Monday, December 31, 2018

An end to 2018

2018 sucked in many ways for me. I'd like to say I'm glad to see it go, but I know that, outside of some technical and legal points, the changing of the calendar doesn't mean anything much. Time will continue to grind by, burn away, and things will keep on happening, with or without our permission.

A few years ago, at one of the first "Kick Out the Bottom" open mics, someone (I forget who) read a poem that opened with a litany of warnings against seeking answers in the words of others. "Neil Gaiman doesn't have all the answers," she said, drawing an audible gasp from the crowded room. (Someone might have reflexively hissed "The devil you say.") Neil Gaiman's New Year's wishes have long been a favorite, little blessings full of wisdom and insight and kindness. He hasn't written one in a while, so he put together a post today collecting all of his past wishes, and explaining what a year 2018 has been, and how busy he has been, and how the is the first New Year's in many that he is away from his wife and child, and...

...and then he went ahead and wrote a new wish for the coming year.

Try to make your time matter: minutes and hours and days and weeks can blow away like dead leaves, with nothing to show but time you spent not quite ever doing things, or time you spent waiting to begin.

And with those words, Neil Gaiman has spun me around. Maybe I'll try not to be so pessimistic about the coming year. Maybe I'll make better use of my time. Make my time matter.

Neil Gaiman doesn't have all the answers. But this is something I'll take to heart.

Sunday, December 30, 2018

2018: Almost over

Yeah. Another year in the books.

2018 was horrible in a lot of new and special ways. In May I told my supervisor during one of our periodic how's-it-going meetings that, after six years in the travel business, I was finally feeling happy, finally feeling like I was hitting my stride, finally making good money. So, naturally, within a week or so we were all called into a meeting and told that the company would be closing at the end of September. Our final client valued our work so highly that they invited the employees to apply for work-from-home positions - something that was simply not a practical possibility for me. So when September 30 came along, I found myself once again unemployed.

In late Spring a friend lost herself in an abrupt medical incident. I spent my final week of vacation visiting her in a hospital, hoping to aid in her recovery. Just when things were looking hopeful, her situation went from bad to worse to even worse. And that's where the year is ending with her.

As all this was happening things went sideways over at NEPA Blogs. We had been a part of WBRE's PA Live since the show's first week in September 2011. We had the odd skipped week and even the occasional multi-week hiatus. We also experienced several co-host changes, which meant that pre-recorded episodes with that co-host would have to be scrapped. I recorded my last session for PA Live! in late May, twenty episodes, enough to carry us through at least until September or so. But just a few weeks later, we were advised that the co-host I had recorded with would be leaving the show, very soon, meaning that we would be off the show until we recorded more. Unfortunately, this news came through as my friend was in the worst of her issues, and as I was losing myself in working as much overtime as humanly possible. We agreed that we wouldn't even try to record new episodes until a replacement host was chosen, something that didn't happen until early September. By then I was in the final weeks of my old job. And then, once the job ended, I plunged right into job search mode. I finally had a new job secured in early November, and reached out to the host and producer of PA Live! to let him know I was available to record with his new co-host - only to have him tell me that he was about to be leaving the station to accept a new job elsewhere, and resumption of the segment would be at the discretion of the new host.

As all this was happening, I was staying away from NEPA Blogs. I have not posted to it or updated it since - well, I'm not sure how long. But NEPA Blogs isn't just a site, it's a network of blogs and bloggers linking to each other and interacting with each other, joined by the bonds that run though Northeastern Pennsylvania. It was designed to get along fine without me. Still, I intend to resume work on NEPA Blogs in the new year, and to reach out to the new host of PA Live! sometime soon.

2018 is almost over. It sucked in its own special ways. I'd like to say I'm looking forward to 2019, but in truth, I expect it to be every bit as uniquely horrible.

Saturday, December 29, 2018

Calendars acquired

I ventured into the Wyoming Valley Mall today. It's a shadow of what it once was, with two of its anchor stores (Sears and the Bon-Ton) closed, no bookstore, no music store, and no movie theater. Many of the temporary kiosks that went up for the Christmas shopping season are packing up. Fortunately, the calendar kiosk is still there, and selling its calendars for half price. I was able to pick up two space calendars there, a full-sized one featuring photos from the Hubble Space Telescope and a miniature Astronomy one for my station at work.

After the mall I went to Target and picked up some LED Christmas lights at 70% off. Gertrude Hawk's didn't have any peanut butter smidgens on sale. I wound my way to the Barnes & Noble pop-up store and located the 2019 edition of Francesco Marciuliano's "I Could Pee on This" calendar, also half price.

So now I'm all calendared up for 2019!

