Sunday, July 26, 2020

Addendum to the Weekend Reading

I just finished mopping our floors and am stuck outside while they dry. I have some work I'd like to do today, but that needs a big monitor, not just a laptop screen, so it will have to wait until the floors are dry!

Since I'm out here for 20 minutes or so and don't really want to make myself sad by reading Twitter, I am going to write an addendum to yesterday's post.

First of all, to clarify the work situation: I am not planning to quit or start a job search. I am planning to tell my management my suggestion for making their new policy a little more workable, and then whether they take that suggestion or not, I am going to do my best to follow the new policy. I am pretty sure that I will fall short once school starts, and if that becomes a problem then I will start a job search. Nothing is ever certain, but I feel like I would have some solid leads to start with, and that makes me feel better about waiting to see how this policy plays out at work. I like my current job and I think I'm pretty good at it even now with all the extra interruptions and stressors. So it will all probably be fine, but what I was trying to say in yesterday's post is that if it isn't fine at this job, it will be fine for me and my family. I feel very fortunate to be able to say that and really believe it to be true, especially right now.

However, it remains true that I am getting squeezed from several different directions right now, and it is frustrating and tiring. There really isn't any place I can talk about that, except to my husband and even there I have to be careful because we're both frustrated and tired and it is all too easy to find ourselves arguing over something I just wanted to commiserate about. Twitter and this blog used to be where I could talk about those things, but the internet has changed and that doesn't feel like a good idea anymore.

Enough said.

The other thing I want to add is a link to a podcast series I am finding really interesting and helpful Vox's Future Perfect is doing a season called The Way Through, in which they talk to religious thinkers and philosophers and the like about what their traditions and ways of thinking can tell us about how to navigate the mess that is our world right now.  I have listened to the first two and a half episodes. I found the second episode, with Rabbi David Wolpe to be particularly good. In fact, I went back and listened to it again this weekend.  I like what he has to say about it being up to humans to fix our unfair world, and also about how to handle loss.

The other thing that has been cheering me up lately is watching old comedy clips from British comedian Sarah Millican. Definitely not for the whole family, but her clips usually make me laugh and that's what I need right now!

OK, the floors are probably dry and it is time to go make lunch.

Saturday, July 25, 2020

Weekend Reading: Another Mixed Bag Edition

This was a challenging week for me, and the ways in which it was challenging do not bode well for the school year.

Petunia had two camps, both of which she really liked. They each had about one hour of online meeting time and some things to do on her own. One camp was Small Pet Photography, and the online time was spent building props for taking pictures with small pets. She mostly did that camp on her own, although she needed my help building a lightbox during the camp time on Thursday and making some tiny hamster-safe "pancakes" Wednesday night. We took the pictures on Thursday evening, when Daisy was awake. I shared a bunch of the pictures on Twitter. Here's another one:

Between the camp assisting and being really tired because Petunia's been having nightmares (and who can blame her, really?) I did not have a very productive work day on Thursday. I made up for it yesterday, but only by getting back online after dinner to do some more work.

The other camp was a camp about marine biology. There were some hands-on activities during the online sessions, including one where they made seashells and fossils out of salt clay. There were class discussions, too, which she enjoyed. But for this camp, she asked if someone could sit at the table with her during the online session. She says it is easier for her to concentrate on the online class if she has a grown up at the table with her. I think she's right, and so we try to accommodate this as much as we can. Luckily, this camp's online session was from noon until 1 p.m., so mostly I listened in while I ate lunch and then got my laptop and worked with the sound of five kids discussing marine biology with their teacher in the background. I also routinely work at the table while she does her online art class.

This will probably need to be part of our solution for how to make online schooling work for her, but it presents ergonomic and scheduling problems. Namely, I can't do more than about an hour on the laptop at a time. I have an old repetitive strain injury and need my ergonomic set up at my desk. And my husband and I are both in a lot of meetings during the day. This is just the nature of our jobs: I am a project manager and he is a software team lead, and so we both have jobs that involve a lot of coordinating and communicating. We're thinking about how best to get Petunia the company she needs while still doing our jobs. I think it is going to require a lot of coordinating and communicating. This was the week that really made it clear that it was going to be really important that we figure this out.

