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What I’ve been up to during all this

How my household is doing

Perhaps the best place to start writing about what I’ve been up to is to be really clear: I’m OK, and, at least for now, so are my loved ones. My spouse and I are both incredibly lucky to have jobs that can be done from home. And to have a home with separate spaces we can both work from, and with a kitchen I don’t mind suddenly spending quite a lot of time in. We have sufficient income and technology and food aplenty; we are happy in one another’s company; our pets are delighted to have us here so much and are bringing us great joy: aside from both having risk factors that make COVID-19 extra frightening for us, we’re in the best possible position through all of this, and I’m immensely grateful.

I am also having a hard time with everything.

Both statements are true. It turns out an awful lot of the people I love most have some kind of risk factor that makes COVID-19 especially frightening. (And if you’ve been following the news, you’ll understand: it’s actually pretty scary, even for a young person with no known risk factors. This is a nasty, nasty virus.) I watch the data and reporting closely—it’s my nature, but also my upper-level data analytics students are studying COVID-19 data analyses in real time (their own choice, with a big, bright, shiny “I can’t do this anymore” lever available that any one of them can pull at any time)—and I see some of the gaps in what we know, while there are all these assurances coming from leaders at various levels that everyone will soon be out and about … and I don’t like any of this. It looks to me like we are on the cusp of making some very, very unwise decisions, and I feel powerless to stop any of it.

Reeling this post back in, though, to what I intended it to be about… I want to write a little about how I’m coping, about what I’m up to, and about my plans for the next 16 months or so (right? it’s 18 months for a vaccine? I’ve been telling myself “June 2021,” because at some point I heard someone list 14 months as a best-case scenario, but I know this could all take longer).

What my household is doing

Making bread

First, I want to update you on my bread technique, since it seems like half of my country has gone into amateur baking. I feel quite smug that I got back into it more than a month ahead of time. (It was pure accident; I have no right to feel smug.) There was a little while, there, where it looked like I was going to run out of yeast, so of course I made a cheater’s version of a sourdough starter, just in case. (I watered down some of my stored bread dough and then fed it like a normal starter for a few days. It’s good!) I found yeast for sale online, though, so I’ve really only used my starter for crackers and to enhance my regular bread dough. That’s right: I’m a coward.

Anyway, if you’re going to follow my directions from before, to make an artisanal loaf in a Dutch oven, I have a couple of suggestions, to stop it from getting that burned spot on the bottom: 1) you want to put the top oven rack as high up as you can while still being able to get the Dutch oven in and out, and 2) you want to put a cookie sheet upside-down on the rack below it.

I’ve also settled on flour amounts: 4 ounces of oat flour, 6-8 ounces of whole wheat flour, and the rest (20-22 ounces, to get to a total of 32) is King Arthur Unbleached All-Purpose. If you’re using a lower-protein flour, and you don’t want to go adding vital wheat gluten, you’re going to have to drop a bit of the whole wheat (which has less gluten) and possibly all of the oat (which has no gluten at all). I only use a full 8 ounces of whole wheat if I’m also dumping in some sourdough starter (which I do most times, now), because that’s made primarily with all-purpose flour and also adds some moisture. You can literally dump in, I dunno, a cup? of sourdough starter, without making any other modifications, and the recipe works fine.

If you, like my household, prefer sandwich-shaped bread, it turns out there’s very little that has to change, to start making loaves in pans. Instead of a one-pound loaf, I make a 1.5-pound loaf (24 ounces). Grease and flour the loaf pan, measure and then shape your dough like I described in the last post (bonus if it’s more oval than round, but it really doesn’t matter much), place it inside, and cover with plastic wrap or similar for 90 minutes; somewhere in there you’ll preheat the oven to 450 Fahrenheit. Right before the loaf goes in, brush it with oil or melted butter (I’ve done both and can’t taste the difference, so I use olive oil consistently now). I bake my 24-ounce loaves in glass loaf pans for 35 minutes, and they come out pretty nice. It’s a small loaf, but if you’re doing my flour substitutions, it’s a fairly dense bread, meaning that you’ll want smaller pieces than you’d eat with a store-bought sandwich loaf, anyway.

