Some Things I Like

I’ve been thinking a lot about things I value, and I thought I’d jot a few down, in no particular order (but grouped as appropriate).

Hurling

Hurling is an ancient Irish sport that has made a comeback over the last century or so. It’s the national sport of Ireland and is huge over there. It’s less huge in the U.S. My town has a club I’ve been an inconsistently-attending member of for a few years. The last year in particular was not the best year for the club, though we stayed in touch remotely and organized some socially distant events. With vaccines rolling out, we’re getting back into the swing of things. I’ve improved a lot at some of the basics over the last year through solo practice, and this is emboldening me to want to play a bit more competitively, though mostly my aim is to get some exercise and have some fun while avoiding injury.

Sugary Cereal

I grew up eating really sugary cereal, but I’ve typically eaten more nourishing cereals as an adult. This year I’ve committed again to junk cereal. Cookie Crisp, Reese’s Puffs, and Cinnamon Toast Crunch have been staples. I tried Cap’n Crunch for the first time in probably 25 years and found it disappointing. Oreo cereal was a disappointment too.

Podcasts

The ones I listen to the most consistently these days include:

  • Still Processing. This one’s about culture and race, and I learn from it (and also laugh) every time I listen.
  • Dice Shame. A D&D actual-play podcast in nice bite-size chunks with a nice balance of silliness and drama. I’ve started a fair few D&D shows but this is the only one that I’ve stuck with. The cast members are really nice and are active on their community Discord server, too.
  • The Anthropocene Reviewed. Author John Green reviews the human-centered world. He’s a lovely thinker, writer, and speaker, and his meditations in this show are a pleasure. He’s going on hiatus, but there’s a book coming out in which I gather the essays he wrote for the show will be published.
  • Hear to Slay. Roxane Gay and Tressie McMillan Cottom host what they bill as “the black feminist podcast of your dreams.” It’s hosted on the Luminary podcast network and costs a little money, but it’s well worth it. I don’t like the Luminary app, but the content here is A+. I learn and laugh every single episode. It’s one of the more enriching pieces of media I consume, and I await new episodes on Tuesdays eagerly.
  • Lady Don’t Take No. Black Lives Matter co-founder Alicia Garza talks about current events and politics with various guests. I learn a lot from this one too.

I sometimes dip into A Way With Words, Radiolab (a former staple), and The Last Archive. I’ve got some others in my list too but I rarely listen to them. I used to listen to Ezra Klein’s show, but I think he moved on or something.

Candles

I’ve never been much tuned into smells, but the past year has been a year of olfactory awakening for me. A colleague pointed me to a lovely Christmas candle that I burned through much of with a quickness. I’ve tried some incense but am not very good at operating it. I tried some D&D-themed candles from Cantrip Candles and haven’t yet hit on a variety I love, but the candles are much in demand, and if you get one of the larger ones, you’ll find a d20 die in the bottom. My favorite candles I’ve picked up are from a brand called Ash & Fir, and my favorite scent is named Hunter. I also got a nifty wick trimmer.

Online Publications

Although I have made my liveihood on the internet for many years now, I have not much enjoyed reading on the internet. I much prefer to bury my nose in a paper novel. I’ve begun reading a few things online routinely in the past year, though.

  • The Audacity. Roxane Gay’s substack offers some neat weekly content, but what really drew me to this site was Gay’s hosting of an online book club. I’ve done a fair bit of book club hosting myself. I’ve also tried over the last few years to read more diversely. I’ve gotten a lot from what I’ve read of Gay’s work, and as noted above, I love her podcast. A book club hosted by her sounded like a dream. I’ve read all of the books so far and really liked them on the whole. I’ve not been as engaged in the discussions or author events as I might’ve liked. Tonight, Gay hosted a discussion with Dantiel Moniz, the author of April’s selection Milk Blood Heat. It’s a really good short story collection — like really good, without a dud in the book — and the discussion was a real pleasure.
  • Essaying. I guess there’s a theme here — I’m really digging content created by Gay and Tressie McMillan Cottom. This is Cottom’s substack in which she writes about the craft of writing. Some of her content is open for general reading, but some is premium content that so far has been well worth the nominal fee.
  • Pipewrench. This is a new online magazine with (by its editors’ design) sort of a dinner party vibe to it — one long feature per issue with several conversation pieces in response to it. I got a lot out of issue one and am already glad to’ve been a founding subscriber. I suppose I should note that I used to work with (and I greatly admire) one of the founders, so I may be a little biased. One of the big things about this magazine is that they’re, you know, ethical. They pay their writers and attend with care to writers’ rights. It’s the sort of venture you can feel proud to throw a little cabbage at if you’ve got cabbage to throw.

