The never-ending lockdown.

I don’t know about you, but at this point I am so far into the lockdown groove it’s starting to feel more like a trench. A trench that gets a little deeper every week. I know, I know, I have nothing to complain about. Just sayin’ there are moments here and there where I find myself stuck at the corner of those streets called Ennui and Inertia.

132 days since we’ve seen a family member face to face. Who knew that when we hugged Daniel goodbye that day in March that it was the last hug for – who knows how long?

Four trips canceled so far. No New Orleans and Nashville in April. No Hawaii in July. NYC in September looking like a no-go.  Even a proposed jaunt to Newport Beach nipped in the bud when our governor put the brakes on last week. Things have gotten to the point that I’ve almost been forced to contemplate cleaning out a closet. Luckily, crisis averted: we baked instead! 

I can’t remember the last time we were home for four months straight, so for the first time in forever I’ve been paying mind to what goes on in our little orchard. Our latest little stick of a peach tree did its valiant best to produce this year.

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And with all this time on my hands, I decided to to try to outsmart the birds and the snails that usually pick off the peaches before they ripen. I managed to harvest just enough

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for one awesome peach crisp:

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The peaches are done now, though, so that potential closet clean is looming large. Thank goodness the plums are beginning to ripen – anyone have a recipe to share?

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Posted in Gastronomy, Life | Tagged , , , | 6 Comments

Don’t Blame the Chickens.

These days, it’s all COVID all the time.

Except when it’s salmonella.

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CNN reported it a few weeks back, tying a notable increase in salmonella cases to the pandemic-related uptick in backyard flock-keeping. A lot of people decided that if they’re staying home all day every day, they’d like to do it in the company of chickens. Seems reasonable to me. But some of them apparently failed to read up on the importance of biosecurity and simple hygiene, which is kind of hard to believe in our current pandemic life.

It’s well known that salmonella bacteria live in the digestive tracts of poultry. Even novice cooks know not to leave uncooked chicken sitting about, and the importance of thoroughly washing utensils and surfaces like cutting boards that come in contact with raw chicken.

And the rawest of chickens – the ones with feathers that go squawking around the coop – can excrete salmonella in their droppings. It is so rare for humans to contract salmonella from a backyard flock that it makes headlines when it happens. And after digging a little deeper into the topic, I have a suspicion that it is almost completely avoidable.

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How to stay salmonella-safe?

Wash your hands! (Duh, right?)

First thing I do after being around the hens, whether I’ve handled them directly or not, is to thoroughly wash my hands. And, it turns out, this is even more important for children,  whose immune systems are still developing, and who might not be able to resist nuzzling a downy chick.

Keep a clean coop!

Our current flock of seven hens is the largest we’ve ever had. Back when we had three or four hens, daily clean up took about half an hour; now I spend closer to a full hour every morning cleaning the coop. It might be overkill – I don’t think most people generally take that much time – but I want the inside of our coop to be as pristine as possible. This means gathering all the droppings deposited overnight (hens’ ridiculously high rate of respiration means a LOT of poop) as well as wiping down all surfaces and freshening food, water and litter daily.

Keep a spacious coop!

Rule of thumb guidelines for keeping chickens: a minimum of about 2 to 3 square feet per chicken inside the coop, and 8 to 10 square feet per chicken in an outside run. More square footage is better. The tighter the space, the greater dysfunction in flock dynamics and the greater the likelihood of contamination and communicable illness within the flock.

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Keep a ventilated coop!

In a 2016 article titled Poultry house ventilation part of Salmonella control , Dr. Edward Mallinson states that “high levels of Salmonella were repeatedly found on litter surfaces where air flow or ventilation was negligible or stagnant.” He is referencing large-scale farm or commercial facilities in the article but the same principles hold for small-scale operations. Keep it clean and keep it ventilated.

Practice good biosecurity!

Wear gloves!  Use a separate pair of shoes for working in the coop! Do not mingle birds from an off-site flock with your birds until they have undergone quarantine.

Keep a secure coop!

I found more than one reference to rodents as the source of salmonella in backyard flocks. Mice or rats that have access to poultry food can leave behind infected droppings that can cause a salmonella outbreak.

