All posts by Greta McDonough

I am a writer, therapist, and college professor living and writing in the Ohio Valley. My work takes me to the Bluegrass, Appalachia, and Eastern Europe. I teach and I write. I read. Everything.

Better Dreams through Yoga

An early casualty of the pandemic was the pleasant nature of my dreams. For over a year now, every night has been given over to the most vivid and unusual dreams. I am in places I don’t recognize with people I don’t know, and always, just around the edges is a Greek chorus with enough familiar faces to ground each dream in an unsettling kind of reality.


Just this past week I stood in my backyard with my neighbor, John, as we watched the back of my house crumble and fall in a distressing pile of rock, brick and plaster. John’s house, on the other hand, stood straight as a sentinel, all tidy and reflected in a large pond as the sun began to set.
He reckoned it was the stream that ran behind our properties. It must have diverted underground in some way, eroding my firm foundation. I groaned to think what fixing this would cost, and wondered, even, if it was fixable at all.


My house, you must know, is neither brick nor crumbling, nor built on rocky soil. And while John is the best of neighbors and knows lots of things, he wasn’t correct about the stream having gone underground. The only thing that runs behind my house is an alley, a very nice alley that is wide and well-paved and my mother admired it so much she would go out of her way to drive down it.


And there is no reflecting pond beside John’s house but sometimes, when it rains really hard, water will stand for a few minutes in the gutters. But I don’t dream of my mother or rain-filled gutters. I dream this nonsense. Every night, all night long.


It isn’t enough to have one such dream. I have several each night. They don’t seem to be repackaged do-overs of my day the way some dreams are. And while they aren’t nightmares, they aren’t good dreams, either. I do many things in these dreams that are worrisome and odd and and discombobulate me.

But, in the end, I am doing everyday kinds of things in these dreams and that is one of the horrors of it. My mind is on an endless loop of unfamiliar and undesired activity, none of it of my choosing, and I am not even flying or rescuing my buddies from the jungle.


Last night I didn’t have odd dreams.


Last night I slept deeply and well almost all night long. Last night I listened to yoga meditations for six hours straight, right there, on my phone, by way of YouTube. I have just gotten up and I can’t wait for nightfall so I can do it again.


We know that sounds heard at different megahertz impact the brain, creating states of high concentration and arousal to deep relaxation and sleep. Breathing helps us relax, too, especially deep, intentional breathing, sometimes called the deep yogic breath. Anyone can learn this, no spandex required.


Yoga Nidra is the practice of yogic sleep, or that state between waking and slumber where your body is relaxed and your mind is still aware. But it is a hop, skip and a jump from that to a good night’s sleep, if you do it right. Guided imagery is part of Yoga Nidra, with a calming voice directing your thoughts while you lay flat out in corpse pose, my absolute favorite.


In Yoga Nidra great attention is paid to getting comfy. All that tossing around and pulling at the covers and smoothing out the blankets and adjusting and re-adjusting your head and limbs is a crucial part of it, and the yogi gives you plenty of time to get yourself sorted.


But calmly.


All your movements are calm and unhurried and the voice is gentle and warm and some of us may even be tempted to suck our thumbs.


Then, the music. Or what I will call music although there must be another word for it. There are droning low notes and tones that wash over you while the quiet voice guides you through imagined meadows or perhaps does a body scan which is rewarding, too. Who knew thinking about your right pinky or your left ankle could be so relaxing?


There are hundreds to choose from, deep sleep meditations and Nidra offerings, or deep sleep music with no one talking. I wish I had found them months ago, when I was in the middle of the river, giving motivational speeches from the back of a coal barge to all the 4th of July boaters gathered around…all night long.

Big Art and Little Winters

I have fantasies of fleeing the country, flying the coop, finding new vistas to gaze upon, vistas both exotic and comforting, with a pub and a few rooms to rent upstairs, a fireplace, perhaps, and signposts just there, by the road, pointing the way to ancient byways and Roman viaducts. Or anyplace, really, one that isn’t confined to my neighborhood or my own backyard.


Then, I read the news, although I try to avoid it, and Great Britain and the EU can’t seem to get their vaccine programs quite right, and even if we wanted to wear a mask for twenty hours as we fly across the ocean, once we arrive there will be nothing much to see or do. Everything locked down, or locking down. Fantasies in the dumpster, like old cardboard boxes and chunks of drywall.


