Tag Archive | life

A bit of rock (sugar), a lot of rye, some sliced citrus, and a bunch of spice

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:

During the weeks we were shuttling car loads of stuff from the old place to the new, I poured the last bits of a couple of bottles of bourbon into jars with a sliced orange, lemon, a couple of vanilla beans, and various spices to infuse for a few weeks to make a batch of Rock n Rye. After filtering and decanting, I made this label when we set out the libations at the Christmas party.

During the weeks we were shuttling car loads of stuff from the old place to the new in 2017, I poured the last bits of a couple of bottles of bourbon into jars with a sliced orange, lemon, a couple of vanilla beans, and various spices to infuse for a few weeks to make a batch of Rock n Rye. After filtering and decanting, I made this label when we set out the libations at the Christmas party.

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.

Two of the labels from last year’s batches…

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.

The last partial bottle that I still haven’t quite finished off.

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?

Another stable orbit around our star… and my New Year’s wish for you

“Happy New Year”

“Happy New Year”

“Whew! Another stable orbit around our star! Happy New Year!”

“Whew! Another stable orbit around our star! Happy New Year!”

For many years now my final post of the year has been my New Year’s Wish for everyone who reads it and/or anyone who needs it. And I never know what it is going to be until I sit down to write it. This year is one of the most difficult ones to think about, because as I said in my previous post, not everyone made it through the year. Thinking about that brings tears to my eyes and also makes me really angry. And my new year’s wishes have always before been in one way or another about hope and empowerment.

“It's OK if all you did this year was just SURVIVE.”

“It’s OK if all you did this year was just SURVIVE.”

When I say that thinking of all the people who have died needlessly this year it brings tears to my eyes, well, sometimes that all that happens. But I’ve found myself frequently not just tearing up, but breaking down into full sobbing. And as one of my best friends once observed, it is really hard to feel empowered when you are crying your eyes out. Then I found the image/meme on the right. “It’s OK if all you did this year was just SURVIVE.” I think I need to embrace that notion.

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:

Be hope.

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.

Be hope.

Even when you are afraid, be hope.

“Happy New Year 2021”

“Happy New Year 2021”

The Eighth Day of Christmas Vacation: Time, Place, and Transitions

“At this point, I wouldn't even be surprised if the dinosaurs returned.”

“At this point, I wouldn’t even be surprised if the dinosaurs returned.”

Ever since this slow-motion apocalypse started, many of us have commented about how time seems out of whack. Folks will talk about not remembering what day it is, for instance. One friend observed that it simultaneously felt as if time were flying by (“How can it be December already?”) while at the same time dragging (“Every week seems to be thirty or more days long!”). Recently I found myself contemplating one simply, personal paradox about this. Every morning there comes a point where I roll over, squint at the alarm clock, and decided whether I have time to doze back off. Part of that process involves one part of my brain asking itself: “What day is it?” And then getting an answer, which has almost always been correct. “Oh, it’s Wednesday? We have to call in to the 8:30 meeting, the 9:00, and the 9:30, then if that doesn’t run over, an hour to get undivided attention work done before the 11… so I better get up and get all my meds done now.”

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.

So I’m flipping a page on the calendar, happy to kick that year out the door, but having a bit of trouble working up a lot of enthusiastic hope that next year is going to be significantly better.

A proper Christmas… however you define it

My husband pointed me to a twitter thread by a Muslim American who has never celebrated Christmas, before, who is letting his Quarantine Roommates teach him how to have his first proper Christmas. It’s a funny and relatively short thread that has some good commentary on the way Americans tend to observe Christmas. I like his first characterization of Christmas as being a part-time job from mid-November to the end of December. I’ll link to the thread at the end of this post.

A proper Christmas means different things to different people, and I think that’s a good thing. I remember a few years ago when I was discussing this topic with a couple of friends, that one explained that what she liked about Christmas was that she could put up pretty lights and ornaments. The other friend interjected that what he liked about it was that you get to decide what “pretty” is, and if other people comment unfavorably on whatever outlandish or silly decorations, you could just gasp and claim that this is how your family always did it, and the person was socially obligated to accept that that was your tradition (whether it actually had been a family tradition or not).

It got me thinking about what sort of informal family traditions my family had observed. Most were pretty mundane, and some were the result of other circumstances. Unless there was an overwhelming reason, we always spent Christmas morning at my paternal grandparents’ house. Sometimes Dad’s sister’s family was there, too. Because Dad’s oil field job was nomadic, how far we had to drive to get there varied most years. If we got to the town where my grandparents lived early enough on Christmas Eve, we’d get to go visit my maternal grandmother and great-grandparents this evening. Otherwise, we wouldn’t get to see them until after Christmas dinner1.

