pandemic diaries: week 27

Last week, week 27 of the pandemic diaries, also marked the one-year anniversary at my current day job. 

I don't write much about what I do for money, not because I don't like my job, but because what I do on a day-to-day basis is just not that sexy. I coordinate* training services for a company that makes 3D gaming software (to be clear, the 3D gaming part is super sexy...coordinating stuff, less so). Totally not my field of interest or study, but I love it. I've written only once about the transition from unemployed-by-choice to working again on this blog, here. In that post, I write about how working for a company that makes software for people and companies to then make games (and use in other industries as well, including film/animation, architecture, construction, automotive, etc.) reminds me of something one of my very favorite artists - Theaster Gates - is famous for saying about some of his own projects, which often aim to "make the thing that makes the thing." I've always really loved that - to do something creative that then empowers other creators - and that's the vibe I get from where I work. 

Pragmatically speaking, I also enjoy a certain level of job satisfaction I haven't experienced elsewhere because the work is not quite full-time, giving me a little bit of time to do other things during the week (right now, during a global pandemic, that time goes to facilitating distance learning and getting my two kids out of the house a couple of times a day), my schedule is totally flexible, I'm always remote (WFH works for me, mostly because of the kids, before and during our current situation), and it pays better than most full-time art jobs so I can work less (currently I work about 25-30 hours per week). It's not my dream job, but that's okay because the elusive "dream job" is a concept I've learned to let go (letting go is a work in progress; I realize that so much of my creative energy is motivated by this fear, the "fear of being unknown and unloved"). Anyway, it's easily one of my favorite day jobs yet, and I've had a few to compare to

I had to make this meme my own (you've probably seen the "vote" version of this).

Otherwise, I'd say the highlight of last week was the dramatic improvement in air quality by about mid-week. It continues to dip into the moderate range here and there but most days are "good," at least from an air quality perspective. We took full advantage, resuming our morning and evening neighborhood walks, and going on some of our favorite hikes. It's done my mood a world of good.

As things continue to be canceled and reimagined given our current circumstances with no end in sight, I found it amusing to learn that some well-known craft fairs are going virtual this year. As a former full-time Etsy seller (speaking of work), an online shop and craft fair presence seem like two sides of a shiny coin to me, so it's weird in a way I'm having a hard time articulating to see folks trying to figure out how to do both, virtually, but still unique from one another. Craft fairs never appealed to me much, having only participated in two, and barely breaking even at either (I wrote about those experiences here and here).

Finally, RIP Ruth Bader Ginsburg. This is the third post in a row that I've ended this way and I for one am getting really tired of it. When I was looking over some past blog posts to start writing this one (I included it when I announced I was quitting my last day job), I was reminded of this Atlantic piece about "the perspective that comes with motherhood." In the context of our highly charged political climate right now, though, I'd have to say this is one of my very favorite quotes of her's, truly something to aspire to right now.

*On the topic of job titles...interestingly, I remember at my old job being encouraged to avoid this word like the plague when describing what I did or when rewriting a job description during the hiring process. But I'm not sure how else I would describe what I do. I coordinate stuff. There's no way to make that sound any sexier than it is (though I'm really quite good at it, if I do say so myself).


pandemic diaries: weeks 25 & 26

Yes, I realize we're almost halfway into week 27. The bad air quality that was just starting to improve when I wrote my last update got a lot worse with more wildfires up and down the entire west coast. 

This picture does not do justice to the ORANGE skies we experienced last week, my iPhone trying awfully hard to auto-balance the apocalypse.

On September 6th, virtually all of California was under an excessive heat warning or heat advisory. We've had a solid month of Spare the Air days here in the Bay Area. It's a sobering realization that even if we weren't in the middle of a global pandemic, the kids would most likely still be out of school due to the smoke and lingering air quality issues. How depressing is that thought? I wonder how California artists, famously inspired by the muse that is the California light, will depict this moment for future generations. How long will this "moment" last?

Color of the year? Some other art world comparisons in this thread.

