Easily Resize Your Photos With This Simple iOS Shortcut

OMG it’s working…

Scene from a woodland walk

This image should be resized as a 800px wide PNG, if I did this right. I’ve never bothered to use the Shortcuts feature on the iPhone but I encountered a problem with an oversized image.

Easily Resize Your Photos With This Simple iOS Shortcut
— Read on gooddogstrategies.com/news-notes/easily-resize-your-photos-with-this-simple-ios-shortcut

Homescapes: Time Suck, Coin Suck, Energy Suck, Yet I Can’t Stop Playing

Homescapes Level 7602, “The Wood Estate Mystery” – is it time to move on?

Homescapes is a video game for smartphones and tablets that’s designed to remove money from your wallet, time from your day, and you from engagement with everything else that’s going on in your life.

Match 3 – what to do? Hyper bombs, jets, or rockets?

It’s a match-3 type of game, very similar to Bejeweled (which I used to like a lot) or Candy Crush. It has levels to pass, and to break up the repetitiveness, it’s also an exploration, makeover, redesign game. There are periodic events where you compete head to head, within your team, or against other teams. There are also “seasons” lasting about 4 weeks where you are supposed to gather tokens to trade in to redesign areas of the game, or to change the appearance of an in-game character. There’s a fair amount of exploration; as you progress through the levels you first renovate and redecorate the main character’s family home, then a lake cabin that he buys, then an estate belonging to an estranged family member. Along the way you help “Austin,” the main character, make his parents’ lives better and fix their mysteriously neglected mansion. There’s a whole storyline with characters, separate from the simple match-3 mechanics where you gather tokens and stars to advance the “plot.”

Team Freckle Juice

I’m on a pretty good “team,” Freckle Juice. I thought the name was funny when I joined but I hope it doesn’t put off prospective new members who might suspect that it’s for pale people only. When I joined, it was new and I was the second or third person. The team leader is pretty engaged and expects team members to be minimally engaged, which is better than my last team. Homescapes has a “limited lives” system – you get 5 turns and then have to wait for your lives to refill… unless you pay extra for more lives. But you can ask for and give turns to teammates, and Facebook friends who connect to you in-game. Occasionally, we’re pretty successful as a a team in the weekly competitions. We won the one above for example. We got a lot of coin out of that.

Coins are the in-game currency; you can buy extra lives and power-ups (called boosters in-game). Stars are awarded for every level you clear – 1 level, one star. Hard levels, you get more coins. And then there’s various kinds of tokens; sometimes it’s a different kind of object that you match, like red bow ties (Austin the butler is famous for always wearing a bow tie) or some seasonal object (Christmas balls during the Christmas seasonal redesign event, etc.).

Homescapes: The Wood Estate Mystery. Energy suck, coin suck, time suck

Currently, we’re in a sort of short seasonal event called Mysteries of Wood Escape. Here’s a walkthrough on You Tube that makes it look easy and achievable in the short time you’re given (about 10-14 days on this one). Newsflash: it’s not possible to complete unless you cheat.

YouTube: Mysteries of Wood Escape Walkthrough

Here’s a good example of Time Suck: while working on this blogpost, I absent-mindedly opened the game, forgetting that today is my “seventh day” in a row, that comes with some timed bonus power-ups. They only last 30 minutes. Can’t waste time blogging when I was stuck on a level!

Time’s a wastin’! Only 26 more minutes of unlimited boosters!
Instant Showdown! Explode more bombs than the opponent!

But first, I’m offered an Instant Showdown against someone who may be a real player… all I have to do is create more bombs than they do in the next 6 hours. With the bombs booster activated, I’m pretty good at creating “carpet bombing” with the “disco ball” (like a Hypercube in Bejeweled). This is actually one I win at pretty regularly when I get a good start. Notice the extra bonus icon for an extra charge in dollars.

So, I clear quite a few of the standard match-3 levels, gaining just 9 of the blue energy bolts required by this “Wood Estate Mystery” event. During my run through the levels, I get irritated by the fact that having “double jet planes” which clear 4 spaces on landing” don’t always mean 2 separate planes hitting 2 separate targets – in this case, both planes went to the same target twice, forcing me to repeat the level at least once to finish it. The game design sometimes seems to “cheat” you out of a play. I mess myself up sometimes, too.

Boosters are counting down. Next challenge: cats and cocktails!

So I make good progress and clear as many levels as I can in the time allotted, gaining more energy to clear the Wood game, coins to buy my way out of trouble if necessary, and stars to advance the “main narrative” of helping Austin renovate the family homes.

Ads based on the mini game are banned in the UK.

