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Dodging the School Fear Pandoomerang

Can you believe this is the THIRD school year affected by the Covid-19 pandemic? At the beginning of 2020, the novel coronavirus still felt like a novelty. A two-week holiday from office work and school was supposed to flatten the curve, but it wasn't enough. My daughter never went back to finish third grade. Then she didn't start fourth grade in person. Most of the school year took place on a Chromebook. She returned to campus in the spring along with fewer than 1/3 of her classmates; the other families couldn't work around the inconvenient dropoff and pickup schedule or they didn't want to take the risk, even in one of the most careful and safety-focused districts in the nation (now among the minority of districts requiring masks without a state mandate). This year's back-to-school season holds the record as the most dangerous time in all of this long, dragged-out pandemic for children under 12 , and there is no online option. Parents must choose between sending

Pocket of Joy: Black Walnuts

The American black walnuts are now raining down like manna from heaven! Heavy, painful, treacherous manna with the power to deal out a concussion or a sprained ankle, so look alive. Here is my back yard walnut tree. This year, Pandemic Year 2, is the year I'm finally going to try processing my own black walnuts. My family is back on near-lockdown until our daughter can be fully vaccinated, and my kitchen renovation is nearly done, so there's never been a better time and might never be again. Of course, I will give the squirrels plenty of chances to fill their own pantries between my human harvests. One of my dearest, oldest friends, who used to work with me at a cookie shop when we were teenagers and who visited during this year's early summer break from high viral spread, gave me the most adorable cookie cutters I've ever seen--shaped like squirrels that can hold a real nut in their arms in the middle of the cookie. I want to use my back yard black walnuts to bake some

This Sauce Is the Sauce

F@*% jar sauce! Nat's what I reckon. I am, of course, referring to the battle cry of "Nat's What I Reckon," the Australian YouTube champion who went "viral" during the first 2020 pandemic lockdown, on a mission to nourish the souls and bodies of weirdos and gutter punks around the world who appreciate a healthy sense of humor and a wholesome home-cooked meal lovingly presented with heaping sides of Australian-accented cuss words, dangerously long hair, and tattoos. According to Nat's unorthodox self-help, autobiography, and cookery book, Un-Cook Yourself: A Ratbag's Rules for Life , his journey to unexpected lockdown internet fame began when he was a teenager and his father took him on a trip to India, where he contracted tuberculosis. Upon his return to Australia, the initial symptoms of infection were obscured by the usual effects of an unhealthy lifestyle and the medical community's biases toward... ratbags, as Nat would put it. His TB infecti

Pocket of Joy: Fine Art and Divine Castoffs

Many years ago, my husband and I had a local friend in art school who created many weird and wonderful things, some of which turned out to her satisfaction and many that did not. Her output in both categories exceeded what she could keep or sell, and so we benefited from the opportunity to collect and hoard her (sometimes slipcast) castoffs. I always prefer an imperfect handicraft to a factory-fresh decor item, and I appreciate the special, limited-time window of good fortune of having a generous friend in art school, so I accepted many more functional pots and ceramic artworks than I could possibly use or display. Some I distributed to other friends; some I put away in the garage and cycled them into the kitchen as items to replace other items that got broken; some large and bizarre items I tucked away in the garden shed for over a decade, where they have obtained a weathered, mossy patina. And now that my husband and I are renovating our home, the time has come for those pieces to li

Debut Dinner of the Big Ass Pot

Happy harvest season! This summer's gardening and kitchen renovation projects have finally converged upon a successful dinner picked from the front yard and boiled in the Big Ass Pot my husband scored at our local Habitat ReStore. This thing is built like an antique bathtub and large enough to boil a baby. When my husband bought it, I immediately visualized it full of fresh-picked corn on the cob, and this week, I manifested that vision! The first harvest, earlier last week, was just one ear that had transformed majestically into a fine chonk of huitlacoche . Right after I noticed it, I heard from a Mexican friend that she was about to pass by my house with another Mexican friend, looking for a special way to celebrate her birthday. I told her to stop in my front yard and pick up some specialty quesadilla filling, and she did. If this happens to another ear of my corn, I'm going to try cooking it up and tasting it at my house. My husband, a burgeoning mushroom enthusiast, will

Pocket of Joy: Welcoming "Misfortune" on Friday the 13th!

Tomorrow is another Friday the 13th, and my family is looking forward to it! Mostly that's because it's also our cat's fourth birthday, and we're going to have a party for her involving cardboard boxes and bouncy balls. But also it's because we have a darkly occult sense of humor at our house. We enjoy thunderstorms, campy horror, Halloween, Billie Eilish, and Lil Nas X. We have always celebrated, rather than feared, Friday the 13th--unlike the gentleman who walked into my husband's shop yesterday to let him know that the world would be ending this Friday! It is a joy to have that tradition in place now, when we are all dealing with some heavy misfortunes that started before this year's Friday the 13th and will continue afterward. Climate change, violence, pandemic, etc. There is an excess of truly bad fortune in the world right now, and it's a real bummer.  But it's good to be able to laugh at bad luck and disappointment, whether anticipated or expe

