Saturday, July 4, 2020

It's the 4th of July!

Independence Day is one of my favorite holidays of the entire year. Not that I'm all that patriotic, mind you. I do love my country, despite our many problems and faults, but I'll never be a flag waving, "love it or leave it" faux patriot. I say "faux" because denying our many big and troubling issues and our sins of the past doesn't do a damn thing to move our country forward. Real patriots, in my opinion, want to make the USA better even if that takes facing hard truths and a lot of hard work. Still.....


"America the Beautiful" gets me every time. Right in the feels.

If you're in the USA, what are your plans on this 4th of July? With the pandemic going on and lots of people staying home I imagine it will be a little different for some this year.

I went to the farm stand yesterday to pick up tomatoes, sweet corn, and various other vegetables. While I shopped I heard plenty of people talking about how they were "headed to the lake" or "headed to the beach" with their families for the next week. One man bought 6 cantaloupes, 3 watermelons, and a giant bag of green peanuts for boiling and I heard him telling someone that his whole extended family was already down at the lake at Santee and he was picking up last minute supplies before joining them. So obviously some people aren't too worried about the pandemic! I understand that big family vacations this time of year are part of the local culture, but damn. You'd think people could skip one year in the interest of keeping everyone safe!

Full disclose, though: I'm a little envious. When I was a kid, my mom's family rented a beach cottage at Cherry Grove beach for a week every July 4th. My grandma and granddaddy, mom and dad, aunt and uncle, and me and my two first cousins on that side would all be there. My granddad would bring sacks of produce from his garden, and would spend most of his time sitting in the shade just outside the cottage. He didn't much care for the actual beach (it was half a block away, within sight of the house) and he refused to ever get in the ocean. When asked why he wouldn't dip his toes in the water, at least, you know what he'd say? "With all these drunks sitting on the beach drinking beer the water is probably half piss!" Hahahaha!  Actually, he probably wasn't too far wrong. In those days, adults could sit on the beach with a cooler full of beer and no one bothered them about it. The adults in my family certainly did, and when we were at the beach even grandma might be caught sipping a little something in the evening when the sun went down. Playing in the ocean was my very favorite thing to do when we were there, piss be damned. My second favorite part of vacation was playing video games in the arcade that was right on the beach in those days. Pac-Man, Ms. Pac-Man, Donkey Kong, and my personal favorite, Centipede! This would have been in the 80s. You could buy footlong hot dogs and ice cream in the arcade if you got hungry, and there was a wooden walkway leading out the back straight onto the beach. My cousins and I spent hours there while the adults did whatever it was they did. I remember how sweet it was to fall asleep at night on cool cotton sheets with a sea breeze coming in the open windows after a long day of sun and sand and salt water. Those beach vacations around the 4th of July are some of the best memories I have of growing up. Days gone by. I thought of all that yesterday when I overheard the man talking about his family's lake house vacation.

Getting back to 2020, I'll be firing up the grill tonight after Gregg gets off work. Grilling out is essential for a proper July 4th in our house. Last night someone at a small business just down the road from our neighborhood fired off a solid 20 minutes of fireworks just after sunset. They were beautiful--we had a decent view from our back porch--and we're hoping they'll have even more tonight since today's the actual holiday. Years ago we'd sometimes buy fireworks to set off (they're legal and very available here), but they're too expensive to even be thought of these days. Plus, they scare Ginger which is almost enough to put us off them altogether. Last night I turned on the tv kind of loud for her to drown out the sound of them, and combined with her recent hearing loss, she didn't seem to notice them much. So that's good! Maybe tonight we'll get another free firework show!

So I'm off to mix up marinades for the meat and veggies I'll be grilling later, and then I'm debating about taking a friend up on her offer of going to her house to swim. She has a nice pool and we can easily keep a safe distance from each other. Gregg is working until 7 tonight so it's going to be a long, hot afternoon at home by myself if I don't go. And I haven't seen this friend in months and I miss her. So that should be a fun way to kill a couple of hours.