Friday, December 28, 2018

Christmas purge

For the fourth day of Christmas, I went out into the world of retail and found...very little Christmas.

It's Friday, December 28. Christmas was this past Tuesday. Today was my first opportunity to go shopping. I was kind of hoping to find that Christmas would linger until at least this weekend. But already Walmart has purged itself of most of the trappings of Christmas, with just a few fugitive ornaments left in the clearance section. Sam's Club has a good supply of boxed imported Christmas cookies and pastries available at half-price, but not much else to indicate the holiday that just passed, or the holiday season that has just begun. The local supermarket had nothing except a single clearance rack with half-price cookie cutters and polyresin houses, and a few half-priced boxes of Christmas cookies.

I suppose Target might have a more extensive clearance section. I haven't stopped in there yet, nor at Kmart. And I never made it to the Wyoming Valley Mall, so I don't even know if there are any calendar kiosks selling 2019 calendars at half price.

Tomorrow I need to stop at the vet's for more medicine for Thor, and at Pet Supplies Plus for cat treats, food, and litter. Maybe I'll make a few side trips during my outing.

Thursday, December 27, 2018

Time for bed

A postponed garbage night got me. Plus I'm still sick. No time or energy left to write. Need to go to bed.

I was hoping to get out to a poetry reading tomorrow night, but that's not going to happen. Too much to do.

Wednesday, December 26, 2018

On the Second Day of Christmas

December 26. Boxing Day. The day after Christmas. Calendar Day. Today goes by a lot of names.

For some people - for many of those most fanatical about ramming Christmas down everyone else's throat, and insisting that "Merry Christmas!" is the only acceptable greeting that can be used from the day after Thanksgiving on, December 26 is a day to look at all the Christmas decorations lying about, say "What the...?, and begin to furiously box everything up and put it away, lest someone else notice that they have tackily left signs of Christmas up after the holiday.

By the official reckoning of the Catholic Church (and presumably, the other, younger Christian denominations) December 25 is the start of the Christmas season, not the end of it. Christmas is not considered to officially end until - well, later. The Feast of the Three Kings, or Epiphany, is January 6 and is traditionally considered the end of the season, and takes place twelve days after Christmas - hence the song, "The Twelve Days of Christmas," which many people misinterpret as a countdown to Christmas. Other reckonings for the end of the season include the Feast of the Baptism of Jesus, observed one week after Epiphany on January 13 (although this baptism took place when Jesus was an adult), and the Feast of the Presentation in the Temple, or Candlemas Day, which is February 2, forty days after Christmas.

Then there is, of course, "Russian Christmas," now referred to "Christmas as observed by followers of the Julian calendar." This is January 7, the day after Epiphany. It's traditional in some communities to leave decorations up but lights off from shortly after Christmas, and then turn all the lights on again for Russian Christmas - after which all decorations can be removed.

So don't be in a hurry to undecorate. Enjoy that eggnog, keep looking at the lights, and enjoy the rest of the Christmas season.

Tuesday, December 25, 2018

Merry Christmas 2018!

For the second year in a row, I'm carrying on with my tradition of being sick for Christmas. I was feeling run-down yesterday, and felt pretty lousy by the time Mass was over at 11:00 PM. I was coughing all night and woke up with a sore throat. I had some Throat Coat tea in the morning and nursed a second glass of it throughout the day. I will be taking a box of it with me to work tomorrow.

This was a low-key, fairly disaster-free Christmas. I hope yours was disaster-free, as well.

Monday, December 24, 2018

There'll be scary ghost stories

There's been some talk online of bringing back the old English tradition of ghost stories at Christmas. Outside of Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol and the reference in the song "It's the Most Wonderful Time of the Year," I was unaware of this tradition. But there's a lot of information about the history of it online.

The discussion tonight before our family's Christmas Eve Vigil Supper began innocently enough, talking about a newly-purchased century-old house on the edge of a cemetery. But soon we found ourselves swapping what my grandmother used to refer to as "creepy stories." Footsteps heard in the space above a girls' dorm at a local college (which turned out to belong to a vagrant squatting in the attic); something that someone - a middle-aged male professional someone - saw in a funeral home-turned-radio station that caused him to insist that the next DJ on duty call in someone to keep her company after he left for the night; my own ghost sighting that left me with the mysterious discovery of a document of sudden relevance; a ghost sighting in my house early one Christmas morning, many years ago, after my family came back from Midnight Mass; a story of a phantom extra figure that showed up in someone's family photos. It was enough to creep us all out, and we finally broke for dinner.

But that wasn't the end of things.