Then, just as I was about to despair, I saw this. The Louvre, in Paris, is making available on-line all 840,000 pieces of its art collection for us to view while they remain closed during the pandemic. The Louvre, I am saying. So much art for us to see. The first virtual reality exhibit involves that most famous of painted ladies, entitled “Mona Lisa: Beyond the Glass.”


And if you have ever been in her presence you know just what this means, this small painting, enshrined in glass and almost invisible behind the wall of backs and shoulders and cameras you must clamor over to get even a glimpse. It is exciting as you come near her, hear the muffled voices trying to be quiet but not succeeding, and maybe you catch a glimpse of her hands, half her head and an eye, but mostly it is just a crush of tourists and their shambolic images cast back at you by the glass cage that holds her.


This exhibit, though, imagines more than the mysterious smile, takes us to a belvedere where she might have posed for the painting, places her there, tells us how her clothes were made, how her hair was styled, the brushstrokes of the artist, his technique. It is not quite the Louvre, or Mona Lisa, but it is fascinating all the same.


I plan to explore the site to look for a painting I saw there decades ago. I can’t remember the artist or the name of the painting, but it was huge, and it moved me as art must be intended to do. I stood looking, then I sat down and looked some more. Then I think I cried. Or what passed for crying for a twenty-something easily embarrassed and not all that deep. But I have tried since then to find that painting. Now, I think, with patience, I might.


If that is too indoorsy for you, or you just can’t stand driving by garden centers without stopping, I can verify that daily they receive plants, potting soil and manure. The little kiosks are stocked with vegetable and flower seeds and everything bright and shiny and seductive. Tonight and tomorrow we may have freezing temperatures, but next week the lows are in the fifties, and, while that may not hold, it is enough to get me out digging in the dirt, working to get ready.


My friend, Silas, says we are in Redbud Winter. He is an expert on all the little winters we have in spring. I may be all excited about planting shrubs or peonies, hydrangeas and dahlias. His enthusiasm is genuine, but muted and tinged with gloom.


“Yes, but we haven’t had Dogwood Winter, yet.”


And then he sighs.


Which leaves Locust, Blackberry and something called Britches Winters to go.


Even so, he will plant beans this Friday, Good Friday, because that, too, is a sign that gardeners know and live by. My vegetable garden consists of herbs, basil like you can’t believe, and peppers, because the squirrels won’t touch them. But I am at least two little winters away from getting all that in the ground.


Until then, I will till and weed, sow some grass, although the time for that was autumn, and thumb my garden catalogs to pieces. I’ll listen to Silas, but not too much, although we will swap advice and encouragement. Maybe in the bright days ahead you will do the same. Admire the art the Louvre has so generously offered. Admire the art of beautiful things popping up all around, just outside your door.

Eastern Redbud

Time it Was, and Is, and Will Be

It is time, dear ones, to start stocking up on sleep, if you possibly can.  We will awake on Sunday morning to discover we have lost an hour, only to discover it lurking around in the shadows of the backyard later in the evening.  And we will be exhausted.  It exhausts me, that lost hour, for easily a week or more, and I don’t quite recover until mid-June, when day and night are equal lengths.  

But then, I am also exhausted for a couple of weeks when we gain an hour, so I guess what I am saying is, time is a construct, time is emotional, time is physical. Time is circadian.  Time, sometimes, can be all in our heads.  

I blame my father. 

He was a good sleeper, a cheerful riser, his feet hitting the floor as soon as he awoke. 

But for a couple of weeks after the time changed he moped around the house, Theda Bara-like, draping himself on a velvet fainting couch, hand across his brow while sighing,  “But really it isn’t eight o’clock, it is seven.”  Or in fall, the other way around. 

That we didn’t have a velvet fainting couch, that he wasn’t built to drape is beside the point.  He felt the time changes acutely and passed this on to me.  It irked my mother, a practical sort, with five children to see to, all those mouths to feed.   She hadn’t time for his nonsense.  She looked at the clock.  If it said 3:00 p.m. the kids would soon be home from school and it was time to start dinner. 