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Oh, and about those eggs…

Some people refrigerate their eggs immediately. Some don’t. It’s a perennial debate. But one thing for sure is that IF you wash your eggs (and all eggs that come from the grocery or a farmers market will have been washed) they MUST be refrigerated, because washing removes the protective “bloom” from the egg that prevents bacteria from permeating the shell. If you wash eggs from your own backyard flock, use WARM water, not cold, as cold water causes the shell to contract and pulls in any bacteria.

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Reports such as the recent one by CNN can unwittingly contribute to a misconception among many that chickens are inherently “unclean”. Not so! It all comes down to how tidily they are kept by their flock keepers. In eleven years of chicken-keeping, we’ve never had an instance of salmonella or any other communicable disease within or without the flock. Cleanliness is next to henliness – keep a clean space for them and you will have a happy flock of hens. Just resist the urge to kiss them!

Posted in All Things Poultry, Chicken Facts, Life | Tagged , , , , | 1 Comment

Allegiance.

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Wishing a happy 4th of July to all.

” — a Republic, if you can keep it.”Benjamin Franklin

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The hens are having a moment.

There’s been a lot of clucking about chickens lately, what with everyone staying home and envisioning that long longed-for coop. When grocery supply chains threatened to snap, there was even more than the usual pleasure in stepping out to the coop for fresh-laid eggs from our lovely ladies.

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But Willa is having to hide from the paparazzi

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ever since the latest issue of our local neighborhood magazine hit the stands:

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A little history: in 1925, Harold Chase purchased 1,200 acres of land bordering the Pacific Ocean just north of Santa Barbara proper. Lucky for us, his sister, famed civic crusader Pearl Chase, convinced him not to chop the plots into the usual tiny subdivision dice. With every lot an acre or larger, Hope Ranch has ever since been a semi-rural paradise not just for its residents, but for happy hens, horses,

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and other neighbors, like Miss Daisy across the street.  (We share our eggs, but for some reason Daisy doesn’t seem inclined to bring home the bacon).

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Each of the families interviewed for the article echoed the same sentiment about keeping chickens: “It makes me feel so peaceful when I look up and see them there”, said one neighbor. Another refers to his flock as “members of the family”. “They are the happiest addition to the house we’ve ever had”, said a third, who added that with the eggs “they give you a gift every day”.

It was a fun article to write, and according to the publisher, there are already requests for a follow-up to include other neighbors who want to show off their backyard flocks. Hard to find things to smile about these days, but I dare you not to laugh at a chicken. Good for breakfast, and good for the soul.

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Posted in All Things Poultry, Life | Tagged , , , , , , | 8 Comments

Mask-arade.

I’m having trouble keeping up. First we were told that masks were of no use in keeping COVID19 at bay; now we have state orders to wear them.

Wha?

Oh, well, as it turns out the “health experts” lied to us in order to hoard the mask supply for medical professionals. Will we ever get a tally of how many of the “little people” died as a result of this misinformation?

Is there a statue of a bureaucrat out there somewhere I could topple?

There seems to be outrage everywhere, but not a peep about this.

And it seems we’re going a bit backwards this week. The “re-opening” is losing steam and turning into a “re-closing” of sorts. With masks on my mind, I decided to lose myself in a book and – wouldn’t you know it – came upon a passage in my latest read about – yes, masks!

The Weight of Ink is a historical novel about, among a plethora of other things, the establishment of a small community of Sephardic Jews in London in the mid seventeenth century following three hundred and some years of expulsion. I know, it doesn’t sound like a beach read, but it’s actually quite interesting. As a central character, Ester Velasquez, walks through a London park, she encounters a woman wearing a mask. The year is 1665 and, I discovered, such masks – known as visards – became popular in the 1500’s.

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Often made of velvet, the masks were worn by wealthy women, presumably to ward off sunburn, but of course they might have come in handy for the occasional clandestine assignation. Interestingly, these masks were kept in place by a bead held between the teeth, which meant one was prevented from speaking while wearing the vizard. Thus, these ladies were neither seen nor heard. Small wonder that The Weight of Ink also explores the role of women in the seventeenth century.

Of course, masks had already been utilized by men for social and business dealings in Venice since the late thirteenth century. In its tight-knit community of merchant wheeler dealers, masks were a way to get things done on the down low in plain view and a way for gamblers to elude their creditors. It was all just a constant carnevale in Venezia back then.

