Pandemic Journal, Day 471

Today was my first day not being a Toastmasters officer in a decade, so of course I celebrated by going to two Toastmasters meetings: my own club’s, where I was Table Topics Master, and Toastrix, the club I used to mentor, where I was a guest.

At my club, the theme was “Immigration Dreams” and there was only one project, a panel discussion with the moderator (from the Czech Republic) and three other panelists (from Taiwan, India, and England). They told about their experiences coming to America and California (they all had DMV stories!) and adjusting to the US – it was a very interesting session and the time flew by.

The theme inspired my questions, like asking one of our US-born members what “immigrant-centric” food stores he liked (he picked two of my favorites, International Food Bazaar and India Cash and Carry), or asking one of our immigrants what he first thought of American food (that one didn’t work out quite as well – he’d come to the US at age 7!).

Toastrix also had only one speech at their meeting, about the opportunities the speaker had had when studied abroad for a year in college – the college wasn’t well-organized to help, and when she returned, they offered her a job helping other students go abroad! I was happy to see that the club has been doing well, despite the pandemic; I hope to visit them in person again.

And that was about it for today, other than continuing to excavate; there are flat surfaces visible that hadn’t seen the light of day for many moons, like much of the kitchen desk. Yesterday, it was piled high with newspapers and clipped-out recipes; today, there are several square feet that have nothing on them (the rest of the desk is covered with a computer, pads of paper, a handie-talkie, pens, and cables – but most of that belongs on the desk). Another step in the right direction; there are more to come, and I hope they’re equally uninteresting.

Pandemic Journal, Day 470

It is a truth universally acknowledged that Nature abhors a vacuum.

In our family, that truth has a corollary: we abhor an empty flat surface. And that works well enough most of the time.

But we’re about to do something we haven’t done for a very long time – host a visitor for a few days. A visitor who isn’t even related to either of us. And who probably doesn’t have to see everything that’s found its way to a formerly-empty flat surface.

So we’ve begun a clearing and organizing project. And by “we”, I mostly mean Diane so far – she has taken on the challenge of getting all of the travel souvenirs we’ve accumulated in the past few years off of flat surfaces and into folders, envelopes, and files. With labels.

It’s a lot of work! And it required finding an unused empty flat surface to use as a staging area – about the only thing available was our bed!

Of course, that particular flat surface has to be cleared at night, but we’re motivated to deal with it instead of postponing the task (which is how we filled up all the other flat surfaces).

My turn is coming, of course. I’m lucky, though – there’s less material of sentimental value in my stacks of stuff. Anybody interested in a partially completed Immunization Consent Form?

Pandemic Journal, Day 469

I’m not sure if I’m happy or annoyed that both Toastmasters and Shir Hadash observe the same fiscal year, but it does mean that I’ve been busy today getting ready for the transitions which will happen on Thursday.

I got a request from the Toastmasters District Director to help the Webmaster team redo the email forwarding for the new year, so I sent a note with instructions (and an offer to help if needed).

At the club level, I made sure the new Treasurer, VP Public Relations, and President have the information they’ll need to deal with our web host, and I pulled together the paperwork to give to the new Treasurer (my term as Treasurer ended last year, but I never got a chance to give the stuff to this year’s Treasurer – I’m sure she didn’t miss having to keep track of it for a year).

And on the Shir Hadash side of things, I started organizing the first Ritual Committee meeting of the new year, as well as sending the High Holiday Honors information to our Interim Rabbi so he’d know what we’d done in years past.

Despite spending most of the day glued to the screen, we did manage to get a couple of walks in, so here’s Lily Du Jour:

Pandemic Journal, Day 468

We tried another new recipe today – a Greek Salad Sandwich. We made it with Trader Joe’s Whole Wheat Pita Bread instead of the suggested English muffin; it was worth repeating (though I might try a different pita next time – the Joe’s pita was very thin and the sandwich leaked a lot). It’s not a big meal, but it was surprisingly satisfying.

Greek Salad Sandwich
Tonight was the Silicon Valley Storytellers 8th Anniversary Meeting. It’s the club’s custom to finish every year with a Story Slam, where members compete for prizes by telling 3-5 minute stories that incorporate the meeting theme. This year’s theme was “Infinity”.

I signed up as a speaker weeks ago and promptly forgot about it – I had photos to edit, recipes to try, and newspapers to read. But it came back to me on Sunday morning when I looked at the week’s calendar. I didn’t really have a story dealing with infinity, but I did come up with a title: “All the Time in the World”.

