Who’s Zooming Who?

The Curmudgeon crashes my FaceTime session with my sister-in-law Ann to show her his bandana mask.

I’ve never loved talking on the phone.

Even back in my early days of newspaper reporting, I preferred to talk to people in person because I could get a better sense of whether they were being truthful or lying.

I derive a lot of information and feedback from looking at people: whether they’re engaged, distracted, bored or want to end a conversation. I’m a visual person, one who appreciates the importance of body language, eye contact and subtle nuances.

My disdain for the phone is legendary among my family and friends. I don’t call people often. It has nothing to do with how I feel about them. It has more to do with the way I communicate, and it’s not through my sense of hearing.

One of the biggest reliefs of my life was when my children were old enough to answer the phone and take messages for me. It was like having two tiny secretaries running interference, though I know some people found it incredibly annoying and off-putting.

I know spouses who talk to each other several times each day, but I don’t do that with the Curmudgeon. We rarely call each other unless it’s to warn about a speed trap down the road, or report that we’re low on kibble or doggie yogurt.

In fact, the Curmudgeon may detest the phone more than I do. He failed to call me once during a 4-day boys’ weekend to Martha’s Vineyard two years ago, pushing the outer limits of what’s acceptable and what constitutes spousal neglect.

But with social distancing and sheltering in place the new normal, I’m now turning to my I-Phone and laptop every day to connect with people. Instead of just talking, though, I want to FaceTime.

Up until recently, FaceTime was reserved for my son at college. But since we’ve been in quarantine, I’m FaceTiming my sisters, friends and neighbors. If I haven’t FaceTimed you yet, I guarantee I’m thinking about it.

I ask everybody if they have FaceTime, and am always a little disappointed if they don’t. My mom doesn’t have it, nor does one of my sisters. I can’t tell you how sad I am about that.

I tried to FaceTime my next-door neighbor Jim, and when he didn’t answer, I texted, “I’m trying to FaceTime you about a neighborhood matter.” When he still didn’t answer, he texted me back, “You’re trying to FaceTime Jimbo?”

Yes dude, I’m trying to FaceTime you because I can’t talk to you on the street the way we usually do. I want to bounce a neighborhood issue off you, and I want to see your face when we discuss it. Capisce?

We ultimately ended up exchanging text messages, but you get my point. I need to see people to connect with them. I don’t care what they look like or if they’re still in bed. I just want to see their face.

I FaceTime one of my sisters nearly every day, and we’re usually in the same place: she’s in her bed and I’m sprawled on my couch. There’s no pretense on either end, though I was a little embarrassed when she noted, “Isn’t that the same sweater you were wearing yesterday and the day before?” Um, yea.

My sister and I have gotten so comfortable FaceTiming that I’ll make or accept a call in any state. The other day, my hair was coated in olive and coconut oil and she never even mentioned it. I’m not sure if I should be relieved or offended.

Still, there are limits to everything and how far you’ve let yourself go. The other day, she said, “I think it’s time for you to do something about your roots. I see a lot of gray.” Sisters can say this to each other. Friends, not so much.

Seeing people on FaceTime and Zoom makes me feel less alone and more connected. And I look forward to these virtual meet-ups more than they probably deserve. My sister-in-law Ann organized a Zoom family cocktail party and I showered, put on make-up and wore a black blazer.

“A blazer?” my son asked.

“Well, yes, this is the most excitement I’ve had in weeks and I want to look pulled together,” I said. Sad, but true.

We thought we might see a milestone during our virtual gathering when my nephew Teddy threatened to lop off his ever-growing man-bun in front of all of us. It was an empty threat, though perhaps he will do it when we gather again same time next week.

If you haven’t held a Zoom party yet, I recommend it. It’s the next best thing to being there.

Shop Defensively

My son at an Easter egg hunt in much simpler times.

The grey, white and red behemoth off Interstate 95 beckoned as I drove home from New London, CT.

I pulled into the parking lot of Costco in East Lyme and made one promise to myself: if there’s a line of shoppers waiting to get in, I’m leaving. It was raining hard, a punishing downpour with gusty winds, and I was in no mood to get soaked waiting to shop.

Everyone told me not to worry about a special Easter meal. The Curmudgeon even suggested tacos given the circumstances. But I wanted something special to mark the holiday, which is always a special day in our family.

Easter outfits, and back in the day, even bonnets and new spring dress coats. Coloring eggs with dye, wax and appliqués, then using them for egg salad and deviled eggs. Easter baskets filled with chocolate and jelly beans and Easter egg hunts. Celebrating the risen Christ at church, and returning home for an afternoon feast with relatives.

Easter, Early 60s.

Ordinarily, our extended family of about 35 would be gathering at my sister’s house to celebrate Easter. But with social distancing and sheltering in place in effect, everyone is staying put and marking the holiday at home.

I’m going the traditional route: baked ham, scalloped potatoes, spring vegetables and a salad. I figured I’d pick them up at Costco, a place that seems designed for stocking up during a pandemic.

The aisles are wide, allowing 6 feet of social distancing if everyone pays attention and behaves. There are arrows on floors, directing people which way to go to minimize contact with other shoppers. And there’s tape on the floor at 6-foot increments near the cashiers, showing people where to stand.

The problem is that some people are completely oblivious, failing to follow arrows and realize they have to make adjustments during the Covid-19 crisis. This isn’t business as usual, not by a long shot. And even though we’re all social distancing, that doesn’t give people permission to be socially ignorant.

Cases in point:

+ Signs at the Costco entrance clearly state that only one person per household should be shopping. A middle-aged woman marches down an aisle barking out orders, with her college-aged daughter pushing a grocery cart behind her. The pair commandeer the entire aisle, failing to move to one side to accommodate other shoppers. Neither are wearing masks or gloves.

