Life: Printmaking (socially distanced, as always)

Making textures

Unofficial test prints. The first and third images are the same print in slightly different lighting. These will likely each wind up as the first layer to a two or three layer print, and so may never be seen in this form again.

I wasn’t as artistically productive as I wanted to be in 2020. While the pandemic kept me working from home for 10+ months, my job expanded to fill the time I’d reclaimed from my evening commute, and colleagues would ask for assistance regularly on nights and weekends. While there is plenty of work (my department has been notoriously understaffed), I suspect my colleagues also preferred to work constantly rather than read the same kind of pandemic news I’m reading too much of. Perhaps work was a shield against 2020’s damning news cycle.

“Doomscrolling” was my preferred method of coping – I like to keep informed AND look for patterns and solutions that may be useful – and my eyes tired from taking a break from one screen just to stare at another.

Also, angst about the election kept me from making the happy art I like to make. I can manage to find things I want to photography in just about any mood, but painting and printing require a lot more of my attitude and something closer to bravery, and I just haven’t had as much of that as I would like.

So: it’s nice to have made some acrylic monotype prints today, to have tried a new paper for this purpose, to have obtained interesting results, and to have learned something I can apply in the future. It brought me joy. We can all use more joy.

Life: Windy and wavy at the beach

I went outside yesterday, and I’m glad I did. It wasn’t warm, but it was good to exercise.

San Francisco’s Ocean Beach is a wonderful place, even on windy days. It was easy to remain masked and physically distant from others.

There are high surf warnings on through Sunday: always remember not to turn your back on the ocean.

Life: Homebound Pandemic Holiday Break

I enjoy the solstice season and taking a little time off at the end of the year! Every plan I would ordinarily make with friends and family this week is unsafe and/or not possible, and so I’m ‘making do.’ Rather than hosting feasts, treating myself to spa- or museum- days, or dining with friends in a favorite vegan restaurant, I am: contemplating fiction (after a non-fiction-dominated year); reading an amazing Alice Munro short story collection (which I love from the first page); talking rare walks that are long enough to make me ache; experimenting with another spicy peanut sauce recipe; adjusting my news consumption; re-evaluating my exercise habits; enjoying a lovely channa/palak/fresh tomato dish with fire in it; adjusting my hair color intensity; waiting for my first sweet potato pie to cool off; prioritizing my creative projects; rationalizing my sudden obsession Rumiko Takahashi’s story, InuYasha; meditating slightly more often; and wishing that so many things were different.

The weight of the year is catching up with me, and while I’ve ‘talked a good game’ to encourage others, I’m really FEELING it now.

~~~

I have a heavy-texting friend who hasn’t replied to texts all week. I’m certain it means she has boarded a plane and is socializing in some COVID-hotspot OTHER THAN the one she lives in. I’m not going to ask about it. Or comment if she tells me.

My list of first and second-degree acquaintances with COVID has been growing slowly, but not slowly enough!

There are four people I know personally who have had it. (1 in the US, 3 in Sweden), and eight second-degree “friends-of-friends” (6 US, 2 Netherlands), but from the third-degree outward the numbers get crazy.

For example: one of the second-degree contacts took on a mask-free pandemic remodeling project at her house, and after interacting in close quarters indoors repeatedly, many of those who worked on it got COVID – the architect, the general contractor, some of his team, and several of the subcontractors, in addition to my second-degree relation. And I don’t know how many people THEY infected subsequently. I don’t even want to think about it.

~~~

I was chatting yesterday with a friend who recovered from COVID, and we agreed that it’s difficult to be comfortable outside of home with the current conditions. We can’t trust others to keep us safe: some people we know take risks we find absurd, and the news has already shown us that some people with COVID symptoms and even positive tests lie about their condition in order to travel, exposing others. I’m trying to warm up to the idea of being indoors with other masked people, behaving semi-normally, but that isn’t an option on offer now, and will still require trust. (I wasn’t ready for the unmasked outdoor dining across households, and seeing that in action didn’t help! They were SO CLOSE! Yikes!)