After dinner, after dessert, after the dishes had been cleared, about half the people gathered around the table heard...something. I didn't, but I was told that it was a low rumbling noise, like a piece of furniture being dragged across the floor. I have pretty acute hearing, and I immediately began listening for trouble sounds: running water, the scrabbling of an animal that has snuck into a house and is trying to get out, the sound of a bear dragging stuff around outside. Nothing. A quick search of the house revealed nothing amiss.

So what was it? The sound of someone digesting their meal? Vibrations caused by someone with a nervous tic in their leg? Someone inadvertently moving their chair and causing the sound of dragging furniture? A skyquake or other strange acoustic phenomenon?

No idea. But maybe the creepy stories had best be left for Halloween.

Sunday, December 23, 2018

Merry Christmas, in advance

Tomorrow is Christmas Eve. I am working, and am starting a new phase of the job - a temporary transition from training to actually taking calls. It's supposed to snow, lightly, overnight. So I'm going to dress for our Christmas Eve Vigil Supper, pack my camera in the car (along with the pies I just made and the sparkling cider I bought a few weeks ago, all of which are already in the car), head to work early, and then either dash home right after work to pick up my mom and sister to head to my brother's, -or- head straight to my brother's house if my mom and my sister decide to leave early on their own. After dinner we will head straight to 10:00 Christmas Eve mass, which is going to be held at the "secondary site" for our parish according to two out of three published schedules.

Since I may not get a chance to blog tomorrow, I wanted to take this opportunity to wish all my friends all around the world a Merry Christmas! And here's wishing all of us a better New Year.

Saturday, December 22, 2018

Tales of holiday sadness: McDonald's eggnog shakes

Today, after shipping a last-minute package and making a brief pilgrimage to Main Hardware's Christmasland in Wilkes-Barre, I decided to partake of my sporadic Christmas tradition of getting an eggnog shake at McDonald's. I first did this a decade or more ago, when their "large" shakes were huge and thick and came with straws nearly half an inch in diameter. Eventually they switched their shakes to a single, smaller size, topped with whipped cream and a maraschino cherry. Not the same, but marginally adequate.

I went to the McDonald's nearest my house. I pulled up to the ordering thing and realized it would be best to ask first if they had eggnog shakes before I ordered anything else. They said no. Fair enough. There are lots of McDonald's in the area, so I tried another one in the West Side Mall. Nope. I was heading for another one near the Wyoming Valley Mall. As I approached the River Street exit to take me to route 309, I realized that I was passing another McDonald's. I pulled in and surveyed the situation: no ads for eggnog shakes or anything else seasonal. I asked if they had eggnog shakes, and they said no. After having gone to three locations, I finally thought to ask: have eggnog shakes been discontinued? I was told yes, yes they have, they are no longer offered. I didn't bother to check any more McDonald's, and headed home.

I checked online for information. The results were decidedly mixed.

Per McDonald's Twitter account, the eggnog shake is available in "select markets."

...although that tweet is from last year. But the responses are current, from people all over the country, wondering where the eggnog shakes are. Apparently, they're not available anywhere.

The McDonald's Twitter account stated that menu items like this are offered at the discretion of the location, and people interested in getting an eggnog shake should make their wishes known to their local McDonald's. (Probably as of June, since it would probably take that long to get everything in position.)

There are about a dozen McDonald's within ten miles of me. I checked the three closest, but decided I had better things to do with my time than go from location to location. McDonald's, of course, could easily post a list of which locations have chosen to carry this item, but they don't have anything like that. I suppose McDonald's has made a business decision that they don't need the business of fans of their eggnog shake. Oh, well. I think we'll survive without it.

Friday, December 21, 2018

Winter Solstice Moon

Taken in standard mode, exposure compensation adjusted, December 21, 2018,10:13 PM EST

High shutter speed, December 21, 2018, 10:14 PM EST
The Moon isn't technically "Full" yet. The current level of illumination is 99.5%, according to NASA's Dial-A-Moon. It will be another thirteen hours before the Moon is at 100% illumination, but that will be seen on the other side of the world. That will be about eighteen hours after the Winter Solstice, which took place at 5:23 PM Eastern Standard Time today.

*     *     *     *     *

The Christmas party at work went quite well. The eggnog pie was a minor hit, but there was so much other food available. I think the recipient of my Secret Santa gift really appreciated it. I hope she liked my mom's ribbons and bows. (I received a rechargeable high-brightness LED flashlight, which will come in handy when it's time to locate the cats to take them to the vet's.)

We also took our first calls today, which well as could be expected.