It looks like they may be shopping for a large party, but that may be a stretch on my part. In any case, I make a point to get as far away from them as possible. It’s clear they’re following their own rules during this pandemic, and I wonder how many others they’ve violated over the past month.

+ I wait at the top of an aisle as a middle-aged couple debates whether a product is a good deal. I can’t enter the aisle without breaking the 6-foot rule, so I wait. They’re completely oblivious to other shoppers, but I try to give them some slack. The second they move, a young woman plows past me and giggles because she thinks she’s cute. Not funny, and I told her as much.

“Um, I don’t think so!” I muttered under my mask. But I don’t think she could hear me, which is probably a good thing. I’m not sure I want an altercation in the rice aisle. But seriously, when shopping, look around and be aware of who’s around you. Don’t be a jerk. Wait your turn.

+ Wear face masks. I know, everyone feels self-conscious wearing them in public, but you’re wearing them to protect lives so get over yourself. I was shocked by the number of Costco shoppers who weren’t wearing face masks or gloves. On a positive note, I was impressed that all of Costco workers were wearing face masks and gloves.

Remember, some people carry the virus and have no symptoms, so you’re wearing a mask to protect others, including the workers who are keeping stores open for us. My mom has a friend who recently tested positive whose only symptom was a runny nose. No fever, chills or coughing.

+ Shop defensively. Be aware of shoppers around you and wait for them to clear a space before encroaching on them. Think of it like driving and waving someone into traffic. When I waited for a man to leave the bagged potato area and then waved, he nodded in appreciation.

“There’s so much more to think about now,” he said. It’s true if you’re a responsible shopper. You can’t expect to follow the rules of social distancing and get out of the store in half an hour.

It took about twice as long for me to shop because in many cases, I had to wait for aisles to clear and circle around to go down aisles the right way. It was also the first time I had been to that Costco, so I didn’t know the lay of the land.

My shopping trip took so long that my kids were actually worried, and scolded me for leaving without my phone. I’ll remind them of this the next time they leave me hanging about their whereabouts, and fail to respond to my texts or phone calls.

Walk This Way

Male eagle keeps watch on a nearby nest. (Eagle photos by Cindy Gerstl)
Cindy spent about 45 minutes photographing the eagle couple, and came away with some amazing shots. Thank goodness one of us had a great telephoto lens.

My I-Phone and I are having boundary issues.

The phone makes assumptions about where I’m headed, informing me that I’m 35 minutes from home and should take the highway because traffic is light. I don’t want to tell the phone that I’m not going home, nor to a monastery 14 minutes away or a hiking trail in the next town.

I don’t remember the “frequent flyer” notifications on earlier versions of the I-Phone, and most of the time I simply ignore them or chuckle at their incorrect presumptions. (For awhile, the phone always assumed I was heading to a liquor store, making me rethink my relationship with alcohol.)

But now I’m having issues with the I-Phone’s health app. No matter what I do, the I-Phone comments on it and I’m always on the losing end of the conversation. It’s like living with an overbearing parent or spouse, where nothing you do is ever good enough.

My numbers are up in March. Then again, the month has just begun.

“Your step count is lower today than yesterday.”

“It looks like you’re a lot more active today than usual.

“You’re walking more by this time of the day than you usually do.”

Even when it’s trying to be encouraging, it manages to get a dig in. Who knew that a phone could be so critical?

I didn’t ask the phone for its opinion, but it doesn’t matter. Along with my step count, it gives me a running commentary on how I’m stacking up compared to yesterday, last week, last month and last year in everything from steps, active and standing hours, flights climbed and hearing health.

And even when I think I’m doing well, it’s never enough for my phone:

Your step count last week was lower on average than the week before.

Your mileage was lower today than the previous day.

Your average headphone audio levels were LOUD over the last seven days.

It almost makes me long for the days when everyone just walked and didn’t worry about steps. But we’re a results-driven society when it comes to nearly everything, including walking. I’m not sure it’s great, but it’s the way things are since the first Fitbit came on the scene in 2007.

I got an Apple Watch for my birthday last August, and it wants me to hook up a feature that alerts you when you have an irregular heartbeat. I can see the benefit of this, but I’m not interested. I’m an anxious person, and I’d be worried about having an irregular heartbeat. I don’t need more things to obsess about.

I felt a little better about ignoring that feature after consulting my buddy Richie, who is a heart surgeon. When I asked him about the feature, he said, “Unreliable.” That was good enough for me. If a watch is going to send me into a panic, at least I want to know it’s accurate.

Today, nearly everyone is tracking their steps, with 10,000 steps a day being the gold standard. https://blog.fitbit.com/should-you-really-take-10000-steps-a-day/ I know some people who reach their goal just going about their day, but I usually need a 75-minute brisk walk to reach my daily goal.

I don’t always achieve it, but it’s a good incentive to get moving. As a nation, we’re a sedentary bunch, leading to rising levels of obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure and other health problems. Having a step counter keeps you honest, or at least shows you how much of a slug you are on any given day.

A few years ago, I read that some fitness coaches require clients to have step counters because it’s like having a personal trainer on their wrists. It made sense, so I bought a Fitbit Flex, and then another one when the first one inexplicably broke about a year into the experiment.

Having a Fitbit was a lot of fun. For awhile, I was comparing step counts with siblings and friends, and earning badges for walking imaginary trails with my dog. But there were blips – lots of them – along the way.

The Fitbit always needed to be charged, though I never knew when it was low on juice and it would often be dead after I’d logged the longest hike in my life with no steps to show for it. And you could log steps with the Fitbit just by shaking your wrist (not that I’d ever do something so ridiculous).

I knew one tennis instructor who logged about 30,000 “steps” a day, though many of the so-called steps were from moving her wrist, not her feet. And yes, I may have been guilty of shaking my wrist a few times just to reach the 10,000 step mark some days. Sad, but true.

