Friday, December 31, 2021

Birthday Wishes

It’s Oliver’s birthday today, and we will celebrate it with egg rolls and cake because that’s just the kind of wild people we are.

The thing about being a parent is that it never really ends, though it changes shape as you go.

You start when they’re small and you have to do everything for them, and eventually they get big and they can do all the things on their own. That's how it works. A long time ago, back when I was on the other side of this discussion, my dad told me that at some point your job as a parent is no longer to be the center of your child’s world but is instead to be a home base, a place where they can always return and be welcome and loved as they go off to make their own lives.

Oliver has done a lot in his time on this planet, and there is more to come as he builds a life of his own.

But there will always be a place for him here.

Happy birthday, Oliver.

I’m proud of you.



Tuesday, December 28, 2021

Home Release

The CDC decided to let me out early.

That’s how I like to think of it. They saw me there, hanging out in the comfort of my own bedroom, lacking essentially nothing except the company of my family and a place to sit that would satisfy my back and my butt at the same time, and thought, “You know what this guy needs? New federal guidelines!”

I actually went to the CDC website, because that’s the kind of nerd I am, and I read through the guidelines several times. As near as I can tell, I’m allowed to stop isolating myself five days after my positive test (which put my release at around noon today) as long as I continued to wear a mask for ten days after the onset of symptoms (a restriction which expires Thursday).

There was more, but honestly it was like reading the Terms & Conditions on an Apple product. I hope I’m not obligated to donate money to the CDC’s Thursday Lunch Pizza Fund, though for all I know it is possible.

Worth it.

It’s good to be out of isolation, to be honest. I like spending time with my family. And you don’t realize how roomy your house is until you are confined to only one bit of it for a few days. I can go to the living room! I can go to the kitchen! I can go to my office! Room after room after room!

So naturally we decided to have Christmas.

It was kind of spur of the moment, really, and rather incomplete since there are still gifts on order, locked in dorm rooms, or just not here yet. And we’re planning to have Christmas dinner on Thursday and Christmas Eve dinner on Saturday, which is technically New Year’s Day, but so it goes. At some point when the various pieces of the holiday have all played out I will gather them together into a post of their own.

It must be said we had a lovely little piece of Christmas, just the four of us in the living room together.

I don’t expect to go anywhere before Thursday, really. My big adventure tomorrow will likely be clearing the snow from the driveway.

But it’s nice to be released to the house at large.

Sunday, December 26, 2021

Passing the Time

I’ve been in my room now for the last few days, with several more to go before I get let loose onto an unsuspecting world once again. So what am I doing to pass the time?

Glad you asked!

You didn’t ask?

Well, I’ve asked for you because I’m polite that way. No need to thank me, citizen! It is a service I provide.

So far I’ve been:

1. Trying to read. This hasn’t gone as well as I’d hoped it would, despite the fact that I am in the middle of a book by one of my favorite authors – a writer who knows how to put sentences together and build intricate plots with well-developed, sympathetic characters who somehow consistently manage to get themselves into awful situations of their own making. Still don’t have the focus, I suppose. This predates being covid-positive, but I’m getting better at it. I have hope.

2. Cruising through the vast offerings of YouTube. In particular there is a British comedian named Bill Bailey who has about a hundred clips of varying lengths out there, and I’ve worked my way through most of them already. You should look him up.

3. Writing the Christmas letter. This also hasn’t gone as well as I’d hoped, but at least I have a framework for it now. This is progress. I’ll take it.

4. Talking to friends and family. Three cheers for FaceTime, cell phones, texts, emails, FB Messenger, SnapChat, IG messages, Zoom, and all of the other ways that people communicate now, and for the people who have taken the time out of their days to connect with me.

5. Doing crossword puzzles. There was a time in my life when I would do crosswords pretty regularly – a habit I picked up from my grandmother, who lived with us and was always halfway through a puzzle or two – and I got to be pretty good at them. “NYT Sunday puzzle” good, though admittedly they usually took me all week to complete. Then life happened and I didn’t do that anymore. During the first lockdowns in spring 2020 I found an old book of crossword puzzles geared to an NPR quiz show that I only listened to occasionally and somehow managed to finish it. Then I ordered another book of crosswords not particularly geared to anything and got halfway through before other things intervened. I’m working on finishing that one now. These crosswords are not exactly brain benders – I can usually finish one in about five minutes and that is an acceptable level of focus for me these days.

6. Sleeping. When all else fails, try sleeping. There’s no reason to get up early and even less reason to stay up late when you’re in quarantine!

7. Watching various reruns of soccer or hockey games on the subscription service whose login information I remembered. Hey – they’re new to me and sufficiently mindless that I can just let them wash over me. Rah, Huddersfield!

8. Staring balefully at the small pile of projects I brought up with me when I started this gig in the fond hopes that I would be productive. Hasn’t worked out that way yet, but there are still a few days left.

9. Plinking around on social media. It’s been fun to catch up with all of the various folks still posting these days, and with the random assortment of pages I follow as well. My social media feeds these days are dominated by a) friends and family, b) vintage photographs, mostly street scenes, c) Great British Bake Off, d) funny memes, and e) strange and unnatural combinations of the preceding, along with a smattering of Voces8 and the occasional stray news story, though when I want news I go to the actual news sites as I have been trying to separate out my social media from my news these days. Less stress that way.

10. Taking surveys. Well, one survey. One of the academic Facebook groups I belong to will occasionally post plaintive appeals from researchers asking people who fit their needs to answer surveys for their projects. Mostly I ignore them, but it is astonishing how motivated one can get to do such things when the alternative forms of entertainment are few. I’m now registered for a $25 gift card! To what, I don’t know.

11. Noshing. I have snacks. I am brought snacks and food. I will not emerge from my confinement any thinner.

It’s not a bad way to spend time, though I will admit I’m looking forward to being let out into the world again. At least as far as the kitchen, anyway.

Saturday, December 25, 2021

Merry Christmas from Solitary!

Christmas has always been one of my favorite holidays, mostly – it has to be said – for the family aspect of it.

When I was younger it was one of the few times when the entire extended family would get together – or at least as much of the extended family that I saw more than every couple of years or so. There were a dozen of us if everyone from grandparents through first cousins showed up, and on those years where my great aunts and second cousins came there were nineteen. We weren’t a big group, but we were a close one.

There would be good food and good company, and while the gifts were never the main focus of the day we all liked getting them as much as anyone else. Mostly I remember the time spent together, though.

Gradually the group shifted. The older generation began to recede into the past. My generation grew up and found spouses. Most of us had kids. Everyone moved up a generation. We acquired new families of in-laws to celebrate with, and the holiday began to get spread out not only geographically but chronologically.

We’d still get together when we could, though, because that’s what family does. An east coast celebration for the Gregorian calendar Christmas. A Wisconsin celebration for the Julian calendar Christmas. When Oliver and Lauren were little it was fun to have multiple Christmases with both sides of the family, and sometimes just with ourselves in between. It’s a holiday that is especially lovely with kids. But we were always together in some combination, at least until last year when the plague hit.

We’re all moving up another generation now, slowly and in bits and pieces. We’d planned to go to my aunt and uncle’s in Tennessee this year, but the latest round of the pandemic put a stop to that. And then we’d planned to celebrate just the four of us here in Wisconsin, since Lauren would be out of isolation by then, but my positive test put a stop to that as well.

So I’m up here in solitary. Kim, Lauren, and Oliver are downstairs. We’ll move Christmas to a later date when we can all be together, in accordance with our Movable Feast Tradition (“holidays happen when you have time for them”), which has the advantage of allowing me to do some online gift shopping in the meantime, I suppose. It’s not the main focus, as noted earlier, but it is a nice thing to do for people. That’s why you make the money, isn’t it? To do nice things for the people you love?

I can’t say it’s the most festive Christmas I have ever had so far – it’s been a long hard year and it took me until very late in the season to find any Christmas spirit at all, frankly, and that was before being identified as a plague carrier – but I’m feeling surprisingly fine as far as my health goes (covid notwithstanding) and I’m looking forward to seeing everyone again sometime soon. And thanks to the magic of FaceTime, texting, cell phones, and the friends and family who use them to reach out to say hello, it’s actually been a pretty good time here.

So Merry Christmas to those who celebrate it, and to those who don’t, well, I hope your day was merry as well, just in general.

Thursday, December 23, 2021


I always knew it would happen. It was simply a matter of delaying it long enough for the damage to be minimal - to duck the worst of the initial waves, get vaccinated, get boosted, and then see what happened next.

But I am, indeed, now Covid positive.

I suspect I will be one of the lucky ones, as most fully vaccinated people are. That's why you get vaccinated, after all - to turn a life-threatening disease into a minor nuisance. I'm good with that trade.

I tested negative on Monday morning, which is why I figured my stuffy nose that afternoon was just allergies or a cold or something similar. This is, after all, an annual event for me. I've also had the same nagging cough since the Johnson Administration - I'm used to it and honestly I don't know what I'd sound like without it.

The last couple of days have felt much the same - like a mild cold, not enough to keep me from doing anything (though sleeping while congested is always a trick). I'm actually feeling better today, but Kim insisted that I get tested anyway.