And then, on Friday, I received a work announcement of a change in expectations about our timecards. I don't want to go into details, because I don't think it is necessarily a bad policy per se, but the timing is a bit tone deaf. It is a change that would be fine and even good in normal times and is going to be difficult to make while also having to work with my kids at home. I read the email and thought "there is no way I'm going to be able to do that consistently once school starts." I have one suggestion that will make it a little better, which I will make next week. And then I will do my best and see what happens. There are a couple other companies that have reached out and tried to recruit me recently, and a couple more I think might be interested if I contacted them... and our family finances are in really good shape right now for reasons I am also not going to go into. So I'll be fine, no matter what ends up happening with this new policy.

But I am frustrated and tired and could use a break from having to figure things out. Looking ahead, I don't see this improving until we get a new federal government and so I had better figure out how to be OK with being frustrated, tired, and in need of a break because that's not going to change.

So anyway, I am in need of some unwinding this weekend. We'll see if I get it.

We're also looking to make some more donations this weekend (see comment above about our finances being in good shape) but given my current status of "tired of figuring things out" I am not sure where we should send our money. We've already sent to our food bank and our local relief fund multiple times. Anyone have good ideas about where to send our money next? I'm thinking maybe Modest Needs, but if you have ideas put them in the comments.

And now, for some links. Given my hamster photo shoot assistant duties and other activities during the week, I don't have that many for you. Here's what I have:

Joel Anderson's piece on the hypocrisy of people calling John Lewis a hero while also working against voting rights is really good.

I always read Rebecca Traister. Her piece on the reporting on the speech Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez gave this week in response to Ted Yoho's insult and not-really-an-apology is excellent.

I found this article, "American Exceptionalism Was Our Pre-existing Condition" to be really well done.  I continue to think about the choices Americans have about what we do next, what we learn from this crisis and our response to it, and how we take that forward into changes we could make to our society. I think a lot is riding on what Americans do next and I have no idea what that will be. The world could really benefit if we choose to use this crisis point to change our approach to climate change, for instance. If we do that, we could truly make a better world, but I want us all to remember we could have made that change without so many lost and altered lives. Our failed pandemic response will never be anything except a tragedy, even if it is what finally causes us to find a way to stand up to the forces of disinformation and find out way through to building a more sustainable society.

This is a good piece on some of the challenges of being a parent right now.

Emily Stewart's piece about the utter failure of our economic response to the pandemic is depressing, but worth your time.

There was a lot of focus on the new CDC guidance about opening schools, and some reports that it was modified by the White House (not good!) but the CDC also put out a more detailed and informative document about school reopening. I think there are still some really good scientists at the CDC doing everything they can to get useful information out. The undermining of the CDC but the political clowns we have in charge is one of the tragedies of this time, because it is going to play out in so many ways as we face future issues.

Jessica Calarco turned her good thread about the "school pods" that some parents are forming into an article, and it is also good. But the most important piece is that class sizes need to be small, whether we are doing online school or trying to get back to in person school. That requires federal funding and honestly I doubt we're going to get it. Don't get me wrong, I will contact my representatives and push for it, but the Republicans in the Senate couldn't even agree on their own plan for extending the extra unemployment insurance and the White House is pushing to making school funding contingent on reopening for on campus classes, so I am not hopeful that we're going to get the funding required to allow for small online class sizes, at least until January.

This is a good thread about why we need to start hedging our bets on our pandemic response:
And this is another good short thread about that:

Here's your weekly bunny:

Have a good weekend, everyone!

Wednesday, July 22, 2020

Dinner during Dora: Quinoa Tacos

It has been a long time since I've posted a Dinner during Dora recipe. My kids are well past the Dora age, but I still like a recipe that comes together quickly!

Like many people, we're trying to eat less meat these days. But how to reconcile that with the fact that we have tacos of some sort every Wednesday? (I know, it is supposed to be Tuesday, but Tuesday used to be Petunia's art class night and Mr. Snarky heated up leftovers while I shuttled her home from class...)

