Shelter-in-Place Journal, Day 106

Welcome to week 16!

We have friends who just drove from San Jose to Boston and then to Philadelphia – and in a day or two, they’re taking their son with them to Indiana where they have family. They said the trip was wonderful.

We’re still staying at home (and probably will be here the rest of the year), but we did book some travel today…for 2022, when we hope to go on a cruise with friends around New Zealand and thence to Australia. It will be lovely if it happens!

Other than that, I’ve been spending time in Windows Hell – Diane’s Windows machine suddenly won’t show some critical dialog boxes (most importantly, 1Password’s login dialog). I’ve tried to delete and restore the display driver with no success – deleting it crashes partway through, making me think something is corrupted. Time for research….

Shelter-in-Place Journal, Day 105

It was a big day – we went back to the JCC for personal fitness training!

Of course, there were a few changes since the last time we were there – instead of being in the gym, we were on the soccer field. And we and our trainer were almost the only ones there – there was one other group but they were at least 50 yards away. It felt quite safe.

I expect to feel it tomorrow – in fact, I hope I do!

I also spent an hour with Chase disputing the charge on the broken and deceptively-advertised webcam. I think I’m obsessed….

Shelter-in-Place Journal, Day 104

Today, I figured out how to read and write the memories on both my FT-817 and my Wouxun UV-9D Plus from my Mac using Chirp and the appropriate USB chip driver for the cable for each radio. I even made a contact on the W6PIY repeater while I was testing – someone got tired of hearing me get on and test every couple of minutes and asked if he could help. It was my first QSO in many years!

I got an offer for a full refund on the non-functional webcam – the only catch is that I have to ship it back to China, which would cost more than I paid in the first place. I may make one more attempt to get a refund through my credit card, but it sure looks like I got successfully scammed. And now I know how much PayPal’s buyer protection is worth.

Shelter-in-Place Journal, Day 103

This morning, Diane got a text from a friend inviting us over for a socially-distanced afternoon in their pool. We knew there was enough space in their pool to stay well over 6 feet apart, so we said “yes” and headed over after lunch.

It was very strange, but pleasant, to see unmasked faces for more than a few seconds at a time. And it was a good day to spend in a shady, warm pool with friends.

Under normal circumstances, we would have gone to dinner with them; instead, we came home and made an old favorite, Chicken Breasts with Soy-Mustard Marinade. Don’t tell anyone, but we cooked the chicken on our Traeger pellet grill instead of a Weber BBQ as called for in the recipe.

I played with my FT-817 some more and was able to raise the local repeater (last night, I didn’t have it set to send out the sub-audible tone necessary for the repeater to respond). I even was able to listen to some of the Field Day activity on 40 meters, but I didn’t have enough power (or patience) to work anyone. Maybe tomorrow….

Shelter-in-Place Journal, Day 102

I’ve been interested in ham radio since I was in elementary school, but I didn’t get my license until 1988. I mostly spent time on local repeaters and amateur TCP/IP (you haven’t lived until you’ve tried sending email on a 1200-baud radio link), and I was active in the local Amateur Radio Emergency Service group for a few years, but over time, my activity decreased, even though I’ve always made sure to have at least one working transceiver in the house.

Almost all of my activity was on VHF/UHF, but in the early 2000s I bought a Yaesu FT-817 – it covers all of the HF (shortwave) bands as well as VHF/UHF, and has a maximum power output of 5 watts. It needs a good antenna – I never got one. And eventually, I put the FT-817 and all of its accessories away in a suitable carrying case and pretty much forgot about it.

But recently, my friend Sam has been talking about the contacts he’s been making using FT8, a low-powered digital mode ideal for the FT-817. And I have a computer connection for the radio, so I thought I would give it a try someday.

Tomorrow is ARRL Field Day, an annual event centered on emergency (or at least off-grid) communications. Normally, radio clubs and groups of amateurs get together and set up for Field Day – there’s food, cooking, publicity, and fun. This year, of course, everyone has to do Field Day from their home – and I thought I’d try it, so I found the bag, took out the FT-817 and accessories, and set to work.

I quickly discovered that I didn’t have a suitable power supply, just a small battery charger – but I was able to charge the batteries up just enough to get the rig to transmit for a few seconds. I found my antennas and set one up – I could actually hear things.

