Start of a Better Year (Or Not)

January 1-15, 2021

Dear Family, Friends, and Diary,

We're still at it and still recording it, no matter how slim our selection is of interesting "its". It is easy to believe 2021 will be better than 2020, but last year taught us how little we can accurately predict. How long will the Corona virus keep us pinned down on Cambridge Avenue? An optimistic guess would be three months for absolute lock-down and another three months of travel-very-carefully. And a pessimistic view? I won't even go there.

In any event, until we return to a normal(-ish) life, I'll record something for every day. We have the time.

January 1, New Year's Day, Covid Day 294

breakfastOver a special holiday breakfast, we discussed New Year's resolutions. I felt I could simply say "same as every year", but that might not be right. Sure, lose weight and get healthier seem to be on each annual list, including the new 2021 edition, but what else and what specifics?

For me (John):

For Marianne:

JohnAs for January 1, 2021, we didn't do much. We took down the Christmas tree and decorations, a chore that was made very easy by the limits we had imposed on putting things up. I think there is a lesson in this. After that, I worked to clean up the back yard, including pruning the rose bushes. Cutting back is the major winter job so it seems like Spring must be just around the corner.

The thought occurred to me that Spring 2021 will mark a full year under pandemic conditions: locked-down, staying-at-home, isolated, risking-death, or however you want to characterize it. I am afraid the next three to six month will be the most trying of the whole disaster, as infections stay high and inoculations lag.

New Year's Day ended with a Friday Zoom Game Night with Jen, Brian, and Geoff. We exchanged stories about what we had all done to celebrate the arrival of 2021. Mostly, it was "not much", but Geoff said he actually made it to midnight. Marianne and I made it to midnight too, in the same Eastern Time Zone, if not our own.

And that was Covid Day 294

(These days in our history: Diaries for the starts of recent years: 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018, 2019)

Saturday, January 2, COVID19 Day 295

The day started with working on NY resolutions by being careful with breakfast. I find it too easy to just keep adding "healthy" things to my morning plate until it's way too much. Marianne is more controlled in the morning, although I do see her put all kinds of healthy stuff into the blender for her green smoothie. I have never been tempted to go that route.

garageWe had to evacuate the house for the morning visit by Juanita, the house cleaner. Marianne has her art studio to disappear into and I decided to go on a long walk. Back in the beginning of the pandemic, about a hundred years ago, I took hour-long walks almost every day and became familiar with all the small scenes around us. Since the August arrival of a Peloton bike, long walks had almost disappeared. NY resolution: more walks.

Pictures from a walk: birds, red flowers, and animals. That's what I meant by "small scenes around us".

two birds one bird
red flowers red berries
dog team squirrel

art lairThere was not much more excitement for the day. I read and tidied up computer stuff while Marianne worked art, dinner, and then art again.

That was Pandemic Day 295

(This day in our history: 2020, ArtHop and a trip to Monterey)

Sunday, January 3, Isolation Day 296dinner

Nothing happened today. Well, almost nothing. We got up, ate breakfast, exercised at least a little, "worked" (art for Marianne, diary for John), ate chicken dinner (see picture proof), arranged workspaces (hut for M, office for J), chilled.

Is this the way of every day for the next months?

Day 296.

(This day in our history: 2007, Neighborhood Walks)

Monday, January 4, Pandemic 297

Excitement: Take the Audi into the shop for routine service, followed by breakfast at Starbucks (in parking lot) and short stops at a delicatessen and the hardware store. Not much the rest of the day either. I stopped at Vern's and we discussed the demise of the Republican party, demise via a civil war initiated by the president. Two weeks to inauguration and we can't wait.clouds

Fresno weather remains dry, despite a winter storm that passed just a few miles north. All it brought us were late afternoon clouds, pretty but not productive. It seems our second pandemic winter will be a drought as well. Can a new president bring millions of vaccines, a functioning democracy, and rain? That's probably too big an ask.