If we were living in a more developed country, where both small businesses and individuals were being subsidized during this crisis, it wouldn’t be so painful, as we’d know that we were all moving toward the same goals with basic security in place. If only.

~~~

I’m wishing you safety and health as we wind up this difficult year. As I work up the energy, I’ll wish you (and all other living beings) even more good things!

Life: Actively trying to be inactive

My mother apologized a few years back for keeping me so BUSY in childhood. Her mother did it to her, and while her family was Catholic, it still felt like a “Protestant Work Ethic” problem: busy people of all ages with no time to think will be docile and have no time to sin! Business = godliness!

Being “busy” to the point of not really having a life is a difficult habit to break, and so there are self-help articles about how other cultures do it. Wrapping the idea of rest or passivity in labels and costumes from another culture feels hip and exotic.

My favorite versions of these are my various Zen Buddhist books, which encourage us to sit, breathe, and observe our thoughts. (I have a list of friends who confide that they MUST NOT, under any circumstances, be alone with their thoughts, and I honestly worry for them.)

The Dutch are hip and have a word/concept for what we in California might call “chilling,” about being in and aware of your surroundings without multitasking, which is a nice reminder that such things are possible.

Perspective | The Dutch have a name for doing nothing. It’s called niksen, and we need more of it.

Last year, I quit a terrible job in corporate middle management. I was stressed all the time, traveling once or twice a month, occasionally internationally, and work followed me everywhere: from the first email in the morning, sometimes as early as 5 a.m., until the last texts late into the evening.

~~~

My holiday time off – several consecutive days in a row! – is jarring, since I’ve been doing metaphorical firefighting for so long that moments of calm almost make me uncomfortable.

As a creative person, I need this time to unwind and think my own thoughts, yet can still feel like I need to be “busy” with work that OTHERS deem “productive,” and that will never get me anywhere I want to go.

It’s nice to be reminded that I can (with effort and practice) relax and appreciate being alive without judging myself harshly for doing so.

Life: Mysterious Notes

What the hell.

I was going to write about how I have no idea why I would have such a note in my files, because it raises SO MANY QUESTIONS.

A few hours after finding this ambiguous note, I recalled that this is work-related. Which somehow makes it worse?

During a Kaizen exercise at work, a colleague told me of their desperate quest to get information from people who inexplicably withheld it from them , and this phrase came up. I do Shingo-style Kaizens, so this sticky note was a step in the process I documented. It was honest enough that it belonged in the diagram: it was more clear than a euphemism would have been.

(The honesty didn’t get the problem solved.)

Culture: Very French descriptions of colors

I write with fountain pens and colorful inks, and often check to see if there are new colors I could be enjoying. A favorite French brand, Herbin, as both lovely colors AND notable descriptions of those colors on their website.

Herbin Calligraphy Supplies | Fine Writing Ink, Calligraphy Pens, and Sealing Wax | Pen Ink Cartridges, Reed and Bamboo Pens

Vert empire : cette couleur évoque le sacre de Napoléon Bonaparte le 2 décembre 1804 en la cathédrale Notre-Dame à Paris. Napoléon Bonaparte pris lui-même la couronne impériale (couronne de lauriers) des mains du Pape Pie VII pour se la poser sur la tête. Il couronna ensuite son épouse Joséphine qui devint ainsi impératrice.

What do I mean? There is a lovely brown called “Terre de feu.” It evokes certain volcanic islands south of Chile. And the English translation of the description says, “This brown ink has a red tone a reminder of the burnt lands and vast deserts where nothing ever grows.”

NOTHING EVER GROWS THERE. BUY THIS INK!!

I can’t resist that.

Or a dusty rose. “Bouquet d’antan (Bouquet of yesterday pink): It represents a bouquet that can be found at an elderly’s house.” It’s a lovely color (I will buy a bottle!), but it also sounds like someone is rebuking their grandmother for nostalgia, doesn’t it? Yes, it does, as the description continues: “The color is the symbol of nostalgia of the time that has gone by.” GET OVER IT, GRANDMÈRE!

