Wednesday, August 31, 2022

What Doesn't Quite Work

One of the most useful things I have ever learned I got from a friend of mine, up in the lighting booth while working on a play over at Home Campus. We were discussing the vagaries of the new automated equipment that we were working with on this particular play and whether or not any of it was trustworthy.

“Technology is what doesn’t quite work,” my friend said. “When it works all the time, it’s an appliance. Refrigerators used to be technology. Now they’re appliances. Computers are still technology.”

This past week has been absolute proof of the fact that computers are very much technology.

Set the Wayback for two weeks ago, Sherman, and let’s see how this tale unfolds.

My status at Home Campus, and indeed at every campus I’ve ever worked on or for, is contingent. I am never guaranteed employment more than 36 weeks in advance, and often not more than 17 weeks in advance. Welcome to the adjunct life. You get used to it, eventually.

But most of the time the folks who make those decisions know well in advance that they’re going to extend my contract so the word simply gets passed along to whatever HR department needs to hear it so they can keep me on the payroll while the paperwork gets processed.

For long and complicated reasons that have been outlined but not fully explained to me and which I probably wouldn’t understand even if they were so I am not complaining about this fact, this did not happen this year. So while Home Campus was going through the usual process of saying, “Yes, he’s coming back, don’t do anything drastic,” the good folks at the Mother Ship (and, from what I gather, the Home Planet as well) saw my contract expiring and said, “Well, he’s out. Cut him off immediately.”

So I was officially “fired” last Monday when the new contracts started, along with a number of others in the same predicament. And then the folks at Home Campus went “What?” and got corrections made and I was officially “rehired” last Thursday, after three days of unemployment during which I got no notice of any of this and still thought I had a job and still showed up to do it. I’m assuming I was hired retroactively. I’ve been assured that I still have insurance and whatever benefits, sick leave, and general fringes that I had prior to this. I’m hoping I got paid for working. It is quite possible that all of this is true.

Unfortunately, when the various HR departments did this they also wiped all of my access from all of the shared drives that I need to do my job. Eventually this became obvious (vide supra, re: no notice) and after a 45-minute phone call with the IT people over at the Mother Ship on Monday it turned out that I needed to file an individual ticket for each folder I had ever been given access to in order to get that access back. After several minutes of searching they did provide me a list, and I filed the tickets which all went to whomever owned the folder so they could approve me. There were five. Four came back in an hour or two, but the most important folder – the one most directly connected to my job as an advisor – can only be approved by my former boss, who left in March.

Remember how quickly they “fired” me? My boss, as described above, left in March. MARCH! This sticks in my head for some reason, perhaps because it’s been several days and the situation remains unresolved despite the intervention of my current boss on my behalf as he’d like me to go back to doing my job thank you very much.

So that’s the first issue.

While this was going on, I was receiving frantic emails from Apple that I needed to update my work computer to the newest OS (12.5.1) because there was some Monstrous Hack (tm) going on that allowed any random scraggly-bearded incel tapping away in his mother’s basement to take over and render odious my entire computer. I know from hard experience that I do not have permission to update an OS on my work computer because reasons. This is why I was still running 10.15.7 and hadn’t even sniffed at 11.0. Another phone call to IT and eventually they said, “Sure, go ahead. We’ve given you permission. Just do it at the end of the day, as it will take a while.”

So I did this on Monday as well.

Tuesday morning I came in and the computer had in fact updated, and while it needed several restarts to do things like find the keyboard and put the menu bar back on the desktop such things are to be expected and eventually it was up and running. It’s faster, so that’s nice.

And then it got complicated.

I have three browsers on my computer. I mostly use Firefox, because I like it and I see no need to justify that any further. I also use Chrome when necessary, and because some of the programs I use can’t have multiple log-ins on one browser I also use Safari.

After about an hour’s use, Firefox randomly decided I needed a new “profile” and gave me the choice of accepting this immediately or accepting this immediately. I weighed those options and decided to accept it immediately, whereupon it restarted and promptly erased several hundred bookmarks and all of my saved passwords.

