Planning ahead

“We cannot all do great things. But we can do small things with great love.”
— Mother Teresa

During this pandemic, I’ve thought a lot about the best way to leverage the resources I have to bring the greatest possible benefit to the greatest possible number of people.

Three resources I have at the moment are surplus craft supplies, creativity, and time. I am using those resources to stock a sort of free gift shop that will launch in October to make Christmas a little easier for people in my area who may be struggling financially.

My goal is to create classy-looking gift items in a range of sizes/types/apparent price points and distribute them at no charge to anybody who needs them. If people want to pay for the items, I will encourage them to donate whatever amount they deem appropriate to a local nonprofit, but it won’t be required. The fundraising component is mostly just there to provide cover for folks who can’t afford to buy gifts but don’t want anyone to know, and to give them a way to pay it forward if they wish. I use a similar approach with my obedience classes, and it seems to work very well.

Today, I took some small terra cotta flowerpots and dressed them up with leftover paint from other projects. I’m making little macrame hangers to go with them, and this fall, I’ll fill them with potting soil and tuck baby spider plants or burro’s tail cuttings into them.

I watered down some paint to get the weathered effect.
I really like this Southwestern color scheme.
Propagating plants. These will be pretty big by Christmas, but I’ll have more little ones by then.

I hope to offer at least a dozen different products, including houseplants in cute containers, spice mixes, mug-brownie kits, lotion bars, sock monkeys, bead jewelry, paintings, garden kits, hot-process soap, bath bombs with small toys hidden inside, and a few other items.

I’ll be posting recipes and tutorials as I go.

This won’t cure coronavirus, fix the economy, or end racism, but it might make life a little easier for somebody, and that’s all I really need it to do.

Emily

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I do not fear the time

“So come the storms of winter,
And then the birds in spring again.
I do not fear the time…”
— Sandy Denny

I turned 45 today. There’s nothing especially magical about that, but it’s a comfortable age. Five years into it, I’m still thoroughly enjoying my 40s, despite my elders’ assurances that I wouldn’t when I was a kid.

I have everything I need and most of what I want. Thanks to the surgery I had last summer, my most obnoxious and persistent health problem is gone. I have a rewarding career; supportive family and friends; a house full of pets and plants and mid-century furniture; a schedule that leaves time for creative pursuits; and a view of Tucumcari Mountain out my front window. I feel productive and appreciated — a feeling that was only reinforced this evening when three of my students were out for a walk around town and just randomly showed up in my front yard to say hello. (I don’t think they knew it was my birthday, but after all this social distancing, their unexpected visit was definitely a gift.)

I spent this morning celebrating the decade in which I was born by listening to the ’70s channel on Sirius while repotting some new houseplants and moving some old ones outdoors to give them better growing conditions.

I had a good day. I hope you did, too.

Emily

Abandoned

I really like this little building.

I’m fascinated by this little building and its mysterious walled backyard. It’s just a few blocks from our house, and we pass that fabulous arched gate several times a week when we walk the dogs. Seeing the Coke sign from a distance, I thought it was a long-shuttered corner store, but as I was taking a picture of the sign the other day, I realized there was a ghost sign above the door:

A beauty shop in this neighborhood makes more sense than a grocery store.

The hours should have been a pretty good tipoff that this wasn’t a grocery store.

This little archway just knocks me out.

Exploring Tucumcari with Ramona is one of my new favorite pastimes. We go out for a walk or a jog almost every evening. She likes sniffing stuff, and I like slowing down and seeing cool stuff like that abandoned salon.

Our evening workouts actually made the Washington Post website recently. Click here to see it. Our part starts at 1:20.

In other news, I worked on office upgrades today. I now have a mount that gets my monitor and laptop up off my desk and a curved shower-curtain rod above my desk with a pretty curtain hanging from it to reduce distractions during Zoom calls with students.