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For the masked character of 1665, however, the plague was just around the corner. So, it seems, everything old is new again, just that in our case, the plague came first. In fact, history seems to be repeating itself so fast that it’s falling all over itself. We’ve got Soviet era state propaganda, the Salem Witch Hunts per cancel culture and made-for-tv Jacobins in Seattle. Most ironically, we have a new civil war enacting itself by destroying the cautionary markers of the last one. No one seems to have read George Santayana. If you’re cheering the mob, you might want to recall that eventually, the mob comes for everyone. If you don’t believe me, go ask Robespierre.

I’ve got a stack of face masks at the ready. But I don’t think I will breathe easier until I have one to cover my eyes because this is all very hard to watch. As Petrarch said of the Dark Ages:

” My fate is to live among varied and confusing storms. But for you perhaps, if as I hope and wish you will live long after me, there will follow a better age. This sleep of forgetfulness will not last forever.”

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Gimme Shelter.

Is it safe to go out yet?

Well, yes and no. In the past week we’ve gone from seeing no one to seeing dozens of people. Encounters with friends, long-postponed appointments, various essential errands. Things are “opening up” we are told, at the same time as increased numbers of cases are reported. “Just a factor of more testing“, say some. But “tell your older loved ones to stay home” cautions Public Health.

Stay home.

Forever?

The allusions to the film 12 Monkeys just keep piling up. Bruce Willis is all of us, in the not-so-distant future, living in underground bunkers and not looking all that happy about it since David Morse (body double for the CCP?) heads to the airport to unleash a virus that quickly goes global. Yes, truth is stranger than science fiction.

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However lovely your bunker may be (and I hear all the billionaires have some worth writing home about) there may come a time when hearth and home start feeling like ball and chain. Which has me thinking about the ways in which our living space defines us for better or for worse. Feel like getting beyond your own four walls? Here are five reads that will free you from your bunker:

1. The House of Seven Gables by Nathaniel Hawthorne

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Published in 1851 but one of those classics that is a classic for good reason. A memorable house that stands witness to generations of doings and wrongdoings. “It was itself like a great human heart, with a life of its own, and full of rich and sombre reminiscences.”

2. Rebecca by Daphne Du Maurier

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Another sort of classic, a gothic beach read of sorts. Manderley is the manse and oh how many secrets it holds. Even if you’ve read it once, go for a do-over. Du Maurier will have you at “Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley…”

3. To the Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf

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Purportedly set in the Hebrides but drawing inspiration from Woolf’s childhood summer home in Cornwall, To the Lighthouse is brilliant and experimental and about many things, one of them being the way a house is inwardly lit by the iconic Mrs. Ramsay and how that light and her family itself is lost after after her death.

4. A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles

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When is a house not a house? When it’s a hotel and you are under house arrest. Everyone has read this book – I’ve read it twice – so if you haven’t , you need to get started. Especially since “house arrest” is something we can now all relate to.

5. The Dutch House by Ann Patchett

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The main character in Patchett’s latest and enormously popular novel is a stately 1920’s house on the outskirts of Philadelphia. There is no happily ever after for the family within, and there you have the story, complete with the wickedest stepmother outside a fairy tale. “Our childhood was a fire. There had been four children in the house and only two of them had gotten out.”

So there. Even if you are still feeling like it’s house arrest, as long as you have a book, there are places to go. Hunker down. Bloom where you’re planted. Shelter from the storm. Because there’s no place like home…

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Voluntary confinement.

There are two kinds of people. Those who are itching to jump back in to real life. And then there’s me.

Things are starting to rev up. My blessedly blank calendar has suddenly blown up with entries.  But strangely, I don’t want to put my mask on and go out. I kind of want to put a bag over my head and stay in.

I know what you’re thinking: “But we’ve gotta get going! We lost our whole spring!”

Maybe you did. But I had the best spring ever. Cocooned in, I paid attention to its unfolding like I’ve never done before. Thoreau would be proud of me, I’d like to think.

The snow drops had just begun to bloom in the Park when we left the city. They didn’t know spring had been canceled.

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We arrived home to the vestiges of SoCal winter. At that point my brain was still racing around the rat wheel of the crisis at hand, but I did remember to take one quick snap of the tulip magnolias I love so much.

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And then everything slowed down in a way it never has before. Spring actually unfurled at a pace that felt like several different seasons simply because I was able to really watch it happen at 1x speed instead of the fast forward we usually live by.

There was my beloved wisteria season.

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Then the abundance of citrus season – was this an especially good year for lemons and oranges or have I just never noticed before?