But wait! I’m offered yet another side challenge, an easy looking mini-game that looks like the original ad that drew me into the Homescapes universal time/energy/star/coin black hole. Ads like this are reportedly banned in the UK as misleading as they’re not representative of normal gameplay. I knew this, very quickly, when I started about a year and a half ago (I started playing a few months before my furlough from work finally ended and I was assigned to a new set of accounts to support).

This side challenge, and many other distractions that come up, only appears when in the middle of a timed event that benefits the player.

I usually skip these as they waste time while the timer keeps ticking down, for a reward of only 50 coins and just 1 star, unless I’m close to finishing an “area” or a “day” in the main narrative and need stars.

Great! Coins, stars, and event token earned. I had zero stars. Now I have 1.

“Woo-hoo!”, as Austin the bullet is fond of saying. I cleared a “super hard” level worth 150 coins, 12 energy bolts, and… just one star. It’s always just one star, no matter how hard the level is. At this moment, an “infinite lives” timer has just expired, but I have boosters due to the “kite event” being active as long as I keep winning on the first attempt.

Energy Suck: so I go into the “Wood Estate Mystery” with more than 220 energy bolts. The premise is you have to clear brush and fog in order to reach objectives in the story (“chapters”) and along the way, pick up coins and energy and boosters from various bushes and chests that have glowing beacons. But most of these booster bushes and chests must be accessed by a very convoluted route requiring huge amounts of energy. They rarely show up in the normal course of clearing a path in the “chapter” narrative. And sometimes, you encounter a red bomb package that clears a LOT of fog at once… but costs you 1,000 coins. And in the normal game, it costs 9,00 coins to get just 5 extra moves in a level, or if outside a level, to get 5 more lives (better value unless you’re desperate to pass a difficult level).

Just buy your way out of a jam…

Energy is hard to earn, but easy… oh so easy to buy. Fortunately, Homescapes has been set so that I can’t buy anything in-game without getting David to agree to the purchase from one of his devices. This is the ONLY game or purchase that is set up like this; it’s a safety feature and I’m actually glad it’s there. I would have drained various gift debit cards otherwise.

Coin Suck: There’s ALWAYS something buy in this game. There’s a safe stuff with coins, that I earned the right to buy at a a reduced rate… 2 days into the game. I thought I was earning FREE coins. Nope.

There’s this bonus event thing that gives you boosters and coins and lives and so on as you clear levels. The goals are easy to achieve at first, and then IMPOSSIBLE to complete as you go. All to get a special “pet” that wanders around the estate, or a special profile picture. These events change monthly except that right now, it’s a weekly payment and thus is about 4 times the cost of the previous monthly bonus deals. About 3 or 4 months ago, I resolved to NOT buy my way out of hard levels any more, because I was constantly too “broke” to afford 900 coins. I also resolved longer ago than that not to buy any of the extra bonus event benefits like 8 lives instead of 5 plus more loot, because the owners of the Playrix games company are obscenely rich Russians now based in either the UK or Ireland, and I wasn’t comfortable with giving them MORE money.

So since my Homescapes team regularly seems to win or place or show in the “coin challenges” that come up every week, I’ve literally been saving my coins and not using them unless there’s a very good reason, and I keep raising my “hard deck” below which I will not go, which is currently at least 5,000 coins, but often raised to at least 8,000 coins. I’ve got pretty good strategies for not having to buy my way out of a hard level now; these include “ABC” (“always be clearing”) moves, and “XYZ” (“examine your moveZ”) for either a combination of boosters, or a move that achieves at least 2 and preferably 3 actions toward that level’s goal.

My advice to new players interested in this game is this: Don’t get sucked into it, unless you set yourself some rules to live by first. Don’t spend money. Don’t go looking for game cheats that’ll only get you banned. But do find a good team to start out with to help you with lives and tips (Facebook groups are probably the safest place to look). If you know someone who plays it, ask them if their team has an opening. Do ignore the events and redecorating that don’t interest you; they’re frustrating as you go up the levels because they’re so hard to complete and the payoff in boosters and coins isn’t worth it. Do set timers to remind you to close the game and go outside and do something else.

At some point if I keep going up the levels in my current location in-game, I’ll be in the “Tournament of Champions,” the level where people have to wait for Playrix to release new levels and eventually, new “estates” and areas around the fictional lakeside community. This isn’t ideal because as you play in “TOC” you’re not accumulating stars in order to advance quickly once a brand new area is opened (there are 3 so far). But at least I don’t plan to spend a lot of real world money from this point forward, and you shouldn’t, either.

New iPhone, Who Dis?