This, it turned out, was easier said than done.

Most of the public testing places around here are full with long waits - I live in a place where even many Trump supporters wore masks through the worst of it last year (usually emblazoned with slogans, but so be it), which made me feel a bit better about the nation though it does mean that with the omicron variant raging through the world right now there are more responsible people getting tested than slots to get tested. I do have an appointment for Sunday at a local pharmacy, though I suppose I can cancel it now.

My health care provider has a telehealth option where you log in, answer about ten minutes' worth of questions and then wait for a response, so I did that this morning and they said, yeah - go to the clinic and get tested. So I did, but it turns out they're giving the "we'll get back to you in two days" kind of tests, which did not really address the question of what to do in the interim. I suppose they will confirm things, though. And if they contradict the next thing that happened, maybe I'll get sprung sooner!

But they do sell home tests as well, so Kim got one and I took it and wow - those were some clear lines. No doubt about those lines, really. Nope, none at all.

So I've moved into my bedroom. Kim took out all the stuff she needs for the next few days - she and Oliver tested negative again today so they can still roam the house freely. Lauren tested negative tonight as well, so she's allowed to escape from her isolation. I missed her by an hour. I may not see her much at all this break, but I'm glad that she's better and out and about.

But I've got books. I've got my tea kettle and mug. I've got some projects that I've been putting off. I have internet access. And - this cannot be stressed enough - I feel fine other than being slightly congested. I'm not too worried about the confinement. Kim once had to explain to me what cabin fever was and why it was bad, so I figure I can handle a week in my own room.

Someday we will all tell stories about this. I'm just getting a head start is all.

Sunday, December 19, 2021

Notes from Lockdown (the Sequel)

1. It’s astonishing how easy it is to fall back into Lockdown Mode. Zoom Formal for clothing choices. Random snacking throughout the day. Eating dinner on Spanish time and going to bed on College Sophomore time, which is part of a more general sense of being outside of the flow of time altogether. It’s like time traveling back to March 2020 again, only without the counterbalancing undertones of both the existential dread of knowing that the sociopathic grifter in charge of my own government was doing everything possible to make things worse and the hopeful uplift that came with watching people around the world come together to try to help each other through things.

2. We’ve had several offers from friends to provide supplies as needed and one of them actually did drop a care package of yummies off at our porch, for which I am both exceedingly grateful and heartened. It’s nice to be reminded that there are good people in the world.

3. Lauren seems to be progressing well, which is what we thought would happen given that she is vaccinated but there is always that worry that the unlikely will happen anyway. She’s scheduled to come out and join us on Christmas Eve, and that will make a good holiday.

4. I finally put the tree up last night, and it has a couple of ornaments on it. We’ll get the rest of the ornaments (at least those that fit) on today in all likelihood. It cheers the place up a bit and reminds us that the holiday is coming.

5. Although as far as the holiday goes we are in that becalmed zone where we didn’t get much shopping done prior to all of this due to the usual frantic end of the semester (among other things), it’s too late for online orders to be delivered, we can’t really go out and get anything at the local stores, and even if we could the increasing drumbeat of the omicron variant makes that a less than thrilling prospect. I suspect there will be a lot of “this is what you’ll be getting when it arrives” this year, which is fine. We don’t really focus on the gift part of the holiday much anyway. We’ll hang out and enjoy each other’s company.

6. I’m hoping for at least one night of cards, games, beverages (adult or otherwise), and far too many salty snacks. It’s good to spend time together.

7. Midgie has discovered the tree and has made it her home. She sacks out under the lights and just bathes in photons, at least until someone turns on the television. Then she runs away because you never know what the Big Shouty Box will do.

8. I have completed my two classes that are going to be completed for the semester – grades posted and everything. I’m caught up in the other class until next week. I do have to work in my advisor job through Wednesday, but there’s nothing I need to do about that today. So perhaps I will watch soccer or hockey games, or even see about reading my book.

9. Although the drumbeat of omicron continues, as the Bundesliga now has no fans in the stadiums, the Premier League is canceling games, and even the NFL has postponed a couple of games – the Eagles game has been moved back to Tuesday, for example. This is not the nostalgia I needed.

10. Perhaps there will be baking.

Wednesday, December 15, 2021

Quite a Day

Some days are longer than other days.

When I woke up this morning my first thought was to see if my left leg still worked, as sometime in the middle of the night it woke me up with a cramp and even though I got it to stop doing that the fact is that once that happens you are just going to spend the rest of the day feeling like you just got over a leg cramp and wondering if the next time you so much as bump your leg against the back of your chair it will cause your entire body to turn into one giant cramp and then won’t you regret everything about your life up to and including that one memory from fourth grade that won’t go away no matter how much you drink.

The leg still worked fine, so I figured I was good.

I had some administrative things to take care of for my advising job when I got in – mostly a course-transfer project that all of us advisors are working on – and then I was going to host a question and answer session for my remote US1 students, who have their final on Friday. Assuming that went well, my next task would be to pick up Oliver and bring him home from Small Liberal Arts College.

And then things got complicated.

Lauren texted pretty early in the day to say that she was not feeling well at all, and after a pile of texts and at least one actual phone call we determined that she needed to take a cab to the urgent care at the hospital near Main Campus University to see if she had the flu or COVID. Like all of us she’s been vaccinated, but that’s no guarantee these days – it helps and it will likely make it less dangerous, but breakthrough infections do happen.

My question and answer session was nearly thwarted by two different university-wide tech outages happening within minutes of each other for specific systems. I got it to work, but nobody showed up anyway. It was optional, which I guess is studentese for "don't bother," but still.

Meanwhile the weather report for southern Wisconsin and points west was blinking red with predictions of howling gale-force winds, with sustained gusts of 50-60mph and temperatures in the low-to-mid 70s F in the middle of December. There were mentions of severe thunderstorms, possible tornadoes, and low-flying Kansas farmhouses, and the later the day went on the worse that looked so I moved my Oliver-fetching plans ahead a bit.

Eventually Lauren reported that yes indeed, she had tested positive. So Kim went up to get her while I headed out to SLAC to pick up Oliver. Kim took the van so she could put some space between her and Lauren (social distancing, people!) which meant I was driving my little car through the winds – less profile for the wind to grab than the van, but also less mass to anchor me to the roadway. We made it back to Our Little Town, but it was a … fascinating … drive.

By that point Lauren was safely home and in her room, where she will likely remain until Christmas. We’re not going to visit my uncle’s side of the family down south this year, which is sad but so it goes. I will be working from home for the next week or so, and I can live with that.

I dropped Oliver off, picked up the grocery list, and went shopping for food to last through quarantine. I didn’t get back home until nearly 9:30.

But we have plenty of food. We’re all together, snug and warm in our home while the winds howl outside. Anything that isn’t nailed down out there is going to be miles away by morning. The temperatures are falling and it will be winter again tomorrow. But we’ll be here.

It was quite a day.

Monday, December 13, 2021

News and Updates

1. My last class is over now, and all that is left is the final exam and the last discussion assignment to grade. It’s been a long semester after a long spring at the tail end of two years of the world on fire (sometimes literally) and I’m really ready for an extended period of doing nothing. This will not happen, of course, but I’m ready for it anyway.

2. I am not in any way ready for Christmas, though. I have no holiday spirit whatever this year – even less than usual – and I’m not sure where I will get the energy to find some. I haven’t had the energy to read books, let alone hang lights or decorate the house. But it seems a shame to let the holiday pass by unmarked, so perhaps I will take a page from all those twelve-step programs and just try to “fake it ‘til you make it.” Ho, ho, ho.

3. We tried to get a tree yesterday, which was apparently about three weeks too late for that. Did you know there’s a Christmas tree shortage now? Yes! Most of the commercial trees are grown in Oregon, I am told, and last summer Oregon burned down. The “cut your own” place here in town was closed, and the “pre-cut” lot that pops up in the remains of the abandoned factory every year had a choice of two varieties of tree: round and three feet tall, or six feet tall and fifteen inches around. We have too many ornaments for that. Fortunately we do have the fake tree that we got a few years back, so perhaps I’ll set that up soon.

4. Needless to say, Christmas cards will be going out late. Hey – one year we didn’t get that sorted until St. Patrick’s Day, so I’m not too worried.

5. I actually went to the holiday concert down at Home Campus last week, since some of my students were in it. It felt very strange to be at a concert again. The last time I did that was about two weeks before the world caught fire in 2020. Everyone was masked and the concert was rather short in order to keep people moving along, but it was nice to do something relatively normal after two years of anything but.

6. I have decided that I need to explore Italian wines, because why not. They’re tasty and fairly inexpensive (at least the ones I am likely to try), and so far I haven’t found one that I didn’t like. Some are better than others and I admit I am partial to strong red wines rather than anything white or delicate. But I’m good with them all.

7. Have you been following the news? I have. Perhaps this is why I have decided to increase my wine consumption.

8. The more we find out about Trump’s attempted coup back in January (a charge I do not make lightly) the more I wonder why he and half of his administration are still breathing free air. All I want for the holidays is to see those treasonous insurrectionists punished appropriately for their crimes against the United States of America. All of them. Right up to the top.

