Wednesday, December 28, 2022

Goodbye my friend

Just over 20 years ago, I got a new neighbor, both in the dorm and over in the Fine Arts building where I taught music and he taught theater. "Kapoo" became one of my best friends and colleagues, a collaborator on fine arts programs, teaching English, D&D adventures, blogging, and assorted pranks and tomfoolery. Brian was the officiant at our wedding (and we couldn't have asked for a better guy to play director, stage manager, and best supporting actor for our big day), and then he and his wife were our neighbors in a freshman dorm our first year of marriage. With our connected apartments it was like one big family or some kind of commune.
My heart breaks as I try to find the words to honor and say goodbye to my wonderful, larger-than-life friend, but looking through old pictures to put together this post, I'm reminded of the joy and fun that he brought to, well, basically every situation. I'm one of so many who will miss him, and whose lives were made better by knowing him.

Monday, December 19, 2022


I got word today that a friend of mine is in the hospital and is transitioning into palliative care. They don’t really know if he has days, weeks, or months, but it doesn’t look good. 

I’m in shock. We worked together in a boarding school for five years. We were literally neighbors, living for several years in the same dorm overseeing kids, and since I was the music teacher and he was the theater teacher, we also worded closely in the classroom, with the theater where he taught and the music room where I taught being adjacent. Not to mention collaborating on programs. The first year my wife and I were married, we lived in a freshmen dorm an an apartment that connected directly with the apartment he and his wife lived in. It wasn’t quite one big apartment, but it was pretty close. 

I was in the car with my 6-year-old when I got the call and I started crying and then I had to explain to her why I was sad. And it’s amazing how putting things into words makes them more real. Like, thinking “my friend is dying” is very different from saying it out loud. 

I’m going to head out to see him and his wife and some of our mutual friends tomorrow for a couple days, so if I don’t manage to blog, that’s why. 

Sunday, December 18, 2022

Adult gifts

In my wife’s family, we decided years ago to have the adults draw names and just get one person a gift (everybody buys for all the kids). To facilitate this, we all send out a list of things we’d like, and this is the worst part of Christmas. 

I just have no idea each year what to ask for. I spent a solid hour h  free other day Googling “gifts for Dad” to figure out what I might like to receive on Christmas morning. Because I definitely want to receive a thing or two on Christmas. 

The problem with gifts for adults, I think, is that as an adult, if you want/need something, you either buy it for yourself or there’s a reason you don’t, such as it being ridiculously expensive. Like, a cooling mattress topper sounds super cool, but at like $800+ for something I’ve never even tried out? Yeah, no. I’d LOVE to have an in-home sauna but, again, very expensive. A new laptop? Yes please. Oooh, or recording equipment to put together a home studio. Or home gym equipment… the list goes on, of things I’ll neither buy myself nor request as a gift. 

I finally came up with three things: new sweatpants to support my work from home lifestyle, wool socks, and an Audible subscription. 

I’d love to get something totally unexpected yet absolutely perfect, but I’m not expecting it any more than I’m expecting to share cookies with Santa. It’ll still be a great Christmas, I’m sure. 

Saturday, December 17, 2022

The Waker and the Sleeper

 I suspect that evolution has programmed us to seek out a mate with the opposite sleep tendencies of our own, so that one half of the partnership can wake up at the smallest twig cracking and protect the family from sabretooth tigers, etc, particularly during the child-rearing years, and the other partner can sleep like the dead and get a good night’s sleep to be happy, healthy, and live into old age. 

Certainly, I’ve always been the former while my wife has been the latter. When we were young and parenting only a small dog, she knew exactly who you come to in the middle of the night to go out to potty, because it was only possible to awaken one of us. 

And that’s why I’ve been awake since 6:30 on a Saturday, because our hungry-hungry six-year-old also knows who to wake up. 

There was a brief period in our relationship when this dynamic flipped: when any of our children were still breastfeeding. Then and only then my wife was on high alert to the needs of another living thing (a living thing that alternated between sharing our bed and sleeping right next to it). For that all-too-brief period, I was allowed to sleep pretty well through the night (unless the dog needed me or the baby REALLY started to cry). 

But those times are long gone, and none of the routine needs of our children is powerful enough to lift the weighted blanket of sleep from the other side of the bed. 

Friday, December 16, 2022

2022: The Year in Books part 3 (Non-Fiction)

I don't tend to read nearly as much non-fiction as fiction. I generally like history, but there was only one book that fell into that category this whole year. So it goes. Here are the highlights. 

It's been on my list for a while, but I finally read Open by Andre Agassi, and absolutely loved it. I started playing tennis in high school in the 90s, more or less at the height of the Sampras-Agassi rivalry, so it was both a bit nostalgic to revisit that time through Agassi's eyes and also revealing to get to know him and his journey through tennis. It's so well written, so authentic and rich--I would imagine that even people who aren't tennis fans would get a lot out of it. 

I read From Strength to Strength: Finding Success, Happiness, and Deep Purpose in the Second Half of Life after hearing an interview with the author, Arthur C. Brooks. Truthfully, I probably got as much out of the interview as I did out of the book, but both were good. The central insight is that our brains naturally change as we age, such that we may not retain the strengths that helped us in our younger years as we age, but we also tend to grow into other strengths, and the key is embracing those changes as we age to go, as the title suggests, from strength to strength. 