So I rejoiced when I discovered the I-Phone’s health app, which is like having a built-in step counter without all the hassles. The only hitch is having your I-Phone with you at all times. The other day, I stuffed it into my pants playing Pickleball just to get the steps (4,400 in 90 minutes, by the way).

I shared my frustrations about the health app with my buddies Cindy and Mark while eagle watching the other day. We had to walk from the town harbor to the nesting grounds near Long Island Sound so as not to disturb the eagles, and naturally I’d left my I-Phone in the car.

“Damn, this walk isn’t counting for anything,” I said.

“Why don’t you just put your phone in a drawer if you don’t like it?” Cindy asked.

She has a point, but it’s not that simple. I want to track my steps. I’m a person who needs to be accountable. I just wish the phone would give me the step count and hold the commentary.

For now, I’m taking the bad with the good, opening the little health app Heart to see how I’m stacking up every day. And if it ever gets too much, there’s always the drawer.

But

1-(959) 207-1043 (preferred)

“The Scream” depicts someone yelling. I wasn’t yelling.

The impossible happened: a phone solicitor hung up on me.

I didn’t think it was possible to be cut off by someone who trolls the phone lines every day looking for suckers to foolishly answer their cell phones, but I managed to do it during a drive through New Haven, CT.

And though I try very hard to be kind to people, particularly with the season of Lent upon us, I have no regrets about standing up to someone who has called my phone 20 times over the past week and asking a simple question:

“What do you want?”

“You don’t have to be rude to me ma’am,” said the telemarketer. “I’m not being rude to you. Why are you being rude to me?”

I wasn’t being rude, though I was blunt and impatient. Whoever is behind this number, which pops up as “preferred” on my cell phone, has called me dozens of times, including 13 times on Saturday during a family excursion to visit my son at college. They even called during dinner on Saturday night, though I quickly ignored the call.

As I see it, calling anyone 13 times in one day is harassment. It’s one thing if they’re calling for a charitable cause – I can usually summon my manners and tell them I don’t make donations over the phone. But having your phone ring repeatedly and seeing the same number pop up is maddening.

Like the majority of Americans, I can’t stand phone solicitors and don’t ordinarily answer their calls. In my opinion, they have ruined cell phones by polluting us with unwanted and in some cases, illegal calls. The beauty of cell phones when they first came out was solicitors could not call them. But that changed in 2012, and boy, they’re making up for lost time.

If I see an unfamiliar number, I usually just hit “ignore,” “sorry I can’t talk right now” or my favorite, “please leave a message.” I figure if someone truly has legitimate business with me, they’ll leave a message on my voicemail and I’ll get back to them.

But this solicitor has been been particularly persistent and annoying, prompting me to answer the phone during a 20-minute car trip back from Lowe’s to pick up potting supplies. If nothing else, I wanted to answer the call just to make it stop.

So when +1-(959) 207-1043 popped up again, I answered. The caller addressed me by my first name, which set me off from the start. He’s greeting me by name without identifying himself. I didn’t say “yes” when he said my name. I said simply, “What do you want?”

“Why are you being rude to me?” he said. “I’m not being rude to you. I’m just doing my job.”

“I asked you what you want,” I said. “You called my phone 13 times on Saturday and I just want to know why you’re hounding me. I’m not being rude. Just tell me why you’re calling me.”

(And by the way, repeatedly calling someone you don’t know and not identifying where you are from immediately is being very rude, at least in my book. When I used to call people from the newspaper, I’d always identify myself as a reporter and ask if it was a good time. If it wasn’t, I always offered to call back. It’s ridiculous to assume that a person is free or wants to talk just because you are.)

“I’m required by law to call you,” he answered, still skirting my question. “And I don’t understand why you’re yelling at me.”

“I’m not yelling at you,” I said. “You’d know it if I was yelling at you. This is not yelling.”

And it wasn’t. I was perturbed, annoyed and snarky, but I wasn’t yelling. I know what yelling is. Yelling is what my father and many dads of his generation did when their kids did something dumb. I still remember hearing my friend’s father scream, “How could you be so stupid?” from the road after he dented his car when he was about 16.

His Dad was usually so nice and soft-spoken that it was a shock to hear him raise his voice. But it made me feel better to know other Dads yelled too.

Yelling is sometimes the only effective tool you have to convey feelings of anger and complete frustration. I recently told the Curmudgeon that I don’t think he yelled enough when our kids screwed up, that a little fear of your parents isn’t the worst thing when you do something wrong.

But he isn’t the screamer in the family, I am. And though I try not to do it too often, I know what constitutes yelling.

Yelling is screaming at the top of your lungs when you make an errant golf shot and shout, “Fore!” Yelling is trying to get a dog to stop attacking your sister’s Maltese, which you are pet-sitting and will be killed if anything happens to him, on a hiking trail.

I can yell, and I wasn’t yelling at this guy, who may be the world’s most hyper-sensitive telemarketer. I simply wanted to know why he was calling me, something he seemed intent on keeping to himself. But I have news for him. If he thinks I was yelling at him, he’d better toughen up because there are a lot of people out there with way shorter fuses than I have.

“I suppose you’re going to tell me you’re calling from Social Security and my number has been compromised,” I said.

“I’m going to call you when you are a little calmer,” he said, still refusing to tell me who is represented or what he wanted. “Have a nice day.”

I tried calling the number back several times and no one answered, no big surprise. But he hasn’t called back, so maybe he finally got the message. In the meantime, I’m putting my cell phone on the DO NOT CALL list, something I meant to do years ago. If you haven’t done it, here’s how:

https://www.donotcall.gov

You’re welcome.

Should I Stay or Go?

The view from the front porch at a socially distanced Fourth of July picnic.

If there’s one positive thing to come out of the past few months, I think it’s helped clarify how we want to spend our time.

