Thoughts and meanderings from my corner of the state
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 dried beans, pasta, tomato sauce, flours, nuts, and dried fruit. I don't know what we'd do without the kitchenette in the basement as a pantry (our house was once a duplex) and the full-size chest freezer. I also can't imagine what guests think when they see our stash.
The challenge is rotating stock and not forgetting what we have. I have an abhorrence of food waste that borders on irrational. All meal planning begins with "what's most likely to go bad." Every bone gets boiled down into stock. I've even scavenged leftover ham bones and turkey carcasses from (before-time) work potlucks. They'll just go to waste otherwise. I won't buy potato chips, not because I'll crave and overeat them, but because I'll feel compelled to overeat them before they go stale.
Perhaps I behave this way because my parents were raised in dire poverty during the depression. My mother's told me of resorting to eating lard gravy with biscuits. My father was the oldest of eight, and his mother cooked up dinner from every squirrel he could shoot (and he was a damn fine shot**)
So I (literally) dusted off the box of pineapple the other day, looked at the now-in-the-past sell-by date, and am now on a quest to eat as much pineapple as quickly as is humanly possible. I pulled out the cookbooks and discovered nothing involving pineapple except upside-down cake and gelatin. Cake it shall be.
I told my husband I needed to find a recipe involving pineapple, kippers, beets, and green beans. (Yum?)
You would think that at this middle-aged, well-established phase of my life that I could let a leftover ham bone or a half-bag of potato chips go without guilt, but I can't. Habits of thrift die hard.
You would think by now I would have faith that there will be enough.
We'll work our way through the backlog of kippers and beans and beets and yes, pineapple. I will make myself believe that the stores will not run out of fruits and veggies.
Now, if you'll excuse me, I need to go make a second cup of tea from the once-used tea bag.
*Biblical reference if you're not familiar with it. I grew up very, very Catholic, so there might be a few of those on this blog.
**My father famously told my husband on first meeting, "I shot 15 squirrels with 16 rounds from a .22 rifle." We think there was some subtext there as to how he wanted his daughter to be treated.
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 and have learned to face it. I walk my neighborhood north to south instead of east to west to cut down the time I'm facing into it. I walk the west side of the streets for what little additional shelter the houses provide.
There's no making peace with 89 MPH gusts, though. This is wind that knocks down fences and rips down tree branches. It leaves me feeling agitated and trapped if I stay inside and battered if I venture outside. The storm is a thing to be endured until it passes.
The pandemic has been a stiff wind in my face all year, with gusts of civil unrest knocking me off-balance. Yesterday, the wind picked up. We had distressing news from three different family members, three different issues. Deepening dementia. Mental health crisis. Hospitalization with pneumonia (mercifully not COVID). I'm agitated and wanting to hunker down away from it all.
I can't say I'll embrace these winds, but I can face them. They're not unendurable.
I've seen enough Wyoming storms to know that some leave damage. Years of them leave cottonwoods bending, though still growing strong. But each storm passes and makes way for days of calm and sun.
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 skier. I could have followed behind him and gotten more glide where he'd laid down tracks. I would have known where I would sink and where I would float.
But I didn't. Fresh snow is simply too tempting. I zigzagged for no good reason and ducked around trees. Our tracks must have looked like a little kid ran back and forth. Truth be told, I felt like a kid doing it.
I am told that I "knew my own mind" from my youngest days. As I grew older, I picked my own path -- not the one of least resistance, by a long shot. I've fallen into deep snow more than once in life, but I've always gotten back up.
Breaking trail is harder, but oh so worth it.
*Although truly, bad weather is usually a function of bad clothing.
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 stores of energy to show up for life, by God. She was loving and quirky and I enjoyed talking with her.
A few years ago, she was diagnosed with Stage 3 fallopian tube cancer. After her initial 11-hour surgery, one of my brothers** texted us with the update that she was out of surgery and recovering. Then he listed all the body parts and pieces they took out, leaving me wondering if they left anything in that woman's abdominal cavity.
She spent months in and out of the hospital, with tubes and holes in her body that meant she couldn't take a shower. We talked of how she should throw a party when she was finally allowed one. Sometimes her hopeful attitude faltered. I told her she was allowed to get discouraged. No one has to keep up a positive front all the time.
I wrote her letters then, long ones handwritten on sheets of notebook paper. I'm a writer. I can never figure out how to constrain myself to the polite proportions of a note card. Letters are all I can think of to do when someone I care about is in crisis three time zones away.
We didn't hold our annual family gathering in December in Arizona this year because of the pandemic, so I didn't see her in 2020. I assumed we'd get together in post-vaccination December 2021. Despite the fatigue and fibro, despite the cancer that was nibbling at her again, there was nothing indicating she was in imminent danger of death.
Had I known she would be gone so soon, would I have gone to see her? I don't know. There would have been too many other people I would have put at risk from my travels. I would have, however, made it a point to text and call more, to fire up my Zoom account and see her face. After the worst of the cancer situation had passed, I fell out of the habit of keeping in touch. In some ways, it was my own denial that anything was wrong, a way of convincing myself that she was fine.
I don't get a do-over. None of us do.
I do get to take the lessons from this, though. Laugh. Keep in touch. And dammit, show up for life while you've got it.
*One of four women I consider to be my mothers, actually. I have a complex family that requires a Venn Diagram.
**I started with seven brothers and still have six, in two separate families. Did I mention the Venn Diagram?