December To-Do List

  • Daily tickets for the Advent calendar
  • Photo album (but TBH probably won’t happen this year)
  • Take pictures for the photo cards
  • Design, order, and pick up the photo cards
  • Mail the photo cards
  • Put up and decorate Christmas tree
  • Order ornaments for my niece and my cousin’s new baby
  • Send baby gifts to my cousin
  • Send wedding gifts to two recently married couples
  • Write a Christmas-themed blog post
  • Trip to see Christmas lights
  • Christmas shopping
  • Wrapping (ugh)
  • Plus: appointments for parent-teacher conferences, vaccines, mammogram, and dental cleaning (note to self: never again make mammogram or dental cleaning appointments for December, because this month is hard enough without those added unpleasantries)
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12/3/21 Thoughts

  • Today we got an e-mail to inform us that someone on Livia’s bus tested positive for Covid. She doesn’t have to quarantine, but we’re supposed to monitor her for symptoms. It was only a matter of time before this happened, which is why we got her vaccinated. I’d be happier if she were at least two weeks out from her second shot, but I figure she must have built up at least some immunity by now. Meanwhile, I have a sore throat and gummy eyes, and I wonder if I picked up something while I was out and about without a mask last week and weekend. That would be just my luck. I’m scheduled to get my Covid booster and flu shot next week, and wouldn’t it be terrible if I had to miss my appointment because I had Covid or the flu?
  • I bought way too many books for Christmas. Livia said she wanted a ton of books, and I guess I took her literally. Then, to keep things fair, I had to buy a lot of books for Marshall, too. Three more books arrived today. I also got an e-mail from the local bookstore to tell me that my order is in and needs to be picked up. How much do you want to bet that I’ll buy more books while I’m there? It seems likely, because book shopping is so much fun. Too much fun, maybe.
  • J.C. Penney canceled two items that I ordered online. I wasn’t surprised or upset about it, given the Pandemic and all. However, I was surprised and pleased when they sent me a $10 reward to make up for the inconvenience.
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SITY: Westerners

“I don’t want to alarm you,” my husband said as he walked into my office. “But…”

If his plan was not to alarm me, it backfired. I immediately felt alarmed. And the situation was somewhat alarming, at least on the surface.

Alarming!

These bugs were all over the front of the house, hanging out on the foundation wall, massing on the siding, and clinging to the window screens. But my state of alarm was short-lived, because I was pretty sure that they were harmless. A quick Internet search confirmed that they were leaf-footed bugs and, based on their general appearance, most likely western conifer seed bugs. Gathering on houses in the fall is normal behavior for them, and we should probably be thankful that there weren’t more.

Usually when a local plant or critter has a geographical adjective in their name, it’s “northern” or “eastern,” so what are these westerners, native to the Pacific Coast, doing here in New England? They are expanding their range, according to Wikipedia, and they’re doing a good job of it. In the U.S. they’re considered to be minor tree pests, except where pine trees are grown for commercial purposes. The bugs in our yard probably feed on the cones of the Eastern white pine, which grows abundantly in this area. But, these suckers can be found all over the globe now, including places where they are considered to be both invasive and harmful.

We didn’t need another tree pest, that’s for sure, but I’m relieved that these bugs are not kissing bugs. Their resemblance to kissing bugs was what had had my husband concerned. That’s a common reaction. Years ago, when we first started finding these bugs in the house occasionally, I looked them up because I was similarly concerned. At the time, I thought that they were assassin bugs (related to kissing bugs) but definitely not kissing bugs, because kissing bugs didn’t live this far north.

That’s not quite as safe of an assumption now, as I discovered when I researched the subject again this week. Kissing bugs, too, have expanded their range. They have been found in more than half of the 50 U.S. states. But they are not found in Rhode Island, at least not yet.

