It Doesn’t Have To Be Pretty

corona mask

I’m not a craft person.

I can’t crochet, I’m allergic to knitting.  Pinterest holds no allure for me.

As a kid, I made the requisite macaroni necklaces and glued googly eyes on felt, but it was always clear my talents lie elsewhere.

So why did I spend my Saturday searching my home for fabrics and stretchy bands?

Because of coronavirus, of course, the puppet master of 2020 pulling all our strings.

By the order of Governor Tom Wolf, all Pennsylvanians must wear masks when entering grocery stores.  (I’m pretty sure the actual order lists more than grocery stores, but as that’s the only place I go these days, that’s all I need to know.)

In the pre-coronavirus world, of course, this would be a snap.  I’d log onto Amazon and order a box of surgical masks, or head out to Home Depot and buy as many as I wanted.

But as anyone not in a coma knows, there aren’t enough masks to go around, and nurses, doctors, and essential workers get dibs.

No argument from me.

If I’m honest, I’m not thrilled at the idea of wearing a mask.  I’m not complaining—I know how good I have it right now, and I’m not criticizing the order—it makes sense that if we don’t breathe and sneeze on each other, the disease is much less likely to spread.

But it’s jarring not to see people’s faces.  The masks are a constant slap in the face that life as we know it is over for a while.

Also, it feels defensive.  I like the protective measures that feel like I’m going on the offensive against the virus.

Take cooking, for example.  I’m trying to stretch my grocery store trips out as far apart as possible.  This means using up all the things that have been in my pantry and at the bottom of my freezer for ages.  I’ve gotten creative, learning to make substitutions and cook new things.

Trying to lure to me the store because I’ve run out of bread?  I’ll make my own.  I’m still eating the frozen potato soup I made months ago when I was suckered into buying ten pounds of potatoes buy one get on free.

Take that virus!

Stay home all the time?  I’m reading my way through a huge stack of books and watching classic films.  You’re practically doing me a favor!

And the cleaning, the cleaning is my favorite.  I feel like a gangster pumping my enemy full of lead.

I run around the house spraying Lysol yelling, “Say hello to my little friend, corona!”

But the mask, the mask feels like hiding under the bed.

But I’ll do it, because to not do it is just plain stupid.  And it puts others at risk, and there’s no way I’m doing that.

So Saturday was craft day.

I’m a millennial (albeit it a very old one) so when proposed with a new challenge, I immediately consulted Dr. Google.  And because I’m not crafty, I was immediately intrigued by the “no sewing required” options.

Loathe to cut up any of my t-shirts, as that’s the only thing I wear these days, I opted for using a bandanna.

The video made it seem easy enough—a few folds, tuck in some hair bands, and you’re good to go.

The folding went smoothly.  But the hairbands were too tight against my ears.  Same with rubber bands.  I scoured the house for materials—my yoga headband made it too much like a gag, and a regular headband just straight up didn’t work.

I read some articles suggesting cutting up shoelaces, but I didn’t have any I was willing to sacrifice.

Finally, I pulled out my gift wrapping supplies and found some Christmas ribbon.  The first one I tried was a little too thick, but I hit paydirt with some decorative string I bought at Target last Christmas.

Is it pretty?  Definitely not.

Do I feel silly wearing it?  Obviously.

Does is get the job done?  Yes.

And right now, that’s all that matters.  The job is keeping ourselves and each other safe.

Let’s get it done.

March Madness

Contestants on Big Brother learn of Covid-19

One of the minor covid-19 storylines I’ve been semi-following is the plight of the television show Big Brother Canada 8.

For those of you who aren’t familiar with the show, it’s a reality tv show where sixteen to twenty people are locked into a house for seventy days.  Contestants periodically vote to evict people, until a winner is crowned.

It’s Survivor in a house, with one major difference:  it happens in real time.

In addition to traditional network episodes, the contestants are live-streamed twenty-four hours a day, and viewers can watch their every move on their computers. 

For a few weeks, these contestants were blissfully unaware of covid-19 and the havoc it has wreaked on the world.