Another book I found after an interview with the author was Trauma: The Invisible Epidemic by Paul Conti. There's a quotation that's stuck with me from the writer Robert Anton Wilson: "Under the present brutal and primitive conditions on this planet, every person you meet should be regarded as one of the walking wounded. We have never seen a man or woman not slightly deranged by either anxiety or grief. We have never seen a totally sane human being." I think Conti would agree: under the influence of repeated traumas, both large and small, we are all suffering to one degree or another, even as we find ways to get by. This was a fascinating and helpful treatment of the subject of trauma, its effects, and how we might better deal with it. 

Far and away the most important and best non-fiction book I read this year was Untangled: Guiding Teenage Girls Through the Seven Transitions into Adulthood by Lisa Damour. Our oldest officially becomes a teen this January, but she's already started on this transition. It was nice to see some of the signposts more clearly through Damour's analysis and to feel like we've got some help navigating the years ahead not just for our oldest but for the next two as well. I listened to the audiobook, read by the author, and it was particularly nice to hear the humor and warmth in her tone. But I also bought a copy, as I expect to return to it frequently in the next several years.  

Thursday, December 15, 2022

Daily Habits

Obviously, here in December I'm trying to blog daily, and I've been doing pretty well at it, if I do say so myself, even if I got a late start. So, what are other things that I do (or try to do) daily? I'm glad you asked....

Today actually marks a 100-day streak on Duolingo, where I'm working on learning Italian. I studied French in high school and traveled to Montreal, Quebec, and France (mainly Paris, Nice, and Avignon). But I only took the required two years and then let it slide. My best friend in college took German all through college and picked up Italian our senior year, then went to live in Italy, so I had that as motivation to visit Italy, and in the process of several visits over several years I learned the travel basics of the language. Now my wife and I and our three kids are preparing for a trip this spring to France and Italy, so I decided to use that as motivation to try to refresh the little Italian I knew and learn some more. And it's also been a chance to try out a language-learning app. I'll admit that sometimes the vocabulary I'm learning doesn't seem like the most practical, but it does feel like it's all building and that I should be reasonably competent in a few months if I keep practicing. 

I've also maintained the Wordle habit that was so fashionable, though I don't inflict my results on my Facebook feed. In fact, I've got a sequence of related games I play pretty much every day: Wordle, then Quordle (solving 4 simultaneously), then Octordle (8). The last couple days I've tried out some Octordle variants: one where you have to solve them in sequence and one where they give you the first three starting guesses (which are intentionally terrible) and you have to salvage the game. Anyway, I enjoy the mental challenge. 

I'd like work out--not necessarily every day, because you do need some rest days in there. But this winter has been brutal. Back in the summer, I got a year-long membership at the local rec center and I went in 4-5 days each week. But that was in the summer when I generally wasn't responsible for anyone or anything in the morning until work started. Once school started, I couldn't go in the morning anymore because the gym doesn't open until 6:00, which is when I start marshaling the troops around here. I can sometimes go either right after my wife and kids leave for school or over the lunch hour. But sometimes I'm too busy with work, and it seems like in November and December there's just a constant stream of obstacles--one of the kids gets sick and stays home with me, or I get a frantic text that someone has forgotten something vital (usually the viola) and need me to bring it. Or I myself am sick or fighting off the lingering effects of being sick. 

I'd also like to establish a daily meditation practice. The closest I've come is that for the last couple weeks I've been doing some guided breathing sessions with a YouTube video and that's kind of like meditation, not to mention probably also valuable in its own right. I don't know.

On top of all that, I'd like to establish a creative practice of some kind. Writing and/or composing music. They are both things I've done in the past, but I'm very much out of the habit. 

What about you? What habits do you have or aspire to?

Wednesday, December 14, 2022

2022: The Year in Books Part 2 (Fantasy and SF)

Something like 2/3 of all the books I read this year were in this bucket, which isn't really surprising. Since I discovered Middle Earth and Narnia and the Forgotten Realms in 4th grade, it's probably been my most-read genre in most given years except while I was in college and right afterward. 

About a quarter of these books were re-reads. I went into a Discord dedicated to R. Scott Bakker's works and engineered a re-read of his Prince of Nothing trilogy and the follow-up The Aspect Emperor quartet. We're reading (theoretically 15-20 pages per day, and it's a bit of a slog at times, but it's overall been a good experience so far. It's a dense work with a lot of deep world-building. The writing is very good and doesn't spoon-feed the reader anything, so it definitely rewards a re-read, especially one accompanied by discussion to sort out the details. 

I also re-read Robin Hobb's Soldier Son trilogy. I should say I'm a HUGE fan of her Realm of the Elderlings series. Last year I did some re-reading in those 13 books and really appreciated it. Soldier Son I remembered as being overall inferior to Hobb's other work, but I was very pleasantly surprised by how good it actually is. It hit differently this time around and I really enjoyed it in a way I don't think I did the first time I read it. 