Silence from Certain Quarters

I’ve never been much of a news watcher, but over the last few years, I’ve managed to see what has felt like a very unhealthy share of a certain orange puckered anus of a grifter spouting virulent nonsense. I’ve seen that ghastly face, heard that self-assured, Dunning-Krugeriffic voice, cringed at the weird hand-cuffed gestures, been appalled at the lies and childishness of the microbursts he posted on Twitter. But for the past few months? Nothing. I’ve hardly given the man a thought. It’s been a balm to evict that cakesniffer from the rent-free tenancy he had managed to take up in my consciousness, to stagger eyes streaming through a sort of 4-year eggy fart and finally to come out at the end and exhale in relief, and inhale, and maybe even recall that such wonders as salty ocean breezes and lovely forest-themed candles still exist and can cause pleasure.

Vaccines and Masks

I have a couple of cute masks that I wear with something I hesitate to call pride (pride not really being my way) but with at least an uncharacteristic showiness. One is made of fabric depicting simple cartoonish whales in varying colors on a navy background. The other — a gift from a colleague who is a talented seamstress — has space kittens on one side and trucks on the other. I generally display the space kittens.

Of course it’s not just mask fashion that I’ve taken a liking to. I think masks have helped reduce the spread of COVID-19 (and the seasonal flu and probably lots of other things too). I don’t know that I’ll be a forever-masker, but I’m certainly a masker, and I can certainly see myself masking up well past the time when the worst of the pandemic seems to be over.

I got my first COVID-19 vaccine three weeks ago and felt like Peter Parker about to get superpowers from a spider bite. I get shot number two tomorrow and will feel nigh invulnerable two weeks hence (though I’ll still wear my mask).

Ice Cream

I eat ice cream nearly every day, even if it’s just a couple of spoonfuls. It’s just the best. These days I’m eating mostly chocolate, though often enough, I get concoctions with all sorts of junk in them (brownie batter and chunks, for example) that must legally be called “frozen desserts” rather than “ice cream.”

COVID Update

I haven’t written about COVID-19 in a little while. Not a whole lot has changed for my family and me. We’re homebodies by and large, so other than essential trips out, we mostly stick around the house. We venture out to do outdoor things occasionally.

The Biden administration, though surely flawed in many ways (e.g. there are still kids in cages at the Mexico border), has really taken the pandemic seriously and oversaw the distribution of 100 million vaccines within the first 60ish days of the administration. I believe they’re on course at this rate to have distributed 200 million by Biden’s 100th day in office, doubling his ambitious initial goal. We haven’t been vaccinated yet, but I today scheduled an appointment to get my first dose in about a week.

I don’t know if vaccination will be enough. There are variants of the virus, and I imagine complacency and easing of restrictions will result in resurgences of the disease in spite of mass vaccination. Every time I drive by places like the Applebee’s and the nearby bowling alley, I find the parking lot pretty much full. I would think the bowling alley would be very nearly the last place you’d want to find yourself during a pandemic (“here, let me stick my fingers in the holes in this ball that other people’ve been sticking their boogery fingers in”), but I guess dummies gonna dumb.