Personal safety now trumps social and family obligations, making us ponder whether we want to accept an invitation or pass in the name of caution and self preservation. And though the decision to accept or decline has always been ours, the pandemic has made most people think long and hard about every social interaction.

My extended family typically hosts holiday picnics, but this year’s Memorial Day gathering was scuttled due to the virus. When the Fourth of July rolled around, allowing gatherings up to 25 in Connecticut, a last-minute picnic was organized at a relative’s house.

It was so last-minute that I wasn’t invited. People assumed that I was at Martha’s Vineyard, where we typically spend the holiday weekend. But that’s OK. I couldn’t have gone because we planned to attend a friend’s party on the beach in Milford, CT.

Though we attended the party and didn’t wear masks, we parked ourselves on comfy wicker chairs in a corner of the wide front porch and talked to just one couple all night. Ordinarily, I’d do a little more mingling, but this was how everyone operated that night. People kept to themselves, remaining as socially distant as possible in a party situation.

Throwing a post-Covid-19 party or picnic is not for the faint of heart. Our host made sure tables and chairs were six feet apart. Our conscientious hostess – a former high school classmate of mine – put everything from fruit and veggies to ripe tomatoes slathered in olive oil and Italian bread into individual plastic cups to reduce the risk of contamination.

Instead of grilling, the hosts hired a food truck, where two cooks wearing masks prepared hot dogs, hamburgers and gourmet hand-cut French fries. To reduce the risk of contact, you placed your order and then returned to your seat until your name was called. Only the most famished lingered near the truck waiting for their food.

After dinner, we ambled across the street to the beach to watch a series of fireworks displays. At one point looking along the coast, at least a dozen fireworks displays were visible, reminding me what I love most about the shore in the summer. Beach people know how to party.

Attending the party was good for the soul, giving me my first real taste of summer. As I pointed out to anyone who’d listen, the seasons meld together when sheltering in place and confined to property lines. Doing summery things like getting a lobster roll at a clam shack, watching a parade of Jeeps or running your toes in the sand underscore that it’s summertime, at least for me.

At the family picnic, people were invited to gather and swim in the pool, but were asked to bring their own food. Unlike the typical picnic, there was no homemade potato salad, macaroni salad or baked beans. But the organizers followed health experts’ recommendations for gatherings in the Covid-19 age, and most people understood.

The decision to have the picnic caused some debate. Some of my sisters didn’t think we should get together while others felt the pull to gather after so many months apart. For my part, I think people have a right to host get-togethers if they want. It’s up to guests to decide if they want to go.

My live and let live outlook is a bit of a departure for me. Ordinarily, everyone attends our family picnics and if one person is missing, their absence is noted and questioned. But things are different now, eliminating any suggestion of family or social obligation. Everyone must weigh whether socializing is worth the risk.

Gone are the days of going to something if you’re on the fence or really don’t feel like it. Today if people attend a gathering, I guarantee it’s been the source of discussion, debate and soul-searching, and if they’re there, they really want to be.

In my family picnic’s case, some of my relatives opted to stay home because they’re over 65 and/or have underlying health conditions. It’s understandable. Everyone must decide for themselves, and no one should fault or criticize their decision or feel slighted.

Of course, biting our lips about others’ choices has always been a challenge, perhaps more so today than ever before. But wouldn’t it be great if we all emerged from this with greater tolerance and understanding? We can always hope.

My Little Rant

We owe it to everyone to do our part to stop the spread of Covid-19.

Every once in awhile, I cannot shake my reporter’s hat.

Though it’s been more than 20 years since I hit the streets in search of stories, some things stick in my craw so firmly that I automatically become inquisitive and in some cases, combative, in search of answers and justice.

First things first: no one likes wearing face masks, particularly as the weather heats up. They’re uncomfortable, cumbersome and tickle our noses, daring us not to scratch.

But Connecticut Gov. Ned Lamont issued an executive order requiring people to wear face masks in stores and other public places. The order states: any person in public who cannot be at least six feet away from everyone, must cover their nose and mouth with a mask or face covering.

Many establishments, including post offices, have signs on the door stating patrons won’t be admitted without face coverings.

I like this policy because it’s sweeping and clear: no mask, no entry. So far, the policy is working pretty well. Connecticut’s Covid-19 rate of infection and hospitalization is dropping while many other states with looser policies are seeing growing numbers.

But like a lot of things in life, some people think rules don’t apply to them. This was clear during a trip to my favorite supermarket when a 40-something woman sauntered into the store without a mask after cutting me off in the shopping cart line.

“Where’s her mask?” I asked the store clerk sanitizing the carts. “Why is she being allowed into the store without a mask when everyone else is wearing them?” The clerk shrugged.

The woman heard me, and immediately turned around to confront me.

“I’m a 46-year-old woman and I’m healthy, so I’m not going to wear a mask,” she said. “I don’t even get vaccinations, and if you ask me, this is all a hoax.”

From there, she proceeded to the produce section, looking pretty pleased with herself for standing her ground with me. But as she sauntered around the store, I couldn’t get her off my mind. Why is she entitled to walk around the store without a mask when everyone else is abiding by the rules?

This wasn’t a quick shopping trip. About a half hour after our dust-up at the store entrance, I saw her in the dairy section. Her large cart was full of groceries and she was spreading her germs the entire time without consequences.

I became increasingly infuriated by her attitude and the fact that she was getting away with it. So I asked to speak to the store manager to get some answers.

The manager, who was wearing a mask like all of the other employees, told me that stores have no enforcement power to force people to wear masks. Really? What about Lamont’s order?

He told me that some customers have refused to wear masks, claiming that they have health conditions that prohibit them from wearing them, or simply forget their masks in the car.

On average, he said he encounters about three to four customers a day without masks. When he sees them in the aisles, he approaches and reminds them that they are supposed to be wearing masks. Many of these people have masks in their purses or pants pockets, but just aren’t wearing them because they don’t feel like it, he said.

