Hello from Boston MA. Bill and I have been settled in since April 17th, and with seemingly all the time in the world I have found it hard to focus, hard to be productive, hard to update the blog, it all just seems so surreal. Oh, we have good days, sure, and we’re so looking forward to our oldest daughter becoming a new mom, I just thought that with time standing still I would have been able to hurry up and move myself along, you know, check things off a list. Just not so. Five of our kids are still down in St. Petersburg FL, and Sarah offered up one of her latest pieces, you’ll find her writing below. She too is having a hard time, not that any of our circumstances are anywhere near wanting, I think we all are searching for answers and things that just aren’t ready to reveal themselves. Of course, all good vibes and thanks to all essential workers, and love, peace, and healing to anyone suffering.
And here, from Sarah. Thank you Booie, love you.
All the Thyme in the World
Yesterday, my best friend, Gabrielle, was bravely helping save lives on the front line at Buffalo General Hospital, while I was laying in bed at 2pm. She admits how incredibly hard it is to go to work most days, but it’s what she does. What I do is write, and I have not been doing that much lately. Every time I sit down at my MacBook and look out my window at our pool, I feel far too privileged and sheltered to weigh in a global pandemic, and every other subject just seems trivial. My writing feels useless right now.
Actually, I was feeling all around useless. It was a Monday, which meant another week with no end of social distancing in sight, and I had the entire day free, but I couldn’t think of one thing I wanted to do. I felt like I had been wasting all of my time recently. I’ve done what everybody says is the most important thing to do right now: I’ve stayed home and I will continue to stay home. But what am I even doing with my time at home?
I knew I had to get out of bed, but I just didn’t know what to do with myself (a familiar feeling these days). I thought of exercising, but going on the Peloton felt too self-indulgent. I considered going for a walk with my dog, but the thought of people on the sidewalks in facemasks dodging the people around them made me too anxious and sad.
When left to my basic instincts, there are two things I knowI am wired to do: nurture and create. This lead me to the kitchen, of course. The house was quiet and somber and I didn’t really feel like cooking dinner, but I figured I could at least do something to boost the mood of the five people I’ve beenquarantined with for over a month.
I took salmon filets out of the fridge and put them on the kitchen counter, worrying that we wouldn’t have enough fish for everyone. We are very fortunate to have fresh food, but the grocery store has been limiting how much food one person can buy, and six mouths is a lot to feed. When I grabbed for the red potatoes, I noticed they had small spuds growing on them. Normally, I’d be too wary to cook them, but I didn’t want to waste any food, so I took the time to pick out each individual spud.
While I waited for the water to boil, I remembered something I had read last week in an online guide to growing herbs. My mom left five herb plants in Florida before she went back to Buffalo in February, and I promised her I would look after them. Before the pandemic, I assumed all of the herbs needed to be watered daily and placed in the sun, but last week I noticed my dill plant was turning yellow.
I had plenty of time to waste, so I sat down and researched each plant. I realized I was overwatering, underwatering, underexposing, overexposing, underpruning, and basically doing everything wrong. I vowed to get them back into shape.
The next few days, I moved around the plants to make sure each one got the right amount of sun exposure and I altered their watering schedules. I learned that picking basil leaves actually encourages more lateral growth so I began pinching leaves off the top of my plant. On Friday afternoon, I left some fresh basil leaves on the kitchen counter, figuring I’d decide what to do with them later on.
A few hours later, I came downstairs to a mouth-watering smell drifting into the living room. Lindsey, Ethan’s girlfriend, had made sauce. She had found ground beef in the fridge that needed to be cooked before it went bad, but we had ordered take-out burgers the past two nights, so she got creative and decided to make spaghetti meat sauce. It had just the right amount of spice and was full of flavor, and I felt endlessly appreciative of her. While tasting a spoonful off the stove, I noticed the basil leaves were gone off the counter.
I marveled at how my small act of picking some fresh herbs inspired her to cook a perfect Friday night meal, which brought all six of us together for some much needed comfort at the end of another long week.
So as I stared at the salmon last night, still in a bad mood, I decided I would try a recipe I came across while reading about herbs for a honey mustard thyme glaze. I was bored of my go-to salmon preparation, so I sent my sister Mary into the backyard to pick some fresh leaves off my plant.
As I chopped the herbs, I had an uplifting thought. I hadn’t wasted those two days last week learning about plants. I had used my new knowledge to revive them. It didn’t take much effort, just moving pots and picking leaves, but it had already lead to two home cooked meals, and those meals were important.
Despite our privilege, my family has not been completely above the suffering that the Coronavirus pandemic has caused throughout our world. We worry about my parents’ health, so we have abstained from seeing them for over a month. This is the longest they’ve gone without seeing any of their children, and I know how hard that has been for us and them.
