Dear brain: the pandemic isn’t over; get your shit together

I received my first COVID shot on Monday and all week I’ve been fighting my stupid brain. I guess I’ve been buckling down for 13 months with the objective of “just need to get vaccinated”. And now that I’ve gotten one single shot my brain is telling me “woohoo, time to live again!”.

But of course I have 5 more weeks and a second dose before I’m fully vaccinated. And even then life doesn’t “return to normal” as I have several friends who won’t be fully vaccinated by then. Not to mention necessary and sensible precautions to help protect others in our community, including the families of our friends with young kids.

The gorgeous, sunny, warm weather this week has only made things worse, oddly.

All week I’ve been simultaneously delighted and distraught.

Beware the blues after your first post-COVID gathering

We’re all anxiously awaiting being vaccinated and finally getting to visit friends in person after more than a year of social distancing. Be prepared for a bit of an emotional rollercoaster — up and down — on that first post-COVID gathering.

A month ago our good friends K & M reached out and asked if Daniel and I were interested in getting together for several days of visiting, food, board games, movies, and visiting after some mutually-agreed-upon quarantining prior. All 4 of us are fully work-from-home and have been following very similar stringent quarantining protocols for the past year which certainly made things simpler.

Daniel and I readily agreed and we had several Zoom visits discussing what “super-quarantining” (my wording) meant to all of us. We then super-quarantined for 2 weeks before Daniel and I drove out to their place for a delightful 5 days. Our car was loaded with food & board games we got to share with others at the same table.

The visit itself was amazing. By the third day I had, surprisingly, stopped even thinking about the pandemic and analyzing every decision to see if it was a safe one. It was like the Before Times!

While I anticipated some initial anxiety on seeing them in-person (OMG: inside with people without masks!?), and the heady high from eating at the same table, I was not prepared for the extreme emotional drop the day after we got home.

And wow was there an emotional drop! We got home on a Wednesday evening and Thursday was the most depressed I’ve been in a very very long time. It wasn’t any one thing — or maybe it was everything? Maybe it was because I was coming back to being stuck in my house and working from my basement for an unknown number of weeks (months?). Maybe it was because I had a taste of the Before Times and the transition back to the now-COVID Times happened in 12 hours instead of 12 months. Regardless, I was not prepared for it and it was a very dark day.

Friday, the day after, was better. Saturday I felt like a new human being. Actually, I felt better than I had in a very long time and that mental state has stuck with me these past few days. It’s as though I finally remembered what hope was. I remembered what life was like before COVID and the knowledge that something like it was in my not-too-distant future.

When you have your first post-COVID gathering, I hope it is joyous and everything that you were missing for months. Plan to give yourself some space and time a few days after for some transient blues.

A privileged pandemic lament

It’s been over a year now and I am really, truly, missing…

  • hugging my best friend
  • touching people
  • time away from my husband
  • partner acrobatics with my friends
  • running on weekends with my friends
  • having a workday without a Zoom call
  • leaving the house to go to work
  • leaving the house without agoraphobia
  • walking downtown among people
  • eating at a restaurant
  • riding the bus
  • traveling: outside the city, the state, the country
  • having the energy to exercise every day
  • having the energy to get out of bed
  • not feeling overwhelmed by every little problem
  • not wearing a mask

Stepping back from Distributed Proofreaders

After almost 14.5 years it’s time for me to step back from volunteering with Distributed Proofreaders. What was once an enjoyable activity has become a stressor that I simply don’t need 11 months into a pandemic.

In many ways DP has been a lifeline to me at various times in my life, giving me something constructive and meaningful I can do. This was true as I was going through my divorce a decade ago, during my sabbatical, and at the beginning of the pandemic. But the bitching and criticism that comes from virtually any change we make to the site recently has become unbearable. Complaints about changes aren’t new — humans are classically change-averse and our community seems to be doubly-so — but during the pandemic they’ve seemed to have increased in both frequency and volume.

Receiving verbal or written recognition of my work is important to me. Indeed, it’s the best, and easiest, way to keep me happy. While I have often received that type of feedback from Linda, the General Manager, and Sharon, a fellow admin and developer, I don’t usually get that from the rest of the community. Instead, I most often get the opposite. That’s very demoralizing after hours and hours of time spent.

Development Contributions

I’ve been a developer at DP for over a decade and the lead developer for the past 5+ years. Looking back I have to say we’ve collectively come a long way. I sat down and made a list of the most notable and memorable software changes that I was involved in and while there were some new features, almost all of the big changes were ensuring that the software could run on modern middleware.

My most enduring legacy at DP is likely to be that the site continues to function at all and that makes me incredibly happy.

