Sunday, April 11, 2021

First steps back

 I received my second dose of the Moderna vaccine on March 6, 2021, four weeks after my first dose. Two weeks later, on March 20, 2021, I was officially "fully vaccinated."

Like so many others, I celebrated with a trip to the dentist.

It wasn't my first trip to the dentist during the pandemic. It was actually my second. My first had been on February 6, the same day as my first Moderna dose. I hadn't planned on going until two weeks after my second dose, but a shattered molar - a very common stress-related phenomenon during the pandemic - caused me to bump up my plans. During the routine exam, the dentist spotted a few cavities that had taken hold in the two years since my last visit, and she scheduled a follow-up for March 6, the day of my second vaccination. I begged off and was able to get rescheduled for two weeks later, coincidentally the day I officially reached "fully vaccinated" status.

I had big plans for that day. One of the few remaining "gray lady" banks in Nanticoke had announced that it would be closing, and I suspect that it may be demolished soon. We have family history with this bank - my grandfather worked there as a maintenance man after his jobs as a foreman the local silk throwing mill and at an out-of-state auto factory ended.  I planned to go out and photograph the three remaining buildings, much as I once photographed the churches of Nanticoke. I also planned to return to the cemetery where I took the photo of the crocus in the previous post. (Had I gone there, I might have seen some new flowers growing up huge on the other side of the headstone, flowers that looked like crocuses but three times the size of normal crocuses, flowers that would be withered by the time I got there a few weeks later.) I planned to go shopping at stores I hadn't been to in over a year. Maybe I would make a pilgrimage to Hillside Farms to commune with the animals. But first, I wanted to go grocery shopping.

The dental appointment didn't take long. Less than an hour, start to finish. After it was over, I walked to the post office next door and bought some stamps for my mom. Then I drove the car about a hundred yards to the grocery store across the street.

I had a lot to buy. I took my time, trying to feel more relaxed. I was fully vaccinated. I didn't have to be afraid anymore. 

About an hour later I exited the store with my purchases, loaded the car, put the cart away. I got in the car, put on my seat belt, turned the ignition.


Nothing happened.

When I had the car inspected in January, the battery test came back with a 60% charge. This seemed low for a battery that had been installed little more than two years earlier, on October 31, 2018. The guy from AAA who came to the supermarket parking lot to give me a jump confirmed that the battery was now at 50% charge and should be replaced. I asked him how long batteries usually lasted these days. He said most lasted at least three years. I guess I was just lucky.

(The battery hadn't died because I left the lights on or anything like that. Starting a car drains a battery tremendously, and it recharges as you drive. Starting the car, driving it a hundred yards or so from the dentist's to the supermarket, and then trying to start it again probably drained it past the point of useful charge.) 

After I got a jump I took the car on a forty-mile round trip, but then parked the car for the weekend. No outings or adventures on that battery. I was able to make an appointment to get the battery replaced early the next week at the same shop where I had had the inspection in January, a shop several generations of my family have used through several generations of the owner's family. I asked the owner - who is also the chief mechanic -  about why the battery might have died so quickly. He said it was because the car has mostly been used for short trips once or twice a week for the past year, combined with cold winter weather. I asked it this was something he was seeing more of lately, and he pointed to a line of replaced batteries on the floor. Like shattering molars, dead car batteries are another side-effect of the the pandemic. 

A week later, March 27, I had to run out to pick up some Easter chocolate from a local candy maker. After I loaded up the trunk with chocolate, I decided to go on my delayed shopping trip.

I started with Barnes & Noble, the last bookstore in the area. Barnes & Noble had been badly damaged by a tornado in June 2018. (A corner of the building was torn off, though the structural integrity remained good, and much of the interior went undamaged - many tables stacked with books went untouched.) The store remained closed for the rest of the year while the damage was repaired. I missed the grand re-opening in January 2019, and then didn't go there for one reason or another for most of the rest of 2019. I last stopped in back in February 2020, and bought a softcover of Neil Gaiman's collection Trigger Warning, which I would read and reread throughout the next year.