Groceries and toilet paper are not hard to come by, as they were this time a year ago. Gas prices have risen again, to something like $2.80 a gallon if I’m not misremembering. Mostly I still see people wearing masks in places like the grocery store, and I wonder how long that’ll go on for. Flu cases were way down this year, and I’d like to think that our memories for that will not be so short that we forget to keep up with effective precautions next flu season.

Baxter

Five years ago, we got a new dog, Maisy. She’s been a great addition to the family. I had recently been thinking maybe she was a little lonely. She almost always has one of her human beings at home (especially during pandemic times), but I just found myself wondering if she might benefit from some canine company. Sometime in the last year or so, the kids sort of cornered me and made an appeal to begin fostering dogs, which’d give us the multiple-dog experience without the longer term commitment. I was unequivocal in my “no” at the time. I’ve been the chief caregiver for Maisy, and I’m fine with that, but I didn’t want another dog to manage.

But I changed my mind, and in late December, I started looking around to see if we might find another shelter dog we could adopt. Before Maisy, I had always had smaller dogs, and in fact I was a little reluctant to get a bigger dog. Maisy was about 35 pounds when we got her (which seemed big at the time), but she grew to be about 70, which seemed big indeed, but satisfyingly so. It turns out I’m more of a big-dog person. So I had my eyes open for a dog on the bigger end rather than the smaller end of the size spectrum.

After striking out at a couple of shelters, I did some web searches and learned about a local group called SARG. They had a Great Pyrenees named Baxter who had been living with a foster family. He was listed as being about 90 pounds, which met the bigness criterion. And my wife, it turned out, had always sort of wanted a Pyr. So we filled out an application to try him out for a couple of weeks to see if he would fit (like, perhaps even literally fit) in our home.

There were two things about Pyrs that I worried about. They’re bred to be big barkers, and sometimes they’re nocturnal. A nocturnal barker was not a family addition I particularly relished. I sleep poorly enough without a dog barking all night. But also, I work from home and spend a lot of time on video chats. My office is right next to our front door, so a big daytime barker would be a problem too.

We introduced Baxter to Maisy and they got along well enough, so we did the trial run. He does bark some, but it’s not so bad, and mostly he doesn’t bark at night. I’m not sure I’ve slept past about 7:30 in the morning since we got him, but on the whole, the barking situation isn’t so bad. And he is the sweetest big floof of a dog I’ve ever met (sorry, Maisy). He loves being petted and will let you know in no uncertain terms (by nosing you or putting a paw in your lap) if you stop petting too soon. He’s a snuggler, and he really likes company; he spends a few hours most days hanging out with me in my office while I work (which also mostly keeps him from seeing bark-inducing things outside). By the time we got him, he had bulked up a lot and now weighs in at about 112 pounds. He is satisfyingly big.

He and Maisy play well for the most part. He’ll nip her a little sometimes but always stops when she yelps and usually goes into a submissive pose to let her know he’s playing. And when they run around outside, she’s more often the more aggressive of the two. Sometimes they’ll very nearly cuddle a little (more so the more time goes on). He’s a great dog, a wonderful addition to the family.

We kept his shelter name because none of us hated it and we were having trouble agreeing on anything else, though I took the liberty of elongating his name a bit to Captain Baxter Leopold von Snugglesworth Learn-Houston, Esq. Mostly we call him Bax.

January 2021

Well it’s been a helluva month. In COVID-19 news, the world continues to rage with the disease. It seems like some places will be a bit better for a while and then will get bad again. My town was for some time at the top of the list of COVID-19 cases per 100,000 people, which isn’t a list I feel especially good about being at the top of. Our family has thankfully stayed safe and COVID-free. We’re continuing to live as hermits for the most part, though we are letting my son play more out in the neighborhood than we had been, which I hope is a calculated risk we don’t come to regret. The world out there seems largely normal, but with most people wearing masks. That said, I do see people crowding restaurants and bars and such, which blows my mind.

