Originally published February 15, 2016:
I know I start to sound like Sheldon Cooper from Big Bang Theory when I say this sort of thing, but the holiday we’re celebrating today is not named “Presidents’ Day,” it is “Washington’s Birthday Observance.” I’ve written before about how the myth that the holiday is President’s Day got started and why it is so persistent. I’ve also written about the reasons why there has never been a federal holiday dedicated to Lincoln.
But especially because of those racist reasons that have prevented a Federal holiday recognizing Lincoln, I think it’s important to remember that this holiday is not Presidents’ Day, unless you’re in one of the 10 states that have a state holiday this day which is called President’s Day (my state isn’t one of them). Five states still recognize a state holiday for Lincoln (Illinois, California, Connecticut, Missouri, and New York), though schools and state offices often remain open on that day.
And don’t get me started on the fact that because Washington’s Birthday Observance happens on the third Monday of February, George’s actual birthday, February 22, never lands on his Federal holiday. For shame!
Our original plans had been to get takeout from one of the restaurants we haven’t been to in a while, but the snow and ice and being in a hilly part of town (and watching both yesterday and today cars struggling to get up the hill at either end of our block) has left us both feeling much safer staying it. Besides, the chest freezer is so full we can’t squeeze any more food into it, so it’s not like we don’t have anything to eat.
Today also happens to be the birthday of one of my favorite people, and we already had plans to watch a movie (virtually) together tonight with him and a bunch of mutual friends. Among the silly thing my hubby gave me today is a pink and lavender and other fun colors hanging bird bath that will be going out on the veranda (I have the perfect place to hang it, midway between were the birdseed feeder and the hummingbird feeder hang) once the snow and ice are gone. I have been scattering a lot of birdseed out on the veranda, with is all really visible on the snow, so there have been lots of birds hopping around out there. I haven’t seen but one fleeting glimpse of a hummingbird since the hold weather hit, but since I’m bringing in the hummingbird feeder each eventing at sundown so it doesnt freeze, I’ve been measuring the nectar. I usually put a quart of nectar in when I refill, and ordinarily it takes the local birds about a week and a half to drink that much. The first two cold days they drank about half a pint. Yesterday it was a bit more than a pint. So they are definitely visiting, just not when I happen to be looking out.
We got a little bit of rain mixed with snow today. The weather service is predicting rain and warming temps tomorrow. But last time I checked they are still saying a bit most snow late tonight transitioning to freezing rain in the wee small hours.
I need to go check the squirrel feeder and maybe scatter some more seeds for the birds…
Throughout December I started several blog posts without finishing them. There were more distractions than usual this holiday season. I decided that even though several of the unfinished post are seasonal, I should finish and post a few. So, here’s one:For a number of years I ran a Steampunk-based roleplaying game. We got together about once a month for an afternoon game. And people brought food to share, it that it was also a potluck. My husband would frequently look for period recipes that could be adapted into a good potluck dish. In the course of this research he happened upon the origin of the liqueur known as Rock and Rye. It was invented in the 1800s by a guy who was trying to figure out how to turn a large quantity of bad-tasting bourbon into a sellable product.
This requires a short digression about bourbon, particularly bourbon in the U.S. during the 19th Century. Farmers had long been in the habit of turning a certain amount of their annual grain production into alcohol. Besides being a product other people were willing to pay for, barrels of whiskey and similar spirits could be stored safely for much longer than grain could. Usually. But every now and then something would go wrong (the storage building might have gotten to hot for a period of time, or could have been flooded, et cetera) and many barrels of the alcohol that should have aged into something quite delicious would be ruined.
So, this guy had come into possession of a quantity of such bourbon, and he tried various things to make it palatable. The process he settled upon was to mix rock candy (sugar), sliced up citrus, and some spices (most notably star anise) into the bourbon, let it infuse of a month or so, then strain out the liquid. The result was a sweet-tasting booze that carried a deceptive kick (because the citrus oil, sugar, and spices masked a lot of the alcohol taste). He patented it and began selling it for its supposed medicinal purposes. Many decades later, during Prohibition, because Rock and Rye was still often sold in drugstores as a medication, it was one of the few products containing alcohol one could buy in many states.