9. They switched over the email system at the Mother Ship Campus a couple of weeks ago and it turned out that only random parts of it have been working since then. Part of me finds this aggravating and part of me finds it bitterly funny and on the whole I have to say that the combination isn’t as contradictory as you might think.

10. My brother and I are working on getting my mom’s estate settled and he’s handling most of the financial stuff, which is good because every time I look at my part of that task my eyes glaze over and I feel a deep need to do anything else, up to and including dentistry. When I die I am just going to leave my heirs coffee cans full of loose change so they can spend it on Italian wines without having to do any paperwork.

Sunday, December 5, 2021

A Low Key, Grey Sort of Day

For about twelve hours today, I have nothing pressing to do.

I’ve caught up on all my grading, at least until midnight Central Standard Time when the next assignment for my US1 class is due. A couple of essays came in today for my ongoing class, but I have five working days to grade them and I generally take care of those on Saturday mornings because that’s the kind of wild man I am. They can wait. I graded my First Year Seminar stuff during the week since that’s technically part of my advising job and can therefore legitimately be completed during normal working hours.

I finished prepping my classes for Monday around noon. It’s the last class for the First Year Seminars and that’s usually pretty low key. The ongoing class requires no prep. And my US1 class is fun to prep since at this point it mostly means making a few edits to the lecture and then finding new images to throw into the PowerPoint slides. I don’t quiz them on the slides so I feel free to put anything I want in there, including random historically-themed memes as I see fit. On Friday we covered the southern demands for a stronger fugitive slave act in the 1840s, for example – demands which flatly contradicted their supposedly sacred ideal of states’ rights since their main objective was a new law that would force northern states to comply regardless of whether they wanted to or not – and it seemed fitting to throw this one in there.

It’s a grey, rainy day, just a shade over freezing, and therefore not a good day to be outside doing anything since most of the county is covered over in a thin layer of glare ice at the moment. The traffic reports are just several long lists of accidents, one after the other, and that’s not really anything I care to join. I did manage to go to the barn and feed the chickens, but that’s about the extent of my journeying today.

I watched soccer (Wolves lost to Liverpool in a heartbreaker). The Flyers are on in less than an hour. I have a book which I have been trying to work up the focus to read for over a week now – it’s a good book by one of my favorite authors, but I finally decided to start over because I was a hundred pages into it and couldn’t remember anything that had happened and hadn’t picked it up for days. It’s been that kind of year.

Kim and I watched the holiday episode of Great British Bake Off that aired last year (why those episodes are shown on a one-year delay when the regular episodes are shown on three-day delay is one of those mysteries that Netflix keeps to itself) and a couple of episodes of a show called The Dinner Party, which is entirely in Italian and consists, as near as I can tell, of a group of old friends who hare off around Italy (one at a time in partnership with the host) in search of food and then come back to the host’s house to cook that food and give each other grief in the way that old friends do. This is the extent of my television these days if you don’t count soccer or hockey.

In theory I could be getting ready for Christmas, at least the inside stuff (the outside lights will wait for a less ice-encrusted day). It is December, after all, and I have now consented to acknowledge the existence of Christmas. But I have had a hard time getting into the Christmas spirit for a while now and this year is more so than usual. Eventually. Not today.

It’s a low key sort of day and there haven’t been many of those this year, so I’ll take it.

Tuesday, November 30, 2021

A Festival of Holidays

It’s been a busy week for holidays around these parts, even if you exclude Thanksgiving.

Follow me here.

Today Kim and I went out to celebrate our anniversary. It is not, in fact our anniversary. Our anniversary was the 25th, except that the 25th was Thanksgiving and we were already celebrating a holiday that day so trying to squeeze in our anniversary would have just been overkill. Plus we normally celebrate our anniversary on the Saturday after Thanksgiving because it usually works out simpler that way, given Thanksgiving, and that’s the day we got married on originally way back when and it’s just easier to remember the Saturday after Thanksgiving than the actual date.

Except that the Saturday after Thanksgiving we were celebrating Kim’s birthday, which wasn’t actually that day either except that both Oliver and Lauren were still home from college that night and you should always celebrate holidays when you have the people there to celebrate with, so we had a lovely dinner and a homemade carrot cake (which was not intentionally meant to honor the Great British Bake Off final but we can just say it was anyway because it sounds good and we did stick a little Welsh flag on top of it somewhere just because we could) and there was a generally good time had by all.

Kim’s birthday is actually today but as noted we were celebrating our anniversary today, which was last week. But our anniversary is the sort of holiday we can celebrate just the two of us, so we had the birthday when the kids were home and moved the anniversary today.

And thus the circle of life comes careening around to where it started, tires smoking and radio blaring.

The net result of all of this is that we have had several good meals, at least one homemade cake (to go with the leftover pies and pizzelles from Thanskgiving), and a few nice cards.

I did actually order a birthday present for Kim before her birthday, which is kind of a victory for me, but it did not arrive on Saturday or today but is expected to show up tomorrow which isn’t any of the aforementioned holidays at all but we’ll have a good time anyway because there will be a gift and that’s always a reason to celebrate. We’ve decided more or less what we want to get for ourselves for our anniversary, but we haven’t even gotten around to ordering it let alone having it show up. It will get here when it gets here, assuming we don’t change our minds first, and then we’ll celebrate all over again.


Sometimes having a Moveable Feast Tradition is more entertaining than just trying to get it all done on the exact days.

That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

Thursday, November 25, 2021

Happy Thanksgiving

I’ve always liked the idea of a holiday set aside for us to be thankful for what we have in this world – one that doesn’t ask us to get more, but simply to acknowledge what already is and be glad of it. The world owes us nothing, after all. It was here first, and it will be here long after we are gone. It’s up to us to be better than that.

We are all four together now, with Oliver home from Small Liberal Arts College and Lauren back from Main Campus University. Those moments don’t come as often as they used to these days and I’m glad for them. Oliver and I have been watching hockey games together – the Flyers put up a valiant effort over the last two games with only a point to show for it all, but we did spot Oliver’s friend Connor in the stands at the Avalanche game yesterday. Lauren got home last night and, true to form, immediately headed out again for dinner with the Squad, who are all back on break and together for the first time in months. Things are back to what they were, however briefly – a small semblance of normal in a world that has been anything but for a long time – and I’m thankful for it.

We’re heading up to my in-laws for Thanksgiving dinner today, as has become our tradition the last few years. There will be feasting and conversation and noise and kids and that’s what these holidays are for in some ways. It will be a grand time.

I spent last night making pizzelles to bring with us when we go, as “desserts” is our brief for today’s meal. In between dinner and hanging out Lauren and Hannah stopped by and grabbed a few to share with the Squad, which made me happy – the whole point of these things is to share them. Kim made ricotta pie from my grandmother’s recipe. There are two Costco-sized pumpkin pies chilling in the back of the minivan, and before we head out there will be two more apple-cranberry pies and a pile of cheddar biscuits. Anyone who goes hungry has nobody to blame but themselves.

It will be a strange holiday in that it is the first “family gathering” sort of holiday since my mom passed away. I will miss her today, as every day, but I will be thankful for the time I got to have with her. I’ll call the various other branches of the family where they are gathering and we’ll be good that way.

I have watched the WKRP in Cincinnati “turkey drop” clip and listened to Alice’s Restaurant – two repeating motifs of the holiday that exist to remind us that joyful absurdity is a lovely thing.

I am employed. I am surrounded by books and tea. I have good friends and a wonderful family that extends out in many directions on all sides.

I am happily married to Kim. I’m not sure how I managed to convince her to spend a life with me, but I’m glad for it.

Life is good.

Happy Thanksgiving.

Sunday, November 21, 2021

Stray Thoughts on the Current State of the Pandemic

1. As an educator I am on the list of people who can get their COVID vaccine booster shots, though I think that list has now expanded to include every adult in the US so while I no longer feel special about it I do welcome the fact that it’s now pretty much openly available for most Americans. This isn’t really something one should feel hipsterish and exclusive about. I got mine on Thursday evening and felt fine until Friday afternoon, whereupon – BAM! – flu season was upon me. But by Saturday morning I was fine again.

2. I may still get COVID, of course – no vaccine is perfect, and breakthrough infections do happen – but the odds are well over 98% that it will be a nuisance rather than a life-threatening event if I do. I’m good with those odds.

3. This of course means that dying of COVID is now essentially a voluntary choice – a far cry from where it was just a year ago. Why so many people feel a need to do that, as if by choking to death on their own lungs they will have scored political points and I will somehow feel “owned,” is a mystery that frankly I don’t care enough about to try to resolve. If I have learned anything during this pandemic it is that I am not a good person, and at this point I am perfectly willing to let those who want to do so die of this. Play stupid games, win stupid prizes. Maybe once the deniers thin out a bit the rest of us can go back to normal life again. It certainly won’t happen while they’re out there screwing things up for everyone else, anyway.

