Friday, November 5, 2021

The Jam Cellar, cont. (Part III)


“That was a nice little party now wasn’t it, maw?” asked Fred jovially, as he pulled the Model T into their driveway. He was in a good humor because he had bested his cousin in a highly competitive game of pinochle, and beating Cedric was a rare event among their group.

“Well, Fred,” replied Flora Belle, adding the slightest bit of emphasis to Fred’s name in vain hope that he’d someday stop calling her asinine nicknames like maw, “it certainly was lovely to catch up with all our friends, I’ll say that.”

“I certainly got the best of Cedric! Why, he was in a fine fettle – I’m not sure I’ll ever let him live that down,” bragged Fred as the car came to a neat stop exactly 8 feet from the garage, as usual, so that she could get out while he parked the car with the ridiculous compulsive precision that sent most people shrieking off into the night.

Flora replied through gritted teeth, as she opened the car door to get out. “I’m quite sure he’s forgotten about it already, dear, as it was only a card ga….EEEEeeeeeeeeeeeeck!” she screamed as she tumbled out of the car onto the hard ground. What the….what in the world had she just tripped over? Flora kicked a slippered foot out and came in contact with a hard surface. Wood. Of course.

As she lay there with her feet still entangled among the small woodpile, she wondered to herself – as she often did – if Fred were malicious or simply incompetent. Surely no one man could be that inept. And yet.

And yet.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

1925 - Three years earlier

Flora Belle was puttering around in the kitchen, enjoying the blessed silence that existed only when she had the space to herself. Whenever Fred was around, his 6’2 frame loomed over her as he bumbled his way about, somehow never managing to remember where anything was. Why, if she had her druthers, he’d never even make his way into the kitchen again, and it would be HER place alone, just as he had his shed to tinker around in. Did she go gallivanting about in there? No she did NOT, thank you very much. Of course, there was the fact that the shed was boring as sin, with nothing more for entertainment than Fred’s metalworking tools, and weren’t those a snooze. Yet somehow he could go on and on about them for hours. Literally hours, as Flora recalled the time she had watched the sun go down as Fred waxed on about some thin miter saw that he had special ordered from Elmira, all the way out east. He didn’t notice that she was falling asleep on her feet after canning the damn green beans all day, because of course he didn’t. Fred never noticed anything about her or what she needed, ever.

Flora idly contemplated what else a miter saw could be used for, as she opened the cabinet to get a teacup to make herself a large cup of tea. Now, why in the world was her favorite mug on the top shelf? As she reached for it, holding on to the cabinet door for balance, she reminded herself that gritting her teeth so much couldn’t possibly be good for her. There, she almost ha….. 

“EEEEEEeeeeeeeekkkk!” Flora screamed as the entire cabinet door came loose, and she went flying backwards, smashing into a kitchen chair and crashing to the floor.

As she tried to get her bearings, Fred walked into the kitchen, having completed his regular Saturday morning errand of getting 14 oz. of hamburger meat for that night’s dinner. (“I’ll tell you, maw, you can’t ask them to give you a pound! Then you get some old package from the back. This way they have to weigh out the fresh meat exactly.” Fred was so proud of the many ways he annoyed people.)

“Mother! What in the world happened here?!” exclaimed Fred, astonished at the sight before him.

“By God, I will kill you if you call me Mother one more time,” muttered Flora Belle darkly.

“What’s that you said?” Fred asked, as he continued to stand there gaping and made no motion to help Flora up or to see if she were okay.

“NOTHING! I said nothing!” screamed Flora. “The cabinet….it just came out…..I…..this house……it’s falling apart!”

“Oh,” chuckled Fred, “By golly I guess that’s my fault. I took the door off so that I could oil the hinges since they were squeaking, and I guess I forgot to tighten it when I put it back up.”

“You…you…….I…..wha…..” Flora was so astonished, she was sputtering. “You took it OFF? Instead of just…oiling…the hinges??” 

“Well now how was I going to do that?” admonished Fred, as a stern but tolerant look settled over his face. “The oil is in a big ol’ can in the shed, it must weigh a hundred pounds! Can you see me trying to lift that can up to the hinge and getting oil all over your pretty kitchen? And in the cabinet on your little jars of jelly? Tsk tsk.”

“I DO NOT MAKE JELLY, YOU BUFFOON!!” screamed Flora, who was going to kill this man just as sure as he stood there. “NO JELLY! NEVER! EVER!”

Fred looked confused. “Then what in tarnation is that fruity stuff you mix up, mothe….”


“But is there really a diff…..” Fred started to get the forbidden words out but stopped abruptly as a cast-iron cherry pitter went flying past his head and bounced off the wall. 

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

It had to be said: she had married Fred in a fit of pique.

Oh there was nothing wrong with Fred per se; it was just that he was so damn boring. And not in the “Oh I only like bad boys!” kind of way. No, that was boring unto itself, these so-called rebels acting rude, disagreeing for the sake of it, breaking the laws, all while refusing to grow up and be a responsible citizen. No, it was more that Fred and his type were so earnest, so bland, so agreeable. SUCH rule-followers that it was ridiculous. Fred couldn’t get worked up about anything! There were so many examples.

Flora ranting about the abomination that the new neighbors from California had created from the beautiful old Granville mansion. Gold leaf! Painted beige! REMOVING THE OLD OAK TREE!

Fred’s response: “Oh it’ll be fine, Mother. It’ll give a different look to our charming little Iowa town.”

Flora ready to march on City Hall, alone if need be, upon finding out that the town planned to destroy a historic oak grove in order to put in another drive-in movie theater.

Fred: “They’re trees, they’ll grow back. That’s what they do! Progress is progress.” (That was one of Fred’s favorite sayings, and Flora often wanted to shiv him just for that inanity alone.)

Flora seeing a field of neglected and forgotten plum trees, thinking that it would be only right if she went and rescued those poor plums from their pernicious fate as fertilizer fodder, dropping to the ground as they were.

