Stuff and Nonsense: 2020


4.16.2020

Pandemic Groceries: Sardilli Produce & Dairy


Two Hartford-area wholesalers have begun selling boxes of produce, meat, and dairy to the public for contact-free curbside pickup and this is, frankly, a godsend for me. I don't enjoy grocery shopping at the best of times and now, constantly aware of other people's inability to properly social distance, it is one giant clusterfuck of anxiety and dread. I'd used Instacart a few times at the beginning of the pandemic and found the shoppers very efficient and professional, but the company treats them shabbily and, frankly, I don't want to be the reason someone becomes exposed to COVID-19. So, yes, when I heard wholesalers like Sardilli Produce and Dairy were offering curbside pickup, I signed right up.

Sardilli Produce and Dairy offers all fruit, all veg, mixed fruit and veg, dairy, and meat boxes. The contents of the boxes are listed on their website so, if you want, you can menu plan before you even get your box. The company seems on top of things and is quick to post when a box is no longer available or when the next opportunity to order for pickup will be.


When I arrived today to pick up my boxes (dairy and mixed), there were plenty of orange cones and (masked and gloved) staff to point me in the right direction. I pulled into the check-in area and, through my closed window, showed my order number to a (masked and gloved) staff member. Another (masked, gloved, and socially distanced) staff member put papers under a windshield wiper, denoting what I needed, and then I drove off to the trucks. There, more (masked, gloved, and socially distanced) staff loaded my trunk with boxes and I was on my way. The entire process was extremely efficient and fast, taking less than fifteen minutes.

It is safe to say I am hooked on this, having gone ahead and ordered a meat box for next week. If only Sardelli sold a bread, pasta, and rice box my pandemic life would be pretty okay. (Please don't tell me how I can make my own bread. I don't have an oven).


Lynn, you say, this is all very nice and informative, but what about the goods? Are they worth it? Yes, I say, yes. Everything is perfect, not a blemish or bruise to be found, and the dairy has best buy dates in May and beyond. Altogether there's enough stuff to feed as for two or three weeks and, aside from the iceberg lettuce and cherry tomatoes, the produce is all long-lasting stuff.

Here, have a list:

3 lbs Cara Cara Oranges
1 Bunch of Bananas
3 lbs Apples
1 package of Strawberries
1 head of Iceberg Lettuce
1 Package of Multi Color Cherry Tomatoes
2 lb Haricot Beans
3 lb Brussels Sprouts
2 lb Carrots
5 lb Sweet Potatoes
3 each Peppers (green, red & yellow)
1 Each Celery (bunch)
2 lb Onions
2 each Shallots
3 each Cippolini Onions

1 Half Gal 2% Milk (Mountain Dairy, CT)
1 Pint of ½ & ½ Cream (Mountain Dairy, CT)
2 Dozen Eggs Cage Free
1 Butter 1 lb Block (Cabot, VT)
1 Quart of Yogurt Fage Plain
1 52 oz Tropicana Orange Juice No Pulp
1 8 oz Block White Cheddar Cheese (Cabot, VT)
1 - 8 oz Shred Mozzarella (Cabot, VT)


From the boxes, I brought my dad a dozen eggs (plus a third of the brussels sprouts and green beans), because his local grocery store has been out of eggs for three weeks and, at nearly seventy, I don't want him shopping around when I (mostly healthy, probably) can fetch it for him.

4.10.2020

April Morning


It has been many years since I pulled an all-nighter, but last night we were up late, watching streaming things, and then I started listening to an audiobook while I did some work things, and the later it became, the more awake I was. At five, I decided it was simply too late/early to try to sleep so I fed the cat, took a shower, and left the house.

Neil's Donuts opens at six, you see. I know running out for donuts during a pandemic seems like the ultimate decadence ... and it probably is, but I make no apologies. Neil's doughnuts are the best doughnuts in Connecticut. I am going to do what I can to support them, because they are an institution and must not fail.


Also, Neil's Donuts (and its customers) is doing everything right. Staff were masked, gloved, and socially avoidant. Only five customers are allowed in the shop at a time and there are marks on the floor to tell you where to stand. The two customers ahead of me were properly socially avoidant and the entire purchase went smoothly, with nothing to tweak my anxieties.

Having acquired doughnuts, I stopped at Harbor Park for a slow walk along the riverfront. It was a beautiful, if chilly morning, and I had the entire park to myself. Of course, I took some photos. Then I went home, ate doughnuts, and did not go to bed.