I was nervous about entering the store. I didn't know what to expect. I immediately noticed that the bargain books section had been reduced to a single small table and an overloaded cart. The shelves had been rearranged in a strange way, with shelves butted up against adjacent shelves at right angles, creating a sort of labyrinth that made it very difficult to move quickly through the store, especially if you are trying to avoid other shoppers. I forgot why I was there and what I was looking for. Surely I wasn't just browsing? I decided to seek out more Neil Gaiman, only to find that he was absent from the Science Fiction section. I wound my way through the labyrinth to the adjacent Fantasy section, and located a few of his titles. I picked up paperbacks of Fragile Things and Smoke & Mirrors, each priced at half as much as the softcover I had bought a year earlier. Satisfied with my selection, I hurried to the periodicals department. I briefly considered picking up the latest New Scientist, Skeptical Inquirer, or Fortean Times, but in the end I just wanted to get out. I found my path to the checkout obstructed by other shoppers and had to swing wide. Finally I was checked out, out the door, and on my way back to the car.

Next up was Lowes for a new amber low-intensity LED lightbulb for my triple-headed light. Then to Michaels Arts and Crafts for some floral foam, and Dollar Tree for various items - most of which they didn't have. For all of these places, this was my first visit in well over a year. I was double-masked and running in every store, breathing as little as possible.

Finally I stopped at Burger King to use a coupon to get dinner for that night and the next few days. The drive-through there was extremely crowded, and this stop alone took nearly half an hour. 

I got home about three hours after I had set out for the candy store.

Later that week I took my mom (who became fully vaccinated two days before me) to a appointment in a hospital. We rode in an elevator. I sat in a waiting area for an hour. None of this would have been imaginable a month earlier.

Last Sunday was Easter. We got together for dinner with my brother and his family (all fully vaccinated several weeks before us) at their house. No masks. No distancing. The first time we had been together  indoors in close contact in well over a year.

I've made plans to meet with a group of friends over the Memorial Day weekend, and with another group the Sunday after Mother's Day - all fully vaccinated. I'm eagerly waiting for other friends to get their first shots this week, so their countdown to full vaccination can begin.

The downward plunge of cases has slowed, stopped, and reversed - and now case counts have slowly crept up to a level last seen in late October, or at the height of the Summer Surge. We're not done yet. Vaccinations are continuing at an admirable pace, but we still have a way to go. 

Sunday, March 14, 2021

The Pandemic: Year One

Golden orange crocus in bloom in front of base of granite tombstone
Yellow crocus at cemetery, March 13, 2021

One year. One lost year.

The COVID-19 pandemic has been going on for longer than that. The dying started in late 2019. The early epicenter was Wuhan, China. By the time the world knew what was happening, it was too late to stop it from spreading across the world, and probably had been for some time.

COVID-19 is unusual. Highly contagious, yes, as any good virus should be. Kills quite a few of the people who get it and develop symptoms - not ideal for a virus, but acceptable as long as infected individuals do their job of spreading the virus before they die. Asymptomatic spread is a hallmark of COVID-19, and that's unusual. 

In the past, asymptomatic carriers of disease (like "Typhoid Mary") were unusual enough to make their way into the history books and national lore. Now the standard operating procedure for COVID-19 is: an individual gets infected by breathing in virus particles that an infected person has breathed out, the virus infects them, they spend about two weeks being contagious without showing any symptoms, and then they develop symptoms while continuing to be contagious. Some of the people who develop symptoms die. Some recover completely. Some recover and suffer lifetime consequences. 

And the symptoms! The consequences! Roll the dice, see what you get: lungs that look like frosted glass on an X-ray, "COVID toes," intense generalized pain, chronic cough,  difficulty breathing, loss of smell and taste, hair loss, and lots more. Maybe you'll get some. Maybe you'll get only a few. Maybe you'll die in just a few days. Maybe you'll hang in for weeks, months even, and then you'll recover. Or die.

