COVID-19

A real haircut during the pandemic

As of yesterday, Indiana is making the coronavirus vaccine available to every Hoosier aged 50 and older. I signed up as soon as I found out. I get the first dose of the Moderna vaccine on St. Patrick’s Day.

Nails and Hair

I originally planned to wait until I was vaccinated before I did what I did last week: I went to get a haircut.

I had been cutting my own hair. Buzzing it, rather: 3/8 inch on the sides, 3/4 inch on the top. Where top and sides met, I blended it as best I could. Hair that short isn’t my favorite look, especially since it reveals how much my hair has thinned on top. But that cut always grew out all right. I made this photo about eight weeks after one of my buzz cuts.

Mirror selfie

I didn’t want to face another buzz cut. I’ve had enough of them! Even when they grew out, I couldn’t style my hair as I prefer. I have no idea how to do what a pro stylist does. I was so ready to look like myself again!

Infection rates have fallen dramatically both across Indiana and in my county, and mask and social-distancing mandates are still in place here. I decided that for my next haircut, I would take the risk and go see a stylist.

It felt at once strange and normal to sit in the stylist’s chair. I chose a walk-in place near my home and got a stylist I’d never used before. I’ve had better haircuts, but his cut was still far better than any I’ve given myself.

With the rate of vaccination increasing, I hope that sometime this summer events like a haircut become commonplace again.

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COVID-19, Stories Told

Changing jobs during a pandemic

Even as I approached the building, all was strange. The front was still boarded up after last summer’s Black Lives Matter protests, the only such building on the block. My key card let me in the front door. It was irrational, I’m sure, but I thought it might not still work after not having used it in ten months. The lights were off in the lobby, as they were on my floor as the elevator doors opened.

My desk was as messy as I’d left it. I didn’t know when I took the week off in early March that I’d never use it again. The company ordered us all to work from home starting the Monday I was to return.

Fast forward to December. I received a fantastic offer from another company, one I would have been foolish to ignore. I took it. On my last day, I drove to my soon-to-be-former office to clean out my desk.

I’ve left jobs before, a dozen times. I have it down. I take stuff home little by little during my last two weeks so my desk is clear on my last day. After lunch I walk around and say personal goodbyes to everyone I can find who I ever worked with, wrapping up with my boss. Not only will I miss the people, who I genuinely enjoy, but also I want to leave a good final impression. The market I work in is small enough that I’m likely to work with some of them again. When I’ve said my final goodbye, I slip out the door.

This was all different. There had been a Zoom happy hour in my honor, which was a nice gesture. I said goodbyes in my normal meetings all during my final week. Anyone I didn’t see, I Slacked. But it all felt so disconnected.

Stepping off the elevator, the floor was silent but for the whoosh and hum of the HVAC. The last time I was on this floor it buzzed with such activity that I needed noise-canceling headphones to be able to focus. I sorted through my things, leaving a healthy portion of it in the wastebasket. I left my laptop and my key card on my desk, picked up my box, rode the elevator down, and walked out for the last time.

Monday morning I started at the new job. My commute didn’t change a bit: I came downstairs, sat at my desk, and started Zoom. But the faces I saw on the screen were all new.

The new company did a terrific job of onboarding, easily the best experience of my career. They committed to everyone’s first full week being nothing but group meetings with various people in the company telling us the company’s history and mission, how we make money, how administrative things work, and what our product looks like and how it works. We got to meet all of the executives.

Yet I kept wishing to see my old team in those little boxes. I really missed them! I always miss the good people I worked with when I leave a job, but never this acutely. But then, I didn’t get to say a proper goodbye.

This post also appeared on my software blog earlier this month.

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COVID-19

There’s a light at the end of the tunnel, but it’s small and distant

The winter COVID-19 spike appears to be ending in Indiana. With vaccines currently being administered, could that be a light we see at the end of this tunnel?

Source: https://www.coronavirus.in.gov/2393.htm, February 15, 2021

Maybe it is, but that light is small and distant. The tunnel remains long.

The CDC recommends that vaccinated people continue to stay home as much as possible, and mask up and remain physically distanced otherwise, until enough people are vaccinated that we have herd immunity.

That made no sense to me at first. If you’re vaccinated, aren’t you immune? Can’t you go back to a normal life? But then I learned that we don’t have enough experience with the vaccines yet to know whether they keep you from catching the virus. We know for sure only that the vaccine makes you unlikely to become sick with it. After you’re vaccinated, you might still be able to carry and spread the virus! That’s why the CDC is telling us to continue to stay home as much as we can, and mask up and remain physically distanced when we can’t, until enough people are vaccinated that we have herd immunity.