The giant head is a concrete sculpture representing the Wangunk Indian Tribe, an indigenous people who lived along the banks of the Connecticut River in what is now central Connecticut, before the arrival of white people in the 1600s brought the epidemics, christianity, and violence which devastated so many of Connecticut's indigenous peoples.

4.06.2020

March 2020 Reads


The Last Chinese Chef by Nicole Mones
A fluffy, comfortingly predictable foodie romance. The descriptions of traditional Chinese cuisine and the community element in dining made me want to know more. Maggie and Sam's romance, delightfully free of melodrama and miscommunication, was a charming spin on friends-to-lovers.

Paladin's Grace by T. Kingfisher (Ursula Vernon) [kindle]
A charming, feel-good fantasy about a (literally) godless paladin and a perfumer who is anything but a damsel in distress. Lots of severed heads, reanimated corpses, and banter.

The Bride Test by Helen Hoang
A mixed-race single mother living in the slums of Ho Chi Minh City accidentally encounters a Vietnamese American woman looking for a wife for her stubborn son and finds herself "trying him out" for the summer. Nuanced loved story that manages to deal with complex topics such as autism, immigration, and self-discovery in heartwarming, understanding way.

3.23.2020

Walkies at the End of the World

Like many at home during the 2020 COVID-19 pandemic, I've taken to walking around the quiet neighborhoods of my new city, trying to soothe my anxious mind with fresh air and green things. Here in Connecticut, Winter 2020 felt like the winter that never was. Temperatures only dipped below freezing a handful of times and snowfall was below normal. Still, it is wonderful to finally see the spring bulbs and shrubs bursting into bloom.

Forsythia

Galanthus

Scilla

3.20.2020

My Library Is Closing & I Can't Stop Thinking About My To-Do List

Anxiety Denoument
Mccxlvv / CC BY-SA

My library will close to staff at 8 am Monday. This is a good, sensible decision and I will be paid for the duration (unions, hooray) I am at home. Can't I be happy? Why can't I be happy?

Because half the local history room is currently spread around the mezzanine in carts and the prohibition on working means my inability to restore everything to rights is like a mental itch I can’t scratch. I can feel myself feeling anxious about the room’s door being left open indefinitely.

Planning and organization, those are two of the tools that allow me to live with Anxiety Brain in this mad, bad civilization of ours. Where once planning was a terrible side effect of Anxiety Brown (I constantly planned for every eventuality without even realizing I did), planning linked with organization helps me to live a life largely unencumbered by unnecessary anxieties. (Meds also help).

But now, the open door. The partially cleaned shelves. The sticky notes. None of it can be dealt with for (what will hopefully only be) weeks. I had a plan. I was organized in my approach to completing it, but my timeline shifted abruptly, making it impossible to complete the plan. Now Anxiety Brain is fretting.

When Anxiety Brain frets about a thing, it starts to notice other things to fret about and then all the fretting comes together like layers of nacre on a grain of sand to make a terrible, irregular pearl of ugh that just rattles away in my brain. It’s not a fun time.

I’m going to need to meditate on this. Maybe, attempt to distract my brain with plans for the garden. And, of course, discuss tweaking my meds.

3.14.2020

Caturday: Lolly, Lolly, Lolly


Happy Caturday! Say hello to Lolly, our senior adoption. Lolly has been in our life for a little over a week now and is settling in quite nicely. Sometimes she gets a bit disgruntled with us and the claws come out, but Lolly is still doing a lot better than I thought she might considering the caution with which Protectors of Animals presented her to us.

Lolly was quite unhappy when we met her at the shelter. Six years ago, kitten Lolly was by an older man who let her be the queen of his castle. Then he passed away at Christmas, thrusting Lolly into a confusing world of strange people and strange cats. Understandably, Lolly didn't take kindly to the change and became an unhappy, defensive cat. She needed a quiet, cat-free home with people who would give her lots of attention and love, but gently and calmly. And so she has come to us.

Lolly relaxed quite a lot that first weekend. Sure, she was suspicious of every noise and would regularly pace the house to make sure there weren't any other cats hidden somewhere, but she let us pet her a bit and even came up on the bed for snuggles. Then, as Lolly realized she was indeed the only cat and we were big softies, she began to revert a bit to unhappy cat behavior, pushing at the edges of permissible behavior. We did not rise to her challenges and she's since moved on to being an extremely soft, loudly purring (mostly) chill kitty.