But then I made two discoveries. To run FT8 (or any digital mode), you need an external modem; I have one, but it connects to a computer through a 9-pin serial connector. I think it’s been ten years since I last had a computer with such a connector; I used to have a serial-to-USB converter, but I can’t find it.

And I can’t put out enough power to hit any repeater – I suspect my antennas are the problem. Or maybe the radio has deteriorated over the years. Or I don’t have enough voltage. Or….

So I won’t be getting on the air for this Field Day, at least not with the FT-817.

Maybe next year!

Shelter-in-Place Journal, Day 101

Usually, when I open my mail first thing in the morning, I don’t have high expectations – half of it is spam, half of the rest is news, and two-thirds of the rest is marketing from companies I want to hear from (but not as often as they want to tell me things).

Today, though, there were two pieces of good news when I opened my mail.

The first was the results from Learned League for yesterday’s match – I won, and that means I won’t be relegated to a lower rundle for the next season (this has been a brutal season for me, and I was in relegation territory two days ago).

The second piece of good news was a note from British Airways telling me that our flight from London to Barcelona has been cancelled – I hope that will let me get a refund instead of a voucher, but I won’t know until I can call them (and I may have to call the London call center rather than the US toll-free number).

This afternoon, we ventured into the mountains to pick up wine from David Bruce Winery – they’re offering some nice cases at a discount, and going there gave us an opportunity to work through a small part of our backlog of podcasts (not driving has its consequences).

Most of the rest of the day was taken up by Toastmasters – two meetings and Club Officer training. I’m going to be VP Public Relations for the Silver Tongued Cats beginning July 1; this is my first time in that role, so it gives me a chance to do something different.

If you’re interested in improving your leadership and public speaking, we’d love to have you visit the Silver Tongued Cats on any Thursday morning at 7:30am Pacific (1430 UTC) – ask me for the Zoom link. We’re as close as your computer!

Shelter-in-Place Journal, Day 100

The start of the new Toastmasters year is only a week away, which makes for a busy time in my role as District 101 Webmaster. Probably the most time-consuming task is getting photos from the incoming District leaders to publish on the District website – this year, I’m trying something different by using their candidate photos and cropping them to fit the space on the right page and just asking for their approval (in past years, I’ve gotten teeny-tiny thumbnail photos when I’ve asked for a full-size photo, or photos where the person was barely visible). I spent most of the morning on that task, and much of the afternoon culling yet more photos from 2005 (I’m half-way through my day at the Great Wall of China and the Summer Palace – I took a lot of photos, not all of which are necessary to tell the story).

No new recipes today; instead, we revisited two new favorites: Kay Chun’s Korean Barbecue-Style Meatballs from the New York Times and Gaby Dalkins’s Greek Chicken Trough from the Mercury News. Both make leftovers, which is a blessing – and the meatballs freeze well, so we can save them for a day when we’re in a hurry.

This evening was trivia courtesy of the Santa Clara City Library. They filled up the Zoom room with 36 teams; participants came from all over the world (mostly California, of course, but there were people from Scotland and Singapore). Our team, Bingo Slytherin, won – in the Before Times, that would have earned us a dessert pizza. Victory was sweet anyway.

Shelter-in-Place Journal, Day Ninety-Nine

This morning, we took a docent-led virtual tour of the Levi Strauss: A History of American Style exhibition at the Contemporary Jewish Museum that was offered through Shir Hadash. I would like to go to the museum to see it in person, but that will be a while (they plan to keep the exhibit open through the rest of the year, so there may be time).

The big news today was a message from the Post Office: At long, long, long last, the webcam I bought from a random Facebook ad from a random seller in China was here! It had gone from Brisbane, CA (near here) to Des Moines, then slowly made its way back to Richmond, CA, and finally (finally!) to our Post Office and thence to me.

”¨As soon as it arrived, I opened the package, plugged it into my Mac mini, fired up Zoom – and nothing. Zoom didn’t see the camera. Neither did the System Information report. And there was no indication in the system logs that anything happened when I plugged and unplugged the camera.

I tried another Mac – same lack of results.

Then I noticed that, while the ad I’d followed to buy the webcam and the outside of the box both talked about working with Mac, Windows, and Linux, the teeny-tiny instruction sheet inside the box only claimed Windows compatibility. So I plugged the webcam into Diane’s Windows laptop; Windows installed a driver, and seconds later, I was greeted with an incredibly blurry picture.

