Thursday, October 31, 2019

Birthday Wishes

It’s Lauren’s birthday today.

She’s across the sea now, enjoying her time abroad.  We got to talk with her this morning before we left for our respective workplaces – it was afternoon where she was – and we wished her a happy birthday.  Such is the miracle of modern technology that you can do that, just press a few buttons and suddenly see and talk with someone who is a world away.  Truly we live in an age of miracles.

She seems happy there.  She introduced us to her friend from Language Boot Camp who had come for a visit and brought mac-n-cheez as a birthday gift because he knows her well by now.  Her host family had treated her to a very nice meal earlier, and her host mom sent us a lovely picture of Lauren and her new sisters.  And she was having some other people over that evening.  So she was doing well.

It’s strange not having her around, though.

This is the first birthday of either of our kids where they weren’t here.  Tabitha’s always comes during breaks, so even as a college student we can celebrate together. 

It won’t be the last, of course.

Children grow up; that is the nature of children.  They become adults faster than you would ever think possible, and then there they are – off at college, away on a yearlong exchange program, living their lives.  That’s what you hope for as a parent.

Happy birthday, Lauren.

I’m proud of you.

Saturday, October 26, 2019

Viva Italia keeps updating my personal history.

When you hit a certain age there is a little switch in your head that flips over and you suddenly think to yourself, “Huh.  Genealogy.  That sounds like fun.”  I hit this point a few years ago, and I’ve written about it before in this space.

I wasn’t really going to do the DNA testing thing, since I’m not sure what else those companies might want to do with it.  Can you imagine an army of my clones marching through the countryside, stripping the bookstores bare and demanding tea?  It would be a particularly civil sort of chaos, really, and one we could probably use these days.  Maybe it wouldn't be such a bad idea after all, except that I already know that the world can barely handle one of me.  It doesn't need an army of copies.  But since my mom wanted me to take the DNA test and she paid for it, I said okay.

It turns out I’m related to her.  And my uncle.  Possibly my brother as well.  I’m glad they cleared that up.

Apparently Ancestry keeps refining their methods and at some point those little refinements hit a critical mass and they release new estimates of where my genes have come from.  These new estimates can vary significantly from previous estimates as well as from what I already know from documentary research, so I suppose you can take all of that for what it is worth.

What I always find fascinating is that no matter what refinements they use Ancestry invariably tells me that the percentage of Italian in my genetic heritage is higher than 50%.  They have told me that it has been as high as 74% and as low as 59%, but no matter what version of the results that they give me it’s always more than half.

My mother’s side is completely Italian.  I can trace every single branch of that side of the family back to Italy – sometimes to specific towns – and I know when many of them came to the US.  I even know the name of the ship that brought my great-grandmother here in 1907.  So 50% Italian makes sense to me.

My dad’s side is Not Italian.  Not in the least.  This was, I understand, something of a stumbling block for my mom’s extended family when my parents were dating – my dad once told me that eventually they decided that he looked Italian and that was enough.  Again, I can trace them back to this Not Italian region in multiple lines – a Not Italian region that consistently accounts for less than 20% of what Ancestry tells me is my own heritage, by the way.  On the original results it was 1%.  The latest version pegs it at 16%.

Maybe that’s where the extra Italian comes in. 

Are Italian genes just so powerful that they can override genes from other places? 

Apparently so.

Monday, October 21, 2019


I wrote a short version of this story as a comment on a friend’s Facebook post the other day, but it seemed like something fun to put down here.  And since it’s my blog to write whatever I pleased, that is reason enough, I suppose.

I have always loved Spanish olives – the green ones with the pimentos stuffed inside of them.  You see them called all sorts of things in this age of greater olive sensitivity (I have no idea if they can actually be found in Spain or if they're the olive equivalent of French fries) and they’re stuffed with all sorts of funky things now (jalepenos being my favorite), but the bog-standard pimento-stuffed green olive was one of my favorite things when I was a kid.

Yes, I know.

I still like them.  I’m the guy over by the relish tray at your party, scarfing down the olives while all the more expensive food gets vacuumed up by everyone else.  I’m a cheap date.

