Dispatch from “Prison”

This, my friends, is The Life.

Yes, I’m afraid so… All my Facebook friends are whinging mightily on and on about being cooped up at home, poor souls — well, except for one Fortunate Soul who happens to live on some acres of spectacularly gorgeous country. But the city mice? squeak squeak squeak squeak!

😀

Welp, I’m also a city mouse. But one with some weird traits that suit her well for Covid Quarantine.

At heart, I’m a recluse. Am now, always have been. Well, no: I might not have been in the first grade…but six years of unrelenting grade-school bullying and ostracism left me distrusting people and most comfortable with my own company. The more people I get to know, the more I like my dog…

You think that’s a joke? Not. So. Much.

So the fact is, an ordinary day around the Funny Farm is not so different from a day of Self-Isolation.

I live in a beautiful house with a beautiful yard and a handsome pool (already almost warm enough to swim in!). My job is something I’ve been doing 100% from home since 2000-and-aught 9. I’m good at it and I like it. And you know…there’s always something to do around a house that sits on a quarter-acre lot. The weather is spectacularly gorgeous: in a few minutes I’m going outside to dine on the patio. And there are moments — quite a few of them — when I suspect the highest and best use of one’s personal time is loafing.

Dog and I made a one-mile circuit of the park this morning. When we left at dawn, I hoped we would have some dog-free, human-free peace. Who gets out of the sack on a weekday when they don’t HAVE to go to work?

Yeah.

First cross-street, through the gloaming along comes a couple with a yappy little dog, It flies into a frenzy when it sees Ruby and tries to attack her. Luckily these two are smart enough to have their pet on a leash. It yaps and lunges savagely, but we get away unscathed.

We continue toward Lower Richistan. On the other side of the street, along comes a woman with a large white dog. She thinks she has it under control, no doubt…but not so much. It lunges at Ruby and tries to charge us, dragging the young woman off the sidewalk and into the road.

We get by this obstacle, and from there find the way un-doglested. There is NO one in the park — I imagine this is because of the covid scare. We manage to walk along the west sidewalk all the way to the south side, with no pestering or even threat of pestering. Cruise through the neighborhood to the south of the park. Walk north in the general direction of the Funny Farm.

But no. Here’s a moron with a big dog off the leash.

They’re a distance from us, so we forge on.

Around the corner, and here comes some guy in a car with two huge mutts in the back seat. He parks his car, flings open the door, and lets them charge into the park.

We walk across the street to avoid that catastrophe waiting to happen, with some success. I make a mental note: STAY COMPLETELY AWAY from the park (that you pay for with your taxes), no matter what time of day it is!!!!!

***

And dinner, partaken of in mid-afternoon, because I ate so much for breakfast that I’m not hungry till then, is fairly decent: grilled steak, roasted potatoes, grilled asparagus, a fine salad with fresh Meyer lemon and olive oil dressing, a passing decent cheap red wine, and a dose of Talenti ice cream.

Laundered clothes: usually I let a vast load pile up before diddling away time with that task. but with the current scare under way, I’m tossing stuff in the wash every couple of days.

The houses in this neighborhood have a peculiarity that, when I first bought here, I regarded as very tacky: all but one of the models have the washer/dryer hookup in the garage.

Of course! Everyone wants to spend time in 110-degree summer heat or 40-degree winter chill laboring over the laundry, right?

Well, at the time I bought into the ‘Hood — the height of the Savings & Loan Fiasco — I needed a place to live, and as a beggar couldn’t be a chooser. As it has developed, though, this trait has had a number of benefits. Obviously, it keeps the noise and mess out of the living area. Also, a couple of times when a washer has overflowed, it has saved me from having to clean up a gawdawful mess from the inside floors. And what is now to the point: After an outing to some germy store, I can shut the door behind me as I drive in, hop out of the car, and immediately strip off my clothes and throw them in the washer. A sink with a bar of soap is right there for the obligatory hand-scrubbing.

Discovered a way to build bird-proof “cages” to protect the vegetables I want to plant from the pet wild birds that have moved in to take advantage of the bird feeding stations. Planted a couple of heads of lettuce outside, and the birds leveled them to the ground. They also shredded a beautiful little succulent that I bought a few weeks ago and delayed planting outside till the weather was better. Managed to keep them out of the chard seedlings by draping nylon bridal-veil mesh over a stick, but that won’t last once the plants get a little bigger.