Thursday, December 20, 2018

Ready or not, here comes Christmas

The eggnog pie with the gluten-free "graham cracker"-style crust is made. A wide assortment of cookies, both gluten-free and glutinous, have been acquired. A replacement candle has been purchased for the Secret Santa gift. After much searching, I realized that a Christmas-themed shoe box/photo box that I purchased but never used (or even took out of the cellophane) several years ago would be the perfect size to hold the candles. I wrapped each candle carefully, padded the inside of the box to minimize rattle, then wrapped the box itself. (The box becomes a bonus present.) Then my mom, whose first job was making bows at Woolworth's for a few cents an hour in the late 1940s, carefully tied a ribbon around the box, created a bow, and tricked it out with filigreed bits of curled ribbon. It will probably take a solid five to ten minutes to get through all the layers to the actual presents inside. I hope the recipient likes them!

Wednesday, December 19, 2018

Secret Santa fail

We're doing a Secret Santa thing in my training class. The person I drew requested candles, animal print things, or gift cards to T.J. Maxx, Ulta, or...someplace else, I forget where. Anyway, a while back I ventured into T.J. Maxx and carefully selected two candles - then put them back, selected two others, put them back, and repeated this again and again. Finally I was satisfied with two candles, made my way to the register, and checked out. I put the two candles, carefully wrapped from the store, in a drawer where they would be safe until it was time to wrap them.

Tonight I took them out of the drawer and promptly dropped one of them, still wrapped in several layers of paper, about three inches onto a carpeted floor. The glass jar holding the candle cracked like an eggshell. So I guess tomorrow night I'll be going out to buy a replacement.

Tuesday, December 18, 2018

The Moon one week before Christmas

Tonight is the first night I have seen the Moon in over a week. I decided to grab some photos. While the sky initially looked clear, I quickly realized the Moon was behind a thin cloud, obscuring it somewhat.

The Moon from Nanticoke at 11:28 PM on December 18, 2018

Moon visualization from NASA's Dial-A-Moon for December 19, 2018 at 0500 UTC
(December 18, 2018 at 11:00 PM EST)

Monday, December 17, 2018

Our Town: Nanticoke

WVIA-TV is our local PBS affiliate, and for several years they have been running a series called "Our Town" that profiles communities throughout Northeastern Pennsylvania. They are currently planning to do an episode that features Nanticoke. I may just put my name on the list of potential interviewees, particularly with a thought to my Stained Glass Project.

Sunday, December 16, 2018

Exhausting weekend

My co-workers used to laugh whenever I would come in to work at the start of my work week - Monday or whatever day that happened to be - completely exhausted and drained and looking forward to a nice, relaxing week of work. But it's true. Perhaps I should say my "job," since a poet friend once reminded me that my "work" is something completely different from the thing I do for money. Work is almost an abstraction, a series of algorithms with consequences affecting processes and people external to me and my life - and ultimately me, in the form of a paycheck and continued employment. It's generally predictable, even in something as frequently chaotic as customer service.

But real life, life outside of the confines of work, is totally different. The randomness, the demands, the expectations, and even the grind of routine things-that-must-be-done all require so much energy that I look forward to being inside a cubicle somewhere and paid for it.

Time for bed.

Saturday, December 15, 2018

Pulling up the stakes

"Pulling up the stakes" is a euphemism for moving, especially changing one's location. I'm not doing that. Today I pulled up the stakes in a much more literal way, finally removing the tomato stakes from my garden and putting them away until next planting season.

Objects tell me stories. When I touch or sometimes just see or even think about an object that is associated with a traumatic or otherwise significant event in my life, I can recall that event in vivid detail.

The tomato stakes I pulled up today were all newly purchased this Spring. This was a hell of a Spring, and Summer too. I had carefully positioned a week of vacation in early June during what, based on my records of the previous few years, would be the last week before tropical weather settled in with unrelenting heat and rain.* I wanted to get a long-postponed home project done, which would optimally involve three rain-free days with temperatures in the mid-70s. Instead I found myself dropping everything to make a daily visit to the hospital where a friend was being kept after a series of unfortunate incidents. Seeing her in that place, it was all I could do to hang on to my own sanity. Each day, every day of my vacation, I would stop there at the designated time for the allotted hour (or was it a half-hour?) for visits. Every day after leaving, I would try to find something fun to do, to remind myself how sweet freedom truly is and, for a few minutes, to take my mind off the friend who had lost hers due to some malfunctioning brain chemistry. On one of those days I stopped at a nearby home center and picked up some stakes for my tomato plants, both wooden and plastic-coated steel.

Those were the stakes I pulled up today.

My friend is still not completely recovered, and may never be. Unfortunate incidents tend to spawn additional unfortunate incidents, and when those are complicated by some really bad decisions, things get worse very quickly. I don't even know if I will ever see her again.