I didn’t know there was a color for “grievance,” but there is, and who doesn’t want to emphasize their grievances with an appropriate color?? Grievance is a delicious shade of violet. Of course it is.

It’s as if I’ve discovered a new view of the world, and can now wander about, attributing attitude to all of the colors in my home. Me tomorrow morning: “This antique gold with a hint of green evokes a bitter, fading houseplant which rejects the window you have chosen in your new apartment. It will NOT forgive you. This flat was a mistake. Available in 25 ml or 10 ml travel size.”

Two fountain pen inks I take the greatest pleasure in writing with are from Herbin. They flow well, are well saturated with color, never feather on my preferred papers, flow smoothly, and don’t clog my pens.

Your letters or journals will obviously look more clever in these colors. Your pen pals will sigh. You can sigh directly at https://www.jherbin.com/fountain_pen_inks.html

The colors I use regularly and love from Herbin: Poussiére de Lune (moondust, a rich violet); Vert Empire (a faded, velvety green); Rouge Grenat (a deep, pomegranate red); Corail des Tropiques (coral orange-pink, closer to Rouille D’Ancre than the color chart suggests; pleasantly legible, and as cheerful as a Caribbean beach vacation — now I’m really thinking this way); Emeraude de Chivor (turquoise-to-teal with bright red and metallic gold particles, which are only visible on less absorbent papers); and a new, tiny bottle of Bleu Myosotis (go read the description for that one!).

I also have a bottle of Herbin’s white calligraphy ink, which I use in a special pen on black paper, because: me. It offers good contrast, and handles well.

I’ve seen all the other fountain pen fanatic blogs, and I know I’m supposed to create a brilliant work of art with a watercolor brush AND write at least two major journal spreads in each of the colors I chose, plus provide a written specification of every tool in the room while I created it, describe what I had for lunch, and a provide an original recipe for that. Also, I must ensure that each color has its own separate blog entry. However, this just isn’t the day/week for that.

I understand the convention, so as a gesture of goodwill toward my fellow fanatics, I’ll share my own spontaneous, inept tribute to Emeraude de Chivor, because I can:


Example of me spontaneously going overboard in trying to pool Herbin’s Emeraude de Chivor drawn on Tomoe River cream-colored paper, in various bright or direct sunlight conditions.  I went extra heavy with an oversized calligraphy pen to  load up the paper so you can see the red and gold particles. 