It presented an interesting moral quandary I couldn’t stop thinking about, despite the fact that we can’t actually watch Big Brother Canada in the U.S. and so I could only keep up with it through online reports and You Tube videos.  (There is a U.S. version that begins in the summer and thus didn’t run into the covid-19 issue.)

On the one hand, the contestants were as safe—possibly safer—than anyone else.  They are by design quarantined in a house with no contact with the outside world.  (In the show, the host communicates by talking over a loud speaker or on a television screen.  She never enters the house.)

On the other hand, there was something deeply uncomfortable about watching people bickering on a game show while unaware that the world burned around them.

Eventually, Big Brother told them of the crisis and assured them that all their family members were safe.  Big Brother gave them a second update a week later.  And ultimately, Big Brother Canada pulled the plug on the show and sent all the contestants home this week for their safety and the safety of the production crew.

You can find the videos of Big Brother telling the contestants about covid-19 on YouTube, and they are mesmerizing.  We’ve all been trying to process the waterfall of information that has pummeled us in the last five weeks.  Watching the contestants go through the same process over the span of a few minutes in real time is fascinating.

In the video when the contestants are first told, you can practically hear what they’re thinking by the looks on their faces—Is this a big deal?  It must be, of course, or they wouldn’t be telling us.  But is this a big deal, big deal?  Or is this just happening somewhere else?  This isn’t happening to me, right?  This isn’t happening to my family?

Once they were assured that their families are safe, they visibly relaxed.

And how many of us were playing a similar loop of thoughts in our head?

For these contestants, the covid-19 update was just words.  They were wrapped up in the politics of a stressful game of interpersonal relationships.  Their families were fine.  They weren’t seeing empty shelves at grocery stores, or worried politicians on their televisions.

It couldn’t really be that bad, you could see them thinking, if we’re allowed to continue the game.

Five weeks ago, when we were all at work and school, weren’t we thinking the same thing?

In the second update, production gives them more information.  You can see the contestants trying to work out the question we all were—is this a big deal?

And one of the contestants asked, “Are major sports events still taking place?”

The devastating answer from the voice in the sky: “Every major sports league has now been shut down or postponed.”

That got their attention.  It sure got ours, didn’t it?

Weeks ago when the NBA shut down, followed by the NHL and the cancelling of March Madness, we too got our answer.

This is a big deal.

Working From Home

I haven’t gone into my office for three weeks.  It occurs to me that I haven’t gone three weeks without walking inside a corporate office building since June 2003. 

Maybe that’s why it feels a bit strange.

I’m lucky enough to still be working, albeit from home.  And my company is as busy as ever during this crisis.

The best parts of working from home are obvious.  The commute from my bedroom to the kitchen table is a dream.  So is the dress code.  We do Skype calls with the cameras off, so jeans and t-shirts have become my standard uniform.

Three weeks without the hassles of make-up and Lady Clairol don’t quite make up for a global pandemic, but it’s close.

There’s no birthday cake in the breakroom tempting me.

My boss can’t casually stop by my cubicle to remind me to put cover sheets on the TPS reports.

In fact, nobody causally stops by my cubicle.

I don’t even have to sit in a cubicle, that soul-sucking skeleton formerly know as an office.

I don’t have to look at pictures of my coworker’s daughter looking cute.  Or hear the boring details of anyone’s weekend.  No one is loudly smacking their gum while I’m trying to concentrate.

No one bothers me and ignores my I’m really busy body language.

No one steals my lunch out of the fridge.  I heat it up in a sparkling clean microwave instead of one where someone exploded a burrito and slinked away without cleaning it up.  I don’t have to smell anyone’s leftover fish.

I never start a fresh pot of coffee only to come back and find it all gone before I pour a cup.

I don’t have to pretend not to be falling asleep while watching someone diagram our new planning program on a giant white board.

There are no weird smells in my bathroom.

No more pesky coworkers!  I work alone.  I eat lunch alone.  I take a mid-afternoon walk alone.