By the time my great-grandparents died, my maternal grandmother was living 1200 miles away. But then my parents divorced and Mom, my sister2, and I relocated to the same part of southwest Washington, where I found out that grandma hosted a Christmas Eve open house every year, attended by relatives, in-laws, old family friends, and others. So for the next many years one of the traditions became you’d see all the extended family on Christmas Eve3, then Christmas morning would be each individual family opening presents together.

All the Christmas trees put up by my extended family were a bit chaotic. Everyone seemed to have some special ornaments that had been passed down from earlier generations, as well as an eclectic collection of glass balls and the like. The trees would thus have a whole lot of different colors, and since any kids in the home had done part of the decorating, there often wasn’t any sort of design involved in the placement of the ornaments, other than the star or angel4 always went on top.

I think I was nine when I saw my first non-chaotic tree in the home of someone I knew. I can close my eyes and still see it: a flocked white tree decorated with dozens of identical blue satin balls and blue satin ribbons, with a blue and silver angel on top. I was really shocked, and couldn’t imagine why someone would do that. A few years later another family I knew had a tree where the ornaments were red, green, and gold, and the mother of the family had very strict rules about which size of ornaments went how high on the tree6, and that the three colors had to be as evenly distributed as possible.

Of course, many years later Ray and I did trees all in a fairly simple color scheme… but even then there was a bit of chaos, because either of us could pick any “favorites” to go on the tree no matter what the color scheme was. Just as this year’s tree at our house has mostly purple and pink ornaments, but some of the traditional ones I put on every year7, and then just about anything I could justify as being gay.

I find that I am more concerned with food at Thanksgiving than at Christmas. I have certain favorite dishes that we always had at Thanksgiving when I was a kid that I crave on that day now, but Christmas food doesn’t get me quite the same way. I don’t know if that is because as a kid that the big part of Christmas was the presents and everything else was secondary, or if the family dinners were just more flexible at Christmas. I mean, as far as I remember, anything that was an accepted side dish at Thanksgiving could appear on the Christmas dinner, so you would think I’d always have a strong craving for some of those things.

Michael and I have had the tradition since our first Christmas that we make a nice dinner for Christmas Eve, as well as a big dinner for Christmas, and a nice dinner for New Year’s Eve. And we start planning the three together a few weeks before the holidays. But we don’t do the same things each year at those three events. Mostly. I mean, New Year’s Eve is often beef… unless we had decided to do steaks for Christmas Eve or something. At this point we’re a few days out from Christmas Eve/Christmas, and the plan is that we’ll pull either the ham, or the turkey breast, or the pork roast out of the freezer for those, and the small prime rib roast I found at a not entirely outrageous price we’re saving for New Year’s… maybe9.

When I started this blog post, I thought I would vamp for a little bit on some odd traditions, and then start talking about one very specific tradition I started about five years ago. But I see that the word count of this entry is getting up there, so maybe I should save that for later.

In the meantime, you should read the whole twitter thread if you haven’t yet.


Footnotes:

1. When I was very young, this just seemed to be the way things were. It wasn’t until I was about 10 or 11 years old that I realized that Dad’s parents (specifically his mother) always got priority over everyone else, or else.

2. My half-brothers and half-sister remained with Dad and their mother, of course.

3. And you could use Grandma’s party as an opportunity to deliver gifts, but generally opening presents that night was frowned upon.

4. Almost everyone had either a star or an angel. I mostly only saw the spire or steeple style tree-toppers in stores or on neighbor’s trees. As an adult, for a while it was always either a star or one of the spires. Until we started getting more creative. This year, for instance, we have a flying fairy5.

5. It is most definitely not an angel.

6. Largest at the bottom of the tree, medium sized in the middle, small one near the top.

7. I have three small glass ball ornaments—one red, one pink, and one green—which belonged to my great-grandmother. I have three sets of crocheted bells that were made by my grandma. We have a pair of December Diamond Goom Mermen that were a present from a group of friends on the occasion of our legal wedding on the first day we legally could in our state—which happened to be in December. The two of them go on the tree side by side no matter what the theme is8.

8. This year they just happen to fit the Gay part of the theme.

9. I an totally blaming the pandemic on why we are less decided on the meals at this stage than usual10.

10. I mean, we’ve also got a beef brisket in the freezer, and we were talking about doing in on New Year’s… and then the prime rib could get shuffled to one of the other days11.

