Hi, readers. Tomorrow is Thanksgiving, and we’re having a bit of a global pandemic at the moment. That means Thanksgiving at home. No travel, no family.
My lovely girlfriend Brooke and I are spending our fourth Thanksgiving together. Give me a moment to reflect on them.
In 2017, Brooke was house- and dog-sitting for some friends of hers who live in Sedalia. I drove down there and made Thanksgiving dinner. I guess I should say I assembled dinner. I bought a smoked turkey breast from Owlbear BBQ (one of the amazing Central Texas style barbecue joints that have cropped up in Denver the past decade), along with some side dishes. I think I made haricots verts amandine from scratch.
In 2018, we flew to Baltimore and had Thanksgiving dinner with one of Brooke’s friends from college, Amy. Amy’s parents invited us all to a home cooked meal, and it was wonderful. Very traditional, like something my grandmother would made.
This year, I made a 180 degree turn and decided to let someone else do all the cooking. After shopping around some, I settled on Root Down. If you’re not aware, that’s a really good restaurant in Denver that has been very popular since they opened a bit over a decade ago. They specialize in upscale healthy food, and like many restaurants were offering a take home Thanksgiving dinner. Once I saw the menu, I just couldn’t pass it up.
I made some choices, added on some pre-mixed cocktails (a quart!), and chose a pie, and here’s what we’re having:
Earl of Blackberry Mule
Kale & Shaved Brussels Salad
Pretzel Crusted Purple Sweet Potato Dauphinoise
Charred Green Beans with Chili Crunch & Shallots
Cornbread & Chorizo Stuffing
Brined Roasted Turkey Breast
Pulled Confit Turkey Leg
The Half & Half: Spiced Pumpkin/Whiskey Pecan Pie
The “mule” is like a Moscow Mule, but blackberry flavored. I had to look up what dauphinoise is; it’s a particular French style of scalloped potatoes. The rest is pretty self-explanatory except for one thing.
I had assumed “The Half & Half” was half of a pumpkin pie and half of a pecan pie. But no! At least not like I imagined. It’s a single pie that has two layers. The bottom is a pumpkin pie, but the top is a pecan pie. It’s like layers of rock and it appeals to my interest in geology.
But wait, you’re probably saying, you’re writing this on Wednesday night, so how could you know what the inside of the pie looks like? Well, I’m saving all the Thanksgiving dinner for Thanksgiving proper except for the pie. We gave in and had to try to a slice early. That’s now I know.
Here’s how the whole spread looked when I got it home from the restaurant and unpacked it onto the counter.
In the lower right is an extra package of turkey I bought, because I wanted to be sure to have some turkey leftovers to make a sandwich. But oops, I forgot to get some bread. Oh well.
And now that I’ve told you all about what’s on the menu for tomorrow, I want to let you know that we are having a pair of virtual gatherings with friends and family. If you’d like to join us by video call using Google Meet, we would love to see you. We’re just gonna leave the computer on, and people can come and go as they please. So consider stopping in to say hi for just a minute or stay to chat for an hour with a glass of wine and some leftovers.
Happy Thanksgiving 2020 from Brooke and Todd
Please join us for a casual and warm gathering of friends and family using Google Meet. Come and go whenever you like.
Thursday 4:00pm to 8:00pm – Thanksgiving dessert and food coma
Friday 5:00pm to 7:30pm – leftovers and cocktails
All times Mountain
I’m leaving the URLs off so we don’t get any random internet weirdos joining us. Only known friendly weirdos, please! Call me at 720-480-4890 if want the instructions for joining.
And if you are busy with your own plans, please have an enjoyable Thanksgiving regardless of what you decide to do. Brooke and I are both thankful to be safe and healthy and together.
Hi, friends. I wrote a long blog article a few weeks back about how the COVID-19 pandemic has affected me and my neighborhood. If you haven’t already read it, I invite you to go check it out.
It’s now late June, and things feel a little more normal now. But, as before, there have been a few things I wanted to jot down for posterity. I hope the day will come that we mostly forget what it was like in the early days of the pandemic, so maybe all this will help jog my memory. I don’t know whether people like to read these longer format posts or would prefer more shorter posts. But I’ve got a lot on my mind to share with you.