Next: to make a bunch of face masks out of a pair of old Laura Ashley pillowcases I found in the linen closet. These are supposed to be doable in 10 minutes. We shall see…they look pretty easy. Want to make some for myself, m’jiito, and the neighbors.

Then, once it’s good and dark, it’s off for the second one-mile walk with the hound. The plan is to try to get two miles of walking a day, by going out in the morning and the evening for one-mile junkets.

Fewer people are out with their dogs after dark, though last night I encountered three of them. One had a crazed yapper. The other, a couple, had a large retriever-like thing that was well behaved enough, and a big white pit-bull mix that…well, these stupid people had the mellow retriever attached to the large male human, and the pit-pull attached to the willowy female. The pit-bull launched into full attack mode when it saw Ruby. We were on the other side of the street. The damn dog dragged the woman into the street and pulled her down the road, trying to get at me and my 23-pound pooch.

She managed to regain her footing and haul the dog to a stop, but it looked pretty iffy there for a few seconds.

See what I mean about people? You just can’t fix stupid, no matter how hard you try.

A break in the clouds…

Hallelujah, brothers and sisters, yonder breaks a beam of light through the clouds!

Yesterday developed into surprisingly de-toxifying day.

First off, I discovered the reason the MacBook was throwing out messages to the effect that it couldn’t hold all the data stored on iCloud was…ohhh, wait for it… BECAUSE… The damn computeris somehow CLONING ALL THE DATA FILES ON ITS HARD DRIVE…over and over and over again.

Call up the AppleCare people and reach the first tech there that I’ve ever talked to who hadn’t a clue. She had never heard of such a thing and didn’t know what to do, so she made me an appointment with the Apple “Geniuses.” Like I have nothing else to do with my time…

Whenever I get off the phone with her and calm down a bit, I think to do a Web search. Find an Apple user’s forum where a) some guy says you can get rid of the redundant files by shutting down and rebooting, and b) they will eventually come back. Another user reports that this is a function of the Sierra operating system. Say what????

Well, I’ve had this computer for two years and it’s been running on Sierra for almost that long and I’ve never seen endless strings of duplicate files before. Presumably older versions of Sierra didn’t do that. When the guys in Tennessee replaced everything in this device’s innards, they would have had to reload Sierra, and in doing so, they presumably would have loaded a slightly newer iteration of Sierra. Hence: iterations, all right: thousands of them!

Really, that was the straw that broke the camel’s back. I just CAN. NOT. DEAL. WITH. THIS. SH!T any longer!

At that point, I about decided to shut down The Copyeditor’s Desk. The computer headaches, the DropBox headaches, the PayPal headaches…all conspiring at once: it’s more than I can handle.

Naturally, the minute I make that decision, a new Chinese mathematician e-mails in a sweat, needing to get 10 (typeset!) pages of new copy edited and jammed into an article that’s already been provisionally accepted. He, however, is at the Great Desert University, where I have spies. And he has a bank account. So he at least can pay me. However, that means I have two book projects in hand, another pending, this math thing, and a computer that is laboring to undercut me.

But… But, indeed: his piping up reminded me that not all Chinese mathematicians, scientists, and scholars of business management labor away their lives on the Mainland! A whole lot of them live in the United States. And they can pay with checks. Or get their universities to pay with checks.

And how hard is it to make nice to these folks and cultivate that set?

He blinked not at all at my bracing  per-word rate, so I will be paid fairly for turning his golden words into publishable copy.

This sounds sooo weird, but I love copyediting these Chinese scientists’ copy. The beauty of a math paper is that if its author says something stupid, I don’t know it. That, alas, is not true of work in just about any other discipline. 😀

And most of the stuff is strangely interesting, at base.

He wants to meet next week and trudge through the new content, face-to-face. That’s a new one for me, but it should be interesting. I figure if I can make nice to him and not persuade him that I’m a complete idiot, he may refer me to colleagues.

Whiled away part of the day with another new client’s effort at science fiction writing. That was light and amusing and did not leave me in a rage. Which is good. Always good.