Today, however, we've experienced some relief, the first day in almost a week that the Air Quality Index (AQI) has dipped back down into the yellow/moderate range. With the AQI being so unhealthy we've been trying to stay mostly indoors and it's been tough. Still very grateful for our health, jobs we can do from home, and the ability to facilitate distance learning, but this has easily been the most challenging stretch of the six-month pandemic so far. 

Last night we found a hummingbird's nest in one of our backyard trees. Hope, via nature.

But things are looking up. For now at least. So how did the past couple of weeks go otherwise? Let's start with a distance learning update. The middle schooler's mini-mester is going well, with Friday this week already the end of the first marking period. His grades are good and he seems to be fairly engaged with his classes, only two of which give consistent "homework" which is, frankly, pretty nice. By about 2-3 p.m. I really don't want to have to deal with schoolwork of any kind. The 2nd grader, meanwhile, is in week 2 of her revised schedule and loving the extra time with her teacher and the return of the weekly "specials" (art, music, garden, PE). The workload is very manageable, she's making progress in the basics (reading, writing, math), and there hasn't been too much complaining about it all. I still look forward to the day when they can return to their school buildings, but it feels like we've settled into a sustainable routine and I'll roll with this rhythm as long as it lasts.

I wrote a little bit in my last update about parent artists. Along some of those same lines, Vulture/NY Magazine reporter Alex Jung wrote a profile of Miranda July in advance of the release of her latest film Kajillionaire. July is an artist I really, truly, unapologetically admire, ever since Learning to Love You More, a collaborative project with her ex, Harrell Fletcher. Jung and July are clearly fond of one another so perhaps that helps explain why all the Miranda July haters were out in full force after the profile was published. I won't go into details because frankly it's not worth your time, but there is some really odd criticism floating around out there that says a lot more about the critics than it does about her or her work. As we like to say in art crits, I think they might be projecting. But perhaps that can be said of all haters? All that negativity aside, my favorite part of the profile was learning that July has kept her 2-bedroom rental even though she and spouse Mike Mills have a different home together with their child. She escapes to that rental one day/night a week and that's when she gets most of her creative work done. Can you imagine? A room house of one's own! Even if for just one day a week!! And before you poo-poo the extravagant expense of renting a second home, most artists spend a decent chunk of change each month on a studio. With rent control figured in, I can't imagine her rent is much more than a large, well-appointed art studio.

Speaking of haters, see also some of the online response to the new Dune trailer. I haven't read the book - yet - but I, for one, am looking forward to this film adaptation.

Speaking of studios, what have I been up to in mine (other than work, that is)? I continue to make good progress on the "100 Days in the Dollhouse" project, and little progress on the screenplay. 

Speaking of "projecting."

It's just so hard to write right now. So much easier to just make shit. 

I'm also giving away - for FREE - the craft kits I put together around the holiday season of 2018 to sell in my now-defunct Etsy shop. 

So far I've sent out about half of what I had left. If you'd like a kit, or two, or six (if you want more than 6, reach out directly), fill out this form. I promise not to use your info for absolutely anything else, unless you want to receive a possible, future newsletter, in which case you can provide an email address. Totally optional.

Oh yes I did.

Hair salons reopened, but playgrounds are still closed. Also reopening later this month is the de Young museum in San Francisco! I can't wait to go.

Killer BLAT from The Buther's Son in Berkeley. ZOMG.

Vegan bacon. What more do you need to make the transition? Personally, although I'm still eating eggs, I'm trying to be more consistent about avoiding dairy. It's hard. Cheese is so damn delicious.

In movie night news, I finally finished reading The Secret Garden to the 7yo (mostly; the 12yo would also occasionally listen in). The plan was to watch the most recent film adaptation but after reading reviews and watching the trailer again, we went with the 1993 version instead. I want to see the 2020 version (and maybe the 1987 version again, too, which also features Colin Firth, the father in the newest movie, in a very small role at the end....but wait, there's more! You can watch the 1949 version for $3 on Amazon Prime but the 1919 silent film adaptation is sadly "lost"). We're reading Alice in Wonderland now.

