All posts by larye

Larye has been messing around with computers for 50 years. After getting his own computer after 20 years of systems and hardware engineering at Univac, he was unhappy with "that program loader from Microsoft," DOS. He was even more unhappy with the "bag on the side of a kludge" that was Windows 2.0. Dumping both, he has been a happy Unix user ever since 1990, a professional Unix systems administrator since 1996, and a bioinformatics programmer since 2001. He has been developing web sites and applications since 1998. When he can pry his fingers off the keyboard, he can be found riding his bike, making quilts, weaving, or building airplanes.

Memory Leaks: Programming in Retirement

What “retired” software engineers do: keep making software. A project I’ve been putting off for a long time, having been interrupted from time to time with medical issues and other projects, including learning Python, which I avoided for many years, writing in PHP, Perl, and Ruby instead. Python is the current “most popular” cross-platform programming language and has a lot of library support, so the likelihood of someone else [younger] being able to maintain this project in the future is good.
 
But making progress on it now: Starting with 619 photos of pages and items from “sample books” of handwoven patterns, containing notes and actual fabric samples made by weaving guild members up to 50 years ago. The books were too fragile to allow members to peruse them, so one of our members carefully photographed each item and the books put in storage. I’ve processed the photos to enhance the contrast from the faded and yellowed pages so the writing is legible, and put the binary images into a database, organizing them in 186 separate sets, with one to eight images per sample.
I’m now writing code to display the samples and provide forms to manually digitize the information in the notes, to make them searchable. In the screenshot, left to right: Python language reference (on-line), four “sandbox” terminal windows with, clockwise from top left, shell to launch programs, database “sandbox” to test query construction, Python “sandbox” to test methods and objects in code, and code from a demo script I wrote some time ago to explore methods of displaying images from the database, from which to copy code into the full project files. Yes, there are three monitors attached to my computer. The monitor on the right is the editor screen for four of the files I’m currently working on, that interact with each other to select, retrieve, and display the data.

Expedition 2022, part 1: California, Here We Come.

At the start of Year 3 of the ‘Rona Plague (COVID-19, COVID-20 (aka SARS-COV2-d) , COVID-21 (aka SARS-COV2-o), we began scrapping our plans for a grand tour to visit relatives we haven’t seen in two years, and especially events involving large groups of people who may or may not be vaccinated and who may or may not wear masks indoors and may or may not have variant π or ρ, or whatever the next wave of new highly infectious or highly virulent strain of SARS-COV2 pops up to ravage the unwary.

Viruses are like that, especially RNA viruses, which come in single strands of RNA, thus have no repair facility. RNA viruses therefore mutate rapidly under evolutionary pressure, rendering last week’s anti-viral treatment and last month’s vaccine useless, spreading even more easily to those it doesn’t kill outright. Avoidance of exposure and limiting the replication rate through vaccinations that bolster the immune system is the only way to slow the rate of change and rate of spread among the population.

Therefore, we mask, and we avoid, and we vaccinate. Our avoidance technique doesn’t involve isolating in our home or on a mountaintop, but simply not exposing ourselves to strangers as much as possible. We still can travel, but we camp and stay at our timeshare resorts, where we have our own kitchen. We stay out of restaurants and shop “in person” only when necessary.

So, Expedition 2022 is very much like Expedition 2021, with even greater precautions. We’ve increased the size of our refrigerator to reduce the need to shop for food so often, and added electrical capacity to our camping van to enable us to camp off-grid or at less-crowded camping facilities, including boondocking, moochdocking (parking in driveways of friends and family to avoid long indoor exposure), and overnighting in rest areas and parking lots of businesses and jurisdictions that permit such use. It’s not something we’re totally comfortable with, but the days of eating out and staying in motels is over, perhaps indefinitely, if not forever.

Van upgrades: New, larger refrigerator with built-in thermostat replaces the tiny “back seat” car ‘fridge.

We’re also older, so we don’t travel as far every day while on “Expedition.” We need to keep lodging and meal costs to a minimum when it takes twice as long to get to some specific distant destination. Unfortunately, inflation and the fact that a huge number of other people have the same idea makes food, fuel, and campgrounds much more expensive. Campgrounds now cost as much or more than we used to pay for motels, take-out ready-to-eat meals are as expensive as fine dining used to be, and carrying our accommodation with us reduces our fuel efficiency from 40 miles per gallon to less than 20, and those gallons cost at least a dollar more each than they did a few years ago. As pensioners, our income is the same as it was in 2010, while everything as gone up at least 20% if not doubled since then.

Nevertheless, our “need to wander” found us on the road again in mid-January, headed south for milder weather and flat terrain where we can ride our bicycle and avoid other people. The big issue is finding inexpensive and legal places to park our van, which will determine how long we can afford to extend our travels.

To friends and family, we’re sorry: another year of minimal contact is before us. But, we hope to keep in touch and share our adventures through social media, videos, and blogs, and are eager to hear how others are coping with “The Way Things Are.”

Elk in the campground at Fort Stevens, Oregon

Day 1: Eager to get on the road and have time to explore, we ducked out in the middle of one of our many virtual meetings on Zoom to head for the coast, crossing the Megler-Astoria Bridge across the Columbia River into Oregon, where we had time to refuel (Safeway Reward points go a long way with a big fuel tank) and select a campsite before dark. Being off on the spur-of-the-moment, more or less, we couldn’t make a reservation, but Fort Stevens has two loops set aside for no-reservation campers. We picked N-29, right next to N-31, where we stayed a bit over two years ago on a whim. We had time for a short hike around the loop and to the nearby Coffenbury Lake, one of the long, narrow lakes that form between the ranks of dunes along the northwest Pacific coast near the mouths of great rivers.

Evening hike along Coffenbury Lake, near camp.

Day 2

The clear night dropped the temperature to near freezing, so we didn’t linger in the morning and dropped our plan to ride our bicycle on the relatively flat peninsula. We elected instead to do some sight-seeing along the coast, rather than just drive through the two-lane, twisting, up-and-down US 101. Of course, being the first sunny Saturday in a long time, all of the coastal beach towns, beaches, and trailheads were parked up and overflowing as Portlanders rushed out of the city to the beach.

Neakahnie Beach, Oregon Coast.

We had trouble finding places to pull over and eat out of our food stores in the van, and certainly no way to get to a beach. The highlight of the day was a brief excursion off the highway to revisit the Latimer Quilt and Textile Center outside of Tillamook, a favorite stop on the coast and a destination for some of our trips in the past century. We also found a spot to “eat lunch on the beach,” a muddy parking spot at a fishing access point far off the Three Capes Scenic Route. At that, we pulled into the last parking spot as someone was leaving and another was waiting as we pulled out.

Mural at Latimer Textile Center, Tillamook, Oregon

We had made reservations at an RV campground near Waldport, which, when we arrived, was nearly deserted, but at least we had a packet waiting for us outside the closed office. We made a quick photo op dash across the Alsea Bay Bridge, a 1991 replacement for one of the iconic Art Deco and Gothic bridges that span the bays and rivers along US 101, dating from the 1930s when the highway was built. Although the day warmed up, sunset brought a chill, and we’re glad we installed a small electric heater.