In the first year, over 2.6 million people have died of COVID-19 worldwide, more than 530,000 in the United States alone.* The United States had an increase in deaths of 15%. in 2020 compared to previous years. In some countries, the rate of "excess deaths" for 2020, the number of deaths in excess of what would be expected based on past data, exceeds 50%.

And there are people who will dispute every one of these things. They will tell you that COVID is "just the flu." They will tell you that masks don't work. That no one has actually died of COVID. That it's the vaccines that are actually killing people.

Oh, we have vaccines now. Two, by Pfizer and Moderna, were developed during the Trump administration, though Pfizer was developed independently of the Federal government. The Johnson & Johnson single-shot vaccine was approved just a few weeks ago, and teachers began receiving it this week. There are other vaccines in use throughout the world. Mass vaccination programs are taking place worldwide.

We also have a plan now. A plan passed without a single Republican vote. During the Trump occupation, Trump pitted states against each other in competition for critical resources. Chaos was the order of the day. That day is over.

Joe Biden pledged to get 100 million shots into arms in his first 100 days as President. He got us there in his first 50.

We're not done yet. We can still snatch defeat out of the jaws of victory. The "new cases" graph may** reflect certain societal movements: the final campaign rally push in September through early November 2020, Thanksgiving gatherings in late November, Christmas in late December. It's undeniable that since mid-January 2021, new cases have dropped dramatically, though the rate of decline has leveled out since mid-February. The CDC is advising a cautious approach, maintaining the rules of masking and social distancing, avoiding crowds and indoor events. Texas and Missisippi have essentially ended all COVID-related restrictions - and the Texas Attorney General is threatening legal action against cities like Austin that have chosen to adhere to CDC guidelines. St. Patrick's Day weekend is upon us. Spring is coming, and Summer is not far behind. The same people who demanded "ENOUGH IS ENOUGH! REOPEN NOW!" a year ago are making that same demand again, after nearly one on every 600 Americans has died of COVID-19. New variations of COVID-19 have emerged. Small but significant portions of the population are rejecting vaccination, while larger numbers of people are trying to get vaccinated and cannot, either because they do not yet qualify in their state or they qualify but there are not enough vaccines available for everyone.*** 

Is there light at the end of the tunnel? Or will things once again get worse before they get better? Time will tell.

*Last Spring, a friend who was involved in COVID response predicted 500,000 U.S. deaths by the end of 2020. His prediction was off by about seven weeks. My post-election prediction of 400,000 U.S deaths by Inauguration Day was almost exactly correct.

**Europe shows similar increases in the final months of 2020, without Presidential elections or Thanksgiving gatherings, so who the hell knows.

***My mom received her second Moderna shot on March 4, 2021. I received mine on March 6. My brother's entire family has already received both shots, some of Pfizer, some of Moderna. A librarian at a local school district, who also teaches classes and qualifies as an educator, received her Johnson & Johnson shot on Friday, while a librarian at the local library does not yet qualify. My sister, who lives in another state and has multiple health conditions, does not yest qualify for a shot, and other friends who live in the same state as me and who qualify are unable to sign up because of availability.

Sunday, January 17, 2021

2021: Our story so far


"Trump still has nineteen days in office, and can still do some damage." I wrote those words sixteen days ago. They seem so quaint and naive now.

Donald Trump has simply refused to accept that he lost the election. Cannot believe it, so it must not be true, or he can make it be not true. Two weeks ago he tried to convince the Lieutenant Governor of Georgia - a Republican - to "find" for him enough votes to win the state, two months after the election. The Lieutenant Governor refused. Trump threatened him, stating that by accepting the results of the election, he was acting illegally. The Lieutenant Governor promptly released a recording of the call.

Trump had been rallying his troops on Facebook, on Twitter, summoning them to one big gathering in Washington, D.C. on January 6th, the day that the Electoral Votes would be officially counted and certified by Vice President Mike Pence. Immediately the word got around: prepare for civil war. This is it, this is what they'd been waiting for. The votes from swing states that had gone for Biden would be challenged. Mike Pence would overturn the results of the election. Trump would be certified as President. Or else.