We got a dog named Baxter, a Great Pyrenees whom I’ll write about at greater length before too long. I’ve resisted getting a second dog for a long time but decided five years to the date (coincidentally) after we got our other dog that I was willing (and even eager) to get a companion for her. After visiting a couple of shelters with so-so luck, I found a lesser-known animal rescue group nearby that happened to have this lovely big pooch. We gave him a trial run for a couple of weeks starting at the end of 2020 and made the adoption official in the last week. He’s a sweetheart, if a loud one.

And then there’s U.S. politics. Trump was thankfully voted out of office, but I wasn’t going to believe he would actually leave office until I witnessed it on January 20. I figured he and his minions would find some way to cheat or intimidate their way into keeping him in office. And they sure tried. On January 6 while I was working, I started hearing news reports that a “Stop the Steal” rally in D.C. had erupted into an assault on the Capitol. January 6 is the day that the legislature vote to certify the election results. Trump conveniently held a rally on this day during which he incited the crowd to march down the mall to the Capitol and basically see their will done. A mob of people in MAGA hats and various flags (including the Confederate flag) stormed the Capitol and overwhelmed the curiously small police force there, breaching various offices and one of the chambers of legislature. It was brazen, as if they knew they’d get away with it minus any consequences. Some have begun to suffer some consequences, but it was terrifying that things came to this point. They erected a gallows and called for the assassination of Nancy Pelosi and Mike Pence (whom Trump was upset at for not colluding with him to steal the election). Eventually, reinforcements arrived (it appears that Trump’s goons at the Pentagon were complicit in withholding troops) and the situation was gotten under control, but even then, the rioters were politely escorted away and allowed (most of them) to leave. By contrast, BLM protesters all summer were shot with rubber bullets, pepper sprayed, beaten, and locked up. This is what white supremacy looks like.

The legislature resumed their work and in spite of the resistance of 100+ Republican legislators certified the election. Biden would be president, it seemed. (But who knew what else Trump and his mob might try?) A week later, the House of Representatives voted (with 10 Republicans crossing the aisle) to impeach Trump, the first time a president has ever been twice impeached. And the week after that, Biden and Harris were sworn in. This was a profound relief.

Trump had had his social media accounts suspended as he continued to lie and foment his supporters. That alone was a relief, but then seeing Biden sworn in and the Trump apparatus disassembled, with Trump and his crooked children making tracks at last, enabled me to exhale. Normalcy and dignity and something resembling the truth are returning to at least the executive branch of the U.S. government. Now we just need to shame and indict and punish Trump and his many enablers.

Here’s to a less eventful February, and here’s to a vast reduction in how much we have to hear from Trump and his sort. What a stain.

Reading, 2020

I read a scant 44 books this year, down from 67 last year and 100 in 2018. It’s weird, since I felt like I had read pretty consistently. One factor is that I led an in-depth group read of Adam Levin’s Bubblegum in the middle part of the year. This took 9 or 10 weeks of focused reading and thinking and writing during which I might otherwise have read a few other books. I also read a handful of long books that took a fair bit of time. And I false-started on a few (not listed below). Finally, this was the dreaded year during which my youngest child lost interest in our nightly routine of reading aloud (my eldest having lost interest a couple of years ago), and this change partway through the year will have diminished my number a bit too. The number of books doesn’t mean much, but I feel oddly self-conscious about a significantly reduced amount of reading. I did also watch a lot of TV. And I continued to spend a lot of time prepping and playing D&D — time I would in previous years have devoted to reading.

31 of the 44 books were written by women, 17 by people I believe would identify as non-white. I mention it because I’ve been trying for a few years to avoid reading mostly (straight) white men, and I like to keep loose track of how I’m doing at getting outside my own experience of the world. I read a mix of fantasy, nonfiction, social justice, literary fiction, and even a couple of books of poems and a play. I read some people I had heard of and also branched out to read well-known authors who were new to me or random finds from my local bookshop, which I’ve tried to patronize a little extra this year.

Highlights this year were Ducks, Newburyport, The Greenlanders, Bubblegum and The Instructions, How to Be an Antiracist, The Nickel Boys, and The Last Samurai. I enjoyed most of the books I read this year, with only a small handful of two-star books and no one-star books.

