Jan 22

A day with everything in it

It was a do-most-everything day. A bit of writing here, a bit of editing there. Consulted on a Snapchat campaign. Some social media, some file uploading. Casted a student for a recruitment campaign. Discussed a physical mailer. Hired some students. Shot some photographs. Recorded some video. The only thing I didn’t do was any audio, but I’ll have a podcast Thursday, if I make it that far.

I also had two meetings this morning, and I got pulled out of both of them for nonsensical reasons. Maybe it made me look important to the people I had to leave. It felt rude, but when you’re called, you go, right?

Was I needed when I got there? Wherever that was? I was not. The first time it was because someone else couldn’t be found, and I was to be the stand-in. (When I got there, the other person had turned up.) The second time there was a question about microphone audio. (It was fine.)
So I got to go back to my meetings. Probably didn’t look all that important after that.

This was Saturday, a rare clear winter’s day. Cold, and worth it.

But that’s the miracle of it, really. Not every day is like that. Most aren’t. In fact, this was Sunday morning, after it snowed.

And this was this morning.

What’s the point of this? We’re nearing the end of January, and I don’t know. It’s been a mild winter so far, thankfully. Had a bit of real cold, but that’s to be expected. No real snow. I told a former student who is working in North Carolina that she got more snow this weekend than we’ve had all winter so far, and I was glad for it. (She’s a meteorologist, so all sorts of weather makes her happy.) We’ve just had the gray. And we’ll get a lot more of that. Maybe that’s the part that will be cruel this year. If it’s just comparatively mild, it’s easy to fool yourself into thinking it is almost spring. But it’ll be almost three more months before views like this are the norm.

It was stunning to see that this evening. It was stunning that I got out of the office and back to the house in time to see it. And this is the second real sign of the progression of the seasons: though you’ve known it, intellectually, for a month now, this is when you can now notice the days are getting a bit longer without carefully noting the clocks. The longer days, of course, being the best part about the place.

The first real sign of the coming change of seasons, of course, is seeing commercials for the Masters on TV. I don’t watch the tournament, but hearing Ray Charles, seeing those beautiful views, you know: Augusta is getting ready for their spotlight, and it’s OK to pine for the pines, and springtime.

In two more months. Until the end of March it is perpetual gray punctuated by false hopes — and I’ll only talk about this two dozen more times. At least Saturday looked nice!

The daily duds: Pictures of clothes I put here to, hopefully, help avoid embarrassing scheme repeats.

Love this shirt, until it comes time to pair it with something.

Got a nice compliment on that pocket square, though. It’s one I made, which made it all that much better. And prompted me to show off the day’s cufflinks. No one was counting on that.

I made those, too.

I am a man of fashion intrigue.

Jan 22

‘They’re coming! They’re coming!’

Two years ago, plague.

Last year, plague. And locusts.

This year, plague. And also …

The birds, the noisy noisy birds. The messy, messy birds.

You should see the sidewalks. But it’s better if you don’t have to. And if it rained. Or someone rolled a high pressure washer outside.

Anyway, pretty day out there. But quite cold. This is a tradeoff I’m willing to accept.

Oh, and hey look! My new desk chair showed up Saturday. I put it together Saturday. The cats helped. And, right now, they’re taking turns checking out my stuff.

I’m assuming that it will prove comfortable, once the animals let me sit in the chair that I … just bought … for myself.

Which must mean it is time for cat pictures. Here’s Phoebe at rest.

And here she is, taking a nap. Yesterday, you see, was a serious sleep day.

And here’s Poseidon, wondering what I’ve done with his new chair.

He sat in it right there most of the day. After, that is, I assembled the chair, let him sit in it downstairs, spun him around a bunch, then carried the chair, and cat, upstairs. As soon as he got down, hours later, I put it in the office, and shut the door. He is very confused.

This weekend he has also discovered the joys of the space heater.

This is going to become a thing. We’re creating monsters.

As I typed this, Phoebe returned to the same position for another nap. Clearly I should be doing this at my desk and not in a recliner.

Monsters are what we are creating.

I had a nice punchy little ride yesterday, this is a part of Watopia, Zwift’s fictionalized world.

Which explains how I’m underwater there. Some of their environments are simulacrums of the real world. You can ride in a few villages of France. There’s a former world championship site in Virginia. You can ride in Central Park. You can also ride through the futuristic sky bridges of New York.

Or you ride around and up, and through, a volcano. Here’s my avatar coming down from the top of the volcano.

Of course there’d be a full moon and lava spewing. I often wonder, when I’m on this course, what it would be like if you had a different lunar phase as part of the reward. And how difficult to ride through the overwhelming presence of sulfur.

