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 in 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.

Sunday, December 06, 2020

Second week of Advent: Christmas soon to come

No Advent wreath shots from this week's Mass, so we'll have to settle for two other lights: Saturn and Jupiter (and the moons of Jupiter!), taken just after sunset on Sunday, December 6, 2020. The two largest planets in our system will appear closest to each other just after sunset on Monday, December 21.  

Christmas decorating continues. No baking has been done yet. I've run through some end-of-year expenses and am making some hard decisions about purchasing gifts this year.

I've been stretching my writing muscles again after a long period of abstinence. I wrote a bit of Star Wars fanfiction that I first conceived of back in 2005. I've been planning to write some whole-cloth mythology for Northeastern Pennsylvania - something that doesn't rely on existing native American mythology (more on that below) or any mythology of more recent immigrants. Something rooted in this area, something that answers some questions about the oddities of this area. 

One of those oddities: much of Northeastern Pennsylvania, including the Wyoming Valley where I live, never had full-time or even long-term native inhabitants. The Iroquois Confederacy built its empire in upstate New York, conquering and absorbing smaller tribes. Other independent tribes established territories east and south and west of here, but for the most part, this was just a seasonal hunting and fishing ground, often shared by several tribes but occupied by none. (The Iroquois eventually claimed it, but they claimed a lot of territory.) Why didn't anyone want to live here? The area is beautiful, the land is fertile, the mountains are long, gentle, rolling things, like the backs of giant lizards. And the great crescent-shaped valley that fills much of the northeastern corner of the state is rich in anthracite coal, known even before the coming of white men to the area. 

I've got an answer. I'm inventing the mythology, a mythology that precedes any human presence. I have stories to write that are based on this mythology, but first I wanted to get the mythology written out. Or at least, a telling of the mythology, with gaps and omissions. Let's just say spiders are our friends, and there's a reason they dwell in and around our houses.

In the same way I'm thinking of creating a new set of traditions for the four weeks of Advent.

I started last week, I suppose. The first week of Advent evoked a flood of memories of Advents and Christmases past. It is important to remember the past, but it is important not to dwell there full-time. So in the second week of Advent, we should turn out attention to the present - at least, the near future, the Christmas coming in less than three weeks. Now is the time to decorate, to buy presents (to avoid the rush of coming weeks), to make up lists of where to send cards, to locate recipes and make sure you have all the needed ingredients. It is also the time to close the books on the current year, to avoid having to worry about that in the final weeks of December.

Meanwhile: the Thanksgiving surge in COVID-19 cases looms before us like a coming storm. We knew what could happen. Many people chose to ignore the warnings about traveling and gathering for Thanksgiving. Now is the time we will begin to see what effect this will have. How many people will be sick for Christmas? 

A coming conjunction. A coming spike. A coming Christmas.

Things will soon start to move very quickly. What will be the focus of the third week of Advent? I guess we'll find out in a week.