No worries – this camera advertises variable focus and the instruction sheet even shows the focus ring. I turned the focus ring and (you guessed it) nothing happened. The picture remained blurry.

Oh – did I mention that the ad claimed 1080p resolution but the box and the instruction sheet both said that the camera had VGA (640×480) resolution?

I’ve opened a complaint with PayPal.

Shelter-in-Place Journal, Day Ninety-Eight

One of my Toastmasters clubs, Silicon Valley Storytellers, celebrated its seventh anniversary this evening with a story slam. Instead of the usual Toastmasters format of speeches, impromptu speaking, and evaluations, we had thirteen members give a five-minute (or less) story and voted on the best three. I volunteered to be timer.

The challenge for the timer is getting the storyteller to stop if they go over time. When we meet in a room, we use a bell and applause – the timer rings a bell starting at 5 minutes, and a few seconds later, everyone applauds. Even the most stubborn speaker takes the hint.

But on Zoom, things are not so easy. Zoom does a lot to keep feedback and noise from happening – one of those things is reducing the output volume for anyone who’s speaking (at least if they’re not using headphones). So when we did a dry run, we discovered that the speaker could not hear me applaud if they were speaking!

So we used the nuclear option. I used colored backgrounds to give the speaker time cues at 4, 4-1/2, and 5 minutes; if the speaker didn’t stop talking within a few seconds past the 5 minute mark, I muted them. I only had to mute one speaker (the first) – after that, people watched for the red signal and stopped quickly.

There were a couple of other technical issues (one person muted herself just as she was getting to her punchline, and someone had to call in because her computer microphone refused to cooperate), but things went relatively smoothly, and the stories were interesting. Some might even have been true!

Shelter-in-Place Journal, Day Ninety-Seven

It was a happy Father’s Day for me – we had a Zoom call with Jeff, and got to see part of his new residence (he tried carrying his laptop around to give us a full tour, but technology did not cooperate).

Dinner was another attempt at Crispy Frico Chicken Breasts With Mushrooms and Thyme – I used my Lodge Logic cast-iron skillet because it’s oven-safe, but I am pretty sure it heated up too much on the stove. There was much smoke, but no smoke alarms sounded, and it tasted pretty good, even though the mushrooms were seriously charred.

Next time, though, we’re not going to make it in one pot – we’ll use Anolon on the stove and transfer it to something else for the oven. And I’ll try putting some oil on the chicken before putting on the cheese in hopes that more cheese will stick to the chicken. Maybe I’ll even get real Parmesan cheese instead of the stuff in a green plastic container!

Shelter-in-Place Journal, Day Ninety-Six

Shabbat is supposed to be a day of rest, and today filled the bill. We “went” to Torah Study and Shabbat Morning services and took a few walks. Diane had a Zoom session on photos, and I curated photos from January, 2005 – and that was about it. Lunch was leftover chicken, and dinner was the chickpea recipe I’ve made a few times in the last couple of months – the only novelty was a slightly different cocktail with dinner (note to self: don’t have cocktails AND wine with dinner – space them out next time).

There was a tiny bit of excitement on the tech front – we used the Amcrest webcam for the first time on our Zoom sessions today; I kinda wish I’d bought one with only a 70 degree field of view instead of 90 degrees, but even at 90 degrees, there’s much less of the room visible and more of us than there was with the WyzeCam. And some app on my iPhone decided to run hot and drain the phone’s battery – a hard reboot seems to have cured that problem.

I hope you had a restful Saturday, too!

Shelter-in-Place Journal, Day Ninety-Five

One of my lockdown projects has been to curate my digital photo collection – get rid of the bad and duplicate photos, identify people, and title and geotag everything I keep. It’s slow going – I started on March 18 with photos from 2000 and just finished 2004 today, including a day touring Richmond, Virginia back in August.

I grew up in Richmond; my mother was born there and lived there most of her life, and my brother still lives there. And growing up there in the late ”˜50s and the ”˜60s, I lived through the era of Massive Resistance to desegregation and the commemoration of the 100th anniversary of the Civil War (often called the “War Between The States”). The restrooms and drinking fountains in the downtown department stores still had “White” and “Colored” signs, though I don’t think that was still being enforced. And I remember being bothered by language in my 4th grade Virginia History textbook describing the slaves as “happy” and the adulation of Robert E. Lee (see this article from the Richmond Times-Dispatch). Of course, Monument Avenue was filled with monuments to Confederate leaders.