Happy Independence Day! Be safe, be well, and have fun.


Tuesday, June 30, 2020

Aquariums

Things are moving along with the new aquarium we're setting up at my school. Thanks to the pandemic, some supplies that we were hoping to get (for the aquascaping) are hard to find right now. Before heading to the school yesterday, Gregg scooped up every last bit of "dragonstone" that he had at the pet store to see if it would be enough. Although we didn't have as many big pieces as we were hoping for, I think we'll be able to squeak by with it. A small pile of rocks (rocks!) was $150 worth and we could definitely use more.

I snapped a picture of the empty tank to show you all after we put it in position in the lobby.


Of course, more photos will be forthcoming as soon as it's up and running.

Gregg also had to clean the planted aquarium in the school library. He's been maintaining that one for at least 8 years now, and it's his favorite of all the tanks he services. The plants are healthy and thriving, and the fish are gorgeous. Here's a picture I took of one of them, a Diamond Tetra. It's hard to get a good picture of a fish, but it's not too bad.



The library is getting new carpet this week. The principal had to fight with the head of maintenance to convince them that having Gregg move this tank to put carpet underneath it was a bad idea. They finally saw reason and decided to put the carpet down around it, much to Gregg's relief. He says the tank might never be the same again if he had to break it all down and then set it back up anew. We were so grateful to Mr. Oates for going to bat for us on that issue! Not only would it ruin years worth of extraordinary aquatic plant growth, but everything (including the wet substrate) would have to come out to make the tank light enough to pick up and move. Talk about a work intensive process! So that was great news. It had been weighing on Gregg's mind.

Also, while Gregg and Mr. Oates were talking, I walked up in time to hear Mr. O saying really nice things about me. Something about I was a blessing to the school and "I don't know what we'd do without her." Now, wasn't that nice?! I was taken off guard and I could feel myself blushing. It made me feel so good, though! That's been the highlight of my summer so far.

More aquarium updates to come!



Saturday, June 27, 2020

No time soon....

That's when life will get back to normal after Covid-19. No time soon.

Our local school board met on Thursday night and voted to delay our schools' reopening by a month.  Now staff go back August 24 (instead of late July) and students go back the day after Labor Day, September 8th. We were set to begin a modified year-round schedule this year, but now that's been delayed to 2021-2022. Our Superintendent said (wisely, I thought) that he couldn't justify sending thousands of students back to school in five weeks with the way things are going in South Carolina. Today we set a record....again....for new C19 cases and all of a sudden we're one of the new hotspots. Who knows if school will be able to reopen even after delaying a month? Right now they're just buying time to try and work out safety protocols, and the Superintendent even said, bluntly, that we'll be watching other schools reopen ahead of us and getting an idea of what's working and what's not. I'm really, really grateful for him. He's relatively new to the district and very forward thinking and progressive.  I just hope, no matter what happens with the district, that my job will be safe once this crisis is over.

Meanwhile, toilet paper supplies are almost back to normal around here. How's the TP supply in your area? The main things I still see shortages of around here are hand soap, rubbing alcohol, hand sanitizer, and Lysol wipes. Today I went ahead and stocked back up on the toilet paper. The plan is to replenish my pantry and freezer within the next couple of weeks, because I have a feeling that no matter how much our "guhvuhnuh" McMaster doesn't want to shut us down again, he'll have no choice before much longer. And if not now, then early in the fall when the second wave hits. Wait until flu season gets here on top of C19. I shudder to think of it.

What do you say? I know some of my readers live in other developing hotspots. Are you preparing for a second lockdown/shelter in place scenario?


Friday, June 26, 2020

A turtle tale

When I got home from a quick trip to the farm stand yesterday afternoon, I had a visitor in my driveway.


This was a big guy (girl?) whose shell was probably 8-10 inches in diameter. Since I had bags in my hand, I snapped a couple of quick pictures and then went in the house to put away the food. Less than 10 minutes later I returned, only to find that the turtle had vanished. Since there's a long fence beside where I saw him, and another fence on the other side of the driveway, he must have been hauling shell to be out of sight so quickly.