First, let’s talk about masks. I had no idea it would be like this, but wearing of face coverings has become something of a controversial issue, even political. Over the course of the pandemic so far, we’ve had a weird and confusing mix of orders from government leaders. President Trump said we should all be wearing masks, but then he has refused to do so personally. Governor Polis has been ardently pro-mask, but has left most specific rules up to local governments around the state, to account for the fact that things in small rural towns are very different than things in the center of Denver. Lastly, Mayor Hancock has been pro-mask and has issued the most restrictive orders about wearing them.
We’ve had a mix of directives from the state and city level, sometimes contradicting each other, and changing over time. But right now, here in Denver, it’s the law to wear a face covering inside a business or in line to get into a business, and also at bus stops and on buses. Of people out and about, walking around the city, some wear face coverings and some don’t. Thanks to people mostly wearing masks earlier in the pandemic, the wave of hospitalizations was suppressed, as intended. We avoided overloading hospitals, which was the whole goal of social distancing and face coverings. So I think some people have gotten lazy and stopped wearing face coverings as much on the streets. And maybe that’s not a big deal, since it seems more health professionals are saying the chances of infection are much lower outdoors and in cases where you just pass by someone momentarily.
Over Memorial Day weekend, Brooke and I went down to the town of Elizabeth. Her parents lived there a few years as her mother was dying, and she is now buried in the town cemetery there. So we took the opportunity to get out of town and go see her grave site. It was like stepping into another world, even though Elizabeth is only a 45 minute drive from Denver. Of all the people I saw in town, at the restaurant where we got food, and at the adjacent supermarket, I only saw a single person wearing a face covering other than us. It was the cook at the restaurant. Even though they had a sign asking people to wear masks, the woman taking orders and handling the cash register wasn’t wearing one. But I was even more surprised that not a single person going into or coming out of the supermarket had any kind of face covering. This was during the period where the state orders were that everyone had to wear masks in supermarkets. But many localities refused to enforce that rule, and so people didn’t follow it. It seemed foolish to me, especially on a holiday weekend when there were tourists coming to town (like us).
One precaution that went into effect early on was that face coverings became required in common areas of my condo building. There are signs at every entrance, in very plain language. Masks or face coverings are mandatory in this building. Residents, construction workers, delivery workers, etc. have all complied, which is nice. Also, since the elevators are only about 6′ wide, it’s almost impossible to maintain 6′ distance from other people in the elevator car. So people stopped sharing the elevator with others they don’t live with. A couple weeks later, the management company put up signs to that effect, which is good. It hasn’t been a hassle, and has encouraged me to use the stairs more, which is good.
Another impact of the pandemic is that my gaming group has gone virtual. Early on, before social distancing was mandatory, I asked people what they thought we should do – continue to meet in person or try to play online. About a third of the group said we should continue to meet in person; ironically, the one player who works in the health care field voted for this. About a third said we should switch to online. And a third were on the fence. I’m the ringleader of this gaming group, and I was torn. But then I thought through the implications of meeting in person. One of the gamers has an 82-year-old mother whom he sees weekly, and it would be really dumb if one of us gave her son the virus and then he gave it to Mom, and she died just because we didn’t want to use Zoom for our games. That’s when I decided we’re going virtual. I learned how to use a couple virtual table top (VTT) tools, and moved my own game onto one called Roll20; we use Discord for voice and text chat. Another game uses Fantasy Grounds. But now that we’ve been doing it a couple months, the technical kinks are mostly worked out.
I would still much prefer us to meet in person, since the online experience just isn’t as fun. It’s not as immersive, and doesn’t feel as social. There’s something special about sitting around a big table with other players, sharing munchies or supper, and playing a game in person. But until it’s safe to do that again, virtual games are just the way it is.
I already mentioned the first protest of the Spring 2020 protest series, when people who were fed up with the pandemic restrictions executed “Operation Gridlock” to drive around the state capitol and block traffic on April 19. We later learned that the protest was part of a multi-state political action, and that many of the people supposedly protesting Colorado’s anti-virus policies flew and drove in from surrounding states.