There’s no one to listen to the boring details of my weekend.  Or to show the picture I took of Blinker looking cute.  No one to surreptitiously roll my eyes at when the boss lectures us—again—on the TPS report cover sheets.

I’ve never gotten more accomplished in a day.

The corporate office, it seems, is hell on productivity. 

And my coworkers are even more annoying than I thought.

I can’t wait to get back.

Soap Slivers

When I was a kid, an old man named Joe Shevick lived next door.  He had to be in his nineties, wrinkled and bent over, but he lived alone and on his own terms.

My Dad used to cut Joe’s grass.  Afterward, Joe and Dad would sit on ancient Adirondack chairs in the yard and survey the freshly-cut lawn.  Sometimes I would go over too, because Joe always gave us Cokes from glass bottles with metal caps that you had to pry off with a bottle opener.

I don’t know where Joe bought those Cokes.  This was the eighties, and by then cans and plastic bottles dominated the grocery store shelves.

For a kid it was a thrill and a novelty to drink from a glass bottle.

Yesterday I thought of old Joe Shevick for the first time in at least twenty-five years.

It was when I picked up a sliver of bar soap.  It was hardly worth saving, and I started to pitch it in the trash and unwrap a new bar.

Joe used to save all his slivers of soap, and he bound them together with rubber bands to mold them into a new bar of soap.

As a kid, I just thought he was an eccentric old man.  But he wasn’t.

Capital “H” History—the kind we read about in books—is a poor teacher.  We consume stories of World War II like they are adventure novels, with Captain American as the big winner.  We study the Holocaust, never believing something like that could happen again.  We say that such-and-such will cause “another Civil War” but we don’t mean we’re going to start bayoneting each other.  We entertain ourselves with movies and novels about pandemics, wrapped in the protective cocoon of modern medicine.

But the Great Depression wasn’t capital “H” History for Joe Shevick.  It was part of his personal history, and personal history is a great teacher.  He learned not to waste anything.

Not even soap slivers.

He learned that the world could turn on a dime, that no one is as safe or as in control as modernity would have us believe.

But I’d like to think that not every lesson Joe learned in the Great Depression was about fear or scarcity.  I like to imagine that he and others uncovered an unexpected resilience in the face of adversity.  He used his wits, his grit, and creativity to make his way through.

I think he learned that he would have enough if he didn’t waste, that he could get by on less than he thought, that he could re-learn the skills of his ancestors if necessary to feed and clothe himself.

That he could take care of himself.  That we could take care of each other.

And that sort of knowledge is a hard-won gift.

Covid-19 is part of our personal history now.  It will leave its mark on us, in ways we don’t yet understand. 

It makes me wonder what we’ll learn from it.

There are things we will not take for granted again.  There are things we will lose and won’t get back again.

The world has a way of smacking us around every so often, reminding us that we’re not in charge, even if we have iPhones, and Amazon Free Delivery, and antibiotics.

And we have a way of standing back up.

We’ve done it before.  We’ll do it now.

If we’re lucky, we’ll gain some hard-won wisdom, along with a few eccentricities of our own.

And fifty years from, some neighborhood kid cutting my grass will wonder why I have eighty rolls of toilet paper and a turn-of-the-century ventilator squirreled away in my basement.

Can’t Talk About Anything Else

Let’s be honest, even when we want to, we can’t talk about anything else. 

The coronavirus has upended everyone’s life in ways both big and small.  For some, it has meant an abrupt job loss with no immediate hope of employment, or a shuttered small business.  For others, it is a health crisis for themselves or a close family member.  For others, it is about carrying on in the face of emergency—the nurses, doctors, truck drivers, grocery store clerks, stock boys, and delivery drivers.

For myself and many others, it’s thus far been—and will hopefully remain—an inconvenience. 

And a lot more time at home.

Every news outlet and magazine has been posting articles about what you should read, watch, and listen to during your self-isolation.  Most of them are content you’ve probably already heard about and have on your list. 

