Friday, August 17, 2018

Homer is (was) missing

Homer went missing sometime this evening.

He may be somewhere in the house. He might have pushed the back storm door open and slipped out. He might have snuck downstairs, or into a room that is usually closed up, or...

Never mind. My mom just found him, curled up under a stepstool in a room we had both searched several times. His snorting breathing, caused by a congenital sinus condition, gave him away. We had both been listening for that sound, and were worried when we didn't hear it.

So now we know he's safe and alive, and I can go to sleep.

Thursday, August 16, 2018

Following


I just recounted this story on a friend's Facebook post and decided to include it here for posterity:

I was driving into Nanticoke once. Guy was in front of me, driving slow. He turned left, I turned left. He drove straight for a few blocks, I drove straight for a few blocks. He turned left again, so did I. He pulled over to the side of the road and so did I. He got out of his car to angrily confront me, I got out of my car with my thermos and lunch bag, home from a day at work. He realized that I had basically followed him to my own house, got back in his car, and left.

Wednesday, August 15, 2018

The day after the day the Report came out

Yesterday was a day we all knew was coming for a long time. A Grand Jury report on sexual abuse of minors and others by Roman Catholic priests, long-awaited and long-delayed through legal maneuvers, finally came out. (Located here, for the moment.) It names names - mostly, except for those temporarily redacted as a result of those legal maneuvers - and details not just the crimes committed by the priests, but the efforts of bishops and others to cover up the facts of the crimes and to silence the victims of the crimes.

The report is huge, coming in at just under nine hundred pages. It lists the offending priests by diocese - there are fifty-nine in the Diocese of Scranton alone - and lists for each offending priest all the parishes they have been assigned to over the years. This list is not entirely accurate. One elderly priest who had been in residence in my home parish for the past few years is listed as a consequence of crimes he allegedly committed before starting here, but nowhere does it mention "Nanticoke" among his assignments.

Most of what is in the report is no surprise to...well, most Catholics. Sexual abuse by priests has been an open secret for most of my life. The Bishop's Annual Appeal, a pledge drive for extra donations with targeted goals for every parish, is also known as "Peter's Pence." A common refrain is that Peter's Pence go to pay for the priests who couldn't keep their peters in their pants.

What is most shocking is the pattern of cover-ups on the parts of bishops. I remember when James Timlin became bishop decades ago. I was just a grade school kid, but even then it seemed that he was young for a bishop. He is no longer the bishop in charge of the Diocese of Scranton, but he still pays a role in diocesan activities. Many of the priests listed are now very old or have died, but Timlin is still around. Will he be called upon to account for all the things he did to cover up the actions of criminal priests?


Tuesday, August 14, 2018

Ow, my thumb


My left thumb hurts. It might be Neil Gaiman's fault.

I'm not sure when this started, but I think it was this weekend. I noticed a soreness in my left thumb, in the first (or is it the second?) joint - the second one down from the tip, the point where the thumb joins the hand. The soreness actually caused a loss of function in my left hand: I could no longer use my thumb to hold things, so my left hand was mostly useless except for typing.

I noticed a bony bulge at the base of my thumb, at the knuckle. It looks like a blister or boil, but it is hard to the touch.

Could this be arthritis? Maybe. At the half-century mark, such things start to be expected. I've never had arthritis before, so I don't know what it feels like.

A more intriguing possibility hit me this afternoon. On Saturday I picked up the latest issue of the comic book serialization of Neil Gaiman's American Gods. A good deal of this issue is dedicated to Mr. Ibis's recounting of the story of a slave girl and her twin brother, instrumental respectively in bringing belief in the old gods of Africa to the New World, and in leading a slave rebellion that eventually led to the liberation of Haiti. As an aside, Mr. Ibis (a manifestation of the ancient Egyptian god Thoth) mentions the punishment one of the slave girl's children received for demonstrating the ability to read: one of his thumbs was cut off.