They came. They came in great numbers, from all around the country. Local political gadfly and frequent candidate for public office Frank Scavo ran a bus trip down from Pittston with over 200 participants. The people who showed up in Washington, D.C. weren't bound by the rules that had applied to other gatherings that had taken place there. Many of them carried weapons, and flags, and signs. Many wore combat armor, helmets and bulletproof vests. Many of them looked ready for war.

Trump addressed his troops. He expressed hope that Mike Pence would do his job and overturn the election. He then directed his troops to march down from their gathering spot on the National Mall to the Capitol itself. He would be marching with them - in spirit, anyway.

The counting began, barely. The votes were announced from Alabama. From Alaska. From Arizona - and there came the first objection. Minutes after the counting began it was stopped for two hours so the House and Senate could separately debate whether to accept the votes from Arizona.

That, apparently, was the signal.

The gathered crowd surged on the Capitol. They knocked down the barriers keeping them away - in some cases, the barriers were moved aside for them by Capitol Police. They stormed the Capitol steps, off-limits to visitors since September 11, 2001. They scaled walls. They rushed the doors and battered them in. They smashed windows and poured into the Capitol. Some looked like excited tourists caught up in the moment. Others looked like soldiers on a mission to infiltrate enemy headquarters and assassinate the general staff.

Frank Scavo posted excitedly:

The next day, Frank Scavo would tell his story to all the local newspapers and TV stations: he was there, but not so close to the action as to see what exactly was going on - despite his photo from the off-limits steps above. He had heard about the incursion into the Capitol, but such a thing surely must be the work of ANTIFA disguised as Trump supporters - no true patriot would defile the Capitol in the way that these people had! A day later, photos emerged of Scavo inside the Capitol as part of a mob. Over the next few days, the news stations would publish the photographic evidence. Scavo hasn't had much to say about the incident since then, not that anyone would believe anything he had to say anyway.

Each day, more and more photos and videos of the Capitol Insurrection have emerged, many shared by members of the mob itself in generous acts of self-incrimination. Parents have identified and reported their children, and children have identified and reported their parents. One was identified by an old high school classmate. The FBI have begun making arrests. Many of the members of the insurrection had fairly obvious intent, equipped with police-issue zip-cuffs. In the videos you see them going from room to room, looking for members of Congress, Nancy Pelosi in particular (though they had also chanted "Hang Mike Pence! Hang Mike Pence!", clearly upset at his failure to overturn the results of the election.) 

While some members of the Capitol Police - the only force in position to defend the Capitol that day - welcomed the insurrectionists as friends and comrades, others did their jobs. One played Pied Piper, carefully leading a mob away from unsecured doors that would have allowed them access directly to the Senate. Others were severely beaten. One was killed, beaten to death with a fire extinguisher. Four members of the mob died - one, an Air Force veteran who smashed her way through a door and was shot by the police defending a secure position; another, a woman carrying a Gadsden "DON'T TREAD ON ME" flag, was trampled to death by the mob; two others died of heart attacks, including another local arranger of buses (and purveyor of the "Trumparoo," an adorable Trump/kangaroo hybrid.) Another member of the Capitol Police died by suicide a few days after the event.

Members of Congress and their staffers and family members engaged in an active shooter response - Nancy Pelosi ruefully noted that many of her staffers had learned how to respond in school. QAnon cult member Representative Lauren Boebert helpfully tweeted out the positions and movements of members of Congress, including Nancy Pelosi. 

Hours passed before Trump allowed the National Guard to go in. Reportedly he was watching everything unfold on TV, and enjoying it tremendously. Joseph Biden wasted no time declaring the insurrectionists "domestic terrorists."

Congress reconvened at 8:00 PM. There were several more delays, including one over the validity of the votes from Pennsylvania. But eventually all objections were overruled. Despite Frank Scavo's excited assertion, the Electoral Vote was certified, and Joseph R. Biden was officially declared the winner.