My siblings never seemed to care much, although they, too, were off kilter for a week or so right after we changed the clocks.  Perhaps I took to the abstract aspect of changing time more than my siblings.  I could entertain myself for hours, although sometimes it felt like torture, thinking about puzzlements.  Like this one. 

Let’s say you know objects only by one sense—touch, for example.

Then you see a group of objects all lined up with other objects you also have only experienced by touch.  Can you now pick out the round object only by sight, or the square one, if you have only touched round and square objects?  Would sharp edges and curved surfaces translate visually?

This one took me years. 

And while I am not sure my answer is correct, I am quite enamored with it and it comforts me when I am bored or downcast.

The disappearing and reappearing hour is one of those things.  Calculating time in general, is one of those things.  A couple of weeks ago I attended, by ZOOM, a reading held in Cork City, Ireland.  It was evening there, midday here.  Friends from two time zones would be watching, and what gyrations we went through making sure we didn’t miss it, making sure we heard every lovely word that fell soft as rain from the writer, Billy O’Callaghan’s, Gaelic lips.  

It didn’t matter our phones told us exactly what time it was in Cork.  We didn’t completely trust it, and we counted backward on our fingers —or I did, I’ll confess—right up to the moment the presentation began.

I once kept myself company on a long international flight trying to work out exactly how many hours I had been awake, and how long, really, the journey was.  There is time zone time and real time, and I worked it out on the many napkins they brought with my drinks.  Somewhere over Newfoundland it dawned on me I could do the simple math of comparing the local time I left and  the local time I would arrive home, adjusting for time zones, but even as I write this I have confused myself all over again. 

I will go around my house this Saturday night changing what clocks I have, all of them, in fact, attached to appliances—the coffee maker, the stove, the microwave.  On Sunday morning I will take it hard, oversleep—I sort of book that in early as an indulgent excuse—and I will nod off by eight, as I settle in front of Masterpiece Theatre, even though I didn’t nod off at seven the Sunday before. 

By midweek, I will be languishing, and I will cast about for a fainting couch to drape upon, nudging the memory of my father in the ribs so he might scoot over, make some room for me. 

HINTS AND HOPES OF SPRING

Already there is something stirring, call it spring, call it the vaccine, call it about time.

The weather looks to be better, some nights around freezing, maybe, but daytime temps are creeping up into the fifties, the sixties by the weekend.


It seems the same for friends whose weather I keep up with. I have taken you to my heart, truly and forever, if your city pops up on my phone’s weather app. I keep up with the weather in a couple of places I love like people, too. And almost all of us can count on temperatures at least in the 50s by the middle of the month.


Even if it is snowing where you are now.
Even if you are freezing right this minute.
Even if it won’t last.


Already I am eyeing that spot along the fence that separates my drive from my neighbor’s yard. He has been eyeing it for months now, too. In the fall I offloaded bags of manure and compost with the intention of filling in the low places and preparing a flowerbed for spring. I didn’t have quite enough dirt so I left it all sitting there until I could do the job properly, and there it has sat since.


He has offered to spread the contents of the bags for me, but no, I am happy to do that myself. I want to do it, think I can call it exercise, and so it would be. But first I need more dirt. He is a patient fellow, but he will be glad when I get after it. Soon, John, soon.

This week might just be the week, in fact, because seed and flower catalogs are jamming my mailbox and nothing inspires me quite so much. They are stacking bags of mulch at Kroger and I am giddy about it. I know they are, because my cousin posted a photo of those big bags last week, when she was giddy first.


I have tried watching the British gardening shows, Monty Don being one of my favorites. But if I am honest, he exhausts me. He moves slowly and calmly, digging, uprooting, rerooting, I will give you that. But I think of all the behind the scenes efforts — just getting those nice bins filled up with that custom peatless potting soil, I mean, how long does that take? How does he drag all the ingredients into his well-appointed potting shed? And those wonderful giant terra cotta pots he has all over the place. How much do they weigh? Empty? Loaded?

No, I have already decided, from the comfort of my couch, to pare down my gardening this year, sticking with those things that provide real bang for the buck. I have managed to keep two rosemary bushes alive all winter, and I am trying to overwinter some big geraniums in the basement. My fence row garden plot may serve as an AirBnB for zinnias until fall, when I may plant iris.


