What I Learned This Week: #224

Monday, December 20, 2021 – Sunday, January 2, 2022

In a year where time was impossible to latch onto, the week leading up to Christmas and the time between Christmas and New Years were all Fridays. Every day. Except for my co-worker Joe, who kept having Wednesdays. Weird. Anyway, here’s a two week bridge of minutae.

The Week in Holiday Work Gifts: Knowing who to gift, and when, is absolutely one of the most difficult work activities. (Also, on that list, for workplaces with multiple bathrooms, finding the one where you can do number two…but that’s for another day.) The process is complicated and varies from place to place and from year to year. Should you get a gift for your boss, or go in with others to buy a group gift? Does everyone on the team get a gift? What about the co-worker who has nothing to do with your job, but is your work buddy? How much should you spend?

I have solved this problem in my head by referring to the practice of holiday gift giving as sharing tokens of my appreciation. So, my very immediate people got small tokens reflecting that I was paying attention to them all year – tea for one of my bosses, local honey for the other, and a soup mix for my closest associate – small but, I think, appropriate. I have a small team, and for them, I made and brought in a breakfast casserole. And just like that, I was over the gifts at work dilemma. Until next year!

The Week in Cats: My next door neighbor left town for Christmas and I was in charge of medicating, not feeding but medicating, one of them. Their food gets distributed on a timer but the medicine has to be administered live. Only one of the little guys gets medicine, a couple drops of some long-named med mixed into a little bit of wet food twice a day. The other non-medicated cat gets the same amount of food (med free) as a solidarity meal with the medicated cat.

The first day I mixed up the bowls, but not which cat gets medicated and the owner, who could see what was happening on her camera, texted me in a panic. She wanted to make sure I knew the skinny cat got no medicine and the fat boy did. I got it. I also wondered why she didn’t refer to them as the grey cat and the brown cat instead of the skinny and fat one!

The Week in Not Cooking: My Mom has not used her oven in about 7 years, so this year when we decided to do take out for Christmas dinner, I was a little concerned. I emailed her to tell her the take out would require us to re-warm the meal in her oven. She called me (which is how she responds to email) to say she wasn’t sure how to turn the oven on, but she wasn’t using it for storage. Kind of a mixed message. When I got to her house on Christmas Eve, we tried out the oven. It fired right up. It smelled like the heater the first time it kicks on for the season, and that’s how we discovered her kitchen window was broken. LOL! Anyway, the oven worked and dinner was great.

The Week in Patience, and Other Life Lessons: This week’s lesson started about 4 years ago when my friends’ (at the time) 12 year old got a new winter coat that I liked a lot. I asked her to trade me for my coat. Obviously that was a non-starter, but each winter I would ask reminding her that one day she would outgrow the coat and I would still be standing at 5 foot tall and waiting.

Well, this year, the last present to be unwrapped at Christmas was left for me. And as I pulled back the paper I immediately recognized my prize for 4 years of patience, and keeping my eyes on the prize. Christmas gifts usually inspire humility, but this one inspired VICTORY!!!

This coat just works for me!!

The Week in Covid (Booster, Urgent Care, Home Test): This week I saw I kinds of Covid collateral without actually experiencing Covid. First up, I was able to schedule both me and my Mom for Moderna boosters via one of the local hospital systems. Very smooth. She had a typical reaction. I had the rare-ish but known swelling of my armpit lymph nodes. I had to Google it because in nearly two years of Covid coverage I hadn’t come across armpit pain.

But a few days later, the Sunday after Christmas, my Mom need to go to Urgent Care of a non-Covid related ear infections. Because so many people were there to get Covid testing, mostly for travel clearance as far as I could tell, the clinic was overrun. We waited for 3 hours in the waiting room and were there for about 3 1/2 hours total. No biggie, just hanging out with strangers in a medical center during a pandemic. We both had N-95 masks on, and I honestly wasn’t worried about contracting Covid, but the conditions were ripe.