And then there were wholly new things I read! I think my favorite was Fonda Lee's Green Bone Saga books, starting with Jade City. It's kind of like The Godfather meets Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. The characters are well-drawn and the plot can surprise you. 

I read the last several books of The Expanse series by James S.A. Corey. I read the first few some years ago, then I watched the six seasons of the tv series, and then I picked up the books where the series left off. Although there were some changes from book to tv, it was easy enough to slide right back in and see how it all turns out. By the way, this Corey fellow is actually two writers under a penname, and one of those writers is Daniel Abraham; here at the end of the year I read the first 3 books of his The Dagger and the Coin series. Very solid fantasy, well above average. It's not my new favorite or anything, but it's quite good. 

Right up there among the best fantasy I read this year was the last two-thirds of R.J. Barker's Tide Child trilogy. It's a dark world of vanishing sea dragons and ships made out of their bones. War and death and a fight for something better. 

No surprise, but Neil Gaiman's The Ocean at the end of the Lane was just great. It was also wonderful to hear him read his own work live at Playhouse Square this year. 

I enjoyed the John Cleaver series by Dan Wells (starting with I Am Not a Serial Killer). The premise is basically a young sociopath who is obsessed with serial killers (and obsessed with not becoming one, despite his sociopathic tendencies) finds himself fighting supernatural serial killers. It was a really good series from top to bottom, and one thing I appreciated was the fact that Wells wrapped it up in 6 books rather than trying to milk the premise indefinitely (and, at the same time, I was disappointed to run out of books in the series!). 

I enjoyed Katherine Arden's The Winternight Trilogy with its Russian folklore. I enjoyed Laini Taylor's Daughter of Smoke and Bone series, though I didn't love it as much as her other series whose name escapes me. Tasha Suri's Books of Ambha was also notable. 

I didn't enjoy Nona the Ninth (3rd book in Tamsyn Muir's The Locked Tomb) as much as I hoped I would, but I'm still excited to read the next book whenever it comes out, because I enjoyed the first two books so well. And perhaps I'll appreciate Nona on a re-read. 

I also recently read book 3 of Naomi Novik's Schoolomance trilogy (The Golden Enclaves). Very good. It walks the line of being allegorical, in that the magical premise that threatens its world maps so well onto the problem of global capitalism, and I appreciated just how difficult the problem is in the books, mirroring real-world complexity. In that sense, it was a little disappointing that the solution is ultimately magical and not readily applied to our own real-world dilemmas, but there's something to be said just for people trying to avoid the horns of a dilemma and find a third way that's neither complicity nor resignation. 

One final thing to mention. I read several comic book collections this year. I got started because Robin Hobb recommended Dark Knights of Steel, which is basically a reimagining of the DC universe in the medieval period. I read the book that collected the first three or four issues and very much enjoyed it, but have not continued following it (maybe at some point I will). I was hardcore into comics from late elementary through high school and only stopped a year or so after I went away to college. In fact, I had subscriptions that were being delivered while I was away, and my local-ish comic shop was holding things for me, many of which I bought but never got around to reading. I felt moved to take several days organizing my much-neglected collection just to see what I had, and then I picked up collections to try to revisit some of the old X-Men storylines in hopes of re-reading the comics in my collection. I never did quite make it, but I did read some. It was interesting to see how mediocre the storytelling was back in the '80s in comics, even when there were some good bits. Still, it was a nice sort of nostalgia. 

Tuesday, December 13, 2022

2022: The Year in Books (Part 1)

As we inch closer to the end of the year, it's a nice time to look back, and Goodreads makes it a little easier to look back on what I've read this year. As I type this, I've read 88 books this year, but I fully expect that number to be 90 or more before the calendar turns over. 

The largest portion of those have been audiobooks (67, I think). The rest have been a combination of printed-on-paper and ebooks. I don't love ebooks, because I'm generally reading them on my phone... but the fact that they're on my phone means that there are opportunities to read those books that wouldn't be available to me otherwise. And a couple of those books I only had available in ebook format. 

Twenty of these were re-reads, either to prepare myself for a just-released later novel in a series or to revisit something I thought was very good. As a culture, we probably don't re-read enough, and it's easy to see why. There's so much new stuff out there. But 

Two-thirds (60) have been fantasy or science fiction. Some handful I would put in the "literary fiction" category, and the rest is broadly non-fiction. I'm thinking I'll do separate blog posts on the "best' fantasy and non-fiction books I read, but since it's a small number, I'll mention the "literary fiction" here. 

A couple books I read this year were "classics"--the sort of thing you might be expected to read for a college course. The loftiest of those was Anna Karenina. From my review:

IS it the greatest ever? I don't know. It's very good. For a book written 100 years before I was born, it's remarkably modern in many ways. I was impressed by its subtlety and nuance, by its detail and deftness of description. The characters are so human from their charms and admirable qualities to their failings and foibles.

