere six hours after breakfast) she begins with the scratch. Then she’s up on my desk, walking on my keyboard. She pushes my mouse off the desk. Pencils and my phone hit the floor, along with my notebook.
She chews on the pull string of my desk lamp. She sits on my hands while I try to type.
If I’m on a work conference call, she begins meowing. If it’s a particularly important call, she meows at the top of her lungs until my coworkers ask what the heck is going on. How she can determine the importance with deadly accuracy is beyond me.
If I’ve successfully ignored all this, she takes it to the next level by trying to crawl on my back while I’m sitting in a chair. While she sometimes does this for fun, in pursuit of dinner she will make sure to dig her claws in.
And finally, there’s the nuclear option: she sits in front of the computer alternating between staring at me and putting her butt in my face.
Using these techniques, she has successfully made her dinner earlier by fifteen minute increments until I now find myself feeding her at 2:00 pm.
I refuse to go any earlier and we’ve been at a stalemate for the last nine months.
At some point I’ll be going back to the office, and I’ve been trying to slowly push back her dinner time, but it isn’t easy.
Today I made it to 2:02 pm, two full hours after she began her antics.
My plans of spending the long Memorial Day weekend visiting Harper’s Ferry were scrapped by a forecast promising three straight days of rain.
Not exactly hiking weather.
So with help from my Dad, we moved to plan B, which was to tackle the most imposing item on my 2021 to do list: replacing the floors in my kitchen, bathroom, and entryway.
Three days, three floors. If HGTV could do it, so could we.
It was slow and exacting work, but over the next three days we laid down all three floors without once uttering the do-it-yourselfer’s ultimate curse word:
The new flooring looked great.
But you know I wouldn’t be writing about this project if things had gone without a single hitch.
This isn’t that kind of blog.
The bathroom toilet.
It came off easy enough. But getting it back on?
Whole ‘nother story.
If you’ve never installed a toilet, there are two bolts on the floor that stick up in the air. You put down a wax ring, and then place the toilet on top of the wax ring, making sure the bolts go through the holes on each side of the toilet.
Yes, but it requires maddening precision. You can’t get it close and then readjust, because the wax seal that prevents leaking will be broken.
Anticipating this, we bought three wax seals.
We had a lethal combination of weaknesses. I could lift the toilet, but I wasn’t strong enough to hold it while my Dad searched for the bolt, which he had trouble seeing. This was due partially to the fact that his eyes aren’t as young as they used to be, and the toilet is stuck back in a corner where it’s hard to get good light in.
I’d strain to hold the toilet while he searched, until I either dropped it or we put it down in the wrong position.
After ruining two wax seals, we stopped to rest and strategize.
We decided to lighten the load by taking the toilet apart. Unbeknownst to me, a toilet comes in two pieces—the bowl and the tank. If we could remove the tank it would hopefully lighten the load enough for me and make it easier for my Dad to see the bolts.
One look and we realized this was hopeless—the bolts were rusted out and there was no way we’d ever get that toilet back together without it leaking.
We were stuck.
Until I said, “Why don’t we just buy a new toilet?”
“A new toilet?”
“A new one will be in two pieces.”
And just like that we were off to Lowe’s for the second time that day. Halfway there, we reconsidered.
“Is this crazy?” my Dad asked. “To buy a brand-new toilet?”
I stopped to think it over.
“We’re not buying a toilet,” I finally said. “We’re buying next weekend. Because if we keep on this way, this project will drag on beyond today.”
We were deep into the third day of the job. We were satisfied with our work thus far but exhausted and ready to be finished. I was willing to pay the price of a new toilet to be able to spend my next weekend doing something fun instead of finishing up this project.
We nodded to one another and kept on driving.
“What kind of toilet are you looking for?” the Lowe’s employee asked, getting ready to show us high efficiency, luxury, or budget options.
“The lightest one you have,” I said.
“You heard me.”
We went down the aisles, not even looking at the floor models, but instead turning the boxes around to find the weights. We found the lightest toilet they had and loaded it up.
Back at home, I dug some paint out of the garage and painted the tops of the bolts yellow for extra visibility. We lifted the bowl of the new toilet and got that baby on in one try.