It’s been a long time since I logged in to write a new blog post…

Some things have changed, some things remain the same.

It’s unchanged that when I get frustrated, I ragequit or stop doing something to make the frustration go away. So when WordPress for example, has big changes, I don’t want to even start my desktop, laptop, iPad, or iPhone to start a post. If it’s frustrating, I tweet, because gratification must not be delayed.

I got a new iPhone recently… this is frustrating because Apple and I have a history. A history where I have an old, old, old AppleID that somehow can’t be permanently merged with my more current AppleID. And every time I get a new Apple device, I struggle to access all of my music, much of which is attached to the old ID that was (ludicrously) associated with an ancient AOL account. The other one is attached to a Gmail account that I use now. If Gmail ever goes away (thanks, Google) I’ll be screwed again.

It’s not even a really new iPhone – it’s David’s previous one, just a newer model than my old one that still has fingerprint ID. I prefer fingerprint over face recognition because I most often use Apple Pay, a damn useful feature, in checkout lines and drive through lanes at fast food joints. David likes to upgrade with the latest and newest. I like to get used to how something works, and use it and use it until it can no longer accept required updates, so here we are.

New iPhone, who dis? Who is this person now? Struggling to reset her passwords, her applications, her LIFE?

I stopped riding my bike this year… I just… lost interest in fitness and this stemmed from being frustrated at being left behind in group rides. Also, I kept struggling with somewhat irrational fears of falling. Every small bit of progress was thwarted by my fear of … succeeding? And having positive change. So it was frustrating, and I … stopped.

I stopped blogging, obviously. So far, not too frustrated with typing on a new Bluetooth keyboard on my (also relatively new) iPad Mini. David bought that for me for Christmas, and I got this rather nice Fintie case (affiliate link) that holds it at a comfortable angle for reading on my lap desk (yet another affiliate link).

I stopped checking in on Facebook with family and friends – this was more out of a frustration with politics and how Facebook was used in 2016 to shape the hellish future we live in now. Now I mostly hang out on Twitter (and my constant posts are in a side column here, so technically I’ve been microblogging all along. I used to use G+ for this kind of simultaneous blogging/tweeting/G+ activity, but whatsoever Google makes useful, Google taketh away after it becomes essential.

I stopped sewing. I had been all gung-ho for making masks for the Tour de Cure fundraiser, for friends, and for family. But then after getting fully vaccinated and boosted, and realizing that Covid-19 was simply evolving to be less lethal but a permanent feature of life now, fabric masks seemed less protective than commercial N95s and KN95s. And I got frustrated with the technical skills required to make a fabric mask that I felt was worth the time, effort and materials to make.

I had already sort of pivoted to sewing things for myself – I’m quite proud of the little baskets, gadget holders, and placemats that I made. I have all this nice fabric. I’ll take it up again but I’m stuck on about 6 projects at once, which is frustrating… so I stopped. But I expect to unstop myself soon, as I have some unfinished projects that actually would take just about 60 minutes to complete, so maybe I’ll follow Karen Brown’s advice (of Just Get It Done Quilts) and set a timer later and… just get it done.

I stopped going to church right after Easter. This was out of frustration, too. Partly because I was frustrated with being the website maintainer, and I didn’t want to do that anymore (partly out of burnout, partly out of frustration with WordPress). Also I was frustrated with how things are done there – we’re so small and we depend on the same few people to do everything and don’t have the resources to do everything. This morning, for example, I’ll get a notification that the Facebook Live stream is starting for the 10am Eucharist, but I won’t watch because I’m irked that it’s still being done on the vicar’s iPhone with no external microphone. I got frustrated last spring after trying to convince them to invest in a better mic/streaming camera option that wasn’t expensive. I even had David talk to the vicar and tell him about options, but the technical requirements were beyond leadeship’s ability to deal with (and also the WiFi coverage is poor because it’s a crappy old donated router and repeater). So they continue to have 3 online services a week with terrible, muddy audio and an iPhone clamped in PORTRAIT MODE because they can’t figure out how to rotate the clamp 89 degrees.

Yep there’s my calendar event for choir practice, and soon for the streaming service. Not going, not tuning in. I had a text yesterday from my choir director. Am I coming back? Rehearsals start in mid-September! They miss me! But my work schedule prevents me from coming to Wednesday evening rehearsals, which start 30 minutes before I even log off for the day, and I’m 20 minutes away once I get on the road. I don’t want to swap Wednesday schedules every week with co-workers, so I’m waiting for the next shift bid and hope that my stats and standing get me a better bid position for an earlier shift. But I’m not optimistic, which is, yes, frustrating. Even if I get an earlier shift, I’m ambivalent about going back to church just yet. I’ll just get pounced on and the vicar will make the same tired “Hi, I’m Father Manny, what’s your name?” joke. Again.