There was an interlude of colorful language.

Some internet searching eventually revealed that there is a way to access old profiles to get all that back and gave step by step instructions on how to do that except that all of the pathways necessary to get to any of the relevant folders in that process had been diligently greyed out and rendered unusable. I’m sure there was a reason for it and I’m sure that reason involved “security” because that’s the catch-all reason for everything inconvenient and maddening involving computers, but the upshot is that at some point in the next few weeks I will have to recreate all those bookmarks individually and try to remember all of the passwords. I’ll probably end up just writing the passwords on a list and taping them to the side of the computer because that’s what happens when “security” becomes more important than actually being able to use a machine. It’s kind of counterproductive that way, but so it goes.

That’s the second issue.

Another of the consequences of updating the OS was that now every time I wake the computer from sleep there is a window dead center that cannot be hidden, only moved, asking me to choose a certificate from a pull down menu (which one? who knows) and log in to confirm it (can I do that? who knows). I can also hit Cancel. In any event the net result of any of the choices offered is the same: it goes away until the next time the computer wakes up and then the cycle starts over.

That’s the third issue.

The fourth issue is rather more worrying.

As part of the latest round of “security” we all must download an app onto our personal cell phones that the university is not actually paying for and every time we log in to an ever-increasing range of programs the log in process now includes the browser version of the app having to get approval from the phone version of the app, which means that I can’t actually do my job without my personal cell phone that the university is not actually paying for, which sticks in my mind for some reason. The app must be satisfied.

But I have the app in all of its versions – all of the various campuses (campii?) that I work for require one or another of these apps and eventually even I figured out that resistance was futile – and it generally does what it ought to do, though often at its own chosen pace.

But on Tuesday I tried to log into a mission-critical program and when I told the Firefox version of the app to contact the phone version of the app to get approval it gave me a popup window that basically said, “Your browser is out of date and you can’t use our app anymore until you update it.” It then provided step by step instructions on how to do that.

Bear in mind that this app is an officially sanctioned product here, approved by the University as being appropriate. You would think this would mean those instructions could be trusted. You’d be wrong, of course. But you would think.

So I followed the instructions and was soon greeted by ANOTHER popup window notifying me that I do not have the permission of the IT department to update my browser. So I am required by “security” to do what “security” will not let me do, which means that I can’t do anything.

I switched to Chrome and discovered the same thing, except that my Chrome browser expires tomorrow rather than this past Tuesday so I did get a couple of days to work with it before it disappears.

So I called the IT folks again. We’ve gone back and forth several times now to no great success, and tomorrow I will neither have access to my shared drive files nor to almost all of the mission-critical programs I need to do my job. Meanwhile, classes start Tuesday, we still have incoming students who need to be enrolled, and I have several large summer projects that need to be completed before the fall officially begins but likely won’t.


Thursday, August 25, 2022

Loans and Forgiveness

Sometime in the summer of 1984 I sat down at the dining room table with my parents with the paperwork for a student loan between us.

My dad had filled out the PHEAA form a few months earlier – the Pennsylvania version of the FAFSA before there was such a thing – and after much bureaucracy I’d gotten my financial aid package from the university I was hoping to attend. It was a generous package, enough so that I could actually afford to go there. And part of that package was a student loan.

My dad pushed the papers toward me. “I’m not signing this,” he said. “This is your loan.”

I understood what he was doing. This was my education, and while my parents would help me to the best of their ability there were certain things that I needed to take responsibility for and this was one of them. I signed the papers.

I signed similar papers in each of the next three summers as well.

I graduated college in 1988 and started paying those loans back later that year, after my six-month grace period expired. With four years off while I attended various graduate schools (you don’t have to repay student loans as long as you’re in school for at least six credits, which is a point that the bank refused to recognize until I threatened them with legal action) it took me until 2009 to finish repaying them. There were some lean years in there, particularly between graduate schools, but I never missed a payment.

We finished paying off Kim’s loans a couple of years before mine. She graduated before I did, so that made sense.