(This day in our history: 2013, Gosler)

Tuesday, January 5, Pandemic 298

(I am writing this on Thursday, after watching the fall of a dictatorship on Wednesday. I'll be brief with our little pandemic isolation record.)

techniciantruckDitto to Monday, except a different car got serviced. The Tesla Ranger, a come-to-your-house technician, arrived to swap out a driver's side mirror that was not able to be positioned correctly. Despite it all, the new version was only slightly better than the old one.

puzzleThe day was proceeding slow enough that I broke out another jigsaw puzzle, one of the unusual wooden ones from Liberty Puzzle. The intricate design is made even harder by the edge area being completely black, scores of pieces with no color or pattern hint about which goes next to which. This may take awhile.dinner

Dinner was excellent. Marianne made a Shepard's Pie that was comfort food, done right. I mean, with mashed potato frosting, it had to be good, especially in a pandemic. The salad was tasty as well and may have balanced the calories of the pie. Maybe.zoom

Our last even of the day was Tuesday Zoom Cocktails with Rita, Peter, Adrienne, and Tony (at the end). We need to work on our take-turns technique because it seemed particularly hard to carry on a conversation this time. I hope we are not getting Zoomed-out. We'll see next week.

(This day in our history: 2002, January Christmas in Maryland.)

Wednesday, January 6, Covid Day 299, and a Day in Infamy

A day that did not go as planned, or did it?

The Trotter day included our normal stay-at-home activities. I walked, morning and late afternoon, enjoying the California winter weather. Leaves have almost all fallen, neighbor Tom is still decorating his garage door with music-themed messages, and City College's old palm trees made a very-California impression in the late afternoon.

leaves garage palms

At about 11:00am, Pacific Time, I went down the block to visit neighbor Vern for awhile. In better weather, we sit on his porch and solve world problems, but in cooler weather we chat in the Selland TV room. As usual, MSNBC was on the screen as we half-watched the start of the vote certification proceedings in the US Senate. Soon, I noticed a commotion as Vice President Pence and others were whisked away by a very insistent security team.riot steps

For the next hour or two, Vern and I stayed glued to the televised images coming out of Washington DC. We watched live as the Trump-inspired rioters first filled the steps of the Capitol and then spilled into the rooms and offices of senators, congressmen, and staff. Our first comments were: "We can't believe this is happening". Then: "Of course we can believe it."

There are few moments in our lives, 90+ years for Vern and 70+ for me, could we remember moments as clearly historical as June 6, 2021: VE Day (Vern, not me); 9/11 for sure; the Cuban Missile crisis, the Kennedy's' assassinations and Dr. King's; maybe even the election of D.J. Trump.

While we were watching TV news, Marianne was preparing for and starting a Zoom art class. The chaos in DC threatened to disrupt the gathering, but the teacher acknowledged the situation and asked the students to carry on, including the evaluation of Marianne's own work. So it went.count

Later, Marianne and I continued watching the news. We watched DC curfew come into effect and the rioters gradually fade back under their rocks. Thankfully, Congress went back into session and completed the business of certifying the election of the Biden-Harris team. Now we will wait on pins and needles until a new administration takes over.

I think I liked it better when it was boring.

(This day in our history: 2000, The Babi Yar Monument to Mass Killing) - accidental irony.

Thursday, January 7, Covid 300

A quiet day in Fresno, but it's hard to create a quiet-day diary while thinking about repercussions from the decline and fall of the Trump empire. I think I'll leave politics and history comments for a few more days to see what happens now.

PedroThe big morning event was the annual check of our furnace. Really. It's what passes for interest in these times. It's not like Fresno has terrible winters, but our 80-year-old house is uninsulated and leaky. That means we worry about the old heater in the basement and it's worth it to have Pedro the technician bless the machine. He did. Now, the weather will turn warmer.

Otherwise, the day was completely normal, including a bike ride. This time, the German Peloton trainer talked about German Christmas food and drink, in German. That was fun, but he described about 10,000 calories while leading us through only 300 calories of exercise. Maybe by next year I will store up enough exercise for the Yuletide feast.

Marianne's day included art, as usual, meal preparation, as usual, and daughter counseling, far less usual. Gabby blew out the ACL in her knee during skiing last weekend and had just received the prognosis: weeks of physical therapy, an operation, and weeks or more of recovery. This is not life interference the young pandemic mom needs. Our thoughts are with her.puzzle

At the end of the day, I noticed my to-do list was largely untouched. One item, "work on puzzle", got my attention. After hours of work, the 282 intricate pieces came together. In stay-at-home times, this passes as an accomplishment.