I stopped being a catmom. This is a hard one. Our little cat Pearl was ill with thyroid disease for years, and rather than choosing an expensive treatment that would supposedly have cured her, I opted for using an ear salve that sort of worked, but wasn’t really helping her to gain weight. Eventually we had to change to pilling her, which was more of a struggle, and she kept losing ground. In early July, it was clear to me that I couldn’t consistently get her medication into her with various tricks, and she just lost too much weight. Finally, I took her to the vet for the last time on July 5, and petted her and praised her as she slipped away with the young vet’s help. I still need to call them to find out if there’s a little memorial ceramic tile to pick up. I keep putting that off (I may have missed a phone call or text). I miss her little meows and trills.

We had Grace (my in-laws’ cat) after I took Pearl away, and she sort of walked around looking for her for a day. Grace is kind of a difficult cat – very moody – and we were originally supposed to have her for a short weekend, take her back, and have her again for a longer stay because the ‘rents were traveling again. But Grace absolutely balked at going back in the carrier, which was frustrating… so in the end, I didn’t take her back for her “interim” week, and we had her for a total of 2 1/2 weeks. At least she got friendlier toward the end and accepted pets. She really only wants to be petted when she’s up on the bathroom sink, drinking. Fortunately, she drinks A LOT of water, so she got petted A LOT. In the end, I finally bum-rushed her into the carrier by cornering her in the bathroom during yet another drinking and petting session, and used a towel to herd her, protesting bitterly, into her carrier. BAM!

That moment of triumph was so satisfying. It was the one thing in the last few months where I was able to overcome my frustration (and reluctance to be torn limb from limb, truth be told) and get something done. Grace is coming back for a visit in early September, so I’ll have another chance at refining my cat-wrangling skills. Gonna need a bigger towel, though.

I stopped having a reasonable work-life balance about 5 months ago. This was due to a shift change where I got stuck with the closing shift. My phone stats had placed me in a poor bidding position – too few calls taken because i was taking too much time working email requests, and the calls I took were too long (because I commit the sin of being thorough, dammit, I’m good at what I do). So my workday starts at 11am, and I am on duty until 7pm on paper, but often much later if I get “caught” on a late call or find an urgent request that must be actioned. Without naming names, some of the travelers and admins I support are really, really frustrating. The tools I must use are really frustrating. The scripts I use (glorified macros, really) that fill in the many gaps in function between multiple tools are really frustrating. My job is really, really frustrating, but I can’t stop doing that. Yet.

I’ve unconsciously been doing something like “quiet quitting” recently – trying to set limits on what I do immediately after being able to log off the phones at the end of the day, but don’t always succeed. And it’s almost a given that I “work for free” for a bit before logging in for the day, just to do unproductive but necessary “housekeeping” tasks to reduce my to-do list.

About a year and a half ago, I stopped doing Second Life stuff – more out of burnout than frustration. I still have a lot of assets and probably a lot of credits built up but my main account is inactive and I can’t be bothered to log in to open a help ticket to get it reactivated. Eventually, I should close everything down and get the credits out to PayPal.

But I’ve stopped doing everything else in my life, except for playing this one game on my iPhone, that is actually pretty frustrating too. That’s for a separate blog post, more like an extended review/tips for newer players/warning for newer players not to get sucked in.

We DID go on a couple of trips in the last year, finally, that were wonderful and very sustaining. We visited family in Phoenix for Thanksgiving and went to the Grand Canyon and we visited a friend and went to Rocky Mountain National Park for a June vacation… and since then I’ve been frustrated by the lack of scenery and free time in my life here in Illinois.

I’ve been pretty frustrated by politics and the news lately but there are positive signs, too. Dems in array! Republicans in retreat! I’ve started writing #PostcardsToVoters again for some of the midterms and special elections and plan on writing more (reserving supplies for important campaigns for the Senate). But I was horribly frustrated and angry by the overturning of Roe and the successful 30-year secret campaign to take over the Supreme Court by the right. And I’m furiously frustrated by the way the toothless dragon, the NRA, can be teetering on the brink of bankruptcy and STILL be able to rouse the ammosexuals to action. It’s frustrating that horrible mass shootings happen and Congress is unable to enact much in the way of assault-weapon bans (or ammunition bans, for that matter). It would be very satisfying to see the NRA get taken down by any legal means necessary.