11. And I still need to run to the store before the holiday because I know we’re missing some ingredients for some of the side dishes we’ve discussed… and I might find something on sale that would completely change our minds on the other possibilities.

Playing catchup, virtual party, and counting down to Christmas

This year’s theme is The Big Gay Christmas Tree™️ (photo by my husband)

I haven’t been posting much all month. November’s semi-hiatus was planned, because I was doing NaNoWriMo1, so I was trying to put all of the time when I wasn’t working to writing for NaNo, rather than blogging. Once November was over I needed to shift gears to try to get the Christmas Ghost Story2 finished before the virtual Christmas Party, but I didn’t expect to almost completely stop blogging!

Part of the issue, I realize, is that things at work went super intense because we had an outlandish3 number of software releases scheduled to push out to customers before everyone goes into holiday hiatus, so I was working late several days of every week, and found myself so exhausted I needed to take naps a couple of nights each week.

I’ve been taking at least one vacation day every week since August because of some draconian changes in vacation policy. Which seems really nice until you realize that part of the draconian bit is that despite forcing most of the work force to take time off, the corporate overlords are insisting that none of the previously committed delivery dates can be adjusted. Which means that we’re still working just as many hours, but squeezing them into four work days a week instead of five.

And no, when you’re classified as a salaried and exempt employee that isn’t illegal, even though it ought to be4. Moving on.

Before the virtual party, my hubby arranged the presents before taking pictures to share.

I had Friday off, and I had worked very late two nights before that, but I managed to get up, moving, and out to do the shopping at a reasonable hour. I finished the Ghost Story in the wee small hours of Saturday morning6, as I almost always do. I always end up in a state where I’m spinning my wheels, ditching scenes and writing replacement scenes no matter how early I start the story.

I got the story finished and practiced and we were both in a good, rested headspace when it was time to log into the virtual party and start being social. I did not finish the story in time where I could both practice reading it aloud a few times and record the performance in advance to upload to either my Patreon or Youtube channel as I hoped7. I may still try to do that. We’ll see9.

Besides not getting to see people in person, another thing that was a bit disappointing about the virtual Christmas party is we didn’t have the usual gift exchange. A couple of people were willing to open presents on camera because they had received presents from some of the people on line, but it’s not the same. I could have, obviously, decided to open any number of the presents that I’ve received. But the truth is that my favorite part isn’t opening presents myself10, it’s seeing other people open presents and react to them. That’s where a lot of the laughter at the party occurs. And you get to thank the person who gave it to you right then. And you can hear the story about how the person who gave you the present found this thing and why they thought of you, when appropriate it.

So I wasn’t really chomping at the bit to open any of mine.

For the last few years Christmas day has been just Michael and I, whereas it used to be like that only on alternate years. We started this after barely getting through the first Thanksgiving after the Grifter-in-Chief was elected without punching certain relatives in the mouth12. It was a very unpleasant holiday, all right?

So for December 2016, ’17, ’18, and ’19 I have driven down to southwest Washington a few days before Christmas to drop off presents with my Mom, one of my aunts, my sister and her family, and my grown niece and her family. It’s always a day that I have off but my husband has to work13. Then we have a day or more to ourselves before the actual holiday plus Christmas Day itself.

I have to admit I kind of miss getting to do that trip this year. I like seeing everyone in person, and for whatever reason17 when we’re not down there on the actual holiday they talk a lot less about the various unpleasant topics. On the other hand, given the way the weather has been this week, which would normally be the time I’m most likely to take the trip, I’m just as happy not being on the freeway.

So I’ll just keep working from home for the next couple of days, enjoy gazing at our Big Gay Christmas Tree™, and keeping counting down until Santa arrives.


Footnotes:

1. I did make my word count goal, though I didn’t exceed the last few years’ word counts as I had managed to do a few years in a row until now.

2. The annual tradition I’ve followed since 1995 is that I write an original Christmas Ghost Story to read at the party, and challenge other folks to read something they’ve written—or otherwise perform something. We’re had people sing, play a musical instruments, all sorts of things.

3. It really is edging up into the impossible at this point…

4. It is amazing how many times when I have mentioned something like this online, how many randos feel obligated to chime in to say this sort of thing is illegal. It just reminds me how many people don’t work in the sorts of industries where everyone qualifies for the IRS’s definition of exempt employee and therefore assume that hourly working regulations apply5.

5. It’s particularly amazing at how many of them don’t understand that virtually every company that has managed to get most of its employees thus classified does these sorts of thing to exploit their employees.

