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.

Granny Dot would have been 94 today

My Granny Dot, who died in March, would have been 94 today. I was born two days after her birthday and every year when I called her to wish her a happy birthday she would wish me one as well.

IMG_20150412_130126254Today I baked a batch of chocolate chip cookies in her memory. The irony is that while I’m certain she made chocolate chip cookies at some point, I remember all the other types of cookies she baked over the years. Marfa Light cookies, Cowboy cookies, Oatmeal and Raisin cookies, and more. But the joy was in the baking and in the sharing the result with people she loved, and I think she would have been delighted in a chocolate chip cookie today.

Happy Birthday, Granny. I love & miss you!

Pie and pottery

This weekend started my week-long staycation and I jumped right into the baking and throwing.

In the kitchen I decided to conquer the fabled braided crust after being inspired by my friend Habib’s beautiful crusts and a pumpkin pie seemed perfect for the season. Despite a panicked moment where I forgot how to braid (seriously brain?) it turned out really well! I see more of these in my future.

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In the pottery studio I trimmed the spoon rests and small bowl I threw last week. This was easy and uneventful just as I was hoping it would be. I then started into the three pieces that we need around the house: a tea steeping lid for Daniel and pots for our two carnivorous plants.

After brewing his tea, Daniel has been using plastic take-out container lids on top of his mugs. This will never do – we are not barbarians. I mean, how hard can it be to make, it’s essentially a small plate with a rim. Clearly a plate thrower I am not because I re-learned the lesson: throw plate-like-things on bats. After throwing bowls for so long I got use to throwing them directly on the wheelhead and you just can’t with plates and get them off intact. Lesson (re)learned.

We have two carnivorous plants in the house which are both pretty and help keep the fruit-flies in check. Unlike other plants, carnivorous plants need to sit in water. For both plants we’ve been using, again, random plastic containers we’ve had available so I set out to throw some short wide cylinders for them. We will probably still keep them in the black plastic pots — the last time we tried to transplant some it went poorly — but it’ll be a step up.

I opened up into the Pine Lake White clay and it threw like a charm. It’s much less groggy than the Columbia White and I’m looking forward to throwing some more with it.

Home pottery studio

After being on backorder for 5 months my new Brent C pottery wheel arrived yesterday. Thus begins the start of my first home pottery studio.

I’ve been throwing pottery for something like 15 years now, but always in a studio. First Clayways in Austin (which has since become Austin Pottery), then Pottery Northwest here in Seattle. I was taking a class two years ago when I ruptured my bicep tendon in March. Then life happened. Then the pandemic. I ordered a Brent C wheel from Seattle Pottery Supply back in May but the manufacturer was on backorder. Little did we know the backorder was going to be 5 months long!

The wheel arrived yesterday and I picked it up with the help of friends with a truck. I came home with 2 bats, 2 plaster wedging boards (one for dark and one for light clay bodies), three different kinds of white and white/buff clays, and a stool.

Today I threw for the first time in 1.5 years with an entirely new setup and new clay. So I went to my go-to “remember how this works” pieces: some spoon rests and a bowl.

It’s going to take me a while to figure out how to work well in this new space. Using Daniel’s woodworking bench for wedging went way better than I had hoped. The throwing itself went great and I look forward to testing out the other two clays I got — Columbia White was groggier than I like. Cleanup didn’t go as smoothy as I wanted though and it’s going to take some time to figure out. I need to get a clock and radiant heater for the garage. I also need to store the clay inside (because wow cold clay is cold) but having warm water while throwing was really nice!

I’m super excited to get to play in the mud this winter with the convenience of a short walk to my garage!

Nothing beats voting in Washington

Voting in Washington state is the gold standard for how voting should be done. It’s safe, secure, insanely convenient, and encourages informed voting.

voting-ballotsWashington state is a vote-by-mail state so everyone votes by mail in every election. A few weeks before the election you receive a ballot in the mail addressed to you by name. You open it, fill in some bubbles, put it into the provided return envelope, sign the envelope, and drop it in a US Postal Service mailbox — no stamp required. Unlike some states, which must receive your ballot by election day, in Washington your ballot must be postmarked by election day.

Or you can put it in one of dozens of official ballot drop boxes across the state. King County alone has over 70 drop boxes and 94% of King County’s 2 million people live within 3 miles of a drop box. Ballot drop boxes are open from when ballots are mailed until 8p on election day.

Once the elections office receives your ballot, your signature on the envelope is matched with your voter registration. If it doesn’t match, the elections department will reach out to you and confirm it’s from you. If it does match, your voting record is updated to indicate that you voted — allowing you to confirm online that they received your ballot. The envelope is then separated from your ballot. This way who you voted for is still confidential and not tied to you. The ballot is then tabulated and retained as a paper trail if ballots need to be recounted.

It’s literally that simple. You get something in the mail, you fill it out, and you send it in. You can vote from the comfort over your own home with a beverage of your choice in hand.

You don’t have to:

  • take off work
  • find your polling place
  • stand in line
  • remember which propositions you were against
  • remember which candidates with similar names you wanted to support
  • navigate confusing electronic voting interfaces
  • worry the voting machine marked your ballot incorrectly
  • worry about someone hacking the electronic voting machine
  • request an absentee ballot
  • be around people in a pandemic

But it gets better. Yes, really.

voting-pamphletsIn Washington state about a month before the election every household receives two voter’s pamphlets. One from the state and one from the county. The state pamphlet contains information about state-wide elections, including bios on every candidate running for office (submitted by the candidates) and information about every measure on the ballot. The county pamphlet contains similar information for the county and city measures, again with bios on every candidate running for office and information about every measure on the ballot.

Picture it: it’s a lazy Sunday morning and you sit down at the kitchen table with a muffin, a cup of coffee, your ballot, a pen, and the voter’s pamphlets. You read over the ballot measures and candidates, mock Goodspaceguy, do some googling on candidates, laugh along with The Stranger’s voting guide, maybe even look up some endorsements. Fill in a few bubbles on your ballot, put it in an envelope, seal it, sign the back, mosey over to your local US mailbox or county ballot box, and drop it in. Congratulations, you have successfully participated in democracy in your pajamas.

This. This is the pinnacle of voting.

If you don’t have this already, demand it from your state government. There is no reason for your state not to adopt the same thing as Washington, Oregon, California, Colorado, Utah, and Hawaii — besides voter suppression, disenfranchisement, and cronyism.

Demand it from your state representatives.
Demand it from your state senators.
Demand it for democracy.

Peanut Butter & Oat Protein Bars

During the workday I always end up needing a snack around 3p. Before the pandemic that would often be a Kind Bar or Larabar. Since I’ve been working from home during the pandemic I’ve been iterating over making my own no-bake protein bars and here’s the recipe I’ve settled into.

Several of the recipes I found online included a large amount of sugar — one recipe called for a cup of maple syrup! — so I’ve tried to reduce the overall sugar in these.

Peanut Butter & Oat Protein Bars

  • 2.5c cut rolled oats
  • 0.5c yellow pea protein powder
  • 1c creamy peanut butter
  • 0.5c almond milk
  • 0.25c agave

Mix dry ingredients together in a mixing bowl. In a sauce pan, add remaining ingredients. Warm and stir until fully incorporated and add into bowl with dry ingredients.

Using your hands mix everything together, pour into a 8×8 pyrex dish, and pack the mixture down well. Place in refrigerator for 15 to 30 minutes, then cut into 12 bars.

Store these in the fridge until you’re hungry in the afternoons!

Estimated nutrition value per bar

  • 254 calories
  • 22.7g carbs
  • 12.5g fat
  • 12g protein