New Features & Capabilities

Site Modernization

Middleware Support

Development Improvements

What’s Next

I’m not sure what stepping back means exactly or what’s next for me, but it’s time for a change. I’ve committed to finishing some of the planned maintenance work (assisting with the phpBB forum upgrade and eventual OS upgrade) and updating documentation. Beyond that, I’m not sure, but decidedly less of the forums and less dev work which results in all the despised changes.

I hope to find some other open source software I can contribute to. I thought perhaps I would work with other DP-adjacent open source projects like getting the Auth_phpBB MediaWiki extension updated to support the latest MediaWiki LTS, except that only took me about 12 hours.

I will get the COVID vaccine – you should too

I intend to get the COVID vaccine as soon as I am eligible and I encourage you to do likewise.

As a 42-year-old privileged person with no morbidities or underlying health conditions and with the ability to effectively work from home (as does my husband) and highly isolate — morally and ethically I am and should be in the very last group of people eligible to get the vaccine. I will not use my privilege to jump ahead of someone who needs it more. I will continue to advocate that Washington state focus on providing it first to healthcare workers, the elderly, essential workers (including teachers, delivery drivers, etc), and others who need it first.

However, as soon as I am eligible I will get the vaccine for my own health and for the health of my family & community. I also acknowledge that the distribution of the vaccine is and will continue to be imperfect and, per my doctor’s guidance, should I be presented with an opportunity to get the vaccine before being officially eligible I will get it [for example, if my doctor’s office gets doses and I am already there for another reason and my doctor offers it to me].

The New York Time’s opinion piece If You’re Offered a Vaccine, Take It has influenced my stance on taking a vaccine if and when it’s offered to me.

Washington state residents, consider using the state Public Health’s FindYourPhaseWA website. It will let you know if you are currently eligible, but it will also optionally take your email address or phone number and contact you when the criteria change and you then become eligible.

We are in this fight together and we must all do smart things like prioritizing the most vulnerable first. And we must also take care of ourselves and, via herd immunity, our community by getting the vaccine when we are eligible and able.

Casey’s 2020 Playlist

Wow, 2020. Is it over yet?

Music helped get me through this tumultuous year. Here’s this year’s playlist (or as they were tagged in prior years, mix cd).

Some bright spots were the releases by Norah Jones, The Chicks (formerly the Dixie Chicks), Meghan Trainor, and Pink! I enjoyed discovering some not-so-new but new-to-me songs from Ava Max and Alicia Keys — Underdog got some serious airtime for me in the pandemic (check out the music video). And being introduced to new queer artists Shea Diamond and Be Steadwell was fantastic — Be Steadwell’s song Sometimes is, to me, the perfect queer love song (bonus: the music video is both heartwarming and signed).

The Black Lives Matter movement influenced the list this year as I set out to find new artists of color and discovered Tobe Nwigwe and re-discovered Emeli Sandé. And it’s no coincidence that March March by The Chicks is on the list (I highly recommend watching the music video). I’ll say it again for those in the back: Black Lives Matter.

  1. Kings & Queens – Ava Max
  2. Evil Twin – Meghan Trainor
  3. So Am I – Ava Max
  4. I Am America – Shea Diamond
  5. Walk Me Home – Pink
  6. Texas Man – The Chicks
  7. Next To Me – Emeli Sandé
  8. Settlin’ – Sugarland
  9. Cowboy Take Me Away – Dixie Chicks
  10. Workin’ on It – Meghan Trainor
  11. Hurts to Be Alone – Norah Jones
  12. Underdog – Alicia Keys
  13. Sometimes – Be Steadwell
  14. Make It Home – Tobe Nwigwe
  15. March March – The Chicks
  16. I Am Woman – Helen Reddy
  17. The Scar – Carly Simon

Notice anything interesting about the list this year? I’ll give you a hint: take a read through the artist names and see if anything jumps out at you.

Not a straight white man in sight. I intentionally tried to seek out people of color, women, and LGBTQ+ artists this year. The list is still very (very) white and I continue to broaden my exposure to more artists of color.

You can listen to the songs on Spotify (except for the last track because it isn’t on Spotify). As always, the order of the songs have been carefully curated. You may not be able to listen to them in order with the Spotify free account.

Upgrading from Pixel 1 to Pixel 4a

I recently upgraded from a Pixel (the original 1st Gen) to a Pixel 4a. The Pixel 4a is a perfect successor to the Pixel 1 if you like the Pixel and just need a newer phone.

In 2016 I bought an original Pixel when they came out to replace my beloved Moto X (1st Gen). It’s been a great phone for the past 4 years but in the last few months the battery life has deteriorated to the point where the phone was almost unusable, often turning itself off while reporting 35% battery remaining. This despite it almost never leaving my house with a strong wireless and WiFi signal because of the pandemic.