6. Sort of. I mean, I reached an ending by about 3:30am and then promptly crashed for a few hours. After I woke up I kept thinking about it and didn’t like how I’d ended it. I mean the very ending, yes, but the way I’d written the story and the fairy tale tropes I was using had prompted me to write a long denouement that a short story typically has nowadays. So sometime shortly afternoon I deleted most of the denouement, replacing it with a single sentence, and then I was much happier.

7. I need to upload things to both far more often…8

8. Given my activity thus far this year, by “more often” I really mean “at all.”

9. I’m not sure how much appeal there would be to hearing a Christmas Ghost Story after Christmas, so if I don’t manage it in the next few days…

10. Which is not to say I don’t enjoy getting presents. That’s fun. And trying to guess what’s inside and then opening it is also a lot of fun. I particularly love those times when someone finds something I didn’t even know existed, but if I had known I would have put it on my own wishlist11. That’s just amazing.

11. In the realm of books and music, my friend Mark is incredibly good at this.

12. The cliche usually mentions the racist uncle—the problem goes deeper than that. The homophobic relatives who don’t believe they are homophobic, the relatives who repeat white supremacist talking points from Fox News without thinking, et cetera, et cetera. That’s part of the reason we instituted the old rule of we would visit them for one of the big holidays each year, then stay home for the other.

13. I always got asked several times why Michael wasn’t there. They accept that I get more paid time off than he does, but I keep expecting them to start accusing me of keeping him away from them or something14.

14. I’ve mentioned before that I strongly suspect a bunch of my extended family on that side like Michael more than they do me. Which I’m perfectly happy with, because I think he’s awesome, and given how many of the family perceived my late husband, Ray, as some sort of evil person who surely must had done something diabolical to me to turn me gay15, them all enthusiastically liking my husband is a decided improvement16.

15. I have been gay for as long as I can remember, I just didn’t have words for it when I was younger, and then because I feared all the homophobic people around me once I realized what was going on after puberty hit, I hid it from them.

16. One of his reasons for not accompanying me on these trips during those years is that he doesn’t want to use up one of his more limited number of vacation days for that purpose, but also because he winds up biting his tongue a whole lot more than I do when they start parroting Fox News.

17. There are two reasons I can think of. First, there’s something about having a bunch of people together for several hours on a holiday that seems to make some folks feel obligated to fill any moments of silence with something, and so they are just more likely to spout off as the day goes on. Second, since I tend to be dropping off stuff at each individual house, and they know I have other people to get to and so on, they think of it as a visit with me, rather than a general group get-together. So topics remain focused on the social visit and catching up on our personal lives, rather then discussing world events, the coming apocalypse18, and so on.

18. I’m not exaggerating, here. The kind of Bible-thumping evangelical fundamentalism my extended family adheres sees every single world event as either a direct attack by demonic forces, or a sign that Commando Jesus is going to descend from the heavens soon, kill all the unbelievers, and take the true believes back up to rule in heaven.

The magic slab of glass that contains all my friends… or not

A few years ago at a science fiction convention an author on one of the panels I attended described a modern smart phone as “the magic slab of glass that fits in my pocket and contains all of my friends,” which I thought was a really wonderful way to sum-up how that miniaturized computer which (among other things) obviates a telephone functions on a social level. Engineers and certain kinds of techies worry about the ins and outs of the physical technology, the software, and the networks that enable the functionality. But the sociological impact of that technology is something that most of the engineers who worked all those years to make it a reality didn’t foresee.

As a very early adopter of the internet (being a denizen of the old FidoNet to access UseNet groups back before the World Wide Web existed), in some ways I’ve lived in that space for a long time. Heck, since before those days I was involved in old school fanzines where everyone wrote physical letters that we sent to each other via the U.S. Postal Service to collaboratively create art and fiction, I have been used to the idea of friends who may be people I have never met in person for even longer.

So that description really resonated with me.

On the other hand, I have worked in the telecommunication software industry for about 33 years—during which time I have worked at everything from testing code and hardware, to coding, designing software systems, and writing both user documents, developer documents, help systems, and more—I have more than a bit of understanding as to what went in to creating the magic of the slab of glass that fits in your pocket.

For some of us, our smart phone/magic slab of glass is an integral part of every day. I thought I understood that before, but recently I have become even more acutely aware of how dependent I’ve become on my smart phone. Which requires a bit of explanation.

My employer has been migrating a lot of our tools (as well as our code and document repositories) to cloud services. More recently, they decided that for the most part we shouldn’t access company data with machines not owned by the company (which, frankly, defeats the point of putting things in the cloud, but…). So, for instance, a couple months ago they shipped me a company phone, and instructed me to move the three multi-factor authentication apps that I have to use to access various services off of my personal phone. This is more than a little ridiculous, because the authentication apps themselves don’t contain nor directly access company data. But, that’s their decision.