I list the books below by rating and by a few non-comprehensive categories of my own devising.

FIVE-STAR BOOKS

  • How to Be an Antiracist, by Ibram X. Kendi

FOUR-STAR BOOKS

  • Horse Heaven, by Jane Smiley
  • Patsy, by Nicole Dennis-Benn
  • The Last Samurai, by Helen DeWitt
  • Stamped: Racism, Antiracism, and You, by Jason Reynolds
  • Beowulf: A New Translation, by Maria Dahvana Headley
  • Pet, by Akwaeke Emezi
  • The River, by Peter Heller
  • The Fearless Organization, by Amy C. Edmondson
  • Memories of the Future, by Siri Hustvedt
  • A Raisin in the Sun, by Lorraine Hansberry
  • The Poet X, by Elizabeth Acevedo
  • Sugar Money, by Jane Harris
  • The Water Dancer, by Ta-Nehisi Coates
  • The Nickel Boys, by Colson Whitehead
  • Thick: And Other Essays, by Tressie McMillan Cottom
  • Fierce Femmes and Notorious Liars, by Kai Cheng Thom
  • How We Fight for our Lives, by Saeed Jones
  • Bubblegum, by Adam Levin
  • The Lord of the Rings, by J.R.R. Tolkien
  • White Noise, by Don DeLillo
  • The Instructions, by Adam Levin
  • Ducks, Newburyport, by Lucy Ellman
  • Cher Ami and Major Whittlesey, by Kathleen Rooney

THREE-STAR BOOKS

  • The Paper Wasp, by Lauren Acampora
  • The Enlightenment of the Greengage Tree, by Shokoofeh Azar
  • The City We Became, by N.K. Jemisin
  • Hot Pink, by Adam Levin
  • Tracks, by Louise Erdrich
  • Eternity: Selected Poems, by Tracy K. Smith
  • Dragonsdawn, by Anne McCaffrey
  • Moreta: Dragonlady of Pern, by Anne McCaffrey
  • The Court Dancer, by Shin Kyung-sook
  • Dragonquest, by Anne McCaffrey
  • Hard Mouth, by Amanda Goldblatt
  • Lazarillo de Tormes and The Swindler, by Francisco de Quevedo and Anonymous
  • Dragonflight, by Anne McCaffrey

TWO-STAR BOOKS

  • The Bingo Palace, by Louise Erdrich
  • Once Upon a River, by Diane Setterfield
  • An Absolutely Remarkable Thing, by Hank Green

NOT STARRED

  • A Radical Shift of Gravity, by Nick Tapalansky
  • Explorer’s Guide to Wildemount, by Wizards of the Coast

NONFICTION

  • How to Be an Antiracist, by Ibram X. Kendi
  • Stamped: Racism, Antiracism, and You, by Jason Reynolds
  • The Fearless Organization, by Amy C. Edmondson
  • Thick: And Other Essays, by Tressie McMillan Cottom
  • How We Fight for our Lives, by Saeed Jones

LGBTQIA

  • Patsy, by Nicole Dennis-Benn
  • Pet, by Akwaeke Emezi
  • Fierce Femmes and Notorious Liars, by Kai Cheng Thom
  • How We Fight for our Lives, by Saeed Jones

FANTASY

  • The City We Became, by N.K. Jemisin
  • The Lord of the Rings, by J.R.R. Tolkien
  • Dragonsdawn, by Anne McCaffrey
  • Moreta: Dragonlady of Pern, by Anne McCaffrey
  • Dragonquest, by Anne McCaffrey
  • Dragonflight, by Anne McCaffrey
  • Explorer’s Guide to Wildemount, by Wizards of the Coast
  • Pet, by Akwaeke Emezi

YOUNG ADULT

  • Stamped: Racism, Antiracism, and You, by Jason Reynolds
  • The Poet X, by Elizabeth Acevedo
  • An Absolutely Remarkable Thing, by Hank Green

COVID Update #8

I haven’t done one of these in a while. COVID has become pretty routine for me. I wasn’t one to leave the house without a good reason previously, so for me, this is largely more of the same.