I also went to the hospital today to get a blood test to see whether I had COVID-19 when I got sick in early March. People who have already had the virus can donate plasma to help active patients. I should know whether that applies to me by the middle of next week.

Emily

Free time

Here is some of the stuff I’ve been doing in my free time since I finished the draft of the novel last weekend:

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In February, I pulled up our stained, worn-out wall-to-wall carpet to find a beautiful hardwood floor hiding underneath. Instead of spending the better end of $5 a square foot on cork-look luxury vinyl tile, I spent less than $100 on sandpaper and Danish oil.

Before I could start working on the floor, I came down with bronchitis. Then the pandemic hit, and I had to figure out how to teach, put out a paper, and coordinate the production of a yearbook, all remotely, while writing the first draft of my latest novel.

I finally got a hand free Monday to start working on the living-room floor. At my dad’s recommendation, I sanded it by hand and gave it a couple of coats of Danish oil. It was time-consuming, physically demanding work, but I think it turned out well. We used part of the money we saved on the floor to buy a new wood-slice coffee table with hairpin legs. *Swoon*

To keep my neck and shoulders from completely seizing up on me while I was sanding and oiling the floor, I stopped every hour or so to stretch and spend a few minutes working on the new mural I just sort of randomly decided I needed in my office. I’m designing it on the fly, but I think it will look pretty cool when I’m done with it.

I’ve always sort of wondered what I could accomplish if I had a big enough block of time on my hands with relatively few distractions, and the pandemic has pretty well answered that question. I have several other projects brewing. We’ll see how many of them I finish before the world reopens.

Emily

 

Loaves and fishes

The Bureau of Labor Statistics released the latest round of unemployment numbers today. The current unemployment rate is sitting at 14.7%.

If you are not among that 14.7%, I see three ways to look at this problem:

  1. Erect a Somebody Else’s Problem field around it and keep going. Anyone who considers this a reasonable option probably isn’t reading this blog in the first place. (I hope not, anyway; I’d hate to think my writing appealed to that sort of person.)
  2. Drown in guilt and frustration over the unfairness of it all. I did that for a while this week. You may be shocked to learn that it benefited exactly no one.
  3. Let the math motivate you. When the world seems to be spinning out of control, I tend to close my eyes and trust-fall into the arms of Muhammad ibn Musa al-Khwarizmi, better known as the Father of Algebra. In the >30 years since I learned to solve for x, ol’ boy has never failed me.

With that in mind, let’s look at the numbers:

If 14.7% of us who normally have jobs are now unemployed, that means 85.3% of us are still working. (Note: The unemployment rate is different from the labor-force participation rate.)

If my scratch-paper scribbling is right, if every working person had the same income, the 85.3% of us who are still working could take care of the rest by sharing just 17.2% of our income.

We don’t all have the same income, and we can’t all afford to share that much. But honestly, I think 17.2% represents a worst-case scenario, because a lot of currently employed people are white-collar workers who can telecommute, and a lot of currently unemployed people are service-industry workers.

Because white-collar jobs tend to pay better than service jobs, we probably don’t need every currently employed person to give away $1.72 of every $10 s/he earns in order to pick up the slack; we just need all the current haves to take an honest look at our available resources and figure out how to leverage them to help as many of the current have-nots as possible.

If you identify as Christian, you already know a guy who did that at least twice and ensured that his initial investors got a pretty impressive ROI out of the deal.

Emily

Good dog!

Ramona the Pest has been a Very Good Girl lately. We’ve walked or jogged together almost every day since this semi-quarantine began, and now she’s learning to work off-lead. 

Getting a dog to work without a leash is challenging, because the handler has to trust and respect the dog enough to relinquish control of its movements, and the dog has to trust and respect the handler enough to listen and follow directions instead of running off and getting into mischief.

Some dogs are better suited for this than others. Under the wrong circumstances, an off-lead excursion can turn an asset into a liability or amplify a personality quirk into a real hazard.