None of my family was in North America during the Civil War, so I don’t have any Confederate soldiers in my past, but it would have been difficult to avoid the Lost Cause glorification. And it was all around me, so I wasn’t really conscious of it.

When I worked on those photos today, though, it jumped out at me. Most of the photos I took of statues at Capitol Square were of Confederates (Washington being the notable exception) – there was a huge statue of Stonewall Jackson; there was a statue of Robert E. Lee in the Capitol building; there was even a statue (from 1906) of William “Extra Billy” Smith, who was the oldest Confederate General and was a two-time Governor of Virginia.

We also toured the White House of the Confederacy that day. Today, its web page features an exhibit on the development of the Lost Cause mythos and its effect on current culture; back then, the museum glorified the Lost Cause. The photo from the museum that I find most illustrative is not of anything from the Civil War era – it’s a fish from Richmond’s 2001 “Go Fish!” street sculpture project.

The text at the bottom of the plaque reads “Confederate History for All Virginians” – something to think about.

Happy Juneteenth!

Shelter-in-Place Journal, Day Ninety-Four

Like everyone else, Diane and I have been doing a lot of video calls for the last three months. If we’re together on a call, it’s nice to put it on the big TV in the family room – but that means using a webcam, since the TV doesn’t have a built-in camera (go figure!). We’ve been using alternate firmware on a WyzeCam – it’s got a wide-angle lens, so the picture is a little distorted, and the sound is so muddy we had to use an external microphone. I wanted something better, but early in the lockdown, webcams were almost as hard to find as toilet paper.

On April 12, I saw an ad on Facebook for a webcam from a supplier in China. Their ad and their website led me to assume that it would arrive within a couple of weeks. “Assume” is, of course, a dangerous verb.

Two weeks later, I wrote the supplier and asked what was going on – they said they were in the burn-in process. A week later (April 30) I got a tracking number and thought “I’ll have it soon”. They even gave me a link to a tracking site which showed a status of “shipment authorized” in Shenzhen.

On May 8, I got a message from the USPS telling me that a shipping partner had picked up a package for me in Inglewood, CA (LAX) but that the USPS had not yet received the item. I thought “surely it will be here soon!”

On May 23, the status changed to “Warehouse Shipment, ready for flight” (still in Shenzhen). It made it to Shanghai on May 27, to Inchon (Korea) on May 30, to Tokyo on June 2, and to a US port on June 7.

It cleared customs on June 9, and on June 13, it arrived at a “shipping partner facility, awaiting last mile delivery”.

Activity really picked up late on June 16 – the package arrived at Brisbane, CA (near SFO, less than 50 miles from here) and in quick succession went through three status updates: “Arrived Shipping Partner Facility, USPS Awaiting Item”, “Shipping Partner: Pitney Bowes”, and at 3:15am June 17, it “Arrived at Shipping Facility”.

This morning, I was unsurprised to receive an update that it had been “Accepted at USPS Regional Facility”, but I was shocked to learn that the facility was in Des Moines, Iowa (1800 miles from here). On the other hand, the USPS is giving me an expected delivery date – one week from today, 74 days after I ordered the webcam. It’s the first expected delivery date I’ve had for this shipment, so I guess I should be happy, right?

In the meantime, Amcrest, who made the camera mounted on my garage, emailed me to say that they had webcams available and in stock on Amazon. I ordered this one on Sunday and it arrived today, as promised. It works.

We’ve got a place to use the other webcam if it ever gets here, but it may be a while before I order anything else from a Facebook ad.

Shelter-in-Place Journal, Day Ninety-Three

Happy Medicare Birthday to my brother!

A few days ago, I decided I needed an app to track packages. The Mac podcasts I listened to have raved about an app called Deliveries (from JuneCloud) for years; it was $4.99 on the App Store, so I bought it. It works well for USPS, UPS, FedEx, and DHL tracking; you can even give it access to your Amazon account and it will track Amazon orders no matter how they’re shipped (and even before they’re shipped). It has an Apple Watch app; there’s also a Mac app, but it costs another $5. It’s attractive and makes good use of notifications.

