All posts by Janet Coburn

I Love Ginger(s)

I have a taste for ginger. I like ginger tea, ginger brandy, ginger ale, ginger beer, pickled ginger, ginger snaps, and gingerbread. I have been known to binge on ginger, dunking ginger snaps in ginger tea. I was first inspired to order a drink called a Dark and Stormy because one of the principal ingredients is ginger beer. In fact, the one recipe I was inspired to make after watching Food Network for years was a Three-Ginger Cookie that contained fresh ginger, powdered ginger, and crystallized (candied) ginger. (It was from Ina Garten. Among the things I learned between baking my first and second batch was that when she says jumbo eggs, she means jumbo eggs, not medium, which is what I usually have on hand. But I digress.)

Recently, however, I learned another meaning for ginger. Apparently, it also means a person who has red hair. It can be a pejorative term in British English, possibly because of its associations with red-haired, freckled Irish people, with whom the English have not always been friendly. A quick check of the definition and connotations reveals that gingers are said to be descended from Prometheus, fiery in temperament, and likely to be featured in pop girl groups. Wikipedia has an entire section devoted to discrimination against gingers and even hate crimes against them.

Famous gingers in my life have been my mother-in-law, my brother-in-law, and my husband. My husband was technically a ginger only from the nose down. He had a fine red beard and mustache, but hair of an unassuming brown. (Of course, now he is gray above the eyebrows as well as beneath the nose.) My grandmother Winnie Rose was also a natural ginger and kept her hair dyed that color until her husband died, when it was replaced with a beautiful snowy white.

In other words, I have the ginger gene in my family tree, though it didn’t express itself in me. (The freckles did. If I had been born a redhead, my mother would have named me Winnie after my grandmother. I don’t know whether that would have been a good thing or a bad thing, as far as teasing goes. But I digress. Again.)

In my younger years, I decided to catch up with my genes and dye my hair, if not true ginger, at least auburn. Gradually, I became bold enough to add more red to the mix. Once when I was wearing an Ireland t-shirt and flaunting my auburn hair, someone asked me if I was Irish. I replied, “No, I had to pay extra for this.” I’m going to Ireland later this spring and intend to have auburn hair again for the occasion. I’ll at least be an honorary ginger.

Another meaning I have learned for ginger is what I always called an orange cat. Thanks principally to Hermione Granger, I now know that such cats are also called gingers. My husband is quite fond of ginger cats, preferentially selecting them when we need a new cat. I have even heard these cats called red cats, though I think that’s a little inaccurate. They’re not really a color I would call red. But then again, I think red hair is not usually the same shade as a fire engine, except among the more adventurous colorists who have tired of pink and purple.

What all that means is that I love all kinds of gingers – the flavor, the hair, and the cats! Life would be a lot duller without them.

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Things My Husband Says

Sometimes my husband says the dumbest things. Sometimes I can get him to give up on the issue. Sometimes he screws up majorly. And sometimes he says just the right thing.

Convincing him I’m right

Occasionally, I can talk my husband out of whatever ridiculous thing he’s trying to convince me of. Some of these occasions involve opinions of foods. Whenever I say I don’t like a particular food, like mustard or raw onions, he immediately starts in. “Why don’t you like it? Have you ever tried it? Here, taste this.” The reason usually is, I just don’t like the taste of it. “What about the taste don’t you like?” Eventually, I have to come up with an appropriate adjective. Mustard tastes metallic. Raw onions have an unpleasant bite. Overripe bananas and egg salad are too mushy.

Once I have come up with an acceptable reason, he lets up. He can even make the connection. He now understands that I don’t like Cream of Wheat or grits. “It’s a texture thing, isn’t it?” he acknowledges. Occasionally, he gets a partial victory. I have eaten honey mustard at least once and didn’t want to spit it out; the honey lessened the metallic taste. The egg salad Dan makes is chunky rather than mushy; now he makes it for me semi-regularly. I don’t mind onions so much if they’re finely diced and cooked. (I suppose that means I should now be able to tolerate White Castle burgers, but I’m just as happy not knowing.)

Experiences other than food come under this category. He thought it was silly for me to pull down the blinds when I get dressed. “No one can see. The neighbors would have to have a telescope that sees around corners.” When I said, firmly, that it made me feel more comfortable and secure, he said no more about it. (It should be noted that he walks around the house au naturel at times. I once told a real estate agent that he was a practicing nudist. She replied, “You meet all kinds of interesting people in this job,” which I thought was a good response. But I digress.)