(This day in our history: 2000, Gabby and our new flat.)


Friday, January 8

What now? We try to return to the "new normal" pandemic life we have established over the last ten months, but events in Washington DC interrupt. For months now, we have weaned ourselves from full-time news so we could have a close-to-normal life, but all CNN and other stations are now on TVs throughout our house and my internet time has shifted from Tesla to treason. I had cut way back on news because I felt the "be-very-worried" drum beat on most stations, right and left, was done primarily to increase ratings and should be approached skeptically.

Today, we ARE very worried and think we will remain so for weeks, months, and even years going forward. Trump may or may not be rendered toothless, but the mobs that stormed the Capitol are still out there, including in our own community. I have no sense of what will be needed to purge the poison. God help us.

Our record of our Covid Day 301:

I started the day with our weekly weigh-in and was discouraged by the reality that my weight had remained unchanged at heavier than it had been for a few years. I had avoided the dreaded "Covid 15", but I seriously need to get rid of that much. Again.Starbucks

The next morning activity was going out to a clean but discouragingly empty Starbucks. Our trusty Jura coffee machine has been sent in for service, and initial tests of instant coffee were completely unsatisfactory. Since I don't do tea, except with Asian meals, that means a morning trip. That's OK, it is an "event" in our quiet life and it allows me to continue to bring coffee to my pandemic partner.

yellowred.After a (dietetic) breakfast, I headed out on a walk, planning a longer hike than I had done in the last few months. At the beginning of our lock-down, I escaped the house with hour-plus walks, photographing the colors of Spring. Now, in Winter, color is pretty rare, but at least a few roses manage to bloom and are even more noteworthy in their scarcity. I will take this as a sign that Spring, and Isolation Year Two, is not so far away.

While I was out walking, Marianne stayed busy reviewing her German. She has resolved to get back to reasonable fluency before we return to "the old country" (late 2021? 2022?).Vern

Back on Cambridge Avenue, I visited with neighbor Vern and joined him watching MSNBC. In warmer weather, we used sit outside, on the big white house's front porch, and try to solve world problems. Now we huddle inside, watching how we failed. Despite almost 170 life-years experience between us, we have few answers about the future, and that is discouraging.

(This day in our history: Starting 2020, good and not-so-good times.)

Saturday, January 9, COVID Day 302, Biden/Harris in 11 Days

Gray, foggy, morning. Gray, foggy, mood. We read and watched the news, a mix of DC disaster and worldwide disease, matching the morning and mood. It was a good day to sit in the office and pay bills, thankful we can.

pelotonTo make sure we worked on our own health, we both got in our Peloton sessions. Even on colorless days, when we may not want to start, we do feel better after it's all over. My hour-long ride on a Maui highway used 906 calories, by far my best! (After so much exercise, I need to be careful to not eat hundreds more calories than I work off.)puzzle

Dinner came and went. Marianne worked on her art and I started another puzzle. This is our quiet pandemic life. We do try to think of more activity than this, but nothing seems worth the risk. We just need to be patient.

(This day in our history: 2017 Los Banos Art Show)

Sunday, January 10, COVID Day 303. Biden/Harris in 10 Days

chairsWith the Jura machine away for fixing, I start the day with trip to Starbucks. This may be the only chance I get to regularly drive our new car. In the coffee shop, I go inside, rather than to the drive-through, and greet the barrista and employees as a reminder of the before times, when chatting was normal. We try, but masks and a smaller staff hollow out the effort.

Since the old days, this store has been remodeled, but the new furniture remains stacked in a corner, unused. The level of currently-unusable resources in the world is astonishing, from new cars sitting in garages and chairs stacked in restaurants to schools, offices, hotels, parks, and so much more. Virtually all of those physical resources have people associated with them who are unemployed, underemployed, under-learning, and frustrated. Idle chairs.