But, even so, there will still be plenty of trips to the nurseries, the garden centers and those places that fetch bags of mulch for you and dump them like a body in your trunk. I will be glad to have gardening back, to have it back as the joyful, playful activity it is. Digging in the dirt, water play, all my favorite childhood past times. But now no one yells out the back door to bring those serving spoons back in the house this minute.

I have had tools. I have a wheelbarrow.


So, celebrate with me. It’s almost spring, the vaccine is here and it is more than time.

The Pleasure and Pathos of Paper Dolls

I was dismal at crafts, never liked them much, beyond decorating a shoe box with doilies for Valentine’s Day.  That was easy, as crafting goes, and it was my limit.  The little Sunday school lambs made with glued-on cotton balls, the bean and macaroni art in Vacation Bible School — I am  pretty sure Joseph didn’t wear a beard made of pinto beans—I completed them, but was never proud of them. 

And Girl Scouts, oh, how I hated crafts at troop meetings.  Those pleated  Reader’s Digests folded into fat Christmas trees, the green paint all over my hands, ending up smeared on my cheek.  Popsicle sticks stuck to my fingers, or dropped and glued to my shoe. Glitter everywhere but in the spot I aimed it.

No, I was built for other things.  But now, it seems, I have the rare opportunity to teach one of my craftiest friends a thing or two, and it has gone straight to my head. 

You can barely move in Alice’s work space for all the scissors, colored pencils, pads of watercolor paper, and stacks of Flow Magazines, magazines that seem to be filled with nothing on earth but wallpaper samples, although I am told it is art paper.  That’s it.  Just a magazine full of brightly printed paper.  And here, there, and everywhere, shoe boxes and fruit boxes full of ephemera, ribbons and feathers and buttons and I don’t know what all. 

Yet, for all this, Alice does not know how to cut out a continuous strand of paper dolls. 

And I do. 

Because my grandmother, a child of the prairie, taught me.  With her off-limits fabric shears she sat on the floor and folded newspaper and grocery bags, and with fingers flying, cut in one intricate but smooth motion, ten, fifteen little girls, all holding hands, dress hems touching, hair turned up on the end, their tiny feet pointing in opposite directions.  She and her sisters entertained themselves for hours doing this.  She entertained us for hours likewise. On winter days she folded typing paper and with her sharp little embroidery scissors fashioned beautiful snowflakes as big as our heads.  Well, our faces. 

Alice doesn’t know how to make these, either. 

I have promised to teach her, and was practicing over the weekend to see if I still remembered and I cut a string of paper dolls.  They looked so cute I posted a picture on social media.  You can’t believe how many people responded, many wanting to know how to do it so they might make them with their own grandchildren.  A smaller number remembered making them themselves when they were children.

My niece, Hannah, commented on my Facebook page, saying they were “cool,” and I couldn’t believe in all the times she and her sister, Katie, were at my house, we never made paper dolls.  I felt like quite the wretched and neglectful aunt.  It seems now it should have been an essential part of our time together, that sweet particular bonding activity which was sadly forfeited for other, lesser things. 

When I was little, maybe six, I loved Betsy McCall paper dolls, a page of creamy paper with Betsy standing demurely in her underwear and shoes, dresses and coats and sometimes hats, framing her delicately drawn figure.  Each little dress, little sweater, pair of snow pants had white tabs protruding, tabs to fasten the clothes at critical junctures — shoulders, waist, ankles.

My mother had to cut out Betsy, all those frills around her petticoat or panties, but I attacked the dresses with the peter pan collars, the pedal pushers, the sweater sets.  And always, always I got in a hurry, or got distracted for just a second, and snipped off a tab, sometimes more than one.  And I am pretty sure I cried.  Not so much for having botched it for Betsy, but in frustration for the perfect thing, now not.

Mother tried to repair the damage but the make-do-ness of it just killed me.  I wore my  brother’s hand-me-down corduroys, wore sweaters with turned up cuffs, bought at the end of a season to “grow into,” had socks that bunched at the toe or chewed down into my shoe, always too big or too small.  But Betsy McCall was perfect, holding a little doll in front of her while standing in her undies.  A summer dress and she is holding a bunch of flowers.  A winter coat, and she holds a muff.  And I was Betsy, wearing those pretty clothes, perfect on the page, until the cutting began.