The phone they gave me is an iPhone XR, and it came with a matte black case. My personal phone is an iPhone 11. Even though my personal phone is purple and has a clear plastic case, when they are both asleep a sitting on the table or desk they look an awful lot alike. So, for instance, if I hear an sound that indicates a new direct message from one of my co-workers, about one-third of the time I grab my personal phone rather than the work phone. Which only wastes a few seconds, but it is still a little annoying.

More annoying is that if I walk away from my desk—whether to go the the bathroom, or get some more coffee from the kitchen, or maybe to take a break outside on the veranda—I grab my phone so I can catch up on Twitter and personal email and/or check the news. And, again, about a third of the time I pick up the company phone rather than mine, and don’t realize it until I’m all the way outside or in the other room.

That’s a bit more of an inconvenience.

And sometimes I don’t even notice immediately. I will flip through the home screen pages trying to figure out where my News app is, or Tweetbot, or why are their no email accounts at all in the Mail app (company email is all on Outlook, and I access it through the Outlook app rather than the built-in iOS Mail app).

I do not want to put my personal information on the company phone. As the company suggested, I created an Apple ID based on the corporate email address for use on the phone, so I can update that phone and download free apps (rather than just the ones available through the enterprise portal) if I decide I need them, and that’s find. But I don’t want to set it up as yet another device accessing my personal email and my twitter stream, et cetera.

I know it’s a first world problem, and even then, it is a fairly minor inconvenience. I get irritated and try to be more careful to really look at the phone as I reach for it. But human perception relies on extrapolation and guessing rather than actively processing every single nerve impulse that comes it. So our brain subconsciously makes quick assessments of things based on basic shape, size, and what we expect to see when we glance at something. There are reasons in makes sense that our brains evolved that way–in a dangerous situation you don’t want to waste critical moments resolving every detail within the field of vision.

But it means this issue is going to be a problem going forward one way or another. Like how I might grab the wrong keys while heading out to the car.

It just reminds me, every time it happens, how I’ve gotten used to being about to browse the world in this magic slab of glass in order to fill in some of the downtime of life.

Words and numbers and other things that matter

Most of my free time in November was spent working on NaNoWriMo. I managed to write a bit over 54,000 words. That’s more than the NaNoWriMo target, but less than I’ve managed in some years. Which isn’t to say that I’m not happy about how much I wrote! I’m actually quite pleased that I managed to stay on track with everything going on.

There were a lot of things I wanted to blog about more in depth last month, but since I was trying to finish NaNo, I mostly kept my blogging to Friday Five each week and a few links posts in-between. More than one of those topics that I really wanted to talk about had absolutely nothing to do with the elections, the erosion of our Republic, or international issues.

For instance, a topic came across my various information streams a couple of times. One of the times was someone tweeted about how they didn’t understand why so many straight guys think that it is cool to commemorate the anniversary with their wife by posting a picture with a caption that said, “It took me four years, but I finally wore her down and she married me! Now we’ve been together X years and I’m so glad!” And further in her twitter thread she or one of the people replying to her original were just as boggled that there are women out there who think it’s funny that this is how their husband “wooed” them.

And I agree! Who wants to spend the rest of their life with someone who you coerced into the relationship? Why take pride in that? What you’re saying is not that you are a great husband, and certainly not that you are a great romancer, but rather that you managed to somehow convince them they would never get the kind of husband they wanted and deserved. And why do you think that’s something worth bragging about?

I understand how women are socialized to go along with this—for instance, all the romantic comedies out there are merely a subset of the ways that our culture is geared toward brainwashing us into accepting that when a man doesn’t take “no” for an answer it’s supposed to be charming (when in fact it is creepy as all f—), but it still flabbergasts me a bit.

Because here’s the deal: I think my husband is awesome. I consider myself very lucky that he likes me at all, let alone agreed to marry me and lives with me and has put up with me for 22 years. I am happy especially happy that he decided that I was worth dating, and continuing to date, and eventually moving in with, and so forth without me having to coerce him, right? And I am likewise happy that most of my friends have spouses who they think are awesome, and who think they are awesome in return (and, you know, these are my friends, and I think that anyone who loves one of my friends as much as each of their spouses do are pretty fabulous in their own right).

Yes, I have had friends who were dating or engaged to or (in a few cases) married to someone who I thought was awful. And I have been very glad (and eager to help) when those friends decided to dump the mother-f—er and look for someone better.