But that protest quickly faded from the limelight as restrictions started being lifted and much bigger issues took over. The protests most will remember from 2020 were the ones centered on the Capitol Building triggered by the police killing of George Floyd. There were protests around the world, but the Denver ones were a nightly occurrence starting May 28. Participation escalated over the first few nights, and it soon became clear that there were two groups of people involved – the protesters and the rioters. I’m particularly proud of the local political leaders and press for recognizing that the bulk of the protests – conducted partially as a Black Lives Matter action – were totally peaceful. The second group – the rioters – took over after the main protests dispersed each night. They’re the ones who broke windows and lit dumpsters and buildings on fire.
That Saturday, the Denver Police Department made the strange decision to “push” the crowd off Colfax down into the residential area to the south, which is where I live. Brooke and I were at my place watching a movie, when we heard a big commotion outside. The protesters/rioters/whatever came down the street behind my building, chanting and shouting. Lots of people came out to their windows and cheered them on, as they passed by. They then stopped at the Governor’s Mansion and shouted there a while before moving on. The governor doesn’t actually live there. He could, but he doesn’t. This governor has his own mansion somewhere near Boulder, and he lives there with his family. No need to relocate from Boulder Denver for 4 years, I guess, especially when you’ve got school aged kids.
I’ve been trying to cook and eat healthier the past few months, to help support Brooke and me losing some weight. It’s been working, and I’ve been continually challenged to make lower-calorie versions of food I like that don’t taste like crap.
So, when my box of pre-selected produce from the farmers market had potatoes, I knew I had a challenge ahead of me. Potatoes are exactly what I should not be eating. They have almost no nutritional value, and are high in carbohydrates, something I should avoid as a diabetic. With Independence Day coming up, I set my thinking toque toward making some potato salad. Here’s the result.
2 cups of diced potatoes
1 dill pickle spear, chopped
1 cup chopped celery
1 T chopped white onion
1/4 cup yogurt
1 T Dijon mustard
1/2 package of fresh dill, chopped
Juice from 1/2 lemon
Salt and pepper
After dicing the potatoes, cook them in boiling water for about 10 or 12 minutes. Meanwhile, chop all the veggies.
Throw everything except the potatoes (which are still cooking, duh) into a bowl and stir it all together.
Once the potatoes are done, run them under cold water in a colander.
After they’ve cooled mostly, throw those into the bowl, and stir everything around to coat the potatoes. Put it all in the fridge for an hour to let everything mingle and chill. Stir again, then serve.
This recipe makes three American size servings, perfect for the 4th of July with your sweetheart and some leftovers. Scale it up as needed.
This has about 1/3 the calories as store-bought potato salad for servings that are twice as big. I call that a success.
If you’re a regular reader, you know my employer furloughed me at the start of April. It was due to bad economic conditions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. I later learned the entire project that I had been working on for a year and a half got canceled. A few people who worked on that project kept their jobs, in order to clean up the mess left behind. But most of us were either completely laid off or furloughed indefinitely. I was in the furlough group.
I took the opportunity to enjoy a much-needed (albeit unpaid) vacation. I caught up on a huge backlog of projects, which I wrote about in my post COVID-19 and Me, Part 1. Springtime would normally be my favorite time to be out of work, and I badly wanted to take a few weeks to go camping and hiking in northern New Mexico and eastern Utah. But travel was restricted by order of the governors, not to mention it being a bad idea. So I stuck around home and had a staycation, of sorts.
I told myself that I’d enjoy myself for six weeks before I start looking for work. With generous unemployment benefits coming in from both the state and federal government, I wasn’t in a huge hurry to get a paycheck again. So I ignored calls and emails from recruiters altogether for a while. But after six weeks, it was time. I put out feelers with people I know in the software test engineering business, and started applying for relevant jobs I saw advertised on LinkedIn and Dice.
It turns out that applying for jobs yielded almost nothing. I got a few calls from recruiters at those companies, but only one or two ever went very far. Most companies that I sent my resume to – somewhere between 50 and 100 of them – never bothered to even reply. Then all of a sudden, a few other leads materialized.
You know the saying “when it rains, it pours”? Well, that’s what happened next. In the course of a week, I got job offers from two companies in the Denver area, plus the company that furloughed me asked me to come back. So I spent a week or so mentally weighing the options. Any of the three would be fun, rewarding, challenging, and interesting to me.