Ramona is a bit scatterbrained when she’s excited, and walks are Very Exciting, so I start our lessons by walking or running several blocks down the alley with her on a loose lead. 

Once she’s settled down enough to focus, I drop the leash and let her drag it, paying close attention to our surroundings so I can run interference quickly if I see trouble brewing. I like working her in alleys, because they present plenty of distractions but few real hazards, and they’re narrow enough that I can catch up to her quickly if she tries to bolt. 

We had a great training session the other night. She did very well at heel, sit, and stay, remained polite while visiting her friend Bruce and his housemate (who was less polite), and even did a little modeling next to some breezeblock walls:

Brown dog cocking its head and looking at the camera
I’m pretty sure she knows how cute she is.

Brown dog licking its chops
“I was told by Applecare that there would be treats.” — Ramona, probably

Two dogs greeting each other over a concrete wall as a third dog flashes its teeth
I wish I spoke dog. I’d love to know what he was saying. (Probably some variant of “You damn kids get off my lawn!”)

My long-term goal is to be able to take her on long runs off-lead, because handling the leash siphons off a little more energy than I’d like — no big deal for a 5K, but unpleasant at half-marathon distances and beyond. We’ll see how it goes.

Emily

Lotion bars

As a beekeeper, I tend to have a lot of beeswax on hand. Every time I harvest honey, I render the cappings, but I rarely get around to using them for anything.

Last fall, I used some of my surplus beeswax to make a batch of mini lotion bars to hand out to my colleagues at school. I ended up with way more than I needed, so I stored the leftovers in the freezer. They’ve been a godsend since we started washing our hands approximately nine million times a day to ward off coronavirus.

I realize normal people don’t just have chunks of beeswax lying around, but if you can put your hands on some, you can make your own lotion bars with just a few minutes’ worth of work.

For the basic bars, I used:

1 part beeswax
1 part coconut oil
1 part olive oil

A lot of recipes say to melt your beeswax in a double boiler to reduce the risk of igniting it, but I’ve melted beeswax in the microwave for years and never had any problems. The trick is to use a Pyrex measuring cup; cut the beeswax into thin slivers; and watch it closely, stirring every 30 seconds to prevent hot spots.

(If you ever do have a fire in your microwave, just unplug it and leave the door shut until the fire burns out. It shouldn’t take long, because there’s not much oxygen in there.)

When the beeswax was mostly melted, I added the coconut oil and continued nuking and stirring until it was all melted together. Then I stirred in the olive oil and enough wintergreen and peppermint essential oil to make it smell nice, poured it into silicone molds, and stuck them in the freezer to harden. Once they solidified, I wrapped them in candymaker’s foil and stored them in an old sherbet tub in the freezer.

To use, hold a bar in your hands until it softens up, then rub it over your skin. It takes a while to soak in, but it’s a good overnight moisturizer that doubles as an excellent lip balm.

Emily

P.S.: Hat tip to Mom Makes Joy, who posted the recipe I used as the basis for mine.

Just what the Doctor ordered

“An N95 respirator is the safest thing to put between myself and a virus, but it is by no means the most interesting.”
— The Third Doctor, probably

As a courtesy to everybody he interviews this week, Ron has been following the governor’s advice and covering his face.

With a bandanna.

Which makes him look as if he is planning to rob a stagecoach after deadline.

I couldn’t let him run around like that, so I rummaged through my craft closet tonight and let him pick through my fabric stash to find something he could handle wearing. He chose a blue fabric with Our Lady of Guadalupe on it. He could do worse than to have the Mother of God standing between him and everybody’s cooties, I suppose.

I, of course, insisted on geeking it up. It would take a pretty audacious virus to try to get past twelve Doctors. (This fabric predates Thirteen by a couple of years.)

Allons-y!