Near-death experiences

Earlier in our marriage, Dan was given to making statements that tempted me to kill him. His relatives and mine lived in different states, for example. When we were planning our wedding, he thought we should have it in between the two states, so that it would be equally inconvenient for both families. I had a hard time convincing him this was a Bad Idea, but eventually I just had to put my foot down.

Another time, he was sitting beside me on the sofa, talking on the phone to his mother. “No, Mom,” I heard him say. “Of course you can come stay with us for a week. Janet won’t mind. Here, Janet. Tell Mom she can come.” Then he shoved the phone at me. I shot him the glare of imminent decapitation. It wasn’t that I never wanted his mother to visit. I just objected to his making the invitation without talking it over with me first, to agree on a suggested date and length of stay.

One more incident also involved his parents. It was coming up on their 50th anniversary, which of course was a Good Thing. But my husband “volunteered” us (read: me) to go to Philly and prepare all the food for their surprise party. My reaction after he got off the phone: “When did you plan to tell me this?” His response, sheepishly: “Now.” I had to channel Martha Stewart, whom I loathe, to get it done.

Just the right thing at the right time

On the other hand, Dan has said some sweet, funny, or insightful things. Once when we were going through a box of old mementos in the garage, I found myself getting depressed at all the bad memories some of them evoked. “If you hadn’t been through those bad times,” he said, “you couldn’t be as good a friend to your friends who are going through bad times now.” It was exactly the right thing to say.

Another time, I was despairing about my final paper in my grad school class. “It’s just too thin and skeletal,” I said. Dan replied, “Is it thin and skeletal or concise and to the point?” I ended up turning it in without further revisions and got an A.

But perhaps my favorite memory of something my husband said was when we were watching TV and the movie Gunga Din came on. He innocently asked, “Honey, do you like Kipling?” That’s right – he opened the door and walked right in. For the first, and most likely last, time in my life, I was able to say it. “I don’t know,” I choked, barely able to speak through my snorts of laughter. “I’ve never kipled.” That was the moment I knew he was a keeper.

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Buy Now!

Let me say first that this is not a follow-up to last week’s post (https://butidigress.blog/2022/02/13/shopaholics-unite/) on overspending. Or maybe it is.

I hate the stock market. I hate that its ups and downs are said to reflect the nation’s economy better than the rates of homelessness, unemployment, and hunger. As David Gerrold, author and gadfly, noted, “The Nasdaq and the Dow are measures of corporate health. They do not accurately reflect the American economy and they do not represent the quality of life in America.”

I also hate that the stock market is a form of gambling little better than the lottery. (My theory on the lottery is that it’s a tax on people who can’t do math and a plot by the plutocracy to pacify the masses by letting them believe they can win their way into the plutocracy. But I digress.)

So why, then, have I taken the plunge into the waters of this institution that I hate?

Well, first of all, you no longer have to be a plutocrat to place these iffy bets. There are, of course, “penny stocks” that allow one to dabble in a minor way. But now there is another way for the humble, first-time investor like me to get in on all the high-class stocks that have made fortunes for other people – fractional stocks.

The concept is that for an investment of $2 to $10, you can buy a “slice” of an investment in Tesla, AT&T, or Apple, for instance. You may be buying only a thousandth of one share, but you get the amusement of watching your investment go up and down like a drowning swimmer. It’s tempting for a novice like me to sell a stock whenever it goes down a percentage point or two, but I want to let my investments ride. If I don’t like the way a stock is trending, I simply invest another $2 or $10 in something else. I know this is the way the fractional stock people hook you into spending more and more money with them, but it’s hard to resist.

So what does my so-called portfolio look like? I started with proven quantities like Disney and Amazon. Soon I was investing in technology companies that had something to do with the EV industry, which I think will be the Next Big Thing. And, at my husband’s suggestion, I placed a few bucks on a cannabis fund. He’s an old hippie and often talks about how the cannabis industry will take off once pot is legalized and taxed the way alcohol is. (His only experience with the stock market was back when people were encouraged, not to say coerced, into investing their 401k’s in assorted ventures. He went for tree-hugger funds. He lost a packet. But I digress. Again.)

It’s really kind of fun to look at my portfolio every morning and evening and learn that my slivers of stock have gained $0.26 since the day before. So far I have made approximately $2.34, not even enough for a cup of coffee. But at least I’m not tanking. It’s less fun to see my email clogged with prospectuses (prospecti?) and tip sheets.