With this in mind, we made sure to put aside money for our kids so that they wouldn’t have to take out student loans when they went to college. Like most states, Wisconsin has a 529 Plan system that allows you to do that. It meant some sacrifices, but it was worth it. Oliver graduated without loans. Barring economic crisis, Lauren probably will too.

This is good.

Part of my job is advising students about financial aid and how it works, including student loans. My advice is always the same: Don’t take them if you don’t absolutely need them. The student loan industry (and consider, for the moment, the fact that “student loan industry” is an actual thing, and what that means for our culture) is quite possibly the most predatory and soulless branch of the financial services sector today, which is saying something in a field that includes payday lenders. They wrapped Congress around their little finger a couple of decades ago and now you can’t even get out of repaying those loans if you die. Unlike most debts, they’re not discharged by bankruptcy either. They’re a racket, pure and simple. But not everyone has the luxury of turning them down, and for those students I simply advise them to be careful, explain to them how the system works and where to start, and tell them not to take more than they need. They’re always surprised by the fact that you don’t need to take the entire loan. I suspect that’s by design.

So, bottom line:

1. I am intimately familiar with student loans – how they work, what the consequences are of both taking them and not taking them, and what the cost/benefit analysis is regarding whether to take them or not.


2. I paid mine back. It took me over twenty years, through good times and lean times, when I had much better things to spend that money on, but I paid them back.

Joe Biden announced this week that the federal government will forgive up to $20,000 in student loans for most borrowers.

You know what?

This is an unmitigated good. This is a thing to celebrate. This is what government serving the working majority of the population instead of the parasitic elites should look like.

Student loan debt has been a primary factor in keeping educated Americans under 40 shackled to low-paying, abusive jobs, so that they can keep making payments. Eliminating it entirely would free up immense reserves of entrepreneurial talent and money, stimulate the economy, and constitute one of the best investments in the American economic future that we’ve seen in decades.

Naturally the small and petty are against it. “I paid my loans!” they whine. “Why don’t they have to?” Or, even more small and petty, “Why should my taxes pay for their loans!”

First of all, the amount we’re talking about here - $298 billion, including everything over time – constitutes roughly 0.3% of federal revenue.  It’s statistically insignificant compared to the tax giveaways that have gone to the already wealthy in the last few years, by an order of magnitude. It’s a classic example of what can happen when miniscule amounts are taken from large groups to produce vast benefits for society as a whole, including those who had those miniscule amounts taken. Honestly, folks. It’s not that hard and it’s not my fault that so many Americans have been duped into forgetting how this is supposed to work.

More importantly, if your reaction to this is “I carried my burden, why shouldn’t everyone have to carry their burden,” instead of “I carried my burden, nobody should have to carry that burden,” I don’t know what to tell you. I don’t know how to convince you that you should care about other people. I probably could wrap my head around the kind of immorality if I wanted to do so, but I don’t. The whole point of life is to make things better for those who follow, and the fact that you suffered should not mean that everyone else has to suffer as well.

Seriously, people, try to keep up.

Naturally the American right wing is horrified. They’re losing a key lever to keep younger Americans subservient to their corporate masters. They’re losing a way to bludgeon the poor into serving in the military. They’re watching people NOT SUFFER, which frankly galls the Party of Performative Cruelty no end.

Eh. Fuck ‘em.

I paid my student loans. I paid them entirely, every last dollar, in good times and lean times. I paid.

And the only thing I don’t like about this loan forgiveness bill is that it doesn’t go nearly far enough.

Monday, August 22, 2022


I got Wordle in three today.

That’s a little better than my average. I usually get it in four. Sometimes more. Sometimes less. I’ve only ever missed it twice – both times because I had n guesses left and the final letter could have been any of n+2 options.

I don’t suppose there are many people reading this who aren’t familiar with Wordle. For those that aren’t, it’s a guessing game. You get a five-letter word and you’ve got six guesses to figure it out. If you get a letter correct but in the wrong place, it gets colored yellow. If you get it in the right place it gets colored green. It’s very much like the old game Mastermind, which I used to play a lot when I was younger. You get one shot at it per day, and then it lets you get on with your life. You have to like that.

