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.