The most stark contrast I’ve seen between now and March or April has been that wearing masks is pretty normal now, and it’s fairly rare to go out and see somebody at the grocery store without one. It’s a nice change. The other night, I was watching a TV show in the realist tradition (mostly I guess I watch other stuff) and I was suddenly horrorstruck that nobody was wearing masks. What were all these people from this TV show from 10 years ago thinking?

Whether things seem all that different to me or not, here’s what we’re looking at right now in Tennessee.

Tennessee Daily Cases 11.16.2020 (Source: TN.gov), via Inside of Knoxville

Back in July and August was our first big uptick. It looked pretty severe at the time, and I think it was actually at about that time that I noticed more consistent mask usage. New cases even dipped for a while. But now they’re 2-plus times higher than they were during that spike. And with Thanksgiving and Christmas around the corner, it’s hard to imagine this sort of graph will start to look better any time soon.

Meanwhile, we had an election. Trump lost, though he is not conceding and indeed is raising a big lying stink about it, opening lots of lawsuits to try to end-run around the results somehow. I worry that he and others will find a way to get past the election results and that we’ll double-down on fascism if he manages it. Meanwhile, he seems to be doing nothing but tweeting and golfing. He’s not really acknowledging that this virus is still a thing (though he and a bunch of the people who work closely with him contracted it) and has no apparent plan to try to do anything further about it. Biden and Harris meanwhile have formed a committee but can’t do much until the White House starts working with the transition team.

School is still in session, though I’m seeing more and more short-term closures as specific schools run out of custodial staff or substitute teachers. With the numbers climbing again, it’s really hard to believe the kids’ll go back post-Christmas, but then I thought they’d only go for a week or two so far this year, and they’ve been in session since late September. The school system has done a surprisingly good job with things, though I wish they had taken a different approach.

D&D Tabletop Virtual Maps

When I first started running D&D games a while back, I drew battle maps on whiteboards or the grid on the back of wrapping paper. When my group moved to playing virtually due to COVID, I started using maps built into a module a bought for use on Roll20, and I searched the web for maps when I needed to make up an encounter. There are lots of really neat looking maps out there.

I don’t imagine I’ll be playing in person any time soon again, but I’ve seen some neat setups that either project onto a table or that turn a TV or monitor horizontal for the display of vivid maps without all the hassle of drawing maps by hand (which can take some time even if you draw crudely, as I do). I’m not much of a builder but decided on a whim on Saturday to try making a frame to hold an old 27″ monitor I had lying around.

I took some rough measurements and bought some 4″x1″ (so actually more like 3.5″ x .75″) lumber, two 8-footh lengths. I also got some small trim pieces and a sheet of plexiglass cut to the approximate size I figured I’d need. I’m pretty bad at carpentry and so tend to make a rough plan rather than to pretend that I’ll measure or cut very precisely. The end result tends to be crude but mostly serviceable work. Here I’ve marked and begun cutting my frame pieces.

Next, I wanted to sort of route out a couple of slots in one of the boards that’d allow me access to the buttons on the bottom of the monitor and that’d let me feed cords through the frame. I sort of eyeballed it and did some crude routing with a drill and a chisel. I should have measured properly, as my button slot is misaligned by a wide margin. By the time I saw how badly it was misaligned, I had already assembled the frame and slid the monitor into it. I can contort my finger in there and push the power button, but this is not the finest craftsmanship, even by my low standards. I may figure out some sort of button offset gadget I could 3D print to allow me to push buttons inside the frame by pressing buttons on the outside, but it’s a low priority.

In the next shot, I’ve got my frame pieces cut and ready for final sanding. You can see from the knot in the one piece that I’m not super finicky about the look of the wood. I sort of like the knot, actually.