It was one of the things that came out of the pandemic, I suppose.

Some people want more challenge or more game play so other versions have sprung up. There was one where you were given the outline of a country and had to guess what it was and I played that off and on for a time. There are specific versions for specific interests, where the words all have a theme to them. There are straight-up copycats that let you play many games per day if that’s your thing. Kim and Oliver have landed on a version called Squardle, which has six different words and an intricate color-coded scheme of hints that escapes me entirely. I play Quordle, which has four words and you get nine guesses, but each guess counts for all four words at once.

But mostly it’s Wordle.

I’ve never posted my score that I recall. I don’t mind that people do – if my social media feeds are going to be taken over by something, this is harmless and vaguely charming – but that’s not why I play it.

One of the things we started doing back when Wordle was fresh and both Oliver and Lauren were in the middle of college semesters was posting our scores to a group text, just the four of us.

It’s a nice way to keep in touch, to share an experience with those you love. We could celebrate our successes and commiserate our losses, but most importantly we could do it together even if we were far apart.

We still keep this up after all those months, though more sporadically than perhaps we did before.

But I always enjoy seeing their scores pop up on my phone, a sign that we have shared something that day and are together at least that much before things spiral away as they always do.

Sunday, August 21, 2022

News and Updates

1. The Summer of Visits has drawn to an end now that our friends Mike and Krista have gone back to Pittsburgh. They dropped off their son at his new graduate program earlier this week and then swung over to see us before they had to go back home, and it was just lovely to have them. There was pizza! There was conversation! There was not nearly enough time, but that’s how it always is when good friends are with you. We shall have to do this again.

2. We also had one of our neighbor’s kids stay with us for a night as well, as they had to be out of town and couldn’t take them along. It went very well! It’s good to have the place full of noise and activity.

3. Lauren seems to be settling into her new apartment. She now has wifi! And through the magic of FaceTime she gave us the nickel tour of the place in its new “actually set up mostly how we like it” manifestation. College student art is a wonderful thing.

4. Speaking of wifi, we may have solved the “one-house outage” problem that has been plaguing us for the last week or so. All of our services would cut out completely at random intervals so we’d call the cable company and they’d say “Huh, there’s no general outage – only at your house,” but they’d also confirm that it was a signal problem rather than a modem problem (i.e. a “them” problem, not an “us” problem). The cable guy came out Friday and determined that the rat’s nest of cables in our basement installed by previous cable guys was not doing us any favors and neither was the band-aid spliced line going out to the street, so he replaced them both. So far all seems well.

5. I’m a bit over halfway through reading The Sandman by Neil Gaiman now, which is something that a) I have wanted to do for a long time because Neil Gaiman, and b) never thought I would actually do because graphic novels are kind of wasted on someone who mostly just reads the words without paying too much attention to the art. Also, it’s 75 issues and both the individual issues and the hardback collections that came out a while ago are far beyond my price range for the set. But it felt like a gaping hole in my reading, and now that Netflix is making the series into a television show I figured they’d have affordable versions printed as a tie-in and it turns out my sense of American commercialism is spot on these days. So now I have the books. They’re deeply weird and a fair amount of fun and I’m enjoying them, though I confess I do much prefer regular novels. Perhaps I’ll get to the Netflix show sometime as well.

6. The horror stories from Forced Birth America just keep mounting up here in the Evangelical States and for once the media is actually reporting them to the general public for wide consumption instead of sweeping them under the rug. This is what you wanted, anti-choicers: deliberate, ostentatious cruelty that makes you feel morally superior to those in need. Please choke on it, with my regards. It is possible that the disgust and outrage of the American majority over this might actually prevent – and will almost certainly lessen – the supposed “red wave” that the GOP was expecting in this year’s midterm election, which might be the only shadow of a positive thing to come out of this moral cesspool. Because while the cruelty is the point with those people and there does seem to be a maddened crowd baying for it, the simple fact is that the audience for cruelty is smaller than they think.