Back home I read the Sunday papers. The New York Times is split between feature stories drafted weeks or even months ago and DC-invasion and peaking-virus news from the last hours or days. I can imagine it is hard for newspaper people to finish and present the older stories in light of the most-recent past, just as it is hard for me to write about coffee, walks, dinners, and the no-longer-new normal of pandemic life. Oh well, write we class

Marianne Zoomed into yet another art class. It's nice to see that her art hut and its installed technology are definitely not underutilized in the current times. She stays employed, even if cash flow has become unidirectional. That's OK.

My home distractions included a Facetime call from friend Ted. He and his wife are almost the only COVID victims we know by first name (except Sharron and Dick with whom we visited in Truckee). Ted looked good, a bit lighter than before his weeks in the Las Vegas hospital, but OK-enough. Importantly, his sense of humor still shows through, despite it all. It was an encouraging interaction.

Another distraction was a trio of NFL games on TV. I must not have been paying too much attention during the nine hours because I can't remember who all played, not to mention who all won. I just hope all these entertainers make it through the season as healthy as possible. (Even in normal times, professional football is not a healthy profession.)Tom garagesquirrel

Finally, I worked in a neighborhood walk, a short one. Tom's garage sign expounded on his enthusiasm for Fresno. Nice. Squirrels were running around, some posing for pictures. I pretend they are Elk or Mountain Sheep in Colorado or Lions and Tigers in the Serengeti.

At the end of our block, I pass by the COVID-testing station. It is closed on Sundays, illustrating one reason why case numbers vary day-to-day.

Nearby, I stop to chat in the sunset light with neighbors Jon, Susan, and Dr. Steve. We commiserate about the America shown bare by the Washington Invasion. We agree elements of evil have been there a long time, more than four years.

COVIDI complain about the pace of COVID inoculation and suggest the testing station should be quickly expanded to also include inoculation. Steve said he'd talk to the Health Department, which he did within hours. Maybe some progress.

(This day in our history: A cold start to 2009)

Monday, January 11, Pandemic Day 304, Biden/Harris in 9 Days

breakfastI started our work week with Starbucks coffee and breakfast at home, watching CNN. Any resolution to avoid over-doing news TV has been rendered moot. At least I am still holding to what I should eat, if not what I should watch. Impeachment 2.0 has started, for what I expect will be a short run. Democrats want The Donald gone and Republicans want everything to just go away. I would be happy with locking him in the White House until a different cell could be found.

Otherwise, we try to stay as healthy as we can. We exercise, eat healthy food (well-prepared by the star chef) and stay active and interested. One of the things we were interested in today was Governor Newsome's weekly press conference, mostly covering the Corona virus disaster our state is going through. He is not as folksy or entertaining at New York's Governor Cuomo, but he's reasonable. Unfortunately, he can not characterize the situation as anything but dire, particularly in Los Angeles and the Central Valley. Us. He was not encouraging for getting vaccines out broadly, but there are moves afoot to improve. We hope they improve enough for us to get a vaccine soon, or at least when it is our turn.

I checked my to-do list for the day and I think it was perfect -- perfectly untouched. That "old saw" about giving jobs to busy people if you want them done has a corollary: pandemic stay-at-home people won't get much done. At least that's the way it seems to be working for me.

productpainterMarianne remains busy with art. She has started a new piece and was in the "play" stage for this piece. This is an actual stage in the process she has learned whereby she gets to just mark up canvas and see what turns out. Here she is and here is what this stage produced. It will change.

(This day in our history: 2002, Back in Europe)

Tuesday, January 12, Covid 305, Biden/Harris in 8 Days

sunriseAnother early start getting coffee-to-go at Starbucks. The colorful dawn sky was promising.

After delivering coffee at home, Marianne and I headed out to Kaiser Medical Center, one of the few excursions we have nowadays. This time it was just for her physical therapy, although we would also try to get information concerning the possibility of Covid inoculations as well.

On the latter, we struck out. We were pointed to a Coronavirus information phone number, whose recording gave no timely new material, and a web-page that was similarly out of date. ("Out-of-date" may mean just not updated daily in these times.) While outside the hospital, I received a phone call from neighbor Blain saying she had found a way to get inoculations for teachers, like herself, and elderly, like us. Apparently the Fresno Public Health service is opening a new "mass inoculation center" at Fresno Fairgrounds, although when they will accept seniors (above 74) bounced around between Friday (15th) and Monday (18th). She had taken steps to schedule appointments for our most-senior neighbors, Vern and Joan. Great! We said we'd stick with agitating within the Kaiser system. (Ironically, she got a call from a doctor friend whose clinic had thawed more inoculations than they could use, so she and Ethan ran off to get a shot, a windfall victory.)