The point was that there was a recipe for how to make batches of it at home, rather than go to a liquor store and see if they carried the manufactured stuff. Pick of the cheapest kind of rot gut whiskey you could find (it didn’t necessarily need to be bourbon or a rye whiskey), slice up an orange and/or a lemon, put it in mason jars with rock candy, star anise, and so forth. Keep it in a dry cool place. Check on it and shake it every now and then to make sure the sugar dissolves, and eventually strain it out into bottles.We tried it. And I was quite surprised at how good it was. I started experimenting some more. Any time I picked up a new bourbon or rye (assuming it wasn’t too expensive), if I decided I didn’t really like it for making cocktails, it would go on a back shelf until I was ready to make a batch of rock and rye. It’s difficult to find plain rock candy now a days—it almost always has artificial colors and flavors added—but I can usually find Lump Candy at the local asian market, which works just fine. You can also find big bags of star anise, as well as cinnamon sticks, at much cheaper prices than the regular grocery store.
What would usually prompt me to make a batch is if I noticed that I had an orange or a lemon or lime in the fruit bowl that was getting iffy. The skin was hardening and you just know in another couple of days it would start to mold. So I’d grab a couple of mason jars, whatever cheap bourbon was on the back shelf, a package of rock candy, and start assembling. For spices I tend to put three or four stars of anise in each jar, two or three sticks of cinnamon, and about five whole cloves. Sometimes if I have vanilla bean on hand I’ll slice one of those and throw in, as well.
And sometimes there would be other fruit. There was a bunch of dried apricots and dried cherries left over after my husband made solstice cake one year (and the leftovers had been sitting in the pantry for a few months at that time), so they went into a batch of Rock and Rye.For the last several years I’ve made two or three bottles (one batch is usually two mason jars, which once you strain out the solid bits, turns into one bottle of finished products) in time from our annual Christmas party. I give each batch a name, based on what it tasted like when I sipped it, and I make labels for the bottles. I’ve been picking up small plastic shot glasses that are in the shape of the red plastic cups you see frat boys drinking beer out of in movies—I can usually find them in both red and green at Christmas time. And I set out cocktail umbrellas along with the shot glasses, just for fun.
Because it isn’t the same base booze each time, and because the citrus isn’t always the same, the batches do wind up tasting very different from each other.
Last year I ended up making three batches, plus I had a lot of the 2017 favorite, “Farewell to Ballard” leftover. The three batches I made last year wound up being labeled “You’ll Get a KICK Out of Me,” “Feel the Lemon Flow Through You,” and “As Sure as There’s an X in Christmas!” Two of those are song lyrics, and one is a riff on a line from Star Wars.
Because we’ve been caught in this slow-moving apocalypse for eleven months, I didn’t make any new batches of Rock and Rye. If we couldn’t get together for a party, there would be no one to share them with. And for whatever reason, I still had a lot leftovers from last year, any way.
I typed whatever, but I know a big part of the reason. It isn’t a beverage that you drink a lot of at a time. One of my friends misunderstood the first view years we did it, and was shocked after he had been sipping at a shot for a while at how the alcohol was hit him. When I describe letting the booze infuse with the citrus and sugar, that gives some people the impression that it is juice with some booze in it. It is not diluted. It’s still a shot of bourbon, it just has flavor added. No significant amount of the juice of the citrus winds up in the liquid. You get the citrus oils, not the juice.
It’s the kind of thing that you drink in small quantities. And sipping shots of flavored bourbon by myself isn’t that appealing. But I’ve invented a couple of drinks using the Rock and Rye as a base. One is a toddy: put a shot or two of Rock and Rye in a mug, top off the mug with hot water, add a slice of lemon and a cinnamon stick. It’s really good on a cold winter night. The other is a Rock and Rye and Soda: but some ice in a double rocks glass, add a shot or two of Rock and Rye, top off the glass with seltzer water. The latter is a bit better for warm weather.