4. Hello, Florida! You suddenly came to mind for some reason. Not sure why!

5. This is, of course, a partisan thing because of course it is. A recent Kaiser Family Foundation study noted that while the percentage of the unvaccinated was roughly split evenly between Republicans and Democrats as late as April 2021 (36% of the unvaccinated were Democrats while 42% were Republicans) that has widened significantly. As of October, only 17% of the unvaccinated were Democrats while 60% were Republicans. Party affiliation is a stronger predictor of who is unvaccinated than age, gender, education, socioeconomic class, or religion. I suppose the fact that the same party that actively rejects the whole idea of Darwinian evolution is the one also actively rejecting vaccination against the worst pandemic in a century isn’t all that much of a surprise, but you do sometimes want people to stop confirming your stereotypes now and then.

6. I am continually astonished at the toxic levels of egocentricity and narcissism that it must take for antivaxxers and Covidiots to believe that Mysterious Powers have spent billions of dollars and diverted entire industries researching vaccines, that millions of people have died of this pandemic across the globe, that economic leaders have made decisions that have cost them trillions of dollars in profits, and that entire political systems have launched themselves into action in order to develop tracking devices all in order to keep track of … them? Seriously? Big Brother doesn’t have time or interest enough to care about such fools. Get over yourselves.

7. Should I be worried that my spell-checker no longer flags “Covidiot” as an error? Or should I be happy? Enquiring minds want to know.

8. The fourth wave of COVID is now sweeping through Europe, which means that in about 4-6 weeks it will be sweeping through the US. Apparently there are Covidiots there engaging in violent protests against trying to prevent the resurgence of the pandemic from getting worse – because Reasons – and I suspect those nutjob protests will be coming here too. But we do violence pretty well here in the US – as the recent Kenosha jury verdict amply demonstrated, we’re okay with jumped up wannabe vigilantes slaughtering people in the streets on whim as long as the murderers are right-wing white men – so it’s going to be an interesting time of things no doubt.

9. It still feels strange to go to a restaurant, even now that I am fully vaccinated. I’ve only done that a couple of times in the last twenty months, and it never feels quite right. Take out is where it’s at, I suppose.

10. Forty-eight hours after my booster and still no 5G service. I feel cheated.

Sunday, November 14, 2021

News and Updates

1. Yeah, these lists are about as good as it’s going to get around here for a while, I suspect.

2. I spent the last week home on my own, which had its good side. Kim was away at a conference. Lauren and Oliver are off at college. It was just me and the cats, and nothing really to do but go to work, come home, grade assignments, and go to sleep. Sometimes a boring week is just what you need.

3. I spent some of that time plinking around on the piano at odd hours, which is fun to do when you know that nobody is going to be disturbed by it. I nearly have “This Year” by the Mountain Goats figured out now.

4. Fortunately for me Lauren’s sneakers died a valiant death on the hills of a sprawling campus, so I went up one evening with a new pair for her and we had a lovely dinner together. It’s a grand thing to share a meal and a conversation that way.

5. I have a new pair of sneakers as well, not that anyone else would know. One small silver lining of the current Plague is that my annual sneaker purchase got delayed by a year because for most of 2020 I didn’t bother wearing shoes at all. But all good shoes must come to an end and so last month I went out and bought another copy of my standard black “it looks like a work shoe from a distance” pair of sneakers from our local shoe shop. They’re still here in their box, next to me as I type. Eventually they will come out. And won’t that be a time?

6. I finished a book on Monday. The next one was already picked out, but to be honest I didn’t even open it until Friday. It’s a good book by one of my favorite authors, but the thought of starting it was more than I wished to contemplate. It’s just been like that of late. Now that I’ve started I’m enjoying it, though.

7. If you’re not terrified about the future of the American republic in its struggle against right-wing extremism, you’re not paying attention. The lamps are going out all over the United States. Whether they will be lit again in my lifetime, I don’t know.

8. We’ve had our first snowfall already, here in Our Little Town. It wasn’t technically snow, though – it was “graupel,” which is a word I had never heard before. Graupel is apparently an opaque sort of round sleet balls that look like snow from a distance. Eventually it turned into normal snow and now it’s all pretty much melted away though it’s still fairly cold for November. I am enjoying this very much.

9. It’s World Cup Qualifying time, so I’ve been grading exams by the light of heroic fixtures such as Finland v Bosnia, Norway v Latvia, Netherlands v Montenegro, Belgium v Estonia, and Iceland v N. Macedonia – all of which have been entertaining enough to pass the time but not so much that I couldn’t grade exams.  Throw in the occasional NHL game and it’s been a fine weekend of sports, is what I’m saying.

10. This is especially welcome since Dr. Quackencrock, QB, and his Traveling Cloud of Entitlement has made me even less likely to watch American football than I’d been prior to him publicly doubling down on his bullshit antivax propaganda and getting essentially zero punishment from the NFL for violating any number of their stated policies while putting other people (do they count?  apparently not) at unnecessary risk for their safety and health. Every day I get less interested in American football, and every day the NFL reassures me that I’m correct to do so. World Cup here I come.

Monday, November 8, 2021

An Anise-Flavored Victory

So I managed to fix my pizzelle iron.

I’m going to celebrate that fact for a number of reasons, not the least of which being that the physical world and I have issues and fixing things is something I generally leave to others, particularly when there is electricity involved.

The fact that I spent nearly a quarter of a century doing theatrical lighting is just one of those ironies.

I didn’t think it was possible to fix a pizzelle iron, to be honest. It’s basically a heating element with a hinge, and there didn’t seem to be a way to access anything inside of it. But a friend pointed out that it was indeed possible – even easy, once you knew where to look – and several days of researching new pizzelle irons convinced me that I should try to fix the old one before I did anything else.

Apparently the one I have is considered the God King of Pizzelle Irons – used ones can go for up to $300 on eBay, which is a lot more than they sold for when I got it in 1989 or so – and it is a sad commentary on the moral depravity of late-stage capitalism that the company that made them got dismantled by some corporate takeover artist back in the late 90s. You didn’t know there was a God King of Pizzelle Irons, did you? Or that such a thing was enough of a target to come to the attention of corporate lowlifes like that? Well, now you do.

So I fished the box out of the trash can where I had dumped it in a low moment and brought it back inside, where it sat for the better part of a week while I avoided the issue. It’s been a long year. Avoiding issues is a luxury that I seldom get these days and I wanted to take advantage of it while I could. Eventually I found the ratchet set in the basement and brought that upstairs so it would be near the pizzelle iron whenever action might be forthcoming.

Preparing the ground for action, I think they call that. It gives the illusion of progress without the actual investment of time or energy and that has to count for something.

But eventually there comes a point where something else needs to be avoided even more than the original project and that leads to “procrastiworking,” an absolutely priceless word that I found online somewhere and am working to bring into common use. I have reached the point in my life where I can be fully productive and still actively avoiding something important that I don’t want to do, and when it came to a choice between grading yet another online discussion assignment or trying to fix the pizzelle iron there really wasn’t much choice at all.

So out came the ratchet set and – after doing my best to remove three decades of baked on butter residue in order to get to the bolts – I soon had the thing opened up.

It turned out to be a loose wire.

So I reattached the wire and then spent a puzzling quarter of an hour trying to reassemble everything – there were only half a dozen tiny bolts to remove and then replace so the fact that it took me that long to get it resolved (including a complete redo after discovering something outside that should have been inside) is a pretty good sign that I should keep my day job, which does not involve the use of tools of any kind.

I plugged it in, and it worked. The indicator lens turned red as the heating element hit baking temperature. The iron got hot. It cycled off and then on again.


Tonight was the test, though.

Four dozen pizzelles later, I think it was a success.

There haven’t been too many of those in recent memory, so I’m going to savor it along with the pizzelles.

Wednesday, November 3, 2021


Way back in the pre-pandemic times – a century or more ago, it seems some days – the Mother Ship Campus decided that they would welcome us newly merged Home Campus denizens with some spirit wear. So they let us know the location of the online portal that had shirts and other items of clothing with the Mother Ship logo – indeed, with the new Home Campus / Mother Ship combined logo as well – and gave us each a small allowance with which to purchase such things.

On the one hand, this was a way to get us to wear their logos and rebrand ourselves without them having to do any work. And given the fact that every single employee of Home Campus – faculty, adjuncts, maintenance staff, advisors, administrative people, and all of the various deans – could be comfortably seated in either of the two lecture halls on campus with room to spare, it was fairly inexpensive.

On the other hand, this was free clothing – and rather good quality clothing at that.

So I can’t say I blame them, nor will I complain about it. It was a definite win/win all around, and there just haven’t been too many of those in recent American history. Three cheers for the Mother Ship, I say.

I ended up getting a couple of shirts and a nice fleece jacket, all with the new combined logo neatly stitched in the upper left corner. They’re really comfortable, and that’s enough of a bribe to make me wear them pretty much all the time.

They got me!

When I put in my order Kim doubted whether I would actually wear the fleece jacket, and she had precedent on her side. I had a fall-weight jacket that I wore all the time, after all. I figured I could wear the new one inside though – I’d hang it on my office chair at work for when it might be useful, since sometimes the heating at Home Campus can be idiosyncratic.

Kim especially doubted when the order actually arrived and somehow I ended up with two of these fleece jackets – the grey one I actually asked for and a black one that got tossed into the bargain. I was told to keep the extra one – it was easier than trying to return it – but now there were two jackets with no precedent for me wearing them.