Later in the afternoon, I was thinking about the turtle and how quickly it had disappeared, and I suddenly remembered that just before going back outside I had put down the garage door with the remote we keep in the den. I told Gregg about it and we decided to check the garage, just on the off chance the turtle had sought refuge in there. I'm so glad we checked! We found him/her hiding behind one of the front wheels on my car! That would have been terrible if I had backed out without looking.

Gregg donned a pair of work gloves and gently coaxed the turtle out from under the car so he could grab it.


And then we put the turtle down on a grassy area beside our house so it could go on its merry way. Freedom!


Wednesday, June 24, 2020

Another week slips by

I just got into an argument with somebody looking to troll a friend's post on Facebook. You'd think I'd know better by now. I did have the slight satisfaction of pissing off a young white guy so much he said I needed to have a look "at what the bible says about women attempting to educate men!" and I nearly spit out my drink when I burst out laughing.

So. That was rather nice.

Anyway, how have you all been? It's been a long empty week here at Casa de Sparrow without much to recommend it. Covid-19 cases are still rising alarmingly in this state. Things are so bad all of a sudden that there's talk about schools not opening after all in August. I can't help but fret for my job. Gregg is working more hours at the pet store to make up some of his lost income. I worry about him being exposed to the public, but who knows when his maintenance jobs will come back. Three of the best paying ones are in nursing homes and there's no end in sight for those places being under quarantine. Of course with a significant chunk of his income being gone, we're having to tighten the purse strings. Which is fine, but it's getting a little old. So many of the things I need/want to do around the house require money, even in small amounts, and I'm trying really hard to strictly limit unnecessary spending. I shouldn't complain. I know that some of it is just sheer boredom and a desire for escape of one sort or another. I've also been drinking more than usual, just to relieve the tedium of the long evenings.  (I know I need to be careful with that, and I am). Have you been turning to drink, or food, or anything else, during these strange times?

As for food, I'm lucky that I haven't been overeating all these months. I've been doing a LOT of cooking and even baking, but I find that the more work I do in the kitchen, the more easily satisfied I am with small portions and just having a "taste" here and there. And the fresh produce from the farmer's market has been a daily part of every meal I make.


This was my dinner the other night. Fried yellow squash along with fresh cucumber and tomato slices, sprinkled liberally with sea salt and, in the case of the cucumbers, apple cider vinegar. Not the healthiest way to eat the squash, but absolutely delicious.

And here was dessert: cherry cobbler.


This was taken when it was still bubbling hot, straight from the oven. It was so rich, I only had a small portion.

So that's been my week, friends. Cooking, sitting around, a lot of reading (maybe I should do some book reviews here) and a lot of waiting to see what's going to happen in this state with the virus situation. This is not the summer I was hoping to have! Tell me how things are going with you.


Wednesday, June 17, 2020

Hiking at Sugarloaf

 Yesterday was a nice day: cool and cloudy. Our temperatures have been running 15-20 degrees below normal for this time of year, and I don't remember a more pleasant June for doing things outdoors. Gregg only had to work a few hours early in the morning, and at 10am he texted me just before heading home and suggested a short day trip. I almost didn't agree to go, but I'm so glad I changed my mind, because we ended up having a good time.

We went to Sugarloaf Mountain in the Sand Hills State Forest, about 40 miles away from where we live. Calling it a "mountain" is a bit of a misnomer: if you read the link in the last sentence, you'll  see that it's really a 100 foot tall hill on what used to be a sand dune (eons ago). It's a bit of a geographical anomaly, and even though it's only 100 feet high it's kind of steep. You definitely feel that you've had a workout once you get to the top! Gregg and I hadn't been there in years. In addition to the "mountain" there's a lake, hiking trails, trails for horseback riding, camping areas, and a whole massive area of old pine forest that's being carefully managed by the state. There's even some rare species of plants and animals, including the endangered Red Cockaded Woodpecker, that make it their home. 