We bolted on the tank, hooked it up, and flushed it a dozen times without a single leak and smiled.
Next weekend was safe.
Next weekend, of course, is now this weekend, the nicest one we’ve had all year.
I spent it rowing, having coffee with friends, then dinner with other friends. I plan to spend today lounging around with a good book or maybe I’ll hit up the Pittsburgh Arts Fest.
This time a year ago, we’d all settled into the reality of the pandemic. We were way past the optimism of “two weeks to stop the spread” and knew we were in for the long haul.
At that time, nearly every conversation I had eventually wound around to the question of, “When do you think this will end?”
I’ll admit, I had a vision (half-baked as it was) of a glorious day of celebration. A ceremonial moment when we would all simultaneously rip off our masks and dance in the streets.
I wanted catharsis. Closure.
Without fully realizing it, I had a moment in my mind like the one pictured in the famous Life magazine photograph V-J Day in Time Square, where a United States soldier, fresh home from victory in World War II, kisses a nurse during a parade.
The war was over. The boys were home. America was victorious.
But with the coronavirus, we were asking the wrong question. It isn’t, “when will this end?”
It’s, “How will we know when it’s over?”
In a way, it was over when an effective vaccine was developed. But in the day to day, that changed nothing. There was no collective moment of relief. Was this over when I got my vaccine?
Even the vaccine was not a moment of reckoning. One shot or two, there is still a protracted waiting period. No bell of celebration dings when you hit the two-week mark of freedom.
Was it over the first time I walked into a store without a mask on?
Of course it’s not over. But how will we know when it is?
Will it be over when everyone is vaccinated, which is never going to happen? Is it over when the vaccine is available for kids? Is it over when I go back to the office, or when everyone goes back to the office?
Spoiler alert: there are people never going back to the office, either because they lost their jobs or they can work from home forever.
Is it over when kids go back to school full time? Or when Taylor Swift goes back on tour?
There will never be a parade. There will never be a moment.
We will never get to celebrate the end together and then move on with our lives.
It was naïve of me to think we’d get a moment to collectively celebrate the end of coronavirus together like we did the end of World War II.
But hold on a minute.
Am I naïve to think there was such a moment for World War II?
The moment that soldier kissed that nurse was not the end of World War II. Of course it wasn’t. And if it was, it certainly wasn’t celebrated by the whole world in the same moment. Only the people around saw it. The rest of the world didn’t see it until a week later when Life magazine published it. Certainly, the publication of a photograph didn’t end the war.
In fact, though Japan surrendered on August 14, 1945, the day this photograph was taken, World War II didn’t formally end for another two weeks, on September 2, 1945.
When did World War II end?
If you were living in the hell of Auschwitz, it ended on January 27, 1945 when the Soviets liberated the camp.
The war ended for Hitler on April 30, 1945 when he committed suicide rather than face the world and pay for his crimes against humanity.
It ended for the western alliance on May 8, 1945, VE Day, when Germany surrendered.
Oh, but wait, it didn’t end for Russia until two days later when the Germans surrendered to them.
But the war wasn’t over when Germany surrendered. The United States would still go on to drop not one, but two atomic bombs on Japan.
Surely the war ended the moment that second bomb hit Nagasaki.
But I imagine if your son (or daughter) was in Japan or Europe, the war didn’t end for you until he was home again, parade or no parade.
And if he didn’t come home, the war ended for his mother the day she found out he’d been killed, whether that was the first or last day of combat.
The country celebrated, as well it should, but it didn’t snap back to its pre-war position. People had changed, the country had changed. And recovery didn’t happen overnight. While most of the formal rationing programs ended, many goods were still difficult to find in the aftermath of the war. Sugar was rationed until 1947, a full two years after the war ended.
But all these rough edges are smoothed out by the passage of time, until we’re left with the idea that there was a terrible war, the men went to fight and the women went to work, and then it was over, and there was a parade, and a soldier kissed a girl and everyone moved on. And for awhile women pretended they wanted to be perfect 50’s housewives when what they really wanted was to go back to work.
When will the coronavirus end? When you get the vaccine. When you go back to the office. When you go to your first party, see the first person you haven’t in a long time, get back on an airplane.