But next Spring, when I pull out the stakes for next year's tomatoes, I will be sure to remember her, and everything that happened with her in 2018.

*My weather forecasting was pretty on the mark: this would be the last really nice week of the "Summer," despite taking place in Spring and having a destructive tornado touch down in the middle of it.

Friday, December 14, 2018

First paycheck

It's nice to be drawing a paycheck again. This first one was a paper check, mailed to my house. Future ones will be deposited directly into my checking account.

I "double-jacked" with an experienced agent at the end of the day. She has been with the company for twelve years. There are many employees there who have been with the company that long or even longer. At my last employer, I was one of the "old timers" for having been with that company for six and a half years. The work environment is very different from my last employer. But so is the product. We'll see how this goes.

Thursday, December 13, 2018


Another late one. Going to bed soon.

Today is the twentieth anniversary of my grandmother's death. I tried to stop at the cemetery after work today, but it was already far too dark to go in. The cemetery officially closes at sunset, which was at 4:36 PM locally. I didn't get there until after 5:00. By then the darkness was nearly full, and traffic was unusually heavy on Middle Road. I drove past the cemetery and saw the gate was still open. Our family plot (which I decorated for Christmas this past Sunday, incorporating real holly and holly berries along with the plastic greenery) is just inside the gate. Surely no one would object to me slipping in there for just a minute or two? But I was going too fast and could not safely make the turn into the entrance. I pulled into a housing development a hundred feet or so down the road, and waited a good five minutes until traffic allowed me to pull out. But I just drove past the entrance again, since it was clearly too late and too dark to safely enter or attempt to exit the cemetery. I silently said a prayer and promised to visit this weekend.

Third week of training is nearly over. We do an exercise each Friday at the start of class - an icebreaker / team-building / getting-to-know-you exercise. Each member of the class submits a song and artist to our instructor, who plays the first thirty seconds or so for the class. We then try to figure out the song, the artist, and - most importantly - who chose the song. In this way we get a sense of the diversity of tastes in the group, and also start to get a better understanding of each member of the class. So far my picks have been "Christmas at the Zoo" by Flaming Lips and "Just Like Heaven" by The Cure. For tomorrow I have three different choices in mind. We'll see which one I pick.

Thor is still maintaining. He's eating lots, but I don't know how much he's absorbing. We'll see if he's put on any weight when I take him to the vet Saturday morning. I'll be giving him his second hydration tomorrow night.

Wednesday, December 12, 2018


When I get tired, my mind starts to wander down strange paths. I will often arrive at a thought and wonder "How did I get here?" and realize that it is nearly impossible to backsolve the steps that brought me to this point. I would love to harness the creative energy that leads to such weird places, concepts, and characters, but it seems the best I can do is jot down what I can remember.

It's happening again. Time for bed.

Tuesday, December 11, 2018

2018 so far

This was from back on November 25:

Facebook posted my "2018 in review" video yesterday, and a friend commented that it had been a wild ride. Then I realized there are still three weeks to go.

What the hell will 2019 have in store? No,don't tell me. I want to be surprised.

Monday, December 10, 2018

NASA's Dial-A-Moon

It's difficult to get a good photo of the Moon at a small crescent phase. The illuminated area of the Moon - 12% in the photo below, according to a resource from NASA - is small enough that a camera in automatic mode will need to hold its shutter open for a relatively long time, long enough so the image becomes overexposed.

Waxing crescent around 5:10 PM on Monday, December 10, 2018 from Nanticoke
NASA has an amazing resource on its Moon Phase and Libration page called "Dial-A-Moon." This page is year-specific, so the current page is for 2018 only. With Dial-A-Moon, you can specify a date and a time (in UTC time, five hours ahead of Eastern Standard Time, four hours ahead of Eastern Daylight Time) or just let the system default to the current date and time (to the nearest hour.) Here is the Dial-A-Moon visualization for December 10, 2018 at 2200 UTC (5:00 PM Eastern Standard Time):

Visualization from NASA's Dial-A-Moon

Comparing the two images above, you can see that my photograph is "overexposed" relative to the visualization. I had actually cranked the exposure all the way down, and I am very happy with some of the details I was able to capture. But in an effort to make my image more closely match the Dial-A-Moon visualization, I reduced the brightness nearly 50% using Pixlr Editor.

Top image, brightness reduced by about 50%
Now my image more closely matches the Dial-A-Moon visualization. The Moon never presents exactly the same face twice, and when the weather is not favorable, it doesn't present any face at all. Dial-A-Moon lets you see what parts of the Moon are illuminated at any given time. The current version was released on December 18, 2017, so we may be seeing a version for 2019 any day now.