Emily

P.S.: Ron also has an N95 respirator to go with his stylish cloth mask. I found it in my craft closet tonight while I was searching for elastic. I think I bought it to ward off migraines while I was painting the kitchen in Cape, so if you see him in it, don’t side-eye him too much. I’m pretty sure the people fighting the pandemic didn’t want a slightly used mask that’s been rocking around in the bottom of a craft bin for three years. o__O

Hi-dee-ho, neighbor.

What’s better than a breezeblock wall? A breezeblock wall just at the golden hour, with three dogs and a cat greeting each other over it.

That guy doing his very best Wilson impression in the top photo is Bruce. He belongs to my preacher, Amy, who lives a couple of blocks down the street from us and has a fabulous hidden-circle wall around her backyard. Bruce and his housemates had a good time visiting with Ramona over the fence while Ron and I were walking the dogs yesterday evening.

Dog peeking through breezeblock wall
Look closely to see Bruce peeking at us through the breezeblocks.

Orange tabby cat atop a breezeblock wall
Jake the cat came out for a visit and took a moment to pose in the sunlight.

Two dogs greeting each other over a breezeblock wall
Ramona makes a new friend. This is Bruce’s housemate. I forgot his name.

Dog peeking under a metal fence
This guy lives a few blocks over from Amy. I’ve never seen him before, but we got a kick out of his efforts to see us as we were walking down the alley.

Our dogs love this down time. We’re home a lot more than usual, and they’re getting a lot more attention. I finally had time to download the Hal Higdon app and start training for another marathon, which is something I’d been planning to do since Ramona was a puppy. I took her out this afternoon for our first scheduled run: a three-mile jog. She’s a good running buddy. If you’ve been thinking about taking up distance running (with or without your dog), now is a good time to do it. The weather is starting to warm up, but we still have a few weeks of fairly moderate temperatures, which gives you time to acclimate and build your endurance before it gets really hot.

Emily

Headed for the light

Ron and I found a welcome light illuminating the darkness this evening on Route 66 here in Tucumcari.

For several weeks, we’d been seeing signs of life at the long-shuttered Apache Motel. Ron talked to the new owner today, and this evening, she sent him a photo showing the lightbulbs around the perimeter of the motel’s iconic neon sign burning brightly.

We immediately grabbed our cameras and headed out.

Apache Motel sign with lights on around edge
The Apache’s new owner got some of the sign to light again.

The Apache was open when we took our first Route 66 trip in 2001. Some of the paint was peeling from the sign, but the neon was still burning, and chasing lights raced dramatically around the edge, calling attention to the motel for at least half a mile in either direction. At the time, I hadn’t yet learned to leave the shutter open long enough to catch all the lights as they flashed on and off, but you can see how vibrant the neon was:

Apache Motel sign in 2001 with neon lit
The Apache sign on Aug. 4, 2001.

Not long after that, the sign went dark, and the motel sat empty until 2006, when new owners bought it and restored it to its mid-century glory. I stayed there during a November 2006 road trip, which I blogged about at the time.

The motel closed almost as quickly as it reopened, and it’s been quietly decaying ever since — a heartbreaking sight, given the work that went into restoring it.

The timing of the coronavirus pandemic — arriving in the United States just on the cusp of tourist season — couldn’t be worse for my beloved Route 66. But looking up at the Apache sign this evening, I was reminded of one of the things I love most about this old road: Its seemingly endless capacity for renewal.

Just ask the Over the Hill Gang in Arcadia, Oklahoma; the Illinois Route 66 Association’s Historic Preservation Committee; the owners of the “Murder Bordello” in Galena, Kansas; Dawn Welch, whose Rock Cafe literally rose from the ashes after a 2008 fire that gutted its interior and collapsed its roof; or Ned Leuchtner, who reconstructed Cool Springs Camp from a pair of stone pillars.

The Mother Road and her children may see some casualties in the coming years. But as Ma Joad said: “We’re the people that live. They can’t wipe us out; they can’t lick us. We’ll go on forever … ’cause we’re the people.”

Emily

Sustainability on a shoestring