pandemic diaries: weeks 39-42

Tomorrow, the first day of a new year, rounds out week 42 since the last day the kids attended in-person school, which is how I'm keeping track of time during this pandemic. Which means they've been schooling via distance learning for exactly one school year. Wow. Thank goodness playgrounds only re-closed for a few days earlier this month. I don't even know what to write about it anymore. I refuse to normalize any of this, let me just say that (and I think that teachers should be vaccinated sooner than later IF it allows schools to reopen; otherwise, don't bother bumping them to the front of the very long line if schools won't reopen until kids are vaccinated, too, something that's not likely to happen until fall, at the earliest).

But enough about school. Let's talk about holiday shenanigans and fast-forward a bit to winter break. My DIY knock-off gingerbread train, inspired by the 2013 Harry & David holiday catalog, got some fresh traffic these past few weeks. I realized I never posted pics of my 2017 gingerbread studio (based on my 120 square foot backyard studio, of course).

This year I made a dumpster, complete with candy flames. It didn't hold up too well and did not, as I fully expected it to, go viral. Alas, it was fun to make and pleasant to consume, unlike most things in 2020.

We got our tree from the neighborhood lot and a wreath from Fairyland, which just announced it will be closed until at least the spring. Needless to say, while the tree and decorations have already been taken down, that wreath will stay on our front door until all the pine needles have fallen off.

As Oakland-proud as I may be, relocating is still a very real possibility in 2021. That said, we've been moving forward on a few projects around the house, prioritizing items that also fall in the bucket of things we feel like we'd probably need to do in order to sell our house if and when the time comes. 



On Christmas Eve Eve I was tasked with keeping the kids out of the house for about six hours while our interior doors were replaced, something I've wanted to do since before we closed on this place 10 1/2 years ago! So what did we do all day during a local stay-at-home order? Outdoor ice skating in the 'burbs!

As you all know (because you read every blog post in full, correct?) we've been "mostly vegan" since late May. Holiday treats have proven challenging for avoiding dairy, but I'm going to try to redeem myself after today (okay, maybe starting on Monday) by participating in (a probably dry) Veganuary

Not vegan :\

Most days I am truly, mostly vegan, but I continue to eat pasture-raised eggs and a wee bit of cheese in said eggs. So it shouldn't be that hard, right? The dry part is just something I've never done because I've never felt like alcohol was an issue for me, having 2-3 drinks per week total on the weekends only. Other than beer Thursdays, however, which started when I was doing my long training runs on Fridays (because, carbs...more about that in a later post), and if we felt we'd earned a margarita on Taco Tuesdays. So, yeah, you get the idea. It's easy to bend the rules and drink almost every day and I just want to see how I feel after a few weeks of no alcohol. (Speaking of running, I absolutely loved this essay by Lyz Lenz.)

Lots of kid-friendly suggestions for your viewing pleasure this month, including Hilda, which Daphne binge-watched and is now watching again. It's really cute and clever, based on the graphic novels by Luke Pearson. We also watched Soul, which was quite lovely. The middle school band from Elias's school (not including him - I believe it was all 8th graders and some alumni who are now in high school) perform in the beginning of the movie and during the virtual premiere. This particular middle school band is the main reason cited by the middle schooler for preferring to stay in Oakland versus moving elsewhere, at least through 8th grade. Mr. Pitt-Smith is a real gem of a teacher.

And this just in: my 30 year old sewing machine still works! Daphne has been nagging me to dust it off ever since she tried sewing machine sewing at summer camp a year and a half ago! The last day of 2020 seemed like a good day to finally give it a go (alas, I never did learn to bake sourdough bread).

Otherwise, I don't (yet) have any deep reflections on 2020 since time is arbitrary and let's be honest we'll still be very much in the thick of things come tomorrow morning, but I will leave you with this, some of the things we'll remember when we look back on this year. My hope for 2021 and beyond is that things like Black lives and postal workers and craft projects with kids will continue to be more important than celebrity culture.

See you in the New Year!


pandemic diaries: weeks 32-38

Breaking my record (which was previously four weeks between updates), it's now been another SIX weeks since I last updated the pandemic diaries. Since air quality has been a consistent theme over the last several updates, why not begin with weather? We're currently in the middle of yet another red flag warning, not because of excessive heat, of course, this being December and all, but because things are still very dry, which makes any kind of wind event potentially dangerous. If you don't think climate change is real, come to California.