Sunday, December 09, 2018

The Miracle of Bethlehem 2018

Tonight I caught the final performance of this year's presentation of "The Miracle of Bethlehem." It featured a cast of sixty-five (including the tallest version of Jesus I've ever seen), elaborate costumes, lighting, and set design, original music and lyrics, and a variety of animals including a donkey, an alpaca, sheep, chickens, and numerous young goats. It was held at the Saint Faustina Cultural Center, formerly Saint Stanislaus Church.

The venue was packed - overpacked, really, to the point of being standing room only. To see a show of this quality, and a turnout of this magnitude, in a little parish like Saint Faustina in a small city like Nanticoke is really quite impressive. The performance was different from last year, with one song ("This Little Town") and character added, as well as a scene-stealing, apple-munching (and dropping) donkey accompanying Mary and Joseph when they discover there is no room at the inn. (The donkey took a strong liking to me after the performance, ramming his head into my chest repeatedly, possibly so I would scratch his neck - although he may just have been trying to eat my camera bag.)

This was the third consecutive year I saw this play. I'm hoping I get to see it again in coming years.

Saturday, December 08, 2018

For the record: Christmas fish and the 2024 Eclipse

Every year around this time, my mom starts trying to remember how much fish she ordered for the previous year's Vigil Supper - a Polish tradition of a meatless feast on the evening of Christmas Eve, the start of which is signaled by the sighting of the first star in the sky. (Or planet, particularly when Venus shines bright in the Western sky after sunset.) It's a feast filled with wonderful traditions, including the ceremonial breaking and sharing of special blessed wafers called oplatki (pronounced oh-PWOT-key), which look like thin, embossed sheets of styrofoam and taste like the casings of U.F.O. (or Satellite, or Flying Saucer) candies. Some of the traditions have fallen by the wayside - the herring, the fish soup, the extra space left at the table for the stranger-who-might-be-Jesus who might show up at the door, the singing of Polish Christmas carols - but the feast still retains some of the traditional aspects, including fish (usually cod) and pierogies (potato, farmer's cheese, and cabbage. Our old fish source used to be bar / restaurant / catering service called The Alden Manor on Middle Road in Nanticoke. (Mostly. I remember one year we couldn't get it and had to fall back on Arthur Treacher's. That was probably some twenty years ago.) Unfortunately, The Alden Manor went out of business a few years ago, and since that time we have had to find other fish suppliers. Our primary source of late has been Gerrity's, a local supermarket chain.

Anyway: for the record, in 2017, our fish order was forty-five pieces, approximately eight pounds. The exact amount may vary from year to year, depending on how many people will be at the Vigil Supper, and whether leftovers are desired.

*     *     *     *     *

I was reminded today that there is a total solar eclipse that will take place throughout North America in the near future. There was some excited talk about this during the eclipse of 2017, but things have changed quite a bit since then. The eclipse will take place on April 8, 2024, and be visible along a diagonal swath of the eastern half of the United States.

Eclipse Predictions by Fred Espenak, NASA/GSFC Emeritus. Go here and here for more information.
Assuming I am still in Northeastern Pennsylvania in five years and five months, the closest location along the path of totality will be in the Buffalo / Niagara Falls area. It looks like totality will happen there around 19:25 UTC. Assuming Daylight Saving Time is in effect,this should be 15:25 EDT, or 3:25 in the afternoon - I expect the exact times will be published as the event draws nearer. A friend made a striking video of the eclipse of 2017, not by aiming her camera at the eclipsed Sun, which is tricky at best and dangerous at worst, but by capturing the surrounding landscape as the shadow bands rolled in and out. I have never actually witnessed a total solar eclipse from along the path of totality. Will I have such an opportunity on Monday, April 8, 2024?

SIDE NOTE: When trying to get more information about this event from a site belonging to the U.S. Navy, I am confronted with this message:

Has the U.S. Navy allowed its certificates to expire?

Friday, December 07, 2018

First hydration done

Tonight I gave Thor his first at-home hydration treatment.

While generally successful, this first time wasn't entirely not a disaster. It took me a minute to figure out how to attach the needle to the line leading to the bag. It took another minute to work out how to move the flow control to a position that worked well for me. I didn't poke the needle in one side of Thor's scruff and out the other, but I did initially insert the needle so shallowly that it popped out and sprayed Ringer's Lactate all over the place. My second attempt stayed in place. The hydration went relatively quickly, but when it was done I realized I had no idea how to get the needle off the line. I struggled for a bit and managed to put the needle through my thumb, but after I wiped up the blood I was eventually able to remove the needle. A small soda bottle has now been designated a sharps container.

The plan is to give Thor a unit of Ringer's Lactate every Friday night, but the vet said treatments could be moved to twice a week as needed. We'll see how things progress.