I have a decent recipe for a filling that is based on sweet potatoes, but I wanted something else.  I went searching and I found this recipe for quinoa taco meat. It is very good! I have made some modifications. The biggest is to essentially double the salsa. Back in the before times, I'd cook the quinoa the night before, and then the rest of the recipe comes together in the 22 minute Dora episode timeframe. Now I just cook the quinoa while working at the dining table, then put the taco "meat" together when I'm done with work.

Quinoa Tacos

1/2 cup quinoa, rinsed (it is particularly nice looking with tricolor quinoa, but right now I have plain beige quinoa, so that's what is in the pictures in this post)
7/8 cup vegetable broth
1/2 cup salsa (I use La Victoria Thick and Chunky. Medium spiciness is right for me, but that means my husband adds hot sauce.)
1 tsp cumin
1 tsp chipotle chili powder
1/2 tsp garlic powder
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp pepper
1/2 tbs olive oil

This first part can be done ahead of time:

After rinsing the quinoa, toast it in a medium saucepan over medium heat for a few minutes. Stir frequently so that it doesn't burn.

Add the vegetable broth, turn the heat to medium-high, and bring to a boil.

Reduce the heat to simmer/low, cover, and cook for 15-25 minutes, until the liquid is absorbed. Fluff with a fork, crack the lid, and set it aside to cool.

If you're stopping here for the night, put it in a container in the fridge until you are ready to do the rest.

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. (In practice, I've done anything from 375 to 425 - if I'm making tater tots as a side (I know, this is high class) I do it at 400 or 425.)

Dump the cooked quinoa in a bowl and add the rest of the ingredients. Stir until combined.

Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and spread the quinoa mix on that. It looks like this:

Bake for 20-35 minutes. Stir once halfway through. When it is done, it will smell yummy and look a bit toasted, like this:

Put it in a bowl and serve with your usual taco fixings:

Source: This Minimalist Baker recipe, with modifications

Who eats it: Just me and Mr. Snarky. I did try toasting some plain quinoa (i.e., cooked but without all the yummy stuff mixed in) for the kids. They declared it tolerable but then didn't really eat it either time I tried so I gave up and just do tater tots on the side. Pumpkin has her usual plain tortilla and Petunia has a quesadilla.

Saturday, July 18, 2020

Weekend Reading: Back to Whatever This Is Edition

Vacation was nice, but we had to get back to work this week. I would normally say I was getting back to normal, but nothing is normal right now so I guess I'll just say I was back at work.

It is perhaps unfair to say nothing is normal right now. Some aspects of life are settling into a new routine, and what is "normal" except the expected routine? But I do not think what we're in now is a stable new normal. I think we're in a liminal period in between our old normal and the normal we'll build as we come out of this period of acute crisis. We do not know what that new normal will look like yet, and I hope we build it with some care.

One of the ideas I've kept coming back to during the last few years is the ideas of "The Jackpot," from William Gibson's novel The Peripheral. I don't want to describe the plot too much, because doing so spoils some of the fun of reading the book. But I can tell you that The Jackpot is not a good jackpot. It is a group of long-brewing catastrophes "paying out" in a short period of time - climate change, pandemics, etc. The result changes the world, but the world goes on and there is a new normal. I think about that as I think about how our world is changing now. I wonder if we still have time to avert The Jackpot or if we're living through the early days of it. There is no way to know from where we sit. But we can still try to shape the new normal that comes next.

During my vacation week, I read Agency, which is the sequel to The Peripheral. The Peripheral was written before the 2016 election. Agency was written after. Agency was delayed because Gibson struggled with how to handle the 2016 elections in the word he'd built. Much of the action of Agency takes place in a timeline in which the US 2016 election and the Brexit vote both went the other way. It was exactly what I needed to read last week. I love Gibson's books because they just dump you in the world he's built, and you have to figure out the rules of that world as you read. That is a very immersive experience for me, which was perfect for trying to escape the mess of our world for a bit. At the same time, reading a story set in a world in which 2016 went the way I thought it should was a good reminder for me. The timeline in Agency is still a mess. There are still big, difficult problems that threaten the future. It was good to remind myself that as much as many of the specifics of this moment would be different if the 2016 election had gone the other way, we'd still be facing the big problems that eventually become The Jackpot in Gibson's world - and more. That helps remind me to keep working on the problems we face, because winning the election in November won't magically fix them all. (We need to keep working on winning that election, though!)