Finding a Forest, Pondering a Pond

We were told a couple of years ago that sitting was the new smoking, but I haven’t seen that referenced much lately. Perhaps COVID and binge-watching make it too cruel to contemplate just now. There is news, though, for us to consider, something to get us out of those fitness counters and back into watches as is right and proper.


A recent “Wall Street Journal” article suggests that spending two hours in nature, on a regular basis, is the new 10,000 steps.


And they mean nature, not just outside, but surrounded by trees, and green—or brown as the season dictates— and water and twigs, and birdsong and breezes, and rocks, maybe, anywhere away from concrete and cars.


According to the report in WSJ’s Health and Wellness section, doctors and researchers are scrambling to address the physical and mental issues caused by COVID, and all the isolation, especially from the natural world. It seems there is abundant research supporting our need to be in nature, the health benefits of it, and COVID has cranked up the urgency to interpret the research and put it to use.


This large and growing body of research tells us we must return to nature, and sitting in our little yards won’t cut it. We must get away from the urban landscape, even pretty ones, to improve our mental health, our well-being, our blood pressure, our cognitive functioning, our creativity.


The Japanese call spending time in the woods “forest bathing.” I know how that sounds, but no, it isn’t that. They go to the woods, wander around, sit on a stump, saunter—saunter, you all—and come home with lower blood pressure, better heart rates and less fatigue and depression. Spending 300 minutes a week is about what it takes to get for yourself all sorts of healthy benefits. Just five hours a week.


I have a new friend from western New York, one who posts photos on Instagram of the natural places she walks and hikes on a regular basis. She posts images from the water’s edge of Quaker Pond, images taken in fall or the first days of winter already glazing the pond’s edge. I don’t know, just the name Quaker Pond makes me feel better, breathe more deeply.


Sometimes the pond is rimmed by golden reeds, sometimes the reeds are held captive in the glassy grip of ice, all of it lovely. She posts short videos of pines swaying in the high autumn wind, images of other trails covered in a carpet of fallen leaves. A photo, just as night falls, taken from the lip of Lake Ontario, with shadowy figures shrouded in mist gazing across the wide expanse searching for the Northern Lights. A life outside.


Here’s the deal. Since COVID, no—even before it—and since seeing and admiring these photos, I have had a longing, a primitive, true longing for woods, and walks in the green of summer or the russet of fall, the white—right this very day—of a walk in a winter snowfall.


But I don’t do it. I lament our lack of a Quaker Pond, but my pal, Alice, reminds me, and kind of huffy, too, we have equally beautiful woods here. We have trails in county parks, we have access to natural spaces. We just have to get off our duffs and go.


And she is right, of course. I have googled Quaker Pond, and my pal doesn’t just fall out her back door and into the woods. She makes for the wilds with intention. But neither must she drive for hours. And neither would we.


If Lake Ontario is right there, on the edge of town for my friend to explore and enjoy, the Ohio River is right here, on the edge of ours. We are ringed with little parks with hiking trails. We are half an hour, barely more, from two state parks, Audubon being a hidden jewel, ask anyone who has been there.


My writerly pals, with few exceptions, spend as much time outside and in the woods as possible. They grew up playing in creeks and running through woods, and they make a point of doing it still. One would tell you his time among the trees, on the lake, in a park is as critical to his work as the computer, the printer.


Will I move, and move in woods? Will I take myself to the wilds? Will I do it, just get up and do it? I really think I must.

Good Books for Long Winter Nights

January seemed especially grey and depressing this year. Maybe not depressing, that may be too strong a word, but I experienced more of a post-holiday let-down than usual. Most years I sort of revel in January, enjoy the dramatic image of myself slumped on the sofa, bored, bored, bored like some minor relation of the Downton Crawleys come to visit.

This year, I don’t know. It’s hard to enjoy a good pout and wallow when you’ve spent almost the entire past year having done just that, so I had no where to go with my ennui and discontent. I reverted to childhood—age eight—and spent the month under the covers reading with my Girl Scout flashlight. And way past my bedtime, too.


The modern equivalent of the flashlight under a blanket is the Kindle, and if you read with one, you might want to check out Bookbub. Every day an email arrives with seven or eight books for you to consider, curated from your reading list. They are deeply discounted, most can be downloaded to your Kindle for $1.99, sometimes a little more, sometimes a little less.