Here We Go Again

As we prepare for our daughter to go back to school at the end of this month, I've gone back to working from home. I returned to my office after the 4th of July, took down my March 2020 wall calendar, and worked onsite for one month before the delta variant had me hauling away my office's potted plants once again. Here we go again. I'm sad, and I'm letting myself feel that. Today, I'll get my hair cut for the last time before my daughter can be fully vaccinated. At that joyful time, we'll schedule a mother-daughter visit to the salon. I hope that it happens before her next birthday in January 2022. Back to WFH. Back to masking (or double-masking) in public and staying home whenever possible.  Working from home suits me just fine, but the reason I need to do it again has me feeling profoundly sad. I sat alone in my office on Friday and shouted some swears into the void. Then I took a few breaths and started loading up my car with houseplants. Again. Around the sa

Pocket of Joy: Heart Fire

Is anything better than a beach bonfire?   A few days ago, I wrote about taking a playful approach to natural forces while maintaining respect for them . Today, I'm reminded of the bittersweet pleasures of a well-controlled fire. Some of my happiest memories have occurred around a fire, such as this Great Lakes beach bonfire above, with my husband and two dear friends. We haven't done any burning in a long while due to our air quality already being compromised by the tragic wildfires that have overtaken Canada and the Western U.S., but we know that "fun fire" season will return, probably sometime this fall, and that we will be able to enjoy it responsibly. We built indoor and outdoor hearth fires into our home environment when we bought our house. My family dug a fire pit in our back yard by hand and surrounded it with all the rocks we could find in the rubble of a previous owner's landscaping.  We chose a house with a good, solid fireplace in the middle of a walk

Playing in the Eye of the Storm

My daughter has always loved a summer thunderstorm, and so do I! And so does my husband. And, honestly, so does our cat--she runs to the window to watch when she hears thunder. But we all respect the power of nature too. A few years ago, we attended a beach birthday party at this very time of year, on a lovely summer day, and an unexpected storm came upon us so quickly that there wasn't even time to run to our cars in the parking lot. Above, my daughter is "flying" into the wind that has come rushing through the pavilion, which was momentarily followed by a drenching, sideways rain and a dramatic show of thunder and lightning over the water and all around us. As quickly as it had hit us, the storm passed without doing us any more harm than knocking everything over and soaking us all to the skin. My daughter declared it "the best" birthday party ever.  As magical as that was, we didn't take away the wrong lesson from that exciting and fortunate experience--th

Pocket of Joy: Sweet Corn

It's almost sweet corn season in Michigan, and my shaggy little baby cornfield is all ears! View this post on Instagram A post shared by Jeannie Miernik (@msamiernika) I've planted corn in the back yard before and once, to be funny, in the flower bed along the front porch. This year, I got serious about replacing my suburban lawn and took a big chonk out of the front yard to plant locally developed corn and its "sister" crops sunflowers, beans, and (by surprise volunteer via compost) squash. My cornfield has some bald spots where I didn't plant deep enough and birds ate the seeds, but the stalks that grew are producing many fattening-up ears of corn! I am very excited to get out the huge pot I bought at Habitat ReStore while shopping for my kitchen renovation and put water on to boil while we pick and shuck the corn (now that's fresh) like I used to do with my grandparents when I was a kid. My family and I have always loved sweet corn s

We're Cooking Again!

Oh, wishes for real dishes to wash and lovin' on my oven! Our DIY kitchen renovation is not nearly finished, but we have finally installed flooring and hooked up our appliances--except the vent hood, which has not been delivered yet. Ooh, steamy! We can cook our own food! We can wash our own real dishes! I have never been this excited about chores. It's a chaotic mess in here without our upper shelving or real countertops, but we have lighting, plumbing, a dishwasher, an oven and range, and a pantry that is in the kitchen instead of the living room!  And I can already start to imagine my rustic cherry shelves festooned with ghost pumpkins . There are more than a half dozen of them growing on the vine that is joyfully overtaking my front yard cornfield, and I'm hoping that no little jerk of a jackalope or chupacalabaza or rude bunny, squirrel, or deer will come along and decide to take one bite of each. I haven't had the best of luck with that. The local fauna often tak

Pocket of Joy: Surprise Ghost Pumpkin

Boo!  It turns out that the volunteer squash vine in my garden this year is not producing gooseneck gourds, as I suspected. It's a ghost pumpkin! Now I remember tossing one of those in the compost after last Halloween.  There are also deer tracks in the garden, which I did not fence this time, but this spooky little bubble of joy is growing right in the center of the thick, spiny foliage, so I hope it will be left to hang in there until my daughter can carve it up this Halloween.  Happy Hot Gourd Summer!

A Lightbulb Moment

All the lights are on! This weekend, my dad finished installing our kitchen cabinets as well as three pendant lights that hang above them. Hallelujah, let there be light! Now we can finally see what we're doing, giving us a boost of productivity by providing both visual access and a more pleasant work environment--which will soon become a warm, welcoming place to cook and eat and converse! This bright, warm light is a great metaphor for something else I've realized over the course my month-long home renovation staycation--which, though hard and busy, has been a clean break from my nonprofit work, my novel-writing creative work, and most of my social life too. I had an "aha" moment about illuminating the kitchen that my family has designed and built ourselves with a set of clear, warm lights that my husband and I chose together, as well as the fact that we are no longer living in other people's stuff. We're approaching 40 now, and we've finally been able t