Adding to this sense of déjà vu is the new stay-at-home order affecting much of California, including five Bay Area counties, in advance of hospital ICU capacity hitting 85% (Alameda county is currently hovering around 75%). The only change that really affects us is the re-closing of playgrounds, which I frankly think is mostly unnecessary. 

I'm personally pretty bummed about museums, too, and glad we managed to sneak in one more SFMOMA visit before they closed, again.

Halloween came and went. I dressed up as the birth of democracy (it's a TP Parthenon and I'm the golden statue of Athena, duh), accompanied by a witch and a penguin.

I jokingly threatened to leave California if Prop 15 didn't pass. Sadly, it did not pass and here we are, still living in California. That said, like a lot of folks right now, forced by the pandemic to spend every waking (and sleeping) minute in cozy houses with kids and spouses who would normally be at school and work, simultaneously pondering what roots us in a particular place, I've been perusing Redfin way more than I ought to. Leading contenders for a potential relocation include Sacramento and Portland. Or staying in Oakland, of course (ask me again if we're still here for fireworks season which is followed closely these past 3-4 years by wildfire season). On a related note, considering all the reasons why we like living in/near cities in the first place, here's an interesting convo in part with SF mayor London Breed about why cities are (still) so expensive.

I wrote a bit in my last update about how businesses in Oakland are closing one after the other, specifically video game museum The MADE. On a more positive note this time around, Oakland's donut savant, which closed its downtown location before the pandemic because of development and related demolition in the area, recently reopened. And now they're just one neighborhood away, a short 10-minute walk door to door, god help us.

I've been pretty down on distance learning since the beginning (I'm not a teacher and homeschooling my kids was never motivation for motherhood), but there was one silver lining in late October when my 2nd grader got to visit Luvin Arms animal sanctuary in Erie, Colorado, a location my 7 year old reminded me several times is 18 hours away. Pretty cool thing, I suppose, that they wouldn't have been able to do otherwise. But I still hate distance learning (this week, by the way, is week 28 if you include the 11 weeks last spring). And the conversation in Oakland, at least, is a total hot mess, with parents frustrated with the union, teachers frustrated with parents, and kids caught in the middle (and arguably the ones who will suffer most because of this from an educational and social-emotional perspective).

Oh yeah, the election happened too. Interesting to reread this, a brief blog post I wrote five days before the 2016 election. Sadly, I think we find ourselves as a country still very much in the same predicament, but I'm hopeful voting Trump out (and who knows, maybe even McConnell in the Georgia run-offs in January? can you imagine??) is the first step to making some of the many changes we so desperately need to move forward. Leading up to election night, I made a "songs for anxiety" playlist GenXer that I am. The election was finally called on Saturday, while we were driving to SoCal for a pre-Thanksgiving pandemic-friendly visit with my brother and in-laws (all masked, outside, yada yada yada). Trump still has not conceded. But that's okay; Liz Plank did it for him

And it's not just Biden and Harris I'm excited about. Biden's German Shepard Major also makes history as the first adopted rescue dog in the white house (they're also getting a cat!).

Since it was just us for Thanksgiving this year, and still mostly vegan as we are, we decided to celebrate Thanksvegan instead (we even symbolically adopted a turkey by making a donation to the National Audubon Society)! 

Moving right along to the next holiday, 'tis the season for the snack basket for delivery folks, which I remembered to put out early this year (interestingly, the item taken most often is water).

We'll get our tree and put up lights and decorations this weekend, in honor of what would be my Mom's 65th birthday on Friday.

Persimmageddon 2020 was epic. The above picture is the second batch of persimmons we put out for neighbors to enjoy (there are 7-8 persimmons in each of those bags). And there are still easily 100-200 persimmons on the tree to pick this week/weekend.

One of my New Year's resolutions that I plan to get a head start on over winter break is to spend more time on creative projects. I've spent so little time in the studio over the last couple of months. The biggest chunk of time I spent in the studio not on meetings for my day job was spent cleaning and rearranging - again - the 120 square foot space (I think the third time was the charm; pretty pleased with the current configuration). 

In the process, I finally recycled all of the postcards from the various design/print projects I tackled in grad school. It felt good to purge, but didn't open up nearly enough space (postcards are insignificant in size, after all).