Fred: “That’s trespassing, why that for sure can’t be done! Whether they go to waste is none of our business.”

And so on. 

And yet, a year earlier, when Flora had heard that her desired beau Phillip was supposedly dating that strumpet Clarissa, and her own mother was constantly harping about her being “not married yet and what will the neighbors think and you are just too fussy for your own good Flora Belle!” and her father was mumbling about some people in the house being “long in the tooth” and “not getting any younger now are we” – well. All that….and there was Fred, mooning about as always, chatting with her parents and helping them around the house, to the point that he became “that nice young man Fred, quite a catch” in every sentence uttered.  “Now these lovely potatoes were provided by that nice young man Fred, from his own garden. He’s quite a catch, Flora Belle,” was a constant refrain at the dinner table, to the point that Flora thought she might simply go mad if she had to listen to it any longer.

She also realized that Fred was likely to be a lot more….malleable, so to speak, than someone like Phillip. Easier to cajole into doing her bidding. To get him to embrace her point of view. To wrap around her finger, if truth be told. Oh, she would make a perfect wife, there was no doubt about that. She was pretty, smart, and not afraid of hard work. But Flora also knew her “shortcomings,” if one could call them that: stubborn, mercurial, clever to a fault, slightly quick-tempered, the opposite of complacent, certain she was always right (because she generally was, quite frankly). She had no patience for fools, but while Fred was affable and a man of seemingly simple tastes, surely he wasn’t a complete idiot, was he?

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

As she reached for another projectile (being a jam maker was helpful when one was looking for sharp objects to throw), Flora recalled those thoughts from a year ago when she had decided to marry Fred. Ha, who was the fool now! She should have listened to Coreen, who tried to warn her that Fred would try her very soul. If she could go back….wait, what was the knucklehead blathering on about?

“….and so it’s finally for sale! No one knows where those Californians high-tailed it off to, but I thought we might go over and have a look-see after you’re done fretting like this,” finished Fred.

“What house is for sale?” Flora asked. “I missed what you said.”

“That’s what I’ve been trying to tell you,” said Fred in his loping, meandering way. “See, when I was at the market picking up my 14 oz. of ground beef, I got to talking to Stan. You remember Stan, we met him that one day when we were out driving past their farmhouse on the corner with the white chicken coop that looks like a….”


“That’s what I’m getting to, maw – the Granville house is for sale,” proclaimed Fred with a grand flourish. “That big rattling house, with plenty of room for you to can those green beans I love and even to make your little jel….” The rest of his thought was fortunately lost to time and space, as Flora Belle suddenly leapt up from the floor, tea forgotten, and grabbed Fred by the hand to drag him out the door.

The Granville house would be hers.

Friday, October 29, 2021

The Jam Cellar, cont. (Part II)

Putting aside the Kaiser Shipbuilding book and the mystery surrounding Flora Belle’s impending logpile-kindled disaster, Ava set out to explore the mansion and see what historical architectural elements remained after prior owners had imposed their grotesque sensibilities on it. She had read that the house was purchased by the dreaded Californians sometime around the 1920s, who then promptly set about ruining it by adding all sorts of modern elements. They met with “an unfortunate incident” in the late ‘20s (the details were murky on this) and no further mention was made of them in writings about the history of the mansion. Since then, the mansion had been restored to its former glory, with a gorgeous fireplace mantel with inlaid tile, original crown molding, and built-ins throughout the house. I could easily live here, thought Ava, just rattling around, playing haunting and lugubrious melodies on the piano by candlelight.

It was the door right outside the kitchen that intrigued her.  Smaller than a typical door, it was painted blue and there was some kind of pull cord attached to it. She pulled it, naturally, and heard the dulcet tone of a bell coming from beyond the door. Opening the door revealed stairs going down, and even at the top of the stairs there was that musty smell endemic to all basements. Knowing that basements and attics were generally the most intriguing areas of any old house, Ava flicked the light on and went down to see what she could find. 

Now, Ava knew she was no expert, but the first thing she noticed was that for a house this large, the basement seemed unusually… small. Then her eyes lighted upon the sole closed door off in the corner. Aha, that must be it – there was a separate part of the basement. And there was no need to guess what it was; there was a faded wooden sign conveniently hanging above the door that said “The Jam Cellar,” in quaint etched print. Jam? She had always thought about making jam, ever since she had moved to Oregon, also known as the Land of Fruit Everywhere. It all seemed so complicated though, and potentially dangerous, what with pressure canners exploding and botulism lurking around every corner. Nope, she wasn’t going to kill off an entire family of ten (it was always a family of ten meeting their demise) with tainted green beans, no sirree. They were called Green Beans of Death for a reason. Well, she called them that at least. As Ava liked to say, her mom didn’t raise many foolish children.

She thought of the cellar room in her own basement at home, though that one had been turned into a wine cellar by the previous owners, with wooden shelves and built-in climate control since it was always cool down there. Once she had tried to store squash there, as that was apparently a thing one did in Oregon, but she kind of forgot about them and didn’t really care for squash anyway, so that was a bit of a failed experiment. Another friend had suggested she make freezer jam instead, which seemed to consist of mashing up fruit, adding some sugar, and freezing it. Umm. Ava explaining that that was frozen sugared fruit and not jam didn’t endear her to the rabid contingent of Oregon freezer jam acolytes. 

With no small amount of trepidation, she opened the door. And stood there. And blinked. What the hell? This was like no jam cellar she had seen in real life, the ones that were in old farmhouses before they were torn down to make way for ugly McMansions. Those always had jars with uncertain contents, either turned dark over the decades or caked with dust or both, lingering in rooms with dirt floors and cobwebs. She had seen plenty of such cellars, because although she didn’t actually can, Ava had a fascination with the tools of the trade, so to speak: the ancient and impractical cherry pitters that looked like miniature guillotines, the old cabbage slicers that actually would slice your finger off if you weren’t careful, and of course the jars. The bale jars, the blue ones, the elusive purples and greens. She coveted the green ones in particular, and had even heard of pink and yellow jars out there somewhere, probably festering in some basement she had yet to discover. Her jar obsession was why she found herself in places like Sweet Home in scenes straight out of Deliverance. 