And then the pandemic hit and I spent the next year and a half hanging around at home, where I have to pay for my own heat.

I have to say that while the shirts are good the jackets are just the best. They’re a bit oversized – a quality that I deeply love in clothing of any kind – and they’re soft and comfortable. I can wear them around the house all day. They have multiple deep pockets for storing things such as masks for when I venture outside in them. And since my professional wardrobe was reduced to “Zoom formal” (i.e. nice-looking from the waist up) for much of that time, they instantly transformed any outfit into something work-appropriate. Now that we’re back face to face I keep one at home and one in my office, and it’s getting back toward jacket season once again.

All in all, they were a capital acquisition.

I have no idea what will ultimately become of the union between Home Campus and the Mother Ship – the problem with higher education these days is that every halfwit politician has yet another scheme to reorganize everything in accordance with their own ideological fantasies (there have been at least two separate proposals directly involving my campus floated in the last eighteen months that I’m aware of) but at least the jackets are nice and that has to count for something.

Sunday, October 31, 2021

Birthday Wishes

There’s a certain oddity in celebrating birthdays when the birthday person isn’t actually around, but that’s kind of how things go when kids get older and become adults and start moving away.

We’ve been technically empty-nesters since late August, though in all the upheaval it has hardly felt like it. Too many other things to focus on. But now that our corner of the world is calming down a bit we can start to look around and realize these sorts of things are happening.

It’s Lauren’s birthday today.

She’s off at Main Campus University and by all accounts having a good time there – we got to see her briefly yesterday when we dropped off some stuff for her, and that was a lovely thing. The next time we’ll get to see her for more than just a few minutes will probably be around Thanksgiving, though she doesn’t get much time off for that to be honest so who knows. We know she’s there, and we know she’s well.

So whatever celebrations are happening are happening up at Main Campus University. We’ll be here, though, wishing her well.

Happy birthday, Lauren.

I’m proud of you.

Friday, October 29, 2021

Observations from a Tired Mind

1. October 28 is apparently not the time to go shopping for Halloween candy unless you want to visit half the stores in town before you end up literally unstacking boxes in the back of the local WalMart – the last resort of the shopper at wit’s end – to get to the few remaining bags of candy they have before they take it away and send it off to wherever things go when they don’t sell at WalMart.

2. There’s already Christmas stuff up! It’s not even November! What about Thanksgiving, at least?

3. Some of this may be on me, I suppose. One day it was late July and I was standing there at the County Fair watching the poultry judging and suddenly – BOOM! – it’s the end of October and I have very little idea of how I got from the one to the other.

4. There is really very little call for a cemetery to be sending out customer satisfaction surveys. “Would you recommend this cemetery to a friend?” You know, I’m not really sure how to answer that question to be honest.

5. After spending nearly sixteen hours in a two-day virtual conference on how to advise transfer students heading to Main Campus University it is clear that my finely honed Zoom skills from 2020 have deteriorated. On the other hand my note-taking abilities are still top notch two decades after leaving graduate school and more than a quarter century after my last actual class.

6. I am going to have a very hard time choosing the winner of this year’s Great British Bake Off, as I like all of the contestants this time around. I have my favorites, of course, so I’m cheering for them to make it to the final, but there haven’t been any that I was happy to see go home so far.

7. Someday the cats will be confident enough that we are back for the foreseeable future that they will not be stuck to us like barnacles or howling like banshees when we are out of eyesight. Today is not that day. Tomorrow does not look good either.

8. I like that I can go back to campus and talk with my colleagues and see students in person again, but I have completely forgotten how to pack a lunch.

9. It’s dark in the mornings now, and cold. Getting out of bed is just more of a chore than it was a month or two ago, and it wasn’t that much fun even then.

10. “Boredom is a luxury good.” (Adam Fletcher) I feel this a lot more than I did not even that long ago.

Wednesday, October 27, 2021

News and Updates

1. It rained most of the weekend here – a couple of grey, rainy autumn days with blustery winds and falling temperatures that are about as good as weather gets, I think. I’m going to retire to Scotland someday.

2. The rain did keep me from unloading the minivan for a few days after we’d gotten back, though once it cleared up the unloading proceeded apace. I can’t say the delay bothered me overmuch. Sometimes you just have to let things sit for a bit, and sometimes you’re one of the things that just has to sit.

3. One of the bummers of this past week is that we were on the road heading home when Voces8 were performing at a venue that was, at least in theory, close enough to my house that I could have gone to see them. They’re a British group and there’s been a pandemic (really – pay no attention to the plague rats who insist otherwise) so it’s been a long time since they’ve been anywhere near me. Oh well. If you’re out there listening, #Voces8, I hope you are going to be near Wisconsin again sometime soon. I’ll be there.

4. I suppose it is fitting that this is the week that my pizzelle iron chose to give up the ghost. You can’t really fix these things since they have basically no moving parts and no access to anything on the interior without scrapping it entirely, so now I am without a pizzelle iron for the first time since 1990 when my grandparents gave it to me for my birthday. I’m not sure that they ever really understood why I wanted one, as they both regarded cooking as women’s work, but I have always loved it and I will miss it. The company that made it no longer exists thanks to predatory capitalism, so I will need to find a different one.

5. Although having spent the last few days researching pizzelle irons, I am now sorely tempted to try once again to fix my old one. Maybe I can get it to work again. Or maybe I can find someone else who knows how to repair simple electrical appliances (seriously – it’s a heating element with a handle; the main problem is getting access to things). In either event, I do need to fill this hole in my possessions so I can go back to making the house smell like anise.

6. A lot of twenty-first century parenting is just being unreasonably pleased when one of your children likes a social media post that you made.

7. One of the nice things about going back to face to face classes and advising is that I am finally meeting in person students I’ve been talking with for a year now on Zoom. Some of them are surprisingly tall.

8. I’m doing my best to avoid politics these days as all it does is make me angry, but sometimes you just have to wonder what the hell people are thinking. The more we find out the worse the treasonous insurrection of January 6 becomes, and still there are people who see nothing wrong with it. Watching supporters of the disgraced twice-impeached former president deny the undeniable and defend the indefensible would be comical if it weren’t so utterly grotesque.

9. Twice this month I have spent the wee hours of the night chasing down a bat that was doing laps around my bedroom and then, having caught up to it, depositing it outside. At least I think I deposited it outside the first time. Given how quickly the problem repeated itself, I may just have lost it somewhere in the house where it hid and then reappeared a few nights later. But the second time I definitely saw it fly off into the night, chittering angrily the whole way. I’m hoping it goes somewhere with its little bat buddies and leaves me alone from now on. Seriously – after the last year and a half I’m pretty sure I don’t want to be dealing with bats.

10. How tired do you have to be to be sitting at work, eating your lunch, and suddenly realize, “Oh yeah, a few hours ago I was chasing a bat around my bedroom,” having completely forgotten about it in the interim? This tired. You have to be this tired to do that.

Saturday, October 23, 2021

Cleared Out

My mom’s apartment is cleared out now.

Kim and I headed out to Philadelphia on Wednesday evening and met my brother there on Thursday. We got back a couple of hours ago – 72 hours away, almost to the jot, with more than a third of that as driving time. We’ve put almost ten thousand miles on the minivan in the last two months, most (though not all) of it spent going back and forth to Philadelphia. We needed to do this one more trip because the complex wanted the apartment empty by the end of the month and my brother and I had some administrative things to take care of while we were there that needed to be done in person – probate, banking, things like that. My mom’s neighbor from our old house is an attorney and he’s helping us through the bureaucracy, and we really appreciate that.

I have to say that the probate people and the banking people were uniformly helpful and kind, which was a lovely thing.

The three of us spent Thursday night and much of Friday packing things, and on Friday morning a couple of polite young men came over from one of those “Two Guys and a Truck” moving companies to take away the big stuff. It took longer than they thought it would but it always does, and they were still done by late afternoon. The company donates things to Habitat for Humanity and Goodwill, so we’re hoping that most of it ends up there. The extended family has already taken what we wanted and it all has to go somewhere, preferably to someone who will want it and use it. One of the neighbors took a pile of stemware, knickknacks, and assorted small items for the ongoing rummage sale that they do to raise money for residents who have outlived their savings, so that was nice.

I never did get to see the place empty, though this doesn’t bother me really. It always felt temporary compared to the house I grew up in, where my mom lived for nearly four decades. It was a nice apartment in a good facility and it served its purpose admirably, but it wasn’t a sentimental place.

The three of us knocked off packing late Thursday night and ended up hanging out in the living room, margaritas in hand, talking about whatever came to mind until far later than was probably good for us at our respective ages. And I think that is how I will choose to remember these last few days there before we turned the apartment over to someone new – a moment of conversation and stillness amid the whirlwind of the week and the backdrop of the last few months.

The moving hand hath writ and having writ moves on, said Omar Khayyam.

What he didn’t say was that having thus written, the memories are recorded and can be revisited. I think that’s just as important as the original meaning of the passage.

Monday, October 11, 2021

Eulogy for My Mom

So here I am, an orphan at 55, but a well prepared one for all that.

