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Showing posts from 2021

Six Deaths, Zero Funerals

  Art by Nicholas Wostl Find him on Instagram @fim_arts A life problem I never wanted to have: trying to remember which of the boxed sympathy cards I sent to someone six weeks ago so I wouldn't send them the same one. A few weeks ago I wrote about when my Aunt MaryJane died at the beginning of January. Last week I didn't write, couldn't bring myself to write, because we had just lost my Uncle Bill, her husband. My count now is one pandemic, six deaths in my circle of family and friends (none COVID-related) , and zero funerals. One neighbor and two dear friends were widowed last year. My husband's brother died at his home in Florida. Now, in 2021, my aunt and uncle are both gone in the space of six weeks. This is the most inhuman part of coping with this pandemic for me -- no funerals. No gathering together to grieve and reminisce and comfort each other.  No hugs. This is particularly brutal for me, as I'm an avid hugger. The first and one of the few times I ugly cri

Cake that Tastes Like Christmas in February

  Photo by Susan Mark Eating nothing but orange kiss-me-cake for lunch was probably ill-advised. As the saying goes, I regret nothing. What is orange kiss-me cake, you ask? (Or didn't ask… a little presumptuous on my part.) It's a lovely concoction somewhere between cake and quick bread with orange juice concentrate (and a lot of butter) in the batter. More orange concentrate drizzled on top, sprinkled with sugar, cinnamon and pecans. My sister Cindy always used to make kiss-me cake around Christmas when I was a kid. She must have baked it at other times, but I associate it with the holidays -- the happiness of the tree and carols and family. The cake doesn't turn out quite as intended. No recipe goes without glitches on first try, or on first try after many years of not making it. The project gave me an excuse to call her for advice -- remove the cakes from the pans before drizzling/sprinkling or not? Our conversation lasted much longer than a simple answer. Cooking or s

Writing Rules I Can Live With

Photo by Susan Mark I chafe at lists of writing rules, all the nevers and don'ts that imply there is one way to tell a story. If I want to use a dialogue tag other than "said," Mr. Leonard, I will. (She opined.) Despite that, a few years ago I wrote my own list that I'm reposting this morning. RULES FOR MY KITCHEN Coffee first, then food. Live dangerously. Lick the batter off the spoon. Eat what you want. Listen to your body. Make a mess. Clean it up. I love you, but stay out of my kitchen when I cook. Food is forgiving. Create recklessly. Recipes are mere suggestions. Experiment. You can never go wrong starting dinner with sizzling onions. Although there are limits. Sizzling onions over ice cream? Doubtful. On the other hand, I could be mistaken. Try onion ice cream if you want. When in doubt, err on the side of too much butter. Vanilla, too. Measure it over the bowl so the extra spills over. Garlic makes life complete. Fresh is better. Invest

Wrestling with the Pandemic Panic Purchases

Photo by Susan Mark You would think my most absurd pandemic panic purchase of nearly a year ago would have been the 24 cans of kippered herring. No, that honor goes to the pineapple. I haven't seen the inside of a store since April, when I was grabbing frantically at the Sam's Club shelves with the scan and go app running. No one knew how bad it could get, but stories circulated that food chains might be disrupted.  One goal was to find any kind of canned fruit or veggie we would eat since we tend to live on plant matter. Sadly, there are few I can stomach, so when I spotted the giant box of pineapple, I went for it. The box went on the shelf with the French cut green beans and the beets in preparation for an apocalypse. And stayed on the shelf... and stayed on the shelf, forgotten and forlorn. The apocalypse never descended into empty produce bins. Even in normal times, our house is fit for seven years of famine.* Even with only two of us we're stocked to the gills with dr

Hiding from the Howling Winds

The trees in my neighborhood all seem  to bend to the east. I wonder why that could be? Photo by Susan Mark. Two parts of a Wyoming winter make my mood falter. The first are the weeks just before Winter Solstice, when the world's at its darkest and the days are still shortening.  The second are the weeks when the wind won't let up. On Wednesday, the official high for the day in Cheyenne was 53 MPH sustained winds with 89 MPH gusts. From the west, of course. About 12 miles outside of town they recorded a 105 MPH gust. About 8:30, our lights flicked off and on a couple of times before staying off -- for five hours.  I'm grateful for our solid stone house. On moderately windy days, we rarely hear it, and the wind never rattles the entire house like it did when we lived in a little clapboard. This storm, however, just howled, even our house unable to block it out. If you are to live in Wyoming, you must make peace with the wind on some level. I walk in 20-30 MPH sustained often

The Joy of Uncut Snow

  Photo by Susan Mark I had no earthly reason not to follow in my husband's tracks. None.  We celebrated the first day of 2021 by cross-country skiing. We had blue skies with barely a cloud. Cold enough temperatures that the snow didn't stick, but not cold enough to be unpleasant.* Best yet, it was one of that rarest of Wyoming days: no wind.  The trailhead was, as usual, packed. We parked at the rest stop instead, where I slipped through one split-rail fence, hiked across a wind-scoured field, and stepped over a break in another one. We skied the ridge between the fence and Headquarters Trail, a wide expanse of uncut snow. In spots, I'd float on a hard-blown crust, then suddenly feel my foot plunge into powder. My husband was, of course, ahead of me. He's the athlete while I'm a bit soft around the edges. I'm always the one trailing behind when we're out. Breaking trail on cross-country skis is harder than following a set trail, or even following another sk

2021 Didn't Start as Planned

  Photo by Susan Mark My Aunt MaryJane's death didn't feel real until the next morning. It didn't even process. My brother called, and I wanted to be supportive, but I still hadn't felt her death. It wasn't until the next morning that I cried. Like many, I was never so glad to take one calendar off the wall and put up a new one on January 1. The year of 2020 seemed cursed. We never yelled BINGO, but we had enough unfortunate squares on our card that we were in the running.  2021 actually started out gloriously on January 1 with a long cross-country ski on that rarest of Wyoming days: no wind. The next day my mother* called to let me know Aunt MaryJane had just passed away.  MaryJane was funny. Sometimes it was without meaning to (eg. the time she set the microwave on fire), yet she laughed so easily at herself that you still ended up laughing with her and not at her. Chronic fatigue and fibromyalgia left her flattened a fair amount of time, but she used her limited