If/when I dedicate a post to this ink the way I use it most, I’ll use a fountain pen with a fat nib so you can see each inky letter outlined in the red and gold particles when dry. It’s quite an effect – all correspondence I’ve written with it generated questions about how I did this magic.

~~~

Related to the idea of fun with how colors are labeled, but not entirely on topic: AI generated names for paint colors from Janelle Shane:

New paint colors invented by neural network

So if you’ve ever picked out paint, you know that every infinitesimally different shade of blue, beige, and gray has its own descriptive, attractive name. Tuscan sunrise, blushing pear, Tradewind, etc… There are in fact people who invent these names for a living.

Life: NOT Talking About COVID-19, and other topics

Some of my friends in other countries talk about things other than the COVID-19 pandemic, and that’s a bit disorienting. I realize that their regions are only applying quarantine-type precautions NOW, and so their experience of 2020 was different, and still is different.

I’m sincerely happy for them, that life has proceeded almost normally for them. (It bothers me, to the extent that “normal life” got people killed, but these attitudes are so regionalized that it’s hard to even know what information they have.) I can remember what that WAS like, in the Before Times, and I can ask them questions about it, and cheer them on.

I can’t reciprocate conversationally with news of my own, because it’s like I’m reporting from a well-appointed cave. Yes, I’m still in the cave! It’s still very cave-like! My food delivery to the cave was botched today! Cave living involves too much planning! Blah blah blah, cave cave cave! (Yes, I’m TOTALLY pretending I wasn’t this boring before the pandemic! 😀 I mean, I work in law (on the systems, processes, people management, and project management sides), so draw your own conclusions there.)

Nothing is “normal.” Nothing has been normal for a while. There is almost nothing in my life that hasn’t been affected in some way by the pandemic. What I eat, what I wear, how I spend my free time, how I exercise, who I interact with, how I spend money, how I look, how healthy I am, when I can see my doctors, what I read, how I sleep, what I daydream about, what news I seek out, which charities I support, how often I see my own parents, how often my parents see each other…

~ on coping and consolation activities while sheltering in place ~

I’m a largely self-entertaining person, and I’m “holding up” well. I’m reading great books; I’m writing to great friends; I’m having audio and video calls with family and other dear people; I’ve been out on masked outdoor walks with my gal pod; I’m fearlessly experimenting with recipe modifications; I’m studying Spanish; I’m watching sci-fi films and even some television… but it’s all “making do.” It’s all a series of compromises. It sounds nice because of how I am describing it, but it’s not what I want – I want to VISIT my family, I want to TRAVEL to and with far away friends, I want to DINE OUT with my local social groups, I want to COOK for my pals, I want to see movies on HUGE SCREENS in proper theaters while eating overpriced popcorn after a day of chatting IN CAFES, buying books IN BOOKSTORES, viewing art up close IN MUSEUMS, and chattering away with pals in LIVELY NEIGHBORHOODS with cheerful ‘street life’ all around.

I know there are better versions of the activities I’m doing now. I remember them. I want them back, but won’t resume ANY of them until it truly appears to be safe to do so. (And I won’t be an early adapter to return.)

So I’m glad I’m doing so much with my small amounts of non-working time, but I am not satisfied.

~ on fictionalizing not discussing disasters ~

Although NaNoWriMo is over for 2020, I’m considering writing a science fiction novella about life during a vivid, gaudy space invasion, while people are trying to pretend that it isn’t happening. There are aliens marching down the street; there is a vast spaceship hovering over the grocery store; the skies light up with strange lights every evening… Yet people are looking down at their cars and making small talk about a new Marvel movie, a new bakery that they haven’t tried yet, or the school they hope their child will apply for in three years. My character is standing there, agreeing, brushing small drones out of her hair when they get tangled. She’s thinking: “Damned drones: I’ll need to get a repellant,” but won’t say that aloud, because that would be rude. Acknowledging the drones would be talking about the invasion. She can’t talk about the invasion. No one talks about the invasion. Except children, who have no manners and need to be shushed.

~ on metaphors for losing touch with prior ways of living ~

I have more empathy for people working in space, and especially for the people who will go on long interplanetary missions in the near-ish future. Their loved ones at home will send them emotional video messages about broadcasted sporting events, new television shows they are engrossed in, and how they had trouble parking; their children will show them their algebra homework and complain about their soccer coach; and the astronauts will smile, nod, and not entirely be able to relate in that moment because of the distance between the life they used to live, and the life they are living now. “It’s really great to hear from you! How are things here? Well, I eat lunch that I can squeeze out of plastic bags, if anything goes wrong we will decompress and die, if my mission goes well I will never see the earth in person again, I’m working on some science projects that should earn me several more Ph.D.s, and the results may allow us to survive in a space colony. Yes, sure, tell me more about parking problems you had near your favorite restaurant!”