In the morning, I tested the blood pressure again — still obsessing about whatever it was that happened in the wee hours the day before yesterday. Back down into to fairly normal range: average 123/77. One reading was an amazing 115/75. Not bad for a 74-year-old, eh?

So I think it’s safe to assume the episode in the night was a stress attack, not a life-threatening cardiac event.

That alone relieved a whole lot of stress. So did the idea that I might simply fold The Copyeditor’s Desk and really, seriously retire retire.

And in the evening, we — the Women’s Schola — sang at Compline, a particularly lovely end-of-the-day service that, being absent the hoopla of a mass and all that, is a lovely, contemplative moment entirely sung and presented by candlelight. Meditative, it is. And a very fine antidote to crazy-making stress.

This service — Compline — is in my opinion the most lovely and spiritual event in the church’s entire repertoire. Hardly anybody seems to know about it: attendance can be numbered in the single digits. This is too bad, because a whole lot of people are missing out on something that ought not to be missed.

And now…away! Off to pick up the Old Folks, the first traffic-traipse of the day.

Stress and Budget Stress

As you’ve no doubt noticed, stress overall that has nothing to do with finances tends to put stress on your budget. Looked at the bank balance the other day and thought hooleeee shit! Down 12 grand from last June? Really?

Well, yeah: really. And no: not exactly. But it’s still not great. When you’re stressed out with a lot of extraneous bullshit pressing in on your life, the last thing you feel like thinking about is managing your personal finances. But in fact, that is the time that you need to get a grip on the bucks and the budget. Because when you’re distracted with life’s little tragedies, you tend to throw money at your problems without even thinking about it. And because life’s little tragedies tend to get mighty pricey, throwing money away heedlessly is a less than ideal strategy.

This month, with the endless drama of the sick dog and the bashed car and the leaking roof in the biggest rainstorm we’ve had in any Millenial’s living memory and the Great Flood of incoming editorial work and the key to my office door breaking off in the lock (sealing both computers, the voicemail machine, my glasses and all my money stuff in there) and the AMEX card lost or stolen and the receptionist duty I naïvely volunteered for slicing four indispensable hours out of my week and Cassie pissing Lake Urons all over the house and Charley the Golden Retriever disappearing and a weird scary pox thing developing on the hand of the arm where I had a Shingrix shot and more drives to veterinarians through homicidal traffic than I can count and the new Medicare card (now also lost or stolen) not working when I went to get a flu shot and the stove refusing to light and the HVAC unit busting and the pool water clouding from neglect and a hummingbird getting trapped in the skylight and on and on and fuckin’ ON, I just flat gave up on tracking the budget.

Wasn’t any point to it. Money was flying out my door and into the vet’s at the rate of $1200 a hit, and there wasn’t a thing I could do about it. So it seemed, anyway.

But really, when money is pouring out like water through a hole in the side of a kiddy pool…that’s the time to keep track of what’s going on.

Having failed to do that, I almost fainted when I saw the bank account’s bottom line, since it looked like there was no way the remaining money was going to see me through to time for the next Required Minimum Drawdown (RMD). Social Security just supplements my RMD; the truth is, there’s no way in Hell I can live on Social Security. But I seemed to be looking at a drop of $12,000 in the bank balance from the end of June, 2018. Four grand (plus!) a month????

Given this moment of panic, it took some study to remind myself that I’d set aside several thousand dollars to pay for the property tax, the car registration (which because the dented Venza is much newer than the long-lamented Dog Chariot, is damned bracing), and the homeowner’s and car insurance. Okay, that was mildly reassuring. But we still had the fact that there simply isn’t enough left in cash flow money to cover another nine months. It might last five…if I’m careful. WTF?

Okay: the issue is, I finally realize, that I’ve been setting aside an optimistic $681 a month from Social Security into emergency savings. This was good: much of the expenses I’ve run up will be covered by the amount I’d already managed to squirrel aside before the current Shakespearean tragedy (comedy??) launched. But bad: it doesn’t leave enough in cash flow to cover regular expenses.