Alsea Bay Bridge, Waldport, Oregon

We’ve discovered we forgot to pack a lot of things we normally bring with us, but are making do without. We both forgot the computer mice, but I keep two spares in my bag [having done this before], so we’re good. So far, we’ve managed to keep comfortable and fed, though with cold meals and boiling water for tea outside (I also forgot our small electric kettle we picked up a couple of years ago but rarely use). Our portable power unit AC inverter seems to have gone on strike, but so far we’ve had electrical hookups in camp, so not missing it—yet. The power failure is disappointing: it was an expensive addition, but with inadequate capacity and now malfunction. So it goes.

“Coffee Outside,” one of the joys of camping.

Day 3

We continued down the Oregon coast, lingering a while on the town boardwalk and pier at Bandon, since it was a warm and sunny day. Crossing into California, we checked in at our RV campground, a few miles north of Crescent City, then drove downtown to ride our bicycle along the beach road between the lighthouse and St. George Point, grabbing some ready-to-eat from the local grocery before settling in for the night.

Day 4

Forgetting that California has the highest fuel prices in the US, $5.00/gallon, rivaling those of Canada ($5.32USD/gallon), we consulted our pricing app, and gassed up at a tribal station a few miles south, with the lowest prices in the county. Even so, the pump shut off before the tank was full: there’s a $100 limit on debit/credit purchases. We topped off at Costco in Eureka, which was a few cents lower, for another $25, and picked up some supplies.

Judy is dwarfed by the root ball of a fallen giant redwood.

The rest of the day, we took the scenic drives through the redwood forests, both State and Federal, then down into increasingly urban Northern California, arriving on schedule at Windsor, where we would spend the next week exploring Sonoma County by van and bicycle.

Day 5

We checked out Healdsburg, an old winery town to the north, getting our bearings on the surroundings.  We confined our shopping to a few inexpensive tools at the kitchen shop in this touristic little town.

Day 6

A bicycle day: we rode a loop route from the resort to Riverside Regional Park, a hilly excursion past many wineries and fields of grapes. At the park, we tackled the gravel trail through the park, though the complete loop around the lake was blocked off on one side for habitat restoration.

Day 7

In the van again, we scouted out places to go to the south, getting lost in Santa Rosa and making our way in a circuit to check out the trails near Forestville and Sebastopol.

Day 8

A bicycle day, riding the Joe Rodota Trail, an old rail line between downtown Sebastopol and downtown Santa Rosa: the last mile on the Prince Memorial Greenway, to the Luther Burbank House and Garden, where we enjoyed looking at plants blooming much earlier than at home. Within the city of Santa Rosa, many of the trail users were unhoused folk, much as we see on the urban trails in Olympia. But, the trail was a delight, pedaled with much less effort (max heart rate: 108) than the hilly rural loop through the wine country around Windsor (max heart rate 160).

Day 9

Off to Guerneville, a village on the Russian River, in search of eclectic bargains, which we found, along with the ever-present array of homeless on the streets and in the parks.

The old CA 116 bridge, Guerneville, CA, now part of the riverfront park

Day 10

Another van excursion, stopping first in Santa Rosa at Costco for $4.50 gas (which didn’t fill the tank: $100 limit) . We went west, to the village of Bodega, the setting for Alfred Hitchcock’s film “The Birds,” where we also found an artist’s co-op and a coffee shop with great chai and yerba maté .

The church at Bodega, featured in the 1963 Alfred Hitchcock film “The Birds”

We continued on to Bodega Bay and up the switchbacks and dizzying views on CA 1 along the cliffs and canyons north to Fort Ross (Крѣпость Россъ), named for the Russian Empire. The fort was a Russian colony built in the early 19th century to supply Russian outposts in Alaska with food and furs. The fortification was necessary to keep the Spanish colonies in the San Francisco Bay area from encroaching on their territory.

California coast, between Bodega Bay and the Russian River

The soil proved too barren to be profitable, and the land was sold in the early 1840s to American developers. But, the Russian influence on the Sonoma Coast continues to echo today. The fort was restored in the early 20th century as an historical park, and is maintained in “like new” condition. We traced our way back up the Russian River through Guerneville, following our previous bicycle route back to the resort. We spun our wheels briefly on the one short steep climb, so didn’t feel bad about having had to push our bike on that one.

Fort Ross: officer’s quarters and chapel

Day 11

After another “informational presentation” at the resort that devolved into the usual ruthless sales pitch, we stood firm against upgrading yet again, and were summarily shown the door, starting our journey back north with the usual foul mood that follows otherwise pleasant stays at these venues, when we’ve been trapped into the high-pressure sales tag-team sessions.

By now, we had decided that winter camping was expensive, so headed north instead of venturing inland or farther south. Not wanting to repeat the harrowing section of the coast highway between Jenner and Fort Ross again, we drove up US 101 to Cloverdale, and headed west. The first half of the mountain road had a few switchbacks, but was relatively tame. The GPS directed us to the southwest at Booneville, where we took a cookie break at the bakery. The rest of the route proved to be a narrow, winding rough path with many switchbacks and 16% grades, which triggered Judy’s innate fear of such roads.

Certificate the KOA gives out to guests who followed their GPS on the harrowing and steep mountina road “shortcut” from Booneville to Manchester.

When we finally arrived at the coast, the camp host presented her with a certificate of achievement for having endured the route. We took a short walk toward the beach in the chilly gale, but soon turned back and battened down for a cold and windy night.

Manchester Beach dunes
The cold and windy low dunes near Manchester Beach, California.

Day 12

Electing not to try to make coffee outside in the chilly morning, we continued north to Fort Bragg, the last and only reasonably-sized town on the north coast highway, stopping for coffee and to replenish our supplies before another hair-raising, frightful twisting and turning switchback-laden journey over the mountains back to US 101, where we picked up hot lunch at a grocery deli in Garberville and had a reprise of our trip through the Avenue of the Giants before camping near the Eel River just north of the state park. Electricity for our heater necessitates seeking out commercial RV parks with hookups. This one was reasonably priced, but no cell service for the second night in a row, and no WiFi, of course. The previous night, WiFi was available, but at about $1 per minute, speed limited. No thanks. At tonight’s camp, it was cold, but sheltered enough to brew up a moka pot of coffee before yet another cold meal.

Camp near the Avenue of the Giants, Humbolt County, CA

Day 13

The day dawned cold, but we managed to get coffee brewed and the condensation off the windshield, then off on US 101 north, into Oregon. After two days and nights with no phone service and no WiFi, we used the paper campground guide and set course for a mid-afternoon arrival at an RV park in a grove away from the coast and between two small towns: affordable and relatively deserted this time of year. Clouds dispelled the sunshine of the past week in California, and the campground showed signs of recent heavy rains. We were beginning to feel more like home. Unlike the last two nights, the restrooms were heated, very clean, and the showers were hot. We leveraged our grizzled looks to score the campsite closest to the restrooms, as we often do. We have WiFi, though severely throttled as is usual with RV campgrounds, and spotty phone service. We’re settling in to shorter days on the road.