Finally, another post that ends with the yet another cultural loss. RIP David Graeber. Not sure I ever wrote about it here, but his ideas about "bullshit jobs" really resonated when I heard him on the Hidden Brain podcast, about a year after I quit my last job. 2020 is simply relentless.


pandemic diaries: week 24

Air quality last week improved here and there (although there were still a couple of days we were stuck inside) so that was nice. 

Palos Colorados Trail hike on a moderate AQI kind of day.

As I mentioned in my last update, I realized with the bad air quality that the thing getting me through many (most?) days over the past six months is the ability to go outside for a walk, hike, or run. Whether solely because of that or not, the last couple of weeks have been incredibly challenging on many levels. 

7yo is suddenly obsessed with basketball. Unfortunately, we've noticed a ghost town like trend of first the nets and then the entire baskets being removed, to dissuade groups I assume. Sigh.

In distance learning news, the 7th grader finally got his mini-mester schedule so every weekday he now has three classes, plus advisory and Jazz Lab two days a week. So far, so good. It's nice (for me) for him to have more to do. It was a tough week for the 2nd grader, who had to do an online reading assessment that took her four sessions to complete. Not fun. I'm hoping the customized program it generates will be worth the frustration. Her schedule will receive a little shake-up next week when elementary schools (or, at least, her's) transition from the district-wide "strong start" plan to more curriculum coming specifically from her teacher, the school "specials" (e.g. PE, art, music), etc. Distance learning is good in that it gives them something to do and I don't have to homeschool from scratch, but it makes for a rather choppy morning full of interruptions for me. Not exactly the best work from home environment but for now it'll have to do. For a minute there in the spring I thought I might be able to parlay my part-time contract position into regular, full-time employment but it doesn't look like that's going to happen anytime soon and honestly it's probably for the best. (For some comic relief, this is a hilarious take on academic pods.)

I discovered pokeweed growing (or being grown) in our neighbor's back yard, poking through and over the fence into our yard. Every part of the pokeweed plant is poisonous, so this discovery is very on-brand for 2020.

As soon as I went public with my intention to focus exclusively on finishing my screenplay during any free/studio time I might have moving forward (typically a couple of hours on the weekend, at best), I suddenly feel even less capable than usual of writing words (as evidenced by this long, awkward sentence), and somehow more motivated to just, y'know, make stuff. So that's what I did over the weekend. 

The project I've been working on for over a year now, collectively titled 100 Days in the Dollhouse, has started to incorporate remnants of an earlier, mostly failed project called 'Heavenly', and has also, of course, taken on new meaning during this pandemic, 100 days turning into many more.

Speaking of kids and art, this tweet about (female) artists successfully juggling their art careers with family life sent me into a bit of a spiral. In a nutshell, it feels like an oversimplified art world equivalent of the stock photo of a working mom with toddler in tow (you've no doubt seen some variation of this) and I resent it so much, especially seeing that kind of "you can have it all" mythology applied to the pursuit of a creative livelihood, which is very different (though not necessarily harder) than a more linear career path. I'm cheating a bit and skipping ahead to this week, but Buffy Wicks driving from Oakland to Sacramento with her newborn so she could vote is a perfect example of how this country penalizes working parents, in particular mothers of newborns and toddlers.

Finally, RIP Chadwick Boseman. I've seen and enjoyed immensely most of his work, most recently his role in Da 5 Bloods. This is a really lovely art tribute by Senegalese artist Bou Bou Design and this is the moving written tribute from 'Black Panther' director (and Oakland native) Ryan Coogler.  

Fuck cancer. Fuck 2020.


pandemic diaries: week 23

Big news around the Bay during week 23 is that the mostly dry lightning event I mentioned in last week's update eventually resulted in several large fires by which we are now surrounded. While we're not directly affected by any evacuation warnings/orders, air quality has been moderate to downright unhealthy since about Wednesday last week, making me realize how much my morning runs, neighborhood walks, and family hikes are getting me through this pandemic. Without those (or with very brief morning and maybe evening walks, plus a little midday Just Dance) it's been a tough week, maybe the most challenging stretch for me since this all began. But I know it could be a lot worse and I think we're all just looking forward to relief, whenever it arrives. Here are a few other things that happened last week.

Sublime skies over Oakland.