For some it ended when they lost a loved one—or perhaps for them it never ends.
The coronavirus will be smoothed out too in the pages of history. People who didn’t live through it will just say, oh yes, there was a virus, people couldn’t go anywhere, and then there was a vaccine and everything went back to normal. And for a while we all pretended….
Well, that part of the story hasn’t been written yet.
When will we know that? How will we know?
I know what I’ve learned from the coronavirus.
The difference between reading about history and living it.
Now that America is opening up and we’re allowed to go outside and play, it might be time to brush up on some basic etiquette. Things like small talk and dressing appropriately for work are skills that can atrophy without use.
Let’s start with a potential land mine: the potluck dinner.
If a friend invites you to a party at their home, it is customary to ask if you can bring something. If the host says no, then you’ve got it easy. You should still bring something (of course!) but your options are endless…a bottle of wine, a pie, some flowers.
No need to sweat it.
The potluck is a is a different story. If you are unfamiliar with the term, a potluck dinner is one in which the host provides the main dish and/or some beverages and sides, but does not prepare the entire meal. Instead, each guest brings a part of the meal—drinks, side dishes, desserts, appetizers, cutlery.
In theory, the potluck takes the work and financial burden off the host, and allows each guest to bring their signature dish, and the guests have a variety of scrumptious dishes.
In reality, you end up with seven artichoke dips, six pies, and a bag of chips per person.
A well-executed potluck requires the diplomatic skills usually reserved for international hostage negotiations. The host needs to ensure that a full spectrum of foods will be available, without putting too much pressure on the guests.
No one wants to be asked to bring their pulled pork recipe that takes multiple days to prepare when they were planning on grabbing a bag of pretzels on the way.
The expectations on what each guest should bring are heavily dependent on two seemingly unrelated things—marriage status and children status.
Married mothers, as always, are expected to bring the most critical dishes, because between taking care of their young children, running a household, driving kids around to soccer and t-ball games, and (potentially) working outside the home, they obviously have plenty of time to whip up a roasted turkey, stuffing, and a home-baked apple pie. A mother wouldn’t dare try to get away with bringing plastic forks and napkins.
Single, childless men bring the beer.
Married women without kids bring the slightly complicated, trendy dish that meets unusual dietary restrictions—think vegan burgers, gluten free cookies, or homemade sushi rolls.
Single, childless women? We’ve got it easy. Expectations are low, and we’re allowed to be unpredictable. We can bring silverware and a bottle of wine to one potluck, and we’ve met our quota. But if we bring the homemade pie or green bean casserole that is simply expected of the working mother, we’re praised like a baby who just took her first steps.
And what do the married men bring to the potluck? Don’t make me laugh.
You may think in 2021, this is an outdated and sexist view.
Hey, I don’t make the rules, baby. I just observe and report.
This is the story of my first fully vaccinated day.
Like Alice, I left a lonely world with only a cat as companion and stepped through the looking glass into a technicolor dream world.
(Or did I leave the not-so-Wonderland that we’ve all been living in for the past fourteen months and come back home? This is pondering best left to Lewis Carroll, I think.)
I haven’t burned my mask collection just yet, and I remain a work-from-home warrior for the time being.
But I’m rolling again.
I awoke to the day I’d circled on my calendar thirty-five days ago when I received my first shot and felt like Cinderella, cleaning up the kitchen and drinking coffee while the birds sang and the sun streamed through the windows.
Vaccinated and caffeinated, I began the day with a haircut eighteen months in the making, shedding the weight of this long year.
With the preliminaries out of the way, how does a girl spend her first vaccinated day?
For a Pennsylvania movie buff who’s spent the year blogging about classic films, there’s only one answer: The Jimmy Stewart Museum.
I picked up the parents and we hit the road.
Stewart, star of It’s A Wonderful Life, Rear Window, and Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (among many others) grew up in Indiana, Pennsylvania, a quaint town about an hour’s drive from my own. The museum is across the street from what used to be his father’s hardware store, and is within sight of his childhood home. Filled with movie posters, awards, and memorabilia from his childhood, film career, and military service, this little gem is a must-visit for Stewart fans. We chatted up the staff and they gave us great background on Stewart, his family, and the construction of their little museum.