I assembled the frame using wood glue and nails. The black band around the frame in the next photo is this neat clamp my dad got me many years ago that’s designed precisely for holding this sort of thing together while letting the glue dry. Next, I drilled some pilot holes through the plexiglass and the frame. My intent was to both superglue the plexiglass down and nail it in place, with some trim pieces finishing the look and covering some of the monitor’s bezels. I carefully got as far as getting the plexiglass cleaned up and attached to the frame, and I slid the monitor into the frame for a satisfyingly snug fit. Then I cut a piece of wood to hold the monitor into place from behind and screwed that into the sides of the box, long-way (not pictured). When I turned it back over, I found that in spite of my clean-up job, I had managed to get some sawdust between the monitor and the plexiglass — and not just a little. A few specks I could’ve lived with, but it was very noticeable. I tried shop-vacuuming the dust out to no avail, and finally I decided to try carefully prying the plexiglass back up. It cracked as I did so.

So I went back to the hardware store to get more plexiglass. Luckily, they still had the piece they had cut my bit from, so they just cut me a new piece out of it at no additional charge, since I had paid for the whole sheet (I don’t know why they didn’t give me the whole sheet to begin with). I was able to give more precise measurements for the plexiglass this time based on the dimensions of the assembled frame, so I wound up with a better cut than my own prior trim-up job on the the initial plexiglass to make it fit my frame.

In the next shot, you can see that I’ve moved from using an old end table in the garage as a workbench to using the table in our breakfast nook. A little sawdust in the kitchen never hurt anybody. Here I’ve thoroughly cleaned the frame and monitor and plexiglass, re-glued the plexiglass, and have affixed three of the trim pieces using pilot holes and nails. I managed not to crack the plexiglass in spite of hammering nails through the pilot holes. I made the holes about the size of the nail, but not terribly deep, so the nails could slip easily into the holes but still bite into the wood down deep in the frame and hold things together.

And here’s the finished piece, with a little sawdust on the exterior. When I peeled the film off the plexiglass, I was left with a nice clean surface. There’s a gap in the trim on that lower left corner, and the nails don’t look great. I didn’t attend too carefully to spacing of the nails. The slots I hand-routed in the bottom (not pictured here) look a little rough-hewn, but then the whole aesthetic here is pretty rough hewn. I didn’t feel like waiting on stain or varnish, and besides, I didn’t figure I ought to make this thing any more flammable than it already is by adding chemicals to the wood.

The monitor’s bottom bezel (pictured at right here) is wider than the others, and I decided just to live with it, since I thought a uniform trim width was preferable to varying trim widths.

Finally, I plugged the thing in and pulled a map up on it:

You can see that I’ve placed a few of minis on the map too. The idea here is that in the future, I might be able to run a game using Roll20 and show the map here. I can then drag the map around as needed to expose different parts of it within the frame so that we can see big maps without using a lot of table real estate. And they can be vibrant maps that’re much nicer to look at than my crude sketches. I’d like to figure out how to properly go into full-screen mode to get rid of the browser window bits (Roll20 isn’t great for this). But I’ve got lots of time before I’ll feel comfortable playing in person anyway, so there’s time for that yet.

Bunnies

A couple of weeks ago while I was mowing the lawn, a little bunny ran out and tried to fling itself under my mower. This was not my first run-in with bunnies in the yard, though I would not have you, reader, imagine me as some Mr. McGregor chasing rabbits out of my garden. I think bunnies are cute. But, a few years ago, there was an unfortunate and grisly and, I assure you, unintentional bunny mishap as I prepared the ground to put in some new plants. Earlier this year, my dog found a couple of baby bunnies in the yard and made a bit of a mess of them, to the horror of my children, who were in the yard at the time. So when this little varmint flung itself at my mower from out of nowhere, I was horrified but, thankfully and I daresay heroically, I was able to avoid running it over. Later, I found a second bunny, and both are pictured above. I was shocked at how close they let me get. I didn’t spend much time looming over them, as I didn’t want to terrify them any more than was necessary to document that I am not a monster.