5 stars. I also re-read To Kill a Mockingbird, which I did because I read Casey Cep's excellent Furious Hours: Murder, Fraud, and the Last Trial of Harper Lee. It was, in part, the story of a series of murders that happened near Harper Lee's hometown (and which Harper Lee at one point intended to turn into an In Cold Blood -like true crime story) and about Harper Lee's life and career. So I had to re-read TKaM, and as a bonus had the pleasure of seeing a stage version adapted by Aaron Sorkin. And I also read In Cold Blood for the first time, which I very much enjoyed. True crime was never really my thing, but maybe it should be, because it was compelling. 

Two other re-reads that I would consider literary were Umberto Eco's The Name of the Rose and Mark Helprin's A Soldier of the Great War. Both are worth not only a read but a re-read! 

And the final novel I'll mention is Jonathan Franzen's Crossroads. I hadn't read any Franzen before this, but his story of a 1970s youth minister and his family was captivating, with fantastically telling details and fascinating characters deftly revealed to us over the course of several hundred pages. 

Monday, December 12, 2022

Cookies and Christmas treats

My parents baked cookies all through the year, though I suppose Christmas was an extra special time. That said, I don't remember there being any particular cookies that were reserved for the holiday season. Mom had a Kitchen Aid stand mixer that she could make huge batches of cookies in--and she would. For chocolate chip cookies, she would triple the recipe in the Betty Crocker Cookbook. They had these sheets that they would lay out over the counter (our kitchen had more than its fair share of counter space) for the cookies to cool and shed some of their grease into. 

The other cookies I remember most were peanut butter cookies and cornflake cookies (distinguished by cornflakes and coconut). When I was quite a bit older, after dad had died, Mom got really into potato chip cookies, which came from a recipe on a bag of our local potato chips

It seems like if anything Christmas was the time for non-cookie treats. Mom was never quite satisfied that her Divinity matched what her mother used to make, and it was never quite the same from year to year, so to this day I can't say I know what Divinity is supposed to taste like. All the iterations she tried seemed wonderful to me though. We would frequently make Buckeyes, though those were also a year-round treat, but chocolate and peanut butter fudge were (I think) reserved for the holidays. 

Christmas time involved a lot of parties, either at church or at the social organization my parents were part of, the Grange. And that's where I remember other festive cookies and treats that we didn't make at home. I don't think my mom ever in her life made Hershey kiss cookies, which made them a particular treat when I got them. And white chocolate peppermint bark always seemed like something that had to have been cooked up between Santa Claus and Jesus, it was so good. There was some kind of green cookies shaped like Christmas trees (were there cornflakes or some other cereal in them?) that were a holiday treat but probably would have worn out their welcome quickly if they were always available. 

Oh, and popcorn balls! I can't say I loved them, but I recall them fondly. And, of course, we kids got a lot of candy canes, which were good to suck on, but they were even better to gather up and toss in the blender to turn into an ice cream topping. Anyway, I'm getting pretty far afield from cookies--what were your favorite Christmas treats growing up?

And finally, I want to direct attention to Bozoette's Mom's chocolate chip cookies. I gave them a try this afternoon and they are a revelation. The use of a copious quantity of dark brown sugar instead of light brown sugar gives these cookies a distinctive character that is above and beyond the flavor profile of the cookies I grew up with (sorry Betty). Highly recommended. 

Sunday, December 11, 2022

Sign of the Season

It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas... in the sense that the lines at Target are even worse than usual. 

The cash registers were a mess. Just super long lines everywhere you look. And the way Target sets things up doesn't help, with one set of registers behind another, and in this case they had registers open that were stacked on top of each other. So it was an ambiguous line situation--is it one line feeding into two registers? Is it two lines? Those of us making up the tail of the line tacitly agreed among ourselves that it was one line.

And then a woman walked up and tried to make it two and all of us 1) knew full well that it was an ambiguous situation, so the woman wasn't wrong, per se, and 2) were too polite to confront her anyway, but 3) were not happy that our implicit assumption was being challenged. But maybe 30 seconds later I took decisive, passive-aggressive (emphasis on passive, honestly) action. "Wow," I said aloud. "These lines are a real mess. It's not really even clear if there's one line or two." 

The woman who had turned it into two lines turns to me and says "Oh, was it one line?" I said we weren't really sure... but we were all assuming (gesturing to the growing line both in front of and behind me) that it was one line. 

She apologetically joined our line and all was well with the world again.

As we got up to the registered, I continued in my leadership role, suggesting the couple in front of me might go up to the second register and then, comparing the cart of the next person at the near register and the people I'd just promoted, I decided to follow them.

And then, someone from way back in the line sees me going to the far line and is like "Hey! We all were treating this like one line!" 

I was suddenly being mistaken for a line-jumper! I cleared up my status though, and muttered to the people ahead of me "I've been the one enforcing one line." They laughed with me. 

Anyway, all of this could have been avoided if Target got their act together and made their lines make sense. Good systems trump (hoping for) good behavior most of the time. 

Saturday, December 10, 2022

Love and Marriage

When people talk about marriage, there's a lot of talk about love. Maybe some "soul mates" stuff, or at least "she brings out the best in me." Someone to raise a family with, perhaps (though I think the joys of two incomes and no children should probably not be understated). What rarely gets discussed are things like, when you need to go to the airport at oh-dark-thirty, having one person in the world who pretty much has to take you.

