Unscented (#353)

Out of all the senses, smell is the one I thought about the least about the least.

Until I lost it completely.

Thank you, COVID.

Only then did I realize how much I relied upon my sense of smell. I was always the first person to say, “Is something burning?” or leap up and close the windows at the first hint of skunk (we have many skunks in our neighborhood). No sneakers that stepped in dog poop ever made it into my car or house. Baby D never sat in a dirty diaper, and no one ever wrinkled their nose when I was working out next to them at the gym. (I, on the other hand, wrinkled my nose a lot. Sometimes I carried Vick’s VapoRub and dabbed a bit under my nostrils.)

When I was pregnant, my already sensitive sense of smell went into overdrive. I became hyperosmic, unable to stand most strong odors, gagging and fleeing if Andy cooked meat. My carnivorous husband was offended at first, but eventually gave up trying to feed me anything but bean and cheese burritos.

If I’d had anosmia when I was pregnant, I’d have thrown up a lot less.

Quesadilla surrounded by three different hot sauces
Trying all Andy’s hot sauces in a desperate attempt to taste ANYTHING.

Without a sense of smell, I discovered that food has very little flavor. Coffee was merely bitter. Chocolate was sweet (unless it was that nasty, super dark kind). My favorite chips were salty, but I could taste no vinegar. Spicy food felt hot, but again, it had no flavor. My tongue and mouth sensed the coolness in mint and menthol, but that was it.

Andy would ask, “What do you want for dinner?”

I’d glare at him and grouse, “IT. DOESN’T. MATTER.”

Andy wisely stopped asking about menu choices.

Baby D, on the other hand, had endless commentary/ suggestions regarding my anosmia. “You should eat an onion, Mom!” (We both hate onions.) “You should enter one of those ghost pepper eating contests!” He’d stand next to me, fart, and protest when I reprimanded him: “But, Mom, it’s not like you can smell it!”

While I didn’t miss smelling Baby D’s farts or soccer cleats, I worried about missing other smells, especially dangerous ones. Like gas. What if there was a leak, or someone accidentally hit the knob on the range? What if Andy burned up something in the kitchen or nearly set the house on fire again?

I read up on anosmia and learned that my sense of smell might return in weeks, months, years, or never.  My father either got COVID or a terrible cold back in 2020—last month he could finally smell fabric softener for the first time.

That was not promising.

Some articles suggested “retraining” your nose. I sniffed at everything from cinnamon to sharpies to rubbing alcohol (and never got high, damn it). Sometimes, I thought caught a whiff of scent, but it could easily have been a memory. One of my favorite parts of spring is the scent of the freesia planted all around my house. The freesia bloomed; I could smell NOTHING.

I whined to Lawyer Sis, who was also a super sniffer. “What if I never can smell again? Or what if I can never smell as well as I used to?”

“Would that be so bad?” she asked. “I’d kind of like something to take the edge off. People get super offended when you walk into their house and gag.”

At least, thanks to all the vaccinations and boosters, I never had a fever with COVID. I was, however, fatigued and irritable. (Addendum from Andy: “Really irritable. Especially after I got Paxlovid and tested negative within 3 days and Baby D never tested positive at all and you tested positive for like two weeks and coughed and had a sore throat FOREVER!” Addendum from author: “Everyone now realizes my irritation was fully justified, honey. Thank you.”)

COVID also gave me the worst, longest stuffy nose of my life. It lasted four weeks. Do not recommend.

Once my nasal passages finally cleared, though, faint scents followed. I could smell Vick’s! Cinnamon. Even freesia.

No doubt everyone in the Costco gas line thought I was unhinged as I inhaled mightily and smiled at the pump. Repeatedly.

My sense of taste took a week longer to return, but once I could smell coffee, I could also taste it.

The one surprise was a missing smell: the dog didn’t reek of skunk.

Skunk eating out of dog's food dish.
Spicy Squirrel helping itself to dog’s food.

He’d tangled with a spicy squirrel back in January. Baths of hydrogen peroxide, dawn dish soap, and baking soda had gotten the stench off his skin and fur, but the skunk-laden exhalations from his nostrils and mouth were still incredibly noxious when I got COVID in February.