Participating in a charity bike ride (safely)

When I lived in Alaska I was part of a team of riders for the Tour de Cure, the annual cycling fundraiser for the American Diabetes Association. (“Geeks in Gear.” I loved our team name!) I don’t have diabetes, myself, but a number of people I love do, so I rode for them. It was a good cause and good exercise, and we always had a nice day of riding.

I haven’t done it since I left Alaska, for a number of reasons. A big one is that I don’t have an outdoor bike, yet. But also, Pittsburgh’s ride has tended to be on the bike path by the freeway, which seems … bad for an asthmatic rider? And honestly, I just haven’t really felt up to it, for a whole slew of reasons.

But, friends, I really need to get some movement into my days. My township has no sidewalks and closed our parks, which really limits my outdoor activity options. I’m not doing all of the walking and standing I’d normally do at work, either. I do have a stationary bike, though! So I signed up for a virtual ride on May 2, and I’ve been “training” (inasmuch as one needs to train for a 10-mile ride) for that.

This one’s a bit different. In addition to being virtual, it’s also for a different organization than usual: the National Psoriasis Foundation. I’ve blogged about this before, so it’s not really a secret: I have psoriatic arthritis. My immune system attacks my joints and sometimes my skin. I treat it with low-dose chemotherapy drugs, because that’s the best science has come up with, so far. Super fun.

So, I guess this time I’m riding for … myself? Weird.

Anyway, if this is the sort of thing that you’d like to support, and if you’re in a position to do so, I’d be grateful for donations! The point isn’t just to make me ride my bike; it’s also to raise funds toward finding a cure. My page is here: https://npf.donordrive.com/participant/coral

I don’t have any clever plan about proving I actually did the 10 miles of biking, but if anyone wants a photo (of the mileage on the bike, not of me after the ride, ew, nobody wants that), I’m happy to provide it.

Teaching

I feel like “teaching during the pandemic” is its own blog post, and I’m hoping “planning really good online courses for the fall” is also its own post or series of posts.

But yeah, I’m still doing my day job. It has become a day, night, and weekend job—j/k, it already was, it’s just more so now. Community college students are more likely than most to be under-resourced and to have been working while in school. Which means a lot of my students have either lost their jobs, or they’re out doing the jobs that are keeping our society running, right now, at great personal risk. Even our “traditional” students are having a tough time, though: we offer online classes, and these students opted for in-person … and then got stuck online, anyway. So it’s a bad situation for everyone.

I’m doing everything I reasonably can to support them. It’s a lot of emotional labor, a lot of time, and a lot of energy. I’m dragging myself and a number of other people through to exam week (not that I do exams in most of my courses, anyway), and then I have promised myself a full, glorious week off.

Planning a staycation

I might go entirely offline for the week after grades are turned in (after attending CSVconf online, I mean), and I think Dale is going to join me. I have a whole stack of comics to read and a couple of bath bombs I’ve been saving. It’ll be a good time of the year to fiddle around in the garden. Maybe Dale and I will do some unpacking, but I don’t think we’re going to set goals around it. I’ll try to have enough meals pre-made that I don’t have to spend large parts of the week in the kitchen unless I get motivated to cook for fun. … I don’t have a lot more plans than that, honestly, but looking forward to it is getting me through what has become a very difficult second half of the semester.

Playing Animal Crossing

My big objection to Animal Crossing, in the past (which I played in a previous incarnation but stopped before I’d gotten all that far into the game) is that the characters are really passive-aggressive if you don’t play for a few days. I hate being penalized for not playing a game all the time! Games are supposed to be something I can pick up when I feel like it!

But. If I’m looking at being stuck at home for months on end, I can probably make time to go in, pick some weeds, and say hello to my villagers each day.

I’m very much enjoying the unrealistic fantasy of living on a beautiful island with a bunch of anthropomorphized animals, growing cool-colored flowers with just seeds and a little water, and paying off my mortgage with less than an hour’s work per day.

Planning for summer and fall

Plan A for the fall is that I teach online for the community college where I work. There won’t be a vaccine for COVID-19, and the likelihood of a good enough treatment regimen having been developed by the time the semester begins … I’m just not counting on it. Maybe everyone is online, which is the responsible choice. Or maybe part of the college—or, terrifyingly, most of it—is in-person. In planning for that possibility, I’ve put in a request for accommodation at work, asking to be given an online-only schedule. (This is a special accommodation because our contract says we must teach at least one section on our home campus. Also because there aren’t enough online courses to go around between the faculty that want them; more courses would have to be converted to online to allow for this.)