I thought about how terrible a punishment this would be, how difficult life would be without a thumb, particularly a slave's life of unrelenting hard labor. I wonder now if I let my imagination delve into this too much, and if my body decided to respond by letting me know how it might feel, and to see what life might be like without a functioning thumb.

As I began to write this, the pain in my left thumb was present but not overwhelming. As I wrote, the pain gradually subsided. Now, my left thumb feels almost completely normal and pain-free. So maybe this really was a psychosomatic pain, and writing about it exorcised it from my consciousness.

Monday, August 13, 2018

The floods of mid-August


It's flooding in Northeastern Pennsylvania. Not in Nanticoke, for once, or our big sister Wilkes-Barre, though the Susquehanna was riding high yesterday, and will probably be higher tomorrow. Locally the flooding is in and around Bloomsburg to the southwest, and Scranton and the surrounding area (including, notably, Clarks Summit) to the northeast. Major roadways are flooded and impassable. Whole neighborhoods are cut off. Some idiotically unethical white water rafting outfit in Jim Thorpe decided that today would be a fine day for a planned outing, despite the dire weather forecasts. Over two hundred rafters were swept away, and about fifty of them had to be rescued. (The rest presumably rescued themselves, though there's still time for bad news to trickle in.)

The spotty but intense showers which have been the norm this spring and summer are expected to continue for the next few days. This may mean more flooding - either in areas that have so far been spared, or in areas that have already been devastated.

Sunday, August 12, 2018

Whupped


There was nothing unusually stressful about today, but I am feeling totally exhausted. Just took a two-hour nap in an easy chair, and now I'm going to bed.

I was planning to mow the lawn tomorrow, but it may rain. We'll see.

Saturday, August 11, 2018

The unreality of Sundays


I worked a seventeen-day stretch in July. No full days on my days off, never more than five scheduled hours, but still, I was in my seat and working every one of those days. After a single day off, I stretched this to nineteen out of twenty days. And then I stopped.

Last Friday and Saturday were my first "weekend" since July 8. My schedule has me work three ten-hour days, take two days off, work one more ten-hour day, and then take another day off. I realized how much I missed weekends, two days of knowing you didn't have to worry about going to go to work the next day.

I also realized how much I enjoyed that third day off, which (for me) is Monday. (Lots of people where I work have similar schedules, with different days on and off.) Last Monday I had an appointment with my eye doctor. Then I went shopping for perfume for my sister's birthday and a specific type of fudge (Boscov's maple walnut) for my mom. As I was driving around it hit me how much I had missed having the freedom to go on these jaunts.

Sundays are special days for me at work. They have this air of unreality: I have just been off two days, and I will be off again tomorrow. The calls are just as fast and the callers just as demanding as on any other day, and sometimes moreso. But I know that at the end of the day I get to go home, and won't have to be back until Tuesday. This somehow lightens the burden of the day and makes it easier to deal with people, whatever their demands.

I'm going to miss all this when it all wraps up at the end of September. There are a lot of things I will miss, and it seems odd that this confusing, exhausting schedule will be one of them. But it is.

Friday, August 10, 2018

The spice must flow

Years ago - maybe fifteen or more - I used to drink Tazo Chai Tea latte. It comes in a concentrate that you mix with milk over ice. The concentrate is expensive, and goes bad a week or so after you open it, so if you don't drink it every day you wind up throwing money away.

I've been drinking iced coffee at work throughout the summer. I freeze cooled coffee in an ice cube tray  and set aside some leftover coffee in the refrigerator at the end of the day. In the morning I'll fill my thermos with the frozen coffee cubes, add some of the refrigerated coffee, top off with milk, and shake vigorously. Sometimes I used to add hazelnut syrup for sweetness and flavor. But a few weeks ago I had the idea to look up a recipe for mixing chai spice at home.