The trouble with liking these olives when I was younger was that I was pretty much the only person in the house who did  – or at least the only one who liked them that much – so it was not often that I could convince my parents to buy them.  I figured they were one of the mysteries of adult life, completely out of my league, and if they weren’t filtered through my parents then there was no way I could get them.

We lived about three or four blocks from a small neighborhood grocery store at that point in my life.  It had maybe 500 square feet of space and was wedged into a little strip mall that also had a hardware store, two pharmacies, a pizza place, and a fried chicken takeout.  You could look at every product in the store individually in less than twenty minutes.  The owner – a big man, probably about my age now, more or less – would sit up front by the cash register, while his dad would be in the back, in the meats and cheese section.  That old man could take a butcher’s cleaver and cut exactly one pound of sharp cheddar – to the pennyweight – without even aiming.

My grandmother came to live with us after her mother died when I was about 8 or so.  She would send me down to the little strip of stores to run errands every now and then.  I’d hit the grocery store for cheddar, sardines and crackers, and then go to one of the pharmacies and get a carton of Benson & Hedges Gold, which they would sell me without hesitation, this being the 1970s.  As a reward for this, I’d get a quarter, which I could save up or spend on chips or candy as I saw fit.  I bought a lot of chips and candy this way.

One day on one of my grandmother’s errands I was idly wandering up and down the shelves of the grocery store, looking at the various things on the shelves while the line at the back lessened, when I made a discovery.

It turned out that a small jar of Spanish olives – wider at the bottom, Bicentennial artwork painted on the glass, maybe four inches high – was not all that much more expensive than a bag of chips!

This was a REVELATION.

Adult food cost about what candy or chips cost?  Really?  Not exorbitant?  And I could just … buy it?  Without asking my mom to get it at the supermarket?  Nobody would stop me?

Freaking Amazing!

I came home with that Bicentennial-themed jar of olives, curled up on the sofa in the living room, turned on the television, and ate them all in one sitting.  No regrets.  It was awesome.

It’s astonishing sometimes how accessible things can be if only you think to look.

Thursday, October 17, 2019

A Reminder for the Supporters of the Current President

When the history of this era is written, those who continue to support the current president in the face of overwhelming evidence of his guilt and of his own proud confessions to high crimes and misdemeanors will be remembered as collaborators.

They will be discussed in the same breath as Vichy France, Vidkun Quisling, and all of the other cowards who saw unrepentant authoritarianism and contempt for human decency, for morals, for laws, for constitutions, for the survival of democracy and republic alike, and willingly joined in to make it happen.

When the history of this era is written, those who continue to support the current president will be remembered for being pathetically eager to embrace overt racism and the destruction of a century of progress in favor of bigotry, hatred, and regression.

They will be discussed in the same breath as the Nazis their leader called “fine people” – perhaps because those Nazis endorsed him as one of their own, publicly and without contradiction – and they will be asked, long after they are dead, long after they can even pretend to defend themselves, why they thought rampant child abuse was acceptable as an American government policy so long as it was directed at brown-skinned children.

When the history of this era is written, those who continue to support the current president will be remembered as the people who looked on and cheered while he abandoned our allies to die, kowtowed to dictators, and systematically weakened American national security in pursuit of his own tawdry self-interest.

They will be discussed in the same breath as the spies and saboteurs we once rooted out and imprisoned and they will be condemned along with them.  There will be astonishment at how a nation that once claimed to be the leader of the free world could so easily and cheaply throw that away to the mindless applause of supporters.

When this history of this era is written, those who continue to support this president will be remembered as the short-sighted ideological prisoners who doomed the planet to roast and condemned their own children to die hungry and without a future in a rapidly warming world that could have been prevented.

They will be discussed in the same breath as all the other charlatans and frauds who covered up a century of science in the name of quarterly profits, who thought it was funny to troll a teenager who tried so hard to warn them, and whose blind willful ignorance made them the perfect base for a charlatan and fraud of a president.

When the history of his era is written, those who continue to support the current president will be remembered.

They will be reviled.

They will be held up as examples of everything Americans were not supposed to be.  As cowards.  As moral lepers.  As complicit in the destruction of everything the Founders tried to create and everything generations of Americans after the Founders sought to achieve.  As wasteful fools squandering the future of the nation and everyone in it for meaningless rewards.

