October 1*

The smoke haze is back.

In so many ways, October feels like a new beginning. The light changes. The air changes. Kids are back at school, and even here in California, it’s pretty definitely no longer summer.

I grew up with an even stronger school-schedule vibe than most people: both my parents worked as teachers. When school began in the fall, it didn’t begin just for me, but for all of us. Now an adult by any measure, that sense of beginning as the days shorten and the mornings chill stays with me.

Beginning too means looking back, reflecting. Where is the world? Where am I? How am I doing? 2020 has been so strange. After all the early months’ chaos, in the past few weeks I think some of the changes have settled in. I’m in a different place, I think, than I have previously been.

1. The seven months since this began – March to now – is the longest period of time I’ve spent without jetlag in over ten years (or maybe fifteen).

2. These seven months also include the most total hours I’ve spent at home at least since high school summer vacations.

3. Ten years after everybody else, I’ve gotten into Spotify. Lately I’m retro in my music tastes: country, electronic dance music, and Prozzak’s album Forever 1999 (which doesn’t sound like 1999, but does sound like today through the lens of someone who came of age in 1999. It’s silly and funny and heart-melting and I love it.)

4. I’ve let go of long lists of plans and dreams and ambitions and next steps and someday-I’d-like-tos. Too many were starting to feel like shoulds, like weights or clutter rather than freedoms.

5. Instead, I’ve got three things I’d like to do over the next six months, one more I’d like to do over the next two years, and one more for the next five years. This feels simpler. It fits on a sticky note.

6. I’m reading a lot, and I have conversations going with two separate friends about books.

7. One of my oldest friends, who I became friends with mostly through letters(!) during summer vacations back in high school, sent me a long chatty birthday card; today I sent her a card back. Texts with other friends feel like a modern version of the one-day letters I imagine Victorians sent to each other. “What kind of flower is this?” “Have you read that?” “Is the smoke okay where you are?” “I can’t believe your daughter is four years old already!” “You have chickens now?!” “Here’s what it looks like where I am.” “I don’t know when I’ll see you, but I miss you.”

8. At work, I’m in the middle of shifting from a management role to an individual contributor path. This, too, feels simpler, and I think more in line with the self I most think of as me.

After two weeks of clearer air, the smoke is back today, blowing in (the news tells me) from the Glass fire, miles north. The hills across the bay and the hills across the highway are both invisible. The air smells again of campfire. The temperature is over ninety degrees, but there is little value to shade, because the sun itself is shaded by the smoke.

If you’re reading this, I hope you’re finding value in your own new beginning – or if fall doesn’t feel like a beginning-time to you, to your own keeping on.

Stay safe, and breathe deep when you can.

—-

* I wrote this yesterday, posting today.

Six on Saturday: Garden Report

Since the California fires started a few weeks back, I haven’t spent as much time in the garden as I usually would. There’s just been too much smoke. Now the roses are overgrown; the drip lines around the citrus need work; half a dozen spent corn plants need to be pulled; and don’t even get me started on the bindweed. (Would I really have addressed all these things, even without the smoke? Well… a gardener can dream, right?!)

But. Two weeks ago there were two clear afternoons when the air quality index dropped below 100, and I snuck outside to pull weeds and put in seeds for my fall garden. I’m taking the lazy-gardener approach of direct-seeding everything, no transplants and no starting things in seed trays, just put in seeds, cross fingers, and see what happens. I’d expected everything to take weeks to germinate, but there were a few hot days, and I was wrong – the peas are taking off, and a few sprouts that I think are arugula and maybe some broccoli or collards (I’d like to get more reliable at labeling things, but that would require finding a Sharpie, which so far isn’t happening).