For me, anyway. My beloved insists Lolly loves me more and actively ignores him when I am at work ...

3.13.2020

Elizabeth Park: Spring Greenhouse Show


Who else can't wait for the end of this exhausting, gray winter? I had some time today after therapy and decided to do a little extra self-care with a wander through the Spring Greenhouse Show at the Elizabeth Park Conservancy in West Hartford. The colors! The scents! A half hour visit left me refreshed and filled with fantasies of the bulbs I will plant in my new gardens.

Elizabeth Park Conservancy hosts this show every year and it is a simply stunning display of flowering bulbs and other seasonal blooms. This year the floral display included varieties of French hyacinths, muscari, tulips, daffodils, pansies, trellised sweet peas, culinary herbs, and hanging baskets, as well as a collection of tropical plants and succulents. The week-long display concludes with a sale of everything in the greenhouse for completely reasonable prices. Admittedly, I have yet to make it to the post-show salad, because I forget to book the time off!

What I'm saying is, the Spring Greenhouse Show is well worth a visit.

Tulip 'Foxy Foxtrot' & Narcissus 'Tahiti'

Tulip 'Spring Green' look so striking next to bold, purple hyacinths

Multiflowering Tulip 'Shogun' are an inviting mix of apricot & melon

More Tulip 'Foxy Foxtrot' with its soft ruffled petals

Leucojum aestivum 'Gravetye Giant' looks like a great mashup of Snowdrops & Lily-of-the-Valley

Lathyrus odoratus 'Watermelon' (I think), an heirloom variety from Renee's Garden

3.09.2020

An Evening With Dr. Douglas Tallamy


Recently I had the good luck to attend a presentation by Dr. Douglas Tallamy, professor in the Department of Entomology and Wildlife Ecology at the University of Delaware and the author of many publications, including the recent Nature's Best Hope: A New Approach to Conservation That Starts in Your Yard.

Dr. Tallamy spoke about the vital need for a homegrown approach to conservation. With eighty-three percent of the land in the contiguous United States privately-owned, we must integrate native plant species into our yards, balconies, or window boxes to create conservation corridors he calls "Homegrown National Parks."

Such parks would boost the wildlife diversity in North America tremendously by making suburban lawns and gardens more productive for insects. Insects eat foliage, birds eat insects. The more delicious bugs to nom on, the more populous and healthier the birds. If we don’t increase the number and quantity of native plants in our landscape, then the populations of insects will continue to drop and that is very bad for the birds and everything else.

According to Dr. Tallamy the best plant you can add to your landscape is the oak, because they support more than five hundred species caterpillars ("bird food"). Asters and goldenrod are also strongly suggested, as they support the most species of insect herbivores and pollinators. Conveniently, asters and goldenrods are usually drought-resistant and deers avoid them.

Overall, it was a fascinating evening and I recommend getting a hold of a copy of Nature's Best Hope: A New Approach to Conservation That Starts in Your Yard.

3.07.2020

CliCK Willimantic: Beeswax Wraps

Beeswax wraps are all the rage at farmers markets and craft shows near me. Made of cotton, beeswax, jojoba oil, and pine resin these wraps are an all-natural, washable, reusable, and compostable alternative to plastic wrap and baggies. They're great for wrapping sandwiches, snacks, cheese, fruits, and vegetables. You can also use them to cover a bowl or casserole.

You shouldn't wrap raw meat in a beeswax wrap and expect to be able to use the wrap again -- they're not airtight and can't be cleaned the way you're meant to clean a meat container. You also probably don't want to use it to cover a bowl of something sloshy, like soup or sauce, as the wrap will grip, but not seal.

Anywho, 14th on my 43 in 43 list is to use less plastic. Beeswax wraps seemed like an answer to the plastic wrap and baggie problem, but the idea of purchasing such a basic product bothered me. I possessed a box of cute, high-quality cottons and knew Amazon could supply me with beeswax, pine resin, and jojoba oil. Surely, I could make my own beeswax wraps.


For months I thought about making wraps, but didn't act on the idea until I saw CLiCK Willimantic was offering a DIY class is their teaching kitchen. CLiCK is part local processing facility for small farms and business, part education center, and part community garden. It hosts ServSafe certification classes as well as classes for more domestic types -- jams, pickling, vermicomposting, and the afore-mentioned beeswax wraps.

Last weekend, nine or so of us learned to gently melt the wax, resin, and oil together over a double boiler, then brush it onto our fabric squares and pop it in a low oven for 3 minutes. Once the fabric looked evenly shiny and saturated, we hung them up to "dry" for a few minutes. And that was it, the whole shebang. Nine complete beginners made two wraps each in an hour.