So anyway, how about some links. I don't have that many, because it was a pretty busy week for me. I was catching up from a week off. We also had an invitation to hang out on the beach with a couple of Petunia's best friends yesterday afternoon. Whereas Pumpkin can see her friends in someone's backyard - they just want to talk in person, so it is no problem for them to stay 6 feet apart and wear masks - that hasn't worked as well for Petunia and her friends. They want to play, not just talk. So we find it works better to do something outdoors where we can stay distant and either masked or in a breezy environment. There is usually a nice breeze at the beach this time of year, so beach trips seem like one of the safest ways to let Petunia see her friends every now and then. Anyway, to make the beach trip happen, I had to stop work at about 2:30 p.m. yesterday. To do that, I shifted my schedule to start early and also worked long days Wednesday and Thursday. The beach was really nice, though, so it was worth it.

I do have a few things for you:

There's a lot of talk about schools right now. San Diego Unified and Los Angeles Unified, California's two biggest school districts, announced earlier this week that they would be starting classes online only. We're in San Diego Unified, so that settled our decision about school. To be honest, that was a relief. We were leaning towards online because our daily number of cases continues to be high. That was going to be very disappointing for Petunia. I was glad that I didn't have to be the bad guy. She was still very upset by the news, but she's making peace with it and we're talking about how we can help make online school better for her.

Yesterday, Governor Newsom announced that schools in counties on the state watch list would not be allowed to open. (The watch list currently covers most of the state's population.) I was glad to see this, because before the announcement there were some districts in San Diego county planning to still open, and so was Orange County. We need more coordinated efforts to get the outbreak under control so that schools can reopen safely.

Of course, closing the schools puts a lot of families in a very tough spot. It is creating a new, high stakes version of the "mommy wars" and this tweet sums up the bind very well:

Left out of the tweet is the fourth option, which is always implied in these sorts of situations, namely "You are a bad mom." In this situation, that attaches to the decision to just muddle through and try to work and school at home as best you can.

Having been through the regular version of the mommy wars, I know there is no winning. There is no right answer. There is only doing your best to navigate a problem society created for you that no one family can solve. And that's all I want to say on that.

Derek Lowe has a good write-up of Moderna's Phase I results, now finally available in full scientific paper form instead of just a press release. He also summarizes some recent papers about T-cell immunity and coronaviruses that, as he says, are reasonably encouraging.

Here's a good resource from Vox if you need to send someone an accessible summary of the data on the effectiveness of masks.

Blog friend Bad Mom, Good Mom also has a good write up of the data on effectiveness of different fabrics in masks. The neck gaiter masks that my family likes best for long and/or active outings are a bamboo/spandex blend. I haven't seen any data on how well bamboo filters, but our standard behavior is to fold the mask over for a double layer if we need to actually be close to someone for more than a passing interaction. In most other ways, bamboo behaves a lot like cotton, so hopefully they are working as intended. I can definitely feel my exhale being directed downward by the mask when I'm running or otherwise exerting myself.

I've posted the link before, but here is the gaiter-style mask that I like - and my husband and 13 year old like it a lot, too. It is too big for my 10 year old and she also wants more fun prints, so she has a range of gaiter-style masks from other Etsy shops. We all also wear the ear loop masks. I wear a double layer cotton ear loop mask if I have to go into a store or be inside near other people. I have some I bought on Amazon early on and also some my Mom made me. I should probably get more.

This is a good thread on how we might get more people to wear masks. (Shaming doesn't work.)