In times of crisis, I gravitate toward stories of resilience.  I want to watch characters triumph over seemingly impossible odds using their wits, courage, and good old-fashioned grit. If there’s a hot cowboy thrown in, all the better.

So if I may, I’d like to offer a few recommendations for your self-isolation period that are a little off the beaten path:

*Mrs. Mike, novel by Benedict and Nancy Freedman (1947)

This thin little book has survived every book purge and Marie Kondo-ing because it brings me joy.  It’s a love story set in the Canadian wilderness.  Don’t let its age fool you—Katharine and Mike have lessons to teach us in this modern time about how communities can come together to survive—and thrive—in hostile conditions. 

*McLeod’s Daughters, TV Series (2001-2009) (available on Netflix)

An Australian TV Series, McLeod’s Daughters is the story of two half-sisters.  After the death of their father, Tess returns to her sister Claire’s Australian cattle ranch.  Tess is a fish-out-of-water and has to adjust to the unforgiving life in the Australian outback.  But with love and persistence, the sisters save the ranch and find their way back to one another.

*Hex Wives, graphic novel by Ben Blacker (2019)

A group of 1950s seeming housewives can never leave their homes.  What better story to read during our current situation?  These stepford wives seem happy enough, until unusual—and supernatural—things start happening.

*Follow the River, novel by James Alexander Thom (1986)

Everyone—and I mean everyone—in my family has read this book.  Set in 1755, it is the story of Mary Ingles, a young wife and mother who is kidnapped by Shawnee Indians.  Follow the River is her unforgettable journey home.  Trust me, if Mary could make it back home, we can kick the coronavirus.

*Half Broke Horses, novel by Jeannette Walls (2010)

Jeannette Walls, author of the excellent memoir The Glass Castle, wrote this story about her grandmother.  Walls calls it a “true-life novel,” as she can’t be sure which legends passed down in the family lore are true and which are tall tales.

No matter.  You’ll fall in love with the unbreakable spirit of Lily Casey Smith, the kind of woman who can kill the pig and fry up the bacon before anyone else is even awake.  Half Broke Horses is filled with stories of living a hard life on the prairie, in a time before experts and You Tube when the only rule was survival.

*Why My Third Husband Will Be A Dog, essays by Lisa Scottoline and Francesa Serritella (2009)

This recommendation is a little different.  This is the first book in a series of books written by Lisa Scottoline and her daughter Francesca Serritella.  Scottoline writes mystery novels, but these books are essays that she and her daughter write about their ordinary life.  They are hilarious and will have you laughing and nodding your head.  There are eight books in total, and I’ve read them all—they’re even better if you listen to the audio versions.  They are the books that inspired this very blog.

So there you have it—plenty of books and shows to get you through.  Before we know it, we’ll be back to taking all the little things we miss now for granted.

Here’s hoping.

Make Like A House Cat

Blinker Novak, an expert in social distancing, offers some tips.

Well, folks.

That escalated quickly.

Last week I was joking about the agony of not touching my face, and then the NBA cancelled its season, setting off a domino chain of cancellations including all professional sports, universities, public schools, workplaces, Disney, and the Apple Store.

Whether you think these measures are too much, too little, or just right, we can all agree we are in uncharted waters.

The mission is clear—slow the spread of the coronavirus so that a surge in cases doesn’t overwhelm the capacity of hospitals and doctors.

Our marching orders are also clear—wash your hands and practice social distancing.

To help us better understand how to practice effective social distancing, I’ve recruited an expert to speak to us today:  My house cat, Blinker. 

(transcript edited for length and clarity)

Me:  How long have you been social distancing?

Blinker:  Since you brought me home in December 2017.

Me:  And what does social distancing mean to you?

Blinker:  Look, you really only need to be emotionally close to one human.  I have you, and that’s enough.  When other people come over, I social distance myself by hiding upstairs until they leave.  It’s really that simple.

Me:  And what about going out?

Blinker:  Out where?

Me:  Outside of the house.

Blinker:  No interest. 

Me:  You don’t leave the house at all?

