Survival Update

Survival Update

Good news, dear pond readers: I’m still alive. Things have been rough here for your favorite pond dweller in the upper Midwest because I fell ill with COVID-19. I’m writing today to talk about things I learned the hard way and to emphasize that being vaccinated saved my life. Please, if you haven’t gotten vaccinated yet, talk to your doctor about getting the vaccine. You matter and I want you to stay alive. We’ve already lost 700,000-and-counting-too many lives in the United States and over 4 million worldwide.

Hanging In There Monarch by E.A. Schneider

I have been vaccinated for months and the vaccines saved my life. As an immune-abnormal person courtesy of my disease modifying therapy for my multiple sclerosis, I have been at increased risk of falling ill to COVID-19 this entire time. I wear masks. I watch my distance. I wash my hands. I don’t eat inside restaurants or go to movie theaters. I’ve cancelled or changed plans to avoid prolonged exposure to people in crowds. My doctor prescribed the third booster shot for me and I got my shot over two weeks ago. It went fine and I only had fatigue with headache as side-effects. The lack of side-effects made me nervous; I wanted my immune system to put up more of a fight. Then again, that’s why someone like me needs the booster. I was so lucky to get the booster. Here’s my happy action shot.

My main exposure risk is my adorable Wee Bairn who is too young to be vaccinated. Small children in daycare or school are the cutest disease vectors. As part of exploring the world and growing, small kids lick things, hug and kiss with abandon, touch everything then suck their fingers, and all manner of other germ-y activities as per usual every day. I always wanted to be the mom who encouraged eating dirt and licking the unknown to cultivate all the friendly microbes that make our life possible. At any other time, this gross behavior is actually a great thing for building up the immune systems and microbiome of children to make them infection-proof for a lifetime. But these aren’t ordinary times and children are more vulnerable than ever. This is precisely why schools need safety measures like mask mandates and mandatory vaccinations for staff; US states are all doing their own thing regarding mitigation measures like mask mandates. Unfortunately, the Delta variant of SARS-COV-2 is very effective at replicating and spreading. Even though my family did everything we could to stay safe and even though my daycare has rules in place that we followed, the virus found its way into our home and into our family. It was my worst nightmare of the last eighteen months and it wasn’t like what I expected.

Flower Remains by E.A. Schneider

At first, we thought it was a stomach flu. My child had only a low-grade fever, lethargy, nausea, and minor diarrhea. This cocktail of symptoms is familiar to parents everywhere, kids get it with a plethora of different illnesses. I got the mom-badge for being vomited upon from chin to toes. I’m over 90% confident that this vomit episode is how I got enough viral load exposure that I fell ill. Five days after the vomit day, my spouse fell ill and I fell ill the next day, day six post-vomit, which is the median incubation time for COVID-19. My kiddo tested negative but we swabbed over 12 hours after the low-grade fever broke and given the fact that children shed less virus, it’s plausible that the negative result was misleading. My spouse and I had the same symptoms as our kiddo but mine were more severe and lasted longer; we also had symptoms that aren’t discussed as much which our kiddo thankfully did not.

You know the symptoms we were on the look-out for with COVID-19? The loss of taste & smell, the shortness of breath, the high fever, and the persistent cough? Yeah, we didn’t have that. We got the stomach symptoms, the chills, the intense joint & muscle pain, the sore throat, the fatigue, and, bonus, we got really painful, spread-out skin lesions which is a less common COVID-19 symptom. Thanks to my abnormal immune system, I did experience a high fever with the chills, headaches, vertigo, arm numbness (thanks, multiple sclerosis lesions! I resent you so much), intense fatigue with weaknes, and my lesions were both more widespread and of longer duration than my spouse. I had legit COVID-toes and could not comfortably wear socks for a week. Because eating and drinking was so painful, I lost six pounds over four days. That is not how you want to lose weight.

My biggest regret is that we didn’t test our child as soon as symptoms of illness manifested. I was afraid of being too reactionary, over-using benefits, and causing unnecessary distress for my already distressed preschooler who had no cough, no COVID-toes, no high fever, and appeared able to smell scents. This was a mistake. COVID-19 has so many symptoms that it behooves us all to test any time you or a member of your household is symptomatic with anything. Hopefully, rapid at-home antigen testing will become more common and you, dear pond readers, will be better able to protect yourselves. Last week was extremely grim here with one sickly adult, one recovered but tired adult, and one very active preschooler all making do together.