So today on the way home from visiting Young Dr. Kildare (yes, goddamn it: another doctor’s visit!!!!!), I’ll need to drop by the credit union and have them adjust the automatic transfer down to $300 a month. I could try to do that online, but since my propensity for screwing up online transactions has given staff there a flinch reflex every time they see me stumbling toward their door, I don’t think that would be wise. Better to get a grown-up who knows what she’s doing to perform this trick, so she doesn’t have to do gymnastics to fix whatever screw-up I create.

If I change the monthly emergency-fund contribution to $300, that will leave an extra $381 in the checking account, which I sincerely hope will help to cover routine expenses for the rest of the year. Kinda doubt it, frankly. But hope springs eternal.

The point is, though: when a barrage of incoming flack has got you stressed out, prioritize managing the budget. Set aside an hour or so a week to keep tabs on what’s going on financially, even if it means you have to roll out of the sack early once a week. This can spare you from a lot more stress on down the line.

Annoyance, Anxiety, and Pain?

This stuff has gotta stop.

A new doc’s appointment coming up on Friday, I’m wrapping up a blood pressure/events diary by way of discussing the blood pressure conundrum. Fack, what a Pain in the Tuchus, caps and lower-case.

By way of trying to infuse some sense into ream after ream after ream of brain-banging numbers, I took it upon my little self to mark each arguably hypertensive event with a tag relating to any concomitant circumstances or emotional states that might be relevant:

  • Pain, headache
  • Pain, other
  • Annoyance
  • Anxiety
  • Alarm
  • Hot flash

That’s about it. There really aren’t that many things that unnerve my cardiovascular system. but I guess those six are quite enough.

So today I’m organizing 575 entries (yes, you did read that right!) and it strikes me that I’ve entered “Annoyance” an awful lot. Like…oh…at least once a day. Often lots more than once a day.

Indeed. If you believe this little transcript of miseries, I am “annoyed” every single goddamn minute of my life.

Huh! Think o’ that.

Well, “annoyance” runs a fairly wide gamut: from mildly peeved (more junk mail in the postbox!) to irritated (Trump news, computer hassles, driving the homicidal roads of Phoenix) to freaking enraged (Cox makes a hash of things, Mac crashes and loses a sh!tload of data). But what that’s saying is that I traverse a spectrum of emotion that runs from ever so slightly ruffled to mad as a cat…every day. Every freaking day.

No wonder my blood pressure hovers near the ceiling.

And therein lies the issue: That, whatever it is, has gotta stop!

Exactly how one makes a steadily flowing tide of rage come to a stop escapes me. Really: I have no idea. But one expects that recognizing something makes it possible to deal with something.

So one hopes.

Today:

Ah, yes, Today: it began with five hours of wrestling with intransigent computer hardware. An hour on the phone with a Cox tech (Cox has recently taken a page out of Apple’s book and now, mirabilis! offers a service that allows you to talk with a tech in real time). After much thrashing around, he fixed one issue (re-connected the [ever-annoying…] new MacBook to the [unhappy, cranky] Brother printer. Then realized, in short order, that the wi-fi card on the stegosaurus-vintage Mac had crashed.

Finally get breakfast and a couple cups of coffee along about 11 a.m.

Feed the dogs and feed myself. Post a new chapter from The Complete Writer at Plain & Simple Press. Realize it’s a bit too bloggish and…come to think of it, out of date. Rewrite it. Add new material, expanding its scope a bit. But find myself a bit too tired after the morning’s marathon Annoyance to go on at much length.

Decide to take a full half-hour (it expands to 40 minutes) to unwind preparatory to running the last BP measure I intend to commit, by way of finishing off this diary to present to her Doc-hood. Use the time to draft a little bit of the Ella story. Don’t get far.

Numbers: Not too bad. Average: 122.4/78.1. Craziness factor: intense…

Consume afternoon in cleaning up the data I’ve collected and trying to make sense of it, the morning having been blown with trying to make the computers and Internet connection work.

My friend calls to say that her mother has passed. Not unexpected — she was very elderly and not well. But sad. We agree that she should refrain from going to the planned concert this weekend…especially since it happens to fall on her sister’s birthday.

Out the door like a rocket, running late as usual.