There was no bad choice. I felt very blessed to have so many options. In the end, I chose the job that seemed the most different from things I’d done in the past, in order to get the most opportunity to learn new things. That is important to me. So I accepted their offer by phone while sitting in the passenger seat of Brooke’s car at a take-and-bake pizza shop in Durango. (the pizza later that night was really good, by the way)
It’s a startup company, so who knows whether they’ll even be around in five years. They’ll either be hugely successful or they’ll go out of business. But in the meantime, I’m gonna do what I can to help them do software development smarter, and learn as much as I can while doing so. Plus, hopefully I’ll have some fun along the way.
I started the job this past Monday. My new job title is Test Automation Architect, which means being the technical and spiritual leader of the company’s automated software testing efforts. I’ve never had that title before, though I’ve played that sort of role to a smaller degree a few times. Part of the job will be mentoring more junior development and test engineers, and part of it will be building systems to run tests more reliably and faster. The ultimate goal, as always, is to get new product features into the hands of customers faster.
I’m not gonna mention the company name. I have been talking about the specifics of my employers less and less online over the past few years. But they’re based in Denver and work in the cybersecurity field.
It’s a remote job at the moment, like almost all software engineering jobs. At some point, people will start to work from the office again. But I made it clear that I want to stay remote even after the pandemic isn’t an issue anymore. I want to be able to travel and work at the same time. And depending on how things go in the post-COVID days, I may be moving away from Denver to someplace less expensive in the next few years. Fortunately, my boss is moving from Denver to Arizona this month, so he’s setting the example.
As I write this, it’s Independence Day, Saturday July 4, 2020. One nice thing about starting on Monday this week was that I only had to work a 4-day week and then I got a 3-day weekend! That seems like a great way to start a new job.
Now that we’re a few months into dealing with the pandemic most call COVID-19, something just occurred to me.
Doctors have been telling us from the beginning that the virus is transmitted on tiny droplets of water in people’s breath, right? Basically, someone who’s infected (whether they know it or not) coughs or sneezes, and a bunch of little water drops spew into the air with virus on them, and then someone else breathes that into their lungs.
The Centers for Disease Control say that COVID-19 can’t be spread by food. That’s why restaurants have been able to stay open and provide carry-out service. A dead and cooked hamburger can’t breathe in the virus from an infected cook, and it can’t breathe out on a customer, so food is safe.
But then I thought back to how this pandemic started in the first place. Some dude in southern China presumably ate a bat that was infected. Surely the bat was dead from being cooked, so there’s no way the bat could have breathed out to infect the human. And the human who ate it couldn’t have been breathing in, because it’s impossible to swallow food and breathe at the same time (thank you, epiglottis).
So something about this story doesn’t add up. Anyone have an explanation?
I want to document a little bit of what it’s been like for me during the first part of the COVID-19 pandemic. Day-to-day life in America has changed pretty rapidly, and we’ve already adapted to most of it. So it’s not really news. But it’s different enough from the way things were before that I want to write it down. And maybe you’ve been curious what’s happening in my life. It’s a long post, so be prepared.
When I first heard about COVID-19, the news was reporting it as a big deal in some other countries, China in particular. But I didn’t think it was going to have a big impact on my own life. That was in February 2020. My work life was continuing on as it had been for the past year.
In particular, I was working on a project to develop (and test, in my case) a new online training platform. Some of us on the team were putting in lots of overtime. This job was a completely remote work environment. The team was distributed literally from coast to coast. Our boss was in Virginia, and our product manager was in California, and us chickens were everywhere in-between. So we were all very used to working from home, and did it reasonably well.
In early March, we had the first confirmed COVID-19 infections in Colorado, and then Governor Polis declared a state of emergency on March 10. That’s when I knew shit was getting real. Within a week, all ski areas, restaurants, bars, gyms, casinos, and movie theaters were ordered to close. Most school districts closed their schools, and we had our first deaths from the disease. People who had office type jobs started working from home en masse.