But…it doesn’t support FEIA, the carrier that’s delivering my webcam. Instead, I wound up using to track that package – and after a while, I decided to try their iPhone app, Parcels (free, with optional in-app purchases).

Parcels is not as pretty as Deliveries, doesn’t have a Watch app as far as I can tell, and doesn’t have a Mac app. Notifications require a subscription ($3.49/year, which also turns off the ads, which are pretty annoying). But it tracks more carriers and goes into more detail. It imports orders from a few merchants (including Amazon and eBay), too.

If I’d realized how good Parcels was in its free mode, I would have tried it before buying Deliveries. But now I have both – I’m going to have to order more things!

If you’re looking for a package tracker, try Parcels first; it may be all you need.

Shelter-in-Place Journal, Day Ninety-Two

We’re getting a little better at meal planning and shopping preparedness; this week, we had everything that we needed written down on one piece of paper and in a rational order for a short trip through the supermarket. And we almost stuck to our list – but at the end, we discovered that Diane’s cereal was on sale, so we bought a few boxes (we were standing in the cereal aisle waiting for the cashier anyway!). We have to pick up a couple of things at a different store tomorrow, but then I think we’ll be finished for the week.

We got our remaining airfare refunds for our cancelled trip to Iceland today. We also got a note from British Airways reminding us that if we want to cancel our flights to Portugal, they’d be happy to give us a voucher good through 2022. I plan to wait and see if they cancel the flight so we can get a real refund, but if all we can get is a voucher, it’ll be OK. I hope we can take a trans-Atlantic trip safely before 2022!

Shelter-in-Place Journal, Day Ninety-One

I was thrilled and astonished by the Supreme Court ruling on LGBT employment discrimination this morning – and even more astonished to find Gorsuch writing the opinion. SCOTUSBlog’s report is worth reading. I was also pleased that the Court refused to take up the Trump administration’s challenge to California’s sanctuary laws – this is the most hopeful I’ve been about the state of the country in months.

On our most recent (I don’t want to say “last”) cruise, we made friends with quite a few people and have even stayed Facebook friends with some of them. Today, though, we actually talked with one of our “new” friends and toured the outside of each other’s houses – it was a lot of fun, and something we should do more often!

Shelter-in-Place Journal, Day Ninety

The Los Gatos Farmers’ Market has “senior time” from 8-9am; we were there this morning during senior time to pick up our pre-ordered fish and see what else might look good – the answer was “strawberries, plums, apricots, tomatoes, and corn”. The answer nearly included cherries, but that farmer didn’t open until after 9, and we were long gone by then.

This afternoon, we indulged in a little culture and history, watching the National Theater’s broadcast of the Nottingham Playhouse’s production of The Madness of George III – it was excellent. I knew George III had suffered from mental illness after the Revolution, but I didn’t know the ramifications for English politics (I did some research after watching the play to find out more). It reminded me of the current situation in the US. The National Theatre’s stream is available through Wednesday, June 17th – I recommend watching if you can. We’ll also probably watch The Madness of King George sometime since it’s free on Amazon Prime.

There doesn’t seem to be any danger of running out of things to watch!

Shelter-in-Place Journal, Day Eighty-Nine

At Torah Study this morning, Rabbi Aron mentioned that the Executive Director of the Silicon Valley Jewish Film Festival would be hosting a discussion of Dough, which she described as a “silly movie”. Tonight, we watched the movie – “silly” is quite apt as a description. It’s a heartwarming and funny exploration of Islamic-Jewish relations, baking, real estate, and crime in Britain. I have watched SF and Fantasy movies which required less of a suspension of disbelief, but Diane and I both enjoyed it – if you have Amazon Prime, it’s free, and it’s only 95 minutes long.

We accompanied the movie with libations – back in the early ’90s, I brought back a liter of Bols from my first trip to Amsterdam. It has sat, unopened, from then until tonight (most of the time spent in the very back of a kitchen cabinet, forgotten from year to year). Tonight, I made an approximation of an Amsterdam Mule (I used ginger beer instead of the Bols Ginger) – it went well with the movie, though other substances easily available in Amsterdam would have fit the theme better.