My wife got to cash in on that this morning as we awoke before 3:00 am to get her there by 3:30. Considering that she's chaperoning a dozen or so high school students as well as a wet-behind-the-ears teacher for a week, I'd still say I got the better end of this deal. I could at least go home and go back to bed until our youngest woke me up way too early demanding food. 

But there really is something wonderful about that part of the relationship. One person who, when you're asking them a big favor, it doesn't feel to either of you like you're asking them a big favor. You're just doing whatever they need done, and you know that they would do the same for you. 

I'm talking about something that, in a way, by its very nature, you can take for granted. But, of course, you can't really take it for granted, can you? I'm in my mid-40s, and for the last decade or so I've watched a certain number of people I know, including very close friends, divorce. Some of them married early, while others married late. None of them involved infidelity, they just had relationships that used to work and didn't anymore. 

And the flip side is that it's really damned hard to date in your 40s. I can't even imagine. It was hard enough in my 20s, a minor miracle that we found each other and neither one of us screwed it up before it reached critical mass. 

It's a reminder of what a precious thing it is to find someone that you can imagine yourself growing old with, someone for whom you could take many 3:00 am trips to the airport if that's what they need. It's not something you think of when you're dating or proposing or making your vows, but it's as much love as any feeling you have along the way. It's love as a verb--a humble, workaday verb. 

Friday, December 9, 2022

Oh, Christmas tree

O Christmas tree, O Christmas tree,
How lightless are your branches...

It’s a pre-lit tree and the lights have been gradually going out the past couple years. Probably we should make some effort to replace bulbs or add on some new strands, but honestly this is more emblematic of how we roll through life. 

If you look closely, you may see the cat, Zen, who thankfully is not inclined toward Christmas tree destruction. He does think the tree skirt is his bed though. The one dog bed pictured is the one of the three Brutus has available that he doesn’t sleep on. It was really Beaker’s bed, and more her size. 

Weirdly, as soon as I typed this, Brutus got up, went to Beaker’s bed, did a turn, then went back to the bed he was on and acted like he wanted to dig in it (it is very much not a diggable bed). After a few circuits and a few attempts, he lay back down. 

That's me watching the pets on a Friday night. Lauren is packing for a week away at Space Camp and the kids are writing a story (Beans), playing on the Nintendo Switch (A), and self-isolating in her room like the teen she almost is (T). 

Thursday, December 8, 2022

Not a Thanksgiving I'm thankful for

I knew in advance that this would be a strange Thanksgiving. My wife's family made plans to go down to Florida to celebrate Thanksgiving plus her aunt's birthday, but with Mom in assisted living, I didn't want her to spend the holiday alone, so L and the kids went to Florida and I stayed home. It also meant two fewer days to take vacation, and I rather like the occasional time to myself.

But on Monday, I talked to Mom and she was sick. Like, destroy the bathroom sick. She also has dementia, and her brain rejected merely being sick. Instead, she told me, someone was poisoning her. Oh boy.

By Tuesday, she had an elaborate fantasy concocted and she knew exactly who was poisoning her. And not only poisoning her but also sneaking into her apartment and moving things around. That's part of her dementia as well--if she can't remember where something is or how it got where it is, the answer is that "someone" moved it. She's told me in the past that there's "a man" living in her apartment with her, and also that there are college students (no colleges in her town) who are living in her apartment. But anyway, she was convinced that she is being poisoned and her apartment broken into.

The thing about these delusions is that there's no arguing someone out of them. No facts will make so much as a dent in her explanations for why she doesn't feel good or can't find something. I try to focus on mitigation instead. "Drink plenty of water, it will help flush out whatever you've got." "Take some Tylenol." "Try not to worry too much, I really don't think they can get in, the doors are always locked and the people at the front desk would never sign in someone so disreputable looking." 

By Wednesday she's saying that she wants me to take her away from there. She believes that she won't be poisoned while she's with me. And a pit of dread opens up in my stomach. 

Don't get me wrong--I'm glad she has faith in me. But is it going to make it worse when I go visit and she's demanding I take her away and I don't? Because that would not be helpful. The anxiety has been growing steadily in the background all week, and now on Wednesday it's getting a bit overwhelming. I talk with my wife though and decide that I'll check on her Thursday morning and if she's still nursing this delusion, I'll make an excuse and not go visit for Thanksgiving. 

I go out that night with a friend to hear some live music, and it's really nice.

In the morning, I actually don't feel particularly good. A little bit of a hangover? Or just anxiety doing its thing? Either way, I call Mom and she still feels sick and is still in this delusion, so I tell her that I'm not feeling well, that I'm feeling sick. I'm not even fibbing.

In fact, I spend the next several days feeling progressively worse. Mild nausea, stomach ache, headache, achy muscles, chills. A little extra gastrointestinal discomfort. It didn't leave me feeling very thankful, let me tell you. Finally by Sunday, as my family returned, I started to feel better. Felt perfectly fine Monday and Tuesday, then I got a sore throat that progressed over the next few days to congestion and all that. 

So yeah, it was a fairly strange and unhappy Thanksgiving, and it kicked off a solid week and a half of illness. 