Other states responded similarly, and work got a bit weird. My coworkers who were used to working from their home offices now had kids at home, out of school or day care. I remember my boss trying to have Zoom video meetings with us, and his young son literally crawling all over him and yelling at the top of his lungs. Some coworkers just went offline most of the time during the day, and then would try to catch up on work after their children went to sleep at night. Our team definitely wasn’t operating at 100% anymore, and it was right during the time that management wanted us to be in “crunch mode” to finish the initial release of this new product.
For me personally, the biggest changes were that I could no longer go to restaurants or movies, the two things I most liked to do for entertainment. The city, state, and federal governments all encouraged us to start social distancing, though it wasn’t mandatory yet. My girlfriend Brooke and I got some cotton masks to wear in public, and started walking together a lot more. This was because the fitness studios where we both went were now closed. We still needed exercise, and didn’t want to just become more sedentary.
Doctors said to try to keep 6 feet separation from other people. I don’t know why 6 and not 5 or 7. I guess probably because the real guidance was for 2 meters, and they had to convert to feet for Americans who don’t know a meter from a soufflé (thanks, Reagan). Figuring out how to do social distancing while out walking in the neighborhood was a challenge for us and for everyone else. Our sidewalks are 2.5 to 4 feet wide, and many pedestrians on the sidewalks are walking (aka pooping) their dogs. So we had to learn the discipline to either cross the street or at least walk in the street when coming up on another pedestrian on the sidewalk. At first, this was strange, but we got used to it.
Within hours of the emergency declarations, there were runs on the grocery stores. People bought up all the toilet paper, cleaning products, hand sanitizer, paper towels, and most of the non-perishable foods. I don’t know why anyone thought they suddenly needed 100 rolls of toilet paper. Maybe they thought the virus was going to kill all the people in the paper mills. Or maybe they thought they were somehow going to stay in their homes for months without venturing out and they would do lots of pooping. Eventually, stores started enforcing limits on how many of these products you could buy, to eliminate hoarding. And the government declared that all hand sanitizer would be sold only to health care agencies, not the general public.
Then, a week later, mandatory “stay at home” rules went into effect. This didn’t impact me much, because I had already been taking these precautions. Some Americans felt like it was an assault on their liberty, though, and there were a few protests in Denver. A lot of people totally missed the point that social distancing wasn’t meant to protect you personally from the virus, but to protect others from getting the virus from you if you were an asymptomatic carrier. Some people understood that, and still felt like it was still an unfair imposition. But in my neighborhood, most people generally obeyed the rules, and a month later the Colorado wide results showed that we did “flatten the curve” as we had hoped. So it paid off, at least for that first wave of infections.
With so many people out of work or working from home, traffic on city streets was way down. And people needed to get out more. So the city shut down a few streets to car traffic and turned them into pedestrian streets. That way, people could walk (or run or bike) for exercise, and have an easier time maintaining distance from other pedestrians. One of these people-oriented streets was just two blocks from home, and led all the way east to Cheesman Park, so it was perfect for me.
In the second half of March, things were weird, between the hoarding behavior and general fear of the virus. But I was working so much that most of this didn’t affect me. I started cooking more, since I couldn’t go to restaurants. And I started ordering food to be delivered more. I signed up for GrubHub’s membership plan where you pay a flat annual fee and they waive individual order delivery fees. I figured this is going to last a while, and it’ll pay off, especially if I use GrubHub a lot.
I wasn’t the only one. Restaurant workers, especially front-of-house employees like servers, were out of work in droves. Some restaurants closed completely, and some quickly converted their businesses to work better with takeout and delivery. Argonaut Liquor, the large liquor store in my neighborhood, responded by starting their own liquor delivery service. For a flat fee of $10 you could get any size order delivered in the neighborhood. I only needed one thing, but decided I might as well stock up a little since the delivery cost would be the same. Maybe that’s why they had a flat fee in the first place. Smart move, Argonaut.
Then, on April 2, I got furloughed from my job. I had been laid off before, way back in 2001, but never furloughed. In this case, it meant that I would still be an employee and the company would pay for my benefits, most importantly my health insurance. But I would not receive a paycheck. Basically, the way they left it was that they may ask me to come back and resume work at some point, or they may not. No promises. And if I take a job somewhere else, I’m supposed to let them know and return my equipment. So I boxed up my work laptop and peripherals, put them in the closet, and filed for unemployment.
