At the dinner table

Conversation over dinner last night was at least 4 layers deep (including a bad pseudo sudo pun, discussion of homophones/homonyms, the difference between Astronomy and Astrology, hamsters, depth vs breadth of information sources, and so on) which necessitated discussing pushing and popping stacks (of course). The kids kind of orbit outward from the dinner table, their distance oscillating based on affinity with what’s for dinner, time since meal started, and gravitational mass of the current topic. Eventually we risk losing them altogether into the expanding universe so at one point, hoping to reel them back in I call out:

“It’s time to pop the stack!”

To which Louisa, apparently already lost to another dimension, responds:

“We’re pink ponies! I don’t care!”

And Ellery, fully aware that the next thing on the stack to talk about is of import to her, retorts:

“I care!”

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A master's student graduates

In full regalia, Kate walks beaming across the backyard to the solemn and celebratory sound of Pomp and Circumstance marking years of hard work and a newly earned master’s degree in Library and Information Science. Paul’s been practicing all week on his trombone, Sandra just happened to have cap, gown, and hood in the exact right colors, and the crowd sprawls across corner decks and fence tops and hand held video calls vying for the best view. Speeches are made (newly authored books promoted), ballons dance, the bubbly is poured, and that golden Potrero evening sunshine lingers just a little bit longer than usual.

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The Chemist

Louisa’s been performing some interesting chemistry experiments—one perfume concoction with the lavender is surprising refreshing, there’s another vial though that smells like 💩—I’m told this is considered a success and exactly what the chemist was going for.

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Distance learning

Ellery diligently signs on every day, panics about missed deadlines, makes the best of a digital-only social life, studies her heart out. Louisa might just have to repeat the second grade.

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An inspired thread from my dear friend @robrix in turn inspires us to pick up the game Terraria, a delightful addition to combat copious free time and the nexus of much ridiculous dinner table conversation. (Virtual) house building brings about new characters in the game (they just move in when you build a new room), falling stars to catch at night, spiders in the underground, quests to accomplish (fishing for a particular fish, but first you have to buy a net to catch bait, and then figure out how to build a fishing pole…), and so much more. The garden gnomes keep attacking Ellery!

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Venturing out

Early morning stillness, pandemic traffic, the golden hour in the golden state through Sonoma farmland, happy cows, the ocean bracing and wild as ever, the waves always look small from the bluff and impossibly large when you’re stuck inside. A few cantankerous rides and whole lot of paddling. Just the two of us and a curious seal and the roiling Pacific on the western edge of the continent.

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How else do you survive a lock in? We mix drinks, expand our repertoire, and break out the Cuban rum direct from the source. Can you even believe we traveled to Cuba this year? Kate and I ask each other. The world outside Potrero Hill is as real as the stories in the novel I’m reading.

Maraschino cherries are made from roadside stand stone fruit to grace many a Louisiane and to gift to visiting friends. The Bar Book is becoming a little dog eared, but mostly because I always end up back at my favorites: Old Fashioneds, Louisianes, Negronis, sometimes a Tom Collins or a White Lady, French 75’s when it’s hot, and anything with bourbon really.

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Backyard projects

Wooden platforms spring from unbounded hours of sheltering at home up to fence lines, easing the passage between yards for adolescents and adults alike. Good neighbors become good friends, expanded quarantine bubbles bring sanity to family dynamics.

A new patio with concrete pavers outside the kitchen window involves hauling a literal ton of dirt out through the center of the house and then bringing back in an equal volume of road base, sand, pavers, and tools (the plate compactor is particularly fun to wrestle through). With no other access to the backyard, it feels a little bit like digging your way out of prison with a spoon, an appropriate lock-in activity if there ever was one. Kate and the kids have been my manual labor crew, though I heard talk of unionizing the other day in the bedroom—will have to nip that in the bud. Anyone want any dirt? We have free dirt.

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Defeating the King Slime

Louisa talking to herself, video game character dancing around the screen, while fighting her first boss in Terraria—which she’s been avoiding for weeks out of trepidation—Louisa, you got this. you’ve trained for this… you got this Louisa.

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A long haired, blue eyed, white cat dubbed Purrlicious on sight by the children—though we soon find out that Purrlicious is a tom cat named Miles—often ends up lost in our corner of backyards. Mostly blind and deaf you have to put him back on the fence he recognizes. Fittingly his owner is also often seen a tip-toe on the back fences—locked out, again—though seems to know her way home just as well.

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Friday happy hour

Weekly, without exception, the backyard neighbors gather on Friday at 5pm at the intersection of all the fences, tucked away from the streets, but with peekaboo views of downtown San Francisco for a happy hour (or two). Cocktails are made, kids clamber back and forth over the fence, adults discuss progress of the backyard projects, local happenings, national politics, and revel in the now rare joy of in-person adult conversation with someone other than your spouse.

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Oh most domesticated of cats who really only tolerates my affection when in need of something—though loves and seeks out the affections and abuses of the girls. While the pandemic has narrowed our world, yours has expanded two hundred fold. Careful leash-bound backyard experiences devolve into roof top escapades, romps in the neighboring yards, a surprise capture of a very large dragonfly, scuffles with the neighborhood cats, and a worryingly swollen paw from the spicy flies.

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An elementary student steps up

A bilingual, extended family, celebratory, zoom affair complete with background decorations. Each individual is highlighted, marking a big step up: goodbye elementary school, hello middle schoolers! We’re all touched, proud, longing to be IRL.

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Remote music theory and practice with Grandma DeeBee—metronome of the passing weeks—delights Ellery, eludes Louisa’s focus, fills the house with joy, giggles, and the hilarity of straw bubble water breathing exercises.

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The parrots of Potrero Hill

Parrots in the pear tree one morning, brilliant green, one with a bright red head, eating pears and dropping bits to the ground, squabbling pleasant social small talk the entire time.

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Purrlicious gets a new collar

One day Kate breaks up a scuffle between neighbor cats Purrlicious and Benjamin. She dutifully re-attaches a cat collar lost in the fight to Purrlicious and gives him the usual scoot on the fence horizontal heading in the right direction. Later we hear two humorous pieces of neighborhood gossip. One: it seems Miles came home, amazingly, with a new collar (though the name confusion runs deep with Miles). A message from a do-good neighbor to identify your cat or lock it inside? Two: Stacey confides to not being able to find Benjamin’s collar, mystified by how it just disappeared.

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Ellery and Louisa read, and read, and read, and then when they run out of books they start over again.

What are you reading, Ellery?

Keeper of the Lost Cities… for the third time.

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Stocking the bar

Blooms, the local saloon just up the block sells bar provisions during lock down on the weekends and Kate comes home with a bottle of whiskey too large for any shelf requiring funnel decanting into the old whiskey container. We congratulate ourselves on supporting the local businesses.

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In the front yard

Awkward, life bringing, longing social visits are paid, planned and spontaneous, in the covid fighting sunshine and fresh air, beneath the sprawling magenta bougainvillea. Puzzles and waves are exchanged, hugs are not, sometimes a dog, pickled things, backyard fruit, laughter.

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Snapshots of sheltering in place

The year 2020