So, is this a harmless hobby that’s less expensive than collecting antique egg cups or H-O trains? Or have I gone over to the side of the corporate bigwigs and hedge fund divas?

It’s a delicate question. All I can say is don’t look for me among the ranks of the plutocrats anytime soon. I’ve never been much good at fortune-telling; I don’t really think that I can tell which stocks will make a fortune.

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Shopaholics Unite!

We talk about shopaholics the way we talk about alcoholics – as though it were some sort of addiction, presumably one that can be treated through a 12-step group (though I’ve never actually heard of Shop Anon). Alas, that’s not the case. Those of us who have spending problems largely have to go it alone. Our friends are more likely to enable us than to talk us out of it.

In the past, I’ve had spending sprees that focused on music. I still buy CDs occasionally, despite the fact that most music is now in the form of downloadable mp3’s. I tried to fight my urges by, first, buying CDs secondhand and second, dividing them into columns, or rather, stacks.

There was a previously-owned music shop (the music was previously owned, not the shop) in town called Second Time Around. Way back when, they sold vinyl record albums. My high school friends and I haunted the place and picked up music by our favorite artists. (At the time, we never considered that we were depriving those artists of royalties. Later in life, I was once inspired to send a quarter to an author I knew because I had picked up one of his books in a used bookstore. But I digress.)

I wandered through Second Time Around, picking up everything that caught my eye (or ear) and piling it up in my little basket. Then I would retreat to a window ledge and sort the CDs into different piles: Must Have, Would Be Nice, and Don’t Really Need. I would buy the Must-Have discs and a couple of the Would-Be-Nice ones, but abandon the Don’t-Really-Needs. Using this strategy, I arrived at a total that, while not totally within my budget, missed it by only a little.

This strategy has served me well over the years. Now the baskets are virtual, but I still fill them up with whatever attracts me and delete as needed (or not needed).

Over the past months, though, my overspending has kicked into overdrive and my doorstep has filled up with Amazon and UPS packages. Nowadays, I over-buy items we may need for our trip abroad (planned for the spring), such as power converters, sweaters, scarves, umbrellas, and guidebooks.

The other item I’ve been jonesing for is pajamas. I work at home, at my computer, so pajamas are my daily uniform. I have shelves of pajamas in my office closet and a few more upstairs in my dresser. I have nightdresses, nightshirts, flannel pajama sets, fleece pajama sets, shorty pajama sets for the summer, and a number of pairs of pajama bottoms that I can pair with the nightshirts for in-between weather.

Pajamas are one purchase that works well with the “stack in the basket and weed” strategy. My husband has been helping me curb my spending. He asks helpful things like “Is there enough money in the bank account?” and “Do you need more pajamas?” I explain to him that the pajamas, particularly out-of-season ones, are on sale at really good prices.

One thing that does keep me from buying pajamas with such wild abandon is the shipping prices. If the shipping costs more than the pajamas, I wildly abandon them – though with regret. I suppose I could rack up the total to where I’d get free shipping, but that feels like cheating on my attempted shopping abstinence.

Travel items and pajamas, I tell myself, are not really so bad. I used to have a thing for jewelry. Now that I work at home, I never go to places where I need to wear necklaces or earrings. So, really, I can skip the jewelry and just buy pajamas. Or else found my own Shop Anon group – perhaps with my husband, who has a comparable problem with seed catalogs.

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What the Cool Kids Do

Playing Wordle is the newest obsession among the cool kids. And I have never been a cool kid.

Let me say first that I am not in. This screenshot is taken from a friend’s Facebook feed. He tried nobly to resist the lure of Wordle, but ultimately gave in and got in.

For those not in the know, Wordle is the newest internet craze, a word game (almost certainly a portmanteau of “word” and “puzzle”) that asks you to guess letters and determine what the target words actually are. To me, it’s sort of like Wheel of Fortune combined with Hangman. It’s supposed to improve your general brain health.

Every day there is a new puzzle, and people post their scores on the internet. (Not everyone is happy about this. I have heard complaints from friends about the number of Wordle scores clogging up their news feeds. It does seem an awful lot like bragging, at least when their scores are low. Another friend is hoping to see “floccinaucinihilipilification” show up as one of the daily words, which seems unlikely, as the words are only five letters long. Perhaps eventually they will have a 29-letter version. But I digress.)