Storm Clouds by E.A. Schneider

You know what though, dear pond reader? I survived. I was absolutely miserable and non-functional for three days and pretty uncomfortable for an additional six days after. Being ill for nine days at home is not bad. My vaccinated spouse was out of commission for about two days and felt better within a week. If I hadn’t had the vaccines, I would have had a more severe experience. The vaccines kept me out of the hospital and alive. My beloved better half stayed out of the hospital and alive. If everyone who can medically get vaccinated does so, we can change COVID-19 from a lethal threat to a seasonal inconvenience. If vaccination were more widespread, immune vulnerable people like me and my unvaccinated preschooler would be safer within the bosom of our vaccinated community and my beloved spouse would be, too.

Unfortunately, because our community only has 57.8% vaccination, we’re at risk. I’m terrified that my child will develop multi-system inflammatory syndrome and I’m worried that my fever combined with the immune response triggered by this infection will precipitate either a new MS relapse or the onset of yet another auto-immune disorder. The emotional toll of this experience continues and will take a long time to heal, if it ever fully does. I’m trying to focus on my blessings, practice gratitude, and work on self-care. This is helping but I think only time and prayer will mend my general anger at a community that feels indifferent at best and actively hostile at worst. Much like my MS diagnosis, I feel like coming down with COVID-19 has shown me some unexpected revelations and while I don’t think this is as watershed of an experience, it is definitely significant. This entire crisis I have managed to avoid compassion fatigue but now I feel like I’m experiencing some and I don’t like it. For far too many years, I’ve intermittently struggled with depression and this illness is pushing me back into that negative place. I don’t like that either. My knee-jerk reaction is to want to hide and lick my wounds away from others. It is important to draw boundaries and take time for oneself but social isolation can also be dangerous. Cultivating a balance of boundaries and society is going to be one of my challenges in the coming weeks.

Fall Color Sunshine by E.A. Schneider

Silver lining: challenges are something I’ve learned that I can handle. I’m not alone. I have my fantastic family, my splendid work colleagues, some truly invaluable friends, and my Faith. This is all a winning combination. Walking with my Wee Bairn and taking pictures together has also been a balm to the spirit. Whether its the endorphins from exercise or singing silly songs together or breathing in the energizing smell of dirt and leaves with my favorite small person, every walk has been delightful. Teaching my Wee Bairn to take pictures has been a continuing joy and it proved invaluable during my convalescence and now in my post-quarantine recovery as something creative we can do together that doesn’t require the intensive set-up and take down that a joint painting session does or lots of running/walking/jumping. The Fall Color Sunshine picture above was taken alongside the Wee Bairn as we listened to crows and wind blowing leaves into the grass. It was the most relaxing moment.

When faced with negative emotions, intrusive thoughts, and a persistent simmering anger at the forces and individuals prolonging this crisis, I have been working through this painful emotional soup with art because creating beauty from the maelstrom of pain is one positive thing I can do. I’ve been journaling, writing on a new story idea to make a deadline on my list, knitting, and I’ve been painting autumn decorations. Pelting unfinished wood with layers of acrylic paint until my hands hurt but the rest of me felt better has been satisfying. There are now little flecks of orange turning up in odd places in my kitchen but it’s worth it. My habitat is now brighter with autumnal colors and I’m excited that I still have more decorations to finish. I plan to post pictures of all the finished decorations but until then, here is a picture of two.

Autumn Decorations part 1 by E.A. Schneider

How are you coping with life, the universe, and everything, dear pond readers? Any new creative projects for fall?

Please, get vaccinated, wear your mask, wash your hands, stay well, stay kind, and leave a comment or question below. Thanks for stopping by the pond today.

Good News Cooking

Good News Cooking

Hello, dear pond readers! At last, today is the day I write about my adventures in cooking the harvest from my Good News Garden. I have cooked an old favorite, new favorites, a disastrous experiment, and learned how to pickle. I have also scarfed down sweet peas fresh from the vine and blueberries fresh from my small but lovely shrub after rinsing them off with my water bottle or the hose. It has all been a treat of an adventure and I even managed to get some pictures.

Mashed cauliflower is an old favorite in my household. The directions are simple: 1) steam fresh cauliflower 2) mash with room-temp cream cheese 3) season to taste 4) nom with enthusiasm. Yes, your kitchen will be redolent with cauliflower smell if you’re not prompt about cleaning the saucepan but the dish is delicious. This year, I successfully managed to grow and harvest a cauliflower head, praise be to God. I also harvested some tiny Yukon gold potatoes and tiny yellow onions. I steamed the lot altogether, mashed it with cream cheese, and spiced it with black pepper, ground mustard, paprika, and a hint of sea salt. There were no leftovers, only happy tummies.