Blinker: (glares) Except for essential medical visits, which you know very well I could do without.  I go to the woman in the white coat under heavy duress. 

Me:  What about play dates?

Blinker:  Unless it’s with a toy mouse, not interested.

Me:  What advice do you have for those who are new to social distancing?

Blinker:  First off, have some self-respect.  Just because you’re playing on your computer all day—excuse me, “working from home,” that doesn’t give you an excuse to forgo bathing, shaving, and changing out of your pajamas.  I spend a good portion of every day grooming and bathing.  It’s not just your hands you need to be washing right now, humans.

Me:  What else?

Blinker:  Get your exercise.  I know you humans aren’t really supposed to go to your yoga classes and your gyms right now, but I stay slim by spending a few minutes each morning and evening pouncing on little balls, batting around bottle caps, and jumping in and out of cardboard boxes.  And before you make fun of that, I’ve seen some of the contraptions you humans use to exercise.  You’ve got no room to talk.  Do workout videos.  You do a yoga video sometimes, and I jump on your back during downward dog—

Me:  I wish you wouldn’t.

Blinker:  That’s why I do it.

Me:  Should people stockpile food?

Blinker:  No, food is very easy.  What you do is you go and sit by your dinner plate and meow as loud as you can until your human comes and gives you Fancy Feast.

Me:  Any thoughts on toilet paper stockpiling?

[Editor’s note:  Forty-five minute pause before answering.  I thought I had offended her with the question but she was just ignoring me.]

Blinker:  Do your business in the sand and you won’t have to worry about it.

Me:  How should people manage their anxiety during this time?

Blinker:  Stay calm but vigilant.  I enjoy kneading on a human chest to relax me.  If it all gets to be too much, turn off the television, put down your phone and take a nap.  If you’re still feeling anxious, hide under the bed for a little while until you feel stronger.  There’s no shame in it.  And if the coronavirus gets near you, scratch its eyes out.

Me:  You can’t see the virus.

Blinker:  No, you can’t see it.  I see things humans can’t see.

Me:  Final thoughts?

Blinker:  Is it dinner time yet?

Me:  No.  Well, Blinker, I want to thank you for—

[Blinker stalks off.]

[End of interview]

The Irrational Agony of Trying Not to Touch My Face

Coronavirus Stockpile…forget Clorox wipes, I’m dead if Blinker doesn’t’ have Feast

It’s the name on everyone’s lips

Hold on, that’s a terrible way to start a post about the coronavirus.

It’s the name we want on as few lips as possible.  Hence the reason we have to stop touching our faces.

So far, I’ve been lucky.  I live in an area of the country that has not yet been infected by the coronavirus, so I haven’t started building up my underground bunker.

I’ll cop to buying an extra package of toilet paper, but I haven’t cleaned Walgreens out of hand sanitizer or Clorox wipes.  I have stockpiled only one item.

The one thing I’m terrified to be without:  Grilled Salmon and Shrimp Fancy Feast.

If five o’clock rolls around and I serve Blinker Beef Flavored Fancy Feast—or, god help me, generic—cat scratch fever will do me in faster than covid-19.

Beyond stockpiling cat food, I’ve taken only basic precautions.  I’m diligently washing my hands and frequently wiping down my office desk and smartphone.  I’m using hand sanitizer at the gym.

Easy, common sense things we should all be doing every flu season.

Then there’s the advice to stop touching your face.  You’ve seen it.  It’s everywhere.  If you don’t know that you’re not supposed to be touching your face right now, you probably think the coronavirus is a new flavor of Corona Light beer and you, my friend, need to stop reading this blog right now and do some serious googling.  Actually, cancel any cruises you have scheduled first.  Then get to googling.

But back to not touching my face. 

Reader, is this as difficult for you as it is for me?

If nothing else, the threat of coronavirus has shined a light on the fact that I touch my face ALL DAY.

My eyes itches.  I rub it.  My nose itches.  I take off my glasses and rub it.  While I have them off, I rub my eyes, which have both started to itch, even the one I just rubbed before I took off my glasses. 