7. Have you noticed that the GOP is no longer bothering to hide the fact that they plan to do away with democracy in the US? They cannot win free and fair elections so they’re just going to make sure we don’t have them anymore. The latest proto-Fascist GOP politician to say the quiet part out loud is Greg Lopez, former mayor of Parkland and a serious Republican candidate for governor in Colorado. Lopez has publicly proposed revising the Colorado voting system along an electoral college model that would explicitly give conservative districts more weight than other districts – one article I read noted that it would give the two thousand rural voters in three sparsely populated counties more than twice the electoral votes of the nearly three-quarter-million voters of Denver and its surrounding counties, and would have turned the 2018 gubernatorial election – which the GOP lost in by double digits – into a right-wing landslide. “It’s not about one-person, one-vote,” said Lopez. “It’s about true representation.” You will notice the assumption here that only conservatives deserve representation and that nobody else counts. David Frum, a former official in the George W. Bush administration, once pointed out that when ideologically committed parties realize they can’t achieve their goals through democratic means they don’t give up on their agenda – they give up on democracy. We’re watching this happen in real time in the US. Watch your back.

8. If the prospect of the GOP seizing power in the US doesn’t terrify you, you’re either complacent or complicit.

9. It’s actually been a nice summer here in the waning days of the American republic, though. Other than a week here or there of hot weather we’ve had highs around 80F/27C and lows around 60F/15C most of the time – especially recently – and while that’s warmer than I would prefer it to be it is still about as nice as you’re going to get in the summertime, particularly as the climate heats up around the globe. I’ll take it.

10. We went to the Arts & Crafts show that my old museum has every year and I got my usual assortment of dip mixes – I’ve reached a point where I generally try to buy consumables rather than things, as I have enough things in my world. Apparently this is the last year they’re going to have that show, which came as a bit of a surprise to me since it was our major fundraiser when I was there. But times change and while the number of vendors and volunteers has declined in our post-pandemic (or, perhaps, still pandemic) world the workload to set one of these things up has remained constant. So I understand why they’re looking for other ways to raise money, but I will still miss the show.

Monday, August 15, 2022

Moving Day

We spent most of today moving Lauren into her new apartment. It’s a nice place that she’ll share with her bestie for the upcoming school year.

She’s been on campus this summer rather than moving back home after the semester ended. A job with the university let her have housing in the dorm for cheap, and she ended up taking a couple of classes as well. She’s definitely wringing the place dry, and that’s what you should do in college – get everything you can out of it, and then take that experience with you when you leave. I try to tell my own students to do that, though I’m never sure if they take me seriously when I do. But it’s good to see Lauren following that path.

She came home for a bit last week, mostly to hang out with us and get caught up on cat time. There were also a few assignments she had to take care of for her classes, most notably her public speaking course which required her to give two presentations to a minimum audience of five people each. A cavalcade of her friends came over to listen to each of them, and it was good to see them. She has nice friends. We fed them snacks.

Lauren also spent some of that time packing up things she’ll need for her apartment, and by last night the kitchen was an unwalkable pile of bags and boxes. She’d gone back to her dorm room by then, however, to pack that up, and we all convened at the apartment this afternoon.

Kim, Oliver, and I drove up, met Lauren, Aleksia, and their friend Luke, and we all unloaded the stuff from home – including a bed and some furniture. Fortunately the place has an elevator, which as someone who is on the downslope of middle-aged I very much appreciated.  Afterward Lauren and I went over to her dorm room where she learned the Great Truth of Moving: "you have more stuff than you think you do." But eventually it got loaded up, carted over, and loaded out.

She and I also made a grocery run, because you can’t just leave someone with an empty fridge like that. We had a grand time of it, wandering around and picking out food. Food is love, after all.