A new favorite to our kitchen is radish-green pesto. I planted radishes this year as an experiment and it did not go as expected. Instead of getting neat little rosy roots, the plants all bolted and I got an abundant supply of greens. I looked up ways to use them and found this excellent radish-green pesto recipe from Love and Lemons. My Wee Bairn and I went over to my mom-in-law’s to use her food processor to make a giant batch of pesto. It turned out to be the best pesto that I’ve ever had and I really like pesto. I made a slightly more bitter batch with beet greens that I froze for later. A significant amount of fresh radish pesto was enjoyed as a dip with cheese and crackers in addition to pasta. The Wee Bairn even ate some! It was a miracle. In keeping with the Good News Garden principle of sharing the harvest, I shared the pesto with my folks and with friends. The beet and radish green pesto batch proved to taste amazing when mixed with feta or mixed into recipes like my vegan ratatouille. The vegan ratatouille also included onion and fresh tomatoes from the garden, too. Bonus, my friends’ child really liked the ratatouille, too. Huzzah!

Last year, my Good News Garden was blessed with numerous spaghetti squash. I was able to give a lot away but I also used a lot in creative kitchen experiment. I made a spaghetti squash casserole last year that I was super excited about because not only did my Wee Bairn help me make the casserole as official pour-er of veggies, cheese, sauce, and spice but said picky-eater actually ate it with gusto. It was a beautiful moment in time. Alas, I neglected to write the recipe down and I blame my post-dinner food coma. This year though, with my beautiful little spaghetti squash, I had to try again. Last year, I had layered spaghetti squash, spiraled butternut squash, spiraled carrot, and spiraled beets with a three cheese mixture under a red sauce with veggie meat crumbles, spices, and more cheese. I tried something similar this year but I didn’t have all the spiraled veggies. To compensate, I added veggies from the Good News Garden. I was out of red sauce and red sauce ingredients but had leftover homemade meat sauce from my mom-in-law and some meatless veggie sausages. I layered spiraled frozen butternut squash, spiraled frozen zucchini, my spaghetti squash, my green beans, my green peas, my broccoli, my Yukon gold potatoes, and one of my small yellow onions in a 9×13″ pan. I poured the meat sauce over top, layered on a mixture of mozzarella and parmesan cheese, a thin layer of beet pesto, the veggie sausages, extra cheese, and homemade buttered bread crumbs during the last six minutes. I baked the whole thing for 30 minutes total at 350F. The first night, the zucchini flavor was too strong but as leftovers, it was delicious with wonderful flavor bursts throughout as one encountered the different garden contributions. I liked it. The Wee Bairn declined to try any but oh well. At least now, I’ve written it all down.

Quiches and frittatas have long been go-to recipes in my kitchen, especially when entertaining. In celebration of getting to spend the day with family, I made a frittata with a garden fresh twist. I microwaved frozen spinach and layered it on the bottom of a 9×13″ pan. I layered two packages of low-fat/low-sodium feta cheese on top of the spinach then fresh broccoli from the garden, my onion, and some of my homemade beet pesto on top. I poured 10 beaten eggs over the mixture, a few more crumbles of feta, and some squirts of pureed basil on top before baking the whole thing for 45 minutes at 425F. My beloved little sis declared it the best frittata ever and we gobbled it up in very short order.

Best Frittata Ever

My kitchen disaster was a foray into making roasted cauliflower leaves. I’ve read that they’re delicious and similar to kale leaves or seaweed and thought I would try it with the remains of my garden cauliflower plant. This did not go well. I burned them into charcoal briquettes and managed to get the whole house to smell like dead cauliflower for far too long. At least I didn’t set the smoke alarm off.