Things have been much better financially than I expected. The state immediately approved my unemployment claim. By being furloughed, I was eligible to collect a weekly check from Colorado. Plus, the US Congress had passed the CARES Acts which added $600 per week on top of my unemployment check. Plus, my medical expenses were getting paid for! That added up to enough to cover my monthly mortgage payments, insurance, and HOA fees. So housing has been covered, and I’ve “only” had to dip into my savings for food, entertainment, utilities, and other expenses.
Since I had been getting burned out on work, I had already been fantasizing a little about quitting and taking a vacation to go camping and hiking in the canyon country of western Colorado and eastern Utah (and maybe northern New Mexico). The camping and hiking were not going to be possible now, due to the “stay at home” orders. But I looked forward to having some time to mentally decompress and catch up on some long-outstanding projects from my personal “to do” list. So I told myself I was going to ignore recruiters and not do anything resembling a job search for 6 weeks. Then, I’d start looking around, if my company hadn’t called me back before that.
April I tackled that huge backlog of tasks. I got my estate plan sorted out, I caught up on a deep stack of magazines, and I dusted off the Recycled Restaurants photo-essay project that I had started but never finished in 2016.
I also decided I might as well finally get the front bumper of my car fixed from that time over a year ago that I ran into the back of another car on the iciest street I’ve ever seen. It wasn’t a very big problem, so I delayed the repairs a long time. But since I wasn’t working and was supposed to be staying at home due to the pandemic, it seemed like I wouldn’t be needing my car much for the next week or two. So I might as well get it fixed.
I’ve been out of work for long periods of time before, usually by choice. So I knew that it takes me a while to mentally switch from work mode to self-actualization mode. That’s what happened in April.
My Pilates studio started doing online classes, which I signed up for. Everyone and their brother started putting more forms of live remote entertainment online – small music concerts, role playing game shows, Geeks Who Drink trivia contests, etc. So I have never had a chance to get bored.
The days from mid-April to mid-May sort of all blended together. Without a job to separate weekdays from weekends, my routine for both was a blur. Most of the time there was no routine. A few days a week I’d have online Pilates mat classes, and a couple days a week I’d plan long walks. I signed up for online Meetups on work-related topics, though I found my enthusiasm for them was low, since I had no idea when or even if I’d be able to put the ideas to practice in my work.
Through this whole time, I was doing Weight Watchers, which meant cutting way back on the amount of delicious food, and modifying my cooking a lot. Also, ordering meal deliveries is way more of a challenge when trying to eat extra healthy. With the pandemic, it was already tough to find restaurants that would deliver something I was in the mood for, with good quality. Add a restricted diet on top of that and it makes it extra hard. But it’s paid off, and I’ve lost about 30 pounds since February.
In the last couple weeks, some of the restrictions have started to be lifted. My massage therapist was able to start taking clients again, so I scheduled a massage. In fact, I was the first customer she contacted to get on the schedule. Why? Maybe she likes me. Maybe she sensed my back has been hurting. Maybe she appreciated that I continued to pay her for the two months she was not able to work on me. Or maybe all three.
Last Sunday, on May 10, I decided to drive over to Brooke’s place to stay the night. I wanted a change of scenery and also wanted to be gone while my housekeeper came to clean on Monday for the first time in two months. On the way, only about 5 blocks from home, I got in a car wreck. It was pretty low speed, and neither driver was hurt. I think the other driver ran a red light, and she thinks I ran a red light. Regardless, the end result was that the front end of my car got smashed again! In the month since I got the front bumper fixed from the accident last year, I literally only drove it 60 miles. And now it’s back in the shop.
This past Thursday was the 6 week anniversary of getting furloughed. I still haven’t heard a peep from my employer, so I started putting out feelers about jobs, as I told myself I’d do. The CARES Act money doesn’t run out until the end of July, and I’m not burning through my savings too fast, so I’m in no huge rush. I’d rather take the time to find something fun and rewarding, rather than just the first job that I’m qualified for. Check back in a few weeks and see how that goes. Thanks for reading this far.