Here are a couple of books I have enjoyed when I should have been reading the ones assigned in my book group.


The first is “A Woman of No Importance,” written by Sonia Purnell. With impressive research, Purnell brings us the unknown story of an American woman, Virginia Hall, who worked early on to help establish units of espionage during World War II that would become, eventually, the more wide-spread French Resistance. She was remarkable, an adventurer before the war, and though she lost a leg in Turkey in a hunting accident, she was bothered by this only a little, when she was escaping the Gestapo by crossing the Pyrenees on foot and in winter, say, or when her slight limp threatened to give her away to the Nazis in occupied Lyon. I am only half-way through Virginia’s exploits, and I can’t imagine what happens next, but I am inspired by her story.


Bookbub sent me a ninety-nine cent offer to purchase Pearl S. Buck’s novel, “A Pavilion of Women: A Novel of Life in the Women’s Quarters.”

I have long admired Buck’s award-winning novel, “The Good Earth,” but I admire this book more. Set in 1930s China, the novel centers on the wealthy and influential Wu family. More accurately, it centers on Mrs. Wu, the matriarch of this old and traditional family, and the ways in which she assures her family’s happiness and continuity.


She has great responsibility for her family but little actual power. She sets about sorting things by engaging in a great game of chess playing with her family’s relationships. Reading this book now, in the overly woke age we find ourselves, I wondered how Mrs. Wu might be taken by a younger reading audience. Would this book offend their precious, more delicate sensibilities? I don’t care.

Read this book in context of the culture and the time, it is beautifully written and wise, and I came to admire Mrs. Wu and her good heart and the hard truths she never looked away from.


The writing is so gorgeous, in fact, I underlined this book as much as any I have read. I would send sentences and whole passages to friends in the middle of the night so they might admire them with me, right then.

My pal, Alice, has a new boyfriend, but being a generous type, she has shared him with me, at least a little. How she does it I don’t know, but she finds the most interesting writers, long before the rest of us do, and her new fella is one.


She is, if not in love with, at least crushing on the Irish writer, Billy O’Callaghan. Not long ago she read his novel, “My Coney Island Baby,” and went on and on and on about it. I feared for her other boyfriends, sensed a long season of neglect coming up for them. And I was right. She is currently reading everything of his she can get her hands on.


Lucky for Alice, and us, there are several collections of short stories to choose from, and at least two novels. His story about how he came to writing is compelling, too, or at least Alice says it is. She won’t share much about that. Those early days of infatuation, you remember how it is. Secretive. Exclusive.

Wishing and hoping and waiting for the vaccine

I think I must have been four or five, standing in the sun with my father and older brother, in the Sportscenter parking lot with every other child in town close to my age. I may have been older, I don’t know, there is no one left to ask. But I remember rows and rows of long tables, the short ends touching to snake back and forth across the vast sea of concrete, army men everywhere.


We would see these men again soon, as we practiced our “duck and cover” and mock civil defense drills, but that afternoon lacked any particular drama, although there was a sense of occasion, expectation, some big something emanating from the adults around us.
We formed snaky lines, too, and stayed more or less in order, while the army men, who were probably the National Guard, barked orders, or probably they didn’t bark, with their uniform sleeves rolled up past their elbows, green camouflage caps on each head. Perhaps one or two whirly-gigged their arms to keep the conga line of children and parents moving, moving.


On the tables sat hundreds of tiny white paper cups, much like the ones Sunday school teachers used at parties to nestle jelly beans to look like Easter eggs. In the center of each little pleated cup was a sugar cube.


And somewhere within that cube of sugar was the magic elixir —the Sabin vaccine—meant to protect us from polio, that dread and awful disease, the one that worried our mothers into near states of panic every summer, the awful disease that robbed children of healthy limbs, and sometimes their breath and sometimes their lives.


There are those of us who remember the click and shuffle of a child walking in leg braces, the heroic stiff-legged and encumbered runs around the bases on the playground, the way we all knew, and didn’t know, what those leather and metal contraptions were about.