 

We had to add a few gallons of fuel to get us over the border, then filled up in Oregon, though only $0.50 a gallon less than we paid in California. At least we got a full tank without hitting the $100 card limit, but just barely. So far, we’ve put over $400 in the tank, and camping has cost us nearly as much as we used to pay for motels in the Before Times. California was fastidious about COVID rules and masking: Oregon, not so much. We’re thinking spring and warmer temperatures may see us staying close to home and camping without electric hookups.

Day 14

Breakkfast on the Boardwalk, Bandon, Oregon.

It occurred to me, as I arose in the chilly and damp morning, that the weather had turned back to normal winter on the coast, and that we could, if we headed inland to I-5, make it home before dark, so we packed up, headed to Bandon, 20 miles north, for breakfast in the truck on the boardwalk, drove in thick coastal fog north, stopped for coffee at Coos Bay, where the fog cleared, and turned inland at Reedsport, following the Umpqua River to Drain, then through a tunnel into the Willamette Valley and I-5, south of Cottage Grove. We stopped at the Winco in Salem for some ready-to-eat lunch: no non-meat hot lunch (disappointment!), so we got a couple of yogurt parfaits and a pumpkin pie, which turned out to be frozen solid. Nevertheless, we ate, got back on the road, joining the freeway melee through Portland and across the Columbia into Washington. We rolled into our usual Costco in Tumwater on fumes, refueled for just under $100, and got home in time to pick up our mail at the post office.

Epilogue:

Cold house (we turned the thermostat down before we left). Cooked a hot meal, for a change, fell asleep in my chair next to the fireplace as we reheated the house, to bed early.  [Afterword: Thankfully, we came home early, because the furnace went out two days later, on Sunday morning, filling the house with the odor of burning motor wiring and prompting an after-hours charge to have the blower fan replaced.]

We have a few more things we need to do to make the van a better travel and camping venue, like more battery or A/C lighting for the back of the van, and a better means of securing our new refrigerator for travel. We found we needed to empty and stow the dehumidifier when in motion, as it tipped over when nearly full when mounting a ramp into a parking lot. We’ll probably liberate a small electric vacuum to take care of the tracking in from campsites, and maybe an outdoor rug for longer camp stays.

The new battery worked great to keep things running without draining the power unit. But, sadly, the A/C inverter in the power unit failed to switch on, leaving us with only shore power or DC for the trip. It’s under warranty, but a nuisance to deal with failure less than a year into this new setup. We also have some DC plugs that don’t work for some reason.

We found that the little 375/750-watt heater we put on top of the cabinet worked better if we turned on the 12-volt fan also on top of the cabinet, to push more air to the back of the van. Since we aren’t using the small back-seat refrigerator anymore, I can re-purpose the thermostat from that and reprogram the computer to turn on the extra fan for heating or cooling to circulate more air in the van interior. We can also use that to control the ceiling vent when we get that installed after the rainy season is over.

Using the satellite radio with a FM transmitter to play on the van radio worked fine, but we probably need to find a more seldom-used frequency: we’ve passed a few stations on the same frequency that have swamped our little unlicensed signal in our travels across the country. We also need to remember to bring our portable radio so we can listen to radio in camp when the van radio isn’t on.

Because of the need to run supplemental electric heat in winter, we stayed at paid RV campgrounds and state parks that offered electric hookups instead of trying to find dry, “stealth,” or boondocking camping opportunities. The current high price of fuel and the increasing cost of campgrounds with amenities makes extensive travel cost-prohibitive, despite avoiding restaurants.  Still, we have that wanderlust to satisfy…  Stay tuned.

Herd Immunity: Why it Won’t Happen

COVID-19 is not going away, not now, possibly not ever.  “Herd immunity” isn’t possible,  and even if it was, politicization of the pandemic engenders misinformation and subsequent widespread opposition to the steps needed to achieve it, causing cycles of uncontrolled outbreaks and needless deaths.  Let’s discuss the reasons why these misconceptions persist.  Yes, this is an opinion piece, but backed up with references to scientific data.

Herd immunity;

As a means of reducing the incidence of the disease, “herd immunity,” which some facets of society advocate as the solution, is off the table, because we are not the only herd in the equation:  SARS-COV2 has been identified in white-tailed deer[1], native to most of North America. The deer are not affected by the virus, but are a repository for the virus.  This is a well-known disease vector for other zoonotic diseases like Lyme disease, which pass from an animal repository to humans through arachnid bites.  Even if all humans are vaccinated against the virus, which—in the present political and world economic environment—is never going to happen, the virus will always be in the environment, lurking in the woods, literally.

The good news is, if vaccination levels in humans is high enough, initial exposure through the animal vector, like the “bird flu” SARS virus of the early 21st Century, would be confined mostly to hunters and wildlife management workers, and can be more easily isolated.

The bad news is, the infection can spread person-to-person if not detected and isolated early.  Hunters need to be taught proper handling techniques, but compliance is not likely, considering that hunters tend to be in that segment of the population that currently disregards prophylactic procedures designed to limit spread of the virus, like masks, social distancing, vaccination, and quarantines.

Anti-vaccination politics:

Is it safe? Yes, it is safe: most of the objection on these grounds is fueled by disinformation and extreme exaggeration of the statistics, which include possibly unrelated medical events observed in the vaccinated population, for which there is no correlation.

There is also widespread misunderstanding of how the new technique of using messenger RNA to stimulate antibody production by translating the RNA to the spike protein that is the surface protein of the virus.  mRNA is an intermediate product in the molecular biology central dogma pipeline  and cannot be translated back into DNA in the body, therefore cannot alter our genomes, nor can it replicate, as the complete virus does after hijacking the replication mechanism of our cells.  That part of the virus RNA is missing: only the RNA that translates to the spike protein is present. Hence, the initial reaction to the translated spike protein is controlled, and passes quickly. [2]

Is it effective?  Yes: while cases of vaccinated persons contracting COVID-19 occur at small but statistically significant levels, the vast majority of persons hospitalized with COVID-19 and nearly all of the deaths attributed to the disease have been in the unvaccinated population. [3] Because the virus is rampant in the population, prudence dictates that we continue to use prophylaxis—hand washing, masks, and social distancing—to reduce probability of exposure, especially in mixed vaccinated/unvaccinated and non-compliant populations.

As far as how long it is effective, studies[4] conducted since widespread use of the vaccine indicates variable loss of efficacy over time among the different formulations, leading to recommendations for booster doses three to six months following initial one- or two-dose vaccinations.  Again, this is not unheard of for viral diseases, since viruses mutate rapidly and antibodies naturally dissipate somewhat over time: which is why we get an annual flu vaccination and boosters periodically for other diseases.