Hmm. It hasn’t been too frustrating getting used to this newer version of WordPress to make a simple blogpost. It hasn’t been too frustrating using this new Macally Bluetooth (affiliate link) keyboard to write it with my iPad Mini (my speed has picked up just in the course of writing this). It’s certainly less frustrating than hauling out the (old, handmedown) laptop, accepting a lot of security updates, and blogging. Or, God forbid, starting up my desktop gaming computer, ditto. This way, I can set up anywhere with my little lap desk (bought during an intense period of retail therapy via Amazon during the Lost Years).

We’ll see how it goes, getting back into blogging. And I’ll see how I might start to overcome my frustration with… everything else in my life.

Quilting Inspiration: Ruler Roll Project by Angela Attwood | Sew Steady

Quilting Inspiration: I’m not ready to invest in quilting rulers to make these elaborate stitching designs. But this pattern just gave me a brainstorm about my next project: a table runner and set of placemats, with a self-binding and mitred corners – the top is patterned and folds over to the back, and they would be reversible.

This project will give you creative practice with your Westalee Design Ruler Foot Starter and Sampler Template Sets.
— Read on www.sewsteady.com/product/ruler-roll/

More Blogging, Less Tweeting

I’m going to revive my boring blog YET AGAIN, because I have thoughts to think before they go thunk and disappear.

Topics in no particular order to include:

  • Current events
  • Politics
  • Cats
  • Bikes, riding and watching others ride
  • Sewing and quilting
  • Entertainment I find entertaining
  • Sourdough bread; or how to revive neglected starter
  • Travel – my own and the biz
  • Whatever rando thing strikes me.

How to Sew Easy Mitered Quilt Binding

I’ve spent the last 2 years re-learning how to sew. First as a necessity, to make masks for family and friends, then as a creative outlet while furloughed from my travel job. After returning to work last year, I started getting interested in quilting.

The Spruce Crafts site was extremely comprehensive – every time I looked for info on how to do something, their clear, written tutorials showed up. I looked at this one for a recent project, and although I went with a different method from a video by Jordan Fabrics, this is an excellent starting point and reference.

Bind a quilt with easy mitered corners with step-by-step instructions and illustrations to sew a perfect binding every time.
— Read on www.thesprucecrafts.com/sew-easy-mitered-quilt-binding-2821069

FINALLY! Fixed CNN.com videos problem on iPhone iOS

I had whitelisted CNN.com on the Adblock Plus app, but the videos and their unskippable, long pre roll ads refused to play. Had to watch on the CNN app all year, but sometimes it was damned inconvenient.

Tonight, I disabled Adblock Plus, played a video (with ad) on CNN.com, re-enabled ABP, made sure CNN.com was on the whitelist, and now the videos and damn ads play like they should. It just needed an app restart, I guess.

Add a website to the whitelist | Adblock Plus

Add websites that you trust and want to support to your Adblock Plus whitelist. Ads will be shown on these websites.
— Read on help.eyeo.com/adblockplus/add-a-website-to-the-whitelist

How I Finally Marked 2 Unread Gmails READ (Hint: They Were Hangouts)

I have been trying to remove 2 “unread emails” from my Gmail account (on iPhone and iPad) for DAYS. I had looked at many webpages and Quora and Reddit posts.

It’s easy to overlook some messages in Gmail. In this article, we provide instructions on how to make Gmail show only unread emails, how to search for unread emails only, and how to add parameters to those searches.

Source: How to Find All Unread Messages in Gmail

It wasn’t ANY of the many good suggestions that worked in the linked article or the forum posts. I simply logged into mail.google.com on my laptop for the first time in 2 years and saw that I had 2 very old “Hangout” requests from friends from more than 5 years back. They were marked “unread.” So I read them, realized I’d never acted on them, deleted them… and WAH-LAH the little red “2” marker is gone from my iOS devices. They were vestiges of these ancient hangouts, apparently. The image shows my inbox – clear of unread hangouts. Wish I had screenshotted FIRST, deleted second.

Once again, deprecated Google functionality was screwing something up for me!

Now, I really should see about deleting the tags, buttons, and category that refer to Google+

Greetings From The Late Pandemonial Era

Hey, everybody! Happy Infrastructure Week! We finally got ‘er done after booting Tan Dump Lord from office, along with his merry band of corrupt seditionists.


It’s actually Infrastructure Week for real! Hope it’s not a dumpster fire.

It’s been about a year and a half since my last blogposts of any substance (admittedly, they were very light on substance).