Shelter-in-Place Journal, Day Eighty-Eight

We talked with our son today – he is in the middle of moving to a new apartment about a mile away from his old one. He’s schlepping most of his goods by walking them over to the new place – he said it was easier doing it this way than finding movers and he doesn’t have to worry about one of the movers having the virus. He is going to get help moving his bed, though. :-)

I’ve always been a fan of Anker cables and adapters – they’re reasonably priced, durable, and when I’ve had a problem, they’ve taken care of it immediately. But today, they sent me an advertisement which makes me wonder:

This is a 6-foot USB-to-Lightning cable – Anker sells the same cable without the gold-plating for about $35 and a previous-generation cable in white for $15. If you have the cash to waste on a cable decorated with a few cents’ worth of gold, may I suggest buying one of the less expensive models and donating the difference to a food bank?

I’m assuming Anker doesn’t really expect to sell many of these cables (they make Monster Cables look like price-performers), but there are a couple of “Verified Purchase” reviews on the product page, so I may be wrong!

Shabbat Shalom!

Shelter-in-Place Journal, Day Eighty-Seven

As usual, Thursday brought two Toastmasters meetings. The morning meeting was the Silver Tongued Cats – I’ve been Treasurer for the last two years, but I’ll be switching to the VP Public Relations role for next year; it’s a role I’ve never had, so it should be interesting. We are having an Open House next Thursday at 7:30am Pacific – all are welcome, just register here to get the Zoom link.

The other meeting was the club I’ve been mentoring, Toastrix at Citrix. I was the only speaker today; I started Level 2 of the Engaging Humor path with a speech about Quarantine Cooking (though I think I spent slightly more than half the time talking about cooking experiences in the Before Times).

Other than that, it was a quiet day (it helps that I mostly stayed off Twitter and Facebook). Onward to the weekend!

Shelter-in-Place Journal, Day Eighty-Six

Yesterday, the world came to see us and we went out to see the world.

Today, we took a morning walk before it got too hot and UPS dropped off a couple of packages, but that was about it for physical interactions.

Diane and I both worked on wrangling our photos this afternoon – she was on a Zoom “virtual crop” with her friends, and I was on Lightroom removing duplicate and triplicate photos from an IBM meeting in Japan in 2004. And this evening was online trivia from the Santa Clara City Library.

Tomorrow, I have two Toastmasters meetings and I’m giving a speech at one – the title is “Quarantine Cooking”. With luck, it’ll be tasty.

Shelter-in-Place Journal, Day Eighty-Five

Today was the day the world came to see us.

We’d asked our house cleaner to skip our house on what would have been her first March visit – of course, we paid her because we’d cancelled the session. And after that, she couldn’t come because of the shelter-in-place – we kept her on retainer, though, and paid as if she were working for us.

Last week, she texted and said that the relaxation of the shelter-in-place meant that she could clean our house today if we were willing. We talked about what she’d have to do to make us comfortable (and vice versa) and agreed to have her come over and clean today.

Her usual visit is just about two hours; we planned to leave as soon as she got here and stay out until she left (in other words, we were going to follow our usual Tuesday routine of a walk and grocery shopping). But she told us she’d need more time than usual to clean everything; I still hoped to stay away until she was finished, but while we were out, Rupert, the guy doing our deck repair and refinishing said he wanted to come over about noon and finish up.

We went home a little before noon; our housekeeper was still working but she was nearly finished – we stayed outside as much as we could until Rupert arrived and started removing boards from the deck and we had to retreat inside.

After a few minutes, she left and we took a look around – even though we’d been keeping things cleaner than usual, I could tell the difference that a professional makes!

Rupert finished an hour or so later – but he was outside and we were inside, so all was well, and with any luck, we won’t see him again for several years. :-)

I have to admit that having someone else in the house was a little unsettling – but I expect we’ll do it again in two weeks.

Shelter-in-Place Journal, Day Eighty-Four

When I started writing this blog twenty years ago, I didn’t know how long I was going to do it. There have been years when I’ve blogged most days, and years when I’ve only created two or three entries all year – it depends on what else is going on in my life.

Today marks a record – the eighty-fourth consecutive day that I’ve created an entry. It’s also the eighty-fourth day of our shelter-in-place order; that’s not exactly a coincidence. It helps me process what’s going on – sometimes I don’t publish everything I think about (for which I suspect my readers are grateful).