References:

[1] https://www.pnas.org/content/118/47/e2114828118

[2] https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/vaccines/different-vaccines/mRNA.html?s_cid=11344:how%20mrna%20vaccines%20work:sem.ga:p:RG:GM:gen:PTN:FY21

[3] https://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/volumes/70/wr/mm7037e1.htm

[4] https://www.thelancet.com/journals/lancet/article/PIIS0140-6736(21)02183-8/fulltext

Quarantine Diaries: Volume 2, Chapter 1; Clouds in My Coffee

[Donald,] you’re so vain
You probably think this [post] is about you…

(with apologies to Carly Simon)

It’s been a long time since the last episode in this diary of the Plague Years: not that I haven’t been writing, but the tumultuous events of the past 100+ days have been impossible to coherently catalog, beginning with the failed Insurrection, the subsequent elevation of Joseph the Pretender to the throne, and the retreat of Emperor Donald I to his castle by the sea, in exile, following the failure of the Republican Party to properly steal the November election, despite widespread voter suppression, and the nearly total dismantling the postal service in an attempt to stop mail-in voting.

Or perhaps, a Deep State Cabal engineered the defeat with massive voter fraud, miscounts, ballot-box stuffing, the dead brought out to vote, and other unspeakable (and possibly non-existent) nefarious tactics.  Why the Republicans assume that all dead people and illegal immigrants vote Democratic, I can never understand.  The death of truth means we will never know for sure, but the Republic is surely mortally wounded, though continuing to stumble forward with the same zero-sum all-or-nothing winner-take-all accept-no-compromises division that has characterized partisan politics for the past forty years since King Ronald I ascended to the Oval Office and started systematically dismantling Government By, For, and With the People, declaring it the source of all problems.  The Party of Trump is a distorted and warped version of the Party of Reagan and is a very long way from the Party of Lincoln.

100 days ago, I took the following notes, but the waves of change were overwhelming, so I didn’t publish then–it’s best to look back from the safety of a more bucolic (by comparison only) future:


We’ve come to the end of a seemingly endless display of vanity masquerading as a presidency.  That’s good news, but there’s bad news.  Trump is going away, but Trumpism isn’t.  Trump has refused to concede, and is ceremoniously inaugurating a shadow government in parallel with the new administration that, at his urging, is being rejected by half of the voting population: the capital of Trumpistan (my terminology) is being relocated to Palm Beach, Florida.  Nearly 48% of the population of the territory formerly occupied by the United States of America (now decidedly Disunited)  is ready, willing, and able to exercise their Second Amendment Rights against the other 52% of us who remain relatively sane and hopeful, though deluded in thinking that the United States still exists as a viable entity and that installing a new administration will fix what’s wrong.

And, there we are.  Pundits have repeatedly decried the insurrection and failed coup of January 6, 2021, stating “This is not who we are.”  They’re wrong.  This is exactly who we are, and therein lies the problem.  The country has become increasingly divided because every one of us has a broad definition of policies and procedures “up with which we will not put,” to channel the phrase attributed to Winston Churchill.

For nearly two and a half centuries, with exception of a half-decade in the middle of the 19th century, the country has generally been willing to suffer through at least four years of the opposite point of view every once in a while, tempered by shifts in the legislative branch every two years that tends to temper the imposition of that point of view, thus keeping the lid on and the pot from boiling over.  That worked fairly well, though the machineries of government were, in accordance with expectations in such an atmosphere, ponderous at best and ineffective at worst.  Laws got made and programs got funded that few people liked but most people tolerated, which kept the ship of state on a more or less even keel–until the latter half of the 20th century, when one of the two official political parties decided to up the ante.

While the Democratic Party focused on issues of civil rights for all segments of society, environmental health and safety issues, and national infrastructure, the Republican Party focused on deregulating industry, reducing taxes on corporations and the rich, and consolidating power.  While the main efforts of the Republicans should have been unpopular with a large segment of the public, especially those whose environments were affected by industrial practice and whose communities lacked in adequate infrastructure due to reduced tax revenues, the Republican Party appealed to the religious beliefs of that very segment of society, promising to enact or preserve laws that reflected the restrictions of those religions, imposing them on everyone.  This created a large class of single-issue voters, who would vote to impose their convictions on all, regardless of issues that had wider affect on the population as a whole.

The central issue that dominated politics for the next half-century would be a battle over the newly-won civil right of women to seek abortion to terminate an unwanted or dangerous pregnancy.  Meanwhile, general health-care costs skyrocketed, wages for working-class stagnated, and infrastructure, built up in the boom after WWII, deteriorated.  Fiscal conservatism, the core political tenet of the Republican Party, gave way to authoritarianism in the quest to hold on to the voting base.   To further cement their electability among the rest of the largely rural base that resented regulation and saw little benefit from city-focused infrastructure, the Republicans vilified the progressive stance of the Democratic Party by calling it Socialist, inferring it would lead to the communist form of socialism, with government control and ownership, as practiced in the failing Soviet Union and in the rising economic power of Communist China, even though democratic socialism in other Western countries meant government regulations and taxpayer-funded projects that brought inexpensive healthcare, generous pay and good working conditions to all.  Taking advantage of the voting power of the smaller and less densely populated large states, Republican legislators used redistricting to dilute the concentration of Democratic-leaning voters in cities across the nation.  The effect is striking in the fact that Republicans have lost the popular vote for President in seven of the last eight elections, but still won the Presidency in four of those elections because of the distribution of electoral college votes.

The other basic tenet of the Republican platform was firm insistence that the Second Amendment of the Constitution meant unrestricted ownership of guns, despite the wording that implied that citizens were entitled to bear arms as participants in a “well-regulated militia.”  The wording was clearly a reaction to the conditions of the colonial period, where the British overseers kept the peace with the aid of Prussian mercenaries rather than volunteers from the colonists.  The phrase“A well regulated militia, being necessary for the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed” has been interpreted as all but a mandate for patriotic Americans to own as many guns as they can afford.  The obsession with guns in the hands of the public resulted in the United States having the highest rate of death and injury by firearms of any nation on the planet, with mass shootings and street warfare.  And, instead of protecting the republic, the proliferation of military-grade weaponry in private hands has created an underground army ready to overthrow the government if it displeases them.  As we witnessed on Insurrection Day, 1/6/2021, when factions unhappy with the result of an election, and, at the urging of the outgoing President, mounted an insurrection in an attack on the Capitol to prevent the largely ceremonial congressional certification of an election previously certified by the state legislatures.  The inauguration of the 46th President in the history of the Republic found the Capital on a war footing, with more troops from the “well-regulated militias” of the states in place at the Capital than in foreign combat theaters, and many more in state capitals around the country.