SIDE NOTE: The Vice President in charge of my department suggested I look into a poet he had quoted in his most recent monthly memo. ("It is December, and nobody asked if I was ready.") Her name is Sarah Kay, and her website has lots of information about her, her work, and groups she's working with. I started to wonder if I might have seen her at Twentyfive Eight Studios in Scranton as part of a program associated with the Breaking Ground Poets. Then I realized that I could not remember what that program was, exactly, or even what year it had taken place. It took some searching through my Facebook timeline, but eventually I found this:

OK, that looked familiar. I took a closer look:

Yes, that was it. Friday, May 15, 2015. Carlos Andres Gomez, Lauren Whitehead, Jon Sands, and Adam Falkner. No Sarah Fry or Project VOICE.

I wish I had been blogging more in 2015, but that was an exceptionally hard year. At least Facebook supplied a trail for me to follow.

Thursday, December 06, 2018

Shopping during the holiday season

Someday I will write a post about how a corporate Diwali greeting at my last job smacked all the Christmas spirit right out of me and made me see the holiday in a much harsher, more cynical, materialistic, and exploitative light - and how a personal email advertising outdoor furniture on sale for Ramadan damn near finished me off. But today is not that day.
True story. Ramadan is getting so commercialized these days.
Today I did some holiday shopping for my training class's Secret Santa thing. The person whose name I pulled listed their preferences in order, but as a final item suggested gift cards from specific stores. I interpreted this as an ordered list of place I should shop for the first two items on the list. Which would have been great if I knew where the stores on the list were located.

First I drove to the Wyoming Valley Mall. Forty-five years ago this was the place to shop: a shiny new mall well above the flood plain, full of stores, fountains, benches, and, most importantly, shoppers. Today it is a shadow of its former self. Two of its longtime anchors, Sears and The Bon-Ton, both closed recently and are now vacant. As I pulled into the parking lot, I noticed a distinct lack of traffic and cars in general. A quick scan of the signs on and around "The Mall" told me that I should be looking elsewhere for these stores.

I drove across the street from the Wyoming Valley Mall to the Arena Hub Plaza, still recovering from the tornado that hit it in mid-July. Two of the three stores I was looking for were there. I parked and walked into T.J. Maxx, a store I haven't been in since I was there to buy luggage in 2006 for my trip to Ireland. I found what I was looking for there. I was surprised that the place was relatively uncrowded, and most of my time was spent selecting the Christmas gifts while staying under the agreed-upon $15.00 limit. (The total before tax came to $14.98.)

One potentially important observation: twice in T.J. Maxx I was nearly run over by two different little old ladies walking backwards. Not sure why this was, if this is something that happens frequently in this location or may be connected in some way to the holiday season. I don't know if I'll set foot in this store again this year, or if it will be another twelve years. We'll see.

Wednesday, December 05, 2018

Long day, clear night

Today wasn't a bad day of training. During my last break I saw the end of of George W. Bush's eulogy at his father's funeral, and I was fairly impressed. He also did something at the end that I often do at poetry readings - he closed the book on his prepared notes as he was about to deliver his last line.

Donald Trump looked like he couldn't wait to get the hell out of there. In the clips I've seen tonight, I got the impression that Trump wasn't particularly interested in being somewhere where he wasn't the center of attention.

We've had two clear, sunny days in a row, I actually saw the Moon this morning - a thin, waning crescent, just about to vanish entirely into the "New" phase. Tonight was garbage night, which is always a hassle. But the sky is still clear, so I got to see Orion, the Pleiades, and quite a few other stars, constellations, and asterisms. (Also Mars, I think,low in the west around 10:00.)

Tomorrow is supposed to be another cold morning. I'm going to let the car warm up a bit more before I head out - the frost cover kept the windshield from frosting over, but the cold meant that frost started to form as soon as I pulled it off. Tomorrow night I'll do some "Secret Santa" shopping. I also promised to bring in some pies and cookies for our Christmas party. I think I'll try out the Eggnog Pie recipe.

Tuesday, December 04, 2018

The blank page

There are so many things I want to say. So much I want to write about, so much I want to preserve. But it seems that when I finally get the chance to blag each day, the time and the energy have slipped away. Even now, I have to get to bed in just a few minutes.

Thor is eating, and eating a lot. But his body is absorbing very little nutrition from the food he's taking in, and he's still losing weight. I will perform his first at-home hydration session on Friday.

My mom's chronic pain is getting worse and worse. She moans and groans with each step. I feel guilty about doing anything at all that isn't directly related to helping her, but there is almost nothing I can do that can help her. She is scheduled for knee replacement surgery in five weeks. I am hoping that does more good than harm.