The resemblance of western conifer seed bugs to kissing bugs and also to assassin bugs has led to some confusion over whether or not they bite. Kissing bugs do, and they can give you Chagas disease. Assassin bugs do, and the bites are said to be painful. Western conifer seed bugs do not, and they don’t carry diseases. The worst they can do is make a stink (literally) and try to bite you, which won’t hurt much because their mouths really aren’t designed for biting. They don’t infest homes per se, but they do like to overwinter inside houses. So, the reason that they were all over the house is that they were looking for places to hide out for the winter. Understandable. We like to be inside for the winter, too.

Every year brings its own special buggapalooza. Last year was springtails. This year it’s western conifer seedbugs. There’s a lesson in this, one we’ve had to keep learning again and again–you want to live in the woods, you have to live with the bugs. The best you can hope for is that the bugs will be harmless, or at least relatively harmless, as this bug seems to be. I’ll take it over the spotted lanternfly any day.

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One by One

Whether it’s my chaotic surroundings making me feel distracted, or my mental distraction causing my chaotic surroundings, the best thing to do is organize my surroundings. It certainly can’t hurt. So that’s what I’m working on today. I just completed the simplest, most obvious task, which was to organize the random notes from my desk pad and put them in the places where they belong.

The next simplest task would seem to be bagging up the clothes in the donation pile. I can definitely manage that. I will go take care of it now.

One by one the tasks get done.

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SITY: Beautiful Leaves, Beautiful Trees

Beautiful Leaf
One day in October I was standing on our Bridge to Nowhere when I noticed some beautiful purplish-red leaves on the ground. I wasn’t sure what type of tree they had come from. Obviously it was not maple, oak, or birch.
I searched the ground for more of the leaves. I found some at the base of a very large tree.
Or was it two trees? When large trunks are joined together like this, I’m never sure if it’s one tree with multiple trunks or individual trees that have grown together.
One tree or two, I was pretty sure I’d found the source of the leaves, so I looked up, and whoa! The trunks were so tall that I couldn’t even see the leaves. Note the distinctive pattern of the bark.
Zooming in with my camera, I was able to verify that the leaves were the right shape.

It wasn’t hard to figure out what kind of tree this was. The pattern on the bark and the leaf shape pointed to ash, and the fall leaf color suggested white ash specifically. The identity of this tree actually cleared up a mystery from earlier in the year. I’d found some interesting seeds on the ground. They were somewhat like maple seeds, but single rather than in pairs. They were, I now know, ash seeds. Ash seeds are called samaras (not to be confused with samsara or samosas, though those are both interesting, too).

Once I knew how to identify the ash tree, I found another one. So now I know that we have at least two on our property, but probably not many more. The majority of trees here are the more common maples, oaks, and pines. According to the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management, ash trees make up only one-to-two percent of the state’s trees.

That’s a good thing, I suppose. Ash trees have a terrible and unstoppable enemy: the emerald ash borer. I recommend not thinking or reading too much about that. Avoid all Wikipedia articles on the subject of ashes. Take a walk in the woods instead. Enjoy the trees that are growing outside right now. They are all beautiful, each in its own way.

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Thursday Update

  • Most people seem thrilled about the upcoming holidays, and I’m happy for them. But I find both Thanksgiving and Christmas to be stressful, and I am not looking forward to either. I wish we could stay on Halloween for the remainder of the year. Costumes and candy are the way to go.
  • Speaking of the holidays, we got ourselves let off the hook for Thanksgiving dinner. Whew! My Thanksgiving hostess prep flew out the window when Covid happened. And, even though theoretically we had a lot more time to prepare for this year’s holiday, we still do not have all the stuff we need, we don’t have our recipes worked out, and our house is in chaos because of the work my husband has been doing. I don’t even want to think about the stress that would have ensued if his family had decided that we needed to do Thanksgiving here.
  • The puzzle idea that I mentioned a while back has made it to the next stage of approval. Now my coworkers are looking at it to decide if the idea has merit. So far all of the comments have been positive. I know that these people are not just trying to be kind, because they’re not known for pulling punches (TBH, some of them are kind of mean, though I won’t say which). Plus I have a second idea on the table, and they do not love that one. That’s fine and not unexpected. That is to say, things are going as I had thought they would, and my ego has not had to suffer a bruising. There’s still time for them to destroy me, though, so I’ll keep the box of Kleenex nearby, just in case. (I tell the kids that if you’re going to be creative you have to learn to deal with the haters. That is true, of course, but it doesn’t mean that there won’t be any crying.)
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Reading Report: Early November