I realized that I still had those bottles left over the week that we hosted the virtual version of the party. I have been trying to use them up so I can clean out the bottles and think about possibly making a batch for next Christmas. Because maybe we can have a party this year?
I started, but never finished, several blog posts during December. Between finishing the Christmas shopping, fretting about the coup that seemed in the works, writing five different versions of the Christmas Ghost Story before I was happy, and the stressful deadlines at work where everyone was trying to finish everything before everyone else went on holiday, I just kept not coming back to them. I decided that even though several of them are seasonal, I’m going to just go ahead, finish them, and post.Every year during Thanksgiving weekend I pull whichever iPod has been living in the car the last several months, and replace with with the iPod that is loaded with Christmas music. So every time I drive anywhere during the holiday season, there’s Christmas music in the car. Loading that iPod is not a matter of simply grabbing as much Christmas music as will fit on it, but selecting music that my poor, long-suffering husband can listen to without setting his teeth on edge. Because while I love, love, love Christmas music of almost all kinds, he has decidely less tolerance for it. Which is easy to handle when I’m listening at home, because I can just wear earphones or AirPods and he doesn’t have to hear what I’m listening to. But in the car it’s another matter.
One of the rules for the car playlist is “No sweet baby Jesus music.” Or more generally, no overtly religious music. Another is that while I can assemble a playlist that is all of the versions of White Christmas (73 different recordings at present) and listen to it just fine, they all sound the same to him. And sometimes the random play feature would throw up several different versions of the same song in close enough proximity that it annoyed him. So only one version of any individual song—though he’s okay if there is both a vocal and an instrumental version.
Since I have nearly 3000 Christmas songs in the library, it’s not that difficult to put together a fairly sizable Christmas music playlist which meets those requirements.
Except when I misremember what a song is.
For some context: way back when I was in the fifth grade in elementary school, the school had a Christmas program made up of all of the kids of each grade singing one song. Or maybe it was each classroom that had a song. The song we learned was Christmas in Kilarney which begins with the words, “The holly green, the ivy green, the prettiest picture you’ve ever seen.” One of the reasons this particular memory sticks out is that my fifth grade teacher was the one who taught us to sing the song. One of his “claims to fame” was that he had spent a couple years after or during college in England. And so he decided we should learn to sing the song in the proper accent. So we spent a lot of time practicing the song the way he wanted us to pronounce things. Which would have been cool if he had been trying to teach us to sing with an Irish accent. But he didn’t. Instead he had us dropping h’s and otherwise went for a very poorly rendered cockney accent.
Whenever that song comes up on a random play, I remember that time trying so hard to learn to pronounce things the way he wanted, and then a few years later realizing that he had been teaching us the wrong accent.
And that’s a cute anecdote, but you’re probably asking what this has to do with selecting songs for the car iPod. Here’s the thing: even though just two paragraphs up I typed the correct title of the song, Christmas in Kilarney, because of those opening lyrics about the holly green and ivy green, whenever I’m looking at a list of song titles, if I see the title The Holly and the Ivy, my brain starts playing the memory of trying to sing Christmas in Kilarney in the wrong accent.
And so, I see the title, think of the bad accent, and add it to the car playlist.
While Christmas in Kilarney is a bouncy secular kind of Christmas song, the The Holly and the Ivy is an old traditional religious song, that is almost always recorded very downbeat and, frankly, in a grindingly boring tempo. It is very religious and abominably repetitive. So not only would it set my husband’s teeth on edge, it almost always sets my teeth on edge.
I suspect that part of the reason I always confuse the songs is that The Holly and the Ivy wasn’t a song that I remember every listening to as a kid. I have never had to learn it to either play or sing in the jillions of holiday concerts and shows I participated in back in the day. The fact that I’ve never performed it probably contributes to why I dislike. There are plenty of other repetitive Christmas songs I do like. For what it’s worth.