I remember my first apartment, the summer after my junior year of college – a sublet that backed onto Sansom Street near 36th in West Philadelphia. It was a fourth-floor walk-up with a flat black-tar roof in a hot summer that saw Philadelphia reach 108F/42C more than once. I shared it with my friends Terence and Amy. Terence eventually bought a small air conditioner that we set in the window over the kitchen table. At full power it kept the table cool. At some point he gave up entirely and booked a trip to Hudson Bay, Canada, which is something you can do when you have more money than you know what to do with and you want to be somewhere that's cold. Amy found a boyfriend who had an air-conditioned apartment, though he’d come over sometimes with Sri Lankan or Indian food that was spiced at “Sterilize” levels which I appreciated. The bedrooms were small and it had a galley kitchen, and you could set a chair on the fire escape to watch the city parade by below and catch the evening breeze. It was exciting and I loved it, for all the heat and grime of the place.

I never did move back home after that. Not for more than a visit.

Lauren seems happy with her new place, and I’m sure she and Aleksia will have their share of adventures there.

I wish you well, my daughter, and I’m proud of you.

Saturday, August 13, 2022

News and Updates

1. The summer is rapidly coming to an end but the projects I have to complete are not and that’s just how it goes in this world of expectations.

2. In my defense, I have made significant progress on the biggest project, the one they’re paying me to do over at Electronic Campus. There is even a decent chance that I’ll have it done by the agreed-upon due date of September. I confess I’m not nearly as worried about that as they are – they don’t pay me until completion, so I figure any delays are my problem. But we’ll see how it goes. It will be nice to get it off my plate.

3. I also sorted another third of the books in my home office and removed about five boxes for donation to an unspecified worthy cause at an even more unspecified later date. This brings me up to about fourteen boxes in my basement. Now that we’re mostly (kind of?) between pandemics, perhaps the various places that take such donations will be accepting of them again. It would certainly be helpful for my basement.

4. One of my rediscoveries during this sorting was a cookbook that was given to my grandfather on the day I was born, according to the inscription on the inside cover. For some reason he was in Madison WI that day. Goes around, comes around, I guess. Perhaps I will try to make some of those recipes someday.

5. I managed to watch most of the UEFA Women’s Cup, including the semi-finals and the finals. They were great games. Alessia Russo’s backheel goal for England against Sweden – “impudent,” according to the announcer – was the goal of the tournament and I hope they replay that forever. Since then the Premier League and other soccer leagues have started up again and the long Summer Sports Dead Zone has begun to pass away for another year.

6. I am watching the ongoing legal destruction of Donald J. Trump with unmitigated satisfaction and joy because I can be petty just as well as the next person, and I am eagerly looking forward to him receiving every last one of the terrible things that are coming to him for his open corruption, sedition, and outright assault on laws, morals, human decency, and the Constitution. Knowing him he may yet find a way to slither out of it, but one can dream. I will also be delighted when every single one of his minions, lackeys, cronies, enablers, and supporters likewise receives their due. I worry about the level of damage they all will do in the process though, as it is already considerable and likely to be ramped up to unholy levels in the coming months as the nets close in. It will take my country generations to recover from the damage they have done to it, if such damage can be repaired at all – it will not be fully healed in my lifetime – and there needs to be a price for that.

7. Kyiv still stands. Russia has begun to mobilize for what they now realize will be a protracted war that they cannot afford and in the long run are not likely to win but cannot figure out how to end, and it is going to get worse before it gets better for everyone regardless of how far away from the battle they are. But Kyiv still stands.

8. It’s actually been a pretty decent summer here, weather-wise. A few ugly-hot days. Some stretches of the usual “way too hot” weather here and there. But for the most part not nearly as bad as it is in many places in the world. Today and yesterday, in fact, were comfortable. Every day where it’s below 90F (32C) is a day closer to November and civilized weather.

9. I have recently had reason to be glad that I spent some time reading The Phantom Tollbooth to my kids when they were younger. It’s interesting how things come back in odd ways.

10. It’s good to hear from former students, and even better when you can help them move forward even after they are technically no longer in your care. Some days are good days.

Friday, August 5, 2022

More Visitors!

This has been the summer where people come to visit us.

You need those now and then. You can’t go traveling every summer, after all – it gets overwhelming after a while. Sometimes it is nice to stay home and have people come to you, and then you can return the favor later on.

