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...………..


Wednesday, June 10, 2020

A fishy post

As some of you may remember, my husband maintains an aquarium at the school where I work. He's taken care of it for years, much longer than I've worked there. It's a gorgeous planted aquarium (people always assume the plants in it are fake, they're so green and lush) about 75 gallons I think, with schools of Diamond and Neon tetras. Unfortunately, it's in the back of the library so visitors to the school (and some of the teachers) hardly ever get to see it.


Diamond Tetra


Neon Tetras


Last year Gregg's doctor friend wanted to take down and get rid of the beautiful custom built aquarium he'd had in his home (and Gregg had maintained) for over a decade. The family travels a lot and it had become something of a burden. When Gregg took it down, the friend told him to keep it and do whatever he wanted with it. Well, we have plenty of tanks in this house, and don't need any more empty ones to store in the garage, so he suggested that they might want to donate it to a school. They loved the idea! 

I took pictures of it and offered it to my school first, and the administration very enthusiastically said "Yes!" to having a second tank! It really is beautiful and obviously expensive. The band director helped us move it up to the school and for the last 6 months it's been sitting in a workroom, waiting. Decisions had to be made about where it was going to go, and of course what we were going to do with it. Then Covid-19 struck and school was no long open and I figured setting up the tank was put on hold indefinitely.

Then on Monday afternoon the bookkeeper texted me to tell me that the principal is ready to set up the aquarium (!!) and to ask if Gregg could prepare a quote for the cost of everything by the end of the week. Of course, we have to know what kind of tank to set up for them, and they were clueless about the options. To help them in the process, Gregg came up with ideas for three very different tanks that would be suitable. We're excited to see what they choose, and of course there will be lots of room to put our own touches (like with d├ęcor) into it. I'm excited! The new tank will go into the main lobby of the school so it should get lots of attention.

And maybe best of all, after the tank is up and running Gregg will make a little more money when he comes to our school, now that there will two tanks for him to care for instead of one. Yay!

Here are some of our ideas:

Tank #1: Tiger Barbs---easy to care for, active, pretty, inexpensive. Lots of varieties of them that you could mix, or you could stick to just one kind.





Tank idea #2: Fancy goldfish, like Shibunkins. They would be playful, goofy, and relatively easy to care for. The tank is a bowfront, 80ish gallons, with a stand and hood that look like brushed nickel. I think these goldfish along with a minimalist aquascape would look great. This is my favorite idea.




Tank #3: Rainbow Fish. They're gorgeous and make a beautiful display, and they're relatively easy to maintain. The downsides: they'd do best in a planted aquarium, which we already have, and the fish and their set up would be slightly more expensive than the first two options. Also, these fabulous colors take a while to develop in the fish, and until they do, they might be almost colorless and not very eye catching. But when they do finally color up....hoo boy!





What's your favorite idea of the three?

Sunday, June 7, 2020

Second week of June

The full "Strawberry Moon" rising over my neighborhood Wednesday night.

Another weekend is almost at an end. Sundays have lost some of their depressing feel now that we've been at home for so many weeks. The days all just seem to run together lately.

My husband is going back to work full time this coming week. I'm really uneasy about it. Positive Covid-19 cases are rising at a higher rate than ever in this state, but at some point I guess we have to try to resume a more normal life (with new precautions). After all, the virus isn't going anywhere anytime soon. I'm just going to have to deal with my anxiety about it all and hope for the best. Gregg promised me he'll be careful--standing several feet away from others, trying to avoid touching his face, frequent handwashing. Aside from his one risk factor, he's in good health, and if he should get sick he is assured of getting the very best care possible. The friend that undoubtedly saved his life when he had cancer is the very best pulmonologist in this area, and I know that he would do everything in his power to help if we needed him. So that's some comfort, too.

Our 14th wedding anniversary is coming up next week, on Friday. Since Fridays are one of Gregg's normal days off, we'll be able to spend it together, at least. Obviously with the virus out there we won't be going anywhere to celebrate. I'm hoping that next year we can rent a cottage somewhere on the Outer Banks of North Carolina. We haven't been up there in years and years, since before we were married. It's beautiful and we've been wanting to go back and have a vacation there again. Maybe next year we can manage it.

The weather here continues to be nice. It's been humid and we've had lots of rain, but the pounding heat we usually have by now hasn't really shown up. The highs this coming week don't even hit 90F. Gardenias and magnolia flowers are blooming all around the neighborhood. Our Crepe Myrtle trees are just beginning to flower, too. It's a nice time of year (when it isn't too hot).

What's this time of year like where you live? Are you getting back to "normal" yet or are you still staying at home and trying to avoid Coronavirus? How is your summer going so far?

Wednesday, June 3, 2020

Wednesday odds and ends

Last week a surprise package arrived at our house with goodies for me and the dogs--all the way from Arizona! Thank you Parsnip for the lovely gifts and for your thoughtfulness!

A pretty windchime for the porch!
The dogs playing with one of the two toys sent for them. There were also yummy chicken treats included in the box that they love!

So it's officially summer break. I still can't believe that in a few weeks I'll be starting my fourth year at the school. I feel so fortunate to have such a great schedule these days, with summers off. I don't have any big plans for the summer. If we can resume most normal activities (with precautions like face masks, social distancing, etc) I'll be satisfied with that. 

My book club will be meeting later this month for the first time since February. I've really missed those women! The book for this month is The Gown by Jennifer Robson. It was a fictional story of two women who worked as embroiderers for Queen Elizabeth's wedding gown. This book was.....okay. The writing was kind of thin and the ending was predictable. It was a quick easy read, though. I also went ahead and read the book we'll be discussing in November, The Last Mrs. Parrish by Liv Constantine. It was trashy fun, like a soap opera, and a good mindless summer read. It would be perfect for the beach. I also downloaded a copy of The Plantagenets: The Warrior Kings and Queens Who Made England the other day, thinking I might enjoy it after my Phillipa Gregory kick last year. I'm halfway through and to be honest, I doubt I finish it. It's really kind of boring, and all the names start to run together after a while (particularly Henrys and Richards) and are difficult to keep straight. Oh, well. It was only $1.99 to download it onto my Nook app so at least I wasn't out much money.

We're still seeing lots of birds at the feeder, including the pair of Painted Buntings. We've also been spotting small rabbits by our back fence! We see them almost every day lately. I've taken to putting out leftover (wilting) salad greens and chunks of cucumber whenever I have them for the rabbits to enjoy. The other night we saw a deer run through our neighbor's yard, and this was dead on the road near our house:

A harmless corn snake. We're not sure what happened to it.

So that's about it for today. We're still spending lots of time on our porch, enjoying the (still relatively cool) summer weather and all the birds and wildlife. Speaking of which, let me show you how spoiled my dogs are. We were out there the other day, and tried to get the dogs to come out with us. But it was a little bit on the warm side, and they preferred to stay inside where there was a/c....except they wanted the door open so they could look out which also let out the cold air:

Spoiled, spoiled, spoiled!




Tuesday, June 2, 2020

Year three--done and dusted

Today is the last day of the 2019-2020 school year. It's hard to believe, but I've now finished three years at my "new" job. Time certainly does fly.

I had to work all day yesterday, and will again today. There's a feeling of everything being almost (but not quite) back to normal. I spent hours in a large conference room yesterday helping to stuff envelopes: first report cards had to be checked and then stamped "promoted" "age promoted" or "retained" prior to putting into the pre addressed envelopes. For the kids that failed, if they only failed one or two core classes they have a summer school option, which meant another form to be added to their envelope. Then the "snapcodes" for every student had to be added to their envelopes. Those are unique codes generated for each student so that their parents can go online to register them for next year. All in all, it was a tedious process considering we had almost 1000 students. But I enjoyed being there and working a full day. When I get back in this morning, there's still a few envelopes to stuff left over but it shouldn't take too long. I plan to spend the rest of my time cleaning out and organizing my desk and the office mail room where the teachers' boxes line one wall and shelves of supplies line the other. I'm also planning to change my computer passwords since they will have expired once I go back to work after 8 weeks. Goodness knows I certainly hope we all go back like normal at the beginning of August! These last three months have been weird and I hate having any sense of uncertainty about my job--which I still love after three years.

Year four, here I come.