This is a really sobering thread:

I am particularly worried about our testing situation. The huge surge of cases in several states is putting a strain on the test supply chain for all of us. Without adequate tests with a quick turnaround, the "test and trace" strategy of containment just cannot work. San Diego county was facing a serious shortfall of tests, and Helix, a biotech that was spun out of local giant Illumina stepped up to help. I was a bit surprised by that because Helix is a next-gen sequencing company and I didn't think any next-gen sequencing tests had been approved for diagnostic use for COVID-19. The mystery was solved by an article in today's newspaper: Helix is currently running PCR tests. So they are providing lab space and manpower on a different platform (with a different supply chain) than the one that had a shortfall. They hope to bring their next-gen sequencing test online for diagnostic use soon. Illumina also has a SARS-CoV-2 test that I believe they are working to get validated for diagnostic use. These next-gen sequencing tests would have impressive throughput, so it would be good news if one of them is validated for diagnostic use.

Here is some truth:

In other sad news... Rest in peace, John Lewis. I am so glad that Pumpkin and I went to see him and the other authors of March speak a couple of years ago. He was a great, inspiring man, and he will be sorely missed.

As the tributes roll in, let's focus on what would be a real tribute: re-instating the Voting Rights Act. A bill to do this has been waiting in the Senate for months. Let's fight to expand and protect voting rights. Let's rename that bridge, but we had better not stop there.

In other scary news... What's happening in Portland right now is very scary. I've seen a lot of tweets and statements from Democratic leaders condemning this, but now I want to see action. Local Oregon leaders are trying to stop this, but we need our Congressional leaders to step up and push back as hard as they can. The reality is that they can't make it stop, but they can at least make the people responsible come defend their actions in a Congressional hearing.

It is exhausting to have to keep pushing back, but pushing back works sometimes. The COVID-19 hospitalization data is back on the CDC's website, and the horrible rule saying that international students had to take classes in person or leave the country was dropped.

So... I guess we should all call our Congresspeople to ask for hearings on the events in Portland? I will try to post some actions as I figure out what they might be.

In news that has the potential to be good... Biden released his climate plan and it seems good. Let's get him elected and get him a Congress that will work with him and then we might actually make some progress.

In happier news... We all got a chance to see NEOWISE last night, using binoculars. We don't have great binoculars, and we live in an area with a lot of clouds and light pollution. So what we saw wasn't breathtaking or anything. Still, we saw it and that was cool.

Here's a view that is decidedly cooler than what we saw:


Happy weekend, everyone.

Saturday, July 11, 2020

A Report from a Very Different Vacation (and a Few Links)

We're still "vacationing" so this will be another short post. We had a good week, but while vacationing at home during a pandemic is nicer than working at home during a pandemic, it is not as good as a real vacation.

We went to the zoo and the beach. We went kayaking, and we spent a couple of hours fishing off the rocks at the bay. We put up our pop up shade and had a lazy day in our backyard on Wednesday and yesterday we had a water gun fight in our backyard. We've ordered in dinner almost every night, and I spent a lot of time reading in my hammock. But we still had to do dishes and the days weren't packed enough to get that "easy to sleep" vacation effect on Petunia.

It was weird being out and about so much, but mostly we saw other people being careful and felt pretty good about the things we decided to do. The San Diego Zoo has a 100% mask policy. I would say that about 75% of the people we saw at the zoo were wearing their masks properly. The other 25% had exposed noses or had pulled their mask under their chin. But the Zoo is also pretty much 100% outdoors, and it wasn't super crowded (they're limiting the number of people they let in) so it didn't feel unsafe.

The beach we picked was not crowded, and there was a nice breeze. We saw several groups wearing masks as they arrived, and only taking them off once they found their spot in the sand. Since it wasn't crowded, people did a good job of spacing out on the sand. The kayak shop had a good set up where you scanned a QR code to fill out the release form online, and the staff that helped you get the kayaks were all masked.