Within days Donald Trump, in recognition of his incitement of the gathered mob to storm the Capitol in an act of insurrection, became the first president in U.S. history to be impeached twice. He has been permanently banned from Twitter and Facebook, perhaps a greater personal blow.

A social media site, Parler, which was extremely popular with right-wing extremists and conspiracy theorists, was shut down after they lost both their hosting and the right to continue to use the "free trial" versions of software they used to run much of their site. Some enterprising soul managed to archive all Parler content while it was still available - which is where much of the video and photographic evidence from the insurrection was housed.

December 7, 1941. September 11, 2001. January 6, 2021.

At noon on January 20, 2021, Donald Trump will be handing President Joseph R. Biden a country in flames. A collapsed economy. Over 400,000 dead of COVID-19. Trump himself won't be there; having broken the longstanding tradition of peaceful transitions of power, he intends to slink off early. He wants to be honored with a military sendoff, complete with a band and a twenty-one gun salute.

And he still has two and a half days to go.

We'll see what happens between now and then.

Friday, January 01, 2021

2020: A brief review

We knew it was coming.

I wish I had saved the tweet. That tweet that someone posted from when the news was just starting to leak out of China in December or early January, news about a highly contagious respiratory disease, a sort of superflu with deadly consequences, rapidly spreading beyond the major city (and international airline hub) of Wuhan. Someone wrote "THERE. That's it. THAT'S what was missing."

On Sunday, January 26, 2020 I was coming back to Nanticoke from a quick afternoon shopping trip. I decided to come through the newly-reopened new road that runs between Route 29 and Kosciuszko Street. Driving past all the newly-built warehouse distribution centers, I thought about all the low-to-middling-wage jobs that had been brought to the area, and wondered how long we would be able to hold onto them - and what it would take to disrupt them. I got home and was greeted with the news that Kobe Bryant, his daughter, and several others were killed in a helicopter crash. The next day, USA Today ran this on their front page:

Even then, we knew. 

We watched through February as the disease raged through Seattle, and New York, and Los Angeles, and San Francisco. We heard about the special affinity had for nursing homes, chewing its way through the captive resident populations. Prisons, too. We watched the first cases appear in Philadelphia, and then in the counties bordering New Jersey. We knew it was here in Pennsylvania. It would just be a matter of time.

One of the first deaths in the area was a man from Hanover Township - or was it the Hanover section of Nanticoke? - who had just come back from a trip to Italy, where the disease was burning through the highly sociable population. 

Saint Patrick's Day weekend came, and suddenly people realized there was a stark choice to be made:  go out like nothing was wrong, or stay home. A lot of people made one choice, a lot of people chose another. Everybody went back to the office on Monday, one big happy workplace family.

Las Vegas shut down, and we knew things were very serious.

Later that week we had a meeting. We would be leaving the building, going home to await further instructions. As I left the office on that last night, I told my friends we would be seeing each other in two weeks to eighteen months. I whistled "The End of the World" by Bob Geldof as I hobbled out on my slowly-healing stress-fractured leg. 

Two weeks later we were back to pick up our computers and headsets. We would be working from home for the indefinite future.

The Spring ground on, became Summer, all feeling like a unending slog - the Long March, some called it, because the world seemed to be frozen as it was when last we had believed ourselves safe and secure. Racial conflicts arose, fueled by a series of police abuses and outright murders. Protests were met with more abuse of authority, and the use of what could generously be called "irregulars" to supplement official forces. The police and their mercenary allies took particular delight in exercising their abuse against members of the media. News crews were attacked and arrested. A photographer was shot in the eye and blinded with a rubber bullet.  A Navy veteran who approached a line of mercenaries in Police gear to ask them on whose authority they were engaging in their unlawful behavior was beaten and pepper-sprayed for his audacity. An assault rifle-toting teenager who had crossed state lines in the hope of engaging in conflict shot and killed several protesters during a confrontation. Another individual was shot and killed by a private security guard for a media group after he attacked the guard and the reporters.