It turned out to be pretty easy and obvious: ground allspice, ground cloves, ground ginger, ground cinnamon. (I skipped the ground cardamon, which I do not have, but which appears to be fundamental for authentic chai.) I added the ingredients to an empty and washed bottle from white pepper, which retained some pepper flavor without being overwhelming. (Black pepper is also an ingredient in authentic Masala chai.) I have now been adding this to my iced coffee, along with a few grains of Demerara sugar, which I've had for a few years and have mainly used for sprinkling on the whipped cream on the Irish coffees I drink once or twice a year. The result is nearly identical to the chai tea latte I used to drink.

The spice blend reminds me of apple pie spice. I've added it to iced tea. It would be great in apple cider, and would be delicious on pumpkin pie, and...

OH MY GOD I'VE JUST MIXED A BATCH OF PUMPKIN SPICE

So, yeah. For the past few weeks, I've basically been making and using my own pumpkin spice, that ubiquitous stable of Autumn. And I don't regret it one bit.

Thursday, August 09, 2018

Site maintenance needed


I noticed that most of my posts for this year up to the end of May that had photos are now missing some or all of the images. As I realized late in May, this came from using the easy but dangerous new copy-and-paste method of adding photos to Blogspot posts, which actually just hotlinks to the photo source. If anything changes with the photo source - in this case, the photos I had downloaded to Facebook albums - the link becomes broken, and the photos vanish. Not all of them, not all at once, but enough of them to be a problem requiring that I reupload them all directly to Blogger. So I have a LOT of photos to replace.

Wednesday, August 08, 2018

First tomato, August 8, 2018


OK, that didn't take long. I picked my first tomato today. It may not be fully ripe yet - we'll find out tomorrow. In the image in the linked post, this is the tomato on the right, mostly obscured by foliage.


Tuesday, August 07, 2018

The promise of tomatoes to come

Despite this being a very hot and wet summer, my tomatoes seem to be a bit behind schedule. That seems to be general complaint from a lot of people with vegetable gardens. Still, I have some that will be fully ripe soon. Maybe this week, maybe next.

August 6, 2018

Monday, August 06, 2018

Phlox

My grandmother had a lot of phlox in her yard. They have died out over the years, but some that we transplanted to my mother's house years ago are still plugging along, despite annually getting the powdery mildew that plagued the ones in my grandmother's yard. These have been in bloom since the last week of July.




Sunday, August 05, 2018

"The Enthusiast" by Josh Fruhlinger: A review


I recently came across a copy of "The Enthusiast" by Josh Fruhlinger, the blogger who runs The Comics Curmudgeon blog. It came out a few years ago, and I had always meant to get a copy, but never got around to it. And now a brand, spanking new copy was right in front of me at a library book sale, mine for next to nothing. I felt embarrassed about buying it in such a way, but I also felt like it was a damned shame that this copy had gone unread. I needed to buy it, and I needed to read it.

That was over a month and a half ago. I finally read it over the past two weeks. I finished it a few days ago. And it's been rolling around in my head ever since.

This is a novel of ideas. Josh presents a new sort of consulting firm, one that is part guerrilla marketing, part psychological operations. The motto of the Subconscious Agency (its name a clever play on a psychological term) is "Enthusiasm is our business." Through subtle nudges, online interaction, and direct work in the field, the agency and its agents encourage, cultivate, and direct naturally-occurring enthusiasms in ways that are useful to their clients. The story follows agent Kate Berkowitz as she takes the lead on two seemingly unconnected campaigns: encouraging the purchase of a client's trains to replace the outdated ones in service on the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority, and helping a charming but vain movie star build interest in a movie project based on a decades-old comic strip - with him playing every male character.

Josh takes us on a ride that is full of twists and turns, more roller coaster than commuter train. While there are chapters of necessary exposition to get through and over a dozen characters to keep track of, once the story gets rolling it moves faster and faster, even as it is peppered with Mao-like aphorisms from Christine, the founder of Subconscious Agency, who is one part New Age visionary and several parts K Street scrapper. There is suspense, menace, ill-considered romance, lies and subterfuge and rugs that get pulled out from under characters at inconvenient times. And through it all is the theme of harnessing enthusiasm to achieve not just a desired outcome, but a desired shape of a process.