Not surprisingly, at the core of the current internal conflict is the fact that the War of 1860-1865 never really ended.  Chattel slavery turned into institutional racism, with laws and practices to prevent the descendants of former slaves from attaining full rights and privileges of citizenship.  Police brutality in dealing with citizens with African ancestry and recent immigrants from other than European countries is pervasive and rampant.  In a country where religious freedom is baked into the Constitution, there are cries to make Evangelical Christianity the official religion, with grudging toleration for Roman Catholicism and the traditional Protestant sects.  White supremacy is rampant, with hostility toward Jews as well as African Americans, Muslims, Sikhs, and other religious, ethnic, and racial groups.

Mr. Trump is not the cause of the growing schism between progressive and conservative factions of our society, but his open approval and encouragement of racism and xenophobia has fanned the smoldering embers of the Civil War of 1860-65 into imminent collapse of the Republic in 2021.  There is no longer a North and South: the racial/ethnic bias and smear propaganda against progressivism labeling it as socialism or worse divides neighbor against neighbor.  The Great Melting Pot of America that celebrated diversity and welcomed ambitious newcomers eager to build a great society of all of humanity is shown as a thin facade, with the fear and resentment and prejudice bursting forth into clear light.  The end isn’t pretty: once the pot boils, you can’t put the spaghetti back in the box.  We, as a society, have to agree to be civil and tolerant or die.

Already, the politicization of the COVID-19 pandemic, with the divide between taking precautions and rejecting all precautions has spread disease and death like wildfire.  Rejection of science to justify unregulated production of greenhouse gases has brought actual devastating wildfire, season after season, and ever more destructive weather events. In the past, climate change has been triggered by transient events: sunspots, volcanism, etc., which is largely self-correcting in a few years or decades.  The current situation, with fossil fuel usage pumping the equivalent of multiple volcanic eruptions into the atmosphere per day, coupled with the emergence of runaway feedback releasing millions of years of stored carbon from the Arctic tundra and ocean bottom and loss of albedo from the melting of the northern ice cap, is shifting the planet toward a climate that may persist for hundreds of thousands of years, with a corresponding mass extinction of life evolved to exist in the relatively stable norm of the past million years, unable to adapt to the rapid change.  The refusal of the pro-industrial political factions to acknowledge the problem, let alone do anything to mitigate it, is suicidal.  Unfortunately, the natural feedback loop has been set in motion during the past three decades since the denial has dominated, so that any aggressive measures instituted in the near future will only serve to slightly, if at all, slow the catastrophic speed of the collapse.

North America is not a safe place to be right now, and won’t be for years or decades to come.  Trumpism is here to stay.  The divisions of the mid-19th century that tore the country apart once have persisted through seven generations: the current rent in the fabric of society won’t heal, either, if we keep picking at it, as we did with the resistance to the civil rights acts and other social reforms in the last 60 years.  During closing arguments in #45‘s second impeachment, it was almost assured that the Republican contingent in the Senate will refuse to convict him of inciting insurrection, despite overwhelming evidence of his long-standing intent to refuse to concede, his blatant stoking of the radical right nationalists, and his refusal to call in the Guard to quell the insurrection once underway.  When it became obvious that the initial surge had failed to decapitate the legislative branch, he called retreat to protect the insurrectionists, as the city appealed to nearby states for assistance.  The Republic is shattered, as certainly as it was in 1861, but more dangerously, as there is no Mason-Dixon Line to bifurcate the factions into geographic divisions.


Meanwhile, 100 days later, the Red States are frantically legislating to make it impossible for non-Republicans to vote in the next election, with much less subtle variations on poll taxes and phony literacy tests: eliminating absentee mail-in voting, closing polling places, prohibiting food and drink in hours-long lines, voting on work days only, etc., essentially declaring the definition of fraud to be when the people chose their leaders instead of the leaders choosing their voters.  Who knows, with climate change, we may be able to soon grow our own bananas and become a true Banana Republic, complete with Dictator For Life and quasi-military coups that actually work.

Of course, this is much more likely while everyone is preoccupied with either a pandemic that is actually killing people or pandemic propaganda from a Deep State to distract and confuse the population in order to mislead them.  The truth is out there, but no one can agree on which version is the *real* truth and which is fake. ‘Nuf said about that, but meanwhile the death rate is up, undeniably, so there might possibly be a correlation with a world-wide pandemic, or it might just be a coincidence. a “cAt of doG,” as dyslexics would say.  $DEITY gets blamed for a lot of preventable calamities these days, whether or not the blamers believe she exists.  Even though the news is mostly still bad, at least the 5:00 am tweet storms stopped when Twitter pulled the plug on the Tweeter-in-Chief.

We’ve passed the first anniversary of the Great Lockdown, when The Machine Stopped.  Keeping isolated, participating in group activities over videoconferencing and putting on shirt, pants, shoes and mask before leaving the house is second nature.  Everything has changed.  The Old Order is gone, perhaps forever.  The New Order may be still-borne and all will collapse as the plague continues to ravage the land with a ferocity not seen in other corners of the planet, except possibly other places where compliance with precautions is seen as a subversive political act.

Clouds In My Coffee…

This new year began with the realization, a few hours before 2021 was ushered in to be a continuation of 2020–the year everyone wanted to forget–that I am slowly going blind, having flunked my biennial eye exam with no arrangement of lenses able to make the eye charts readable.  The medical system moves ponderously, but there is a faint glimmer of hope ahead: I’m scheduled for eyeball reconstruction near the end of April.  Meanwhile, I’ve cranked up the magnification on the computer screen and try not to drive anywhere I haven’t been before, though I’m probably not legal to get behind the wheel at all.  Reading has fallen off markedly, and my computer programming class has stalled: I make a lot of typos, unable to distinguish {} from [] or (), which have different meanings in programming, and there are a lot of them.  And, research involves a lot of reading.  As noted, my writing has slowed as well.

The surgery can’t come any too soon.  I’ve chosen to be rebuilt as a far-sighted person, having lived nearsighted for the past 65 years, ever since my music teacher sent me for an eye exam when I kept knocking over the music stand to get close enough see the notes and got them wrong anyway.  I’d just to like to see what it’s like, and being of an age when I needed readers anyway, but to remove correction to see close, I’ll need a collection of drug-store “cheaters” yet to add correction to read and work on the computer, afterwards.  I may regret the choice, as some have, but the majority of cataract patients choose distance vision.

The Quarantine Budget:

A month or two ago, I fired up the old Windows computer in order to file the annual Federal Income Tax, for which we use a software tool only available on the Microsoft platform (and Apple’s macOS, which we don’t have: the Windows machine cost less than $150, refurbished and upgraded, when we bought it several years ago to replace our out-of-date Windows XP virtual machine installation.)  In the process of filling out the forms, I had an opportunity to go over the financial records for the past year.  Here’s an interesting view of how our life changed, by looking at expense categories for some of our activities in 2019 versus the period March 2020 through March 2021.