If you've been homeschooling your kids for any part of the past six months, Alanis Morisette's performance of her new song 'Ablaze', with her daughter on her hip, might - okay definitely will - make you cry. "My mission is to keep the light in your eyes ablaze." Consider yourself warned (but it really is awfully sweet and a good reminder of what to prioritize right now as more and more parents return to juggling working from home with some portion of remote/online distance learning).

Speaking of school, the 7th grader continued to have just one hour of advisory per day last week, but he received his first mini-mester schedule on Friday, as anticipated, so his schedule this week has suddenly been quite a bit fuller. More about that in the next update. Not much change for the 2nd grader, either, although she did begin a Creative Spanish "after-school" class (via Zoom, of course) with one of her best buddies taking it, too, and I was pleasantly surprised by how much she enjoyed the first class last week.

This article in the SF Chronicle is one of many about how the pandemic has intensified, like so many issues, the struggle most (all?) working women face at some point between work and children. "Her husband shares the workload and was open to staying home, she added, but he earns more and his job provides the family health insurance." Same. One of these days I'm going to cobble together the many posts I've written about my own trajectory over the past 12+ years of motherhood. Over that time, I've dabbled in just about every option of motherhood plus making money (or not): not working, working full-time, working part-time, or being self-employed. In a weird way, my experiences trying to navigate some sort of peaceful coexistence between the work and family spheres (all the while sustaining some sort of creative practice) led me to my current gig, which is about as pandemic-proof as it gets. And for that I'm grateful.

In smaller victories, I was very happy to finally find some Fresca at a Target I don't normally frequent. Apparently there's an aluminum can shortage because all the usual bar-goers are buying and drinking more canned beer at home. 

Updated the numbers on our house, 10 years later.

Finally, one thing I failed to acknowledge in my week 22 update is that we celebrated our 10-year anniversary in our house on August 11th. I love our little house and all that's happened here and all we've done to the place, but like so many people right now, this pandemic has me reevaluating a lot of things, and where to call home is always top on that list. I'm envious of people who find themselves surrounded by extended family and close friends. I feel like both have always been or have become quite scattered lately, so I'm often questioning what roots us here and if we did move, where would we go? Seems like we have 3 options: we can stay in our current house in Oakland, sell and buy a different house in Oakland (1100 square feet feeling pretty cozy after 6 months of non-stop together time), or move out of the area altogether. Alas, where would we go? And is now a good time to make a big decision like that? I don't yet have answers to these questions but time will certainly tell.


pandemic diaries: week 22

We passed the 5 month mark on Thursday this week. 5 months since the last day the kids attended school in person (March 13th). Nearly 5 months since California issued a shelter-in-place order. And yet my brain is still processing this pandemic in weeks, so here goes: week 22. First, a quick report on distance learning. 

Not your typical first day of school picture.

Ugh, where to begin? The 2nd grader had a late, but pretty well fleshed out plan sent around to families by the end of the weekend. She meets with her teacher and full class via Zoom twice a day, once for morning meeting, and later in the day for a read-aloud. In between she does (most) of the 2nd grade curriculum included in the district's "strong start" plan. And it's been fine. I especially like the family reading included every day. We like her teacher, who's new to the school, but seems to be handling distance learning pretty well so far.

As for the 7th grader, while we were treated to a meet & greet with the 7th grade teaching team last Friday, which was great, he only met with his advisory teacher once each day this week. All week. The district and union finally came to an agreement around live instructional minutes for middle and high school in particular, so word on the street is he'll have his first mini-mester schedule tomorrow. The optional Jazz Lab and/or Jazz Ensemble, which is by audition, start up this week as well. Last year was rough for all of us, but band has probably been my favorite thing about his middle school, so I, for one, am excited he has that to look forward to each week beginning this week (even though he won't have actual band class until the next mini-mester).

Lunch al fresco, together - definitely a perk of our situation.

As a family unit, we're managing OK. We started going on a short morning walk between 8:30-9 (ish) and that has been working really well. We just do one lap around the neighborhood school, but it gets us all dressed and ready for the day, with a short blast of fresh air and exercise before we deal with anything else. 