But, that was a story for another day.  Here, she was trying to figure out why this was NOT the typical dusty jam cellar of yore, but was more akin to walking into Willy Wonka Land. This was a carbon copy of pictures she had previously only seen in old Life magazines, with abnormally cheery women in pristine sundresses showing off their canned goods. All of which were neatly shelved and standing at attention, compelling in their uniformity. Until, that is, one realized that usually those pretty jars contained limp carrots and overly sugared jams. Or jellies. Whatever the hell the difference was. 

Ava supposed that “The Jam Cellar” was a bit of a misnomer – shouldn’t it be The Canning Cellar? The Jam and Waterlogged Vegetable Cellar? Except…..wait, was there anything down here other than jam? At first glance, there were a lot of what looked like green beans. On second glance, there was indeed a hell of a lot of green beans. Pickled? It was tough to say. She had once tried pickled green beans and they were good, but this was a LOT of jars. Other than the beans, there were smaller jars of …..jam? arranged by color, one jewel tone after another. They were remarkably bright, considering that they had been down here for decades; Ava really didn’t think that the homeowners spent their free time in between renters making endless batches of preserves. 

“Jam stays good forever, I think? I wonder if they’ll mind if I try one.” None of them had labels, so she closed her eyes, reached out, and picked one. “Okay, a dark blue one – blackberry? Black currant?” She shrugged and took the jam with her as she left the room. As she did, Ava noticed the small bell on a string over the jam cellar door – ah, that must be what the pull cord was for. Ha, maybe there was hell to pay if the man of the house came between the jam maker and her jams. Ava chuckled to herself as she turned out the lights and went back upstairs. 

As she walked out of the basement and closed the door behind her, she noticed to her left a wall of framed pictures that she had somehow overlooked previously. It looked like pictures of the Granville over the years and the people who had lived here. There were the earliest pictures of the house, looking remarkably similar but with much smaller trees on the property, and then several with whom she assumed were the Granvilles.

“They’re playing croquet! As it should be, of course, on an estate of this caliber. Let’s see, and this must be…the original elders, Timothy and Geneva Granville. Oh, she definitely wore the pants in the family. He looks henpecked. Or, what did they say back then, choleric?”

The photos were arranged in a timeline of sorts, though Ava noticed that any pictures of the house when it was unfortunately (albeit temporarily) “modernized” were conspicuously absent. 

“And rightly so,” grumbled Ava. “The nerve! I hope they were run out of town like the interlopers they were.”

One picture, brighter than the others, caught her eye. A trick of the light, perhaps, glancing off the picture of the two young women. The one on the left, a brunette with hair that looked as if she had tried to curl it but was losing the battle, looked as if she were the keeper of many secrets, including those on how to laugh at life’s vagaries. And she was laughing here, as if she and her friend were in on a great joke. Her friend, the blonde, was only slightly more subdued, as if to say “yes, she comes up with the crazy ideas, but I can’t help but go along with them.” 

Ava carefully took the picture off the wall to see if there was any information written on the back of it. A date, barely legible. “192…..twenty……something. The 1920s at least. And names……Flora Belle &…. Coreen. Wait, Flora Belle – where did I just hear that name?” Her mom did say that she had a mind like a sieve. Was it someone she had spoken to earlier today? Emailed? SHIPBUILDING, that was it! What a weird coincidence, but Flora Belle seemed like a pretty common name back in the olden days. Ava shrugged it off. “Bedtime for bonzos here – oh, I’ll email the owners first to ask them about trying the jam. Maybe I can have it for breakfast tomorrow.”

To: the Granville owners

From: Ava

"(blah blah) ….and so I was wondering if you’d mind if I tried some of the jam I found in the old jam cellar in the basement. Thanks again for everything – this place is gorgeous!”

With that, Ava headed up to bed, leaving behind the framed photo and the book with its unfinished tale. 


Sunday, October 24, 2021

The Jam Cellar


...or, The Emancipation of Flora Belle

Part I

“I absolutely do not need any more stuff,” muttered Avangeline to herself as she flipped through the stack of old recipe pamphlets buried in between even older crafting books. “Nothing. At. All.” 

An hour later, she stood nervously as the girl at the checkout desk for the estate sale looked through her haul. Luckily, Ava had managed to find two stray paper bags in the kitchen in which to put her armfuls of things – it had been a little precarious moving the stacks from room to room. She had no idea what the asking price for such historic materials would be. $100? $80? More? Ava was prepared to try to bargain them down to $40. 

“So they’re just old….” said the young woman, trailing off as she looked through Ava’s collection.

“Cookbooks!” Ava replied. “Umm, a couple of old cookbooks – you can see they’re kind of falling apart – and then these little pamphlets and oh, some other old books too.”

One hopeful sign was that the sale hadn’t really been organized in any particular fashion, as it was for more formal estate sales. Most rooms just had random piles of things stacked up on every surface, almost whimsically. “Let’s put all these religious tomes next to the cookbook stuff! Those church ladies are the only ones who cook these days, amirite?” Sigh. It was so hard to be a traditionalist in a modern world.

Ava was suddenly startled out of her reverie. “How about $10?” chirped the young woman in front of her, having finished her idle perusal.

“Okay!” Ava practically shouted. “Sure, that works,” she continued, more languidly, as she pulled $10 out of her wallet in record time, scooped up the bags, and started fast-walking to her car. What luck! She couldn’t believe her good fortune, for a change.

 - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

It wasn’t often that a house like the Granville mansion was available for rent, especially on a short-term basis. Ava had been looking for a place off the beaten path, in the middle of nowhere, with few distractions so that she could finally – finally! – start working on the novel she kept talking about writing.  That’s why she was now in Iowa on a rainy fall day, rattling around alone in a drafty old (but glorious!) house, currently staring at a blank screen. How to start? Ava always had ideas and thoughts and sentences tumbling over each other in her head, but as soon as she went to write them down, they disappeared

“I know,” though Ava to herself, comfortably ensconced on a couch in the parlor, near the fireplace. “I’ll write for an hour – no, half an hour – and then I’ll let myself have a muffin. Yes, a banana muffin. That’s a good muffin.”

Half an hour later she had stoked the fire, checked the weather forecast, done a few stretches, and rummaged around in a drawer for candles in case the power went out, as the wind outside picked up to an unrelenting midwestern howl. Ava also had yet to write a word, but found herself drawn to her purchases that day. 

“Fine, I’ll just take a quick look at the Kaiser Shipbuilding – Oregon scrapbook, that’s all.”

Three hours later, Ava was using the glue she had found in a cupboard to put the old pictures in place back where they belonged. It was easy enough to figure out, since the scrapbook owner had helpfully included an ordered list of the subject of each picture. “Fred D. in the shipyard.” “Assembly line of parts for the U.S.S. Fond du Lac.”

The pictures weren’t the biggest draw, however; it was the typed-up biographies that fascinated her. Yes, Fred wasn’t that interesting, but beyond him, there was scandal (!): “All of Fred’s so-called birth certificates attested to him being born in Franklinville, NY to William H. Dolton and Edna Meyer Dolton. This just ain’t so.” Hints of intrigue: “Everyone knew George would never get the commission, what a surprise when he did.” And Flora Belle! Ah, Flora Belle, born in 1906, married Fred in 1924. Ava pictured her as a saucy minx who didn’t suffer fools gladly, yet who was bound by the mores of her time to be compliant and complacent. A proper little housewife, married as she was to Fred, who seemed like somewhat of a dolt. Certainly, Flora’s bio was much more compelling than Fred of the uncertain lineage, particularly since most of his bio harped on that fact alone.

“Flora Belle wore the highest heeled shoes she could find because she was only 4’9 and Fred was 6’2. She loved to go out dancing with their friends. They went out one evening after Fred and the boys had stacked a cord of wood for the fireplace. It was stacked next to the driveway. Fred let Flora out of the car and told her he would park it and for her to go on in the……”

The page abruptly came to an end.

“Wait, where’s the rest of it?”

Ava looked through all the papers and photographs, and then checked again. And then looked at the backs of the pages. Nothing. The story of Flora Belle and the hapless Fred just left them dangling on this cliffhanger. J’accuse!

“Well, dammit,” exclaimed Ava. “How the hell can I not know what happened to Miss Flora Belle as she stepped out of the car and right into the pile of wood laid down by Fred and his merry band of idiots?” 

Who apparently shared one brain among themselves, mused Ava. And of course it wouldn’t occur to Fred to tell his pals that hey, maybe we should think about stacking the wood up against the house rather than in the middle of the yard, right by the driveway?

That moron, she thought. Just like a man.

“I guess I’ll have to assume that dear Flora, as seemed customary at the time, just picked herself up and laughed gaily as……hello?”

Ava could have sworn she had just heard something that sounded remarkably like a snort of derisive laughter. She sat perfectly still, but all was quiet except for the soothing sound of rain on the metal roof. 

“In case someone’s here I HAVE A GUN!” she yelled. True, she didn’t have it on her per se, not at the moment, but it was upstairs in her bed… Oh. Ava looked up. Was that a floorboard creaking?

“If you’re up there and planning to butcher me with my own gun, you will feel my wrath!” Ava yelled again, recognizing that that made no sense whatsoever, but going with it anyway.

But there were no sounds, no floorboards creaking, no derisive snorts. Just the rain, and the stately comfort of the old mansion settling down around her for the evening. Clearly, she was being completely ridiculous, or perhaps losing her mind. Or both. 

Maybe, thought Ava, she should go exploring the house on this dark, rainy night, much as the stupid people in a slasher movie would. “Oh, let’s go ask that man with the chainsaw for directions.” Of course, she had never let the idea that she was doing something extremely foolish stop her before, so why start now?

(to be continued)

Friday, July 3, 2020

12007.03 NPD, Captain’s Log, District 13 of PanCascadia

We rolled into Deliverance Mitchell, OR, late last night, after a long day of errands, last-minute gardening, packing, and oh yes, HITTING A DEER on the way. We cannot revisit the horror of hitting a young deer, seeing it struggle to get up with its mom standing over it, hearing it cry, and OMG I AM TRAUMATIZED FOR LIFE. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: I need a shaman, a hex remover, something. I did tell the very nice dispatcher that I called (because clearly I couldn’t just…drive off) after he asked if I was okay that yes, I was fine, except that I was going to burn in hell because I was a horrible person.
So there’s that.

This road to Mitchell began on NYE, when there were fireworks nearby. And Kingsly disappeared, only to be found upstairs in the attic room, shaking, in the corner. Hmm. Several days later, we had an Airbnb booked in the smallest town I could find within driving distance, that also had a fenced in back yard. Mitchell ho!

When friends asked about our choice of destination, I chuckled and with great exaggeration told people that Mitchell had oh, a few hundred people or so… but that was a lie.

It has 103.

On some sites it’s referred to as a ghost town. Seriously. I figured though that the smaller the town, the less likely there would be a big fireworks show, and hopefully the DIY fireworks would be at a minimum, or at least there would be less than in Silverton. Where, of course, it’s a week-long shitshow of noise; it would be one thing if it were just one day, but no, it’s day upon day upon day. Now, back in January we didn’t know there’s be this small issue of a global pandemic and that all fireworks shows would be cancelled….but the point about Silverton being overly noisy still stands.

We set out late yesterday in part because of taking care of urgent matters, such as adorning Harmilda in her latest cow cloak finery.