I wore a mask at work for 3 days explaining my potential exposure. On the third day I took a test and was negative. My Mom had no symptoms either. Luckily, the only thing Covid did to me over the holidays was waste my time.

The Week in Dog Sitting Dog and Pozole/Posole: I spent a few days dog sitting in Anderson Twp. where, with a nod to Bengals QB Joe Burrow, there isn’t much to do. So, I gave myself a cooking project. I spent two days making my version of Mexican red pork pozole. Red Pozole is a Mexican soup/stew made with pork, a particular type of large kernel corn, and chili peppers. Pozole in the southern region of the U.S. is often spelled with an ‘s’ – posole, and that’s how I refer to the dish I make. I loosely follow a couple recipes I’ve found, and then just do what works based on the ingredients I can find in Cincinnati, a decidedly not southwest town.

During the two days of kitchen activity, the dogs by-and-large left me alone. They weren’t around when I made broth, rehydrated corn, or whizzed up a chili pepper slurry. But then, OMG THEN, I got to the shredding of the pork. Hello doggos!

Dogs sensing the presence of meat.

The YEAR in Books:

This year I read 31 books and a total of 13,241 pages (that’s 1,129/362,447 since I’ve been keeping track). This year’s author’s were a less-diverse group than I like. I try to read more world authors, but this year only Japan and Canada broke through. (It’s a weak year for international authors when Canada is one of the standard bearers…sorry Canada.) Twenty of the 31 books on this year’s list were written by women. Twelve were non-fiction.

My fiction book of the year is the last book I read in 2021, Circe by Helen Miller. Miller takes the familiar stories of Greek Gods and focusses on the retelling of the life of the Witch Circe. She is one of the most richly drawn and compelling characters I have read in years and though pieces of the overall story are familiar (Zeus, Daedalus, Odysseus, Athena and more are all here) Circe’s struggles made for a real page-turner. There’s a reason we’re still telling the stories of the origin of our world from the ancient Greek point of view. The stories are still great and Miller is a very skilled story teller.

I also very much enjoyed Deacon King Kong, a surprisingly gentle, funny, somewhat spiritual and touching novel that takes place in a Brooklyn housing project in 1969. I also liked the very funny novel Less, which kicks off when the lead character Arthur Less decides he needs to be out of town when he ex-lover gets married, and he sets off on a comic odyssey. I also liked The Vanishing Half, about two light skinned black twins born in the segregated south from which one leaves and starts a life passing as a white woman in California. Joy Luck Club is a considered a modern must read and its depiction of the relationship between mothers and daughters is very touching. A Prayer for Owen Meany is uneven, like most John Irving books (in my opinion), but when it is working, it’s sensational. And, very, very unusual for me, I really enjoyed the psychological horror novel Mexican Gothic, a richly described nightmare that is creepy from start to finish.

I read two wildly uneven fiction books this year meaning parts were pretty great while the rest of book flailed. The promise of a great book was there for both but the overall book doesn’t cut it, so I recommend with reservation. The way the Crow Flies, by Anne-Marie MacDaniel is a long book, but I could not stop reading the first 600 pages. MacDaniel created a slow, tense burn focused on the murder of a little girl near an Airbase in Canada, but the last 200 pages of the book, taking place 20 years after the murder, were mostly a bust. Weight of Ink, by Rachel Kadish tells the story of two modern historians translating and deciphering texts from the 1600s and the story of the young woman who wrote the texts in her role as a scribe for a blind rabbi. The historical chapters of the book were absolutely terrific. The modern part of the book was a real mess.

Far and away my favorite nonfiction book of the year was These Truths: A History of America, a 700 plus page examination of how race has impacted America from its inception. It is thoughtful and quiet book that is easy to read and digest. Children of Ash and Elm: A History of the Vikings was densely packed with information, but very interesting stuff. And, Surely You’re Joking Mr. Feynman, a memoir by physicist Richard Feynman was a hoot, even though there were many paragraphs of math and science I couldn’t make heads or tails out of. (P.S. The Feynman Method for learning new, complex things, is pretty neat. Google that in your spare time!)

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