My mother’s first job out of college was teaching English at South Philadelphia High School. She didn’t stay there for very long – for one thing I came along and for another she needed to be awake and teaching at 7am and that just wasn’t going to happen – but she never stopped being a teacher.

From my mom I learned many things.

I learned how to read. Not in the “parsing out the words on the page” sense, but in the broader sense of seeing reading as a joy in itself, of exploring new worlds and ideas on the page – sometimes to use them in daily life and sometimes just to experience them. She was never without an open book, fiction or nonfiction, and she showed through her actions how important that was. I have followed her example for my entire life.

I learned how to write for an audience. She was always my primary audience. I wrote an entire dissertation on the basic premise that as long as my mom – an intelligent nonspecialist – could understand it then I was doing it right. I write a lot these days, and she was always my first audience for that as well.

I learned how to keep a sense of humor about things. She had a quick sense of humor, one that helped her accept things that needed to be accepted and change things that needed to be changed. She never lost it. This past summer I got into a minor fenderbender while driving her car. I told her that I would cover it, but she said just to let her insurance handle it. “They’ll raise your rates,” I told her. “Not for long,” she replied.

I learned the importance of strong, intelligent women – that’s an important lesson for any man in this world. My mother was a trail blazer. She was the first person in her family to attend college, which she did by earning a full scholarship. She was the first woman to run her company, much to the initial dismay and eventual relief of the old boy network that was there when she got there. She did what she needed to do and she did it well, and she showed me that this is how life was supposed to work.

I learned how to be a parent, and I tried to raise my kids as I was raised.

Perhaps most importantly I learned how to keep a welcoming home. My friends were always welcome in our home, sometimes when we weren’t even there. We always had a home, no matter how far away we were or how long it had been since we’d been there.

I don’t always live up to the lessons my mom taught me, life being what it is, but I always try.

Thanks, mom.

I love you.

Wednesday, October 6, 2021


Births and deaths create eddies in time.

My oldest child was born in the middle of a Wisconsin winter and I remember sitting there with a newborn for the first time, staring vaguely out the window at the cold January streets and wondering how all of the people passing by could do that so nonchalantly, as if the world hadn’t just changed, as if everything was just as it had been before.

Of course for them it hadn’t changed, not really.

But my world had, and for a brief moment time seemed to roll back on itself, moving forward only in a very small radius of space, until eventually the rest of the world caught up with a roar and we were suddenly all in the same moment.

This is why new parents look so vague all the time.

My dad passed away on a clear day in late winter in Pennsylvania a few years ago, and as we filed out of the hospital and back toward home the same sort of disjuncture was there, an eddy in time where things in my corner of the observable universe did not move at the same pace or in the same direction as they did everywhere else.

It is a strange feeling to be caught in these eddies, in a place where the world had changed for you but not for others, not yet.

My mom passed away on Saturday morning, and here I am back in another eddy.

If you have a moment, spare a thought for someone who will be dearly missed by those who loved her.

Sunday, September 26, 2021

News and Updates

It’s that time of year where these lists are the best I can do.

1. When I am Grand Vizier of Creation, things will be different. Not necessarily better. But certainly different. And one of the decrees I will put forth early in my tenure is that no bread manufacturer will be allowed to print anything on their clear plastic bags in green ink, particularly not any abstract blobby shape.

2. Every so often my employer convinces me to sell them my health information, which they already have since they are the ones who insure me in the first place so I am not sure what they get out of that. I get enough money to buy some books, which keep me sedentary and provide me with opportunities for tea and snacks which cannot be good for my health that they are so desperate to monitor, so the question of who’s gaining from this remains unanswered.

3. Part of that process was that I had to go in for some blood work as part of my annual checkup. I don’t complain about such things on the whole, even if I hate needles with a wholly irrational passion, since access to health care is a privilege in this country rather than a basic human expectation and I’m glad to have it even if I think that system is desperately cruel and stupid and needs to change. I was supposed to get that work done a while ago but Events intervened and part of my reaction to those Events was to declare a Diet Holiday wherein I would eat whatever I damn well pleased because that’s just what you do to get you through Events, and it took a while for my system to return to close enough to whatever passes for normal for me to try to get tested that way. But now they have my blood and I have a large black bruise on the inside of my elbow and some numbers that look about what I expected them to look like and everyone’s happy except for me and my bruise.

4. It’s been, as noted, a busy and stressful month, and today was the first time since Lauren and Oliver left for college that it occurred to me that I was an empty nester again. This morning I was sitting at my desk getting my class prepped for tomorrow and I idly wondered when they would come down for food and it hit me that they were both elsewhere and that was a rather odd realization.

5. On the plus side, I really like being in a classroom again and seeing my advisees in my office. My students have been good about wearing their masks and it’s been nice getting to know them. Although I am now convinced that one of them is a member of the Russian mafia, though this may just be me.

6. Kim and I hit the Giant Asian Market for some retail therapy yesterday and spent a happy hour or so just wandering up and down the aisles looking for inexpensive treats. I love the compressed sweet sesame seed things, for example, though for some reason the Market was out of the cans of Black Tea that I discovered last time. The salty snack aisle remains an Empire of Weird, which is a lot of why we go after all. I couldn’t resist these:

They were spicy, though I’m not sure where the “numb” part is supposed to come in. I did once make a (thoroughly inedible) chicken dish with far too many sancho peppers that had that effect (and also made ordinary water feel carbonated when you drank it). Perhaps I can suggest an addition to their recipe.

7. There have been actual days over the last week where I didn’t have any book in progress, and I think the last time that happened was the early 1980s. It’s been a time.

8. Day instantly made better:

Yes, it’s a CD. I’m old school. Also, old. But you can’t autograph a downloaded mp3 now, can you? It has been in heavy rotation here at the homestead.

9. Also in heavy rotation have been The Mountain Goats, whom I discovered last year when one of my students recommended them to me, and it turns out that Oliver is a big fan as well and we spent some time driving together this month and he put them on the playlist. If you haven’t listened to “This Year” or “The Best Ever Death Metal Band Out of Denton” you’re missing out. “This Year” has become my theme song.

10. Although last month a friend of mine asked me what my walk-up song would be if I were a baseball player waiting for my turn at bat, and really the only possible answer to that would be “Lawyers, Guns & Money” by Warren Zevon.

Sunday, September 19, 2021

Things I Have Learned Recently

1. There is no quiet way to make toast. This is an observation, not an invitation to argue.

2. Speaking as someone who uses hot sauce the way most people use ketchup and who regards Buffalo sauce as a perfectly normal condiment for all sorts of foods, Buffalo chicken pizza should not be a thing. At least it should not be a thing fed to me, anyway. I find this both surprising and disappointing.

3. There is never enough time. Let that be a lesson.

4. There are no hotel rooms available in eastern Indiana if you're traveling on a Thursday night. Not even in places you wouldn't want to stay in if they were the last hotel on earth, a category in which eastern Indiana excels. I am not sure why this is so. The lack of rooms, I mean. Not the "last hotel on earth" part. That was obvious.

5. Sometimes you just want a margarita, and part of being an adult is the ability to say, "Fuck it" and get yourself a margarita.

6. It is entirely possible for a luggage cart to have a flat tire. This makes your luggage go all wobbly.

7. This is the year where the concept of "low bandwidth" became a pervasive thing in my world.

8. My kids are ideal traveling companions. I'd be happy to claim parenting credit for some of that but I suspect it's pretty much just them. Either way it is a lovely thing to share a long drive with them, for the companionship, the conversation, and the playlists.

9. Salt & Vinegar chips are the angriest potato chips, and nobody makes them better than Herr's. I need to find someone who sells them here in the midwest. I also need to stop eating so many of them since a) they have the word "salt" right in the name and my doctor has already given me the finger-waggle about too much salt, and b) they eventually eat a hole in your lips. Maybe it's good that I can't buy them in Wisconsin. But they're so worth it.

10. The flexibility of remote teaching is a wonderful thing when your schedule shifts without warning.

Wednesday, September 8, 2021

The Calendar on the Wall

It's the calendar that sticks in my mind.

We’re back face to face at Home Campus now, almost completely, after a year and a half of working mostly (and in my case almost entirely) remotely. I went back to my office last week to bring the files I’d taken home last March, back when I thought this would be resolved in a few months, and I dumped them on my desk for future sorting. I’d cleaned up the place when I came in for the files back then – there were no derelict mugs or moldy snacks, no half-remembered things I’d been looking for at home without success. Just papers and office supplies, as always.

But the calendar on the wall still read March 2020.

It felt like I was an archeologist, exploring the ruins of a lost civilization and waiting for the boulder to come rolling out of some secret opening in a file cabinet to crush me for my impertinence in disturbing the ancient site. All I needed is a nice hat and a bull whip to make the feeling complete.

I mean, we already have Nazis openly roaming the streets of the country these days. How far away can Indiana Jones be?

It’s a strange thing to see that calendar, to put my mind back into the eerie last days before the pandemic struck the US for real. I remember thinking a couple of days before it all came crashing down that the day felt like the Before picture in some future textbook, that there would soon be a divide in time and whatever came next would be After, a different place.

In some ways it is.