It’s not like I haven’t had my clickie game addictions. I used to be a devotée of Candy Crush, Pet Rescue, and Bingo Blitz. I’d play several games of each nearly every day. My husband would ask me, “When are you going to be off the computer?” I would answer, “After I lose the next game.” I never bought any of the “power-ups” that cost actual money, though, which is probably why I kept losing.

I don’t know if Wordle sells hints or letters or power-ups or whatever. I didn’t know how the game designers made their money at all. I thought maybe they were selling users’ info to data mining sites or Russian trolls or something. Then I found out. The New York Times bought Wordle. I don’t need to ask how they’re going to monetize it. I used to solve the New York Times Crossword Puzzle regularly, which did cost money to play. I had forgotten that I had a subscription to it, which you can get without subscribing to the actual New York Times. I only recently remembered that I had a subscription to it and started playing again, though it happens that I like the acrostics more than the actual crosswords.

(I once worked at a place where they came down on me pretty hard for solving crosswords during working hours. I justified it on the grounds that I don’t smoke and never took a cigarette break. I thought taking a puzzle break was therefore justified. The powers-that-were didn’t agree. But I digress. Again.)

In addition to the aforementioned clickie games, I have dabbled in other online games that I felt were a cut above the run-of-the-mill inane ones, ones that ask a player to build a hypothetical theme park or solve a not-so-hidden objects puzzle. Once I played a lot of Words With Friends, back when that was the thing the cool kids did. I’m a word nerd, so I did pretty well, but I learned that people who were skilled at hitting the double letter and triple word score squares could take me down.

Will I continue to be unattracted by the admittedly fascinating lure of Wordle? Or will I be like my friend and eventually say, “I’m in”?

I’ve generally reveled in my not-a-cool-kid status. Why should I give it up for Wordle? It’s not like I need another time-sink. Facebook already serves me too well at that. And I don’t need to get rid of all those game addictions only to succumb to yet another. If I want to improve my mind, I’ll just read a book.

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TV Improved Our Marriage

It isn’t that our marriage is bad. But we had been growing apart. That is to say that my husband and I like different TV programs. I like cooking shows, though I never actually make any of the recipes. He likes classic movies from the ’30s to the ’70s, especially science fiction, the cheesier the better. (One of his favorites is Robinson Crusoe on Mars.)

I’m a big fan of science fiction, but not generally the movies. They all seem to involve superheroes, comics I’ve never heard of, the alien threat of the week, or mindless high-tech violence. (My distaste for superhero movies was challenged when I discovered I love Deadpool, which contains plenty of low-tech (though scarcely credible) violence. Deadpool is really an antihero rather than a hero anyway. But I digress.)

It’s not that I dislike all movies from the early days. I think My Man Godfrey is good, Arsenic and Old Lace is the best serial killer movie ever, Harvey is funny and touching, and Twelve Angry Men is superb. But so many old movies contain rapid-fire dialogue that I can’t make out (think Katherine Hepburn in Bringing Up Baby) or women with high-pitched, shrill voices hollering (as in Born Yesterday, which is otherwise a really terrific movie).

Dan objects to my cooking competition shows (such as Top Chef, Chopped, and Beat Bobby Flay) both because they bore him and because they sometimes drop live lobsters into boiling water (he still calls Emeril Lagasse “the evil cook” because he once dropped live crayfish into a hot skillet and joked about it). My husband’s tender-hearted. What can I say?

There is a competition show that we both like – Forged in Fire. I don’t know why I like this, but I do. I tend to like competition shows where the contestants have to make an actual thing that requires skill (which may be why I like Project Runway, too, which Dan doesn’t).

When Forged in Fire comes on, we retreat to my study to watch it, instead of being in separate rooms watching separate programs. (We go to my study because there is something wrong with the Roku in the living room and it doesn’t get all the same channels.) I also got him to watch Ink Master with me. He didn’t want to like it, but he got hooked on it.

Recently, though, we’ve been binge-watching a few series, generally a few episodes a week, which is our version of binging. I’ve selected the shows carefully to entice Dan into my study. We started with Star Trek: Picard, which we will watch weekly once it starts up again (unless episodes with Q are a major factor). The same with Star Trek: Discovery. Recently, we’ve begun watching Resident Alien and The Orville. Both of these are comedy sci-fi series, so they satisfy my husband’s needs and are perfect lures. And we both like some documentaries. Occasionally we watch a movie, or Dan watches one while I fool around on my computer – at least we’re in the same room.