But enough about me. For your viewing pleasure I recommend Sex Education. For a little ear candy, following up on this developing story, listen to They Might Be Giants 'The Statue Got Me High.' "And though I once preferred a human being's company, they pale before the monolith that towers over me."

Last but not least, this blog celebrated its 15th blogiversary in true pandemic style (I wrote about the 10th blogiversary here). Which is to say I did very little to mark the occasion other than to acknowledge it on the internet. 15 years of blogging and still no book deal. Sigh.


pandemic diaries: weeks 28-31

So, yeeeeaaaaaahhh, I'm kinda behind. To recap, as briefly as possible, here are the highlights of the past four weeks:

Air quality continued to be poor during much of the past four weeks but it's been pretty decent the past week or so, so it's like it never happened! Just like the months of insane fireworks around here. How effortlessly we forget and move on once they end. Sigh.

Neighborhood cat who usually ignores us graced us with their attention on a recent morning walk.

Love cats and art as much as I do? Watch this short film made in 1983 about the history of cats in art at the Met (I even learned something new!). "The Favorite Cat" is the cat on my address book, which I bought at the Met gift shop in 2001.

7yo mesmerized by AI.

Jenny O'Dell is working on a new book that I think will fit nicely in my Artists in Offices bibliography. I finished How To Do Nothing some time ago, but I keep thinking about it, especially when I watched The Social Dilemma recently and then saw the AI show at the recently reopened de Young Museum. More thoughts on all three to follow.

12yo made this for me for my birthday.

I have a new website! I haven't figured out what to do with it just yet, but I will. Soon! If you have ideas, leave them in the comments.

Vegan pepperoni! Vegan calamari!

Speaking of birthday, yes, I've joined the pandemic birthday club, the result of which was not too different from non-pandemic birthday celebrations. I enjoyed a couple of hours in the studio, a solo walk, and a vegan birthday spread from Butcher's Son and Love at First Bite, both in Berkeley.

It was a good mail day when this arrived. From my friend Jesse Kelsey, aka Neat Beats, who provided the intro/outro music for my podcast, his first album! So impressed (pandemic, new job, new house, two kids) and I daresay a little proud. You can listen to the album for free, here.

I feel incredibly fortunate to have landed a somewhat pandemic-proof job right before the pandemic. Even so, after a decade of trial and error (mostly error), I feel this very real possibility always lingering at the edges of my daily juggling act. I hope this conversation about the essential nature of childcare for working parents continues after the pandemic is over.

Lots of businesses in Oakland (and around the country) have closed permanently since the pandemic unfolded last spring. I was really sad to learn of the MADE's fate. Letting go of their space (where we celebrated my son's 9th birthday) is a done deal, but you can donate (here or here) to help them with storage and moving forward in a pandemic/post-pandemic world.

The children are still doing distance learning full-time, at home. It's a weird time, wrapping up week 10 of the school year, as we simultaneously settle into a somewhat sustainable routine (we could do this forever!) that is also somehow mildly torturous. And the very people who keep reminding parents that this is an unprecedented crisis situation turn around and dismiss, whether intentionally or not, how incredibly challenging this has been and continues to be for kids, parents, families, relationships, etc. I can feel deep gratitude for jobs we can do from home, space and technology for school work to happen, and our continued health while also refusing to sugar-coat how far from ideal distance learning has been and continues to be. 

On a lighter note (unless we're talking about calories, that is) the pandemic baking continues. Pictured above is vegan pumpkin pecan pie bread from Rabbit & Wolves, one of my newer go-tos for vegan recipes. 

At the Great Peter Pumpkin Patch in Petaluma earlier this week.

How are you celebrating Halloween this year? So far, we've done all the usual stuff: decorate the house and front yard, hit up a local pumpkin patch, buy costumes, throw out the old candy to make room for the new, etc. After trying all week, I finally snagged tickets for Boo at the Zoo for Halloween day. But no trick or treating for us this year (I'm thinking of doing something a little like an Easter egg hunt). 

Finally, if you live in California, please vote yes on Proposition 15. It's a flimsy bandaid for the gaping wound created by Prop 13 over 40 years ago. Our public education system needs all the support it can get as we collectively recover from the mess we find ourselves in.

Otherwise, we're binge-watching Killing Eve season 3 and I'm loving how over the top this season is. Highly recommended for your viewing pleasure.


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.