Naturally, Missouri Road is blocked down to one-lane-in-both-directions, preparatory to new lane-painting. Not a paint truck in sight, as far as the human eye can see. Takes for fuckin-ever to get through that mess, but fortunately I left not quite so late as it felt. Get to the Apple store right on time.

There we learn that the MacBook cannot be fixed, because Apple considers a nine-year-old computer too superannuated to be bothered with. But given that I dropped it and dented one corner of the thing pretty badly and yet it STILL kept on running, I can’t complain.

Peruse Apple’s present offerings and realize that really…seriously…I should have bought a MacBook Air. It would have cost a fraction of what this MacBook Pro cost; it has enough memory and power to do the main jobs I do; it lacks the annoying touchbar; and its keyboard has not yet been stupidized.

Mistake.

Peruse the iPhones. Learn how to get ahold of refurbished versions and how to recognize the ones that probably will run for a few years. Think the price, even on the second-hand models, is stupidly obscenely fukkin fulminating outrageous.

Oh look! ANNOYANCE!

Drift out of the Apple store. Drift through Saks, check out the Eileen Fisher racks, miss my crazy friend who could spend more money just thinking about it than I can spend working at it. We loved to shop there, which was…crazy, where both of us were concerned. Once in her presence I bought a pile of Eileen’s I couldn’t afford. Took them home. Looked at them and thought holeee shit i can’t afford this. Dropped them back in the bags and returned them.

A week later, happened to pass through the store again, only to find a gigantic end-of-season sale going on. Bought back all the stuff I’d returned, 30% to 50% off. 😀 My friend never knew.

Hit the road at the height of rush hour. Remember not to turn onto Missouri. This leaves just one option: drive up to 24th and go west on Glendale. Traffic is bumper-to-bumper-to-bumper.

But manage to dodge left across oncoming traffic into the (ever-crowded) Sprouts parking lot. Dart in and grab a few things, among the Pomí tomatoes that you can no longer buy anyplace else in town, not even at AJ’s, not even at Fry’s.

Up 16th to Northern, hit a ribbon-shaped parking lot. Nothin’ going on, except a cop helicopter buzzing a ’hood to the north. Just traffic. Traffic. Traffic.

Home, park in front of the computer again. Numbers, numbers, numbers… Forget to feed the dogs. Forget to feed me. Finally give up.

Feed the dogs. Myself, too tired to eat.

Annoyed.

Here’s a beautiful piece we’re singing during Holy Week, one of my favorites. Said a commenter on YouTube:

I felt so distressed this morning and found this lovely piece of music, and it healed my mind. Music like this is so healing. Thanks for posting. Very grateful.

 

New Diet/Exercise Scheme…works fast!

Down only two pounds and already starting to feel much better. Old CardioDoc — the one who may have been a perfectly fine MD but who had a little personality problem (just talking to him was likely to bring on apoplexy…) — suggested the palpitations did not indicate a cardiac problem but were anxiety attacks. He said that if one would bestir oneself to get rid of the excess fat and exercise vigorously every day, one could bring the palps under control.

He was right then, and he appears to still be right. Over the past week I’ve managed to get rid of two of the 11 pounds of overweight and have combined daily one- to two-mile walks with some vigorous yardwork. Luckily, the yard has really gone to pot over the past year or two, so there will be lots of hacking and heaving to do over the next couple of weeks.

A-n-n-n-d…whatever it is does indeed seem to be getting better. Haven’t had a palp in days, and the average BP over the past 10 days has been 124/69. Not all that bad for a 71-year-old woman who favors rib-eye steaks, strong coffee, and bourbon.

🙂 {sigh} 🙂

There’s nothing like a fine spread of good food to improve your disposition. My god have I been eating!!!

Try this rendition of grilled fish, per serving:

slab of fish (salmon, mahi, cod, whatEVER)
canned or boxed Italian-style chopped tomatoes (the Pomì brand is especially good)
a finely chopped garlic clove, or chopped little green onion
a few leaves of fresh basil, chopped, or some dried herbs of your preference
olive oil
small amount of crumbled feta cheese

Preheat the grill. If you’re using one of those perforated grill pans, put it in there to preheat, too.

Rub the outside of the fish with a little olive oil.