My oldest sister, Caroline, is due to have her first baby in a week and a half, and my mom, her, and I have all cried while thinking about her having to be in the delivery room alone until her husband is allowed in. My parents can’t stand the thought of waiting at their apartment in Boston while she is giving birth and plan to wait in the hospital parking lot. I have to accept the reality that I will meet my first niece or nephew over Facetime instead of being able to hold their baby in my arms.
My four siblings, three of their significant others, my cousin, and I all directly faced a frightening infection of COVID19. When a few of us tested positive for the virus, it was too late for us to isolate from each other, and with nine of us in the house, we didn’t have enough space. My cousin, Gavin, spent a night in the hospital alone, scared for his life after feeling intense chest pain. Fortunately, we all recovered and have been healthy since.
The separation and anxiety this pandemic have caused my family has been painful, and I have no control over that. I wish I could fix the outside world, but I know the best thing I can do is stay home. Because we all have to stay home, I’ve realized I can spend most of my time and energy making inside as comfortingas possible.
I spend days splitting up flowers to arrange into smaller bouquets to spread throughout the house, organizing the pantry and fridge so it’s easier for everyone to find something to eat for lunch, lighting candles, turning leftover coffee into iced coffee, and of course, watering my herb plants. These are small acts, but that doesn’t mean they don’t add up to something powerful: making this house feel like a home.
Everybody has helped to create that feeling. Ethan and Lindsey shop for groceries. We take turns cooking dinner and setting the table. Gavin makes homemade cocktails and we sometimes Facetime my parents, Caroline and Sean, or Maxwelland Lexi (who are now back in Buffalo) while we prepare dinner. Our shared meals give us something to work on together and bring us to the table for a much needed sense of normalcy and family connection, two things we are missing deeply.
The day before Easter Sunday, we were all feeling the sorrow of not being able to spend Easter with our parents. I really just wanted to cry that day, and I did. But after I got it out of my system, I knew I had to find a way to bring the house together – nurture and create. I called my mom for her sugar cookie recipe. I spent the afternoon teaching Mary how to make dough. Ethan and Lindsey hard boiled eggs and brought out egg dye they somehow found at the store.
We spent that night drinking wine at dinner and then moved into the kitchen, where I realized I had no cookie cutters. It didn’t matter. I watched everyone cut out their own shapes from the dough. They got inventive, hand carving carrots, bunnies, crosses, wine glasses, even chicks popping out of eggs.
When we woke up Easter morning, Ethan and Lindsey surprised us with an Easter basket hunt. That may seem a little ridiculous now that we are all in our 20’s and 30’s, but keeping our long lasting family tradition was what we really needed most. Lindsey made her mom’s Sunday sauce for dinner, mixing her family tradition in with ours. I don’t think any of us had really felt like celebrating, but just rolling out cookie dough set a real Easter into motion.
So while chopping thyme, I realized creativity, no matter how small the act, is never useless and is never a waste of time. It distracts us, entertains us, pleases our senses, helps us heal, connects us. My friends and family, with some extra time on their hands at home, are turning to creativity right now too.
On of my mom’s friends, Michelle, has been learning how to craft homemade cocktails and spending time painting. My sister Caroline took up needlepointing, just as my mom did when she was pregnant. My friend Lindsay, back in Buffalo, has been filling up coloring books. Jessi is in London, growing plants from the end cuttings of celery, lettuce, and leeks. And Gabrielle, in between days at the hospital, brainstorms names of signature cocktails for her wedding and plans flower arrangements virtually.
I think they are all finding joy in the feeling of “I made that.” There’s a super specific tiny spark of magic in knowing you put something into the world. It may not be N95 face masks or a vaccine to the Coronavirus, but who doesn’t want to try a freshly made margarita? Who can look at a perfectly crafted needlepoint and not feel a sense of admiration for the skill? How can we not be amazed when a small seed turns into a flourishing plant, and that plant transforms the taste of a slowly simmering Sunday night sauce?
Some days, it takes some extra push to create. Some days I don’t have it in me at all. I’m too distracted, too sad, too anxious, or all three. I’ve noticed at these times, I turn to the creativity of others: the people that have made movies for us to watch on our nights in, recorded music to listen to when we need a mood boost, taken photos for us to be awed by, written books on herbs to teach us to grow plants, composed cookbooks for us to learn new recipes. I’m so thankful for all of those people who know creativity is always needed.
Last night, I slightly undercooked the salmon using my new honey mustard and thyme recipe. Still, we all sat down and enjoyed it, grateful for a hot, fresh meal. We drank wine and talked and laughed. I felt surrounded by love and appreciation, and it felt like home. It didn’t really matter that I hadn’t gotten the recipe quite right. I can try again. It’ll never be a waste of thyme to create something.
By Sarah Collins