Not surprisingly, the fixed household expenses remained pretty much the same.  Fortunately, the Social Security checks kept coming regularly, so the lights stayed on and the bank didn’t come for the house, but a lot of what we call daily life changed a lot:

Combining together the categories of Auto Fuel, Clothing, Groceries, Dining Out, and vacation travel, those expenses overall were cut in half.  But, the distribution was shocking:  Auto Fuel cost reduced 80%, and the rest, except Groceries, were reduced by 90%.  Groceries increased by 30%.  Our overall food budget decreased by 22%, and the drastic reduction in all forms of travel accounted for the other 23% of the 50% aggregate reduction of those expense categories.

Interesting things happened: I had to add more salt in my cooking, since everything was from scratch and we didn’t eat out.  We cut our grocery trips to once a week instead of nearly every day.  We ordered a lot of food on-line, either for UPS delivery or drop-shipment to a pickup site.  I collected a wider variety of ethnic recipes, and ordered spices on-line, adding Spanish, Moroccan, Turkish, and Ethiopian vegetarian dishes to our repertoire of mostly East Indian and Asian Fusion dishes.  We bought lentils, chickpeas, and black beans dried in bags instead of canned, and use our Insta-Pot to cook them for stews, soups, and hummus.  A grandson gave us the sourdough starter he made as a home lab project for remote schooling, and we bought another bucket of wheat berries to feed into our flour mill, so my weekly bread-baking branched out to whole wheat with sourdough and from no-knead round dutch oven artisan loaves to using the European by-weight ingredient ratios and kneading techniques to make cinnamon rolls, batard loaves, and focaccia, baked on a stone.

More medical issues:

Unfortunately, Judy’s battle with adhesions from past surgeries returned with a vengeance this spring.  She had been dropping favorite foods one after the other for many weeks, and finally went to Urgent Care when no amount of GERD remedies remedied anything.  She ended up in hospital for several days, but no nasal-gastric tube and slowly weaned off clear liquids and sent home, stable but not better.  Consequently, she’d been living on smoothies and soft foods, leaving me to figure out how to cook for one with all of the staple stores we have accumulated, and how to eat up recipes for 4-6 servings before they go bad.  She has a consult scheduled with a specialist, but, like all specialties these days, appointments are booked many weeks ahead.  But, life is what happens when you are making other plans, and at the first of this week, we made an emergency trip to Olympia, where she was admitted to hospital and immediately wheeled into surgery, complete with the dreaded NG tube. Now, at the weekend, she is finally back home, slowly recovering.  No resection this time, but a bit more invasive surgery, so the normal light activity rules apply.  We’ve conscripted our son to chauffeur us to Tacoma and back for my eye surgery next week, and to our second COVID-19 vaccination, since she will be on driving restrictions, as will I.  Does this mean we’re grouped with “old people” now?

Van Life in the Age of COVID:

Meanwhile, in the chaos of 2021, the wet winter brought yet another round of fuzzy clumps of mold to our 25-year-old bicycle hauler and stealth camper.  We managed to subdue it long enough to make a couple of forays out on the bicycle: once on a weekend excursion to the Rain Shadow “up north,” and another to the airport for a quick  spin around the industrial park.  The Check Engine light came on and stayed on during our trip north, and we needed front tires and new shock absorbers.  After some thought and, with reluctance to keep throwing money at the old beast, we made a crucial decision: we looked at the availability of newer vans, preferably taller, more suitable for camping.  Our quest took us to Auburn, to the commercial truck dealer, where we traded both our vehicles, the 2015 C-Max hybrid and the 1996 E-150, on a brand-new bare-bones Ford Transit high-roof van, and spent our economic stimulus money on a commercial liner for the interior.

We’re not going to live in the van, and need to haul big items from time to time, so the industrial look is just fine with us.  We didn’t add any extra insulation, since we live in a mild climate, don’t intend to camp in extreme heat or cold, and have a three-season sleeping bag anyway.  We did add wood rails bolted to the structure hardpoints on both sides, to which we we will rig a bike holder and secure the bed frame and cushions we recycled from the old truck, and Judy sewed up a new curtain for the front of the cargo area.  Other than plans for a storage cabinet between the driver’s seat and the bicycle, that’s the extent of our camper conversion.  Even our electrical connection will squeeze through the rear door gasket, so there’s no external indication that it’s a camper.  As of this writing, the liner installation has finally been completed, but there’s lots of work yet to get the bicycle stowage and storage for gear designed and built.  Wood has been cut and the project is proceeding, hopefully to be mostly complete by the time I go under the knife to get my eyeballs refurbished with cloudless lenses.

We’ve started our round of COVID-19 vaccinations, at last, on the eve of the state opening up to all age and occupation groups.  We’re still observing full precautions, however, and probably will for the foreseeable future.  We’re still conducting all of our social activities through Zoom, two to four sessions per week, moving the computer around the house as needed to best support the venue.

So it goes.  We’ve survived the Plague Year 1, but we are a year older.  It shows.  My van-building video (in editing) shows a a slow-moving, slow-talking old geezer explaining how he overcame numerous mistakes, while peering intently to see what he is doing, though clouded eyeballs.  Judy is struggling to get enough calories without overloading her distressed digestive system.  Still, we’re hoping to get out on walks and bike rides when the weather gets warmer, and spending some time between Zoom sessions exploring in our new ride and visiting friends and relatives once everyone is vaccinated and travel restrictions lifted.

The Parkins Report: Events of 2020, Plague Year 1.

Seeking out-of-the-way recreation during the quarantine, in the remote areas of the county. We did meet a friend for a socially-distanced 15-mile ride.[Photo by Lauri Paulson]
2020 has been a year like no other, in the three-quarters of a century that we have been around to observe. Our son objects to our use of the term “Plague Year,” as if that was reserved exclusively for the Yersinia pestis pandemic of the Middle Ages, also called the Bubonic Plague or Black Death.  But, the generic term fits, according to Websters, 2.a. usage, “an epidemic disease causing a high rate of mortality.”

The year started for us with flu-like illness: Judy came down with it almost immediately after we got off the airplane from El Paso on Christmas Day, Larye came down with it on January 1. We recovered, and took part in our normal January and February activities, though we missed our winter bike rides in January. In February, there were news reports of a virulent outbreak of a flu-like respiratory illness at a convalescent home in Kirkland, across Lake Washington from Seattle.  We took a short getaway trip to Ocean Park, on Long Beach Peninsula, in Southwest Washington, the first week in March, taking advantage of a break in the weather to get in a few bicycle rides.

The Machine Stops:  In mid-March, the outbreak in Kirkland was revealed to be the forefront of a world-wide pandemic of an extremely contagious and lethal virus.  In the midst of arranging a venue for a weaving guild workshop at an Olympia fire station, orders came to cancel all activities: the negotiations were terminated, we were shown the door, and regrouped in the parking lot, the last time we’ve had in-person contact with members of any of the organizations to which we belong, with exception of an open-air, all-masked one-person art quilt showing in mid-summer.