I’m hoping there are space therapists. Lots of space therapists. And that they have a really nice mission patch.

Life: Food supplies during the Pandemic

Clockwise from upper left: red lentil flour penne with eggplant sauce; edemame linguini with green olive & walnut pesto; moong dal; green lentil flour elbow noodles with black olive pesto & fresh tomatoes; steamed golden beets; salad of cucumber, avocado, and tomato.

One of the seemingly-minor-but-requires-too-much-logistical-planning adjustments in my cautiously restricted, sheltering-in-place-from-COVID19 daily life is managing food. How to get it safely; who/where to get it from; whether any one supplier meets my needs; whether suppliers or delivery services are socially benevolent or exploitative toward their workers; when to get deliveries, and how often; how much to pay for them…

I’m a “foodie,” and food is a daily joy. Food plays a central role in my health, and enjoying food is central to my positive outlook and self-care. My food choices align with my Buddhist philosophical beliefs, my environmental concerns, and unexpected medical restrictions. (A gastroenterologist (!) helped me learn that wheat and other high fructan foods don’t work for me now.) As a native San Franciscan, I’ve enjoyed the City’s amazing restaurant and cafe culture, which has emphasized fresh, California-grown produce being cooked by chefs/cooks from cultures around the world. As a cooking enthusiast and the primary cook in my household/relationships, I’ve developed a range of expertise, favorite dishes, recipes, and even used to food blog about seasonal local produce, farmer’s markets, AND the pleasures of eating.

In normal times, I would buy groceries in person twice a week on foot, plus pick up specialty items around town while out and about. I would make special trips monthly-ish to a glorious, worker-owned, fully vegetarian cooperative supermarket (yes, of course it’s Rainbow Grocery) to obtain specialty items I couldn’t find easily elsewhere – vegetarian (gelatin-free) vitamins, vegan cosmetics, hippie soaps, spicy veggie spreads from Calabria, local pomegranate juice, Ethiopian specialties, local gluten free sourdough breads, dry-farmed tomatoes, and organic ANYTHING. Farmer’s markets are a special pleasure, and local produce is always abundant (hello, California!). I would dine out with friends in restaurants and cafes at least twice weekly. If I ran out of anything that wasn’t on my usual shopping list, I would normally pop into a store on the walk home for it.

But we are not living in normal times.

The current pandemic impacte my food access and habits. Even someone as lucky as I am – I can work from home and remain employed – must make an extra effort to get food that meets my needs.

If you had told me that a pandemic would cause the U.S. to suffer from a shortage of TOFU (no, really, TOFU), a core protein source in my diet, I would not have believed you. And yet:

Tofu sales skyrocket during the pandemic, as consumers search for affordable meat alternatives

Since U.S. coronavirus shutdowns began in mid-March, tofu shortages have been reported from Seattle to Washington, D.C., with manufacturers struggling to keep up with demand even as grocery stores rationed sales to customers. Nielsen data shows tofu sales 40 percent higher in the first half of 2020 as compared to last year, while Pulmuone Brands — owner of Nasoya, the nation’s No. 1 tofu brand — was forced to ship an additional 1 million packs from South Korea, the world’s biggest consumer of tofu, to the United States this summer while their American plants caught up with demand.

The panic-buying that emptied shelves early on in the COVID-19 pandemic first wave shocked me. The first wave of hoarders-to-be skipped over my staples: they emptied the shelves of wheat pasta, but skipped the gluten-free pastas that first time; they bought all the eggs, but bypassed the vegan scramble I purchase… Eventually, they returned and cleared out my dried and shelf-stable staples for a time.

In spring and early summer I had to radically change my meal plans, because I couldn’t get my usual ingredients. I could always get fresh produce at my nearest market, thankfully, but that still required standing in line to get into the store and the complex personal-spacing dance that never entirely works, because anywhere you stand is close to something someone else needs.

SF streetcar service is SUSPENDED, including the line which would (without transferring) take me a short walk from Rainbow. My rare trips to a Japanese specialty grocery in Japantown are obviously ruled out, even if the reduced core bus service (which we are discouraged from using) could get me there. Car-free living has been so easy, until this!

Left: assembly of a flavorful, vegan lasagne that uses zucchini ribbons (sliced with a hand-held vegetable peeler) in place of pasta; right: Justegg scramble (microwaved) with chipotle-habañero sauce and a side of potatoes and bell peppers (microwave-steamed) with a touch of olive oil infused with roasted garlic.