The riskiest thing we did was probably our lunch after kayaking. My husband had convinced me to try an outdoor patio restaurant next to the kayaking place. It is a new restaurant in that spot. He had scoped it out while on a bike ride and really wanted to try it. He was right that they had a pretty good set up - all outdoors, and with a nice strong breeze off the bay. There was only one other table occupied when we wandered up so we decided to give it a try. For the first little while, it was great. The food was pretty good, and the sea breeze felt nice. But then a group of ~10 young people came up. They stood near our table for uncomfortably long without masks on, debating whether to come in. We'd pulled up our masks once they came near. One or two of them noticed that and pulled masks out of their bags, but didn't put them on. They finally wandered up to the counter to order and saw the large "no mask, no service" sign and the rest of the group dug disposable masks out of their bags and they all put them on. However, they took them off as soon as they walked away from the counter. Instead of sitting on the opposite side of the patio, they sat down at the table between us and the other customers and the table next to it. They started talking loudly across the tables. I heard the other customers behind us ask where the group was from. They were from Paradise Valley, which is a suburb of Phoenix.

We were almost done with our lunch, so we hurried up and finished and left. As I left, I saw that the two men at the other table had pulled their masks up, too. The big group were technically following the rules, but were not being as careful as they could have been.

I think there is a lesson in that experience. Whatever set up you design, you have to design for the most clueless people who will encounter it. I don't think the group of young people at the restaurant were trying to be a problem - I think they're just not used to the mask and distancing norms that we've developed here. From what my parents tell me, there are very different norms in play in Arizona (which also has the worst outbreak in the US right now). The restaurant could have helped by putting their "mask up" sign at the entrance to the patio instead of at the counter, and they should probably remove a couple of tables so that it would be impossible for groups to seat themselves too close to other customers. I think it is like the masks at the zoo - 75% of the people will do the right thing on their own. You should design things so that the other 25% are steered to doing the right thing, too.

I tried not to spend a lot of time on Twitter this week, so I don't have many links for you.

But here's a big write-up in Science about opening schools, which I've bookmarked to read later.

And here's a great picture of the NEOWISE comet:

Here's some rabbit art:

And here's some real bunnies for you:

Have a good weekend everyone! I will be back to "normal" - whatever that means right now - next week.

Saturday, July 04, 2020

Not Really a Weekend Reading Post

We're at the start of our "vacation at home" - so I am not going to write a full post today. I am trying to relax and get into a little bit of a vacation mood. I have only been moderately successful so far.

This post from Josh Marshall sums up how I feel about our situation right now. But dwelling on that will not get me in a vacation mood.

It is the 4th of July, and it is going to be perfect beach weather here. Every San Diegan I know is planning to stay home, because our beaches are almost certainly full of people from surrounding areas that have a higher rate of COVID-19 than we do (and our rate has been going up - on Monday we will land on the state list of counties that have to shut down indoor dining and some other things).

But if I dwell on that, I won't get in a vacation mood.

This essay perfectly states the decision we face about reopening schools. Here's the argument in a nutshell:

"If we want schools to open in a few months and stay open, we need to keep community transmission low. The best way to do that is to suppress the spread of the virus. That means looking at what is reopening and when, and figuring out whether those sectors of the economy are really more important than schools. All reopening will likely increase community transmission to some degree."

I want to print it out and mail copies to the local politicians who are prioritizing opening businesses. I want to tell them that if my 10 year old has to do school online this year, I may find that I have to ask for reduced hours at work so that I can give her the attention she needs to have online schooling succeed - which would mean I'll make less money. Which will mean we'll order in less, and perhaps put the solar panels we're planning to get on hold. Take those decisions and multiply them by all the kids in school and tell me that won't hurt the economy. The idea that the only thing that matters for the economy is reopening as many businesses as possible was always magical thinking from people without the ability to think through the downstream consequences.

And I'm extremely lucky to have a job that would give me the reduced hours and not just tell me it is full time or nothing.

Oops, there goes my vacation mood again.

In other topics: I found Ezra Klein's interview with Nicholas Carr really interesting. They talk about how various types of communication technologies change our brains. It is a conversation grounded in the research we have on the topic and also in what we know from the history of past communication technology changes.

This is one of my favorite poems, and it appeared in my timeline yesterday so I though I'd share it with you for the 4th of July: Let America Be America Again, by Langston Hughes.

Here's your weekly bunny:

Have a good weekend, everyone!