Since posting Lather, Rinse, Repeat in March 2020, a LOT happened. Once again, my long lapse in posting makes me feel compelled to play catch-up. InigoMontoyaLetMeSumUp

In March 2020, David was in the middle of a job search – his choice – and I had no idea what was coming as far as my own job. I was furloughed from my Brand Name corporate travel management company in mid-April, 2020, and thanks to the unexpected but welcome act of Congress, I was on a pretty generous unemployment scheme. My health care was continued by my company, too.

David was worried, but eventually got a job with a pretty well-known company that has retail products, in about June of 2020. He’s not doing the kind of software development that he really loves and is known for in his community, but he’s happy and has been working from home.

I ended up buying a sewing machine, teaching myself to sew simple masks, and did pretty well at using them for donation premiums to the American Diabetes Association. Eventually I bought a better sewing machine and made some gifts for new family members. This was all documented in my Twitter feed.

This method of sharing selected tweets as a collection is, of course, deprecated. Because it was somewhat useful and somewhat possible to do in Tweetdeck, which is also deprecated. Thanks, @Jack.

So in April 2020, I was furloughed from work while David was still mid-jobsearch, and Illinois had entered a “Safe At Home” status in late March, asking people to keep trips outside the home limited to essential errands like grocery-shopping and getting car repairs and things. Essential businesses also included bike shops and sewing machine/crafts stores, which was a blessing as it kept a lot of people busy either riding bikes for sanity, or making stuff for themselves and others for sanity.

As my embedded timeline shows, I was intently focused on the 2020 presidential election – I left a LOT of stuff out. These are what I think of as the emotional high- and low-lights.

Politics, Schmolitics

On Election Night, I basically “slept” with my sleep headphones on, listening to the returns. I also did that the night before the election was called for Biden, as the count in Arizona (the first, actual one) went on. At the time the election was called, I was trying to figure out why Rudy Giuliani, America’s Former Noun, Verb, and 9/11 Mayor was standing in front of a garage door at a landscaping company. This happy gift from God went on for days, weeks even.

I had so many funs reacting to that.

Later on (see main embedded timeline) a hardcore Punk musician named Laura Grace actually performed a show at Four Seasons Total Landscaping, which is why I bought the shirt. The pinnacle for me was probably the “VR Chat Furries Re-Create FSTL and run around looking at everything” incident (also in the timeline embed).

It’s really weird – Rudy’s been very quiet lately, after his meltdown. Insert “snicker-snicker” GIF here on your own.

I was live-tweeting on Jan. 6, 2021 for the certification by Congress of then President-Elect Biden’s victory in the election. That whole thread is in the embed, too. Since then, the whole saga of the insurrection-coup-failed revolution has been churning along in the back of my mind. It makes me feel sick at how close we came as we ONLY NOW are getting more information from various journalists’ books and revelations from the Jan. 6 Commission in the House.

We HAVE to keep the house and Senate in 2022, but with gerrymandering and decades-long election fuckery by the Dominionist Right, it’s not looking good. The Council for National Policy will stop at nothing.

I’m just thankful that at long last, more competent and less corrupt people finally got Infrastructure Week done, even though it wasn’t everything that we wanted thanks to (hawk-split) Manchin and Sinema at the behest of the gorram Donor Class.

Work Stuff

Meanwhile, workwise: I spent more than a year on furlough. David’s been working for more than a year now where he’s at, and my job came back originally as a temp gig in May 2021. I’m grateful for the extra unemployment benefits I could sign up for in the state of Illinois. There were people in Red states that likely never did get through to sign up for  their rightful benefits – thinking of Florida and Texas. The cruelty is the point.

For a few months, I worked for my company on a “leisure travel” project where we provided trained agents for a related travel concern, using very weird tools and mostly hating it because the callers were so hard to deal with. Finally, in August, I was “called back to the Big League” and found myself on a corporate team, taking calls and emails from business travelers.

More recently, I’ve also taken on something I call the “UK/EU Project” where I handle email requests from selected accounts based in, yes, the UK or in Europe. That’s been interesting, if frustrating, because of having to learn a lot of new tools (and in one account’s case, not feeling like the training and support has been there). It’ll get better, but I’m on vacation for 2 weeks and will have to re-learn everything (and probably be saddled with more accounts) when I get back at the end of the month.

Family and Friends

First of all, we are so, so fortunate not to have lost anyone close to us in our circle of family and friends to COVID-19. I’ve kind of fallen off my family’s radar the last few years (sisters in Idaho and North Carolina and their kids/grandkids, cousins in Utah and Arkansas) because I pulled back from Facebook and rarely check in there. Still, I’m happy to report that there are 2 new people who came into the world on the Illinois side in the last year, and they are very very cute. I haven’t Tweeted much about them out of concerns for privacy and safety, but take my word for it, they’re cute. There’s even more little kids I’ve never met on my side in ID and NC, but that’s for future trips. For now, we’re happy to get photo updates on everybody, but the most prolific photo-posters are the Illinois contingent.