“Do you smell skunk on the dog?” I asked Andy in mid-March.

“Not anymore.”

I asked Baby D, “Does the dog’s breath still stink?”

“No.”

“Huh. I didn’t expect it to disappear so fast.”

Andy gave me an incredulous look and said, “It’s been two months, honey. That is not fast.”

About ten days ago, as I clipped the dog’s leash to his collar, I smelled skunk. I muttered to the dog, “Damn. I hope that skunk isn’t lurking outside the gate.”

We didn’t see a skunk by the gate.

We didn’t see a skunk anywhere on our three-mile walk, in fact.

But when we got back, I smelled skunk again. The penny finally dropped.

“It’s you!” I told the dog, hugging his stinky face. “Your breath is still foul! You DO smell like skunk! Andy just can’t smell it. Even Baby D can’t smell it! ONLY I CAN SMELL IT!”

I was back, baby.

Tasteless (#352)

Karma comes in many forms.

You might, for example, write a gloating glowing, envy-inducing post about what an amazing chef your husband is, complete with mouth-water photos of eggs Benedict and beef Wellington.

Only to find yourself unable to taste ANY food a few weeks later. Because after 3 years of dodging, COVID finally got you.

And you can’t even figure out how the motherfucker did it.

I wear a mask indoors EVERYWHERE and I hardly go anywhere. Just the store, and monthly soccer/ PTA meetings (with my KN95). Andy and I don’t do movies, concerts, or big sporting events. We only go to outdoor soccer games for Baby D and we don’t sit close to other parents. The only place we go out to eat is sushi once a month—right when they open, when no one else in there, the staff is masked, we only unmask to eat, etc. Our whole family is vaccinated, boosted, and bivalent boosted. We had a very small dinner with one (vaccinated, boosted) family at Christmas and another at New Year’s (with windows open and plenty of ventilation).

If I meet another mom for lunch, we eat outside. If I visit a friend who has a new kitten in her house, I wear a mask. Hair stylist? Mask.  Pedicure three times a year? Mask.

If COVID had nailed my husband, that wouldn’t be too surprising. He wears a mask everywhere indoors, just like I do, but spends over 40 hours a week in a windowless building with shit ventilation and no small number of coworkers without masks. He has an office with a door he keeps closed whenever he can, and a portable fan, but he has tons of meetings with people who don’t always mask and come in from all over the country.

If COVID had nailed Baby D, that would have been even less of a shock. I know that kid takes his mask off at school, where he also plays tuba, soccer, and runs around with hundreds of other disease vectors daily. The kid had a cold at Christmas and got another one about 15 days ago. We test him repeatedly for COVID.

Yet I’m the one COVID got. The post nasal drip started a week ago, and Wednesday I woke with snot and coughing. I thought it was just Baby D’s cold, since I had the same symptoms. I didn’t have even a low-grade fever—usually the big difference between a cold and COVID or flu. The kid had already given his cold to Andy a few days earlier, so I wasn’t surprised I was sick. All the COVID tests, including the one I gave Baby D the day I started sniffling, were negative. I took my Sudafed, wore my KN95, and went on with trips to stores and one meeting.

Friday I was eating a sandwich and thought, “I need more mustard.” I put on more Dijon mustard and finished lunch. Afterwards, I had a piece of a new craft chocolate candy bar Andy had gotten me and thought, “This is sweet, but not chocolately at ALL.”

The penny dropped.  I realized that our dog, who had been skunked a month ago, hadn’t reeked skunk when he breathed on me earlier. I ran to the dog’s favorite pillow (which had also begun to reek of skunk) and buried my face in it.

I smelled NOTHING.

Not even regular dog breath.

I broke out the COVID test. The “positive” line was bright red before the moisture even reached the “control” line on the test strip.

COVID snuck in under cover of Baby D and Andy’s cold. But how? 3 days prior to symptoms, the only thing I did was walk the dog three miles (early in the morning, we only saw maybe 2 people in the distance) and work in the garden. No one I saw within the previous week had COVID (or admitted having it). Could Andy or Baby D have COVID after all?