I had too many library books, so I returned a few to the library unread. They were all books that I might like to revisit someday. They were…

  • Under the Harrow by Mark Dunn: Dunn wrote Ella Minnow Pea, which I enjoyed. I think I would also enjoy this story about the society formed when orphans are abandoned in a sheltered village with only books–encyclopedias, an atlas, the King James Bible, and the works of Charles Dickens–to guide them. But, the tone didn’t match my mood and, at a hefty 550 pages, it was just too much for me right now.
  • Dark Quartet by Lynne Reid Banks. I’ve enjoyed other works by LRB, and the subject (the Bronte family) was intriguing. But, before tackling this book, I think I’d like to reacquaint myself with the Brontes’ work. I read Jane Eyre such a long time ago that it’s not even listed on my blog, and Wuthering Heights was even longer ago, back in high school.
  • Louise Gluck: Poems 1962-2012: I read a few random poems from this tome, and I liked them. But, as I’ve mentioned before, large books of poetry are intimidating. This is the kind of book that’s good to own if you’re familiar with a poet and want to have the complete collection. If you’re trying to get to know them, though, this kind of collection is simply too much of a good thing. I should get something smaller to start with.

Currently I am reading Mindwise: How We Understand What Others Think, Believe, Feel, and Want by Nicholas Epley and The Dark Shore by A.A. Attanasio. The Epley book is an easy read that is, essentially, about how little we are able to see past the bridges of our own noses. The Attanasio book is an interesting challenge. Attanasio is a sci-fi author who never met an adjective he didn’t like. He packed them into The Dark Shore so densely and in such odd ways that when I try to read normally the story is nearly incomprehensible. But if I just let it wash over me with the assumption that I will understand it in the end, it conjures up rich mental images. So I’m not sure yet if it’s a great book or a horrible one. It might be both.

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What’s Up Today

  • I despise DST, but I have to admit that the time change worked in my favor today. I had slept late this morning. Then I set the clock back by an hour, and suddenly it was as if I’d gotten up at exactly the right time.
  • I will be going out later today, first to the library to drop off and pick up books, then to J.C. Penney to grab the items that I ordered online, and then to BJs and/or Stop & Shop to buy some miscellaneous groceries. Before leaving, I should clean out the fridge, make a shopping list, and do some laundry. At some point today I also need to read the research that I printed out for work, so that I’ll be ready to write the blurb that I really don’t want to write but have to (ugh–writing those things is the part of my job that I dislike the most). I’d also like to take a walk in the woods today, if I can find the time for it.
  • Have I mentioned how posh the front door of my house is looking these days? My husband recently repainted it. It used to be red, and now it’s black. Far from paying homage to the Rolling Stones, we were never happy with the old shade of red. The new black matches the window shutters, and it helps to distinguish our house from the neighbor’s (she recently painted her door red). Our new family joke is that black doors are “posh doors.” Now, whenever we see a black door, we say, “Oooh, that’s a posh door.” To make our posh door even more posh, we wanted to add a brass hook on which to hang a wreath. As it turns out, nobody wants to sell me the perfect hook for wreath hanging. All I could find were plastic stick-on hooks and those over-the-door hooks, neither of which we wanted. So yesterday I ordered a brass doorknocker to use as a wreath hanger. It’s shaped like a dragonfly. I hope it will work out, because I spent a pretty penny on it and, since it’s shipping from the UK, I won’t be able to return it. Fingers crossed. May the Posh be with us.
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Saturday Thoughts