Due to exploitative restaurant delivery platform pricing, several restaurants I support changed to more sensible platforms which imposed smaller delivery areas, ruling out delivery to my home. (I don’t drive, so I can’t just switch to picking orders up.)

Fast forward to now, many months into the pandemic and related precautions. I’m working very long hours at my job. All while the food supply chain struggles to keep up with irregular demand; it takes longer to grocery shop in person; my options are limited by transit suspensions; and restaurant delivery is restricted.

I expect that each of these challenges will remain in place through most of 2021. (It will take a long time for the first approved COVID vaccines to roll out, and even then, we’ll be operating under precautions indefinitely.)

I’ve made some (likely) permanent changes to my food supply management. After being turned down by other local services that were ramping up to meet demand, I now subscribe to an anti-waste produce subscription service called Imperfect Foods, which supplies me with a crate of surplus or oddly sized/shaped produce (carrots that are too big, potatoes that are too spotty, peppers that fold in on themselves) and off-spec dried goods (such as tri-color quinoa what has too much white quinoa, or brown basmati rice with too many broken grains) each week. I can opt in/out of certain items in advance each week on their website, and can add things like off-spec chocolate covered nuts (yum!) or California almond milk from a reputable maker.

Grocery Delivery for Organic Food, Fresh Produce & More

Imperfect Foods delivers groceries on a mission. Shop produce, groceries, and snacks up to 30% less than grocery store prices. We deliver to the Bay Area, Los Angeles, Portland, Seattle, Midwest, East Coast, and South. Coming soon to the Southwest and Southeast.

The crate is delivered to my front steps, and the contents are the core of my meals. Yes, this has meant more zucchini in my diet than I would have chosen otherwise; yes, I make more kinds of lasagna as a result, plus a wider range of curries. I started making celery soup because of their blog (and abundant celery deliveries), and now have a customized recipe that really works for me. I enjoy carrot juice from their odd-looking carrots with limes blended in every week now.

There have been unexpected shortages of staple items I order through their effort to cover non-surplus household needs, or occasional, awkward substitutions that I can’t eat (I can only express ONE dietary preference, so I can’t tell them I need vegetarian AND wheat-free products, and so sometimes receive an unordered wheat-thing), but their customer service is polite and responsive, and they are under strain like all the rest of us. Also: having heavy groceries delivered by wheeled vehicle rather than carrying them up the hill on my back makes sense. I have justified it for exercise, but there are limits to that justification! If the produce quality remains high, I’ll continue using this service.

They don’t supply tender leafy greens like spinach, fresh herbs, or enough fruit to get me through the week: they stick to sturdier items that can sit in a crate. Now that my wonderful grocery coop tolerates third party shoppers, I order nearly all other items I want from them every 2 – 3 weeks. I’m okay with their delivery menu markup – I am willing to pay extra to support my favorite local co-op. (Their prices are comparable to other, non-coop grocery stores in my area.) I’m also keen on properly tipping my shoppers who need to cross town to get these items to me ($20-30/trip).

The few things I can’t get through those two methods, such as my favorite locally-roasted coffee, gluten- and fish-free gojuchang from Korea, or bulk volumes of specialty tea, I order on-line, and do my best to keep my spending local whenever that makes sense.

Summary to a long post: the COVID-19 pandemic has inspired hoarding, supply chain disruptions, store access restrictions, and delivery restrictions, making a regular chore much more of a chore! After struggling with whatever I could get and feeling increasingly uncomfortable shopping in person, I’m lucky enough to be able to pay for a cost-efficient, eco-friendly core food subscription (60% of my needs), supplement that with delivery from a worker-owned co-op (30% of my needs), and pick up the stray items from primarily local businesses on-line (10%).

The cookbook that this may or may not be resulting from all of this is coming along very slowly, however! 🙂

Life: Rain comes to Northern California

A Friday night screen grab of the rain radar (raindar?) of Wunderground. You can find current animated maps using Wunderground’s Sacramento NEXRAD Station DAX page.

RAIN! Real RAIN!

A rainstorm arrived late Friday, and it is such a RELIEF. We’ve gone from a red flag fire warning last weekend (yes, in December) to WATER FALLING FROM THE SKY!

We are under a coastal flooding advisory, but it is still wonderful. Water!! WATER!!!

We are unaccustomed to the sound. It’s been that long.

Life: Sunsets

Views of San Franciscans socially distancing out at Ocean Beach

I went for a two hour walk to the beach yesterday, in order to enjoy the sunset, and it was LOVELY.

It was also great to see people (people!) out and about; dogs losing their minds with joy over chasing balls; children digging in the mud… The surfers were fun to watch (the waves weren’t great, but they were patient), and the soothing, deep sound the waves make was good for me…