Beyond our vaccination efforts, the day was as normal as they all seem to be: art, diaries, dinner, puzzling, news reading and watching. After a dinner that was heavier than I should have eaten, I went out for a short walk. I saw an assortment of things to record in photos: a huge pile of street-side garbage, a feature our neighborhood will have for the next few weeks in anticipation of the annual trash day; a cute house whose owners seem to be keeping Christmas decorations up longer than normal, but I like the cheer; a neighborhood meeting of sorts. It seems conversations start no matter which Cambridge residents are out, a great feature of the place.

trashChristmas stillneighbors

There was nothing noteworthy beyond that, although I found myself mulling over the loss of faith in several America institutions. Certainly, the medical system has drawn criticism from the initial unpreparedness for a pandemic to the current incoherence in inoculation planning. Right-wing biases of the members of the police and government have been discovered that call into question their willingness to look inside their own ranks for bad actors. The military risks the tarnish of political prejudice as well. Even neighbors are viewed with suspicion as they politicize mask-wearing, display racial prejudice, and deny evil in some of their leaders.

Two weeks ago, I titled this web-page "Start of a Better Year", but have amended that with "(or Not)". Heaven help us.

(This day in our history: 2018, Fresno to Monterey)

Wednesday, January 13, Covid Day 306, Biden/Harris in 7 Days

We went out for breakfast, as out as we do nowadays: Starbucks takeout and then sit in the parking lot. Pandemic pathetic.

puzzleBack home, my to-do list was small and manageable, including a Peloton session. However, I did nothing the entire day except work on my jigsaw puzzle while watching and listening to CNN as they presented the second impeachment of Donald J. Trump. The man's crimes, culminating in the attempted takeover of Congress a week ago were clear, clear enough for a bi-partisan indictment. In one more week, we will have another administration and, I expect, the start of the Senate trial of this last one.

The last four years have been more chaotic than a crack mystery writer could possibly create and I expect we only know a part of it. More will come out in the Senate trial and the trials of the insurrectionists. The racism and hatred that has made America almost unrecognizable will take years or decades to wipe out because DJT's despicable followers will be with us still. We are still in a civil war, in my view, and reconstruction will be extremely difficult even after that war has ended.

Heaven help us.

(This day in our history: 2002, Orange and Avignon)

Thursday January 14, COVID Day 307, Biden/Harris in 6 Days

We took a country drive to take a break from television and computers (sort of, since the Tesla Model Y has a 15-inch computer screen in the middle of the dashboard.) We would make it all the way to the Pacific Ocean at Cambria, one of our favorite destinations. In the before times, this would have been a two-night stay at least, with good food and plenty of shopping. As a day-trip, food was less exciting and an over-and-back drive longer than our normal practice. But, it kept us from interacting with many people and that's what matters as COVID-19 cases climb.

We had our pandemic breakfast out, a Starbucks box meal and little egg thingies that Marianne likes. And coffee enough for the trip. The first part of the trip was almost directly west from Fresno, across vast stretches of fertile farmland, although it does not seem so in winter. Several large fields had sprouted rows and rows of solar panels, a crop that produces year around.


FirebaughOur first stop was at the Firebaugh Tesla Supercharger station on Interstate 5 that had been classified as the largest in the world with 56 "pumps", until it was recently surpassed by an even larger charging station in Shanghai. We probably didn't need power yet, but we topped up just because we could. After that, on the long stretch south on I5, we experimented with "Autopilot" where the Tesla will essentially drive itself. It will take a lot more experimentation before I am comfortable leaving the driving all to Carla.

PasoOne electric vehicle (EV) reality we discoverred was that driving at 75 or 80 miles-per-hour on the Interstate cuts down the battery range dramatically. By the time we turned off and drove over to Paso Robles, I figured we no longer had enough power to make it comfortably to Cambria and back. That meant another Supercharger stop, back up the road a few miles at the entrance to Paso Robles. This gave us a chance for a half-hour walk, apparently another feature of travelling with an electric car.