I wouldn’t dare go into a store without a mask. In fact, when I forgot a mask when picking up my car at Town Fair Tire, I fashioned one out of an old T-shirt I dug up in the back seat of my son’s car. I looked ridiculous, but it’s the least I can do. If the employees and other customers are doing it, I should too.

I reminded the grocery store manager that rules are only as good as their enforcement, and more people are likely to stop wearing masks if they see other people walking around without them. This is how people generally roll: we follow rules until we realize that some people are flouting them. We think, “Well, if she’s walking around without a mask, why shouldn’t I be able to do it too?”

In order for this to work, we all need to be on the same page. And stores need to adopt stricter policies, barring people from entering without masks at the front door. But I’m not holding my breath. The store manager I spoke to didn’t seem open to my suggestion even after I pointed out that some stores have this policy.

So I’ll take my business elsewhere. I won’t patronize a business that won’t protect customers from arrogant and self-entitled morons. They can keep that woman’s business, but they’ve lost mine.

Hearts Afire

My stained glass heart is overshadowed by Jean’s beautiful fused glass pieces (middle and bottom photos).

When a high school classmate invited me to participate in “Hearts on Our Doors” via Facebook several weeks ago, I immediately accepted.

I’ve lived in the shadow of Yale-New Haven Hospital for my entire life, and several physicians, nurses and staffers live in my neighborhood. When I heard that six physicians in a neighboring town were suffering from the Covid-19 virus, I hung up some hearts leftover from Valentine’s Day on a few trees on the main road bordering my property.

I wasn’t thrilled with my effort, but I wanted to do something to thank workers risking their lives to help people during the pandemic. Shortly after those hearts went up, a lot of other hearts and red ribbons began popping up.

I wanted to make a suitable heart, something that would convey my appreciation and came up with the idea of a stained glass piece. I failed to consider that I haven’t worked with stained glass in about 15 years, and had forgotten nearly every step involved in the process.

I took up the craft when my kids were young, and I was looking for a creative outlet. I was once so engrossed in the process that I failed to notice my 2-year-old daughter was scribbling all over my new living room furniture with a ballpoint pen.

When I looked through the Yellow Pages and found an upholstery cleaner who made emergency visits on Saturdays, I said, “I think this qualifies as an emergency.” He removed the ink, and I became a lifelong customer. But that pretty much put an end to my obsession with stained glass.

But something about this pandemic brought out my desire to resurrect the craft. Using glass that’s been in my basement collecting dust for years, I went about cutting, grinding, taping the edges of the glass in copper foil and soldering the piece. I was so eager to finish that I framed the piece and put on black patina, failing to remember to solder on wire to hang it.

A week later, the heart was still sitting on my kitchen counter and I was desperately trying to figure out ways to hang it. I eventually decided to drill through the glass using a special drill bit, but ended up cracking some glass in the process.

I was kicking myself over my stupidity when my son reminded me that this was just one heart, and I could make another if I was unhappy with it. He also commented that it wasn’t my best work anyway, something I couldn’t really dispute. Whoever thinks that lead-free solder works as well as the real stuff has never used it. Give me lead any day of the week.

So I hung my heart, cracks and all, on a plant hanger outside my house just in time for our state’s lockdown to officially end today.

It’s OK though. I want my heart to stay out there for a very long time, reminding people of where we’ve been and where we’re going. I don’t want people to forget the sacrifices front line workers made during this crisis and how much we appreciate their efforts. We all tend to have short memories when things begin to return to normal.

Looking back on it, I should have consulted my friend Jean, who owns a glass studio in town. I thought about it, but figured she might be busy. As it turns out, she was, churning out about 525 glass hearts in all sizes to give to health care workers and first responders to thank them for their efforts.

Jean launched her project after her 34-year-old niece had to undergo a heart transplant in the midst of the pandemic in North Carolina. Alone in the hospital and unable to have visitors due to Covid-19 concerns, Jean made her niece a small glass heart and a rainbow to lift her spirits.

She then decided to devote the next few months to making hearts to give to people helping out during the pandemic, everyone from police, fire and ambulance drivers to people delivering and shopping for food for the elderly.

“It was the one thing I could do,” she said. “Some people were making masks or donating their time, but I decided to make hearts to make people smile and show them that we care. I wanted people to not feel alone.”

The hearts are made of fused glass, a process in which glass is heated up to 1,480 degrees and joined with other glass in a kiln. Jean said it’s impossible to say how long each heart took to make, but noted the process takes several days. Jean made most of the hearts as pocket tokens, though some were designed to be worn as necklaces.

Each heart is handmade and unique, ranging in color from vivid oranges and pinks to deep greens and blues. Jean is now busy making larger hearts for shop owners and residents who want to hang them on their front doors or windows.

She’s also gearing up for the official reopening of her shop in downtown Guilford, CT., today. Jeanne bought the shop about a year ago, fulfilling her promise to herself that she’d one day get back to her art. A double major in studio art and American history at Smith College, she worked for years as an elementary school teacher and later, at Yale University.

I’ve seen lots of hearts over the past few months, but I think Jean’s glass ones are among the most stunning. Something about the glass and the way it shines is mesmerizing. To see more of Jean’s work, visit https://www.jgreshamdesign.com.

Simple Pleasures

Few things are more deflating than spending a fortune to replace something in your house like a septic system or new well pump.

As homeowners, we know that these things may one day need to be replaced, but we hope it will be in the distant future, preferably under a new owner’s watch. If we have to spend money on capital improvements, most of us would prefer visible upgrades such as a new paint job, roof, landscaping or a patio.

The water pressure in our well water system has never been great. I know this because it takes way too long to fill up a bucket of water to mop the floor or a huge pot for pasta. I can turn on the faucet and walk away from the sink for a minute or more and it’s only halfway full.