I felt the IMPEACH TRUMP flag was a nice touch as well. Now, I’ve driven enough through rural OR and CA and seen enough stupid Dotard signage that has likely not been vandalized, so I’m hoping the Dotardian snowflakes can just MAN THE FUCK UP already and leave Harmilda and her cloak alone, unlike when some asshat stole and burned her festive patriotic attire two years ago. One can dream that the deplorables have learned kind of self-containment.

It was dark when we pulled into town, and I had this eerie sense that I was playing a part in a slasher flick, where the stupid people go into the decrepit barn where they hear distinct chainsaw sounds because they’re looking for a beer tap or something equally unnecessary. Because there we were, on an unlit gravel road, with darkened houses that looked like they were falling apart. I decided it likely that the good Citizenry of the town of Mitchell were simply staying on the downlow, so that their little hamlet was overlooked by the Directorate until such a time as when they could be overthrown. Smartly done, Citizens.

And as we were pulling up to the house, what should cross the road in front of us but – A BLACK CAT. No lie. I believe I said something along the lines of “Oh OF COURSE a black cat, the eternal HARBINGER OF DOOM, because OF COURSE! FUCK MY LIFE.”

But because I’m known for my chipper demeanor and always looking on the bright side of life, I will note that Sir Kingsly took to the premises right away and began patrolling for King Cobras immediately. We have not yet seen any, and so his successful eradication rate remains at 100%. So brave. There is a shack nearby that looks perfect for exploring later. And it is blessedly quiet.

Shortly we are heading into town, and I am staking my ground by wearing my “Cycling in America – Greeting the President” shirt, but at the same time will use my Rage Cow face mask. This should confuse the locals enough such that I will be able to nimbly dash away should any kerfuffles begin. I shall report back. #courage

Oh yeah, one last thing: #WEARAFUCKINGMASK

 Thank you.

Wednesday, June 17, 2020

12006.17 NPD, Captain’s Log, District 11 of PanCascadia

Under cover of noon, we made our escape from District 7 and set out for District 11, a journey that was fraught with peril. The barren landscape had occasional notes of interest - the spray-painted graffiti on a passing traincar of “Death to the Trump regime” – and roving bands of unmasked “tourists” who were clearly in service to the Directorate. 

We persevered, however, and made our way back to The Manor, where nature had already started to reassert itself. Sir Kingsly set upon his patrols immediately, and has thus far kept King Cobras at bay. In a mad fit of determination and prioritization, we began planting tomato plants upon our return, in order to ensure provisions for Pandemic Winter. 

Our next priority: planting the Illinois Everbearing Mulberry tree. 

Never let it be said that we are unable to focus on the truly important things. 

We have also re-commenced teaching the local neighborhood urchins the ways of the Kingsly. 

Me:….blah blah and they were bred to hunt King Cobras, so lo, we see that there are in fact no cobra sightings in Silverton.
Child: But I don’t think there are any king cobras in Silv…
Me: EXACTLY. Kingsly is doing an excellent job patrolling the estates. So brave.
Child: But…
Me: Yes.

Regarding said importance, the Matriarch had her first scans this week after starting treatment; she’s been on her cancer regimen for two months now (ie two cycles). Today was her appointment with the doctor to discuss the results. 

They are stellar. 

Yes, even the Medic Citizen was astonished at how effective the treatment has been thus far. Everything has improved, from lungs to liver to bones. The Matriarch claimed that there was no longer anything visible on the lungs or liver, but we are skeptical until we have a chance to obsessively pore over actual results or scans, dissecting each spot and likely labeling it as something it's not. She’s feeling well. Normal Brother cooks delicacies for dinner daily; tonight I believe pheasant-under-glass is on the menu. 

All is well. 

#fornow #notgoingtojinxanything

Tuesday, May 19, 2020

12005.28 NPD, Captain’s Log, District 7 of CalCascadia

The stress of the tightly-controlled life in the District may have gotten to us slightly last week, as we lost our shit, as they sometimes still say in the quaint old vernacular. It perhaps started a Saturday ago, when the Matriarch woke up with a red eye and soreness. Likely pinkeye, one would think. We called her doctor’s office and waited for a call back from the doctor on call, hoping that we could get a prescription for eye drops.  Finally, the call came.

Random On-Call Person: Blah blah questions about the eye.
Me: Blah blah answers.
ROCP: You should take her to the ER.
Me: (silence)
Me: For pinkeye?
ROCP: Yes.
Me: ……yeah, that’s not going to happen.

That was Saturday. Sunday, the rash came along, on the Matriarch’s neck. Of course, our first thought was the hellscape that is shingles.

Me: Does it hurt? At all?
Matriarch: No, it just itches a little bit.
Me: Okay, good. Don’t touch it! It’s probably another allergic reaction.
Monday morning we are attempting to get some work done. The home healthcare person is there, and I overhear her talking to the Matriarch.

HHCP: Oh this rash! Does it itch or hurt?
Matriarch: It hurts! Not very itchy.

Wait, what?

Me: Wait, what? You said it was itchy! Not painful!
Matriarch: No, it hurts!
Me: Why didn’t you tell me that?
Matriarch: Ow, it’s painful.

The HHCP is glaring me as if I’m a horrible person.  I set up a telecall with the doctor’s office, and wind up talking to a PA who’s extremely thorough and helpful. Really. Given the pattern of the rash, we assume it’s shingles, and she also gets a referral to an ophthalmologist to check out the eye, because that too could be shingles-related.

So to recap. Me, attempting to work on something with a deadline. On hold with annoying music for going on 30 minutes with ophthalmologist’s office. Normalish Brother is talking VERY LOUDLY on the phone, with pressing questions:

“Did Sniffles do terrible?”
“For some reason they didn’t like Cactus and Walrus – it was too adult. I thought it was perfect for kids.”

The Matriarch needs lunch. Kingsly is bored. The doctor’s office is calling with a question. The pharmacy is texting. 