Plus, we seem to be in a bit of a lull, world-wide-pandemic-wise. COVID-19 has stabilized now and, with vaccines freely available, it is mostly a voluntary form of death rather than the rampant killer it started as. Monkeypox is on the rise but so far hasn’t become a huge deal outside of fairly specific circumstances. No doubt that will change, as previous such diseases changed, so we will be keeping a close eye on that (as you should too). But for now it’s a lull and we’re going to enjoy it as best we can.

Not long after our Swedish friends left we had visitors from Up Nort’, as they say here in Baja Canada. Our friend Sherry moved way up to the northern fringe of Wisconsin a while back so it’s always good to catch up when she ventures into the deep south here, especially since she brought her new fiancĂ©e Evelyn to meet us. There were homemade pizzas and glasses of Italian wine and some lovely conversations, and we’ll look forward to having them over again. Or, as noted, venturing north to visit them sometime.

Last Saturday my brother and my niece drove out from the Correct Time Zone to stay for a few days, which was a grand time for us. They don’t usually drive this far – day-long drives are a midwestern habit that mystifies people in the Northeast Corridor, for whom there is nothing of any conceivable importance that is more than a two-hour drive away, even if you can only get about ten miles in that time on occasion. It was a shift in mindset for me when I moved out here, I’ll tell you that. But it’s a relatively simple drive thanks to the interstate system, and as long as you don’t grow old and die trying to get around (or, if you miss the turn or if the GPS decides to get angry at you, through) Chicago it’s pretty straightforward.

The first thing we did was hit the County Fair, which is a proud bit of Americana that gets culturally more important the closer you are to the nation’s tender midsection. It’s been kind of a strange year for us with the Fair, since this is the first year since 2009 where we didn’t have a kid showing projects or the adult responsibilities that come with same. We could go as guests! Whenever we wanted! Or not at all! No barn duties! No selling cream puffs at the 4H tent! We could even leave whenever we wanted! Honestly, it was kind of strange.

That’s where we were when Keith and Sara arrived, actually. We’d gone there Saturday for dinner (mmmmmmmmm …. fair food ….) and met Lauren and Maxim there for the show that night – a comedian who has made a fairly good living by defining, living, and gently ridiculing midwestern stereotypes. He was good, though his opening act was rather tiresome, I thought. But opening acts are there to be ignored, so we had a good time anyway. I left a bit early to be home for when Keith and Sara drove up, and eventually everyone gathered in the living room, catching up.

We went back to the Fair the next day with Keith and Sara and wandered around the place for a while. It’s smaller than it was pre-pandemic – 4H, like many community organizations that center on meetings and group projects, was pretty hard hit by COVID-19 and it will take a while to rebuild it – but there were all sorts of projects and sights to see. We watched the duck and piglet races, toured through the animal project barns (Beef, Dairy, Poultry, Rabbits, Swine, and so on), visited the Art and Craft projects, and found a spot in the Bingo tent to eat whatever moderately non-lethal food that we could find at the Fair.

I just want to say, in my defense, that it did occur to me that perhaps I could have taken that last photo from a slightly better angle, cattle-wise, but unfortunately this did not occur to me until after we had walked on a bit. I suppose it’s more authentic in a way.

Also, on the subject of “moderately non-lethal food,” the mini-donuts come in a bucket with more than you can eat if you’re over 40. Just a head’s up. We gave it a valiant effort, though.

We did a lot of eating on this visit, because that’s what we do. Good food, good company, good conversation – what more do you want out of life?

There was also a visit to Madison, because of course there was a visit to Madison – it’s a fun place to wander around.

But mostly it was a visit to hang out together. There’s always at least one very late night of conversation whenever we get together, and it is a lovely thing to have people in your home who just fit in and act as family, especially when they actually are family.

They’re back east now, and the place is eerily quiet again. But Lauren will be home for a few days pretty soon, and we have one more set of friends who will be here in a couple of weeks, so the Summer of Guests will continue.

And this is a lovely thing.