But in other ways it’s more of the same. The students are still vaguely lost, looking for rooms that will become second nature to them in a few weeks. The building is a bit more spread out with the furnishings to encourage social distancing but even that not so much as it was a year ago. The classrooms are back to being classrooms instead of wifi hotspots for Zoom classes.

Everyone is wearing masks, though. Home Campus has a mask mandate for everyone, vaccinated or not, which is smart policy in the time of the Delta variant. So far compliance has been universal, which gives me hope for the future. I live in a state that hasn’t lost its goddamned mind like so many of the ones in the old Confederacy or the new one. People here understand that science is real and the virus doesn’t care about your politics, or at least they understand that the university has the authority to set rules for public safety and you are free not to attend if those rules bother you. Either way the result is the same, so that’s good.

I've cleared away the files and straightened out my desk, but I haven’t taken the calendar down yet. I’m not sure why. It just sits there, a brightly colored monument to a faded past of not that long ago, really.

Tuesday, August 31, 2021

Just Like That

I spent most of last night playing Tetris in the minivan.

Not electronically, mind you. Not the kind of Tetris that you play on a screen, but rather the kind you play with boxes, bags, and various other oddly shaped possessions that all somehow have to fit into a defined space without falling out or getting crushed. It’s an art form, fitting it all together so that nothing gets left behind – or at least only those things you plan to leave behind get left behind, for there is always time for another trip – but such is my muse.

This morning Kim, Lauren, and I piled into the van, folding ourselves neatly around the stuff already there, and headed off to Main Campus University.

You have to hand it to universities these days – they’re much better organized about move-in than when I went to college back in the Cretaceous Period. There are volunteers to guide you to where you need to be, and signs everywhere you turn if you can’t find a volunteer. You can back up onto the sidewalk to unload easier – they actually put little ramps there so you can do this without ruining your suspension. There are roller bins to help you move stuff. And you even get a parking permit that allows you to move to one of the official university lots for the rest of the day if you are so inclined and your child actually wants you to stay.

Not much you can do about old dorms that don’t have elevators or air conditioning, though.

We arrived right as our scheduled window was starting and loaded up a couple of bins. These got us as far as the door to the dorm, and then we had to unload them and haul all that stuff up several flights of stairs, there being – as noted – no elevators. The first few trips are pretty straightforward, and then your body starts to notice what you’re doing and, if you’re me, it begins to remind you that you are Old and this is not how Old people normally spend their days.

But you persist, because it is your child’s first day at MCU and she needs to get moved in.

Fortunately it was a pleasant day, not the kind of oven we’ve had for the past few weeks. It was still stuffy in the room – putting together the futon that we brought for under her lofted bed left me rather soggy – but I can’t imagine trying to do that in 94F heat.

Well, actually I can. I’d just prefer not to.

We got it all up to her room and lofted the bed, placing the futon underneath as we had planned. And then it was time to go. MCU doesn’t have anything scheduled for parents the way Small Liberal Arts College did, and Lauren was eager to get on with her day and her college career.

She will be just fine. She’s been away before, and at least this time she doesn’t have to learn an entirely new language just to have ordinary conversations. She’s a good student and she’s been looking forward to this for a while now. So we said our goodbyes and she shooed us out.

And just like that, she’s a college student.

Good luck to you, Lauren! Do well and be well.

I’m proud of you.

Saturday, August 28, 2021

Observations from the Highway

I’ve spent a lot of time on the interstates this summer, and I’ve seen some things.

1. What’s with all the tire shreds? Everywhere you look there are shredded tires littering the road like oversized rubber spiders. Most of the time you can avoid them, but sometimes you can’t and then you just have to hope that you’re not going to add your own tires to the pile.

2. Is there a reason why they put speed limit signs on the highways around Chicago? Half of them are marked as 55mph and the other half have construction zone limits that are even lower but I have never seen anyone travel less than 70mph on any of those roads – not even state troopers. May the deities of your choice protect you if you try to go the speed limit, because there are only two outcomes to that. You might get run over by faster traffic piling up behind you. Or you might get deliberately taken out by the road rage of the faster traffic piling up behind you. I spent five years running with a rescue squad back in the Jurassic Period and if I got anything out of that experience it is that you should never be the fastest or slowest thing on the road, so if traffic is holding steady at 20mph above the speed limit well, that’s where I’ll be.

3. This has been a banner year for road construction. I think they’re trying to get it all done before the pandemic ends and traffic returns to normal, but while the pandemic rages on thanks to all the blistering morons who refuse to accept basic public health measures, traffic has indeed returned to prepandemic levels. This does tend to make the construction a bit trickier than perhaps intended.

4. The state of Indiana has no idea how to run a construction zone or a highway rest stop. Sweet dancing monkeys on a stick, folks, even Ohio does those better.

5. The cult of Trump refuses to do the decent thing for the nation and die out already. Everywhere I go there are nitwits flying Trump flags at highway speeds from overpowered vehicles, right next to their Confederate battle flags – another white supremacist failure that lasted only four years – and seriously people, it’s pathetic and it needs to stop.

6. If you go by what you see from the turnpike, the middle of Pennsylvania is mostly rolling hills, rising mountains, dying towns, and Trump cultists. At mile 203 of the turnpike, on the south side of the highway, someone has hauled a pile of white rocks up onto the side of a hill and arranged them neatly into the name of their false idol. Just above them, at the top of the hill, there is a flagpole with one of the aforementioned nitwit flags. At one point there was an altar or podium or some such – it’s hard to tell when you’re flying by at highway speed – but it seems to have collapsed into a heap now. I’ve gotten to the point where I look forward to seeing it, if only out of a sense of morbid curiosity. What exactly did the deluded soul who put together this knockoff version of a golden calf want to achieve beyond snorts of derisive laughter and eyerolls? The world may never know.

7. When it’s raining hard enough to make the semis pull over, that’s a good sign that you should pull over as well.

8. Having those transponders where you can pay your tolls without even slowing down is really nice in the sense that you don’t have to slow down but it also means that you really don’t have any idea what your actual toll is so they can keep raising it without you even getting bothered by it. You have to hand it to them.

Tuesday, August 24, 2021


I dropped Oliver off at Small Liberal Arts College on Saturday.

Friday night we made our pizza Margheritas and Oliver invited some friends over (we had a friend of our own come down as well, which is a long story involving a wedding and a baseball game) and we made a party of it. It’s nice to have one last hurrah before heading out.

We drove down to SLAC with our usual van full of stuff, as we are wont to do. It’s a nice drive, really, except for the construction detours that are never as marked as they ought to be, but with GPS that’s not the issue it once was. It’s good to be able to spend time with your kids, and a long car ride is just an excuse for good conversation.

We loaded up his dorm room as his roommate was doing the same, then retrieved yet more stuff from the storage unit they had rented over the summer and squeezed that into the room as well. Once you set up a college dorm room, the TARDIS begins to make a lot more sense.

And then I was off – back on the road to Our Little Town, on my own in an empty van, with one fewer person at the other end to greet me.

Lauren leaves for Main Campus University next week and we will repeat the process then, including another pizza fest if all goes well, and after that it will just be me and Kim, empty nesters for real this time after the test run of 2019-2020.

We went to our last 4H meeting not long before Oliver had to leave – a picnic in one of the city parks, outdoors and socially distanced as befits an event in the new age of the Delta variant. It was a nice time. We got to see some of the people we’ve been in the club with over the last 13 years or so, and both Kim and I got plaques as thank yous for all the various volunteer activities we’ve put in over that time. I spent a lot of time at the food booths of the Cat Show and Rabbit Show, for example. It’s a nice plaque. I’ll have to put mine somewhere I can see it.

But both Lauren and Oliver have aged out of the 4H now, and neither Kim nor I plan to stay around as leaders. It was a good run. It’s time to step aside.

Lauren has her yearbook now – there was some kind of printing delay so they had to pick them up long after graduation – and the School District sent us a check for the remaining balance in her lunch account, which has been sitting there since June 2019, since she didn’t use it at all while she was abroad and nobody needed it last year. It turns out that it’s cheaper and easier just to give everyone lunches than to try to monitor who paid and who didn’t. So that door has gracefully shut and next month, for the first September since 2004, we will have no kids attending public schools here in Our Little Town.

We were very happy with the schools here – they did a good job of both educating our kids and treating them well, which is saying something given the curve balls we threw at them occasionally. But if you’re willing to work with people they’re usually willing to work with you, and so it turned out.

Sometime in September there will be a mass culling of Facebook group pages from my account, as there are a lot of announcements I no longer need to see.

Every time is a time of transitions, but this year is more so than most. There are more transitions coming down the pike, in fact, but I will get to them when they arrive.

It’s been quite a time here in Our Little Town.

We press on.

Friday, August 13, 2021

A Louder Sort of Quiet

I literally don’t remember the time I saw Nanci Griffith in concert.

I remember the concert, more or less. I was in college, back in the mid-1980s, and my friend Rob wanted to go to see a folk duo named Buskin & Batteau who were playing at a local bar that was ambiguously off campus depending on how you defined the campus. I had heard a lot of Buskin & Batteau songs by then – Rob and I were in a band together with Jack and we actually covered one of them at the irregularly scheduled concerts that we’d play here and there. I don’t know why Jack wasn’t with us. It was a long time ago.