Because we’re all in quarantine, I haven’t been driving around nearly as much. All of my Christmas shopping was done online. We didn’t physically get together with anyone during the lead up, and so on. And because I was usually only going out of the house once a week, and the weather was often cold, the iPod would not just go to sleep for all those days, but fully shut itself off. And so one of the routine each time I got in the car was to open the console and take hold of the iPod tight in my hand for a minute or two while the windows defrosted, to warm the iPod enough that it would boot up and talk to the car stereo. And the way the stereo and iPod work together, what this meant was that even though it was on random play, what it actually does is play a randomized list the iPod made when I first connected it to the car with the new list, but it wouldn’t remember where it left off last time, so it would start over. And guess what the third song in that shuffle was?
It took me a few trips before I realized this was what was happening. After wards, I got in the habit of, after I put the iPod back in the console and was nearly ready to pull out of our parking space, I would hit the “skip song” button on the steering wheel twenty or so times to jump past the songs I’d heard on the previous few shopping trips.
The really irritating thing is, this isn’t the first time I’ve done this. I’ve had to delete that song out of the playlist before. But when I was setting up the list, and looking for songs that I could add or swap out, I put it back in.
…and then another me grabbed me and shook me and said, “I don’t want to dream about me being a mansplaining jerk to a stranger!”
And I woke up.
For what seemed a minute I was very angry at myself for being rude and a mansplainer to that woman. Then I realized that I had been dreaming, and there wasn’t a real woman who I had been rude to. Which started this argument in my head about whether me dreaming about being a jerk was ethically any different than actually being a jerk to a real person. Because, for instance, if I write a story in which a character is a jerk to another character and I write the story in such a way as to portray the jerk as being in the right, no real person is hurt, but I’m still condoning someone being a jerk… and… and… and…
By which time I squinted at the clock, realized that it was a couple hours before my alarm was due to go off, and maybe I should stop thinking about this dream, make a run to the bathroom, then get a glass of water, and try to get back to sleep before I had to wake up and interact with real people.
I am continuously amazed at how my subconscious works. I’ve pulled myself out of dreams many times. Other times I really wanted for a dream to stop and it wouldn’t. I do think this is the first time I’ve ever made myself wake up because I was mansplaining. Maybe that’s worth a chuckle.
I am actually doing some writing that isn’t about the news and specifically the Traitor-in-Chief… but it’s difficult to stay focused on anything when one is wait for the next Coup to drop.
Last night, for instance, Rachel Maddow began her show talking about how usually this is the boring part of any presidential administration. The last days are normally taken up with the mundane tasks of winding the administration down. The outgoing First Lady invites the incoming First Lady to tea at the White House, and the outgoing President welcome the incoming President and gives them a tour of the place. Other members of the outgoing administration may give farewell speeches to their departments. News organizations publish what are mostly puff pieces about what each cabinet secretary has accomplished, and so on.
Instead the outgoing President has been having screaming meltdowns about petty things such as Lady Gaga, Jennifer Lopez, Tom Hanks and other stars agreed to perform as part of Biden’s inaugural celebrations. He routinely fires important officials over twitter, and thus there were only a few Senate-confirmed cabinet members left when the Murder Mob invaded the Capitol building. Most of those hastily turned in their resignations after that. Even though everyone must resign by tomorrow, some of them tried to make the resignation sound like they were standing on principle.
Meanwhile the executive offices of the White House are eerily deserted, in part because people are trying to avoid being the target of the Traitor-in-Chief’s next screaming fit.
And he’s too petty to attend the Inauguration, or do any of the traditional social nicety parts of the transition. He’s too busy ordering his staff to find a way to get a big crowd to send him off Wednesday morning (and apparently almost no one is RSVP-ing).
The man has not once, not a single time, expressed condolences to the millions of Americans who have had family members die because of the pandemic. He certainly isn’t going to attend the memorial service in front of the Capitol this afternoon for the 400,000 Americans who have died of COVID thus far.