It took some maneuvering since I couldn’t actually go into the school, but I got the school to release Baby D so I could test him for COVID.

Negative.

Andy went to a testing site near work.

Negative.

Clearly, I was a Taylor Swift song:

I went into isolation in the bedroom. If I had to come out for the bathroom or wanted to hang outside on the patio, I wore a mask. Andy and Baby D would wear masks to crack open my door and shove in food:

My bean and cheese burrito from Chipotle. I could taste the warmth of spiciness, but that was all.

I was lucky to get that burrito. After I whined (on the phone) to Andy about how I couldn’t taste a damned thing, my husband decided not to waste his time or his culinary talents on his wife.

This was my lunch on Saturday:

A bowl of steamed broccoli next to plain spaghetti noodles

Andy texted later to ask if I wanted dinner.

I texted back, “No thank you.”

Andy tested positive on Sunday morning. Andy has asthma. Andy had his prescription of Paxlovid within the hour.

Andy can still taste food.

Baby D, who enjoys being confined in his room, doing no chores, having meals delivered, and playing all the computer games he wants, is still, amazingly, COVID-free. The triumphant little brat even waved his latest negative test in my masked face this morning and caroled, “Read it and weep, Mother!”

HOW?!

I can’t smell at all. I can only tell whether the food in my mouth is sweet, salty, or bitter. An orange tastes sweet, but has no orange flavor. Coffee is bitter, but it doesn’t taste like coffee.

Eating now is an exercise in disappointment. I only do it to refuel. After a breakfast of oatmeal and an orange, I might have a bagel and apple for lunch and then I’m done for the day.

Luckily for my still-tasting spouse and child, I’m a big planner. I’d gotten their favorite See’s Candies for Valentine’s Day weeks ago. Andy finished his peanut crunches before midday.

I got a lovely haul of chocolates as well. Am I eating them? Hahahaha why bother.

Most COVID-related anosmia clears up within 1-6 months. But I have one friend who got COVID in 2020 and has never recovered her sense of smell. She shrugged it off, saying, “Well, at least I don’t gag when I have to pick up dog poop anymore.”

What are the odds I open those boxes of candy by March?

Not great.

A table with heart-shaped boxes of chocolates and other candies

The Once-ler Next Door (#337)

As usual, March has not been a great month. Fellow blogger Mark suggested I hunker down at home.

I tried. Things got ugly there, too. Literally.

The city decided to chop down all seven mature trees that form a canopy around our house. These trees are on the city property that border the street; even though homeowners water them, they belong to the city. Homeowners aren’t allowed trim the trees without going through an arduous permitting process, but city didn’t trim the trees for about fifty years. Their massive roots raised and cracked the sidewalks.

Older folks are likely to trip and fall. Folks in wheelchairs have a hard time getting through. The city was out of compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act. The specter of lawsuits loomed. Continue reading The Once-ler Next Door (#337)

Miserable March (#336)

In The Wasteland of T.S. Eliot, April is the cruelest month.

In my world, it’s always March.

Once upon a time, March was the best month.

March was my birthday, back when birthdays were awesome (and even if they weren’t, I got cake). It was my mother’s favorite season, which always put her in a good mood. She’d exclaim over crocuses and forsythia while we flew kites. There was St. Patrick’s Day, on which you were allowed to pinch annoying siblings (biting would have been better, but I made do). Sometimes Easter occurred in March, which meant egg dyeing and chocolate bunny rabbits.

Back then, even the annual horror that is Daylight Saving Time didn’t occur until April. Continue reading Miserable March (#336)

Summer Vacation or Summer Purgatory (#324)

I know parents who can’t wait for summer vacation.

“No more making lunches!” a mom of three rejoiced on the last day of school a few years ago.

“We’re totally sleeping in,” said the mom with twins.

Another mom chimed in with, “No nagging about homework for 2 whole months!”

There were moms who had vacations planned, or had already purchased season passes to Disneyland. They were as giddy as their kids about the end of school.