I left with a new appreciation for Stewart, a list of films to watch, and a Jimmy Stewart lamp that now sits on my writing desk.
Then we ate peanut butter and jelly sandwiches in the car. A restaurant on the first vaccinated day? Too much, too soon. We can’t have all the thrills at once.
And how did I end this gloriously normal, perfect day?
With as much of the posse as we could scrape together, of course.
This isn’t over, folks. We know that. But here’s to the beginning of the end. And the return of these perfectly normal days.
Here’s something I don’t get: technology has surpassed nearly everyone’s greatest dreams.
We have paper. The steam engine. The telephone, the television, the internet.
The toaster, the microwave, the smartphone, one-click ordering.
We put a man on the moon.
I can do my taxes online.
I can have groceries delivered to my door two hours after I order them.
So why can’t I get a printer that works?
I know, I know, I know. Why am I printing? Don’t I know I can do everything on my phone?
But surely even the most paperless among us sometimes requires a hard copy.
I currently own two printers, in the hopes that at least one will work at any given moment.
While laptops and phones can take a beating—they’re dropped, scuffed, banged and swiped on all day long and for the most part work without a hitch, a printer must always be treated with kid gloves.
One wrong look and it jams. And jams again.
And jams again until you’re ready to throw the thing out the window. (But first checking to make sure your backup printer works, of course).
My printers are always complaining. They’re out of ink, they’re out of paper, the paper is too thick and jams, the paper is too thin and the rollers won’t pick it up. I can’t do anything right. My printer may be as close as I ever get to having a mother-in-law.
And my latest printer (bought because my oldest one nearly drove me to distraction) has the added degree of difficulty of being wireless.
Which seems great, except it never seems to recognize my laptop. It’s got an ominous blue light of death that won’t turn off no matter how long I hold down the power button. I usually have to unplug it, and even then, the light turns off so slowly that I fear it’s about to turn into a flesh-eating monster à la a Stephen King novel and devour me.
The root cause seems to be how long I leave it on without using it. Under thirty minutes and it’s fine. Over that, and the trouble starts.
This week my friend Ginger had a birthday. Four down, four to go.
The Posse is turning the big 4-0.
What is the Posse?
I’m glad you asked.
Like everyone, I had a group of friends in high school.
Unlike everyone, we gave ourselves a name: The Posse.
I don’t remember how or why we came up with this name, but it stuck. There were eight of us and we were a clique, though without the exclusivity and mean girl undertones. There was no Regina George among us.
At the end of the film Stand By Me, in which a writer mourns the loss of a friend he hasn’t seen in a decade, he ends his story by typing, “I never had any friends later on like the ones I had when I was twelve. Jesus, does anyone?”
We were older than twelve but the sentiment rings true.
I’ve made some great friends since, many of whom I see more often and are more a part of my day-to-day life than some of the Posse. I relate to them adult-to-adult, fully cooked. They see me as I am in the corporate office, or rowing on the river. They see me as I am now.
But with the Posse, well, we have x-ray vision with one another. We see each other as we are now, but more importantly, we see each other as we were then.
The Posse knew me when I was still baking. They were one of the raw ingredients in the cake I would become.
If they were different then, I’d be different now.
They’re not fooled when I use my “professional” voice, or order a fancy drink in a restaurant, or the million other ways we try to impress one another with our adultness. These are the kids that saw me roll up my pants and walk through the slimy moat in a miniature golf course to retrieve my wayward ball.
They are not impressed when I put on airs, as we all do from time to time.
They know that I once used rubber bands to wrap peanut butter and jelly sandwiches around my waist to smuggle them into a concert.
And I know them the same way.
During our senior year of high school, I wrote a 30,000 word memoir of our adventures and called it “Tales of the Posse.” Yesterday I dug it out of the trunk in my basement.
In the epilogue, I wrote:
“I would like to say that we lived happily ever after together and always remained as close as we were the night the preceding stories were told. I would like, more than anything, that our kids played together and started a Posse II generation. However, I can’t see into the future and I haven’t even lived very much of it to get a good idea of how it turned out.”