There are some drawbacks to meeting in my study. There are only two chairs and one of them is my desk chair. Dan is more amenable to joining me if I let him sit in the comfy chair. And he has to have snacks (popcorn and/or nuts), crumbs of which get strewn about the carpet.

There are also some pluses. Dan is always too hot and I am always too cold. Fortunately, the study has a window he can open and a blanket I can wrap up in. There is a little tray table to put beverages on and a Mr. Coffee machine if either of us wants tea or cocoa (neither of us is addicted to coffee).

Carefully chosen TV programs and a comfortable study have thus brought us together, ending weeks of separation in the evenings (or in the daytime on our days off). I suppose that separation was the price we were paying for having TVs in two different rooms.

But now, we are closer than ever, both physically and emotionally. It’s rare to find TV shows that can do that.

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COVID Treatments and Denial

This essay was prompted by a question someone asked on Quora: Why do so many people not comply with COVID treatments? This is what I replied, plus a few other thoughts on the situation.

One reason is that there is no simple treatment that cures people. Until you are so sick that you’re in the hospital and require drastic treatments including ventilators, which increasingly have to be rationed, all you can do is treat the symptoms – cough, fever, sore throat, congestion, etc. – with over-the-counter remedies and hope that you are one of the lucky ones that experience only a mild case of COVID, like me and my husband.

Since there are no treatments (or only drastic, not always effective ones), people need to take measures to help prevent the spread of the illness, to themselves and to others. Unfortunately, these precautions have become controversial. Various news sources and social media have been claiming that such measures are violations of personal freedom (which is, after all, an American ideal).

Large segments of the population have over the years become deeply suspicious of the truthfulness or good intentions of government, medicine, and “big pharma,” to name just three institutions that are increasingly doubted. Since much of the information on COVID comes from these sources, people are skeptical. They turn to home remedies they hear about from friends and family, as well as news sources they do trust – which often give less-than-sound advice.

The pandemic is like nothing we have experienced in our lifetimes. People feel – and have been – isolated. They turn to easy answers for a complex problem, whether that be complete denial or horse-dewormers. Denial makes them think that the pandemic does not really exist, or is exaggerated by people and institutions with an agenda. They want to return to a “normal” way of life so badly that they grasp at anything that promises that normalcy. They don’t realize that by avoiding the harsh realities of the pandemic, they are ensuring that it continues to spread and they continue to be vulnerable.

This denial is so strong that, even on their deathbeds, some people refuse to believe in the disturbing reality that COVID exists, is ravaging our society, and can only be stopped by taking preventive measures rather than denying it exists or trying home remedy solutions to what is a devastating medical problem that affects all levels of society.

I know that this is a difficult, touchy subject and that some people will disagree with what I say – even disagree violently, unfortunately. I understand some of the motivations of people who refuse to accept ways to prevent the spread of the pandemic. And my words are not likely to convince them otherwise. But this is what I believe. I don’t agree with the COVID deniers. I believe that our medical professionals are right more often than they’re wrong. I believe that until or unless people do what is necessary to stop the pandemic – wear masks, isolate to keep from spreading it, and vaccinating – it will continue. New variants will keep cropping up. Ways to keep these new threats at bay will take time to develop and also be subject to denial and disinformation.

I’m afraid – genuinely afraid – that the pandemic will claim even more lives and keep doing so. My husband and I have been afflicted with COVID and so have many other people, from all levels of society. I hate to sound defeatist, but I can’t help it. Defeating the new plague, which I believe COVID is, and getting back to something approaching, but never fully reaching, “normal” will continue to elude us and the political aspects of the problem will continue to delude us.

There are no easy answers, though the steps to reduce COVID are simple. I don’t know how to get through denial. Perhaps no one does, if the number of people ill or dead won’t do it.

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These Are Words?

No, I’m not going to complain about neologisms such as “yeet,” which are actually useful, even if I do have to look them up in the Urban Dictionary. Instead, I have some things to say about recent words I’ve encountered that make little sense to me or that I have misread as something else entirely. I find these words perplexing, for a variety of reasons.