As seen on one of our afternoon walks.

I'm also getting the kids out for an hour or so before they're allowed free/screen time each afternoon, which continues to be the time when I get most of my focused work done. Virtual gymnastics and karate continue twice a week, and we bookend our days with another short neighborhood walk after dinner. We watch a show together (still making our way through the many seasons of The Wonder Years - speaking of which, did you catch this news?) on Friday nights and do family movie night every Saturday night. Weekends are still a little too full with all the things I used to do solo during the week, given my part-time/flexible work schedule, things like grocery shopping, errands, and cleaning the house. I love that we clean the house together (chores!), but I wish we could squeeze more of those things in during the week so we could have a more relaxing weekend. Pandemic goals!

In the meantime, we did manage a pretty sweet outing yesterday, to pick strawberries at Blue House Farm in Pescadero (510 Families providing yet another hot tip). Given the heat wave we're currently experiencing in Northern California, including the freaky, mostly dry lightning event last night into this morning, we were competing with lots of folks making their escape to the beach. But the long drive there was worth it and the drive home was relatively short. Strawberry pie, which I managed to tweak to make fully vegan, is currently chilling in the fridge, but you'll have to follow me on Instagram to see a pic of the pie later tonight.

In random, listed-in-no-particular-order other news, this is a great article about what seems to me to be an overdue reckoning, of sorts, within the food/foodie/culinary industry with respect to its continued use of animal products, under the guise of "real" and/or "whole" foods. In full disclosure, I'd still describe our eating habits as mostly vegan, because we are still eating (pasture raised) eggs, occasionally fish, and some cheese, but even more sparingly. That said, I've had many, many days since late May where my diet was 100% vegan. We eat no butter, drink no cow's milk, and consume significantly less cheese than before. We've definitely made significant progress toward this somewhat gradual transition. But considering I wasn't even sure I could swing vegetarianism, and this "mostly vegan" week was a temporary boost for my diet and weight loss, which had plateaued in the first couple of months of the pandemic, I'd say we're doing pretty well.

This article about how the last remaining Blockbuster is offering up the entire store for rent for three nights to three different renters via Airbnb made me wistful for my short time living in Bend in 1996-97 and our near-annual trips there since, and sad we won't make it there this summer. Here's a picture we took of the last Blockbuster store when we visited last summer.

I've started reading The Secret Garden to Daphne before we watch the most recent film adaptation (I'm also frugal and refuse to pay $20 to "rent" a movie...at least, I try to hold off as long as possible). I loved the book as a child, but there have been entire passages I've had to skip over. I assume (hope) this has been corrected in the film version?

If you're looking for something funny to read about or in advance of a vasectomy, Rob Delaney has got you covered. I personally don't understand why any couple would consider any other form of "permanent" birth control, but that's between you and your partner, I guess.

I did some extra design work a few months ago, outside of my regular day job, and finally got paid for it. Naturally, I spent a fair chunk of it on a new cat tree for my two cats. In considering all the options, and seriously contemplating this idea for our existing tree, I wondered, publicly, why scratching posts aren't upholstered like the couch or sofa all my cats ever have always preferred to scratch. Naturally, that led to pondering the history of this building in Oakland, which I learned was indeed an upholstery business - Most's Upholstery - from 1949 until at least 1969. Read more about the Oakland Mosts here.

I want a studio this size with bulletin boards like this all the way around.

We wrapped up Fargo this week (ready for season 4 in a few weeks!) so we gave in and finally purchased the final season of The Good Place. We held out for a long time, but as Austin Kleon writes here, I consider this purchase a little present we gave ourselves. After many nights staying up a little too late watching a high-anxiety show like Fargo, I needed something a little lighter and, most importantly, shorter. This work from home/distance learning juggling act is so incredibly physically exhausting, I need all the sleep I can get.

Finally, have you ordered your Ruth Asawa stamps yet? It's truly the patriotic thing to do. Sigh.


pandemic diaries: weeks 20-21

School (100% remote) started yesterday, but more about that in next week's update.

The face I give my kids when they say they're done with their distance learning.