John Lewis died. Ruth Bader Ginsburg died. Over 345,000 Americans died of COVID-19. 

COVID-19 forced a rethinking of how elections would be run. Paper absentee ballots became the norm. But at the same time, Trump appointee Louis DeJoy took steps to destabilize the US Postal Service and reduce its ability to handle mail in a timely manner. Millions of voters took their votes to drop boxes. Hundreds of thousands of votes, perhaps more, were likely lost or delayed in the USPS system and never got where they were going. (DeJoy's trumpery would have log-lasting repercussions: I sent out three packages on December 14. One got to Florida on December 18. One got to Columbia, MD on December 26. And one did not get to Dover, PA until December 30.)

Joe Biden defeated Donald Trump by the same electoral margin that Trump had defeated Hillary Clinton. Biden also received the largest number of popular votes in history, and defeated Trump by a margin of over seven million votes. Trump, who had declared his defeat of Clinton to be a "landslide," refused to accept (and still refuses to accept) the results of the election.

...and that's pretty much it. Working from home. Ordering what we need online. Making furtive trips to the grocery store and elsewhere to buy the things we can't get online. Going to church online. Not letting my mom out of the house except for trips to the doctor and visits to the cemetery. My leg got better, since I wasn't hiking from the parking lot to my desk every day anymore, and was able to give it time to heal. 

The dying keeps going on. The Trump administration's response to COVID-19 has been a series of failures and disasters. Trump's failure to provide leadership has turned mask wearing into a political issue. The same people who are denying that COVID-19 is a real disease are also furiously denying that Joe Biden won the Presidential election.

The best guesses at when things might return to some sort of normal range from July to October. Other countries have been able to wrestle the disease into submission through stopping social transmission, through the use of bubbles and masks and public compliance with scientific guidance. Not the United States. Our spread is out of control. And still millions had no problem going out and partying to see in the New Year.

The dying isn't over. Trump still has nineteen days in office, and can still do some damage. Things won't magically change January 20, any more than they changed January 1. But we have hope.

Sometimes it feels like that's all we have.

Something old is ending, something new is beginning

The first Moon of 2021 looks down on Nanticoke - waning gibbous, two days past Full. What will the coming twelve Full Moons see?

2020 is done.

2021 is beginning. 

The U.S. COVID-19 tally of 2020: (data actually lags a few days)

Sunday, December 27, 2020

Season of Lights

Jupiter and Saturn shine over Christmas lights

Christmas 2020 is in the books. Millions of people ignored the advice of the leading medical experts and decided to visit family and friends in spite of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic raging across the country. Someone decided to set off a truck bomb - an RV - in downtown Nashville, and took out telephone, internet, and 911 service for much of Tennessee and points beyond. Donald Trump has spent the days since he left Washington, D.C. golfing at his golf club in Florida, and finally decided to sign off on a spending bill - one day after missing the deadline to ensure that supplemental unemployment payments would continue uninterrupted.

Christmas lights are starting to come down around town. It's been my observation that the people who demand that everyone begin saying "Merry Christmas!" early in November, those who proclaim themselves to be the most fanatically devoted to Christmas, are the same ones who undecorate in a frenzy as soon as Christmas is past.

Fiber optic tree with blue LED lights and a miniature LED tree.

Crystal icicles and shiny ornaments capture the sunlight.

Spumoni in the window

Jupiter and Saturn continue their dance, much lower and farther apart then when they were at their closest it 800 years on Monday, December 21, 2020. This was the first clear night we had since Saturday, December 19. 

Jupiter and Saturn, 5:20 PM on December 27, 2020, six days after their closest encounter in 800 years. We have had solid clouds since December 18.

Sinking beneath the wires. This may be the last night I observe these two before they slip behind the Sun.