Finally, we headed over the coast hills to Highway 1 and the Pacific Ocean. I did not let Carla drive herself and I have to admit the Tesla is a very comfortable and capable drive, even using the human driver. Harmony

We stopped in Harmony, a kitschy village of 18 residents and no Coronavirus, according to a prominent sign. Mostly, we just shopped at the Harmony Pottery Gallery, picking up a couple of bowls to go along with purchases from earlier trips. If you are interested, it is possible to rent the entire village, including a tiny wedding chapel. Although I guess such gatherings may be pretty far in the future.

Cow inside
chapel rent a village

After shopping, we drove north to Cambria, to the "new town" part. All we had time for was to pick up sandwiches at Sandy's Deli & Bakery and find a place to park along Moonstone Beach. With imagination, it was a fine meal, served on a table with a priceless view. Good enough.

car parked lunch

Sea Gulls and Turkey Vultures for company.
turkey vulture

By 4 pm or so, it was time to leave. Sunset came before we made it halfway home, and the fog and haze immersed us in warm red and blue pastels. Pictures taken out the windshield don't do it justice, but that's all we took time for. Next time?

road road trees

On the drive back, we made our third Supercharger stop for the day, at Kettelman City, another watering hole on Interstate 5. This was the fanciest Tesla station we'd seen so far, with dozens of chargers and a small bar-restaurant (currently take out service only). We added about $5 worth of battery power, enough to make it all the way home without suffering that curse of EVs: range anxiety.

Tesla sign pumps

Ten hours, 350 miles, and three Superchargers after we left home, we were back again. I think the trip met all the goals we had: time away from our routines; more familiarity with EV travel; a lesson in Autopilot; a little shopping; and a water-view meal.

(This day in our history: 2002, The Pope's Vineyards)

Friday, January 15, Pandemic Day 308, Biden/Harris in 5 Days

I started the day at 5:10, calling Kaiser Health Services to arrange a COVID inoculation. The California governor had just opened up inoculations for 65-years old and above, and a Cambridge Avenue friend had sent an email saying Kaiser was scheduling. At about 7:25, a person answered. I said why I had called and she immediately said OK and started down a list of questions defining eligibility. I answered one set for me and one set for Marianne and by 7:40 we both had appointments for the afternoon of January 20th. Yippee!

While I was getting an appointment, other neighbors were also at work. Susan, who got her health-worker shot the day before, accompanied our most senior neighbors Vern and Joan to the Fresno Fairgrounds and helped them past the admission administrators. By 9:00 they had been shot, monitored, and returned home, another victory for Cambridge Avenue, where about half our neighbors have been inoculated as elderly, teachers, or health-workers. Half the rest are probably eligible and I would expect them to follow up shortly. I wish all of America could be so lucky.

After my successful phone marathon, I shifted to a Peloton marathon, but before I could finish, Marianne had run into a technical glitch on the remote art class she had been planning on. I shifted to IT mode, but to no avail, as we concluded the mistake had been made weeks ago and was not recoverable at this late hour. She was disappointed, but will make it through, with the help of her art partner Claudia.

Dinner came and went, a simple hamburger patty and salad affair. Low calorie and good .. enough. After dinner we joined Jen, Brian, and Geoff in our Friday-evening Zoom game night. As before, it was a time to learn a bit about family developments. Grandson Rich had just sent off a half-dozen applications to Colorado colleges, a real milestone. We wish him luck in finding his path growing up. It's never been easy and will not be for him. (BTW, the group's game skills are not getting better.)

(This day in our history: 2002, Goodbye France, Hello Spain)

I'll finish this page now, with half of January done. This page started with the thought that this would be the "start of a better year". Was it? Our lives had settled into a quiet sameness, for a about week. Our machines were serviced, both cars, the furnace, and the Jura coffee maker and these made the worth-remarking-on threshold. Nothing exciting, but arguably "better".

Then came the January 6th Insurrection, the first of the "in-" words for January. We watched dumbfounded, thinking this could not be, but also that it was inevitable. Since then, we have returned to continuous news monitoring, daily receiving new and frightening details about the condition of America.

John and Marianne