But we all knew our mothers’ fear, so palpable, unrelenting, even when they tried to keep it from us. I can’t imagine it, thinking of it now, how long those summer nights must have been for our young mothers, their babies asleep down the hall, no breeze to be had through the open windows, and they more vigilant than usual, but not sure what they were listening or watching for.


We didn’t go to Sunday school and church, we didn’t play with other children, and we certainly didn’t go swimming. I remember none of this, but my mother spoke of it often. Sometimes, I got a glimpse of “Life” or ‘Look” and saw the full-page images of iron lungs in hospital wards, life-saving but horrifying to imagine, what little I comprehended of them.


It was the early 60s, and we believed in science and the community protection of the National Guard, so we lined up in a parking lot and took our medicine.


Vaccines for COVID-19 are out now, and I wish for long tables in the Sportscenter parking lot. You should see — and hear — the riotous dinging of my WhatsApp, as friends track down and follow up every possible lead and rumor about who has shots, what is the protocol, and how do you get an appointment for one — in a geographic area spanning five states.


It is important to note, that “five state” statement is not an exaggeration.


I have signed up for the vaccination, many weeks out, at a time I think, and hope, my age group will be eligible. If something should change in the production chain and I can get vaccinated earlier, well, I certainly will do that. If I have jumped the gun and need to reschedule, I will do that, too. But all the talk and scheming and finagling and wrangling to procure a vaccine–anywhere– has heightened my anxiety, not lowered it.


Right now, I think, it should be enough—more than enough —to know that the vaccine will be in my arm soon. I am working to relax into this knowledge. And then I will get the second dose. When that happens I will sleep easier at night with one less little worry nagging at me. A luxury my mother had to wait years for.

ORDERING MY BLUES AWAY

Out of sheer boredom and the notion that, really, I should pamper myself in these times of isolation, I have taken to ordering all sorts of personal care products on-line. My Facebook page is lousy with pop-up ads for this stuff, and if you click on an ad, just once and by mistake, you will be inundated with them, too.


This clickbait is subversive and perhaps even a little bit evil, but I succumb on a regular basis. I ordered, on purpose, a subscription box from FabFitFun, because Leanne Morgan told me to. You know Leanne, the comedienne from Knoxville, with her hysterical video clips. She said it would be nice to treat ourselves during COVID, and yes, I thought. It would. Here came my winter box — they are curated by season — and in it I found the following.


A Vera Bradley cosmetic bag, small, but cute, and a really nice Pottery Barn diffuser set that is supposed to smell like the Solstice. Then all sorts of make-up and skin care products, all full size, and my favorite, a set of WEI “purify and glow” masks.


They arrived in a pretty little box with what looks like K-cups inside, each containing a dab of facial mask, applied with a soft brush (included) so I can, you know, purify and glow. The presentation is so nice I can’t bring myself to get into it, and I have so few people around I want to glow for, I have decided to save it for “good.”


You get to choose some of the things in the box they send you, but I didn’t, and so now I own Kate Spade workout socks. I don’t know what a workout sock is, still don’t, even after looking at them. They appear to be inferior no-shows, I will never wear them and I would be too embarrassed to re-gift them.


I stumbled across the Smallflower Modern Apothecary online shop, and this one was a keeper. They had me at “German formula Nivea.” You know Nivea, old-fashioned, granny-like, in the nice blue tin. Our US Nivea is not the same as their Nivea. The European formula is so much nicer, and I ordered some, just to have something to look forward to.

I ordered a few bars of Fa soap, too, an inexpensive brand I use in Olomouc. It isn’t particularly good soap, but I like smelling it and getting all nostalgic. The website is full of unusual and interesting products, and if nothing else, perusing it is a nice ten minute diversion.


When my Nivea arrived, I had already read comments on the webpage suggesting mixing it with organic almond oil to soften your skin to a luxurious degree. I tried it, and really, it was so very effective, but, you all, what a glopped up mess you are until it soaks in.


Which it does, and quickly, but be prepared.


As an alternative to all that slathering, I then found — and you know I purchased — Kate McLeod’s Sleep Stone. It is an all-natural puck of cocoa butter, almond oil and other good things, that you warm gently in your hands or rub all over yourself, and then you are moisturized and fragrant and off you go to bed. It comes with its own little muslin bag, and I am sucker for little muslin bags. I don’t know why.