I remember the bar. It had a stage at one end with some round tables in front of it, and some bar stools and counters around the edges. Jack and my dad and I saw Leon Redbone at the same bar not long after this, actually. It was a nice place.

Rob and I sat on bar stools on the edge, enjoying the concert for a while until he saw some friends of his at one of the tables and went over to sit with them. He asked me several times to join them, but I wasn’t the most sociable person at the time and didn’t know them so I stayed on the side until the concert ended.

It was a fun concert. Buskin & Batteau were a midlevel folk band with some really great music (though their lyrics could be hit and miss). There aren’t many folk groups with violins played as violins rather than fiddles.  One of their songs has a heartbreakingly beautiful two-part violin bit, and it turned out that someone in the audience had learned one of the parts so they brought her up on stage and had her perform with them.  I remember that part, at least.  She did a good job.

Rob bootlegged the concert, which in the mid-1980s meant bringing in a bulky tape recorder, putting it on the table, and hoping the band didn’t mind because there really wasn’t any way to hide it. He made me a copy afterward.

It wasn’t until I listened to the tape that I realized the opening act was Nanci Griffith. I knew who she was, but I didn’t remember her part of the concert at all even then. They brought her back for the encore. I still have the tape somewhere.

I listened to a lot of Nanci Griffith songs after that, but I never managed to see her in concert again. Never met her. Never traded so much as an email. But she had a distinctive voice and a writer’s talent for lyrics, and she was one of those small pieces of the background music of my life that I enjoyed.

She passed away today, another little chunk of my past irretrievably lost to time, much like John Prine last year. The ghosts accumulate as you get older.  The quiet gets louder.

But the music plays on.

Sunday, August 8, 2021

Pizza Margherita

The parchment paper was the key.

One of our summer projects here in this second year of the Great Pandemic has been to learn how to make pizza Margherita, the classic Neapolitan pizza that you find all over Europe and in much of the United States as well. It’s a project you can do at home with the whole family and if you do it right you get really good food at the end. That’s pretty much the definition of an ideal project as far as I am concerned.

Pizza Margherita is model of simplicity, with only a handful of ingredients and no hidden techniques or exotic equipment required, but as with all simple things you have to get it just right or it doesn’t work. Simple is not the same as easy.

The first thing, of course, is to assemble the ingredients.

Kim found some Neapolitan “Tipo-00” extra fine flour for sale online, and apparently this is the secret to the crust. It makes, it must be said, the platonic ideal of a pizza crust – crusty, chewy, with plenty of air and a nice bite to it. You add water, yeast, and some salt – maybe a bit of sugar to get the yeast started, if you want – and let it rise overnight on top of the oven. Eventually you form it into dough balls and let them sit for about half an hour before gently flattening them into pizza crusts to await toppings.

The pizza sauce is similarly straightforward. We get a can of crushed or pureed tomatoes and add some spices to it and that’s pretty much it. The trick, we learned after the first time, is to simmer it down so it’s not so watery. Otherwise it turns everything into a sad, wet mess and takes forever to cook.

This is the same trick we learned with the mozzarella. We live in Wisconsin, a state that counts cheese as one of its defining characteristics along with beer, fish fries, and Packers football. You can get really good fresh mozzarella here. But you have to get the kind that is designed for pizzas and has a lot of the moisture taken out of it already – or you have to do that yourself – because as noted a wet mess of a pizza is a sad thing.

The only other ingredient is fresh basil and having three basil plants growing at random intervals around the house means that we have a fairly unending supply of basil to be picked mere minutes prior to baking.

You can also drizzle it with nice olive oil if you want – it adds a bit of flavor – but that’s optional. It’s a very simple dish.

The first time we tried this, early in the summer, we fired up the gas grill outside to Max Heat (which for our grill is about 600 to 700F or 315 to 370C) and threw the pizzas directly onto some baking pans, which resulted in pizzas that were both wet (see above) and scorched at the same time.

We fixed the wet problem and bought some heavy-gauge steel grilling pans and that solved those problems, but there was still one issue that continued to plague our Sunday evenings. No matter what we tried – flour, oil, supplications to deities of various kinds, invective addressed to same, whatever – getting the pizzas off of whatever surface we’d grilled them on was always a trial. We lost quite a few pizzas that way.

A moment of silence, please.

After a few go-rounds of that, however, an idea occurred. We have parchment paper. Parchment paper is used for baking. We’re baking. There seems to be a natural conclusion to be drawn here, and it turns out that parchment paper can in fact handle those temperatures. This has made all the difference in the world.

So every Sunday, more or less, we refine our pizza techniques and continue on our quest for the perfect pizza Margherita.

We gather our ingredients.

We make our pizzas.

We toss them on the grill.

And in about eight to ten minutes, out they come.

Perfection! At some point, of course, we will have to have a pizza party. But for now we have a project, and out of that project comes good food to share with family. What else do you need in life?

Mangia bene!

Friday, August 6, 2021

Olympic Thoughts

I’ve been trying to pay attention to the Olympics this week, though I’ll be honest sometimes that can be hard. On the one hand, the athletes are doing amazing things and can be a joy to watch, but on the other hand the powers that be who are running this have made some brutally stupid decisions and clearly lack the intelligence to figure out when they should just shut up and get out of their own way.

There’s been a lot of those decisions actually (why are they testing for performance-decreasing drugs?) but my personal favorite is their insistence that the women’s beach volleyball teams have to wear bikini bottoms in order to participate in their games, which is a decision I would expect coming from a committee of drunken frat boys at a rush kegger but which is an unwelcome surprise coming from an international body in charge of one of the most prestigious events in the modern world. Maybe they’re all just older drunken frat boys in better suits. It would explain a lot.

If that’s the way things are headed, I say we cut to the chase and just go back to the original Olympic games were all of the athletes were required to compete naked. Every one of them, from the gymnasts and sprinters to the soccer players and rowers to the shot putters and weightlifters. Men, women, and nonbinary. Let’s also include the scorers, referees, camera crews, commentators, and every single member of the organizing and rules committees as well, all of whom would be required to attend a minimum of three medal ceremonies per day. The entire Olympics would have clothing of any sort banned, and everyone connected to the Games in any way should be given a gallon of olive oil a day to rub on their skin as well as a wreath to put on their head if they win anything.

Watch how quickly those stupid rules get forgotten and the women’s beach volleyball teams are allowed to compete in actual uniforms instead of lingerie when that proposal starts to gain traction.

Also, as a side note, all of those dim-witted keyboard warriors who get winded rummaging through their fridge for third breakfast yet still feel a need to complain about Simone Biles pulling out of some events in order to protect her mental and physical health should take their randomly capitalized tweets (containing several correctly spelled words!), print them out on 100% linen-fiber paper, cut the printouts into small pieces, mulch them into golf-ball-sized spheres, and insert them one at a time into whatever orifice is closest until their eyes bulge.

Seriously people. Enough of that nonsense.

I’m not even going to go into the whole “COVID Superspreader Event” aspect of this. There aren’t enough electrons in the internet for that discussion.

But you try to focus on the athletes and the events themselves, and if you can do that then the Olympics are both great fun and a triumph of human achievement. You always have to make the separation between the athletes and the corruption surrounding the athletes, and I refuse to let the latter ruin the former.

In a twenty-four-hour span I saw two hurdlers break the world records in their event by significant margins and win silver medals for their efforts – an astonishing thing, really. Those were races for the ages. Three cheers for the 400m hurdlers, both men and women.

Why they had the women’s 100m hurdlers run in a downpour is an interesting question, though. That’s how people get hurt.

I watched a Qatari and an Italian decide to share a gold medal rather than engage in a tie-breaker contest in the men’s high jump. The deliriously happy response – particularly from the Italian – was just the most wonderful thing I’ve seen in a long time.

The Mexico/South Korea men’s soccer game was a highlight reel of goals. I haven’t seen as much of the men’s or women’s soccer as I would like to have seen, but what I have seen has been a lot of fun to watch.

The three medalists in women’s skateboarding had a combined age of 42. Can you imagine winning an Olympic medal at 13? When I was 13 my crowning athletic achievement was successfully riding my bike with no hands most of the time.

I spent a happy evening watching the kayakers and the 2-person canoe races, the latter being the most ridiculous thing I have seen in ages but an astonishing feat of athletic strength and endurance nonetheless. Those poor people must have collapsed into quivering heaps when the cameras turned away.

I will confess that one of the things I found most fascinating about those events is that the river where they’re held runs alongside a highway of some kind and you can see the traffic going by in the background. No matter who wins the gold medal, those appliances aren’t going to deliver themselves. It’s those little slices of daily life that make the world interesting.

Last night was the women’s 10m platform diving event, and sweet dancing monkeys on a stick but the Chinese woman who won put on a clinic. I know zip point nothing about diving and even I knew enough to be deeply impressed.

So overall I’d say the Olympics have been a success as far as I am concerned, despite the best efforts of the folks at the top to sabotage their own event. The athletes are what make this, and I will focus on them and be glad of it.