And to digress further: one of my happiest and proudest memories is when my ex-wife asked me to be her maid of honor at her second wedding, because, oh my goodness, her second husband is one of the nicest and most talented people I’ve ever known, and is so much of a better fit for her than the loser she was married to before!

(Some of you may need to diagram that out. I’ll give you a minute to do that.)

(I should also acknowledge that several of my friends—after reading the paragraph above the previous parenthetical—will chastise me for calling myself a loser; even though they will also know that I put it in there for humor’s sake.)

And it’s more than just learning to take “no” for an answer and moving on. It’s more than just getting a person to a point where they are tired of saying, “no.”

The word you want isn’t merely “yes,” but a yes delivered freely and with great enthusiasm.

So we’re supposed to give thanks, right?

To all my readers outside the U.S.: Happy Thursday!

My fellow Americans, if you celebrate Thanksgiving, I hope you’re having a happy one. The point of this holiday is supposed to be to remember the things in our lives for which we are thankful. For most of my life I have been all over that idea, because I’ve had a pretty good life. Even though ever since puberty, when I first realized that I was gay, I have lived under one existential threat or another, I still could see the many good things and good people in my life. The last four years have represented a far worse series of threats to the life and well-being of everyone who isn’t part of the 1% and/or white, cis, male, straight, conservative, and well-off enough to stockpile assault weapons.

And while the recent election is ousting the wingnut-in-chief, I think it’s a little early to celebrate. Because the angry white nationalists and their allies have been feeling emboldened for the last few years, and now many of them think they’ve been cheated. So the single worst overt threat to the future of the Republic may have been technically beaten, but the war goes on.

Knowing what is hanging over us makes it so easy to get on the anxiety treadmill and just keep running in place.

Which isn’t what today is supposed to be about. For our mental health, it isn’t what we can spend all of our time on.

So, here are things I’m thankful for:

  • my smart, sweet, sexy, super capable, long-suffering husband
  • cocktails (it’s 2020 everywhere, drink when you want!)
  • sci fi books that tell of hopeful futures
  • coffee
  • people who help other people
  • recipe blogs
  • videos about haw to make cocktails
  • people who make art, music, and other creative things
  • the cute birds that visit my bird feeder every day
  • people who take care of us when we’re sick
  • music
  • purple
  • my eccentric, sometimes infuriating relatives who probably find me even more bewildering than I ever do them
  • not having to spend any holidays with (especially) the most infuriating relatives this year
  • audio and video conferencing services that let me spend time with friends despite quarantine
  • podcasts
  • gravy
  • people who work retail
  • music
  • rain
  • people who write fanfic
  • science
  • olives
  • people who love
  • my kind, clever, cheerful, hard-working husband (who definitely deserves to be on this list twice!)
  • online friends
  • cheese
  • playlists
  • pie
  • people who vote
  • radio and wireless technologies
  • people who fill the world with joy
  • kittens and puppies and tigers and otters
  • teddy bears and mousies
  • books
  • people who review and recommend books
  • stuffing
  • have I mentioned my handsome, good-natured, patient, shrewd, funny husband (who definitely deserves to be on this list three times!)?
  • friends who will group text with me while we’re all yelling at the same football game on the TV
  • gin
  • cherries
  • virtual events
  • the many almost magical computing devices that I can now wear on my wrist, carry in my pocket, and otherwise use to bring a wealth of information and possibilities that were barely imaginable when I was a kid
  • all my wonderful friends—who are talented, kind, giving, and clearly the most patient people in the world, because they put up with me

Thank you, each and every one. Whether you’re celebrating Thanksgiving today or not, I hope you have a wonderful day full of blessings, because you deserve it.

This Thanksgiving, don’t participate in the possible murder of grandma

Don’t be like Casey!

I keep wanting to write about lighthearted stuff, but I keep reading the news about millions of people jamming the airports and how all the testing sites are overloaded with people who think if they test negative it’s safe to get together for the holiday. And it’s just, we’re never going to get this thing under control and the deaths are going to keep piling up, if everyone keeps thinking that it’s okay to take a little risk. You’re not risking your own life! You’re risking the lives of people you love and care about! Of course, if you’re even a sporadic reader of my blog, you already know this. Still, I keep feeling the need to put this out there, hoping it will give one more person the courage to say to their family members pressuring them to get together, “I don’t want to participate in the possible murder of grandma!”

I need to change topics.

How about a bit of a laugh at my expense?