COVID-19 continues to rage uninterrupted. Vaccinations have begun, but there is a long way to go. As of this week, 1 in every 1000 Americans has died of COVID-19. Many more will die before this is over.

COVID-19 may be continuing uninterrupted, but testing and reports of deaths may have been interrupted by the holiday. This week's numbers may be low because of that.

Monday, December 21, 2020

Fourth week of Advent


Saturn and Jupiter, December 19, 2020. Jupiter says PEW PEW PEW PEW
No Advent Wreath image this week, again - I guess that first one was a fluke. Meanwhile, Saturn and Jupiter move toward their tightest appearance for the next 800 years on Monday, December 21, 2020, but we will likely be clouded out then, just as we were tonight. These images from Saturday, December 19 may be the best shots I'll get.

In this image, taken as soon as the sky got dark enough to see the planets, the shape of Saturn can be clearly seen.

It snowed Wednesday, a lot. We had nearly two feet of relatively dry, light stuff, though in other areas the snow is wetter and heavier. Binghamton, NY had nearly four feet, which will eventually melt and flow into the Susquehanna River.

The first shipments of COVID-19 vaccine have started going out, and the first shots are going into arms. Many of those arms belong to politicians who have downplayed and dismissed the seriousness of this virus or even the existence of a pandemic - they now say they want to set a good example. Meanwhile, Donald Trump is considering declaring martial law to try to stay in power. The consequences of the Great American Fuck-Up of 2016 will continue to reverberate for decades.

Romeo died this week. I will pick up his ashes in a few days. Homer has some weird swelling on one side of his face which may be affecting his eye. I took him to the vet on Friday, and we have a follow-up Christmas Eve. Ray also needs to go into the vet soon for a swelling in his ear.

After some effort, we have our Christmas tree up and decorated.

Christmas is almost here!

Monday, December 14, 2020

Romeo, April 4, 2004 - December 14, 2020

Romeo has died.

Romeo, March 7, 2018

Romeo was one of three animals we inherited from a neighbor when she died in 2011. Hershey died in 2015, and Baby Boy in 2016.

Romeo, Baby Boy, Hershey

Romeo was a honey-blonde longhair. The neighbor got him in 2004 or 2005, as part of a pair - "Juliet" was a dark brown longhair. The neighbor had many, many issues. Juliet vanished sometime before the final crisis on 2011 that put the neighbor in the hospital in late August or early September and caused her to die three months later. When I began taking care of Hershey and Baby Boy in her house while she was in the hospital, I found Romeo lurking in the garden outside. I brought him into her house, and we took the three of them into our house when it was clear the neighbor would not be coming back. I soon found that Romeo's long hair was full of fully engorged ticks, which I carefully removed and destroyed.

(Later, when the cleaning crew was removing the accumulated piles of junk from the neighbor's house, they found Juliet's  mummified corpse on the back porch.)

At first Romeo was a nasty cat, rude and aggressive to the others in the house. He ran away a time or two, but always came back eventually. One day he began displaying disturbing behavior - inappropriate pooping, sometimes right in front of me.  I examined his poop and spotted long white filaments in it. Then I noticed they were moving. I knew I had to get him to the vet.

I warned the vet that Romeo might be difficult, that he had a tendency to be aggressive toward other cats. As he and the techs examined him, Romeo began to purr, the first time I had ever heard him purr. He was in ecstasy. He was the center of attention and he loved it. Now I understood. From that point on I made a point to make Romeo the "special" cat, the "featured" cat, once in a while. He was never nasty again.

Romeo's long hair was an issue. We had never had a longhair before, and even with regular brushing and annual haircuts, his hair would get knotted and matted, and he would cough up huge hairballs. I bought a hairball treatment for him that he came to see as his special treat.

The last few weeks he had been uninterested in his hairball treats. He lost a lot of weight. His matting got worse and worse, despite everything I did to brush and comb and tear and cut them out. Last week he stopped jumping up on the windowsill -  I assembled a makeshift set of steps for him. He became uninterested in food over the weekend, though he wolfed down half a can of kitten food Friday or Saturday morning. I began giving him syringes of water and a mineral supplement. Maybe it was already too late.