Into a small microwavable bowl, place enough of the tomatoes to cover your serving(s) of fish. Stir in the garlic, onion (whichever you’re using, or both) plus the herbs and feta. Warm this gently in the microwave — no need to overdo it.

Grill the fish until it’s done to your preference. While you’re at it, you can put some veggies on the grill, too: I happen to like asparagus. Summer squash grills quickly and nicely, too: either way, toss them in a little olive oil to which you’ve added lemon juice, lime juice, or balsamic vinegar, to taste.

Place the fish and veggies on your favorite dinner plate and top the fish with the tomato concoction.

This is amazingly good. Serve it up with a salad: a handful of lettuce with whatever salady oddments you happen to have in the fridge, topped with a drizzle of olive oil and a drizzle of vinegar or lemon juice.

So much better than working…

cookbook

Melatonin: Does the Stuff Actually WORK???

YoungDucksminimized
quack! quack! quack! quack! quack! quack! quack! quack! quack! quack!

A few months ago, I bought a bottle of melatonin — a supposed sleep aid — at a local Walgreen’s. But after hearing the pharmacist, who seemed to be a certifiable moron, natter on and absurdly on about how it’s…oooooo!!!! homeoPATHic!!!, I figured it was a quack nostrum and didn’t bother to try it.

But lately I’ve become pretty desperate for sleep. So decided to try it, on the theory that it couldn’t do any more harm than a steady routine of four-hour nights.

The main ingredient in it is vitamin B-6, not in enough quantity to do you any harm unless maybe if you swallowed a whole bottle of the stuff…or rather, not unless you take it every day for a significant period. B-6 is neurotoxic, and the effects of overdose are irreversible. Neuropathy develops at around 200 milligrams; the smallest reported toxic doses have been 24 to 40 mg. These things contain 10 mg, so obviously you wouldn’t want to be dropping it if you were taking a regular vitamin supplement. But I don’t. There’s no evidence that vitamin B-6 treats insomnia, or much else of whatever ails you. It isn’t well regulated, because it’s not a prescription drug — what you see on the bottle’s label may not be what you get. But probably it’s not harmful in short doses over a short period.

Nor is there any evidence that melatonin effectively treats sleep disorders. But apparently it can help reset your system to synchronize with a normal circadian rhythm — i.e., cause you to sleep between dusk and dawn, instead of waking up at 3 or 4 a.m. It also apparently helps your blood pressure.

Well. I can tell you: there’s nothing like the endless frustration of insomnia to jack up your blood pressure. So if it actually keeps you asleep until 5:00 a.m. or so, that alone would help bring the old-fart blood pressure numbers into the reasonable range.

Anyway, there’s some evidence that the stuff helps the elderly to stay asleep until dawn. So, in desperation, last night about 10 p.m. I dropped a pill containing 5 mg — two to five times the recommended dose.

And lo! This morning I slept till 5:30 or 5:45…was rolled out of the sack by the dogs right at 6:00 a.m.

Holy sh!t.

Normally by 6 o’clock, I’ve fed and walked the dogs, fixed coffee, had breakfast, read the news, answered the email, cleaned the pool, taken a swim, watered the outdoor plants, and at least started a blog post or a client’s project.

Not only that, but contrary to published warnings, I’m not at all sleepy this morning. Benadryl, the only other thing that has ever helped me to stay asleep more than four or five hours, leaves me in a haze until noon the following day. It’s really unsafe to drive in that state, and I feel awful until the damn stuff wears off.

There are different types of insomnia. Some people can’t get to sleep at bed-time. Some wake up  in the middle of the night for a short period and fall back to sleep. Some wake up two or three hours before dawn and can’t get back to sleep.

Mine falls into the last category, which would be OK if it were practical to go to bed at 8 p.m. However, a 14-hour work day tends to militate against that… Last night I sent a finished project back to a Chinese mathematician and forthwith he sent me three more papers! AUGGH!

At any rate, summer is beginning to slip away — it’s 8:30 in the morning and still livable out here on the back porch, for the first time in weeks. When winter comes in, it’ll stay dark longer, and then the dogs and I will sleep longer naturally.

But wouldn’t it be marvelous if this nostrum actually did reset your internal clock so you’d stay asleep until dawn? Have you had any experience with the stuff?