So, last Friday after I updated my NaNoWriMo word count I told myself I could take a break to watch the new episode of Baby Yoda and His Space Dad. Wait. What? You’re telling me that isn’t the title of the show? Are you certain?

Anyway, afterward I didn’t quite feel like writing after all, and the next thing I know I was binge watching season 2 of Umbrella Academy. And I stayed up far too late doing it, which means I slept in later than I meant Saturday, which means that I didn’t get started on finalizing the grocery list until late, and then I had to run to the store later than I meant. And it being the last Saturday before Thanksgiving, the store was quite crowded, and there were all sorts of weird things they were out of.

Three different times as I was trying to maneuver through the crowded store while maintaining social distance, I found myself feeling very judgmental of people with carts overflowing with things that looking like the ingredients of an enormous Thanksgiving feast. And the third time I had that thought, it was as I was putting a can of cranberry sauce into my nearly overflowing cart. And since I was just buying stuff for a Thanksgiving dinner with just my husband and I, maybe I shouldn’t assume other people weren’t also planning just to cook for the immediate family that already lives together, right?

I eventually got into the checkout line and my huge cart of groceries turned into about three dozen smallish plastic bags of groceries. Which took a few minutes to transfer to the car. I got home, carried the first bunch of bags up, told Michael I was there, and went to haul more up. The third or fourth trip down I got to the car just as Michael was pulling a bunch of bags out and saying, “I think that’s everything.” I did a quick check, then locked to car and followed him upstairs.

Saturday night we were hosting our monthly Writers’ Night (virtually), and I had just enough time to put all the groceries away and start dinner cooking before I needed to log into the Discord server.

We had a good meeting. Three of us had things to read and there was a lot of fun talk about Thanksgiving recipes. Then we shut down early as several of us wanted to do more NaNoWriMo writing.

An hour or so later, when I was getting out a fresh can of La Croix, I realized that I didn’t remember putting my prescription away. So I looked around the kitchen, assuming I had left the little brown paper bag with the paperwork and one bottle of pills in it somewhere in there. I couldn’t find it. I double checked in the bathroom to make sure that I hadn’t put it away and simply forget.

No dice.

I search around the kitchen, dining room, living room and so forth for a number of minutes. I check in the fridge because it would be totally in character for me to pull the prescription and a bottle of milk out of a grocery bag at the same time and put them both in the fridge.

I’m starting to panic. This particular medicine only has a $5 co-pay, but the non-insurance prices is about $1200 for a month’s supply. Not something you want to lose. So reluctantly I go tell my husband that I’ve lost the prescription, and he comes out of the computer room and spends a while looking.

Now I am very certain that I saw the pharmacy bag inside one of the plastic bags we carried in from the car, but Michael decides to go check the car. He didn’t find anything. We’re both still looking underneath things and so forth. I gather three older pharmacy bags that I should have recycled weeks ago, carefully shake them before wading them up, and comment that I shouldn’t leave those laying around.

Michael then asks, “Oh? Is it a brown paper bag we’re looking for? I thought it was white…”

This prompts me to go outside to check the car. While I’m peering in the back compartment, feeling around among the reusable grocery bags that we can’t use anymore because of the pandemic, I think that it would be better if I had a flashlight. But I didn’t, so I looked in the dimly lit car for another couple of minutes before going back upstairs.

We’ve looked pretty much every possible place. I woke up my computer and started researching if there is a way to pay the medication cheaper [That answer by the way is, technically yes. With a coupon I found a place I could get a month’s supply for merely $580… which is still prohibitive].

Michael says that he’s going to check the car again. I open my mouth to suggest a flashlight, but he already has one in his hand.

A few minutes later he comes up and cheerfully announces he found it. In face, he found an entire small plastic bag which contains the pharmacy bag plus three other items: two cans of a cold brew coffee latte I like, and a jar of Tillen Farms Fire and Spice Marschino-style Cherries.

He explains even with the flashlight he almost didn’t see it. The bag and fallen behind suff and one of the plastic handles was sticking up with he could see it.

Now, the laugh. Several hours earlier (in the middle of the Writers’ Night call) I had been suddenly struck with the realization that I didn’t remember putting away the Fire and Spice Cherries (a vital ingredient for my official Thanksgiving Cocktail: the Spicy Manhattan), and I had even spend a couple minutes looking at the places where it ought to be.

And even before than, just as I was turning on the oven and firing up Discord, I had been annoyed that I couldn’t find the can of cold brew Double Espresso I had bought because I didn’t feel as if I’d had enough caffeine.