The Oakland Zoo reopened a couple of weeks ago. Very exciting, especially considering they were facing possible permanent closure if not allowed to reopen. We reserved a spot on the last Friday of July and it was so great to be back and have something old/new to do (and yes, we felt safe, etc.).

As we did the first week of summer break, we escaped the city during the final week of summer break for a pandemic-friendly vacation cabin camping in the Sierra foothills, on what used to be a golf course

We were pretty close to Yosemite, but opted to stay closer to the property instead, hiking nearby, biking the 6 miles of paved trails around the old golf course, and swimming in the pool, which we had almost entirely to ourselves during the three days we were there. 

S'mores cookies are, sadly, not vegan :\

We played cards, board games, and I finished two books, a bit of a record for me (more thoughts on Jenny O'dell's How To Do Nothing later). My tips for travel right now? Avoid weekends if you can, bring plenty of masks, pack in most, if not all the food you need, and pick a place with a private bathroom. We considered tent camping, but the thought of sharing bathroom facilities right now is even less appealing than usual.

We continue our daily (masked) outings/hikes, including shorter morning and evening walks now that school has started. We just do one lap around the neighborhood school in the morning, not because we want to feel like we're "going to school" so much as I hope a brief blast of fresh air and exercise will make for a good start to the day. 

Inspired by this article and my feeling that galleries and storefronts would be wise to make better use of window displays right now, for one of our midday outings this past weekend, we finally checked out The Roll Up Project in Oakland's Jack London Square (in the window is the work of Maria A. Guzmán Capron).

We watched the HBO documentary about Stockton Mayor Michael Tubbs and what he's done for the city over the past few years. Highly recommended (watch it here for free). We also watched The Old Guard and Doctor Sleep, both of which were...weird, and kind of felt like they should be TV shows instead. But not in a bad way. Speaking of movies that seem like TV shows, we've been making our way through Fargo, which has also been great for my heightened anxiety, as you can imagine.

In the mostly vegan cooking category this update - turns out these are fully vegan - we have lasagna...

...and cheesecake

Look, neither was quite as decadent and delicious as the real thing, but as is my motto lately, it's just food. And it's pretty tasty.


pandemic diaries: week 19

...and a half? 

Pandemic time has me thinking about Beanbag Frog in 'The World Champion of Staying Awake'

I'm a little late to post an update from last week and there's no zine for this week of #momcamp. I made a plan, I just never got around to putting it into zine format this past weekend, which was busier than usual between painting a wall in the 7 year old's room...

...and helping out with another kitten adoption event at the shelter. Since week 20 is already 2/5 over, I put the various daily suggestions for the week in a treasure map format (with links!). 

Lots of food holidays this week so maybe this will give you some ideas for what to make (or order) for dinner (or takeout). Otherwise, here's what happened last week...

You can now download high-res prints of Audubon's Birds of America for free! I've downloaded five so far. Sadly, my local framing shop is still closed but I'll have a couple of these matted and framed eventually. 

Our elementary school held a virtual town hall last week and there is already much talk of pandemic pods. I'm not sure how I feel about any of it just yet, but I do sense my multi-faceted anxiety increasing as the first day of school (August 10) approaches. 

I did a fair amount of (vegan) pandemic baking last week, including these chocolate cupcakes from this cookbook. With the leftover aquafaba from a can of chickpeas (the chickpeas I later turned into hummus) I experimented with vegan meringues. 

Not sure they're worth the effort (even after 20 minutes of whipping they never really made "stiff peaks") but making something from a byproduct you'd otherwise discard is pretty cool. 

Finally, this past weekend, we whipped together our entry for Trader Joe's ice cream sandwich contest (see more images and read all about it here). They announce the winners early next week - wish me luck! I seem to be in the contest and giveaways stage of this pandemic.

Now to burn off all those calories. Here are a few masked, outdoor activities we enjoyed, playing hooky from work for an hour or two after lunch most days. First, quite possibly my first time at Indian Rock Park in Berkeley (although I'm not sure how that's possible).

A hot hike to Little Yosemite in Sunol.

And a weekend afternoon stroll in nearby Sausal Creek...Back to week 20!