Are we as close as we were at seventeen?
Of course not. That would be a case of arrested development. We have our own lives—careers, a few husbands, and the Posse II generation currently stands at 8 members.
And now, we’re turning forty. Since September, half of us have had the big birthday. The rest are coming, mine in June. Thus far, we haven’t been able to celebrate together because of covid, but when it’s safe we’ll celebrate the beginning of this next decade together.
Getting eight women with busy lives together is nearly impossible, especially when we don’t all live in the same town anymore.
But we manage it about once a year around Christmas, and if we get six of eight, we call it a win.
We’ve had our scuffles over the years, but I’m in touch and on good terms with all of them.
My seventeen-year-old self would be appalled at this level of contact.
My thirty-nine-about-to-be-forty-year-old self recognizes it for the rare gift that it is.
As they say on podcasts, this isn’t a paid advertisement.
The first product featured on Shark Tank that I bought while watching the show was called Knife Aid. This was back in February, when I was watching reruns to get me through the worst of the pandemic winter.
Knife Aid is brilliant in its simplicity. The owners pitched to the sharks a service in which customers send their own knives in through the mail (via a provided shipping box) and Knife Aid sharpens and returns them within a week.
This idea was such a moneymaker that the sharks got into a huge fight vying for the deal, even to the point of following the entrepreneurs out into the hallway when they stepped out to make their decision.
I love a shark frenzy and had a drawer full of dull knives. I had to try it out.
It worked exactly as advertised—simple, fast, and effective. I was slicing through fruit and vegetables the next week like I was working at a Japanese steak house.
But reader, I made the cardinal mistake of beginners: overconfidence.
Watching an old rerun of Shark Tank is like playing minor league baseball.
With Pan’s Mushroom Jerky, I made the big leagues and came up against a major curve ball.
I wrote about the jerky before, how it seemed odd but the sharks loved it so I wanted to give it a try. A few days later, I went on Amazon to buy some and it was sold out.
This was in November. As of this morning, it’s still sold out.
That’s when I learned that a Shark Tank episode drives a spike in demand that normally drains the fledgling company’s inventory.
So when the Souper Cubes came around, I was ready. Souper Cubes are basically giant silicone ice trays that you use to freeze leftovers in single portion sizes. The ones I had my eye on were trays with four two-cup portions.
I cook huge vats of food and eat it for days, freezing the rest. This was right up my alley.
I didn’t just want them. I practically lusted for them.
Shark Lori Greiner liked it so much that she awarded it the Golden Ticket, her prize for the best product of the season.
That meant I had very little time, perhaps minutes only.
I didn’t even wait for a commercial break. I jumped up from my chair and ran to my computer, knocking over anything that got in my way.
I was getting those Souper Cubes.
I fired up Amazon and clicked away, quickly finding what I was looking for. Not even stopping to wipe the sweat off my brow, I ordered two trays.
Success! I made it in under the wire and ran back in to watch the rest of the show.
I didn’t know how much I paid, or when they were coming. But I didn’t care.
I had won the Shark Tank lottery!
Because sure enough, the size I wanted was sold out by the end of the show, and most of the other sizes were sold out by the morning.
Fool me once….
This, my friends, is how it’s done.
Victory goes to the swift.
And I have really, really got to get out of the house.
As I outlined in the post, that strategy was…ill-advised.
Though I do now mow my lawn properly, I’ve mostly stayed out of the war raging between the weeds and the grass.
The weeds are winning and it isn’t even close.
But a few weeks ago Lowe’s had the entire Scott’s Four Step Lawn Care program on sale. For those who aren’t familiar, the Scott’s program essentially consists of four bags of specially formulated weed and feed that you spread onto your lawn at eight-week intervals starting in early spring.
Right then and there, I decided to enter the war on weeds.
I went a step further and drew up a complicated battle plan; the front yard is filled with bare patches, while the back yard is overrun with weeds. I decided to first plant some additional grass seed in the front.
If you plant new grass seed, you aren’t supposed to use Step One of the program, as the powerful weed killer will also kill your new seedlings. So in addition to Step One (which I would use on the back yard only), I bought a small bag of booster fertilizer for the front yard.