And that made me think of friends and family who died early; friends who nearly died but didn’t; and people who fled one danger only to die in a different way (like the Paraguayan President’s sister-in-law, who came to the US to get a Covid vaccination but stayed in the condo that collapsed last week). And that gave me a foundational phrase for the speech: “they had all the time in the world…until they didn’t.”

This morning, I looked in the Virginia Death Records for two of the people I wanted to talk about. Carol was my age; she died at age 13 from familial dysautonomia. The other was my cousin Ruby, who taught me to play bridge when I was very little and died suddenly at age 67 – the same age I am today.

I also talked about a classmate’s husband who keeled over at our most recent high school reunion – I called 911 while people gave him CPR and used a defilibrator to get his heart beating again before the paramedics arrived. He survived and recovered, and I expect to see him in October for our next reunion.

And then, just before the meeting started, I glanced at Facebook and found out that there had been a 4.2 earthquake just a few minutes before – and that gave me my ending.

The club voted on the three top speeches – mine was one of them, and the prize was an Amazon gift card.

Last night, I nearly withdrew from the contest because I didn’t have a coherent story in mind; I’m glad I didn’t. I may not have had all the time in the world, but I had enough!

Pandemic Journal, Day 467

This afternoon, we went to Shir Hadash’s first in-person masks-optional no-reservations-required-if-you’re-vaccinated social event since last March – an outdoor Klezmer concert by Jeannette Lewicki, Sheldon Brown, and Richard Saunders (from the San Francisco Klezmer Experience).

About 100 people were there enjoying the music – some (not us) even danced to tunes like “Zemer Atik”.

The “stage” was the patio in front of the Sanctuary and the audience sat in the parking lot.

It was a great way to spend Sunday afternoon.

Pandemic Journal, Day 466

Lance Milbrand is a videographer whose videos have been featured as part of the CBS Sunday Morning “Moment in Nature” segment, most recently with a video of Muir Woods. He’s also a member of the Silver Tongued Cats Toastmasters.

I helped him with an email problem a few weeks ago – somehow, Verizon had set up one of his email accounts as a POP account so he could only access it on his phone, not his computer – I walked him through converting to IMAP so he could use it both places. In return, he offered to help me with photography issues, and said I really needed to learn about tone curves.

I haven’t taken him up on his offer yet. This morning, though, I was thinking about the Moon photos I posted last night and how they weren’t quite what I remember seeing – and the words “tone curve” came to mind.

I sat down with Lightroom today and started with the same photo I used last night – 1/2500 second, so it was quite dim. This time, I played with the tone curve right after cropping the photo and boosting the exposure – I made Lightroom map the small part of the luminance range that was actually in the photo to the full 0-255 range. I still had to do more fiddling to get to the image I wanted, but it’s much closer to what I remembered seeing – and I didn’t have to go to Photoshop to remove speckles from the dark sky!


Thanks, Lance – now I can declare victory on one project!

Pandemic Journal, Day 465

We made our first visit to Costco in a very long time this morning so that Diane could get her Hepatitis A vaccination (I decided to wait until after I’ve finished with at least the first round of my new medications – and maybe I’ll find the missing vaccination card and not have to do it at all!).

While she was waiting at the pharmacy, I wandered through the warehouse picking up the other items we needed. It seemed strange to find that they had ample supplies of toilet paper, facial tissue, and paper towels – and there were even a few food samples on offer (in wrapped paper bags, not open on a tray). The selection of SD cards was more limited than before the pandemic, which was disappointing (I didn’t want to buy 256GB cards with Nintendo characters on them). And we wound up not visiting the wine isle after all; by the time Diane had gotten her shot (every step of the process seemed to need a long wait), we were ready to go home.

Last night, when I saw the Strawberry Supermoon, I knew I had to take a photo of it. I don’t have a tripod, so I had to do a hand-held exposure. At first, I left the camera on automatic, and it decided to take a 1.3-second shot – the Moon got completely burnt out, but you can see the power lines in the photo! (All photos in this post have been cropped, of course.)

1.3 seconds of the Moon

I put the camera in manual mode and set it for 1/2500 and got this photo – not bad, but much dimmer than the real thing (I tried slightly faster shutter speeds and got significantly blurrier images).