It's hard to believe that an organization like Subconscious Agency isn't already out there, subtly manipulating opinions in ways that benefit its clients. And then it becomes clear - these agencies are already out there, these manipulations are real. While the novel was published in 2013 2015 and written in the years that preceded, it's a prescient and fairly believable description of the psychological warfare and opinion manipulation that went on in the 2016 election and continues to this day.

What are you enthusiastic about? How can your personal mental energies be hijacked to produce a desired outcome for someone else, to establish a shape of a process, a template for future thought? Who is manipulating you through the things you care about? Read "The Enthusiast" by Josh Fruhlinger, and think very hard about these questions.

Saturday, August 04, 2018

Fall in summer

Cherry tree, August 4, 2018
"The Great Gatsby" is a story set over the course of the summer of 1922. All of the action takes place between Nick Carraway's arrival in New York at the beginning of June and the funeral at the beginning of September, with the lethal events that punctuate the story happening at the end of August. Friendships form, long-lost loves are found, new relationships are born, there's treachery and crime and parties and fast cars and death, death, death, all in the course of three months. (And what did you do this summer?)

But for me, the most unrealistic aspect of the story is that Gatsby's groundskeeper wants to close up the pool at the end of August before it gets clogged with leaves. I mean, leaves don't start falling in the Northeast until well into late September, right?

My cherry trees are...weird. I planted them during a rainstorm in the spring of 2002. They were both supposed to be dwarf specimens, reaching no more than seven feet in height. In reality, one tops out at something like twelve feet, while the other is well over twenty feet tall. (I may have planted them too deep, burying the part where the rootstock was grafted to the body, causing the non-dwarf fruiting trunk to take root rather than the dwarf rootstock.) They didn't bear more than a handful of cherries in their first thirteen years or so. Then one year a few years back, after a particularly cold and brutal winter, they exploded with fruit. Last year was almost as abundant a fruiting season, although the birds enjoyed most of the harvest, not me. This year showed some promise at blossom time, but again only a few fruits ripened, almost all of which were promptly eaten by birds. (I wonder if fluctuations in the amount of fruit are more closely related to fluctuations in bird populations than to anything else.)

As far back as I can recall, my cherry trees have had their leaves turn yellow and drop off in early August. The first few times this happened I assumed they were falling victim to some sort of disease. But over the years I have come to accept this as just a normal part of their life-cycle. I just rake them, shred them, and then use them as mulch, as a quick carbon additive in the compost pile, or leave them in the bag for a few years to become leaf mold.

So maybe Gatsby's trees dropping their leaves at the end of August wasn't that unrealistic, or even unusual. Heck, maybe Gatsby had a few cherry trees on the grounds of his estate.

Friday, August 03, 2018

Weekend


Today I experienced something that I haven't seen in a long time: a day off from work followed by another day off from work.

I actually had to be at my workplace physically today to meet with a representative from Unemployment to address preliminary questions. Because of the timing of the termination of our employment, income from this quarter - my best quarter in all the time I have been working there - won't be factored into my unemployment compensation. Still, I've been able to pay a lot of bills, and squirrel away some money for the future.

One question that was touched upon was: why have I chosen not to pursue the work-from-home option being offered by the campaign I'm currently working on? I gave the 500-meter answer: that my current living situation makes it impossible. Had they pressed the question - and the rep indicated that they might at some point in the future - I might have elaborated that I am living with a soon-to-be-85-year-old mother who, while very capable of taking care of herself while I am at work, can be somewhat less independent when she knows I am nearby. We are often told about the importance of "work-life balance," but all that goes out the window when your workplace and your home occupy the same space.