More Americans are dying every day than were killed at 9/11, and yet that has fallen completely off the Traitor-in-Chief’s radar. A bit over four years ago all sorts of people—not just Trump supporters, but lots of so-called moderates and even supposedly liberal people—kept telling people like me that we were overreacting. The kept telling us it would be all right, that we would get through this. And I said, “Not all of us will!” It wasn’t me foreseeing the pandemic, it was the other issues. Such as chipping away at the Affordable Care Act. And the various anti-gay things, including regulations that allow medical people to refuse to treat queer patients if they claim a religious objection. That’s exactly not how you should run an emergency room, let me tell you. And before we got to the pandemic, there were already reports showing that thousands more people than statistically out to were dying because of problems with healthcare. Not to mention the uptick in hate crimes, including a rise in murders motivated by hate.
So, no, this has not been all right. Not everyone has survived this administration. And the lingering effects of their failures is going to include rising death rates for the foreseeable future.
I don’t have a fun and pithy ending to this.
I’ve had a countdown app on my phone for over a month that tells me exactly how many days, hours, and minutes it is until this evil, hateful, incompetent man is no longer in power. And I check it several times a day. And afterwards, I calm some of the anxieties by repeating quietly several times, “Only X more days.”
I can’t tell you have incredibly happy I am that now we’re in the “Only X more hours” phase of things. I really would like to get back to normal news cycles someday…
Being an old, white, gay guy, I think on days such as the federal holiday officially designated “Birthday of Martin Luther King, Jr.” my job is not to try to address issues of racial inequality with my own words, but rather to amplify the voices of people of color. Their lived experience makes anything they have to say on the topic much more relevant than anything I could say.
So today, let me suggest you take a look at Don Lemon’s “An MLK Day challenge to the news media.” I’ll quote a chunk of it here:
“So, on the day we celebrate Dr. Martin Luther King and his unapologetic truth-to-power approach, let me speak candidly and directly to the people who actively read Playbook — lawmakers and the people they employ, journalists and the people who employ us, and other influentials. It’s what I like to call: WKWW, “What King Would Want.”
This new administration was elected to represent all Americans, obviously. But let’s be honest about the people who put Joe Biden and Kamala Harris over the finish line: They were and are Black, brown and Asian, with Black women leading the way, like pacers in a marathon. It is high time we (because I am included in these groups) not only have a seat at the table, but lead the discussion and make some of the decisions.
When our Latino brother and sister journalists wondered aloud and privately in newsrooms why we were giving candidate Donald Trump so much oxygen when he started by calling Mexicans rapists, did we listen to them or did we brush it off as an inability to be objective?
When Black journalists in newsrooms all over America questioned Trump’s history of racism, from housing to birtherism and more, did you stand up for us or keep quiet? Or did you journalistically appropriate us once we provided cover for you and your organization to finally speak or write the words, “The President of the United States is racist”?”
—CNN anchor Don Lemon, writing for Politico‘s Playbook
It’s really good. Read the whole article here.
Meanwhile, we shouldn’t let today pass without acknowledging another issue related to racism and other forms of hate: 44 Trans People Killed in 2020, Marking Worst Year on Record for Transphobic Violence.
I was also feeling as if the coffee wasn’t tasting right. With the current pandemic, any times things don’t taste as you expect there is a fear that you’ve caught the virus, but it wasn’t all food—just coffee. I finally remembered that last summer the coffee was tasting too strong, so I had turned the dial on my fancy grinder that determines how much coffee is ground up on a single push of the button a few notches. Which means I was using few beans per pot. But it had tasted right then.
There are (marketing) studies out there that people want stronger, darker coffee during cold weather than during warm weather. Which is why many of the coffee roasting companies use darker roasts in their holiday blends, for instance. But that doesn’t effect the strength of the coffee. So I turned the dial up a couple of notches for the next pot of coffee. It was better, but still not right. Then I turned it up a few more notches, and I’ve been liking how the coffee tastes since.
If it takes me two more months to finish off all the Holiday Blends, I guess I’ll just have to live with it!