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There was the week of the heron, where he graced us with several sightings – and then disappeared.

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The wisteria faded but never fear – the jacarandas stepped in with a second chorus of purple.

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And some bright astroemeria sang harmony. How is it they’ve eluded me until now?

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The spring winds have been coming up and soon there will be more jacaranda petals on the ground than on the trees. I was thinking, okay, that’s the end of it. That’s Lily’s and my signal to get back in the real life groove.

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But then, this morning, I stepped out the door to discover that gardenia season has begun! Please don’t make me go anywhere while the gardenias are blooming!

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I know it’s sacrilegious, but I don’t really want to go back to fast forwarding through every week just yet. Oh, I’ll get there, I suppose. But in some ways I wouldn’t mind locking in the lockdown. You can all move on to the next news cycle – I’ll stay here on the snooze cycle.

Good luck with it all. Lily and I will be here just watching the clouds go by in the spring night sky…

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The Morning Wired.

First it was a hand sanitizer shortage. Perplexing. The threat of a meat shortage. Hmm. Toilet paper disappeared. We rolled with that one, so to speak.  But when I scrolled through the news and saw a headline, oh the most ominous headline of all, I truly panicked. It warned of a projected coffee shortage! Oh no! Anything but that! How important is coffee to me? Let’s just say that when I read about the Tree of Life in scripture, I picture it laden with coffee beans. In the beginning, there was coffee, right? There had to be.

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I look back on favorite coffee moments the way other people remember their first love. Oh what I would give right now to be sitting in the breakfast room at the Sacher Hotel in Vienna, sipping that divine brew they make. Honestly, I would brave any virus to be there…

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But even here at home, the java is juiced. The current morning ritual consists of one part Mexican Aztec, one part Brazilian Cerrado and one part Fonté Bin 16, supervised by resident coffee cat, Mischa. He looks like he needs a cup!

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And no worries now about a coffee shortage because the boys gave me a subscription for my birthday. Subscriptions are so fun because you never know what’s coming next. This one is from a company called Partners  and the first batch is from Rwanda, “along the shores of Lake Kivu” according to the Partners web site.

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They’ve also sent me past subscriptions from Driftaway and Blue Bottle coffee. So fun to try new flavors. It reminds me that someone on my gift list is probably longing for coffee the way I do (well, maybe not quite the way I do…other people are sane) so I’m happy to have found this article with all kinds of coffee subscription suggestions.

It seems that every book I read about World War I and II features long paragraphs about the rationing of or absence of coffee. Hard enough to start the day with people shooting at you or dropping bombs on your city but to survive that without coffee is truly asking too much. Over and over there are accounts of brewing a beverage from crushed acorns just to approximate the memory of coffee.

So far, we haven’t come to that. But since we’ve progressed from plague in March and April to murder and mayhem in May, I think Mischa and I are going to stock up on coffee – just in case.

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It’s about time.

I was halfway through the audiobook edition of novelist Penelope Lively’s meandering Dancing Fish and Ammonites: A Memoir before it occurred to me why I must have chosen it from all the books out there in the literary ether. There is Ms. Lively, reaching back cogently into her childhood and the events that shaped it and speaking of the rigors of age, and there is me, in my usual fog, listening while scrubbing down the chicken coop when it suddenly occurred to me that I was about to have a birthday!

Of late, the days have blended so together that time has become less a progression of ticks on the calendar and more a mush of porridge. Nothing on that calendar to note, so no need to check the date. Talk about birthdays creeping up on you – this one came out of nowhere! But part of me must have known that I would need Penelope’s instructive thoughts to help me through it.

In her case, the erudite novelist was formed by a childhood that began in Cairo and wrapped up in London, punctuated by the global sea changes of the Suez Crisis and World War II. In my case – so much humbler and not the least bit erudite – it was a rundown town in the armpit of the Midwest and a post-war upbringing that promised everything being made of plastic and that sentinel dining invention: the TV dinner.

While Ms. Lively’s intellect digested the ramifications of Nasser’s canal nationalization and the North African Campaign, I was somehow only dimly aware of the Cold War and Sputnik. I do remember the day of John F. Kennedy’s assassination – we were let out of school early and I walked the several blocks home alone, feeling a general sense that the world was perhaps not a safe place to be. It only got worse with the subsequent assassinations of Robert F. Kennedy and Martin Luther King and there was a continual distant and fearfully discordant hum of the Vietnam War. Distant for me partly because, mercifully, I lived in a backwater where nothing from the outside world seemed to penetrate the slow, safe steadiness of daily life. And also because, there was me, in my usual fog, not paying attention.