My particular situation aside, how presumptuous is it to expect that every employee is going to be able to take on the responsibilities of having a work-from-home job: creating the dedicated workspace that can be isolated from the rest of the home, building a strict do-not-disturb wall between you and anyone else at home, taking on the roles of facility maintenance and I.T., and absorbing all the overhead expenses - electricity, heat, rent - normally borne by the employer.

Besides, since long before we were advised a few weeks ago of this upcoming change to our employment situation, I've been toying with a vaguely science-fiction-y story involving a work-from-home travel agent. So, see, I've got a prior conflict...

Thursday, August 02, 2018

Nothing

Nothing much to say tonight. I get to sleep in tomorrow for a bit. The stuff at work begins at 1:00 and may last a while, or just a few minutes. Afterwards I have some shopping to do and then need to run my mom out for an errand. I need to remember to grab our information about our vision care plan when I go in to work, since I have an eye appointment on Monday.

Lyin' Don was in Wilkes-Barre tonight. Of course he drew a big crowd. The candidate he was there to support, Lou Barletta, is very well-known in the region, and has made a name for himself for something on the order of 20 years or so. He was mayor of Hazleton and was a big anti-immigrant crusader back when Trump was still doing Pizza Hut commercials. He managed to get the city involved in a series of legal disputes that left it heavily in debt after he left office. His name was constantly in the paper and in the news. Tonight, Trump boasted that not many people in the area are familiar with Lou Barletta, but that he has known him very well for many years. That comment seemed to have left the crowd momentarily perplexed. But I'm sure they got over their cognitive dissonance quickly. Doublethink is the art of believing two mutually contradictory and incompatible things simultaneously, so I'm sure it wasn't long before they accepted that they had been previously unaware of a local politician they had supported for years, and were grateful to Donald Trump for introducing them tonight to a man who had been a household name for a very long time.

Wednesday, August 01, 2018

Garbage night

And I am wiped out. One more day of work, and then two days off.

...one of which will be spent in part at work, meeting with representatives who will be helping those of us who cannot take the "work at home" option explore other options for transitioning from our current jobs. Hey, the economy is supposed to be booming right now, right? So it should be no problem finding great-paying jobs. At least, I'm sure that's what Trump will say when he comes to Wilkes-Barre on Friday. Actually, who am I kidding? He will likely spend most of the time praising himself, and the rest attacking the media for being enemies of the people and Robert Mueller for wasting taxpayer dollars on and embarrassing the United States with a phony hoax witch hunt investigation.

Maybe another tornado can descend on the area Friday night...

CORRECTION: THURSDAY night. THURSDAY night. The Obstructor-in-Chief is coming here Thursday night to block traffic (I-81 , a major highway that runs from the Canadian border to near Knoxville, Tennessee will be shut down for several hours while he is here) and hurt businesses (access to nearby businesses, still recovering from the June 13 tornado, will be cut off.)

Tuesday, July 31, 2018

Burned out

I think I've broken something.

I've only worked five hours of scheduled overtime in the last seven days. It was on Saturday, from 10:00 to 3:00 (which actually lasted to something like 3:18.) After that, I went to 4:00 Mass, and after that, I went shopping at two different grocery stores. I got home, unloaded the groceries (in two trips), put everything away, sat down for supper, got my lunch together for the next day, wrote my blog post, surfed the internet, and went to bed, to wake up bright and early for my regularly-scheduled 8:30 AM - 7:00 PM Sunday workday.

Monday - yesterday - I had off. I used this time to do long-neglected yard and garden stuff: tied up my sprawling tomatoes, chopped down some black walnut trees and pokeberry bushes and one large oak sapling that had sprung up, and mowed the lawn. Even though the weather was cool - relatively cool, only about 79 F (about 26 C) - I had to take several lengthy breaks. When all was done, I scrubbed myself down and threw together supper, some fake chicken parmigiana (chicken tenders I had pan-sauteed two weeks ago and frozen, bathed in spaghetti sauce and topped with strips of American cheese dusted with Parmesan cheese from a shaker, served over spaghetti) and when that was done I made some oven-fried chicken thighs, my lunch for the next two weeks.