Back in February, we took our first (and probably only) overseas trip for the year, spending a couple of weeks in Costa Rica and Panama, including a trip through the Panama Canal. Early in the trip, we visited Doka Coffee Estate and I enjoyed their coffee a lot; in fact, I bought a bag and schlepped it with me through the whole trip. But I only brought a half-kilo, and it didn’t last very long. I’ve been trying to find Costa Rican coffee locally with limited success (the best I’ve found is a blend of Costa Rica and other beans from Intelligensia), so last week I gave up and ordered 3 kilos from Doka. I was afraid it would take a long time to arrive (I’m still waiting for the webcam I ordered on April 12), but it showed up earlier this evening, less than a week after they roasted it. It’ll be a few days before I open it (I want to finish what I have in hand), but I’m looking forward to it.

And I have a sneaking suspicion that I may still be blogging daily when I finish the coffee.

Shelter-in-Place Journal, Day Eighty-Three

Every day feels more normal, even though it isn’t.

Diane stayed home and planted scallions that we regrew from roots while I made a fast trip to the Farmers’ Market for fish, strawberries, corn, carrots, and tomatoes (not all of those were on the list when I left the house, but they looked good!).

Then we attended the Shir Hadash Congregational Meeting on Zoom; it went smoothly and was far better attended than the typical in-person meeting. No bagels, though.

I bought the carrots to use in a recipe for Chicken, Broccoli, and Cashew Stir-Fry that we’d cut out of Prevention magazine many years ago and had never made (we have a lot of recipes that we’ve cut out and never made). It came out pretty well and was fairly easy; I’d make it again.

And the weather was very pleasant today – we took a walk soon after lunch, when I would expect it to be far too hot to go out on a normal day in June. I managed to close all three rings on my Apple Watch every day this week, which is more unusual than I’d like.

Shelter-in-Place Journal, Day Eighty-Two

One of the things I really look forward to in late fall is the departure of pumpkin spice and the arrival of peppermint. And the thing I look forward to most of all is the arrival of peppermint bark.

I am, in general, not a fan of white chocolate. I agree with Sandra Boynton who said “Only a true purist would argue that white chocolate does not constitute real chocolate, since it is made from cocoa butter and sugar, lacking only the chocolate liquor. The same purist might argue that fructose and water don’t constitute real orange juice.” But I make an exception when it comes to peppermint bark – the white chocolate is a nice complement to the real chocolate and the peppermint.

Most years, I buy two or three boxes from Trader Joe’s and possibly one box from someone else, and it’s all gone soon after New Year’s. In 2019, the purchasing pattern was the same, but the consumption pattern was different.

The first box went fairly quickly (helped, no doubt, by our son’s being with us at Thanksgiving), but then I slowed down. They say that the first bite of a dessert is the best, and I took that idea to heart – instead of having one official serving of bark (half a square, 220 calories), I’d break the square into 9 or even 16 pieces and have one or two of them a day. And I wouldn’t even have bark every day.

I finally finished the last piece today (I far preferred the Trader Joe’s over the experimental box from Sur la Table, in case you’re keeping score). I think it was better a couple of months ago, but it was still worth having – and I’ll be looking forward to its return in November.

Shelter-in-Place Journal, Day Eighty-One

(That would be nine weeks if weeks had nine days each!)

It was laundry day today. I happened to be the one who took it out of the dryer and started putting it away. When that happens, I take care of all of my clothing and some of Diane’s since I know where it goes, but there’s some of Diane’s clothing that I don’t quite understand. Sometimes I leave it in the basket for her; other times, I fold it and leave it on the bed for her – but neither of those choices has made her happy.

Today, I decided to try something new – I separated the tops and the pants and put them flat on the bed. A little later, she told me “thank you for laying out the clothes so neatly and making it easy for me.”

It only took me 43 years to get it right! Sometimes, less is more.

Shelter-in-Place Journal, Day Eighty

When Diane and I first started working at IBM Boca Raton, Thursdays were special days. The cafeteria offered a “gourmet” meal and really good chocolate chip cookies every Thursday, and that was also the day when promotions and pay increases happened (not as often as the cookies, unfortunately). Even after IBM started telling us about raises on other days of the week, Diane and I would let the other know of a raise or promotion by saying “It’s Thursday”.