Alvin McEwen opined this week that it’s okay to feel exhausted by the year, and that it’s okay to be angry—because despite being exhausted we aren’t totally beaten down, and our anger is righteous anger. (If, by the way, you don’t follow Alvin’s blog, Holy Bullies and Headless Monsters you should check it out! He’s doing good work there.) He’s right. It’s okay if all we’ve done is survive. Because the first step in fighting back against the darkness is to be here, ready to fight.
And as I finished that sentence, I finally figured out what this year’s wish is:
Don’t look to others for hope. Be hope.
There have been times when other people gave you hope. Now it’s time to pay it forward. Be hope.
You can be the hope that changes the world. Show up. Remember that exhaustion, and be kind when necessary. Harness that righteous anger, and be resolute and unyielding when it is called for.
Even when you are afraid, be hope.
I’ve had a variant of that conversation with myself on about 128 work days since going into quarantine, and virtually every time I correctly knew what day it was when I was barely awake. Yet, at later moments in each of those days, I would feel a confusion about what day it was. Which seems like a contradiction. But human minds are messy things. Our consciousness is processed in or through our brains, but those brains are not neatly and precisely designed microchips, with an organic melange of neurons and neurochemicals intimately entwined with our endocrine system and all the other messy imprecise organs and organelles evolved for various purposes that may not always be apparent.
When I said that my waking up process involves one part of my brain asking itself, I wasn’t merely speaking metaphorically. There really are multiple systems involves in making up this notion we have of our mind, and they don’t all function the same way. There is clearly a logical, verbal part of my mind that can respond to that question of what day it is by checking memory and finding out that yesterday was Wednesday, therefore today much by Thursday. But other parts of the system use different criteria and inputs to perceive and understand the world. It’s those systems that become confused with our personal routines are disrupted.
I’ve started quarantine on February 17, before our state had it’s first stay at home orders because I woke up with a persistent cough. I didn’t think it would be a big deal once the actual orders came out, because I had worked from one two-days each week for a few years at that point (and any time I got sick but was well enough to work, I’d work from home for longer stretches). My husband still works outside the home, getting up each morning at a godawful hour to commute in, yet he also has these moments of confusion about the day… because the routines around work have also changed.
I don’t feel free to just pop off to the store anytime I want an ingredient that we don’t have for a particular recipe. I should limit the number of times I go out and get exposed to other people, right? And if I am going out, I have to make sure I have my mask, have washed my hands, and have a plan on what I’m picking up so that I minimize the time I’m inside any buildings other than home. While there I have to pay attention to how close I’m standing or walking past someone. And that doesn’t even get into keeping a wary eye out for the fuckwits who refused to wear a mask or have it pulled down so their nose is hanging out, et cetera.
So familiar stores are no longer the same kinds of place they were, because how I behave there, how others behave, and so forth has changed.
It’s strange little things that sometimes get to me. For instance, in the before times, I tended to handle one of my weekly chores (putting away the recently washed laundry) while listening to a particular conference call (with my mic muted) on work-from-home Tuesdays. Sometime during quarantine I just stopped doing it. I stopped having the automatic thought—after logging into the meeting, greeting the other early joiners, and then muting myself when enough people were there to start the business part—that now it is time to go deal with the laundry.
I don’t know when it happened. I don’t know why. Maybe it’s because every work day is a work-from-home day, therefore Tuesday doesn’t feel like Tuesday any more?
The way the pandemic is going, we’ve got a lot more of this to get through. And even when we do, the new normal isn’t going to be like the before times. We can’t predict what that new normal will be, exactly, but I know that some things are just not going back to the way we used to do them.
That is one of the reasons that, while I’m happy to see 2020 end, I don’t feel much like celebrating the arrival of 2021. I’m not going to be cheering, “We did it! We made it through that hellish year!” Which gets to the second reason I’m not feeling the celebration: not all of us made it. At least 333,000 Americans didn’t survive 2020—and a whole lot of them ought to have, and could have, if certain someone’s hadn’t made the politically calculated decision to abandon plans for testing and contact tracing and so forth.