But by Saturday Mom was saying that she thought her poisoner had left the area and "I don't think we'll be seeing him again," so that was something. And while I was ill, she was back to her baseline levels of dementia. Which is sad but not overwhelming. There's that to be thankful for, I suppose. 


 Here’s the standing desk where I spend a significant portion of my day:

A few notes:

Before I started working in tech a few years ago, I was totally good with the single screen of a laptop; now it’s so hard to too anything with fewer than two!

The music keyboard was added just yesterday. It’s totally irrelevant for my work, but I had the space there and I thought it would be a nice prompt to bring a little musical creativity into my day. Btw, that keyboard is probably 35-ish years old—it was a delightful birthday present one year (now it’s a barely adequate instrument for, really, any purpose; but there it is!).

The Freddie Mercury funko pop figure on the right was a Christmas present in 2019, when I’d just started a cubicle job. Poor guy was stuck in an office I never went to for two years until he was finally recovered this summer. Do you recognize his band mate?

The picture above is all three of my kids around age 2, each with a dandelion. Our nanny took all of the pictures over the years and gave us the set when we moved away (she was such a treasure). 

The picture taped to the monitor is from a Zoom meeting with some of my god college friends. One of them took the screen shot and printed it out and mailed it to each of us because he thinks it’s good to have physical mementos of things. We started having weekly Zoom meetings in March 2020 because it was a COVID thing people were doing. We’ve had this meeting almost every week ever since. Two and a half years and counting of connection with old friends. 

The notebooks to the right are Rocket Notebooks: erasable pens and integrated with an app to photograph, save, and organize your pages. It’s pretty neat. 

Wednesday, December 7, 2022

Blogging and commenting

 Okay, so here's how I like to approach Holidailies. Step one: write something every day. Straightforward enough, if not necessarily easy.

Step two: post that entry on Holidailies.

Step three: go read other people's stuff on Holidailies (be the change you want to see in the world).

Step four: comment if I feel moved (and honestly, I make at least a minimal effort to be moved--see again being what you want to see).

But here's the thing, step four seems like it's gotten unnecessarily hard this year. 

The first blog I wanted to comment on, it had three options for commenting, all of which appeared to require me signing up for something that I didn't already have. Ugh. I made a cursory effort to figure out one of them, but the documentation was more daunting than I had time for.

Then another blog that's on the same platform I am on required Google sign-in... but then wouldn't take my Google sign in. I was eventually able to finesse it by switching from mobile mode to the web version, but why did that have to be so complicated? And another website that wanted me to sign into Google, it turns out I couldn't do th same workaround, because I couldn't find a link to switch from the mobile version to the web version. 

It just sucks because I would like to feel like part of a community of bloggers at least this one month of the year, but I feel like a part of that is interacting with my fellow bloggers, and I want that process to be friction-free (at least technically speaking). It's hard enough to invest the time it takes to write and read and comment, but when you have to jump through hoops to do it, and it seems like every blog has some kind of hoops to jump through... well, it's disspiriting. 

All He Surveys

 I’m a little late for the Holidailies party, but better late than never, especially when it comes to writing. There was a span of years where I wrote in a pen-and-paper journal daily. A year or more where I blogged every day and many years where I came pretty close. A fee Novembers where I cranked out 50000 words. 

But all of that is years in the past. And I can’t help but think that my life is poorer for it. 

Maybe this will fizzle out after December, or even sooner, but I suppose a day with a bit of writing is better than the alternative. 

Zen here has been with us eight months now, and he’s well beyond the skittish new kitty phase. While he is absolutely A’s cat, he lets me feel like the favorite when the rest of the family is away at school (not every day, but some days—I’m sure he doesn’t want his attention to go to my head).

Perched on a stool in my third-floor office, he is the majestic lion, king of all he surveys, tail lashing with murderous intent, the squirrels and birds he spies living only on his sufferance (and that of a pane of glass). 

That’s basically writing in a nutshell, isn’t it? A lofty vantage point from which to observe, a bit of distance, and natural constraints against action.

Wednesday, May 11, 2022

Mid-life (if I'm lucky) crisis

 I'm reluctant to put this admission out in the world, but then again, there probably aren't a half dozen people who read this blog, especially outside of December. 

It's been a hard spring, centered around my birthday back in early April.

In the first place, it's just busy: I work, my wife works, and we've got three kids in school. Our oldest is a seventh grader who's busy with a million things. And I love that. I was the same way, at least by high school. But often she would have a track meet (and track meets are the worst--they just go on and on and you barely see your kid) and then need to be ferried immediately to choir rehearsal. Besides her school choir she's singing in the Cleveland Orchestra Children's Chorus--and I'm so proud of her and grateful that she has this amazing opportunity. But it's a lot. And then there are two other children who need to be picked up at various times. I don't want to belabor it, because it's definitely not the big stressor here.