We don’t see as much of them as we’d like; my nephew and niece Josh and Ashley are the parents of Dean Micah, and my niece and nephew Jen and Tyler are the parents of Brenna. It’s complicated getting everybody together as they are at nearly opposite ends of the broader Chicago/northern Illinois area, and in Jen’s case, she picks and chooses carefully. But when they can manage it, we’ve enjoyed seeing the little ones change and grow when we’ve gotten together.

There’s a bit in the embedded timeline about Jen’s baby shower and wedding – I have more pictures, but what I included is the gist. My friend Sheryl helped Jen with some of the wedding stuff – flowers and things, and my niece Naomi was helping her sister as much as she could, given work constraints. Sheryl is much more than a friend of the family at this point – she’s more of a dear aunt or motherly figure for the girls and Josh (and their spouses), and she’ll have them over to her home for their now traditional Thanksgiving brunch.

A few months before the pandemic, we got the wonderful news that David’s niece Melissa would be able to move into a new shared home in the Chicago area. She had been living Downstate, 5 hours away, and it was really hard on her being so far away from her family. It was hard on her grandpa, and her dad, too – because the burden was on them to go pick Melissa up (meet her staff halfway, usually) to bring her back for any major holiday or family gathering.

Suddenly, it was possible to drive just 25 minutes to pick Melissa up to join us for a family dinner! And just as suddenly, she and her whole house were so securely locked down in mid-March, 2020 that we could not hug her or take her to her grandpa’s house for a visit – we had to settle for waving at her through her windows, and got into using Facetime with her for weekly phone calls again. Thank God, when the vaccine finally became available in the early winter of 2021, she was in one of the earliest groups to get it. Even so, we couldn’t just pick her up for an excursion; we had to arrange for a Covid-19 test before she could go back, and at that time, that meant a 5 day wait for results! Which didn’t make sense, since she had to get the test at the beginning of the stay, and risk exposure during all the waiting time. Fortunately, Melissa’s house was spared any cases of Covid-19; some of the other houses in the organization were not so lucky.

We did lose David’s Aunt Norma early in the pandemic; this was not Covid-related but it was a terrible shock as that side of the extended family is very, very close to each other, and Norma was the linchpin. It was so, so, so very weird watching the burial via YouTube, as that was during the time of “NO MORE THAN 10 PEOPLE” gathered at a time, even outdoors. And that total included funeral staff! So my father-in-law could attend, as a close family member, but just a few others (Uncle Bill, her adult children, and I think one adult grandchild spoke). We went to the dedication of her headstone a year later, and it was nice to see everyone gathered in one place. We hadn’t planned to go back to our cousin’s house for the luncheon (we hadn’t been with that big a group of people in more than a year) but spontaneously decided to go, and we were glad we did.

In former years, Norma used to invite the whole extended family to her big house for Thanksgiving, but more recently, she had drawn back from that and left it to her adult kids to organize after she and Bill downsized. So for several years, we’d made our own plans for Thanksgiving, as it seemed nobody was taking on the task of doing the full-extended-family event anymore. Which was fine, as it gave us a chance to do something closer to home and not have to drive more than an hour in any weather with food. David’s dad and stepmom live just 15 minutes from us now, so we get together all the time for dinner out and so on.

Speaking of Thanksgiving, it’ll be different from last year. VERY different. This time last year, there was no vaccine, and I didn’t want to risk infecting Shel and Linda (aforementioned ‘rents) by entering their home for any reason without masks. At the worst points, I only wanted to stand outside and wave at them through their door! But the improving test-positivity rates in Illinois last spring, and the blessed vaccines, made life much more normal here.

However, in November 2020, post-election, pre-holiday season, we “weren’t there yet.”

So we hosted an all-day Zoom Thanksgiving. We had an open Zoom video chat for hours, and anyone we knew could drop in while we served ourselves a nice little dinner. I talked to my friend Ellen in Germany (it was timed so it was evening for her) and many other far-flung friends and family). It was actually pretty fun, and cleanup afterwards was a snap.

This year? We’re traveling to be with Mitch and Gloria in Phoenix. We will be stepping aboard an aircraft and hoping nobody decides to cut up rough and make a Freedumb Seen about masks or whatever. We will visit our sibs, and then go to the Grand Canyon for a couple of nights, where for my belated birthday I’ll be getting my lifetime National Parks pass – of course, I didn’t turn 62 early enough to get the cheaper lifetime pass, but I am happy to pay the higher rate in order to support our national parks. After the time at Grand Canyon, we go back to Mitch and Gloria’s for a group Thanksgiving with them and their neighbors; they seem to have found a wonderful community.