I experienced this as a punch to the gut. I was dreaming about living life more freely after my vaccination. Specifically, I was looking forward to taking my wife out for dinner, and going to visit my kids in their homes!

I must continue to wait, as it will take considerable time to administer the vaccine to everyone. In Indiana, we’ve already taken care of people like healthcare workers, long-term care facility residents, police officers and firefighters, and the like. The state is now administering the vaccine by age, starting with the oldest first. People 80 and older went first, then people 70 to 79. They’re currently vaccinating people 65 to 69; people 60 to 64 are next. If this five-year grouping pattern holds, I’ll be in the second group to follow. Given the rate of vaccination, that could be a couple months yet, maybe more. I’ve heard optimistic estimates that all of Indiana could be vaccinated by midsummer, but I don’t share that optimism. Unless we’re able to dramatically ramp up the available doses and the infrastructure to deliver them, I think it will be late this year before the job is done. Perhaps then we can ease these restrictions and live a more normal life.

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COVID-19

Packing on the pandemic pounds

Chicago Theater
Wet streets in the theater district

On one of our weekend getaways in Chicago, my wife and I got caught in a sudden heavy rain and were soaked through. We had tickets to the theater for that evening but no suitable dry clothes to wear. Still dripping, we popped into the Old Navy right there in the theater district and bought clothes that would do. They had chinos on a very good sale, and I ended up buying four pair. I chose the slim fit. They were a bit snug, but it was a good look on me.

I started putting on weight almost immediately when I started working from home in March. For a long time I’d hovered around 180 pounds on my six foot frame. It’s a healthy weight, but slightly heavier than I like. I look and feel better at 175 pounds, but in middle age I find that weight harder and harder to maintain. Thanks to pandemic stress and other life stress, I was eating and drinking more. It doesn’t help that my refrigerator is five feet from my home desk. I’ve also been less active — it’s remarkable how much walking I do when I go to the office. I felt my pants becoming tight, uncomfortably so.

In April I started using a calorie tracker to help me moderate my intake. It did help me overeat less, but I still struggled to hit my calorie targets. This is one reason I took so many walks and bike rides all summer, but as you can see in the chart below, they didn’t help. I slowly and steadily put on weight anyway. My weight gain only accelerated after the bike rides ended with the cold weather in October. Then I decided to let my guard down and enjoy as much holiday food as I wanted. As the weather grew even colder, I took fewer and fewer walks. Unsurprisingly, I quickly found myself pushing 190 pounds. Most of my slacks and jeans are now far too tight to wear, especially those slim-fit chinos.

Gaining weight during the pandemic

Historically, whenever I’ve eaten less and moved more I’ve easily shed pounds. A moderate reduction in calorie intake and a moderate increase in exercise would normally lead me back to about 180 pounds within a few months.

But there’s a possible monkey wrench in these works. In the last couple years I’ve developed Hashimoto’s disease, a thyroid disorder. As I understand it, my immune system is attacking my thyroid, leading to its inflammation. I’ve had an underactive thyroid for 20 years, although past tests for Hashimoto’s always came back negative. I’ve taken the usual medication all these years, and it worked great for a long time. My labs show thyroid hormone levels within the acceptable range. Thyroid issues can be a culprit in weight gain — also in other symptoms I’m experiencing, including sluggishness and hair loss. But heavy stress, such as pandemic stress, can also explain all of these symptoms. So I’m not sure what the real root cause is.

My doctor and I have tried some dietary changes and a couple supplements aimed at reducing inflammation to see if they might reverse the Hashimoto’s. They helped a little. Now we’re trying a medication off label that has been known to help autoimmune disorders like Hashimoto’s. We’ll see how that goes.

Meanwhile, I’m doubling down on limiting how much I eat and drink, and stepping up my steps outside the house. I’m forcing myself to walk two miles each weekday before I start work, cold weather be damned. I will look for another chance to walk two miles in each day, at lunch if I can, and after work if I must. If I can get back to 185 pounds, where my pants all fit, I’ll be happy enough until I’m able to go back to the office and resume my pre-pandemic level of natural activity.

But today I ordered a few new pairs of chinos — same waist size, just in a roomier cut. They ought to be not uncomfortable at my current weight. I think I’m done with snug fits. Those slim-fit chinos are in our box of stuff to donate. It’s too bad, because those chinos had such a fun memory attached to them!