While I clearly applied too much wax to my wraps, I'm still quite proud of them and have already put them to use. If I were ready to make more wraps now, I would place the CLiCK wraps in the oven until they warmed up and then lay them on unwaxed fabric to blot up some of the excess wax mixture.


CLiCK is part local processing facility for small farms and business, part education center, and part community garden. It hosts ServSafe certification classes as well as classes for home gardeners -- jams, pickling, vermicomposting, and the afore-mentioned beeswax wraps.

3.01.2020

February 2020 Reads



The Light Brigade by Kameron Hurley
In a war between the corporate states of earth and the humans of Mars, armies of the poor are recruited and modified to transform into "light" which allows them to be beamed to the frontlines. Then one infantryman finds herself returning from missions with experiences very different from those of her platoon ...

The Light Brigade raised some interesting ideas about late-stage capitalism, fake news, fear, and individuality, but their treatment was frequently heavy-handed. Still, a highly readable combination of violence and philosophy.


We Who Are About To... by Joanna Russ [hoopla digital]
Eight space travelers become stranded on an uncharted planet. Seven survivors fantasize about colonizing the planet, creating their own society complete with babies. However, our narrator is quick to realize survival is not possible for any of them and that the only real choice is death. This certainty alienates the other survivors, who are simply not prepared to hear it, setting in motion a dangerous conflict.

We Who Are About To... is a well-written, ultimately satisfying tale which raises interesting questions about paternalism, imperialism, autonomy, and dying.


The Bird House by Kelly Simmons
Nonlinear story of elderly widow Ann Biddle, the secrets of her past, and their impact on her present relationships.

Ann was an absolute firecracker and I enjoyed her developing relationship with her young granddaughter. The nonlinear narrative was a good choice and held my attention effectively. However, Ann's dementia felt unreal -- like a poor attempt to inject additional drama. Overall, a melancholy read about aging, secrets, and intrafamilial struggles.

2.23.2020

2020 Connecticut Flower & Garden Show

The Connecticut Flower and Garden Show in Hartford is something I look forward to every February. Even though I don't attend every show, the photos it generates are a godsend in the middle of winter blahness. Over three acres of beautifully landscaped gardens, horticultural displays, and vendors transform the Connecticut Convention Center into a gardener's paradise. The themed gardens are just so much gardeninspo, filling my head with fantasies about my new yard.


If all that's not enough for you, the show also offers a daily series of talks and workshops. As large crowds in enclosed spaces tends to trigger my anxieties (working on it), I used the talks as an opportunity to create a little breathing space for myself.

I attended three talks:

Grow a Pollinator Garden with award winning, nationally recognized garden writer Charlie Nardozzi

Every Yard Matters: How to Create a Healthy Monarch Butterfly Habitat at Home with Diane St. John of Natureworks Garden Center

Wild Flowers with Owen McLaughlin, landscape architect and founder of Perennimix.com


And purchased three books from the UCONN Hartford campus bookstore's gardening and local interest display:

New England Bird Lover's Garden: Attracting Birds With Plants and Flowers by Randi Minetor

Northeastern Birds Backyard Guide by Bill Thompson III

Native Plants for New England Gardens by Mark Richardson and Dan Jaffe

Do you see a theme?

1.16.2020

Dream Kitchen, Where Are You

I said: I enjoy cooking and need a functional kitchen that is also classically attractive. Preferably with smoky blue cabinets and lots of easy-to-reach under counter storage.

What I meant: I enjoy cooking and have very exacting ideas about what a functional and accessible kitchen means to me, but will not be able to articulate them to your satisfaction.

What the kitchen designer heard: My customer desires an on-trend kitchen with lots of storage.

I think we're mostly at cross-purposes, the kitchen designer and I. She's set on creating an Instagram Top Post-worthy kitchen for me with beautiful cabinets and cunning storage. I want a kitchen with cunning storage that allows me to use a step stool 95% less often. She has created a kitchen that is the unique style center of the home. I want a kitchen that is the heart of the home.

We've been back and forth with the design and, while it's slowly moving in the right direction, I'm not sure it's ever going to get to dream kitchen status. I ... want to let my designer go? I am now one of those people who not only hire kitchen designers, but fire them as well? I'm a diva?

Anyway, this is the most current design with all of my changes made to it. Click to embiggen.