Tuesday night it rained, and the air here has been clear ever since. Every time I step outside, I take a deep breath and think how grateful I am for simply this. And today after a morning grocery run, I spent the rest of the afternoon in the garden, alternating between reading a book in a lounge chair and pruning the largest rose. Now I’m back indoors, and here are my six:

1. This is a lavatera maritima, a gorgeous tree mallow that I got the last time I was at a garden store; it’s still in a pot. In the morning its flowers stay closed, but they open in the afternoon to gorgeous purple blooms. I may get it in the ground tomorrow, or if not, next week. It’s going to replace a hibiscus which is struggling badly (I think the hibiscus needs more water and less clay-ish soil than is realistic here).

2. A lovely pink rose on the largest overgrown rosebush. The bush itself is about eleven feet tall and, although not visible in this photo, pretty much entirely blocks the garden path. Time for the spent blooms & branches to go. I started pruning it today, but it’s more than a one-afternoon project. I think cutting it back will increase direct sunlight hours for the vegetable garden over winter, too.

3. A tomato experiment that didn’t quite work. These are Thessaloniki, grown from seed. No idea what’s ailing them, but clearly something is – and even though it’s mid-September, these are the only tomatoes this plant set. Next to it are some basil plants going to seed. Turns out I didn’t actually need seventeen basil plants (!), so I’ve been letting some of them go. The other tomato is also Thessaloniki; so far it only has green tomatoes. I may give up on their ripening and just harvest and fry them up. If anyone reading this has a great recipe for fried green tomatoes, I’d be delighted to hear it!

4. On the other hand, a tomato experiment that definitely worked! These Chadwick Cherries, also grown from seed and direct-seeded under row covers, just keep giving & giving. If they look at little odd at the moment, well, that’s just ash from the fires (sigh). It washes off.

5. New sprouts! Peas in the first photo, arugula in the second. Next to the peas is the last of my earlier-season baby kale. It got harvested and turned into a salad slightly after this photo.

6. A raspberry bush that has, for reasons mysterious to me, decided to set berries now, after none whatsoever earlier in the year. Um…. Maybe these will ripen before winter? I’m not convinced.

It’s hard to believe it’s halfway through September already. I’m grateful for today’s warm weather, and the predicted similarly warm days coming over the next week.

Whereever you are – I hope you are able to find some good time out-of-doors. Happy Saturday to you, and clear skies, and clear air.


The Six-on-Saturday gardening thing is hosted by The Propagator, which also has links to other gardeners’ blogs. Especially in days without much travel, I’ve been enjoying reading about & seeing photos of other gardeners’ gardens around the world.

Before, during, next

The last time I wore makeup was March 9. It was a Monday. I woke up, showered, got dressed, put on makeup, drove to work.

Two days before work-from-home, the parking lot was already starting to empty. Pre-Covid, during the day there were usually more cars here than parking spots.

I took a photo of the nearly-empty parking lot.

I ate lunch with a colleague, and we agreed that about the last thing either of us would want to do was work from home.

The next day, I did work from home, not because of Covid but because I had a mid-day appointment in the opposite direction from the office and I didn’t feel like driving back and forth.

Then Google announced recommended work from home for nearly everyone in the Bay Area, and that was that.

When I left my office that Monday, I wasn’t thinking about never? not going back for months and months. I left a jar of homemade kefir fermenting in a desk drawer. I left cards from friends and photos from early work trips. I left sentimental notes from colleagues written during team building exercises but no less sincere (I hope) for all that. I left a tiny carved stone elephant. I left stamps. I left a sweater (I think). I left things that would have been useful: pads of sticky notes, an external keyboard, multiple types of USB cables, a mouse.

The change was so abrupt that no one had a chance to plan for it. I was distracted, too, because first my husband and then I got sick (Covid? I don’t know.) I think I caught up with how many people were feeling about a month later. Normal one day, surreal alternate-reality the next – and now it’s been nearly six months. Is it any wonder we’re still reeling?

Now I’m looking ahead and wondering what’s next. On the one hand, planning for a time in the far distant future – Thursday, say – seems incredibly challenging.

On the other hand, these days are the days I get.

I don’t want to accidentally miss them because I wasn’t paying attention.

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