I planted the seeds, drew up a calendar for application, stacked the bags in the garage and went about my life for the next few weeks.
This past weekend, I implemented Step One.
How did it go?
Nearly five years after my weed whacking episode, my do-it-yourself lawn care skills have barely improved.
First off, I completely forgot about not putting Step One on the front yard. I spread it everywhere, killing off the seedlings that were just beginning to sprout.
The special bag of booster fertilizer remains forgotten on the bottom of the stack of the four step program.
Next, my distribution of the granules was uneven at best. Despite the package directions insisting that one not use a hand spreader, well, I used a hand spreader.
(By hand spreader I mean a small spreader that you carry and crank to spit out the granules, rather than the kind with wheels that you push.)
Some of the granules clumped together and jammed the tiny hole of the hand spreader. Nothing would come out, and I would shake and bang the spreader until the clump broke free, suddenly releasing a wild stream of the granules onto the lawn. As I made my way down the lawn, there were patches with no weed killer and then big orange piles of the stuff.
This seemed…not good.
I adjusted the setting to the widest opening, so the granules poured out even faster, but the thing continued to jam.
I put on gloves and broke up all the clumps, but then when refilling the spreader, a huge pile of weed killer spilled out all over the grass.
I used a rake and a broom to smooth out these piles as best I could.
Once I’d applied the whole bag, I put everything away and glanced again at the directions.
According to the directions, one bag could cover a yard the size of two tennis courts.
My lawn is roughly the size of one quarter of one tennis court. And I used the whole bag.
I’m no expert (obviously), but this seems like it will not turn out well for my lawn.
I swept and raked off as much as I could, and warned all the neighbors to keep their dogs off my lawn for…well, the decade or so.
In the end, this seems like your classic good news, bad news situation.
Good news: Pretty sure all my weeds will be gone in a few weeks.
Bad news: All the grass might be too.
Good news: Probably won’t need to apply steps two through four this year.
Bad news: Already paid for them.
As I said in last week’s blog on clichés, you win some, you lose some.
It was a dark and stormy night when I sat down to write this, the Great American blog. It wasn’t going to be easy, but you know what they say—no pain, no gain.
A few minutes into the writing, I began to think of all the other things I could be doing instead. Instead of sweating away at my keyboard, I could take the path of least resistance. Instead of dyeing eggs this Easter, perhaps I should dye my hair.
Everyone knows blondes have more fun.
But then again, the grass is always greener on the other side, so I put my nose to the grindstone. Even if I wanted to have my cake and eat it too, at the end of the day, you can only succeed by grinding it out and putting your blood, sweat, and tears into your work. Success takes the stairs.
I turned away from the window and got back on track.
I wracked my brain for a topic, one that could stand out amidst the crowd. In these modern times, everyone is running so fast and is so busy being busy that they never stop to smell the roses or read the blogs. I didn’t want my ideas to fall on deaf ears. I wanted something that would revel a tried-and-true nugget of truth, that would speak to people of all walks of life, from the blue-collar workers of real America to the academics in their ivory towers.
I would wait for an idea to come to me. After all, good things come to those who wait.
I was definitely going to have to think outside the box for this one.
I just hoped my final blog wouldn’t be filled with clichés, which are so hard to avoid. After all, clichés are clichés because they’re true.
Then the clouds parted and the sun came out.
Little did I know that right at that exact moment, my neighbors were preparing for an epic Easter Egg hunt. Several kids were running around the yard looking for eggs, screaming like banshees and having the time of their lives.
Never a dull moment around here.
Perhaps I should throw aside my work and join them? After all, all work and no play makes Melanie a dull girl.
In the nick of time, I was spared from making a terrible decision. All of the sudden, there was a mass exodus from the yard into my neighbor’s bathroom.
Oh well, I thought, realizing my time to join the hunt had passed.
When it’s all said and done, you win some, you lose some.
Easy come, easy go.
Yet every cloud has a silver lining—in the end, they hadn’t cooked the eggs long enough and they all ended up with salmonella poisoning.
Turns out that rose was full of thorns.
But don’t worry. After an uncomfortable twenty-four hours or so…