But I didn’t realize how low until my 18-year-old daughter shouted down from the upstairs bathroom the other day. “Call the guy about the water pressure now!” she shrieked. I guess this is what her teachers are talking about when they say she advocates well for herself.

In her defense, she’d ask me to call someone about the water pressure the week before and I ignored her. Though it was sporadically very weak, I suspected that it was affected by household activities such as showers (of which there have been many), laundry and the dishwasher, which seems to be running constantly.

I didn’t think it was that bad. I hadn’t noticed a marked difference in the pressure in the master bathroom. I offered to let her use our shower, thinking perhaps the shower head in the other bathroom might be the problem.

But she was adamant.

“Call someone now,” she said.

I instantly became incensed. I don’t like being ordered around. But more importantly, I had no idea who to call about the water pressure: a plumber or the well guy?

And let’s face it, the last thing anyone wants to do right now is have a service person in their home. It has nothing to do with them personally. It’s just that after you’ve been holing up in your house for two months to avoid the Covid-19 virus, you don’t want anyone in your house.

I thought we could hobble through with our weak stream of water, but the system forced our hand. The next day, only a trickle of water came out of the kitchen faucet, and the Curmudgeon complained bitterly about his morning shower.

I called our well service company and explained the problem. Not surprisingly, they had an free appointment the next day at 9 a.m. Within seconds of looking at the piddly stream of water in the kitchen sink, the technician said, “Looks like your well pump is shot.”

After inspecting the water system in the basement, including a tank leaking water onto the floor, he said our pressure was zero and we’d be out of water by the end of the day unless it was replaced. Turns out my daughter was right about this one. I needed the well guy whether I wanted him or not.

I was heartened that the technician didn’t want to be in my house any more than I wanted him there. He offered to enter through the basement hatchway, but I had to let him onto the first floor to see the water flow. He wore a mask and escaped to the basement quickly, never entering the main living quarters again.

He said his company’s been very busy considering we’re in the midst of a pandemic. After three slow days at the start of Connecticut’s state shutdown with no work, he said business has been brisk.

“People need water no matter what,” he said. I also reminded him that people are in their houses a lot more than usual, so they’re noticing problems that might ordinarily be overlooked. They’re also around to let repairmen do their jobs, though I don’t think anyone is relishing that aspect of it.

Within two hours, the pump was replaced and we were out about $3,000. I was feeling pretty grim about spending money on a replacement part when my son came down from a shower.

“That was the best shower I’ve ever taken in my life,” he said. “The water pressure is fantastic. It’s actually exhilarating.”

He suggested that I take a shower to see what he was talking about, but I pointed out that it was 3 p.m. and I’d already showered. Still, I’m feeling a little better about the new pump. Exhilarating? I’ll take that in any form I can get it right now.

Trust Issues

The hair color did a fine job considering we had no idea what we were doing.

When it comes to hair, the burning question is, “Who do you trust?”

The answer for most of us: almost no one. Certainly not ourselves or our spouses.

For the past several years, I’ve entrusted my hair to my hair stylist Walter. Every month or so, I slip into his sleek black chair as he touches up my roots and occasionally paints my hair Balayage-style. It’s like highlights, but instead of foil, involves a board and brush and sometimes, a spinning heat lamp.

But with salons closed for the past two months, I’ve been looking a very ragged in the root department. I’ve tried to deal with it with temporary spray-in color, floating parts, barrettes and hats, but it’s an uphill battle.

This is sort of a cultural phenomenon right now. There are a lot of women walking around with white and gray crowns that are expanding every day. In fact, one of my sisters is using this time to consider permanently transitioning to gray.

I know many women who look fantastic with their gray, white hair or salt and pepper hair – two or three friends instantly come to mind. But I’m not ready to go that route right now. I’m still clinging to the illusion that my hair is mostly brown.

I haven’t colored my own hair since high school. Back then, I used Clairol’s Quiet Touch to achieve golden highlights, but it often came out orange. After one unfortunate incident, my hair looked an awful lot like a tiger. I had to walk around with orange-striped hair until it grew out.

Quiet Touch was popular in the ’70s.

Buoyed by tales of other people taking their hair into their own hands, I bought some hair color during a supermarket run. Truth be told, I’ve never been in that section before, and was impressed by the number of products on the market.

I bought a box of Revlon Colorsilk for about $3.50 because it was marked light golden brown. That’s the color I think I’m after at the salon, but who knows? Like lipstick and BB cream, it’s all a crapshoot until you get it home and open the box.

The directions sound very simple: section your hair into four parts and place color on the roots, working it through to the ends. I skipped the ends part because I just wanted the roots colored. Let it sit for about 25 minutes, 5 minutes longer if you want to cover stubborn gray.

But it’s not so easy to color your own hair. After the first few front pieces, you can’t see what you’re doing. I enlisted the help of my 18-year-old daughter, who stormed off after a few minutes, declaring me a control freak.

I then screamed for my son to stop writing a paper for college and finish the back sections for me. I knew the kid would come through. In this house, he’s the only one who can handle throwing away a dead mouse or anything else bordering on scary or gross.

This isn’t the first time I’ve enlisted his help for my scalp. Several years ago, one of us came down with lice from school (don’t get me started) and I needed someone to inspect my head to make sure I was lice free. I asked the Curmudgeon to do it, but he just moved the comb around my hair for about a minute and proclaimed me OK.

“NO!” I screamed. “I need someone to put me under a light and really make sure I don’t have it.”

I admit I was hysterical. Dealing with lice isn’t for the faint of heart. In fact, I’m pretty convinced you have to be a maniac to get rid of it on the first go-round. There’s the daily washing of linens, vaccuuming of carpets and sanitizing of the home. There’s also the nightly inspection of your beloved child’s head for at least three weeks.