For much of last year I didn’t do much but log some couch time – even with all the free time! I didn’t feel like riding my bike! Finally, with my friend Sheryl, I made a pact to ride my indoor bike trainer while she walked on an indoor low-impact trampoline.

This got us through the first 5 months of 2021 and I really felt great – and then my job came back and my schedule changed. Suddenly my daily chats with Sheryl, while we planned for Big Family Events, dropped from a daily hour on the bike (or an hour walk while my knee was recovering from a sprain) to NOTHING. No walks, no biking, nada, except on the weekends. I still have to figure out some afternoon-evening time to schedule something consistently with Sheryl. But I did enjoy our walkie-talks or bikey-talks so much, so I have to get going with that again.

We’ve seen some of our other friends in the cycling and ADA (American Diabetes Association) communities, most notably a wonderful 4th of July barbecue at Carlos and Marlene’s in the far south suburbs. I’ve seen my friend BL for a couple of walks and I dropped off masks with other friends and visited.

Church Stuff – Holy Moly

The last time I was in church at St Nicholas, prior to last Sunday, was mid March 2020. This was just before the news broke about the choral group in Skagit Valley, WA that turned into a super-spreader event. After that, the Episcopal Diocese of Chicago put out the word – no in-person worship, no indoor gatherings of any kind. Like a lot of faith communities, there was some scrambling to provide some kind of service. In the case of Holy Moly, where we’re not super technical, the solution was to just put out a Facebook Live service from Father Manny’s home. Other churches came up with more elaborate streaming solutions, but when I finally went to church Sunday, I walked in to find that a tripod was set up in the aisle, ready for Manny to put his iPhone in it and start streaming to the church Facebook page. No extra mike, no ability to move the camera.

Well, okay, I had stepped back from providing more technical solutions more than a year ago – we host the church website but I’d been feeling less comfortable with my ability to do anything more complicated than uploading pictures and updating the events page, so I had given access to 2 lay members for coverage. And they did their best. It’s fine. But now that I’m coming back, I may need to check under the hood and see what they’ve done in the interim while I’m off this week. I haven’t had a chance to talk to the other lay folks that have something to do with that.

Well, here’s Sunday’s service – the officiant is Fr. Manny Borg, the musical offering is a solo by my choir friend Jess and accompanied by She Whose Downbeat Must Be Obeyed, Mary.

And the sound is awful. I’m pretty embarassed.

I should have checked in earlier. Manny used to do this from home and it was okay, but I stopped watching each week and didn’t realize how the transition to in-person worship sometime in the late summer had kept the same setup, but at a far greater distance.

Now, I happen to know that we (St Nick) own a very nice video camera setup, and there’s a microphone with it. We also own a very nice digital recorder, and there was an even better microphone with that. But both rigs are about 10 years old, and in the case of the digital recorder, it may have ended up with someone who became estranged and later died. I don’t know where it is. And the video camera? I don’t know if the woman who used it most is still around, and no one else currently knows how to run it.

I really need to talk to Manny and his more technical better half to see if they realize there are better options than putting an iPhone in a tripod.

Anyway, it was a nice service, and because the choir is not supposed to all sing together yet, we just had practice for our upcoming Lessons and Carols service, in which we will sing while wearing masks… and on Sundays, we scatter ourselves out in the congregation. There’s no hymns; just piano, organ, and a weekly soloist.

Upcoming events, including the first choral performances we’ll do for the visit of the assisting bishop and the Lessons and Carols service are HERE.

Yes, I know it’s in all caps, bold. I didn’t have the heart or inclination to edit it on my iPhone when I pulled it from the most recent email bulletin. Speaking of which, I need to talk to Douglas, who does the weekly bulletins using Constant Contact. I think he’s manually editing the front page template to add the bulletins each week. There’s a better way.

That brings us pretty much up to date, and I’ve spent all day on this, on my old laptop, in bed, because I can. I do enjoy Infrastructure Week, which happens to coincide with Vacation Week 1 for me.

What Next?

Life has been on hold around here for three months, and just got confirmation that it’s likely to stay that way into the fall.

What next? My chosen career in corporate travel isn’t coming back anytime soon, and my current hobbies (sewing and knocking around virtual worlds) don’t really fill the bill.

School? Learn a new skill? Take up where I left off? Use my chameleonic superpower for good, not napping on the couch undetected?

I shall make inquiries.