The state entered a shutdown.  Public gatherings were banned, events were canceled, businesses closed, schools closed.  As happens with most disruptions from natural disasters, the toilet paper, milk, and bread supply disappeared from grocery store shelves, instantly, and supplies wouldn’t return to normal for months. As the pandemic spread, we began to order food on-line.  UPS shipments arrived weekly, though some items weren’t available from time to time.  We broke out our disaster stores of wheat and started baking bread, and rationing toilet paper.

Letting Go–The End of The World As We Know It:  Our social activities stopped:

  • The Senior Center closed: no more yoga classes, until they resumed by Zoom video conferencing in September.  Larye was called on to lead a session, and had to set up computer and cameras in the low-ceiling basement studio to get enough lighting, but has lead other sessions from the dining room, with table and chairs shoved aside and extra lights.   Our attendance is much lower, and Larye is now elevated to #2 presenter, from #4 in reserve, so leading and attending yoga sessions over the internet from our dining room are becoming commonplace.  Monthly group walks did not resume in April, though  some of the hard-core members may be meeting privately for walks.  It’s harder to make social connections now.
  • The Olympia Weavers Guild canceled meetings and programs, both out of caution and because the meeting place closed.  Workshops were canceled.  Zoom meetings resumed in September, with the usual 60-70 member attendance reduced to 35-40.
  • The Tacoma Weavers Guild canceled meetings, programs, and workshops, to restart in September virtually, as well, with a slight reduction in attendance, but a respectable 40 members showing up each month on-screen.  Both the weaving guilds benefited from being able to show members’ work in closeup, both in submitted photos and just holding up work to the computer webcam.
  • The Ruby Street Art Quilters essentially disbanded, having no formal charter or budget to meet virtually. The Facebook page gets an occasional post.
  • The Mason County Concert Association, for the first time in its 70-year existence, canceled the rest of the 70th-year season and didn’t resurface for the 2020-2021 season.  Like all other public gatherings, it is off-limits by gubernatorial edict.  The 500-seat high school auditorium remains dark and silent.
  • We’re off the Warm Showers bicycle touring hospitality hosting list indefinitely.  Reluctantly, we had to refuse a couple, each from a different country, who were stranded in the United States, unable to travel together to either of their home countries.  They had been caught up in the lockdown and had been staying with another host family in Shelton for weeks.  We don’t know what happened to them.  International bicycle travel has ground to a halt.  Bike tourists are exploring their own countries, or whichever one they found themselves trapped in.  Some hosts are still receiving, but with limited or no indoor social contact with guests.
  • With the closure of the public library, Friends of the Library stopped functioning and has gone silent, the used books sitting on the shelves, well past their “pull date.”  We’ve come to rely on “Little Libraries” scattered around town, and the Senior Center’s ad hoc book exchange in the bus kiosk outside the center, plus the Senior Center’s Nifty Thrifty store, for books and book exchanges.
  • Hypatia in the Woods, which operates a retreat cottage for women artists and writers, canceled spring artist residencies.  Our board meetings resumed by Zoom early on to make decisions about the future of the organization.  By mid-summer, residencies resumed, on an adjusted schedule, with three-day gaps between residents.   But, artist’s presentations and member/artist potluck meet and greet were suspended, though by fall we had one “trunk show” in a member’s garage and one Zoom presentation by another resident, through the Library, whose staff continues to work and, regulations and advisories permitting, operate the on-line reservation system with curb delivery.
  • Our grocery shopping cut back to once a week trips to the supermarket, with precautions like going into a “hot zone.”  Biosafety level 2 and up for everything.  We’ve taken to getting produce from and ordering staples delivered from a regional distributor to the local farm store, a pleasant find in this new age of staying close to home, and a throwback to the village stores of the 19th and early 20th centuries, where you put in an order and it came on the wagon from the city the next month.
  • We continued bicycling, but the trails were closed, so we headed out to the sparsely-populated west end of the county to ride on roads with little traffic except the occasional logging truck.  Bicycling was curtailed sharply with Larye’s late spring injury (details below), restarted with short, infrequent rides in the fall.
  • We started walking around our neighborhood: schools were closed and businesses shuttered, but most residents stayed in their houses, so the streets were deserted.  We discovered trails through the green space and forests around the neighborhood.
  • As areas opened up in May, we drove west to Lake Wynoochee, in the Olympic Mountains, for a hike to a waterfall on a deserted trail.
  • Our six-month dental cleaning and checkup got postponed to nine months, with elaborate biosafety procedures when we did go, including a nasty hydrogen peroxide mouthwash.
  • “Dining out,” once a common part of our routine, became take-away on special occasions, pizza or oriental fare from restaurants we used to “eat in,” and one coffee out, sitting at a curbside table.
  • We finally accepted the inevitable, and canceled our planned group tour to Uzbekistan next fall, realizing the pandemic will not be over, and the physical limitations on long-distance travel because of Larye’s injury.
  • Unwilling to avoid family, and having some obligation for care of grandchildren on occasion, we limited family visits to once every two weeks, with quarantine procedures between, and skip if either of us had other contacts.  Our Olympia family became part of our “pod,” but sparingly.  One of the grandsons started on-site schooling in mid-October, so we are limited to full quarantine distancing visits, and masks indoors.

Down for the Count: In late May, we took a long, fast bike ride, a 30-km loop from Tumwater to Little Rock and back, during a trip to refuel the truck after our western hiking excursion. Later in the evening, Larye had a bout of sciatica that became steadily worse, resulting in a trip to the Emergency Department in Olympia in the middle of the night, the next day.  Pandemic rules were in effect, with face masks, and no family allowed in.

Subsequent trips to chiropractor, doctor, and urgent care added to pandemic anxiety.His condition worsened, got slightly better after several weeks of mild medication, then a relapse, trying to lift our thrift-shop table find to the porch to create an outdoor dining space for visitors.  The relapse was totally debilitating, with a month of heavy medication.  He was able to walk only with the aid of a thrift-store walker.  The doctor prescribed walking, no bicycling, and finally, a course of physical therapy, which got us started back doing our yoga practice at home in addition to the much more rigorous PT exercises and stretches.

Gradually, our walks became longer, starting with a halting 1-km walker push on flat walkways near the hospital, then graduating to trekking poles around our hilly neighborhood, and eventually, up to 8-km, unaided, on the neighborhood trails, to the other side of town, and up the old logging railway west of town.  We took a few tentative bike rides, not much longer than our walks, into the fall, on low-traffic roads, while on travel.

Traveling in Quarantine: We ventured out, cautiously, to test the feasibility of safe travel, spending a few days at nearby resorts in our network in mid summer, and again in the early fall, even camping overnight on one trip.  We get condo units with full kitchen when we vacation, so prepare our own food rather than risking restaurants.  Most shops and restaurants in the resort areas remain closed.  On these trips, we made only one grocery stop, and have learned to use the drive-up windows at coffee shops, something we never did before.  Our one stop where we went indoors to get our take-out cups was anxiety-filled, as the sit-in patrons didn’t use their masks between sips.  We resigned ourselves to limited our “dining out” experiences to eating and drinking in our van or car, possibly for the rest of our lives, and using our cellular data plan for on-the-road Internet connections if the WiFi doesn’t reach the parking lot.