Your avatar rides, literally, on a road that goes through a volcano.

Which is a good metaphor for some people’s Mondays. Not mine. But Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Thursdays and Friday mornings? More meetings then you’d normally find on a volcano, though. Sometimes there is a sulfur smell, though, but, thankfully, minimal ash.

At least the birds stay in the trees.

Jan 22

Remember, it is twenty … twenty-two now

I took last week off from writing here, and now I have to rebuild my audience. Four people must be convinced to return. It will take weeks to establish that sort of trust. But it was worth having a few days away from this particular never-closed tab in my browser.

I hope you took some time away from the routine, as well, even if it meant time away from this site. And I hope you never close this tab on your browser. Just click refresh once a day. You’ll usually be pleasantly surprised.

Anyway, let’s get caught up. How have you been since we were here together last? I hope you had a good Christmas, if you celebrate, and a lot of time with people you care about and doing things you wanted to do, no matter how you mark the 25th.

We woke up on the 24th in Connecticut, to a white Christmas Eve.

The in-laws drove us to the airport, where we said our goodbyes, and headed inside from the cold to a warmer airport. I left my belt at the TSA checkpoint. For a week I’ve been trying to understand how I just … left my belt in that gray tub.

Sorry belt. We had a good run. And, despite my abandoning you, I liked you a great deal. You were starting to show wear, though, and I would have only gotten four or five more years out of you anyway. And now I’ll have to buy another black belt. (Or use one of the other three I found in my bedroom since then.)

We flew into Nashville, which is good, because that was the immediate destination of the plane we boarded, and also the destination for which we’d purchased tickets, and furthermore, where my car was. Our friend Sally Ann picked us up at the airport. She was just as excited to see us as when we stayed with her a few days prior, or when we saw her earlier in the month. It makes me wonder when people feel like they’ve caught up with those they’ve had to carefully avoid for most of the last two years.

He said, just as it was becoming apparent we’re going back to avoiding our friends and loved ones.

But not before Christmas, because we avoided everyone last year and that stunk and this is measurably better. We have soaring Covid rates, but also vaccines! Thank you science, and Merry Christmas. And so there we were, on Christmas Eve, in Sally Ann and Spencer’s home, planning for the next leg of our holiday travels. We’d removed our masks and took our first at-home Covid tests.

We took those tests because, once the 15 minutes of suspense was over and we were negative, which is a positive, we turned the car to …

We spent the better part of the next week with my mother, taking new tests every day, enjoying her walls instead of our own.

We had Christmas, of course, which is a thing we haven’t had a lot of in the last few years for a lot of reasons. But my mom picked up a bunch of silly little gifts for everyone and people unwrapped them and we laughed and it was different and fun. All of which, we came to find out, was just a setup for my being the recipient of a gag gift, which was clever and sweet and they’ll laugh about it for years because it’s now a part of the family lore.

We spent the weekend played dominoes with my grandfather, who you can see here performing trigonometry in his head.

He’s probably also there considering which dessert he should try, wondering about someone from his church, recalling a passing memory from his work life and thinking up the next sneakily hilarious thing he’ll say. He’s a smart fella, and dominoes aren’t the challenge for him that they are for me, is what I’m saying.

He won’t admit it, but he enjoys whipping me at dominoes. He’s not the sort that you’d think of us competitive, he’d much rather laugh at the moment than put up a big fuss about a game he’s playing. In the whole of my life the extent of his good-natured ribbing is “Goody goody!” But just as much as he likes to sit and visit and, as much as he was proud to teach me how to play dominoes, he also enjoys putting 45 points on the table while I’m drawing extra tiles.

But we play a lot of dominoes when we visit, now. It’s always my mother and grandfather versus me and The Yankee. And we’re getting better at it, at least a little. Occasionally we win a round or two. I am also experimenting with domino strategy, and counting dots on my fingers.

I will forever count dots on my fingers, even though my gag gift was a little calculator to go with my own set of dominos.

We had unseasonably warm weather, and we went for a few runs under some dramatic skies.

The whole time we were there the forecasts pointed at some bad weather coming later in the week, and we all tried to talk ourselves out of that eerie feeling you get this time of year when the barometer and the temperature are out of whack.

I seldom get to use that banner, but we ran over Wilson Dam again, so I’m going to use it here.

Water, as I have noted in this space before, is the predominant geographical feature of the area where all of my family live. The Tennessee River forms near Knoxville, Tennessee and flows to the southwest, into Alabama, before looping back up, helping form the Alabama-Mississippi-Tennessee borders and then heading on up to Kentucky. It created a topography that has defined all of the people that have ever lived there. (When we drove in on Christmas Eve we passed the “Entering the Tennessee River watershed” sign just as Christmas in Dixie came on the radio, like it was scripted to happen, and I was grateful for the darkness because it was a bit emotional in a nonsensical way.)

The Yuchi tribe, the Alibamu and the Coushatta, of the Muscogee Creek Confederacy, lived on this imposing body of water. They called it the Singing River. Alabama became a territory in 1817, white people moved in and it became a state in 1819. Some of my ancestors were among the first white people in the area, some even before the Native Americans were forcibly displaced by the federal government. From what I can glean, they were hardscrabble dirt farmers. Agriculture and water transit defined the era, but shipping was difficult. The shallow, turbulent water at Muscle Shoals was the problem, unlike this little man-made canal at Patton Island.

Then the Great War came.

There was a worry that the Imperial German Navy would cut off shipments of nitrates from South America, so the federal government decided to build their own nitrate plants, driven by hydroelectric power. Muscle Shoals was understood to have the greatest hydroelectric potential east of the Rockies.

So in 1918 they started building a dam, which became it’s own city, employing thousands. They had a school, barbershops, a hospital and more than a hundred miles of sewage lines. But the war ended before the construction did.

This is a view of Wilson Dam, completed in 1924 and named after President Woodrow Wilson.

It is a narrow, two-lane dam, always a bit intimidating when I was a kid. Back then, it was one of the last little bits of road on our two-hour trip to my grandparents’ home. My mom would tell me about how she learned how to drive on that dam, in the snow.

Well, I haven’t done that, but I have driven over it, jogged over it, biked over it in 2017, fished beneath it as a kid, marveled at the power of the spillways and the respect they commanded from people on the water, watched the ships pass through the locks, and dined above it. I didn’t grow up here, but the dam is omnipresent in my story because of the river it sits on and my family which lives in its orbit.

Wilson Dam has considerably less road traffic now, because of the almost-20-year-old Singing River Bridge, my vantage point for the above picture, which is a bit over a mile downstream. You can see the pylons of that bridge, here. I used to do news stories on the air about that bridge because, in the time around it opening, it was the most important thing happening in the area.

In 1933 the dam was handed over to the newly formed Tennessee Valley Authority, which also touches everyone and everything in the region. The dam was put on the historic registry in 1966, and boasts the highest single lift lock east of the Rocky Mountains.

I’m told they used to give tours. Sure, you could walk on that little sidewalk on the narrow dam, but why do that when you can walk through the dam?

As I said, they started building the dam in 1918. In 2016 we ran across the dam and saw a rainbow that was almost a century in the making.

Since they completed the thing in 1924, I now have two years to think up a good line and camp out on the dam until I see another century-old rainbow.

A word about those banners. The Spillway was a newspaper clipping from The Florence Times, the pre-merger ancestor of the modern Times Daily. The Spillway was one of those little social happenings sections of the daily paper The Northwest Alabamian is an old masthead from the still publishing paper of the same name. It’s been a twice-weekly community paper since 1965, tracing it’s own heritage back to 1911. The current publisher has been there since 1983. (He’s also now the county sheriff, and has worn a badge for 30 years, and was the agency’s public relations officer for some time. Small town papers, man.)

We stayed in north Alabama for most of the week, and have since returned to this.

Four days in a row so far, and three months until the reprieve that April will bring.

Hopefully the cats will forgive us for leaving them by then. They were demanding and cuddly over the long weekend.

And, now, for the first time in 2022, back to work.

Dec 21

Our journey continues

We were at a one-year-old’s birthday party on Saturday evening. A small family event and with Zoom for those that couldn’t be there. The birthday girl’s aunt made the cake and, at one point in the evening, surrounded by screaming children, we found ourselves talking about colors and aesthetics. There were too many artistically-minded people in that house is what I’m getting at. But look at this beautiful cake.

That’s homemade. The snowflakes are edible. The tablecloth was seen as both a conflicting and a complimenting color, depending on your shot composition. At some point, to keep the cake away from impulsive three-year-olds and adults, it was moved to a secret location. (The back deck.) This gave us some different, softer, lighting options.

And that’s what you talk about when grandparents are watching 3- and 7- year olds run through sugar highs.

It was a delicious cake. The cupcake was for the birthday girl, who is the calm in the storm. Even her smashed cupcake was dainty, dignified and not especially messy.

She’s wearing a hat The Yankee made. Her parents call her Hazelnut, and so now she has a hat made to look like a hazelnut. There are leaves on top, and everything, as you’ll soon see.