Today, I can say “It’s Thursday” as a Toastmaster. I’d finished all but one requirement for my second Distinguished Toastmaster award more than a year ago – the only thing left to do was coach, found, or mentor a club before June 30, 2020, when the old educational program ended. I didn’t think it would happen – I was traveling too much to commit to attending most meetings of a new club. But last October, I was asked if I could mentor a new club at Citrix in Santa Clara – the timing of the meetings worked for me and the club was willing to accept my schedule, so I was appointed (in theory, the club had been operational too long to have a formal mentor, but an exception was made).

I attended as many meetings as I could; then COVID-19 came, and my travel schedule disappeared, so I’ve been to every meeting since mid-February. I’ve even attended some officer meetings, which wouldn’t have happened if I would have had to drive up to Santa Clara. And yesterday, the club submitted the paperwork to formally grant me credit for my mentorship. Today, the Vice President Education of Silicon Valley Storytellers submitted the application to make me a DTM again, and the system worked – I was notified of the award this evening.

I’m still working with the club at Citrix and expect to continue for a while longer. I would think about joining officially, but the club is limited to Citrix employees – and I definitely don’t want to go work at Citrix (or anywhere else).

Now, if I could find some good chocolate chip cookies….

Shelter-in-Place Journal, Day Seventy-Nine

The heat returned today; we still managed to get our quota of steps and calories burned in, but it would have been nice to be able to do some of the walking in an air-conditioned mall!

Our travel agent for Iceland sent a note saying they’d cancelled our flights and would be refunding the fare to the credit card – I had expected to wind up with flight credit on Icelandic, so I was pleased. And that reminded me to check with American – they had rescheduled our flight home from Richmond by several hours, which should qualify us for a refund on that leg. I submitted the request and I’ll see what happens in a few days.

I finished pruning and editing our photos from 2002 – I went from 664 photos to 237, all geotagged and titled. A few of the photos started their lives as film – when I had them developed, I also had Kodak make digital copies, which I’m using. Some day, it would be nice to look at the actual film photos we’ve accumulated over the years, pick out the good ones, and get them digitized but it’s going to be a while!

Shelter-in-Place Journal, Day Seventy-Eight

I am privileged to be able to shelter-in-place comfortably.

I am privileged to live in an area which has not been significantly affected by protests, riots, or police oppression and brutality.

I am privileged to be able to walk down the street without worrying about drawing undue attention to myself because of my skin color or accent.

I am privileged not to have ever had to worry about where my next meal was coming from, whether I could afford medical care, or whether I was in danger of losing my home.

Far too many people can’t make all of these statements – or any of them – in the richest country that the world has ever seen.

No one should be without medical care. No one should have to worry about their next meal. No one should have to live on the streets. No one should have to worry about being presumed guilty – or assaulted or murdered – because of their skin color or accent.

I cannot solve these problems, but neither can I desist from the work of solving them. I can be an ally. I can put money where my mouth is. I can vote.

Black lives matter because black lives are human lives. Black lives matter because black lives are under attack. Black lives matter because all lives matter.

(From Chainsawsuit by Kris Straub)

Shelter-in-Place Journal, Day Seventy-Seven

I haven’t been listening to SiriusXM much of late – I mostly listened in the car or the gym if I was caught up on podcasts, and none of those conditions have applied for at least eleven weeks. This morning, I got a note that they’d be renewing my subscription automatically in ten days at full price (nearly $30/month), so I sprang into action.

My first step was to call them – naturally, they claimed “longer than usual wait times” but their automated system offered me a better deal than I’d even gotten from them when I’d negotiated in past years – $10/month for “All Access”. That was more than I wanted to pay, so I told the system “No”, and it instantly signed me up for the offer.

I then tried their chat and was immediately connected to an agent – a couple of minutes later, I was signed up for a year of their “Select” package for $5/month, which I was willing to pay (I hope to be back in the car and the gym sometime in the next 12 months!). I lose Howard Stern and some sports channels, but I never listened to any of those channels anyway.

JetBlue changed our flight from Boston to Richmond by seven hours, which made us eligible to get a refund instead of just a flight credit. I tried cancelling online, but the website only offered credit, so I had to call them. Fifty-five minutes later (fifty-two of which were spent listening to the hold music – to JetBlue’s credit, it was a decent set of songs), the reservation was cancelled and the money should be on my card in 7-10 business days.

And all of that helped me avoid obsessing about the news. For a little bit.