But because we can’t really do that, we just….keep on. Take the Matriarch to the eye doctor. Pick up her prescriptions. Stay up late working, in blissful quiet. Have a cocktail or six.

We have figured out though how to “help” Normalish Brother with his budgeting issues. He leaves his computer at the Matriarch’s residence overnight, and we will be logging on to fix the cash flow so that it is properly allocated. Every Nickelodeon cent will be going – as it should  - to additional episodes of The Oblongs, with Helga as the star power. This will right the ship forthwith, we are quite sure.

With the meds, the Matriarch is improving and her shingles never got to the extreme “shoot me now” stage, which we know about from personal agonizing experience. In fact, her recovery is proceeding apace to the point that she is now looking at her computer and going through her emails. Which likely means that looking at Facebook isn’t far behind.

We are dead.

Saturday, May 9, 2020

12005.17 NPD, Captain’s Log, District 7 of CalCascadia

There was unrest in the District today, when the NewGendarmes came for the citizens across the street. We heard loud noises and yelling, and in looking out the window, saw that our neighbors were among the first Olds slated for the Disappearing, upon proclamation from the Directorate. They did not go quietly, but in the end, the NewGendarmes fulfilled their orders and Myrna and Chester were no more. 

(Normalish Brother claims they simply rebuffed the Vaporization Summons from the NewGendarmes and went back into the house, but he’s always been a bit Pollyannaish about such things.) 

The Matriarch continues to improve, and has taken to issuing complaints about the quality of the gruel and her overbearing workload. To which we say, those salt mines won’t salt themselves, now will they. 

We continue to look for foodstuffs that will tempt the Matriarch to eat, and the other day this took us Xielo Artisan Bakery in Ventura on a quest for cannoli. Not only did we find cannoli, but we also rounded out the trifecta of the Matriarch’s favorite desserts with cheesecake and napoleon. We then surprised ourselves by actually making lasagna from scratch, sauce and all. It was superb, and will never be recreated, because in attempting to find a recipe we only found ones where the reviews noted how excellent the original was, “with these few changes.” Such as using totally different spices, different cheese, adding cream, using zucchini instead of noodles, etc and so on. In the end, we went freeform. 

And, through our Canning Underground connections, we have continued to source yeast and other provisions necessary to create our forthcoming Pandemic Buns. They will be distributed to our fellow resisters as we continue to fight the plague that has beset the Districts, aka the Orange Dotardian Menace. The virus is a secondary concern.

Thursday, April 30, 2020

12005.08 NPD, Captain’s Log, District 7 of CalCascadia

We have reached our breaking point. No, actually, that might have been a few weeks ago, when we realized what bad shape the Matriarch was in, that we’d be doing most of the heavy lifting here, that we might not be seeing The Manor, our garden, our boozy jam business for some time. But consider today a further fraying at the edges.

It started last night when, as usual, the shoddy IV medical equipment we have in the US necessitates my turning it off manually, lest it keep beeping at 1:30AM. Then, we spent half an hour trying to get the damn tubing off the IV so that we could flush it, but gave up, figuring we’d do it in the morning. Morning dawned; it had occurred to us to use pliers for leverage, and the damn thing still. won’t. come. off. Not with pliers, not with alcohol swabs, not with hot water, not with brute force that (no lie) left blisters on our fingers. We have a work call in a few minutes and are waiting for Asshole Brother to show up; he knows about said call but can only be bothered to saunter in a few minutes ahead of time. And, when he does show up, is greeted at the door by Kingsly, after which (as I’m rushing to the door) AB proceeds to casually open the door, giving Kingsly an opportunity to make a run for it.

Now seriously, what kind of clueless asshole goes anywhere and lets the resident dog escape? Don’t we all do the “open door a tiny bit and scootch in without letting the dash out” maneuver? Dear readers, apparently not.

At this point I shriek “DON’TLETHIMOUT!!” so of course AB slams the door on Kingsly’s head.

This devolved into my yelling to watch out, AB calling me the “psycho with the psycho dog,” me calling him an asshole.

Needless to say, AB and I are barely on speaking terms at this point.

Or rather, it’s the usual phenomenon of him being an ass and then thinking that everything is still fine. I’d wonder if this is a guy thing, but no, I know women like this too, who lash out and say whatever asshole thing is in their heads, and then don’t at all think that it’ll impact whatever relationship there previously was. As if it’s fine to treat people like that. As if words don’t have consequences.

They can all just fuck right off.
Of course, into this tableau started my work call, and the guy starting the call said “Hey, Tasha, how’s your mom doing? I haven’t asked in a while.” Which, well, went over about as well as expected, though I did manage to note that she was improving slowly and that it's just been a shitshow of a morning.

So here we are.

We eagerly await the day when we feel comfortable leaving the Matriarch on her own for a few hours, though quite frankly, it doesn’t matter much that AB is here when we’re not. Along with his assumption that it’s no big deal for me to have given up my life in Oregon to be in California, there’s also the assumption that he is More Important, and that everyone else can take care of things. So, the only thing he does when I’m not here is to call me to tell me that the Matriarch needs something. No really. “Hey, when will you be here? Mom needs to go to the bathroom.” I am not making this up.

On the bright side – I am nothing if not eternally chipper and optimistic – the Matriarch is improving enough to be almost dangerous. She has twice now gotten up on her own to head to the bathroom….only to be brought up short by the tether that is the IV nutrition. Sigh.  We shall be even more alert to the slight stirrings through the monitor that indicate restlessness and a desire to hit the open road.

On a final eternally chipper note:

Let the Baking Games begin.

And may the odds be ever in our favor.

Tuesday, April 28, 2020

12005.06 NPD, Captain’s Log, District 7 of CalCascadia

Preface: this morning, after hearing Semi-Normal Brother talk for three weeks about doing it (and only talking), we went ahead and took the shower doors off in the Matriarch’s bathroom. After purchasing a drill. And going somewhere else to buy actual drill bits. It took about 2 minutes, the only difficult part being lugging the extremely heavy glass doors out of the bathroom and into the bedroom, and we asked SNB to move them later. We will note that the Matriarch was alert this entire time, watching us struggle with those damn doors and wielding our trusty drill.