Winter is Coming: As the year wears on and winter approaches, we continue to meet close friends occasionally on our porch, masked, and have pulled one of the low-power oil-filled space heaters from the basement weaving studio and put under the table on the porch for chilly days.  The pandemic is accelerating, everywhere.  We’ve begun ordering food on-line again, either shipped to the house or for pickup at the local farm store, which never has more than two or three customers at a time.  We’ve gotten 5-lb bags of pulses and a 5-kg case of frozen tempeh from Oregon, spices and tea from a shop in Bellingham, and are preparing Costco delivery lists again.  Larye is continuing to cook and bake, having branched out to sourdough whole-wheat bread and cinnamon rolls, and collecting recipes and techniques from around the world via YouTube.

Entertainment in the Time of COVID: With the cool, rainy weather and short days,Judy has retreated to her craft studio, busy making art journals, hoping to sell some locally through a consignment store, and Larye dusted off his marudai, a stand for kumihimo–Japanese braiding–bought for a class that was canceled two years in a row, due to weather and pandemic.  He watched a few videos, dug out pattern books, and has been braiding ties for home-made quilt-fabric face masks.  He is also nearing the end of the first of several on-line self-paced computer programming courses to build proficiency in the Python language for restarting some projects that have been put off for too long.  He has also been an active contributor to the Quora on-line question-answer forum since before the pandemic, answering questions from all over the world about computers, particularly about Linux and programming, answers that have been viewed over half a million times, and a few that have several hundred “likes.”

Of course, we are also glued to Facebook, sharing our photos and status with friends and family, and commenting mainly on the bicycling forums. Our TV watching, at least of the “normal” broadcast and cable channels, is non-existent, but we spend endless hours listening to news on NPR and watching YouTube videos, with on-demand news from cable outlets and from independent, Internet-only venues, and videos on politics, bicycling, medicine, and science, plus how-to and idea videos on our respective interests: journal-making, cooking, and programming.

Attending the Tacoma Weavers Guild holiday party, remotely. All of our social activities have been via Zoom. We’ve taken to moving the computer into the dining room for social events.

Family: Fortunately, we managed to visit almost everyone in 2019, before the pandemic arrived. Since the first lock-down, the world has gone into a tailspin, and our extended family is no exception.  Our school-age grandsons and great-grandchildren were out of school for a time, then sporadic forays into on-line, at-home schooling, with varying degrees of success.  We adopted a “pod” protocol with our nearby family, observing no-contact rules for two weeks before and after visits.  Since on-site school classes resumed, visits are masked or outdoors only.  One grandson graduated high school, without ceremony.

Our adult grandchildren have gone through job losses and change in work. One granddaughter lost her job early on, having been on holiday when the lock-down arrived and quarantined.  She supplemented her savings and unemployment by cooking meals for pickup by friends who didn’t cook.  Finally, this fall, she got a job 1000 km away, moving to a new city and putting her house up for sale.  A grandson, an aspiring musician, went from waiting tables to delivering meals.  He has used his extra time to publish his first music CD and put out a line of logo-wear for his band, during the time of no live music.

A daughter-in-law had her traveling job terminated, pushing up their retirement plans, but delaying their move.  Larye’s aunt Jo turned 100 this fall, and has managed to remain safe at home through the pandemic.  Retired cousins have managed to travel and visit other relatives and friends and stay safe.  But, the COVID has been raging through other families, adult children, grandchildren, and great grandchildren.  Fortunately, they have survived, but after-effects linger. Another granddaughter, a nurse who normally works OB/GYN, now also risks contact with COVID patients: as a health-care worker, she was one of the first to get the vaccine.

Living in Interesting Times: We are considered ignorant fools by our right-wing acquaintances who follow the current conspiracy theories on mass media, because we don’t.  We characterize our political leanings as “Radical Progressive Extremism,” rather than uphold any organized political party, because neither is very organized.  Instead, we focus on living out our days as best we can in the face of the coming climate apocalypse and the decades of political and social unrest that we won’t live to see the end of, nor, possibly, will our grandchildren and great grandchildren.  And, we’re committed to permanent lock-down for the duration of the pandemic, now expected by some epidemiologists to last well into 2024, unless vaccinations become universal.  The much-ballyhooed rollout of the first vaccines seems to have been botched, so the hope of reaching “herd immunity” seems to be lost in the fog of “herd mentality,” pushing the weakest to the outer ring as the dingos circle.

 We miss our carefree life of travel and we miss visiting far-flung relatives, and we miss our in-person gatherings with fellow fiber artists, writers, and book-lovers, but we are aware that all things are impermanent.  We live in the present moment, plan for futures that may never be, but breathe in the reality that is.

A metaphor for the Ship of State–foundering under the Trump administration. (sunken oystering boat at Bay Center, WA, in the intertidal zone of the Palix River)

The old social niceties around the holidays seem so inappropriate in the face of the current situation.  Not only is the world in the depths of a pandemic, but at its worst in the Disunited States, where half the states are suing the other half to overturn an election, an election that promises, if its certified outcome is honored, to end the Age of Trump.

Four years ago, I wrote a blog article (here) outlining our fears of what was ahead.  All that, and much worse, has come to pass.  The Second Civil War, that has been simmering since the Civil Rights Act was passed in the mid-1960s, seems about to burst into flame, not only state to state, but house to house in a country so divided by ideology and contradicting “facts” that civility is all but disappeared and disregard of science is considered patriotic.

Accordingly, at the risk of offending almost everyone, we wish you all a meaningful celebration of the high holidays of the deities of your choice:  Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, an auspicious Solstice (complete with conjunction of the major planets), a contemplative Bohdi Day, a Joyful Twelfth Night, and wishes that we all survive to observe Ramadan in the spring.  We hope that your children safely survived Krampusnacht, and that you resisted the temptation to celebrate Thanksgiving.

Suited up for our December 2020 bicycle ride, in a break in the weather, temperatures in the low 40s F.

The hospitals are full of those who didn’t resist the holiday.  We just had some pumpkin pudding and the rest of the week’s homemade bread, and stayed in all day, just happy to be alive and well, for now.  We celebrate the season with our friends peering out at us from the computer screen at the other end of the table.  Our “virtual holiday parties” were joyful, with our computer monitor perched at the other end of the dining room table, but there were a lot of tears among the throng, also.  When we venture out, instead of greeting strangers with a “Merry Christmas,” the “safe” greeting at this time of year, we cross the street to avoid coming within two meters of them.   We fear, as my high school music teacher used to say, that “If we don’t hang together, we will be hanged separately.”  Time will tell if we have the collective will to survive, or whether Trumpism will persist and end us all.

Wishes for a hopeful New Year.

Namaste.

Judy & Larye