In case you’re wondering, I think Lice MD is the best product on the market. Its thick oil is non-toxic and makes the process much safer and pleasant for everyone involved, if that’s possible.

I think my son was around 9 at the time. He sat me under a gooseneck light in the bathroom and spent about 20 minutes parting and inspecting my head with a magnifying glass. I think he thought of it as a science project. After about 20 minutes, he reassured me that I had no lice. Yippee!

I could tell he wasn’t thrilled about putting the color on my roots. It’s not something most kids want to contemplate: seeing their moms’ gray roots up close and personal. But he put aside his reservations to do me a solid. I knew there was a reason I was so sad when he went off to school.

My daughter laughed when she saw my root color all over my forehead. I’ve never been known for neatness and this was no exception. Hair dye was everywhere. But I was pleasantly surprised when I rinsed out the dye and didn’t start crying. The product had done a fine job considering it was in the hands of such amateurs.

For now, I’m going to have to get along on my own. Hair salons are closed for at least another three weeks, maybe longer depending on when Connecticut opens up. But I think I’ll be OK. Three boxes of hair color arrived on my doorstep today.

My Son the Chef

Last year I blogged that I let down myself and the women of the world by failing to teach my 22-year-old son to cook.

It wasn’t intentional. Cooking and meal prep fell through the cracks between sports practices, CCD and other extracurricular activities that often conflicted with dinner time and family meals.

I’m happy to report that after that blog, my son took a keen interest in cooking, or at least putting up a pot of homemade chili during visits home from college. But it gets better: the kid loves to grill, meaning for the first time in years I have someone to barbecue meat, chicken, fish and vegetables.

I know lots of guys who hate to cook, but are kings when it comes to grilling. There’s something about cooking meat over an open flame in the great outdoors that brings out the caveman in a lot of men.

I’ve always envied women married to these guys. The Curmudgeon has never grilled nor sought to prove his mettle over a fire pit. Since we married in 1983, he’s been very happy to leave grilling to me, which may explain why we rarely cooked outside until now.

An estimated 50 percent of American men handle grilling in their households, with only about 22 percent of women in charge of it. I guess the other 28 percent share grilling duties or don’t grill at all.

I know it sounds sexist, but I usually associate grilling with men. I asked my son why it’s so appealing: “It’s satisfying,” he said. “The sound of the meat sizzling, the flames and the smoke. I think it’s a manly thing.”

My Dad didn’t cook, but he commanded the grill at every cookout until flogging it onto some of my brothers-in-law later in life. He was very specific about his grilling technique: hotdogs were always cooked first at a low temperature. Heaven help the poor soul who tried to throw on a hamburger before the hotdogs were done.

After the hotdogs came the hamburgers and sausage patties, a staple at any Italian American cookout. If there was chicken, it was cooked last. My father deplored all manner of condiments, never putting so much as mustard on his hotdog or ketchup on his burger. To this day, I don’t understand his aversion, but he was resolute in his disdain.

I don’t remember ever seeing my mom grill, which is why my foray into grilling after marriage came as such a shock and disappointment. I’d hope to relegate this task to the Curmudgeon, but he held firm even after seeing his brother, in-laws, and buddies take charge of their grills.

He even buys me presents for the grill to underscore that it’s solely my domain. Over the past few years, I’ve received utensils, a long fork with a temperature probe for checking meat, a combination light and fan for the top of the grill and a fancy spinning basket for marinating and roasting vegetables.

I don’t have the heart to tell him that I really don’t like to grill. In fact, it’s one of my least favorite things to do. When I told my sister Patty my hidden feelings about grilling, she was shocked.

“I love to grill,” she said. “It’s more my thing than (her husband’s). I couldn’t believe it. She loves to grill? I don’t get it.

My son’s new love of grilling is a gift during the pandemic, a chance for me to escape cooking the main course every night. I still help out on sides, salad and the marinade, but I’m beginning to realize what I’ve been missing out on all these years.

Having a guy who grills is the best.

Kitchen’s Closed

A sign courtesy of Pinterest.

Like a lot of mothers around the world, my old neighbor Margaret has had it with dishes in the sink during this pandemic.

In a last-ditch bid for order, Margaret wrote a handmade sign urging her family to put their dishes and glasses in the dishwasher, and posted it on Facebook. A day later, she posted a photo of a full sink, lamenting “My sign is being ignored.”

Most of us haven’t had this level of togetherness with our kids since they were pre-schoolers. And though most of us are making the best of the situation and getting by, most of our kitchens are in a perpetual state of overdrive and chaos.

It’s true what they say about kitchens: they’re the heart of the home. They’re also impossible to keep clean with family members underfoot 24/7, whipping up batches of chocolate chip cookies, making avocado omelets and indulging in ice cream in the middle of the afternoon. All of this togetherness is apparently making some of us very hungry.

The thing about leaving dishes in the sink is they’re evidence. If you don’t want family members inquiring who raided the ice cream at 2 p.m., put the bowl in the dishwasher so no one knows. At least this is how I operate when I indulge and don’t feel like explaining myself.

I grew up in a family where we were expected to clean the kitchen for our mother every night. My father firmly believed that the cook shouldn’t have to clean so two of my sisters and I cleaned the kitchen nightly beginning at age 8, 10, and 11.

One of my sisters handled the dishwasher, while the other was on counters. I did the pots and pans, which sounds easy until you consider mom cooked for nine people every night and liked to use every pot in the kitchen. We did a good job, leaving the kitchen in tiptop shape for the breakfast rush and school lunch prep in the morning.

My father deplored a messy kitchen, particularly dishes in the sink and nearby dish drainer. He insisted that the drainer be emptied nightly, taking people to task for leaving items in it.

I inherited my father’s disdain for dirty dishes in and around the sink. When I was a reporter, the worst thing was going into someone’s house and seeing dirty dishes from the night before in the sink. It was gross, and just didn’t make a very good first impression.