The Pixel did everything I wanted it to do and had all the features that I wanted — including a headphone jack — and none of the ones that I didn’t. Despite some recent consternation with Google I still think the Pixel phones are the way to go when buying an Android phone. But the Pixel 4 and 5 are physically huge and expensive. And of course no headphone jack.

Enter the Pixel 4a. Physically it’s identical to the Pixel in size with a much larger screen thanks to the almost-bezel-less design. It still has the headphone jack (yay!). And because they took out all the expensive Pixel 4/5 stuff I don’t care about (wireless charging, Active Edge, Face Unlock, waterproof) it’s much cheaper than the Pixel 4 or 5.

The Pixel 4a is a nice step up in camera, newer generation CPU, and the battery life is truly amazing, although it’s hard to objectively compare with my dying 4-year-old Pixel. Full hardware spec details available at phoneArena.

After using my Pixel 4a for two weeks now, I couldn’t be happier with it as a successor to the Pixel 1.

Granny Dot’s obituary: corrected

My birthday always brings my Granny Dot to mind (her 94th birthday was the Thursday prior) and I remembered an important omission in her obituary that bears correcting. My additions in bold.

Dorothy Birkelbach

Dorothy Lois Birkelbach was born in Littlefield, Texas, to Walter and Thelma Timian on November 5, 1926, where, according to her, “on the corner where the First Baptist Church is now.” She departed this life to be with her Heavenly Father on Saturday, March 14, 2020.

Dorothy attended Littlefield High School and Draughon’s Business College in Lubbock, Texas. She became a military bride on June 9, 1943, when she married 2nd Lieutenant Werner W. Birkelbach. She manned the home front while Werner went to war.

After Werner’s discharge from the Army in 1945, the couple returned to Littlefield where they started a family and founded Birkelbach Machine & Pump in 1955.

Dorothy was a devoted wife and mother. In addition to raising their three children, she and Werner welcomed nieces and nephews into their home at various times to help out their extended families. She loved to cook, and everyone was always welcomed at her table. She was a talented seamstress and enjoyed needlework and ceramics.

Dorothy was active in the Littlefield First United Methodist Church as long as she was able, singing in the choir and teaching adult Sunday School.

Werner was an avid sail plane pilot, and Dorothy loved to accompany him to soaring competitions where she made many friends in the soaring community. She once pulled an empty sail plane trailer from the Mexican border to Canada while Werner and his friends sailed along the ridges of the Rocky Mountains, stopping when they landed at various airports along the way for fun and fellowship.

Dorothy loved to fish with her family and friends on Lake Buchannan, Texas. She and Werner hosted many “Grandkid Camps” there. Her favorite food was fried catfish.

She was “Granny Dot.”

Dorothy is survived by her daughter, Terri Peel and husband, Bruce of Austin, Texas; her son, Randy Birkelbach and wife, Ede of Collinsville, Oklahoma; seven grandchildren, Casey Peel and husband, Dr. Daniel Nidzgorski of Seattle, Washington, Kelly Peel of Spicewood, Texas, Jonathan Peel and wife, Lindsey of Cedar Park, Texas, Staci Hamilton and husband, David of Lehigh Acres, Florida, Shelli Myers and husband Brian of Montgomery, Texas, Phil Birkelbach and wife Shannon of Waller, Texas, and Steven Birkelbach and wife Brandi of Pilots Point, Texas; eleven great-grandchildren, Kooper, Isabelle, Miller, and Weslie Peel; Dustin Gibbs, Clint and Hunter Hamilton; Jared and Charlie Myers; and Chase and Kaden Birkelbach; her sister, Betty Wilkinson of Littlefield and numerous nieces and nephews. She was preceded in death by her parents, Walter and Thelma; husband, Werner; and son, Kenny.

Break Glass List

Today I’m working through my Break Glass list, a tool that has helped me deal with some almost-overwhelming anxiety the past few weeks. I learned about this mental health tool a few months ago from my BFF Jonobie who in turn learned it from her therapist.

A Break Glass list is simply a list of things that help ground you physically or mentally. Things that, were we not overwhelmed and just a bit down, we might do anyway. But when our systems are overloaded it’s hard for us to think of those simple things which is why we have this list made in advance. Then when we’re feeling overwhelmed we only need to remember one thing:

In case of emergency, break glass.

I keep my list in a Google Keep document that I can readily access from my phone or computer whenever I need it. Here’s my list, which is very me and likely not useful to you as-is but might give you some ideas:

  • Listen to Working Girl soundtrack
  • Close your eyes and take deep breaths
  • Text Jonobie or Jeena
  • Stretch
  • Drink water
  • Eat something
  • Step away from the computer / phone
  • Go get a Sonic cherry coke

The trick is making this list in advance so you have it when you need it.