Temperatures are supposed to slip well below freezing for the next few nights. I have a frost cover on the windshield. At least no snow or ice is expected - bad weather can easily double my commute. I still haven't pulled the tomato stakes out of my garden. Maybe this weekend.

Last week's Poems at the Pub was inspiring. Of all the poetry readings and open mics I've known and loved, this one is the most relaxing. The setting is beautiful and photographs very well. I don't know if I'll be able to make it to the next one in January, at least not for the whole reading, but I will try.

Time for bed.

Monday, December 03, 2018

Blogging and the weather

I use my blog for a lot of reasons. As an external memory storage. As a place to share stories, poems, and photographs. As a personal diary. As an almanac to keep track of the rhythms of the year.

I'm in training for my new job right now. One was this place differs from my old employer is the fact that, in the event of a major snowstorm, they will put employees up in a nearby hotel. They often speak about how this was done just this past year. Only I have no recollection of a major snowstorm this past year.

Scratch that. I just remembered a major snowstorm that never materialized. Our call center was actually closed as a result. People showed up for work that day, only to find the doors locked. It seemed like a waste since the snow never came to us.

My new job is about nine miles east and slightly north of my old workplace, and at a higher elevation. On Friday we had snow at work, a beautiful, light, fluffy snowstorm that didn't amount to anything. Nanticoke, at the same time, had nothing, not even a flurry. Is it possible that the same snowstorm - most likely the "Bomb Cyclone of January 2018" - that seemed so overhyped in Nanticoke was devastatingly crippling in Wilkes-Barre? I don't know. Maybe there was some other major snow storm that I'm forgetting?

Sunday, December 02, 2018

Thor photoshoot, December 2, 2018

Thor on black velvet
I realized today that I happened to have my camera near at hand while Thor lounged on some cushions near me. He held still long enough for me to take pictures with a variety of settings. "Sports" mode didn't work out as well as I hoped, but the other shots came out nicely.

Taken in "Sports" mode - sometimes good for low-light situations. Not amazingly great in this case.

Thor in black & white
I don't know how long I'll have to take pictures of him. My goal is to keep him happy and comfortable for the rest of his life - however long that turns out to be.

Saturday, December 01, 2018

Big Saturday

Thor had an appointment at the vet today. I'd been careful not to mention it around him, and have kept the cat carrier in a spot where the cats have turned it into a sort of clubhouse. But he knew. Instead of coming to greet me in the morning, he hid. He didn't come out when I called him to breakfast. I found him, eventually, and managed to corral him in a room while I took a shower.

Thor has been eating like mad since his last visit, but has barely put on any weight. That's troubling. He isn't vomiting everything up, so it's possible a lot of this food is not getting absorbed as it passes through his digestive system. We will continue to monitor, and I will take him back in two weeks. In the meantime I was sent home with a hydration kit - an intravenous drip of Ringer's Lactate (an item I became familiar with from watching Emergency! as a child), which I will administer once a week, as well as a different dose of an anti-nausea drug.

Thor seemed very traumatized after his last visit to the vet, which was just a rehydration appointment. He hid the rest of that day and the next. Today, after I brought him back home from the vet, gave him his pill, and released him from the carrier, he seemed totally unfazed, and went back to his usual daily routine of asking to be fed his special mix of foods.

I did a lot of laundry today, which I had to haul to the laundromat to dry. I also set up the antique ceramic Christmas Tree, with a low-wattage, high brightness, safe-for-enclosed-fixtures LED bulb taking the place of the antique I'll-burn-your-house-down tube bulb that was originally used with it fifty years ago - and is still packed in the box with the tree.

I ran my mom out on an errand just before sunset. I was hoping to see some municipal holiday decorations in Plymouth and Edwardsville during our trip, but there were none - at least, none lit up. I'll have to come back by way of this particular area some night next week to see what's actually there.

(My commute in to work takes fifteen minutes, door-to-door. But the return commute has consistently taken a half hour regardless of the route I've tried. Some routes this is because of bottlenecks, choke points, and rush hour traffic. Others it's because of traffic lights. I can sidestep this issue by stopping in one of the many stores on my way home - my commute takes me right through the retail heart of Wilkes-Barre - but that could get expensive over time. Eventually I'll be working on a different schedule which should make the return trip faster, but may lengthen the inbound.)

I realized I haven't sat with Joey for nearly a week. I took his still-warm blanket out of the clothesbasket when I came home from the laundromat, wrapped him in it, and sat down so he could take a nap. We both wound up napping for well over an hour. I think we both needed it.

Tomorrow is the first Sunday of Lent. Then the countdown to Christmas really begins.