I’m pretty sure I have the itchiest eyes and nose of any human on the planet.

I rub my temples from the strain.

My nose is itchy so I rub it—wait, it’s not even itchy and I’m rubbing it.


Tackling the whole face is impossible, so I focus on not touching my mouth, only to discover that I put more things in my mouth than a slobbering toddler.  Pens.  Keyrings.  My fingernails.  My cuticles.  The handle of my purse.

THE HANDLE OF MY PURSE, WHICH I HAVE NEVER CLEANED.  (Well, which I had never cleaned until two days ago).

Reader, I LICK MY FINGERTIPS to turn magazine pages.

Even without the threat of coronavirus, how have I survived to thirty-eight?

The only solution is to touch my face with my shirt.  After one or two minutes of successfully not touching my face, I pull my shirt up over my face and rub the fabric all over me.  I’m like a supermodel standing under a waterfall of cloth or those people in laundry detergent commercials smelling their freshly cleaned clothes.

Then it’s back to trying to not touch my face for one or two more minutes.

My favorite part of the day is in the shower, when I can touch my face all I want with a soapy washcloth. 

My hand and my face are like a prisoner and his visitor with their hands pressed together against the glass—longing to touch if only through a barrier.

Please don’t misunderstand me.  I’m not making light of the virus.  People are suffering, and those of us that are (for now) out of harm’s way should proceed with caution but not panic.

According to experts, aside from washing your hands and not touching your face, the most important thing is to relax.  Live your life.  Take precautions, but don’t think about it too much.

Maybe I could stop thinking about not touching my face if everyone from the New York Times to my local news to Good Morning America stopped reminding me to AVOID TOUCHING MY FACE.

Oh for Pete’s sake.

I just touched it again.

Without using my shirt.

It was wonderful.

Leaping Into March

I don’t get Leap Year.

I know what it is and why we do it—while we pretend the earth revolves around the sun every 365 days, it actually takes 365 days and six hours.  Six hours over four years adds up to an extra 24 hour day.  If we didn’t add that day back in, the calendar would slowly become out of sync with the earth’s natural rhythms and our weather would no longer makes sense with the seasons—ie eventually we’d be sweating in February because it would’ve slid into former July territory.

It’s a little more complicated than that—but for our purposes sufficient.

So I get why we have to add an extra day—but why in the world do we call it the “leap day” in a “leap year?”

To me, leaping means you are skipping over something—we should have one less day in leap year, not one more. 

Am I crazy here?

Every four years, I’ve always briefly wondered about this fact.

But this year, because (1) I am in need of a blog topic, and (2) Google exists, I decided to look it up.

Three clicks later I had the answer…can I get a drumroll please?

Each year, every day shifts one day of the week.  Confusing, right?  So let’s pick a specific day—say, Christmas.  We all know that one.

If Christmas is on a Wednesday one year, it’s on a Thursday the next year. 

But on leap year, we’ve added a day, and thus Christmas will move from a Wednesday to a Friday, therefore “leaping” over Thursday for the year.

This happens to every holiday.  Every day is “leaping over” a day of the week. 

Hence, it’s the “Leap Year.”

Too bad 2019 wasn’t a Leap Year.  We had Christmas and New Year’s Day on Wednesday, which is the worst when trying to use your vacation days to stretch out the week.  So this year, we’ve got Christmas and New Year’s Day on Fridays, which is great.

But we leaped over a Friday Independence Day, and Friday is ideal for a summer day off work with fireworks and a picnic. 

You win some, you lose some.

So there you go…leap year.  A lifelong mystery solved.

I’ve gotta say, it was a little anticlimactic.

Row Your Boat

While the blog was on hiatus, I took up a new hobby—rowing.

As to the common questions I get when I tell people about this:

  1. Yes, real rowing.  In a boat.  On the water.
  2. No, you don’t have to wake up at four in the morning.
  3. Yes, it’s lovely on the water.
  4. No, we don’t wear helmets or life vests.
  5. As a workout, it absolutely kicks your ass.