One I encountered recently is “sewist,” which is easy to mistake for “sexist” if you’re skimming (or typing, if you’re very bad at it). I think it is an attempt to replace the possibly-problematic-gender-wise “seamstress.” You can’t just retrofit it to “seamster,” I guess, in the way that “actress” has been. (I must admit that it is still difficult for me to refer to Angelina Jolie or Maggie Smith as an actor. I suppose I’ll get used to it, though it’s going to take me a while. But I digress.) There’s always “sewer,” I suppose, though that’s as unlikely to catch on as “sewist,” probably because, pronounced differently, it already has an entrenched (sorry not sorry) meaning.

I must point out that there is another, already existing, term that conveys the same content in an equally nonsexist manner: “fabric artist.” Admittedly, it does have the drawback of being two words and four syllables, which is difficult for speakers to handle in this fast-paced modern world. But the term also conveys the idea of someone skilled in making beautiful things (as well as useful ones) in a way that “sewist” just doesn’t.

The next candidate for Worst New Word is “sanism,” which I thought at first was shorthand (or a mistyping) of “satanism.” After reading further in the passage, I realized that “sanism” was one of the many “-ism” words that refer to offensive, discriminatory practices – like ageism, sexism, lookism (not kidding), racism, colorism (which is different from racism), ableism, and the like.

“Sanism” refers to the oppressive dominance of sanity, over what or whom, I’m still trying to determine. Surely not insanity, which is, these days, a legal term (not guilty by reason of) and not one that should be used to refer to people with mental health issues. Perhaps it refers to the presumption that everyone is sane until proven otherwise, which sounds to me like another class (sorry not sorry) of privilege.

Perusing Merriam-Webster’s words that were added to the dictionary in 2021, one comes across “copypasta” (which does not refer to stealing recipes); “teraflop” (which is not an unsuccessful dinosaur); “halotherapy” (which is not a religious term); “hard pass” (which is not a football term); and “gig worker” (which is not someone who spears frogs).

Of course, none of these may catch on the way “truthiness” did after it was introduced on The Stephen Colbert Show. It was just so darn useful, and resonated with those observing the political scene in 2020, when M-W noticed the word.

One other word that has been resurrected this year, though not with its previous meaning, is “oobleck.” This, of course, was coined by the illustrious Dr. Seuss (one of my first (and still) all-time favorite authors) in Bartholomew and the Oobleck, where it referred to a kind of goopy green snow. Now it means a substance made from cornstarch and water that behaves like a solid at times and like a liquid at others.

Personally, I approve. I think Dr. Seuss would have been proud. Or chuffed, if he were British.

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When You Have the Flu: Some Unsolicited Advice

I first posted a version of this almost exactly four years ago. I’m revisiting it now because…well, you can probably guess.

Say you’ve got a touch of the flu. Keep far away from me – you feel awful and I don’t want to feel awful too. I know you don’t want visitors, but here I am, and at least I’ve brought a gift: a few suggestions for entertaining things you can do while you suffer in peace and quiet, except for, you know, the coughing and sneezing and assorted other noises you’re making. Relative peace and quiet, if you know what I mean.

Drink tea. It really doesn’t matter what kind, since you can’t smell it anyway. Earl Grey will smell just like jasmine. Peppermint and English Breakfast, the same. And if you want to, you can use any variety as the base for my father’s restorative tonic, which consists of tea, bourbon, and horehound candy (tea optional), or boring old lemon and honey, if you insist, though my father would not approve.

Cuddle large, fuzzy cats. Do this even if you’re allergic to them. You’re already sneezing as much as humanly possible, so you have nothing to fear from dander. Bonus: A large, fluffy cat makes an excellent substitute for a heating pad or hot water bottle.

Read. Or pretend to. Actual reading may distract you from how miserable you are (unless you’re reading Les Miserables). Pretend-reading will encourage people to keep their voices low, plus it doesn’t matter if you fall asleep with the book elegantly displayed on your chest. (Make sure it has a classy dustjacket, even if the book inside is Fifty Shades of Gray, which I don’t recommend, unless it’s for pretend-reading. It can lead to barfing, which may be in your future anyway.)

Eat chicken soup. Tell everyone that you need it for the fluids and the electrolytes, which is true. Egg drop soup is an especially good variety – if you can’t convince someone in your household to make it and bring it to you, you can always convince the Chinese take-out down the street to do it. Nibble saltines daintily, or the little fried things that look like Chinese tortilla strips.