  • There’s a salamander living under our toilet. At least there was. My husband took the old toilet out so that he could put the new one in, and underneath it he found a salamander. Creepy, but sort of cool, too. Our lucky toilet salamander. Not everyone has one of those. We are special.
  • I begged my husband to end my misery and upgrade our Hulu to the ad-free version. The ads were so incredibly repetitive that they were driving me mad. Finally he fixed it and, as part of the deal, he got us a subscription to Disney+. Now I have far more television than I can or should watch. The Disney stuff is overwhelming, because there’s so much of it that I haven’t seen yet. I started slowly, with one episode of The Mandalorian, which was surprisingly good, and one episode of Loki, which was surprisingly meh.
  • Marshall has been wearing shorts every day even though it’s fall. For weeks I’ve been trying to convince him that it’s time to switch to pants. The temperature had been hovering just above freezing in the morning, but still he wanted to wear shorts. Thursday, though, it was literally below freezing, so I forced him to go upstairs and change into pants before leaving for school. I totally get that he’s a boy and made out of radioactive materials. He doesn’t feel the cold the way I do. And because he’s over twelve years old, I’m willing to let him make his own mistakes and suffer some consequences, especially minor consequences, such as feeling cold. But on Friday he made a big stink about switching to pants, so I told him that I’m going to take all of his shorts away come next Monday. If that’s what it takes, so be it. Mama gotta draw a line, and the line is 32 degrees Fahrenheit.
  • The foliage has been very pretty. There are still enough leaves on the maples to provide some color as the oaks get started on their big change. TBH, it’s not the best foliage year, because something caused the maple leaves to turn spotty before they changed color, but it’s so much better than previous years, when the trees had been stripped by insects. Today, as Marshall and I walked on the driveway, we picked up leaves to be contenders in the Prettiest Leaf of the Forest Competition. I feel certain that we have a winner. I’m just not sure which one it is. Maybe all of them.
  • As I’m writing this post, my husband and daughter are out. Livia is getting her first Covid vaccine today (woo-hoo!). They will be bringing home dinner with them. I can’t wait to see my girl and give her a hug for being brave and getting her shot. I’m also looking forward to dinner, and I hope they get back soon.
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Thoughts on Halloween

  • We took the kids trick-or-treating on Halloween. As an outdoor activity, it seemed safe enough Covid-wise. Marshall wore a taco costume, and Livia dressed as a wolf. It was a relatively subdued night compared to previous years. There were fewer kids and fewer people handing out candy, which wasn’t surprising given the circumstances. Everyone was maskless (sort of ironic, given that it was Halloween) and a couple of times I sensed an undercurrent of feeling from other people, as if we were all in the same group, a group that doesn’t believe in the Pandemic or in wearing masks. Except I’m not in that group, and I don’t want to be in that group or even associated with it. That was a tiny source of irritation on an otherwise pleasant evening.
  • My brother-in-law pointed out that more people decorate lavishly for Halloween than did when we were kids, but that fewer hand out candy. My husband and I agreed. That does seem to be a trend, one that began long before Covid. Trick-or-treating has been dwindling in popularity over the years, and Mischief Night has disappeared entirely. As for the decorations, they’re mostly cheap plastic garbage, which is sad. At this time of year, we’re supposed to honor the natural world, not the junk destroying it.
  • My fingernails are painted black, a leftover from the holiday. I don’t often paint my nails, so I’ve been enjoying the novelty. Livia’s nails are even more Halloweeny than mine. The day before Halloween she decided to do jack-o’-lantern designs on her nails, but they turned into a mess, because she hasn’t mastered the thin coats required for layering or the patience to wait while they dry. Fortunately, I had some patience handy that day, so I removed the polish, repainted the base coats, then blow-dried them until they were set. I haven’t really mastered these skills either, but I did my best. It took a while, but it was bonding time for us and therefore well spent.
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