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Balcony at the Palmer House

Balcony at the Palmer House
Apple iPhone 6s
2020

I’m sad that Margaret and I won’t be able to make our annual wintertime trip to Chicago this year. It had become a tradition of our marriage. But Chicago requires travelers from Indiana to quarantine for 14 days upon arrival, making the trip impractical. Even if we did go, our unwillingness to eat inside a restaurant would make avoiding hunger challenging.

We used to go every December to enjoy Christkindlmarkt, take in a show, and finish our Christmas shopping. Then Margaret took a job where December is the busy season, and we started going in January as a way of relaxing after the holidays.

Chicago is not a popular destination in the cold and snowy months, which is why we go then. We get such great deals on hotel rooms! Last year we stayed in the gorgeous Palmer House for what it would normally cost at a suburban box hotel.

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COVID-19, Photography, Travel

single frame: Balcony at the Palmer House

A view of the gorgeous Palmer House Hotel lobby in Chicago.

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COVID-19

Was 2020 really terrible?

I’m starting to see posts on blogs and in social media about how terrible 2020 has been. Good riddance to it, they say. Bring on 2021!

For some, 2020 really was terrible. The pandemic cost them their job and they experienced serious financial difficulty. Or they lost someone they cared about to COVID-19. Or they got COVID-19 themselves and ended up a “long hauler” and spent many months too weak to fully function.

We all saw our freedoms curtailed through lockdowns and restrictions. Many of us still choose to limit contact with people outside our households and perhaps our “bubbles” of a few people whose behavior we trust, so that we stay healthy and keep the virus from spreading. This has led to isolation, which isn’t good for our mental health.

None of us escaped political stress this year, especially in the US because of the Presidential election, and in the UK as Brexit roiled.

2020 was undeniably hard in many ways, even for those of us not directly harmed by pandemic or politics.

But terrible? I’m not so sure. I bet that if you put your mind to it, you can find some good things about 2020 that would not have happened in a normal year. I’ll bet some of those things are very good. Here are four from my life that I can think of right off the top of my head:

  • I rode my bike a lot during the warm months. I love to ride, but most years I do it very little because I have so little time for it outside of work. But the pandemic forced me to work from home. I got an hour of commuting time back, and I spent a lot of it on my bike. It didn’t matter that I got sweaty. Nobody can smell you on Zoom!
  • The complete upending of my routines gave me a great deal of creative energy. I wrote more blog posts and made more photographs than ever in 2020. I even published a book of my stories and essays!
  • My wife and I enjoyed and appreciated evenings out more deeply. We couldn’t have them at all during lockdown, and as our world slowly reopened we could have them only when the weather was good. Businesses bent over backwards to create safe experiences for us. Indianapolis closed some of its streets to allow bars and restaurants to set up tables for outside service. Because of that, we spent a couple lovely evenings sitting in the middle of Massachusetts Avenue sipping lowland scotch. I’m sure we will remember these nights out for a long time.
  • We ate many more dinners together as a family, simply because we were all home at the same time more often. Especially during lockdown and in the weeks that followed, where were we going to go anyway?

What good things came to you in 2020 that were directly or indirectly due to the pandemic?

Even if you still think that 2020 was terrible, don’t delude yourself that life automatically trends toward the better on the first day of 2021. We’re still in this pandemic, amid a spike in new cases. I just captured this US new-case graph from the CDC’s site. The trend over the last several days is going in the right direction. Yet each day the number of people testing positive for the coronavirus is greater than the population of Providence, Rhode Island; or Santa Rosa, California; or Fort Lauderdale, Florida — all cities of about 180,000 residents.

The red line is the seven-day moving average

Also, on the first day of 2021 we will still live in a time of deep division between conservative and liberal, or educated elite and common working class, or the rich and the rest of us — choose your dividing line. If your man lost the election, you’re probably deeply worried about what’s to come. If your man won the election, curb your celebrations because the conditions still exist that saw the other guy elected last time.

In 2021, I hope you’ll continue to limit contact outside your household, and wear a mask when you go out. Even if you think this pandemic is overhyped, or is primarily a political tool, COVID-19 remains deadly for some and disruptive for all who get it. Please take these precautions so that as much as it depends on you, the virus doesn’t spread.

Also, I hope you’ll seek to understand people who aren’t like you and don’t share your views — especially if you think people whose core political beliefs are different from yours are mindless, deluded idiots. Please remember that they are human beings trying to make their way in life just as you are. Not only does their background and the reality they currently live shape them in concrete ways, but the information sources they consume tend to reinforce their views. Just like you. The more we seek to understand each other, the more we come back together as a nation. Our strength has always come from our unity. Let’s rebuild it in 2021.

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