But I didn’t remember either of those missing things once I noticed the prescription wasn’t where I expected it. If I had, I might of realized that we were looking for more than just the one pharmacy bag and its contents from the grocery run.

I had apologized to Michael several times for being the absent-minding misplacer yet again. He countered by saying it was his fault. “I was the one who said Ive got the last of the groceries, after all.”

To circle back to the opening topic:

Why a negative Covid-19 test before Thanksgiving isn’t an all-clear – A negative test isn’t enough to have a safe holiday. Here’s why.

And I’m going to give the last word to Rachel Maddow…

Maddow: We Feared Susan’s Covid Would Kill Her. Your Risks Could Hurt Those You Love Most:

(If embedding doesn’t work, click here.)

A bit of this, a bit of that, and I think I need more coffee…

Cup which reads “COFFEE because adulting is hard.”

“Coffee because adulting is hard.”

I don’t live in one of the states that have run out of hospital beds due to the pandemic and is trying to ship COVID patients to neighboring states… yet. But like everywhere else in the U.S. we’ve been experiencing a big surge in cases. So this last Sunday the governor announced a return to earlier restrictions. In door dining is once again not allowed (I still don’t understand why anyone would do that–we’ve been sticking with take out or contactless delivery if we’re not cooking for ourselves). The only restriction that will change my current behavior is that occupancy levels in essential retail businesses is ratcheted down to 25% occupancy. Limits at that level will mean we’ll be back to lining up outside the store and trying to keep 6′ apart in the line.

Which we were on Monday when I went to Costco. I arrived close to opening, I was masked up, had a list, and was hopeful to get through the trip quickly. By the time I got to the front of the line, the guy managing the line said: “I feel like a bouncer at a rock concert!” The woman in front of me said something along the lines of “You’re the guy to know!” and then something else I couldn’t quite make out from 6 feet away and over the sounds of the rain. The guy managing the line then said, “Everyone’s being cool about it, even those that were caught by surprise.”

I got in. The store didn’t seem deserted, but it wasn’t super crowded, either. Most people were being good about trying to observe social distancing. I found the items on my list, got in line, and felt the need to tweet about the fact that I was in line with the only things in my cart being items on our list. The cashier who checked me out opined that the lines outside would vanish completely as soon as word got out that they were out of toilet paper and paper towels.

When I got out of the store it was raining a lot harder than it had been while I was waiting to get in. I particularly noticed that the cardboard boxes my purchases were in were beginning to get noticeably wet in that short time. I quickly loaded the back of the car and closed the tailgate.

As I had been transferring my stuff, another Subaru of similar vintage as ours pulled into the empty spot next to me. I was just turning the cart to roll it to one of the cart return racks when the guy from the other car said, “I’ll take your cart!” He was fumbling to get his mask on.

I replied. “If you want, though it might be awkward in the line.”

He looked at me like I’d grown two extra heads. I shrugged and stepped back to let him take the cart, and he rolled off, grumbling.

I got in the car and before I had taken my masks off my glasses completely fogged over. I started the car and turn up the defrosters. After a minute or two or so I realized that the windshield seemed clear but my glasses were still completely fogged. So I held my glasses in front of one of the defroster vents and waited for everything to clear up so I could drive.

I was just putting the glasses back on when the guy reappeared in the spot between our two cars, empty handed. As he climbed into his car his gaze met mine, and his unhappy expression got more angry (he’d already taken off his mask). He exclaimed, “They’re out of toilet paper!” As if it was my fault, and slammed his door.

I decided to wait another minute, and as I expected he started his vehicle right away and backed out fast.

I drove home at my usual pace. While unloading the goods, I had a little issue with the case of diced tomatoes almost falling apart in my arms as I dashed inside. It was raining really hard. Amongst the bounty I brought home was a 10-pound turkey for Thanksgiving (small enough for just the two of us) and a 10-pound bag of sweet potatoes (there will be several dishes those go into, not just for the holiday). The pantry is also once again well stocked with canned vegetables and related things.

Even though my husband has to go to work each day, I try to limit my trips out of the house. So a trip where I get us enough food to last a couple weeks again if we have to is all right.

On the other hand, I just got a notice from the pharmacy of a refill being ready, and that means over the next week or so most of the rest of my prescriptions will come up. I try to just make one trip for all of them, but sometimes (as happened a couple months ago), when I do that I get a call from the pharmacy saying that they’re going put it back one the shelf if I don’t come get it that day–or assure them that I am coming in soon.

Completely unrelated, I need to finish putting away the Halloween decorations. Should have happened earlier, but, well, time has become a fog.

%d bloggers like this: