Be gone 2020

I’ve said it before: New Year’s Day has never been one of my favorite holidays. But this year, I’m fine with it. As I write this, 2020 is in its final death throws. In less than 72 hours it will be added to the ever growing scroll of history, and good riddance to it. In the course of the last 12 months the world has seen all kinds of crazy stuff, and many of us are at a breaking point.

The one aspect of 2020 that has dominated the collective conscience more than anything else is the pandemic of Covid-19, also known as the corona virus. It has disrupted almost every facet of all people’s lives, and the residual effects are going to continue well into the future. I don’t have to go into how the partial quarantine has altered things. People grumble about it all the time. We have also seen how the social distancing guidelines have thrown us for a loop, often in ways we couldn’t have imagined.

We have seen that we can survive without certain luxuries. Frequently eating at nice restaurants is fun. But it’s also expensive, and with social distancing guidelines in place it can be very rather risky. Going shopping can be fun, but the typical shopping mall is a serious vector for C-19, and probably best avoided. Many popular entertainment venues, like movie theaters and amusements parks, have been silent since April. And as it turns out, we can live without them. But we don’t really want to. These luxuries are some of the things that make life enjoyable, so it would be unfortunate if they went away forever. Sadly, in some areas that is happening. The economic fallout from eight months of low activity is proving too much to handle, especially for places with high operating or maintenance costs.

OK, so those of us who enjoy some of life’s perks have been getting by with less. Fine and good, but other things have become apparent. There are many people who never had the resources to enjoy these luxuries. They have been living from paycheck to paycheck for years, so extravagances like the ones I mentioned were never on their docket. And then there are the people who worked in service industries that were closed down during the pandemic, and are still not expected to full re-open until spring of 2021. All of those restaurants, shopping malls, entertainment venues and the like, provided people with jobs and livelihoods. When the pandemic went into full swing, they were suddenly unemployed or under-employed.

I experienced some of that myself. My company provides logistical support to a variety of other companies, including restaurants and shopping venues. When a large portion of our client base went dormant, our workload dropped. For almost three months I was working at reduced hours. Given that our clients also include hospitals and grocery supply chains, we were considered an essential workforce component, so we kept working. But even so we were under-employed, and that created some financial strain. I have to cringe when I think about those who completely lost their jobs.

We also saw how inefficient our health care system really is. Hospitals and clinics did their best to manage and control the spread, flow, and treatment of Covid-19. But shortfalls in logistical management, and some very poor leadership from the government, often meant that these facilities didn’t have the resources they needed. Of all the world’s nations who have had to struggle with Covid-19, it can be argued that the United States has handled it worse than anyone else. At this writing (30 Dec 2020, 11AM), 339,000 Americans have died from Covid-19 (according to the New York Times, via Google). The unemployment rate is 6.7%, which is lower than I expected, but still rather alarming. However, the under-employment rate is 13.7%, which doesn’t surprise me. Mind you, measuring “under employment” is inherently subjective, so there may be some flawed statistics in there. But just the idea of more than one out of every ten people is under-employed is enough to give pause.

We’ve also seen how selfish some of us can be. While finances get tighter and tighter for the average worker, a very small percentage acted like war profiteers and made billions during the pandemic. Prices for many goods and services have gone up, while the cash flow to the average worker remained stagnant. We even had some civil leaders say it was more important for the average worker to risk contracting Covid-19 by returning to work, than it was for the economy to remain stalled. There were those who decided it was more important that they continue to enjoy life’s luxuries, than allowing those less affluent to be safe.

A Covid-19 vaccine is starting to be circulated. It will take three or four months for it to work it’s way through a sufficient portion of the population to be effective. But even so, an end to the pandemic seems to be in sight. Then, as the saying goes, we can get back to “normal.” I am going to join those who have been saying that we shouldn’t go back to “normal,” because we’ve seen what a mess “normal” can be. Something like this pandemic is likely to happen again, be it another disease, a natural disaster, or a massive social upheaval. We need to be better prepared for it, and we should learn from our mistake.

Can we learn from our mistakes?

Image credit:

Dems good eats

Operation Caracal, Part 6

Day 12, January 1, 2017

If this day would be summed up in one word, that word would be food. All regional members of the Vedeckis extended family gathered at Ms. Mary and Mr. Wayne’s home, and spent the afternoon mingling, burning sparklers, and eating.

Unlike the structured Christmas dinner of the previous week, this was a free-form, buffet-style affair. I found Mr. Wayne’s red beans and rice to be one of the best versions of that dish I had ever had, so I asked him if there was secret ingredient involved. There was no secret ingredient, but there was a hard to find one. He used a rue mix as the base for the sauce, and this mix is made by the Blue Runner Foods company. Near as I can tell, this brand isn’t available in upper Virginia, though I’m keeping my eyes open. If I can’t find it, then I may have to have some shipped in, or, the next time we visit Louisiana I’ll have to stock up on it!

This recipe, from the Blue Runner Foods web site, is very close to the one Mr. Wayne used.

Red Beans and Rice

  • 2 tablespoons mild olive oil
  • 2 cups ham or pickled pork, diced into1-inch pieces
  • 2 cups Andouille smoked sausage, sliced into half-rounds, 1/4″ thick
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1 cup finely diced green bell pepper
  • 2 cups finely diced celery
  • 3 cups finely diced yellow onion
  • 4 teaspoons minced fresh garlic
  • 1 Tablespoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cayenne pepper
  • 1/4 teaspoon dried whole-leaf thyme
  • 1 teaspoon dried whole-leaf oregano
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1 cup finely diced canned tomato
  • 8 cups water
  • 1 lb. red kidney beans, washed
  • 4 tablespoons finely chopped flat-leaf parsley
  1. Heat the olive oil in a large pot over medium heat. Add the ham or pickled pork and cook, stirring occasionally, until the meat begins to brown, 5-6 minutes. Add the sausage and cook, stirring occasionally, until the sausage begins to brown, 5-6 minutes.
  2. Add the bay leaves, bell pepper, celery, and onion. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the onions begin to brown, 8-10 minutes.
  3. Reduce heat to low. Add the garlic, salt, black pepper, cayenne, thyme, oregano, and cumin. Cook, stirring occasionally, for 2-3 minutes.
  4. Add the tomato and cook, stirring occasionally, for 2-3 minutes.
  5. Add the water and bring the mixture to a boil. Reduce heat to low, cover, and simmer for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally.
  6. Add the beans. Cook, covered, for 1 hour.
  7. Remove the lid and stir in the parsley. Raise heat to medium-low. Cook uncovered, stirring occasionally, until the beans are tender and the broth has a gravy-like consistency, 1 to 1 1/2 hours. Remove bay leaves and serve with cooked rice.

This recipe can easily be customized. For example, to make this more diabetic-friendly, serve over brown rice instead white rice. Brown rice has fewer of the “bad carbs” that cause diabetics so much angst.

The gathering had broken up by late afternoon. That was when the Culpeper clan reluctantly started packing their bags for the return trip to Virginia.

To be concluded.

Caracal travelogue:

  1. Operation Caracal
  2. Louisiana down time
  3. Driveabout
  4. Michabelle Inn
  5. Arrival 2017AD
  6. Dems good eats
  7. First transition

Arrival 2017AD

Operation Caracal, Part 5

Photo from GORGO Magazine

Day 11, December 31, 2016

I’ve said before that New Year’s Day has never been one of my favorite holidays. This year was especially rough. It’s not because I was sorry to see 2016 end. On the contrary, I thought 2016 was a horrible year! During that year we had seen, on the international scene, some of the worst examples of human behavior since World War II. The economy was a roller coaster, and don’t get me started on that train wreck of a presidential election! The loss of so many beloved celebrities and cultural icons just added insult to injury. My career problems are a story unto themselves. Yes, 2016 sucked like a shop vac!

But I did not agree with all of the people who were saying how glad they would be when 2016 ends. The end of 2016 would make the beginning of 2017, and that filled me with dread. All indications suggested that 2017 would be far worse than 2016, in just about every way imaginable. And I’m not just referring to the change of administration. (Though that is an important part of it.)

With my job, perhaps my career, being in what could best be described as free-fall, I expected 2017 to be filled with struggle. All of those difficulties that Lisa, the kids and I were about the face were scheduled to start in 2017! In light of that, you can probably understand why I was not looking forward to the inevitable change of the calendar.

Recall the ironic curse “May you live in interesting times.”

We already live in interesting times, and 2017 looked like it was going to be more interesting than anyone dared to imagine. Sadly, some of the fears that I and others had about the upcoming year are playing out pretty much as badly as expected. On a more personal level, some of the things I dreaded have turned out better than expected, but still not altogether well. Regarding the remaining concerns on my personal docket, it’s still too early to call.

I certainly wasn’t looking forward to our family trip coming to an end. If I could have stretched things a bit further, I would have. But, time was marching on, and our sojourn to the Pelican State was coming to an end.

To be continued.

Caracal travelogue:

  1. Operation Caracal
  2. Louisiana down time
  3. Driveabout
  4. Michabelle Inn
  5. Arrival 2017AD
  6. Dems good eats
  7. First transition

Hello, 2016

Photo credit: “The last sunset of 2015,” taken by the author, on Mt. Pony, Culpeper County, Virginia, December 31, 2015, around 5:15pm.

Everyone makes resolutions on New Year’s. It’s a long standing tradition! And this year, I’m no exception. It’s also an unfortunate truth that most people’s resolutions end up being abandoned by mid-February. Usually because life and/or the universe has other plans that trump anything that came before.

But still, it’s good to hope, and attempting to improve one’s self is a noble thing to do, even if it’s difficult to achieve or maintain. Anyway, I’ve arranged my resolutions into groups, in order of priority.

Group one: Home and Hearth. These are the ones that concern me the most.

  1. Get certain financial things under control. Last year I inherited some money and a stock portfolio from my mother. This year I want to get that fully squared away and working the way I want it to be. That is to say, shift the money into accounts that will help set up funds for Caitlin and Michael to go to college, and provide Lisa with a safety net should something tragic happen to me.
  2. Write up a will. To the best of my knowledge, I’m not staring death in the face. But my health isn’t in top form, and things can happen. So I intend to have a plan in place for just such an event.
  3. Clear the clutter from the house. This isn’t as serious as the first two, but it’s a tall order! Our house is a mess, and it has been for quite some time. The reasons for that are long and varied, but it’s time for some changes, because it’s been giving me considerable angst. We’re actually starting on this one already. One benchmark I want to use is to get at least 1000 pounds of stuff out of the house, either by donating it, selling it, or just tossing it. Earlier this week 13 pounds of stuff was donated to two charities in Culpeper. It’s a start.
  4. Several home and yard repairs. I have a laundry list of things that “need to be done” either to the house or to the land around it, and a few of them are pretty big projects. I hope to get at least some of these done. If I can’t, then I’ll try to find a service that can help.

Group two: my health. Everyone wants to improve their health in some way. This is my approach.

  1. I want to lose 20 pounds, and hope to keep off at least 10 of them. Everyone makes this resolution, so why should I be different? I tried to make a realistic and attainable goal, though. Ideally I should lose about 30 pounds, but I’ll try for this more modest step first. If I’m successful, I’ll re-visit this one later in the year.
  2. Keep my average blood sugar below 200. I’m diabetic, so my blood sugar can be a problem. I am prone to spikes, and rarely have lows. Therefore, my focus should be on keeping my sugar below a certain point. According to my doctor, someone of my body-mass-index should generally fall between 120 and 180, and the closer to the lower end the better. That being said, I should probably aim lower than keeping my average below 200, which is technically high. But if my readings from the post New Year’s week are anything to go by, I need to focus on something attainable. Here too, if successful, I will re-evaluate the situation at a later date.
  3. Deal with some of my personal demons. If you’re a regular reader of this site, then you know I have issues with depression. In recent months I’ve been compiling a list of specific issues that seem to be the source of my overall problems, and I’m going to bring these to the attention of my therapist. And unlike earlier years, I’m planning to get aggressive about it. I had a few wake-up calls this past year, so enough lollygagging.
  4. Visit the gym at least twice a week. In recent months I let myself get caught in a lot of proverbial briar patches, and it had a negative effect on my mood and health. Visiting the gym will alleviate a certain amount of that. I’ve long managed at least once a week, so I’m now shooting for two. My doctor says I should be shooting for five, so this is another one I can re-evaluate down the line, depending on how I do.

Group three: Would be nice. These are lower priority, but if the opportunity presents, these are some other things I would like to achieve this year. These may fall into the category of “self-improvement.”

  1. Keep expanding and working with the square foot vegetable garden. The 2015 garden was more successful than the 2014 one, but I still have a lot to learn. I’m hoping to expand to a maximum of four garden boxes this year. I suspect going larger would become hard to maintain.
  2. The Pugh Cookbook, second edition. Some years back, my late aunt Mary Pat composed a cookbook for the extended family, and many of us use and enjoy it. In the ten years since, the clan roster has changed, and some new recipes have surfaced at family gatherings. If I can, I’m hoping to compile a second edition of this book (the working title is “Second Helpings”). I suspect that other members of the family will be willing to help me on this one. The real issue is time.
  3. Digitize some vinyl albums. I have a whole mess of vinyl record albums, and some time back I acquired a USB turntable to record them into digital sound files. Why haven’t I done this yet? Good question. This year, I would like to transfer at least 50 of them to digital. If time and opportunity permits, I’ll do more. If I’m really lucky, I’ll move on to the audio cassettes and VHS videotapes!
  4. Get at least one of my Solar Council stories to a publisher. I’m an aspiring, and frustrated, science fiction writer. The “Solar Council” is the name I use for my futuristic science fiction setting. By most accounts my setting is a “hard” science fiction setting, so it’s not always easy to work with. (My characters rarely “talk to me.”) But this year I hope to get off my sagging laurel and get one story off to a publisher. Weather the story gets printed or digitally distributed is a totally different issue. For now, I just need to get back into that particular phase of the game.
  5. Learn a new computer language. I used to do a lot of programming, but that was with the old style procedural languages. The paradigm has changed, so perhaps I should change with it. Java and Perl are two potential candidates.
  6. Get back on stage. I used to do a lot of performing, both as a stage actor and as a coffeehouse musician. I haven’t done either one in years, and it’s time to try it again. I recently saw an excellent stage production of A Christmas Carol that featured a number of people I know from both work and church, and the bug is back. So my first step is to revive my coffeehouse act, or at least get back into practice, and find some open mic nights. If the regional theater starts putting together another play, then that will be another option.
  7. Finish the Elder Scrolls III (Morrowind) game. I’ve been playing this awesome game off and on for over a decade, but I have yet to actually get to the official game ending! Strange, no? Thing is, I enjoy the world editor as much if not more than the game itself, so I keep getting distracted. I don’t hold out much hope for this one. But since it’s low priority, I don’t have to.

And there it is, my plans for 2016. How they play out remains to be seen. Looking back, I have a lot of stuff to cover, so it’s unrealistic to expect success on all of them. But I’ll do what I can. If I’m ambitious and attentive, I’ll post status reports here. So, who else has interesting resolutions for the New Year?