Moon at 1/2500 second

I brought it into Lightroom and bumped the exposure by 4.1 f-stops, put the contrast all the way up, reduced the highlights, boosted the shadows, reduced the whites and the blacks, and used the dehaze filter at full power to get this photo, which I put on Facebook last night:

Manipulating the brightness

But bumping the exposure and especially the shadows had brought out all sorts of random photons that the camera had seen in the black part of the sky; the speckled effect was interesting, but not quite what I wanted. So this evening, I went into Photoshop and got rid of everything but the Moon itself – and that’s the photo at the top of this post.

My cousin raised an interesting question of Facebook after I posted the photo with the speckles – was it still a photo of the Moon after I did the manipulation, or was it “my personal computer art work”? I think it’s a photo – but I did definitely have to give the camera some help!

Shabbat Shalom!

Pandemic Journal, Day 464

It was another busy medical day today. Our chiropractor returned from vacation, so we made sure to get to his office early to avoid having a long wait, and it worked.

I had an appointment with my allergist at 11am and got there right on the dot. They’re still adapting to their new electronic medical record system, I guess, because I didn’t get called by the receptionist until 11:30 and didn’t get to see the nurse until 11:55am – and the doctor was still working with the previous patient. But when he finally got to me, he spent a long time with me (close to an hour). He looked at my CT scan and wasn’t surprised by what he saw – infection, fluid where there should be air, and other issues; he even showed me what he was seeing.

At the end of the appointment, I had prescriptions for prednisone, an antibiotic (Biaxin), and an antihistamine (Atarax) to help me sleep when the prednisone kicks in. Somewhat to my surprise, CVS was able to fill them all by dinnertime tonight, so I’ve already started on my new regimen – it’s complicated enough that I made a spreadsheet to keep track. And I decided I’d best put off my Hepatitis A vaccination until after I finish the prednisone (and maybe the Biaxin, too – I’ll be taking it for a full month).

If I’m testy for the next couple of weeks, I’m blaming the medications!

Artichoke Thistles

Pandemic Journal, Day 463

Diane and I want to be vaccinated against Hepatitis A before we go to Africa this fall. She definitely needs the first shot soon (and the second shot after we return); I’d rather avoid unnecessary shots.

I’ve made two trips to regions which have a high Hepatitis A risk – Brazil in 1993 and China in 2005. There was no vaccine available in 1993, so I went to the Santa Clara County Travel Clinic and got a gamma globulin injection; I also avoided uncooked fruit and vegetables like the plague, even though they looked delicious and I was staying at a five-star hotel.

In 2005, I think I got the Hepatitis A vaccine before my trip, probably at the Travel Clinic, but I can’t find any record of it. I can see the immunization record card in my mind’s eye, but I can’t find the real thing (nor a copy of it). My doctor’s office shows me getting a dose of the vaccine in 2006, after the China trip, which would give me lifetime immunity if it was my second dose but is useless to me if it wasn’t.

The Travel Clinic has been closed since March of last year, so I can’t check to see if they still have my records, so I guess I’ll get the shot anyway. Costco offers the vaccine at a reasonable price, so we’re planning to make our first post-pandemic in-person visit to Costco this week. I expect we’ll visit the wine aisle as long as we’re there, too!

Sunset cloudscape

The weather today was very pleasant, though we’re in for a hot weekend. I enjoyed the cloudscape on our evening walk, too.

Pandemic Journal, Day 462

SPOILER ALERT — If you are only part-way through the first season of Ted Lasso, stop reading and come back when you’ve finished the season.

I grew up in Richmond, Virginia, which was named after Richmond, England, so I had a little bit of extra affinity with AFC Richmond while watching Ted Lasso, and I was sorry when they lost the last match and were relegated. I’m looking forward to the next season to see if they can get back to the top rung.

I also play trivia in Learned League – I’ve spent the last 10 seasons in Rundle A (the top level of five). Yesterday was the last day of the season; I was sitting in 24th place and looking at relegation. I could avoid it if I had a better result than the person ahead of me – so naturally, I wanted to win. I was disappointed to only get 4 of 6 questions right, but I had hope – and when I woke up this morning and checked the results, I was happy to find that I’d won. So had the guy above me, so I got relegated anyway.

But there was something curious about my win – my opponent had NO correct answers, after getting all six right the day before. A zero match day is very unusual in an A Rundle – it usually happens if someone is expelled for cheating, withdraws, or dies. And when I looked on the Memorial Wall, my opponent was newly listed there.

Being relegated was much less important after seeing that news.