It's also very remote. You truly feel like you're in the middle of nowhere out there, and there's very little cell service. If you go at the right time, like yesterday afternoon, you'll likely see no other people at all. We had it all to ourselves! 

Of course I took plenty of pictures to show you all.


Climbing.....



Giant sandstone boulders dot the mountainside...


Made it to the top! 


Your blogger on top of a mountain (albeit a tiny mountain).


Descending...


Back by the pretty lake. A small dock has been added since the last time we visited.




Wild waterlilies bloomed all around the edges of the lake. So pretty!



These old stone and timber shelters were originally built by the Civilian Conservation Corps



Saturday, June 13, 2020

No good deed goes unpunished

Yesterday was as nice an anniversary as we've had yet, even though we just stayed at home. The weather was good (a cool breeze was blowing, a rarity in June) and we sat on the back porch in the afternoon reminiscing about our wedding day and honeymoon. We saw the pair of Painted Buntings at the feeder, too, after several days of not seeing them at all. I had begun to suspect that they had moved on, but nope, there they were! That was like a gift!

Our dinner was nice. The Buttermilk Lemon Pound Cake turned out great! I was a little sad that the glaze/icing on top didn't look as pretty as the picture on the recipe, but I'll correct that the next time I make one of these cakes. And I will make it again--it really is delicious.

The icing was too thin but it still tasted good!

Here's a link to the recipe if you're interested: https://www.onceuponachef.com/recipes/lemon-buttermilk-pound-cake.html

For our main meal I made Chicken Fettucine Alfredo and bruschetta with heirloom tomato topping. It was also delicious! This was my first time making real alfredo sauce with heavy cream, and it was so much more flavorful than stuff bought in a jar! Easier than I expected, too. I'll definitely be making this again.


After dinner and dessert, I had champagne. I talked to a guy at the liquor store and asked him for a recommendation for the best bottle in my price range (in fairness, pretty low). He suggested this, which I was kind of disappointed in...oh well.


After the first glass or two it went down just fine! :)

After dinner, sitting on the porch again watching the sun go down. 
*Side note: you know you're in the firm grip of middle age when simply removing the stubborn cork on a champagne bottle makes you pull a muscle in your side! I had to laugh at myself over that one!

In other news, I had a frantic voicemail this afternoon from my 81 year old next door neighbor, Miss Luella. She said "Call me back right away, please!" What the what?!?     It scared me, so of course I called her back as soon as I got the message.

She's tested positive for Covid-19. The reason for her calling me was that I knocked on her door two days ago and gave her half a watermelon. Gregg won't eat them, and I can't finish a whole one, so I often will give half to friendly neighbors like her. Since I didn't go in her house (just knocked on the door and handed her the melon) and we talked for less than a minute (with me standing outside) she said she didn't give my name to DHEC for contact tracing since it didn't meet their criteria for it. She says she's run a low grade fever twice but now she feels fine except for a slight cough. She said she was shocked that she tested positive because she's "been so careful!" and despite saying over and over again that she didn't know how she caught it, she finally admitted that one of her grandsons and his wife and kids tested positive, too. They had a cookout for her oldest son's birthday at her house last week. WHAT THE HELL! When will people understand that gatherings of family that you don't live with are dangerous right now?! Covid-19 cases in South Carolina are skyrocketing. We're having 25% increases in the positive cases every single day for two weeks now. My husband's return to work is going to be short lived, I'm afraid.

I'm sure we're not in any danger from my neighbor given how limited our contact was, but it still serves a warning that now's not the time to get complacent. Next time, I'll just keep the whole damn watermelon and throw away what I don't eat! (Or else avoid buying them altogether this summer). And I was just trying to be a good neighbor! Just my luck.

Thursday, June 11, 2020

Choices

Today I went up to the school and had a talk with the principal and helped him make a choice as to what kind of new aquarium we're going to have. And the winner is...………..