So Many Cauliflower Leaves, So Little Skill at Roasting Them

A far better kitchen experiment this summer has been learning how to pickle. After watching an episode of Waffles and Mochi about pickles, my Wee Bairn, my spouse, and I were all fired up to try it ourselves with our Good News Garden harvest. I found this recipe for refrigerator pickles before I knew that Waffles and Mochi had their own magic pickle recipe. More pickle fun to try! Because I did not have seeds called for in the recipe I tried, I used powdered spices instead. We assembled the other ingredients for the refrigerator recipe, filled the jars as a family, and waited with bated breath for two weeks until Pickle Day. We packed the jars with sweet peppers, broccoli, cauliflower, garden carrots, garden cucumbers supplemented with store cucumbers, garden onions, fresh dill, and the single beet that I had successfully grown. Stuffing a little bit of all the vegetables in the jars was super fun for all three of us. We made an event out of Pickle Day by gathering a cheese plate, crackers, and soup to enjoy the pickles with my mom-in-law. Turns out, we did great! The pickles were crunchy, flavorful, and paired well with our improvised charcuterie board. I think that I’ve found a new kitchen hobby to experiment with alongside my family.

Fruit is a favorite in our family and we were successfully able to grow some in the garden this year. The honeydew have been an experiment with mixed results. I grew two tiny melons roughly the size of a nectarine. They tasted bitter but made the kitchen smell delicious. My foray into growing blueberries has gone well. I bought a small shrub that had green berries on it which managed to hang on until they ripened. My Wee Bairn takes great delight in watering the shrub with whatever rain is in the nearby rain gauge and being able to turn 12 fresh berries into an evening snack for the two of us was elementally satisfying. The watermelons have been a particular source of excitement. One was stolen off the vine by some creature but two survived albeit at a small size. I didn’t know if they were big enough to eat or not but when the curly vine by the melons got brown, I took a chance and picked them. My mom-in-law cut them up for me and they tasted delicious. What a treat! I feel ridiculously pleased and profoundly grateful that we were able to feast on garden grown watermelon as a family. Fun fact, the Wee Bairn took the watermelon picture below and I’m chuffed to display it here.

I have ambitions to use the rind from my tiny watermelons to make watermelon pickles this weekend. We’ll see how it goes but even if it doesn’t turn out, trying a new kitchen adventure is fun. How is your garden going this year, dear pond readers? Any new kitchen experiments? Other creative ideas?

Please, get vaccinated, wear your mask, wash your hands, stay well, stay kind, and leave a comment or question below. Thanks for stopping by the pond today.

I will close with an image of my asters blooming and helping my pollinator neighbors bulk up for winter. I’ve seen multiple monarchs and many bees sampling the asters and it is inspiring.

Fall Asters and Good News Garden Sign by E.A. Schneider

Pumpkin Flavored Victory

Pumpkin Flavored Victory

Greetings, dear pond readers! Earlier this summer I posted about my experiment writing through the crud of life. Good news, that experiment helped jumpstart some great writing productivity. Thanks to a super awesome friend of mine, I found out about an exciting writing contest with a final submission deadline of August 31st. I’ve always thought that deadlines were useful tools even though I frequently watch in horror as they fly over my head. This time, this golden happy time, I managed to turn the headlong rush of the deadline into useful momentum. The project that I was stuck on how to re-write? I persevered through where I was stuck and successfully finished what I hope is the final draft of the next E.A. Lawrence publication. Not only did I finish, I finished two days ahead of deadline and 10 words under the max word count. There was happy dancing.

High Stepping Rhino by E.A. Schneider

This wasn’t easy. I chiseled away at my revisions in the morning, on my lunch break, and late into the night; oftentimes all three on multiple days in a week. My friends helped me stay honest. I tend to be secretive about what I’m working on and don’t share specifics but when people asked me how I was, I said working on a deadline. It felt good to say that and know that I was making progress. I like drafting new stories but I actually find revising to be more elementally satisfying. Like editing a photo, working on a revision feels like artistry to make the small tweaks that make a beautiful, unified whole.

Bumblebee in my Good News Garden by E.A. Schneider

Because one of my writer/D&D friends is also a talented baker, they gave me a giant loaf of pumpkin chocolate chip bread to celebrate my victory last week. Today I finished the last bite and while I’m always up for more pumpkin flavored everything, I find myself hungry for another writing challenge. For as excited as I am about the draft I turned in to the contest, I’m more excited about the rush of making the deadline. Win, lose, or draw on this specific contest, I have a marketable draft that I can place with a publishing home. Now, I just want to repeat this writing achievement. I have a handful of short fiction projects in various stages of drafting and editing as well as a long line of new ideas for stories twinkling across my mind. Can I find momentum to reach a new deadline? God-willing and coffee pouring, yes. Tonight I spent time organizing my calendar alerts with deadlines for submission for seven different publishing opportunities. Will I make all of these deadlines? Probably not. Will I polish up more stories that make me smile and get submitted for some of these? Yeah, I think I will.