Our 16-year-old dog Beaker was though. It's been a tough six months or so, going back to just after Thanksgiving when my wife broke her ankle and had to sleep downstairs. We knew before then that Beaker was often having "accidents" overnight, but with her sleeping down there it became clear that she was having them multiple times a night, and instead of ignoring them because we sleep on the third floor, I would have to come and clean them up 2 and 3 times a night. Things got better with the help of a mobile pet vet for a while--some medication to lower inflammation and mildly sedate her, but still she was going downhill rapidly: falling frequently and being unable to get up, sometimes combined--quite literally--with one of her potty accidents. She didn't seem to have any joy or even much comfort left in life, just cycling between really anxious and only a little anxious. 

Finally in early April we made the difficult decision to have her euthanized. This was our first time having to make this choice and it was terrible. Even though we knew it was the right thing to do, it felt like killing my dog. My dog who's been with me for over a third of my life, who predated our children. It was hardcore adulting and it sucked. I will say, that it probably went as well as it could have, thanks to our vet who does house calls. She was able to leave this life in the familiar surroundings of home, held and petted and soothed by the people she loved the most. I'm tearing up just writing about it. 

At the same time, Beaker isn't the only one who's aging and declining. My mom has also taken a sharp downturn that became particularly salient in early April. I handle her finances, and that includes getting her taxes done. In the past, Mom was always very anxious about her taxes, and would usually get them done shortly after all the documents arrived, like in February. Even last year, when I was handling her taxes, she was still pretty involved, asking questions and worried about everything getting done correctly and on time. This year, in early April, I called and asked her if any of the tax documents had come to her, since I was missing a few. She said "I think I might have gotten something last week..." which of course was unlikely, given that it was April. But she was also supremely unconcerned. It would turn up. 

Which, all in all, I guess that's better than remaining her old anxious self and also having huge lapses in memory and cognition, but it just really hit me how much she's lost. 

And then on my birthday I called her, and I know she wouldn't have even known it was my birthday if I hadn't answered her question of "what are you up to?" with "Going out to eat for my birthday." Even so, she didn't actually wish me a happy birthday. I'm not upset with her, of course, I'm just deeply saddened to see my mom slipping away like this. And deeply anxious because she spent the last several years steadfastly denying her mortality and being uncooperative about getting things in place. Now I don't know if it's too late or what I'm going to have to do. 

Two of her sisters visited her recently, and they discovered that she hadn't paid her rent at the assisted living facility in 3 or 4 months. I was pretty surprised that the place never contacted me. Mom said she tried to take her check down to them several times but they were always busy and told her to come back later. I'm sure there's some truth to that, but with her cognitive decline I guess that's getting to be a hard problem for her to solve on her own. 

I turned 45 last month, so it shouldn't be surprising that I have all these adult problems, raising children and taking care of an elderly parent. But I thought I would actually feel like an adult by the time all these things hit me. If anything I feel less sure of myself than I did half my life ago.

But that's life I guess--you're never ready and you have to do it anyway and there's a lot of sadness built into it. A lot of beauty and joy, too, don't get me wrong. I can still see and enjoy all that too, but some days are hard. 

Thursday, March 17, 2022

Should vs Is

I had an idea for how my evening was going to go. My wife went to see a show at Playhouse Square with her sister, leaving me with the kids and dogs. I put together a dinner that was acceptable to everyone involved, I did a little work for our upcoming camping trip, and I even left space for spontaneity when the youngest wanted to go for a walk around the block. She got a walk, the dog got a walk, and the other two girls joined in. Such a beautiful day, we were all happy to be out in it.

But here's where the planning came in. At 8, I had definite plans for how the night would go. Our six-year-old is getting to the point where we're pushing her to put herself to bed instead of relying on me (or a me-like substitute). Last night, I had to be with her for a while, but eventually she allowed me to leave and went to sleep with my phone playing music. At 8 pm tonight, one of my favorite bands was having a live stream event. I shelled out $40 for access to this and a show in May (the bonus here is that you can watch it for up to a week, so my wife, who also loves this band, could see it too). Since 8 is also, nominally, the youngest's bedtime, I planned to offer her a choice: we could lay in bed together and watch/listen to the concert, or she could lay by herself and listen to her own choice of music. There are a couple songs by this band that has been in her bedtime playlist off and on, so there was that, too.

She chose to watch the concert with me, which was what I expected. We got off to a good start: she was excited to snuggle up and watch together. But she's six, and she got restless and talkative long before she got sleepy enough to pass out, which was my real hope and expectation. I was getting annoyed at her fidgety-ness, and eventually we agreed that she would try to go to sleep with her music on my phone by herself. 

Of course, we'd been watching the show on the phone. So I closed that window and got the music going, then went upstairs to get the show on my laptop. Unfortunately, my laptop is... temperamental. It's got this thing where--with no relationship to temperature--its fan runs noisily. So it wasn't the best choice for listening to a concert. After a some light tech rage, I decided to try setting it up on the web browser on the xBox. While I was doing that, the 6-year-old started wailing about how she couldn't get to sleep, so just as I got the concert going, I had to go down to try to settle her. And she didn't seem to want to be settled--I had to get her warm milk and snuggle with her, and to be honest, I was feeling very angry and frustrated about the whole situation. I was missing the music I wanted to listen to and feeling very resentful about the music that I was being forced by this situation to listen to. 