They will be forsworn.  They will be cursed by their descendants and held up as examples of how easily a people can be led astray by hatred and how hard it is for those people to reclaim their humanity once it is cheaply sold for political advantage.

When the history of this era is written, these things will come to pass.

The history of this era is already being written.

Those who continue to support this president should remember that.

Because the rest of us will.

Thursday, October 10, 2019

News and Updates

1.  Today started with my office door handle falling off in my hands.  It can be very difficult not to see things as harbingers and omens in these parlous times, really it can.

2. Sweet dancing monkeys on a stick but it is hard to keep up with the raging dumpster fire that is der Sturmtrumper and his entire administration, their supporters, and their effects on the world at large.  You sit down to write something coherent about the latest news and then – BAM! – the president and his gang get even more stupid, venal, petty, corrupt, and morally bankrupt before you can even get to the first punctuation mark.

3. Eventually I’ll get enough of a running start to write something, but for now all I will say is that the continued support among the GOP base for der Sturmtrumper in the face of overwhelming (and largely self-provided) evidence of impeachable offenses is a damning indictment of American politics, education, and morals.  There is no way any thinking human can continue to support him, and I will leave the implications of that up to the reader.

4. The Higher Higher Ups to whom – if you follow the chain of command all the way up to where the air is thin and causes brain damage without proper protective gear – I and the rest of my colleagues down at Home Campus ultimately report hired a Very Expensive Consulting Firm to do some database transferal chores.  Basically we have a lot of information in one computer system, and it had to find its way into a different computer system before the first one was dropped into the deepest part of the Mariana Trench.  The VECF was likely paid a sum of money not incommensurate with its name in order to do this project.  So guess what we’re all now redoing by hand down at Home Campus!  I think the CEO of VECF should be billed personally for my time, preferably at the “Dude Needs A Long Vacation” rate.

5. Now that we are empty nesters, the place gets kind of quiet.  So last Sunday I whomped up a big batch of macaroni and meatballs and invited Lauren’s squad over for dinner.  And they came!  It was nice to have them.  Perhaps we’ll make this a regular occurrence.

6. I’m trying to find time to paint the front of the garage.  It has needed painting for, well, an embarrassingly long time now.  I just hate home maintenance is all.  We did look into getting someone else to do it, but the first estimate we got – the only estimate we got, since apparently exterior painters are booking out to 2025 around here and many of them don’t even bother responding to requests for estimates – was roughly triple the value of the garage itself and everything in it including the cars.  So I now have a can of “garage white” paint just waiting for it to stop raining long enough for the wood to dry out a bit.  Three or four days is what the paint store people said, otherwise the paint will just fall off.  I’m not sure we’ve had four days without rain since July, and it doesn’t look like it’s going to happen any time before Thanksgiving either, after which it will likely be too cold.  On the one hand I really didn’t want to paint anything.  On the other hand, it needs to be painted and I’ve gone to the trouble of buying paint so I’m kind of annoyed that I can’t just get it over with.

7. On yet another hand (I’m an academic – I have an infinite supply of hands), I rather like grey, rainy fall weather, so there is that.

8. I’ve been trying to play more piano of late.  I kind of got out of the habit when the girls were little – they really didn’t like it when I played and there wasn’t much time for it anyway – but now it’s often just me in the house since Kim doesn’t get home until late, so I’m relearning some of the things I once knew.  Perhaps I’ll learn new things soon.

9. We have been trying to figure out how to get the one cat who is too thin to eat more while getting the other cat who is too fat to eat less, and this project has met with about as much success as you would expect.  A while back Kim bought a timed feeder that looks strikingly like Eva from Wall-E (“EeeeeEEEEEEva”) and which spits out food at seemingly random intervals and then chirps proudly to let you know that it has done this.  It’s like having a plastic toddler.  The original plan was to provide more food to the skinny cat, so we tried to put Eva in high places where the fat one couldn’t reach, but it turns out that the lure of cat food is stronger than the pull of gravity and the fat one seems to be eating most of the food.  This seems counterproductive.  We’re still working on a solution.

10. In the last month I have been handed both a wheat cent and a silver quarter in change.  This made me happy.