I had no prior experience with rowing.  I had no particular affinity for boats—I’d been in canoes and kayaks a few times, and my grandparents owned a pontoon boat when I was a kid.

But none of this prepared me for rowing.

The other question I am asked (particularly by the other members who are always recruiting) is why I signed up for their eight week learn to row class.

It’s a three-pronged answer:

  1. During the Oakmont Street Fair, someone from the rowing club handed me a flyer
  2. Tess Monaghan, heroine of a series of Laura Lippman detective novels, spends her mornings rowing on the Patapsco River and it seems to keep her body and mind ready to fight crime.  (I make a surprising number of life decisions based on what I think Tess Monaghan, Eve Dallas, Mary Chapin Carpenter, MacKayla Lane, or Katharine Hepburn would do in the same situation.  I normally don’t admit this, so let’s keep this between us, okay?)
  3. Steel City Rowing Club is fifteen minutes from my house. 

Fifteen minutes.  That’s all that separated me from a whole new world that was right outside my door.  Fifteen minutes and I was out on the water, rowing away and feeling like my teammates and I were the only people in the world.  If you’re doing it right, you leave all your worries and cares on the shore and just live in the moment of every stroke.

Eight weeks and I was hooked.  Eight minutes and I was hooked.

I have many well established, nearly lifelong loves—cats, dark movie theaters, good books.  I like to tell stories.  I like treadmills, and concerts, and obsessively organizing my desk.

But it’s good to try something new.  Sometimes—like my short-lived career in typewriter restoration—it doesn’t work out.

But sometimes it does.  Rowing has invigorated me—body, mind, soul.  I have a new exercise regimen, a new community of friends, and the thrill that comes from the step by step process of maturing from a complete novice to an intermediate. 

Maybe one day I’ll be a master.

But rowing is like writing, or yoga, or a life well lived.

There is no mastery.  There is only the joy of pursuit.

So whatever it is—small or large—try something new.  Row your boat, whatever that means to you.

And it doesn’t have to be perfect.  In fact, we nearly sunk a boat last summer.

But that’s a story for another Sunday.

Spilled (Chocolate) Milk

It’s nice to have friends you don’t have to be “cool” with.

You know what I mean:  the ones you don’t have to impress with your clothes, or your promotion, or with some clever antectdote about howgreat you’re doing.

The ones you can be yourself with.

Last weekend I had dinner with just such a group of friends.  Afterwards, as is our custom, my friend Esra and I stopped off for coffee before heading home.

Since it was the first snowy night of the year, and because I’d already had way too much caffeine, we ordered hot chocolate and biscotti instead.

My extremely un-cool incident began with a mishap involving the biscotti.

I had talked my friend into a late-night viewing of Little Women, and was searching my phone for movie times when the biscotti slipped out of my fingers.  There was a moment when I could’ve grabbed it as it bobbed along the chocolatey surface, but I hesitated and it plunged to the bottom of the cup.

No big deal.  I’d get to it when I reached the bottom of the cup.

This was not to be.  At least, not in the way I’d anticipated.

Because a few minutes later, I knocked the cup over with my elbow.  It was a straight shot, right from the table into my lap. The chocolate milk–thankfully no longer scalding hot–soaked through my jeans to my thigh.

It spilled onto the chair as well, ensuring the seat of my jeans was also drenched.

On top of that, the chocolate biscotti had disintegrated into a dark brown pile that was also currently all over me.

It had gotten the sleeve of my jacket, and the hat hanging out of my pocket as well.

While Esra and I cleaned up the mess as best we could with fistfuls of tiny beverage napkins, I took a step back and survyed myself.

Brown liquid soaking my jeans.  Ground up brown biscotti stuck to my butt.

I know what you’re thinking, and you’re right.

There went my chance for a fifth viewing of Little Women.

Because even though I was grateful to be with a friend where I didn’t feel completely embarrassed at what I’d done, even I didn’t have the confidence to go into a movie theater looking like I’d soiled myself.