Hit the Nyquil. I don’t mean the non-drowsy kind – sleep through as much of the illness as possible. Warning: Do not mix Nyquil with Southern Comfort or the bourbon-horehound mixture (see above). You’ll barf and you may be doing that already. Also, don’t mix Nyquil with cough syrup, which can cause unintended psychedelic effects and more barfing.

Squash tissues. Let them blossom all around you in a protective ring that no one will want to cross. If you try the tissues with built-in lotion, don’t use them to wipe your glasses before trying to read (see above).

Call the doctor. Don’t go see the doctor. You’ve got a virus and there’s nothing she can give you for it. Just ask how long it is until you can get an appointment and rest assured that your ailment will be over before then. You may want to actually go if you start making a sucky (in both senses), moist kind of wheezing sound when you breathe. The advantage is it will keep people even farther away from you, but the downside is that you may have pneumonia, which is even less fun than flu.

Use Vick’s Vapo-Rub. You won’t be able to detect the scent because your nose is busy with something else (snot), but other people sure will, encouraging them to keep a respectful distance. If you don’t have Vapo-Rub, try Ben-Gay. Bonus: nice warm feeling on your chest. Note: If you use either Vapo-Rub or Ben-Gay, do not cuddle the large, fuzzy cats (see above), unless you want to look like Bigfoot. Just sing “Soft Kitty” instead, or insist that someone else sing it to you.

Whine. Punctuate with coughs and sneezes. Again, the goal is to get people to leave you alone. If this tactic isn’t working, move on to even more disgusting symptoms. Keep a bucket by your bed, just so people get the idea that you could use it at any moment.

P.S. I’ll give you one guess why I wrote this. If you don’t get the answer right, I’ll start whining. And coughing. And sneezing. And barfing. Just bring me some egg drop soup and leave quietly.

You wouldn’t want to catch what I’ve got.

Keep me in Nyquil!

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A Cat in the Night

Cats have a reputation for being aloof and unemotional. I’m here to tell you that’s not true. (They also have reputations for being graceful, which anyone who’s seen a cat fall off a window ledge can testify is unfounded. There are plenty of online videos that prove it too. But I digress.)

Actually, cats have wide emotional ranges, which can include anything from passive to pissed-off. One of our previous cats, Maggie, could snub a person so thoroughly that they knew they had been well and truly snubbed.

But every now and then, a cat will read your emotions and give you exactly what you need.

We have a cat named Toby. He’s generally happy-go-lucky, with a trace of skittishness. He doesn’t purr much, but he makes crazy sounds like “ma-weep” that I don’t know how he can do without proper lips. He does like to cuddle when we’re on the sofa or the comfy chair, either nestled in my husband’s arms or draped across my capacious bosom. (If I were a different sort of writer, I would have titled this “Bosom Buddies.” But I digress. Again.) At night our other cat, Dushenka, snuggles up by Dan’s head, while Toby sometimes curls up by my feet, to be joined by Dushenka if Dan starts rocking and rolling too much in his sleep.

This day, though, I had simply had enough. Dan forgot to pick up something I needed when he went to the store. I was still suffering the aftereffects of dental surgery and was sorely sick of eating broth and mush, enlivened only by peanut butter or the occasional scrambled egg. Something I ordered arrived but wasn’t right. It wasn’t a day when big problems unexpectedly dropped in my lap. It was a day when I felt like I was being nibbled to death by ducks.

I sat on the sofa beside Dan, tears slowly trickling down my face, which he didn’t see. Later he claimed he did but didn’t know what to do about it, which is in some ways worse.

At last, we went to bed and Dushenka curled up next to hubby as usual. Dan went promptly to sleep, a thing I can never manage to pull off. I lay in bed, tears still trickling, making small puddles in my ears.

Then Toby came, and lay next to me, his furry little head resting on my arm. And he stayed with me. He would sometimes move a little, twist around to find a better position. But he always ended up in some configuration with his head on my arm. He was a soothing presence, giving me just what I needed – silent comfort and undemanding physical contact.

We stayed like that for hours. Once in a while, I reached to touch him, but it didn’t seem to disturb him. It was me and Toby, communing through the long, dark hours of the night.

Eventually, I was calm and reassured enough to sleep, and I turned on my side, the only way I ever sleep. Toby retreated to his usual position alongside my feet, close enough to return to his protective, gently soothing position if I needed his presence again. But I slept through the rest of the night, dreamless, and awoke calm, ready to face the next day and all its ducks. Knowing that Toby was there if I needed him.

More gushy food for Toby! (And Dushenka)

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