Why on earth couldn't she just go to sleep? Neither of our older girls needed us to put them to bed at this age. Why couldn't she have just fallen asleep while watching the concert? Why does she have to make everything so difficult?

But in the midst of this spiral of anger and resentment, something else bubbled up. A will to accept, a will to step back from my expectations and the resentment that came from having those expectations denied and defied. Instead of letting my thoughts and emotions spiral around what I had wanted and was being denied, I resolved to meet the moment as it was, to meet my child as she was in that moment, needy and in her own emotional spiral. I knew that if I let my own state continue circling, it wouldn't make me happy or her asleep. So I focused on what she needed. Rubbing her back, speaking softly to her. 

It didn't make me happy, but it helped me let go of anger and frustration. And then, as I realized that consciously, it also gave me the space to find a little contentment, too. How much better the moment was when I accepted it and used it as a starting point rather than putting all of my energy into some moments that I felt should have been. 

It didn't make her magically go to sleep, and I missed a good 30-45 minutes of the concert putting her to bed. But I can watch it again now. Or any time in the next week. Nothing really lost except for the minutes that I took from myself with anger by not accepting what was. And maybe I'll learn something from this, and spend less time in those negative emotions in the future. 

Sunday, February 27, 2022

The kind of shopping trip I enjoy

Yesterday, my oldest (12) wanted me to take her to a new-ish Asian bakery. It's about a mile from our house in a quirky little area that I love. Before I knew much of anything about Cleveland, I knew about this area--Coventry--because of its quirky shops, including the famous-but-now-departed Big Fun, which was something like an independent Spencer's Gifts with a lot of retro and kitsch. I grew up about an hour and a half from there, but we would make occasional pilgrimages there in high school. A friend lived in the area after college when I was in grad school down at Kent, and I enjoyed visiting both to see my friend and to browse the various stores. 

Now that we live so close, I mostly go there for one reason--to pick up sushi from our favorite place. But I'm usually alone in playing Door Dash driver for the family, I don't look around much, and with the pandemic I think it's probably been a couple years since we walked up there with the kids for anything

I intentionally parked way down the street from the bakery so we'd have a bit of a walk, and I suggested popping into the independent book store across the street. What a delight! With a mix of used and new, the place has a really homey vibe. I've always been a sucker for bookstores, from the time I was my daughter's age, when the only bookstore I knew was the Waldenbooks in one or the other of the malls that was a half hour from home. My taste in bookstores became more refined by the Kenyon College Bookstore and my obsession with finding used bookstores wherever I went, with New England being particularly fertile ground when I spent summers working a school up there. 

My daughter seemed just as entranced I was, though I exercised considerable restraint in buying just one book for each of us. Side note: I need to do a better job of holding my daughter accountable to doing chores and managing money, but asking for a book just hit me in a vulnerable spot--how can I say no to books?

We also went to a quirky little bullshit and fashion boutique--a place that smells like patchouli and sells everything from college fashions to new age quackery. It was delightful, and my daughter was particularly interested in the "crystals" they had there, which I found much easier to say no to even though they were cheaper than books. 

And finally we got to our destination. The bakery was delightful, but as it was almost supper time, they were sold out of a lot of things. We each got a different flavor of boba tea and we both loved them, but the pork rolls that were at the center of our quest were pretty underwhelming. Maybe fresh they would have been better, but microwaved at home the pork was hard and the bun kind of mediocre. I'd definitely go back for the boba and their desserts looked amazing.

All in all, it was a delightful way to spend an hour or so with my oldest, and I hope trips like that become a big part of our relationship through the years. But also, my 9-year-old wants to take her own trip to Coventry, so there's that to look forward to. 

Friday, January 21, 2022

Offal Chili

 I'm posting this for myself as much as for anyone else--I cobbled it together from a couple different recipes and it turned out pretty well so...

1) Take a beef heart, put it on a trivet in the Instant Pot with 1 cup water, cook on high pressure for 30 minutes. When it's done, take it out, slice it, and then run it through the food processor.

2) Dice up a couple onions plus any other veggies you want--peppers would probably be nice but I didn't put any in, just onions. Clean out Instant Pot, add some oil and saute the onions. 

3) Take a pound or so of raw liver and run it through the food processor. Add liver and 2 # of ground beef to the instant pot. Add a bunch of salt and pepper and cook, stirring every so often, until it's more or less cooked. 

4) Add about a half cup of brewed coffee, 25 oz diced tomatoes, 1 c. beef or chicken broth, 4 T. chili powder, 1 1/2 T cumin, 1 tsp dried coriander, 1 tsp dried oregano, 1-2 T. maple syrup, and 2 T. apple cider vinegar. 

5) Cook on high pressure for... an hour I think I did? 

See? I'm already forgetting and it's only been 24 hours. That's why I need to write this stuff down. 

I got lucky with this, I offered it to my 12-year-old without telling her that it had liver and heart in it, because it would have grossed her out. She thought it was really good. I probably couldn't have gotten away with this with my wife, who's super-sensitive to tastes, but as far as hiding offal in chili, this is about as good as it gets. 

Side note, the dogs really liked the discarded water from cooking the heart. I added it to dry food and they gobbled it up with relish.