So. Early this afternoon we returned from District DIY Dog Park, and went into the bedroom to check on the Matriarch after leaving her to the devices of SNB for a couple of hours. Whereupon we discovered her not quite as askew as previously, but still awkwardly propped up on the bed, pillows every which way, head at an odd angle. Cue incredulousness, followed by – no lie – an uncontrollable fit of laughter at the absurdity of it all. Meanwhile, SNB is back in the kitchen, yammering on about Nacho Libre or whatever.

We fix the pillows just so, as we know the Matriarch likes them. Then:

The Matriarch: “Did you see what Andy did? In the bathroom? He took the shower doo…..

OH no. No no no no no.

Me: “Mom. No. No no no no no. Don’t you remember ME, with the drill, this morning, taking the shower doors off and lugging the VERY HEAVY DOORS into the bedroom? ME? Brilliant Daughter? Favorite Child?”
The Matriarch: “Oh, I guess you’re right.”
Me: “YES I AM. It was ME. After waiting three weeks for SNB to do it. WHICH HE DID NOT.”

Ten minutes later, when I returned with her freshly-baked peanut butter cookies right out of the oven, I reminded her of our conversation:

“Now, as I stand here with these warm cookies, let’s recap. WHO was it that removed those shower doors this morning? Who could that have been?”

I await the day when suddenly SNB is getting praised for making rice pudding every morning, checking blood sugar several times a day, turning off the IV pump at 1AM every night and changing the nutrition bag at 7AM, buying and setting up a humidifier, getting up to help the Matriarch to the bathroom every couple of hours, planting the whole garden, using a handy-dandy new drill to put up a hanging basket, keeping people updated, scouring the internet for various supplies, setting up the cable tv in the bedroom, adjusting pillows and blankets, doing laundry, cleaning the house, paying bills, crushing pills, BELGIANS IN THE CONGO.

Oh, sorry. Got carried away there for a second.

We need a drink.

Pandemic Diaries IV

12004.28 NPD, Captain’s Log, District 7 of CalCascadia

We returned from our patrol of Area DIYDogPark to find that Normal Brother had made potato soup; there was a bag on the floor with what looked like potato peelings, so naturally we asked if that was garbage to be thrown out.

Normal Brother: Yes….but you really should start a compost bin.
Me: …….
Me: I…I’m not really sure I have the time for another project at the moment.

We seriously contemplated putting NB on the Vaporization List, but will hold off. For now.

The Matriarch did enjoy the potato soup, and is slowly gaining strength, but still has no interest in watching her usual shows on tv. However, we’re quite sure that once she starts tuning in to the daily pathos and absurdity of the Days of Our Pandemic briefings, she will be as morbidly fascinated as the rest of us. What insane ramblings will the Dotard come up with today? What juvenile insults will he throw out? What sarcastic and brilliant barbs will Citizen Cuomo respond with?

We can hardly wait.

12004.29 NPD, Captain’s Log, District 7 of CalCascadia

Христос Воскрес! On this Easter day, we were sorely disappointed that we were unable to go to the usual midnight service, to then walk around the church 3 times in the freezing cold night, to then listen to a service that would go on for hours and hours. And hours. We soldiered on, however, and decided to make вареники in honor of the holiday.

Very quickly, we discovered how impossible these are to make in a tiny kitchen with no counter space. Nevertheless, we persisted. The Matriarch had one bite, and proclaimed them “good” – which, when compared to our GrandMatriarch’s usual comment of “буває хуже,” is a grand compliment.

Kingsly showed himself to be a true Ukrainian, as he turned up his royal nose at the beautiful lamb chops cooked by Normal Brother, but was most pleased with the sour cream. He is also excelling at keeping this part of CalCascadia free of King Cobras, as we have yet to see a single one. Coincidence? I think not.

12004.30 NPD, Captain’s Log, District 7 of CalCascadia

Kingsly was on the hunt today, prowling through the bushgrass fields in search of traitors to the cause. Or maybe it was rabbits he was after. Regardless, he was in brave pursuit of any and all interlopers.
We were especially ragey today, given that the Matriarch still struggles with basic things like, oh, say, BEING AWAKE. Standing up. Moving. Eating. We are very close to the point of calling the so-called doctor and demanding an answer to the question of WHY they felt it was a good idea to starve the Matriarch for 2 weeks, so that she’d be too weak to do absolutely anything regarding the cancer. And then there’s the guilt, as everyone everywhere is on the “all healthcare workers are AMAZING” bandwagon and we keep thinking “well apparently not ALL of them, since they brought the Matriarch to the brink of death under their care, amirite?”

So. Much. Rage.

12004.31 NPD, Captain’s Log, District 7 of CalCascadia

It is uncanny – truly so! – how many times now a home care worker has said, with some puzzlement, “I’m surprised they didn’t give that to you when the Matriarch left the hospital.” Sometimes it’s something relatively minor, like Maalox or syringes. And sometimes it’s really fucking important, like the spirometer that she should be using to, you know, strengthen her lungs.

Perhaps these were too expensive to part with, in a health care system that charges $50 for a single aspirin. Mayhap they should have just jacked up the price even more, like, say, CVS has apparently done, as I discovered today when I went online to see if they had said spirometer or a pulse oximeter. By reading the reviews, it was clear that prices had uncannily – there’s that word again – gone up threefold for such items in the last few weeks. Odd! I’m sure it’s mere coincidence.