I do recall watching the grainy footage of the moon landing on television, and there was a soundtrack playing over that arc of time featuring The Doors and The Rolling Stones (I didn’t like The Beatles, go figure…) and the breathtaking moment when I heard Joni Mitchell for the very first time. That might be the one thing that broke through the fog. But while Penelope Lively made sense of her world by going to Oxford University and studying history, I spent most of my late adolescence in a concerted and ultimately failed quest simply to straighten my hair.

I was not then and I am not now very good at paying attention. Luckily I woke up long enough to meet the CE, take a deep breath and dive into raising children. And then, two minutes later, it seemed, but some two decades and change in real time, that was over.

Real time. Real time is what apparently happens when one is busy elsewhere in a fog. Because this morning I woke up another year older, and math-challenged as I may be, I can add up the writing on the wall and it is not pretty. Bless Ms. Lively for informing me that, at least in the UK where she abides, “elderly” is currently not perceived to begin until one turns 68.

Since today I turn 67, this gives me a year – by Ms. Lively’s definition – one whole extravagant year, to get my head out of the fog and start paying attention before I am truly “elderly”. I am grateful to the past few months for showing me the way: scarcity of resources makes one more deeply appreciative of them and it now occurs to me that just as I will cherish Clorox wipes going forward, I am facing a scarcity of a different commodity: time. It has always, of course, been running out, but it seems to be running faster now. Running a marathon, in fact. “Slow down!” I call, but time is not listening, not even slowing down to look back at me over its shoulder.

This new year sits before me, the loveliest gift imaginable. I can’t wait to see what happens next. Penelope Lively comments in her book that the old cannot appreciate some things as young people do, observing that spring is experienced more vividly by a young person who has not worn through as many seasons as us oldsters. Here she and I part ways – I don’t think I’ve ever appreciated a spring as I have this one, given the intensity of this moment in time. Head finally out of the fog? It’s about time! Happy birthday to me!

 

Posted in Annoyances of Life, Life | Tagged , , , | 6 Comments

Hitting the paws button.

A funny thing happened while we waited for the wheels to fall off. I know it’s been chaos for some and tragedy for others, but for us, with our unimportant and insignificant place in the universe, we’ve somehow washed up on a little shoal of solitude and contentment. It just occurred to me that in two months of a shutdown, I haven’t been even a little bit bored. (Maybe because I am just that boring…)

It helps to shelter with someone you love, in a place you love and I so luckily have both. All those extra square feet of house and property we’ve been lamenting the last few years have come in ever so handy just now. And all the bustle and the hither and thither of “normal” life have come to seem just a bit extraneous. We can (kind of) do with less. We can (kind of) clean our house and even (kind of) cut our hair!

But the real key to making all this work, I’ve realized, is the rhythm of each day served up by these ruff-around-the-edges characters we share it all with. Here’s to them!

Lily goes out and Lily comes in and Lily hunts gophers and Lily goes for a swim. Somehow all the dirt falls off by the end of the day and she can pose as the noble creature she is.

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How she loves her baby Mooshmallow!

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But wait a minute, we are NOT sharing the food bowl, are we?

Baby kitty and Lily May 2020

Actually, when you look like this you can pretty much have whatever you want all the time.

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Because The Countess says so.

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When you look like this, it’s a good thing you know how to lay eggs. Hey, they can’t help it – they’re dinosaurs with feathers.
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Maybe the best thing about having nothing to do are the afternoon naps.

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And at the end of the day, if life gives you lemons, make whiskey sours. (Another skill I’ve added to my repertoire. thanks to all the lemons we’ve got right now)

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I’m beginning to sense a wind-down on the shutdown. Will it have been worth it? I have my doubts that we’ve escaped the virus, but honestly, if I had to, I think I could almost do this fur-ever. Once we’re back to juggling the calendar and heading off here and there and everywhere, I have a feeling I’m going to miss this. It’s been the best vacation I never went on.

Steven and The Countess cocktail hour May 2020

 

Posted in Absurdity, Animal/Vegetable/Mineral, Life, Spoiled Pets | Tagged , , , , , , | 9 Comments