I was never one of those moms. I dreaded summer vacations. My only child NEVER slept past 6 AM. Baby D was a restless bundle of energy (and if you let it build up it would explode as destructively as possible). Continue reading Summer Vacation or Summer Purgatory (#324)

Running the Numbers (#320)

Everything carries a risk.

Walking outside exposes you to pollution, pollen, an aging population that refuses to give up their cars until they kill people.

Staying inside? You risk depression and poor physical health without sunlight, nature, human contact, and exercise.

Getting married? Well, for heterosexual men it’s a win; you live longer and you’re happier.

For heterosexual women? Your partner is the most likely person to murder you. Even if he doesn’t, your life expectancy is shorter (but that’s okay because you’re more miserable than single women). Continue reading Running the Numbers (#320)

Vaccination Nation (#319)

I need my vaccination
Want my arm burning
Immune system strong
I need that vaccination
White blood cells learning
That COVID’s wrong…
(Sung to the tune of the Human League’s “Fascination.”)

After my post on my drive-thru vaccination, I’ve fielded questions on vaccine side effects—possibly because I got the newer, less popular Johnson & Johnson vaccine.

Here are all the details you could possibly want. And some you maybe don’t. Continue reading Vaccination Nation (#319)

When the Drive-Thru Will Save You (#318)

I am not a fan of car culture. I believe in public transportation: trains, the subway, buses. Do not get me started on the lost and lamented Los Angeles Red Car.

But damn, cars came in handy during COVID-19. Cars were a way to maintain social distancing in drive-thru testing sites. There were Ubers and Lyfts for those who didn’t dare brave buses, even with masks. There was Instacart for those who didn’t dare brave the grocery stores. With restaurant dining off-limits, at least you could still pick up a pizza or have it delivered.

Drive-in Theaters became a thing again. Fast-food restaurants brought back carhop service. We went from Escape Rooms to Stranger Things: the Drive-Into Experience. The majority of Americans opted for road trips this Spring Break, rather than risk flying.

Aside from take out, Andy and I mostly skipped the resurgence of car culture.

Until it was our turn for vaccinations. Continue reading When the Drive-Thru Will Save You (#318)

Waiting (#314)

I am not a patient person. I was the kid in the car asking “Are we there yet?” every 10 minutes. My many siblings were equally impatient. Road trips were an endless chorus of questions about how long it was to the bathroom, restaurant, and destination.

Unsurprisingly, we didn’t go on many road trips.

My Chinese-American husband is patient (sadly, he grew up on Oahu, which is too small for road trips). I’m not sure if he’s naturally mellow, or if the tropical “hang loose” vibes worked on his personality the opposite way that the intense, political atmosphere of Washington, D.C. affected me.

Perhaps our different levels of patience exemplify the difference in our cultures. My Western mindset insists that I can control my destiny if I work, scheme, and worry enough. At the very least, maybe I can get someone incompetent fired if I document the crap out of his failings. But Andy doesn’t see the point; people are gonna be stupid and other people are gonna cover for them. That’s life, and you have no control over your own fate, let alone anyone else’s. Why exhaust yourself changing nothing? Continue reading Waiting (#314)

The Best of the Worst Year (#312)

I know of exactly three people who are loving the pandemic lockdown. One is my Genius Niece who taught herself to read at age 3 and did long division problems for fun on snow days. Genius Niece loves staying home with the cats. She  relishes having complete control of all social interactions via Discord. In October, as her parents and sister struggled with confinement, Genius Nice sighed contentedly at the dinner table and announced, “This is the greatest year ever!”

At least someone is happy.

The rest of us who’ve followed CDC guidelines and state stay-at-home orders are…less happy. We’ve turned to baking, crafting, walking, and the arts to survive. Yeah, THE ARTS: books, movies, and television. (So think about just who saved your ass the next time you denigrate liberal arts degrees.)

Here’s the list of the books, movies, and shows that made me laugh and cry. Best of all, they took me somewhere else when I couldn’t leave the house. Continue reading The Best of the Worst Year (#312)