We did manage to have a very productive discussion today with May; she is the person from the IV nutrition place who’s been coordinating everything, and is by far the most competent and professional medical worker we’ve dealt with. Today she called with the results of the Matriarch’s blood test: electrolytes etc look good, but her hemoglobin is down inexplicably. We asked what we could do about this, and noted how critical it was to get her stronger so that she could resume cancer treatment. May said she’d send the results to the doctor, and then her oncologist, and in the ensuing conversation, we may have said the following things: “they need to get their fucking act together” “it’s their fault she’s in this state” “I don’t care how they do it, but they need to figure this shit out” “they’re responsible for starving her for 2 weeks so that now she’s too weak for her cancer treatment” “they can come to the house to give her her shot” and finally “if they can’t manage that after letting her fester in the hospital for 2 weeks then they can just FUCK RIGHT OFF.”

Sometimes, I have such a hard time making my feelings known. I will work on this. #feelmywrath

12005.01 NPD, Captain’s Log, District 7 of CalCascadia

Recently, in a moment of foreshadowing and (quite frankly) brilliance, we purchased Children’s Advil – the only liquid pain relief available OTC, or at least the only one we could find in this time of Hoarding and Irrationality. Last night our efforts were duly rewarded, as the Matriarch had a headache at around 4AM. We administered the standard dosage of this fruity elixir and hoped it would work.

Highly attuned as we are to the Matriarch’s stirrings every several hours, we woke up at 7AM, heard nothing, dozed off. Woke up at 8AM, went to check on her status, and…..she was sleeping soundly. Same at 9AM, at which point we woke her up to give her the medicated mouthwash for her mouth sores.

The Matriarch: “I slept like a log – I feel so rested!”

Hmm. Am I the only one who had no idea that Children’s Advil was really just straight laudanum?

12005.02 NPD, Captain’s Log, District 7 of CalCascadia

Normal Brother was almost placed on the Expedited Vaporization List today. We had gotten the Matriarch up and in the wheelchair, and she insisted on seeing the rest of her Kingdom (we have not yet had the heart to tell her that she is now a mere citizen of District 7). She was wheeled to the patio area, to gaze upon the splendor of flowers brought in by Brilliant Child (aka me). After a time of survey, Normal Brother wheeled the Matriarch back to the bedroom to rest, while I stayed on the patio to supervise Kingsly as he eradicated any evidence of King Cobras from the premises.

Brilliant Child then went to the bedroom to check on the Matriarch……to find her completely askew on the bed, feet practically draped over the edge, head wedged awkwardly on the wedge pillow meant to be used for sitting up, not lying down. This was the “assistance” of NB, who then dashed off to yet another critical call about the budget for Baby Shark.

He yet lives, but is on the Vaporization Purgatory List, where it’s not quite clear which way he’ll go.

We are also compiling a list of companies we will not patronize in the post-Dystopian era. 

Today’s addition: Ace Hardware, which apparently had its online ordering system put together by sea monkeys.

We will be adding to this list as needed.

12005.03 NPD, Captain’s Log, District 7 of CalCascadia

We are starting to suspect that we do not in fact have Normal Brother and Idiot Brother, but rather Idiot Brother 1.0 and Idiot Brother 2.0. It might have been the “she doesn’t need carbs and proteins, she needs vitamins!” comment that put us over the edge, but suffice it to say, we told Something Brother that hey, he might as well stay home tomorrow. Take a break! The day off!

It may keep him from Vaporization, it may not.

The Matriarch made it to the doctor’s office today, wheeled in. The oncologist didn’t seem to appreciate my many questions, as he made a couple of comments along the lines of “well with your medical background” and “so what else do you want?” etc. But he can just fuck right off because his track record here isn’t very stellar, now is it. Regardless, the Matriarch got her shot and is on a different pill, so the cancer treatment restarts. Finally.

We are tired.

12005.04 NPD, Captain’s Log, District 7 of CalCascadia

Useless Normalish Brother was banished from District 7 today, and it was……rather lovely. We did everything ourselves – as usual – but with blissful silence in the background instead of LOUD CALLS about the budget for Baby Shark.

We’ve also realized that it’s not the virus that will kill us. It’s us. We will all kill each other.
We are also a bit tired of the commercials that show people doing cute and quaint things while in quarantine, like painting foraged driftwood with hearts or dancing in harmony with someone in the building across the street, all without a care in the world. Meanwhile, over here in the WasteLands, we’re sitting around seething about all you assholes who’ve never baked in your lives buying out and hoarding all the fucking yeast in every store out there. Really? Yeast? You all know it doesn’t last forever, right? It has an expiration date? So you had better get on with making your twee pearl-sugar-encrusted cardamom brioche buns, bitches. Good luck with that.

Us, we’re going to be over here working on our new Cooking With Viruses show, that will focus on what one can cook or bake with “things still to be found in grocery stores.” First up: fun with monkfruit sugar and barley! Yes, the mind reels.

12005.05 NPD, Captain’s Log, District 7 of CalCascadia

Normal Brother received a slight reprieve today, as he came by and made brisket, and it was uneventful. He has moved a step away from the Vaporization List, but of course, tomorrow is another day.

We also went to the store to pick up our canning jars – because just as everyone now has visions of being a creative baker cheerily turning out the most ethereal of buns and bread, they also seem to fancy themselves as canning mavens, not realizing how much effort and experience goes into making a decent jam.

Hahahahahahahaha! Dare I say I look forward to reading about their endeavors?

In the meantime, we are crowdsourcing a supply of yeast BECAUSE THERE IS NONE TO BE FOUND HERE. Really people. Give up the vision. Trust us on this.

Shopping takes so much longer these days. The line to get into the store. The wandering, not sure if something is sold out (HELLO YEAST) or is simply in a different place. Buying unfamiliar things, because our usual brands are sold out. So tiring – of course, not as tiring as having to wait hours upon hours in a line to pick up free food in this, our shithole country that’s rampant with cronyism and inequality and inadequate systems and people bartering for flour and doing shady midnight runs for PPE and the Dotard musing about injecting bleach (YOU FIRST) and omg it’s all so tiring. 

Right now we are glad of two things: that the Matriarch is improving, albeit slowly, and that stores sell single-serving cocktails ready to swig down, not even needing a glass. Cheers.