My niece was glowing, just glowing at Thanksgiving, and I commented on it. She proceeded to give me the deets on her skincare regimen, which included both an exfoliant and moisturizer you can’t get in town. So I tracked them down elsewhere, and they have now arrived, sitting in their boxes, looking like they mean business—because the expensive stuff is always packaged like products that might require a prescription.


I haven’t used them yet, because I am setting up the particulars for a clinical trial, to see if I can tell a difference between them and my normal routine of rose hip oil and a plain white wash cloth.


But I draw the line at this… lip mask. Yes, a mask to use, it is recommended, for one week straight in the beginning, to moisturize and condition your lips. Full of Japanese peach extract, rose and camellia oil, to “protect and moisturize your pout.”


Honestly, I thought that was what greasy fried chicken was for.

Down the Rabbit Hole

I was burnishing a piece of writing and I couldn’t remember the song with the catchy refrain, “Černy Glaza,” the one we sang over and over again, deep into the night, somewhere in a Ukrainian forest.


Perhaps my writing would flow better if I could find this song on the internet, for surely, someone, somewhere, has recorded it. Youtube seemed so promising, but I turned up nothing. The problem, it turns out, is this. When I first searched for the song I guessed wrong at the spelling of the word, glaza, which I knew meant “eyes.”


My next attempt was much more successful. Oh, so successful. I decided to do a backward search using Google Translator and BOOM! There it was, the proper spelling. Scooted over to Youtube, and BOOM! again, Černy Glaza popped right up, and I recognized it immediately from the jaunty electronic keyboard intro to the repeating chorus, which came back to me in a rush. I pounded time on the table and sang along for at least five minutes.


What times we live in. No running to the library, sending letters and waiting for correspondence—for if Youtube had failed me a second time, I would merely have emailed my friend, Kveta, and asked her the song. Or even better, instant messengered my musician pal, Lenka, who is always on Facebook, and she would have told me. I might have to wait for a response until it is morning there, but really, not long.


If you looked at my phone right now, you would see exactly one game on it — sudoku. I can’t imagine playing games when there is all that great stuff to read out there, just with a click and a swipe. I look up things constantly. Constantly.


In November I was trying to find the name of a champagne I had tried and really liked. Before I went to find a bottle, I thought I might need to know how to pronounce it. I googled and there it was, and then I Youtubed a video to learn how to pronounce French wines, because I didn’t want to sound like a goober asking for it, but also, I didn’t want to sound like an affected snob, either, and get it wrong that way.


Luckily, it has a nice, straightforward name, with the first part already something we are familiar with, Perrier. But while I was there, I thought the nice Frenchman might ought to teach me how to pronounce other champagnes, just in case. He has several videos, so I watched them all.

It comes up so seldom, which champagne I prefer, but the next time it does, I will be ready. I may be so feeble by that time I need someone to hold the coupe to my lips as I dribble most of it down my front, but I will have pronounced it correctly.


And just now, researching the correct way to pronounce “coupe,” I have learned from a bubble physicist, Helen Czerski, that the perfect-shaped champagne glass is neither the flute nor the coupe. It is a wine glass with a bowl shaped like a brandy snifter, but not a snifter, served with the champagne poured only about half-way up. I know the part that holds the wine is called the bowl, because I looked that up, too, googling “anatomy of a wine glass.”


According to Dr. Czerski, this particularly shaped wine glass creates the slow bubble-making machine of the coupe, while capturing all the flavor bubbles that burst on our tongues and up our noses, like the flute. Turns out, smelling is one of the ways we taste. Czerski is the real deal, too, Cambridge trained, a bubble and ocean expert, and the author of “Storm in a Teacup: The Physics of Everyday Life.”


Which should arrive tomorrow, as I scooted over to Amazon and ordered a copy while you weren’t looking.


I might continue down this rabbit hole for a few more hours, and I can tell you with certainty I thought this column was going somewhere else altogether. But really, it was apt to be ponderous and preachy and not nearly as much fun as thinking about champagne bubbles bursting in our faces. Even if you never touch the stuff, still fun.


Perhaps I was a research assistant in another life, but I love knowing things. I love sharing what I learn. A lot. I don’t know why my friends find me so tiresome. I really don’t.