Today, I make a point of making sure my sink is clean if I know someone is coming over to work on my house. It’s the least I can do, sparing them having to look at the remnants of last night’s meal.

I’m what you might call a binge cleaner. When I clean the house, I go all-in, striving for it to be immaculate. I don’t want anyone underfoot or getting in my way. I certainly don’t want anyone walking in after I’ve mopped the floors and leaving behind footprints. (This includes the dog.)

She’s cute, but even Cali isn’t welcome in the kitchen when I’m cleaning.

Since our lockdown began about six weeks ago, I’ve been trying my best to clean around people, which is impossible. But then it occurred to me that even restaurant kitchens are closed for a few hours each day, allowing cleaning crews to do their jobs.

With this in mind, I announced that the kitchen is closed from 1-3 p.m. on Monday for deep cleaning. When someone screamed down from the second floor to protest, I repeated my announcement: “Kitchen’s closed. It reopens at 3.”

I cannot convey the relief I felt closing the kitchen. For two blessed hours, I had the room to myself, putting away wayward pots and pans, placing knives in their slots in the butcher block, storing away serving spoons and spatulas, removing clutter from counters and even swabbing the cabinets with lemon oil.

Closing the kitchen gave me the time and space to reclaim it and clean it to my standards. And though my kids initially rebelled, they understood my need to do things my way. They’ve been living with me for years, so they understand that I’m a little obsessive. And to be honest, I think they were relieved I didn’t ask them to help.

I’m thinking of getting a “Kitchen’s Closed” sign, and expanding my cleaning hours to include another day or two. If nothing else, it will guarantee me some alone time and give the kitchen the rest it deserves.

Masking the Issue

When the new recommendations came out about masks, the Curmudgeon immediately asked, “Where’e my balaclava?”

The Centers for Disease Control’s new recommendation to wear face masks in public to prevent the spread of Covid-19 has a lot of us scrambling for cover.

My 86-year-old mother fashioned her own homemade mask out of fabric and elastic on her Singer sewing machine. I’d trust anything my mother sews. She sewed 20 sturdy lavender-infused silk eye pillows for me when I launched my own yoga business several years ago, and they were commercial grade.

One of my sisters asked for a homemade mask for her birthday.

Several years ago, she also surprised my sisters and me with seven handmade aprons stacked on her dining room table. It was her not so subtle hint that she expected more help from us on Christmas Eve. Yes, we got the message loud and clear, at least for that year.

She’s also sewed baby quilts for every one of her 17 grandchildren. Her latest creation for her first great-grandchild was the hit of the baby shower last summer. And no college send-off was complete without a handmade crocheted afghan from mom to put at the end of your bed, or fling over a chair.

People who can sew and handcraft are truly blessed, particularly during this pandemic. They can put their skills to work by fashioning homemade masks for families, friends and health care workers, giving them purpose and providing a public service during this deadly pandemic.

I have a portable sewing machine, but it spends much of its time in the front hall closet. I didn’t inherit my mother’s sewing gene, which is why I haven’t joined the movement to make face masks. I’m afraid that my masks would literally fall apart at the seams, putting anyone wearing my creations in jeopardy.

Like a lot of women of my generation, I took sewing as part of home economics in junior high school. As part of the class, we had to sew an outfit and wear it to class. I bought a Simplicity pattern for a pantsuit featuring a short-sleeved tunic top and matching pants. I know, it sounds hideous, but this was the early ’70s.

Mom’s homemade face mask.

For the material, I chose yards of olive green corduroy. I pinned the pattern to the material and carefully cut it out, feeding it through my mother’s sewing machine. I did it all on my own except for the zipper, which my mom sewed in.

Finally, the pantsuit was ready to be modeled. It put in on in my bedroom and walked into our family room, proud of my creation. But my parents burst into laughter. The pantsuit was an abomination because I’d failed to correctly line up the stripes, or wales, in the corduroy. On one side of the tunic and pants, the corduroy was dark and on the other it was light.

My foray into sewing ended in 7th grade after I tried to make a pantsuit like the one on the right.

Boy, did I feel foolish.

I have a faint recollection of my mom pulling the outfit apart, and helping me put it back together the right way. OK, maybe she even did the whole thing herself. But I swore off sewing after that experience. I’m proof that even though you come from a line of expert seamstresses, some skills skip generations.

The Curmudgeon knows this. I’ve maybe sewn one button onto a blazer in the 36 years we’ve been married. So when the new recommendation came in about face masks, he asked, “Where’s my balaclava?”

“You’re going to walk around wearing a balaclava in public?” I asked. “Someone’s probably going to think you’re going to rob a store.”

After some digging, I unearthed his dark gray fleece balaclava, which I bought him about 15 years ago to hike and run during New England winters. I also found mine, which provided a more reasonable alternative for facial coverage than the zebra eye mask I found in a drawer.

We decided to wear our balaclavas around our necks during a long walk with the dog, and hike them up around our faces if anyone approached. But we didn’t run into anyone wearing a mask, eliminating the need to break out our face gear for the first time.

I was relieved. I’m not relishing the idea of wearing my balaclava in public because I look and feel ridiculous. Like most things in life and during this pandemic, it’s going to take some getting used to. But I may not have to wear the balaclava after all.

Turns out that my older sister asked my mom to make her a mask for a birthday present. When some of my other sisters heard about her mask making, mom promised to make them masks too. Naturally, I put in an order for myself and the Curmudgeon.

As any good mom will tell you, what you do for one child you must do for all of of them, or face accusations of favoritism. So my mom is going to be busy over the next few days, sewing masks for children, grandchildren, in-laws and anyone else who puts in a request.

She’s going to be very busy, but somehow I don’t think she minds. Or maybe she does, and she’s just too nice to say. In either case, I’m calling her today for a status update on our masks.

.

.