This morning I didn't want to get up, and I started off my work week exhausted.

And that's where I am now. There are things I should do before bed. I've actually half-done them already, and the harder half is behind me. But the rest feels big, too big.

Still, all the overtime I have done over the past month has paid off. I was able to pay many daunting annual bills that are coming due, and I have some more money coming to help cover some others that are on their way. I can't quite cover everything through the end of the year, and certainly can't cover the county and municipal bills that will show up in January, but I still have time to work and put stuff away.

Which is a good thing, since in sixty days, I will be without a job.

Monday, July 30, 2018

Whipvine (Wild Hops)

My tomatoes are a bit of a mess right now. I've neglected them for nearly three weeks, and in that time they've grown like weeds, set fruit, flopped over above the points where I had them tied, hit the ground, and grown some more. I picked them up off the ground as carefully as I could and tried my best to tie them up without breaking the stems. I was mostly successful.

I realized I had forgotten about the two tomato plants next to the composter. (At least one of them, it turns out, is a Roma.) In working to get those vines tied up, I realized I had also forgotten about an old nemesis from last year: wild hops. Whipvine.

Wild hops is an aggressive weed that filled the space next to my composter this time last year. It is a climbing vine covered with tiny hooks. It feels like sandpaper, but if it rubs against exposed skin it leaves angry, burning, itching marks that look like whip lashes and grow more irritated over time. I first encountered it last August 1. I pulled out a large quantity of it by hand. I wore leather gloves that kept my hands protected, but my forearms were exposed. Shortly after I finished removing all the wild hops, the effects started to set in.

A few hours after removing wild hops last August 1.

But the worst was yet to come...
Later that evening, secondary effects kicked in: nausea and a feeling of dread. It wasn't pleasant. Fortunately, it didn't last. The feelings subsided within an hour. The itching went away overnight. The red lash marks lasted for well over a week.

This time wasn't nearly as bad. I wasn't wearing gloves as I worked on tying up my tomatoes, but I only brushed against the vines with the back of my left arm. It's covered with burning, itching red marks now, and the feelings of nausea and dread have come and gone. I pulled the offending vine - just a single vine, not the dozens I removed last year - and covered the place that it grew out of with several inches of fresh grass clippings. I'll keep an eye out for any additional wild hops vines that pop up near the tomatoes.


NOTE: There are several different plants known as "wild hops." These are Japanese wild hops, Humulus japonicus.

Sunday, July 29, 2018

Mars at opposition, July 29, 2018

Mars is currently at opposition. That means - well, for simplicity's sake, imagine that the Earth is the center of the solar system, and the Sun and planets go around it. At opposition the Sun and the thing in opposition - in this case, Mars - are directly opposite each other in Earth's sky. From a practical point of view, this means we are as close (or nearly as close, orbital mechanics can be complicated) to Mars as we will be during our current orbit around the Sun. This isn't a record-close opposition, so Mars isn't as big or as bright as it has been at other times, and certainly isn't the size of the Full Moon, despite what internet hoaxes passed along by pranksters and well-meaning dupes will tell you. Actually, the just-past-Full Moon dims the light of Mars a bit, as it lights up haze in the atmosphere and makes the sky brighter than it would be otherwise. Still, it's worth going out to view, now and for the next few nights. Mars will be the bright red thing in the south, not quite halfway up the sky. It will fade rapidly as we leave it behind in our own trip around the sun. So catch it while you can!

Mars showing true color. Bigger than actual size due to brightness.

Mars, actual size at 42x magnification. (Dim in upper center. You may need to click to see the full-sized version to actually see it.) Compare to these images of the Moon and Jupiter at the same magnification.

Same image, brightness and contrast enhanced.