COVID Update #7

This past Sunday night, before the kids started school for the year on Monday, I got word that there had already been a case of COVID among the staff of my son’s school. Similar news from my daughter’s school landed on Monday. This isn’t surprising, really, but it’s discouraging. Our school system provided a pretty crummy set of options for returning to school — either virtual with the possibility (and, it turns out, reality) of limited access to certain classes or in-person with the associated COVID risks. Other school systems have taken what seem more sensible approaches to me, with in-person and virtual school staggered to reduce in-person class sizes. I really don’t understand why we didn’t do something similar. I wrote a fair few emails to school officials late in the summer, to no avail. We opted for in-person schooling, hoping sense would prevail and that school would be shifted to virtual. So now my kids are in the building; at least they have their correct classes. It certainly feels like a bit of a Sophie’s choice.

I get that none of this is easy for school administrators. Federal funding has been tied to in-person attendance, for example. Well, schools are already under-funded. I imagine it’s a bit of a Sophie’s choice for administrators who wish to provide education but have their own options limited. Still, it’s frustrating, and I am consistently baffled by some of the magical thinking and lack of basic human decency and any sense of equity in our government at all levels (which is not to say by all individuals in those governments).

COVID numbers in Knoxville had begun to look better in the week or two leading up to school. I had seen a lot more people with masks on out in public. I think it’s finally been normalized enough that most reasonable people have adapted to the inconvenience of it, and that has been heartening. But the university opened back up and kids started partying, and naturally that resulted in hot spots on campus. It seems likely that the return to school (not just for college kids) will further the spread. The numbers in the county are beginning over the last week to creep back up.

Gas prices have risen a bit, though they’re still a dime or so under $2. Groceries on the whole are available, though paper products and isopropyl alcohol and such remain in pretty short supply.

Another Black man, Jacob Blake, was shot by police offers this week. They shot him in the back while his children watched from his car; now he’s paralyzed. He was unarmed and doing nothing wrong. Police apologists are saying that he had a knife in his vehicle (which he was not inside). Protests erupted as they should have, and a 17-year-old white boy shot three protesters with an assault rifle, killing two. Police did not shoot him.

Meanwhile, the Republican National Convention has been held this week. I haven’t watched it, though it sounds like it’s been a circus. It closed, apparently, with a rally on the White House grounds, which besides being a breach of ethics at best (and actually a breach of the Hatch Act, meaning that it’s illegal) also seems profoundly risky during a pandemic. These conventions are always circuses. I didn’t watch the Democratic convention either, though I understand it was more measured. I don’t typically go in for politics that much, though I do vote. I’m starting to pay a lot more attention to local politics. I feel so helpless about policy at the national or even state level, where I think largely you pay to play and it’s hard for politicians (if they even try) to understand how most of us live. And I say that as a very privileged person who knows he’s disconnected from how hand-to-mouth many people live. But at the local level, double digit vote differentials can determine outcomes and influence policy, I’m learning. I don’t like this stuff, but I’m feeling more these days as if it’s important for me to become more engaged and to lend my voice (or at least my vote) more conscientiously on the local scene rather than leaving those who are not as privileged as I am to shoulder the whole burden of caring and engaging. I’m not patting myself on the back here; it is pretty much the very literal least I can possibly do that is not doing nothing.

That was a bit of a digression, I know, but these things — racism and politics and public health — seem so profoundly intertwined right now that it’s hard to think of one without thinking of the others.

On the whole, for my very fortunate family, things seem normalish right now. The kids were definitely ready to see friends and have more structure in their days again, so even though the decision to send them to school was very difficult, I think it’s been good for them so far. Let’s just hope we don’t regret it. I’m sort of skeptical school will remain in session for long. The sense I’m getting from emails being sent out these days is that the school is basically trying to get the kids trained on how to use virtual schooling technology (most of my son’s first week focused on this) so that when school inevitably goes virtual in the coming weeks, the kids will be better equipped to handle it.