If that all works out, great! That also takes care of a lot of my summer, which will be spent developing those courses and figuring out what needs to go into our Quantitative Foundations of Data Analytics (or whatever we call it) course. (Between you and me, Dedicated Enough Reader to be this far into the weeds of such a long blog post: I’m going to have to remind myself how some of that math works, in the process of trying to write the curriculum. I’m more of the programmer-data-analyst and less of the statistician-data-analyst, and it shows sometimes.) Also, I need to learn R and Java.

If that doesn’t work out, it’s either because we invoked a contract clause that lets me take up to two years of leave to pursue a degree—and then I work fast to find an online-only masters in data science and/or machine learning—or because absolutely none of that worked out, leaving me to make the choice between teaching on-campus and quite probably dying and taking my spouse with me or, you know… not. In that case, I resign, and I’m honestly pretty devastated to have that option just sitting out there on the table like that.

So. If I seem especially anxious right now, it’s because I have a whole lot hanging on this one email.

Anyway, if I resign, I don’t actually plan to pursue continuing education right away, unless it’s one of those online bootcamps that don’t charge you unless you end up employed. I’ve got material enough for self-study, if I find that there aren’t remote-friendly positions open in my areas of expertise. Plus, if I’m going back to school on my own, it will be for a doctorate. To pull that off, I’d need to find an advisor who was comfortable with a research assistant working remotely, which isn’t impossible, but … I’m not holding my breath. So, if I have to leave my current position, the most probable outcome is that I take a month to mourn the job loss and to regroup; a month to look around, put out feelers, and start reskilling; and then I start seriously looking in August.

OK, but fun summer plans?

I’m going to grow some plants.

I’ve also bought into a CSA, so I’m going to learn to cook some new and different plants. (The CSA is delivered right to our porch and comes with egg, milk, and meat shares, so the necessities are more than taken care of for us, without our having to leave the property.)

I bought myself some kits to learn a few new chainmaille weaves, which I’m looking forward to.

I still haven’t learned to knit properly, so that’s on my todo list. I have the right yarn and needles for socks; I just need to sit down and try again (for the fourth or fifth time).

We do still need to unpack from moving, which isn’t necessarily fun, but is pretty necessary. And knowing where the things that are in boxes have gone: well, that’s kind of fun! Like receiving gifts from our past selves! I admit that I’m looking forward to organizing things, a bit. You can take the librarian out of the library… :)

WisCon will be online this year, and if I’m not still a mess from the end of the semester at that point, I plan to dial in and participate in that.

I’d like to work through some of my books on herbalism. At least get to know the herbs I have on hand really thoroughly, right? And there are some pretty good recipes in those books that I’d like to try out.

Speaking of recipes, I’m slowly going through and digitizing my notebook of loose recipes. That’s a big project, and I can only make myself do it in small doses, but it’s nice to see my Paprika (that’s the app I use) recipe list growing.

I also want to build a formatter for the Paprika export files (which are in a kind of JSON—that is part of why I picked it), just so that I have it and don’t have to scramble if Paprika ever goes away.

But I’ve wandered a bit from “fun things” into “my todo list, only some of which is fun.” Point is, I’ve got plenty to keep me busy even if it turns out that I shouldn’t be going anywhere before 2022.

Wrap-up

Anyway, despite the slow horror of watching preventable tragedies unfold on the international, national, state, county, and possibly school level, and despite the anxiety of not knowing what my summer and fall look like, I’m OK. We can pay our bills, no matter how any of this pans out—Dale makes more money than I do, his company seems to be doing fine, and they support remote work. (Well, we can pay our bills as long as we stay home. The novel coronavirus could not only kill us, but bankrupt us in the process.) We have enough to eat, and, so far, the few things that can’t be shipped and aren’t coming with the CSA, kind people have brought to us. (Note to the kind people: if you all were to stop being able to do that, we’d still be OK. The absolute necessities are taken care of.)

I wouldn’t say we’re thriving, but we’re certainly all right. And that feels like something to be deeply grateful for, considering everything.

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