He was still moving around the house this morning. But when I went to check on him on my first break this afternoon, I found him dead in the bathroom. He was still warm, still soft and flexible. He had probably died just a few minutes before I checked on him.

In the morning we will take him to be cremated.

Sunday, December 13, 2020

Third Sunday of Advent

On Gaudete Sunday, we wear pink. Well, rose. 

No Advent Wreath image this week, so we'll have to make due with an image of Father Shawn Simchock, the new assistant pastor of Saint Fausrina Kowalska in Nanticoke, PA wearing the rose vestments that are worn twice a year - Gaudete Sunday, the third Sunday in Advent and Laetare Sunday, the fourth Sunday in Lent.

The Third Sunday of Advent tells us that Christmas is almost here, and we'd better have our preparations well under way. It can be as early as December 11 (if Christmas is on a Sunday)  or as late as December 17 (if Christmas is on a Monday.) This year Christmas is on a Friday, so it falls on December 13.

Now things are reaching a frantic pitch. And the world isn't stopping or slowing down, not even during a pandemic. Personally, I received a bit of terrifyingly bad (not health-related) news earlier this week, something I haven't really been able to fully grasp yet, but something that will be waiting for me in the new year. Also: One of our cats appears to be dying. He is the last of the three animals we inherited from a neighbor, and is probably between sixteen and eighteen years old. Two other cats appear to have conditions that need to be looked at by a vet sooner rather than later. Bills past due are reaching their final due date. Things that have been put off too long need attending to. Donald Trump's last-ditch effort to have the Supreme Court overturn the election was rejected, 9-0, and tomorrow the Electoral College vote will make the Biden/Harris victory official.

Though that's not keeping Trump from ranting and raving. Looking forward to seeing his Twitter account shut down for TOS violations on the afternoon of January 20, 2021. (UPDATE: Trump was actually permanently banned from Twitter for repeated TOS violations on January 8, 2021.)

The pandemic is ramping up. Shutdown restrictions have increased, but so has resistance to them. The UK has started getting vaccines in arms. The first vaccines in the US have started shipping and administration is expected in two weeks.

I made Rocks yesterday, for the first time in about ten years, using whiskey from a bottle from my friend Marc's stash, four years and a day after he died.

I am shipping Christmas gifts tomorrow. Delivery is expected to be late. They may not be arriving before Christmas.

Saturn and Jupiter are moving closer together in the post-sunset sky, but visibility is getting more difficult. The weather isn't helping. I had two clear seeing days last week, December 10th and 11th. Maximum approach will be December 21. After that, they will quickly be lost in the glare of the Sun.

December 10, 2020, 6:16 PM. Moons of Jupiter: Left: Io (lost in glare of Jupiter); Right: Ganymede, Europa, Callisto

December 11, 2020, 6:00 PM. Moons of Jupiter:  Left: Ganymede, Europa; Right: Io, Callisto (distant, faint)

Christmas is coming, and coming fast.

Wednesday, December 09, 2020

First REAL snow, December 9, 2020


About two inches of snow have fallen on Nanticoke as of 1:00 this afternoon. Crunchy snow. Good snowball and snowman snow.

I was not ready. The car snow brush was buried deep in the car under numerous items that have been purchased and never brought into the house, toilet paper and paper towels and cat pads.

Nanticoke was ready. Streets were well-plowed as I took my mom to this morning's appointment.

Whoever was responsible for the Sans Souci - not sure if that's Hanover Township or the state of Pennsylvania - was not ready. The road was for the most part unplowed. I white-knuckled it at twenty miles per hour from the doctor's office to Michael Mootz Candies, one of the only stores I have allowed myself to enter in the last nine months. (I was the only non-employee in the store.) The drive back was a little better, but still terrifying.

Soon I have to go to work. I'll need to shovel the sidewalks tonight or tomorrow morning.