Yesterday, we went for a run before holiday festivities. It was an easy, and awfully chilly, four-miler. Here are The Yankee and my godsisters-in-law (just go with it) at the sign marking the highest point in Delaware.

And I also ran from Delaware into Pennsylvania. That’s at least the fourth state line I’ve run across, but it seems like there’s one or two more I am forgetting in that list.

And last night we had New Jersey Christmas. This is usually the last of our family Christmas parties, but this year it came first, because everything is upside down. We had a delightful evening, from the scrumptious appetizers to the hearty homemade lasagna, to the lovely company. Our hosts and my in-laws are lifelong friends. My mother-in-law and the hostess were in nursing school together. My father-in-law and our host have known one another since elementary school. Our hosts met at my in-laws’ wedding. They are each godparents for the other. And they more-or-less raised their kids together, too.

They open presents there by age. Meaning I’m closer to the end of the line than the beginning. I distract myself from that thought by paying close attention to the kids enjoying their new toys. I got a shirt and a nice jacket in a big box that was decorated with a classically whimsical Santa.

We also received a few neat ornaments, because you can never go wrong with thoughtful ornaments.

Oh, and here’s another shot of Hazel, wearing her Hazelnut hat, at her grandparents’ home. Note the leaves on top. Handmade with love, by her god-aunt.

This one is a little blurry, but look at the smile on that kid’s face.

Also, now that she’s one, she has quickly moved into self-taking mode.

At the end of the night we said our goodbyes and climbed into my in-laws car and continued our trip. Here we are on the Cuomo Bridge, crossing the Hudson River, and having just entered New York.

But that’s only a quick cut across the corner for us. Tonight, and for the next several days, we are in Connecticut — our sixth state since Thursday.

Dec 21

Alright Monday, let’s do this!

All caught up? Or just getting behind? That’s always the question of Mondays. And Fridays. And probably most of the days in between. And at the holidays, well, if you ask that question you’re just asking for trouble, bub.

You know, over Instagram, I’ve been noting the skies … this weekend we had some rather delightful surprises. This was the view on Saturday evening.

And Sunday morning was simply brilliant.

Last night gave us some interesting colors, as well.

Today? Also bright and blue. And warmer than you might expect for December. All it took was a light jacket. Now, if it stays more or less like this through March I would not complain at all. I fear we will have less of the more, and more of the less.

Winter makes a boy a bit sardonic, I guess.

We didn’t check in on the cats last week because of the hustle and the bustle. We must fix that! Kitties, and my site traffic, demands it! So, here’s Poseidon, getting wacky with his taco toy.

And here is Phoebe, not judging him at all for it.

She’s totally judging him for it. We all do.

This is something like a three-episode arc now, I can appreciate the effort that went into that. If you want to know where it is going next, you’re just going to have to watch.

That’s the late night crew, which shoots in the late evening. And this is the morning show, which shoots … in the morning. (Sorry.)

Which means there’s should be just one more show to share for the semester. They do go so fast.

He said, about Mondays in December.

We put up two Christmas trees. Well, four if you count the exterior sentry trees. No ornaments anywhere, just lights, because of the cats. We thought about soft ornaments for a moment, until we looked around at all of their toys on the floor. That, we decided, would be confusing for everyone. So a lot of lights. And the shine nicely.

Except one of the trees had a strand with a problem and the top third of the tree was unlit. For a few days I thought we should say it’s a regional tradition. This evening, however, I decided to try to solve the mystery of modern electricity.

We didn’t check the lights before hanging them on the tree, you see, so the thing had to be unwound and on and on. Ultimately, I just decided to find some more lights, so I climbed into the attic and found a great big ball of lights, which commenced the great trials known to all who hang Christmas lights.

Some 25 minutes later the knot was undone, and in the meantime I’d brainstormed two new ways to store lights that wouldn’t avoid tangles, wondered how weird it’d really look in May if I left the trees up year-round, and also just thought about buying new lights every year.

Christmas lights, I figured, have to be near the height of American consumerism.

When I got the extra lights untangled I found that both ends refused to light, but the middle was delightful. I pulled five bulbs from the old set and got the whole thing to shine. We strung those lights, not with care, but in a haphazard fashion.

There’s not a bright resolution to this little story, but now I have this other long string of lights, some of which work. And I wonder if I should just pull all the bulbs out and save them for the future, or find out how many on that string need replacing.

I could always look on Pinterest for ideas about using half a string of lights.

Yep. There are posts about that. You might say they are … enlightening.