Swimming River Otter by E.A. Schneider

How are you doing creatively, dear pond readers? Any big projects you’re working on this Fall?

Please, get vaccinated, wear your mask, wash your hands, stay well, stay kind, and leave a comment or question below. Thanks for stopping by the pond today.

Good Harvest Blessings

Good Harvest Blessings

Greetings, dear pond readers! This is a small post of pictures of the produce I’ve gathered from my 2021 Good News Garden.

Sooner than later, I’m hopeful that I will post about some of the yummy food that I’ve made and shared with this produce. The berries did get devoured almost immediately because blueberries are magically delicious. The honeydew did not turn out. The two pictured above were about the size of a nectarine and although they smelled amazing, they did not taste good. Hopefully, the next batch turns out to be edible.

The flowers in my Good News Garden have been a delight. My Black-eyed Susans have bloomed with masses of color once again, the sunflowers proved to not only be beautiful but also effective at attracting a variety of songbirds, and I have been blessed with an unexpected surprise. A morning glory has been growing and blooming alongside my melons for the last couple weeks. I’ve been optimistically planting morning glory seeds for a couple years to no avail. I don’t recall actually planting seeds where they bloomed but given my chaotic planting style, that is not overly surprising. Morning glories always remind me of a particular dear friend and her mom, especially in growing places; finding this vine and checking on it every day has been like a long distance hug.

In one chaos pot planted by my Wee Bairn, some mysterious, leggy sunflowers have been growing all summer. I had no idea when they would bloom or what they would look like but finally this week, they bloomed a beautiful autumn orange red. When I showed my Wee Bairn, there was much joyful squealing and the resilient flower shown below immediately survived being kissed by a preschooler. This chaos pot of sunflowers has also been feeding chickadees, sparrows, and gold finches. Watching them perch on such delicate flowers has been highly entertaining and soothing. Even though the sunflower stems are slender and twine around in surreal shapes to face the sun, they always bounce back and keep blooming no matter how many birds peck at them or young children hug them. It’s inspiring to see.

Are you growing anything, dear pond readers? Harvesting anything delightful? Creating fun, end of summer memories?

Please, get vaccinated, wear your mask, wash your hands, stay well, stay kind, and leave a comment or question below. Thanks for stopping by the pond today.

Write Through It

Write Through It

Hello, dear pond readers! I tried an experiment: I attempted to take some very good advice that I have often given. As Alice sang in the movie, I am very good at giving very good advice but seldom good at taking it. C’est la vie. Specifically, I often suggest trying to write regardless of one’s feelings because if you wait for inspiration or the “perfect” mood, you’re going to write less often. Writing is a discipline that must be cultivated specifically for those times when it is the hardest thing to do.

Do I always follow this advice? Nope. I frequently don’t. The needs of parenthood, family life, professional life, and general adulting with MS often limit my capacity to write. My creative whims also lead me to other artistic pursuits like painting, quilting, and gardening. Following the creative whim is important, too. Still, to paraphrase the classic musical number, “Gotta Write!” is the backbeat of my character. Even when I couldn’t use my hands or see properly with MS, I still found a way to write.

Lately, my brain chemistry and life have been keeping me away from my pens and it has not felt great. After getting a super exciting rejection from a publisher, I struggled to re-write a story and now I’m stuck. That is also not a great feeling. In response, I tried my experiment. I used the bathroom, made my tea, got my music, wrapped myself in warm, knitted attire, and donned my motivational jewelry. I sat down with a timer to write for at least 31 minutes.

How did it go? Pretty well. Over two days of this, I wound up writing for over an hour each day. I wrote over 500 words on a new project and cut over 1200 words from an earlier project that I’m endeavoring to polish. Rather than engage in any more revenge bedtime procrastination and risk more bouts of Lhermitte’s sign, I’m pausing on a high note. I do feel accomplished. Even if I spent a lot of time researching random things like plants from the Devonian period, quadrants of the Milky Way, and the scientific names of sundry invertebrates, I actually did write and it feels elementally good. It is possible to write through the crud. I’ve done it two days in a row and I can do it more again.

Poetry in motion by E.A. Schneider

Are you getting to write or create, dear pond readers? How do you push through motivational blocks when times are cruddy?

Please, get vaccinated, wear your mask, wash your hands, stay well, stay kind, and leave a comment or question below. Thanks for stopping by the pond today.

Wingspan by E.A. Schneider