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My internal dialogue as I woke up this morning

Submitted by John on Fri, 01/14/2022 - 06:29

Me, waking up with a sense of needing to do something today: Hello?

My internal voice: Hello.

Me: Uh. What's happening today? 

Voice: Pandemic.

Me: Yeah, right, Pandemic. That's not nearly specific enough. Do I have to get anything done? Are there deadlines? Should I be panicking? What's the metanarrative?

Voice: I don't know yet, I'm still waking up myself. 

Me: ... You're helpful. 

Voice: *shrugs*

Me: 

Voice: It's a workday. You have some work related deadlines. Also looks like we have a series of in person things we have to do today, in the middle of Omicron flying around.

Me: Ah. Got it. Thank you for helping me calibrate my expectations. 

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Speaking of Delicious Food

Submitted by John on Thu, 01/13/2022 - 21:04

I deeply enjoyed this recipe for tuna melts. I halved it and it worked great.

The cooking of the tomato in the oven was such a good idea (although, I think it's important to get the slices on the thin side so they cook through).

The kids were not fans. My wife said "I think it's too complicated for me", but I loved it.

  • 1/3 c. mayonnaise
  • Juice of 1/2 lemon
  • 1/2 tsp. crushed red pepper flakes (optional)
  • 2 (6-oz.) cans tuna
  • 1 ribs celery, finely chopped
  • 2 dill pickles, finely chopped
  • 1/4 c. finely chopped red onion
  • 2 tbsp. freshly chopped parsley
  • Kosher salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 8 slices bread, such as sourdough
  • 2 tbsp. butter
  • 1 tomato, sliced
  • 8 slices cheddar

    Instructions

    1. Preheat oven to 400°. In a large bowl, whisk together mayonnaise, lemon juice, and red pepper flakes (if using).
    2. Drain tuna then add to mayonnaise mixture. Use a fork to break up tuna into flakes. Add celery, pickles, red onion, and parsley and toss to combine. Season with salt and pepper.
    3. Butter one side of each bread slice. Top an unbuttered side with approximately 1/2 cup of tuna salad, 2 to 3 slices tomato, and 2 slices of cheese. Top with another slice of bread, buttered side facing up. Repeat with remaining ingredients and place on a large baking sheet. Bake until cheese is melty, 5 to 8 minutes.

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    My canonical hamburger

    Submitted by John on Thu, 12/30/2021 - 22:11

    So my canonical cheeseburger has:

    • lettuce (preferably iceberg, sometimes leaf, sometimes shredded, sometimes both)
    • tomato
    • sauerkraut
    • ketchup
    • mustard
    • relish
    • pickles
    • rarely, but sometimes, mayo
    • pickled onions
    • sliced big circles of raw onions
    • sautéed onions
    • sautéed mushrooms & peppers
    • sometimes thinly sliced sautéed jalapeños
    • and a perfectly fried sunny side up egg right on top

    Burger itself is a blend of hamburger (prefer a fattier blend when grilling, but usually go with 85/15 on a frying pan on the stove), regular Quaker Oats (a bit more than a handful or so per pound of meat, and I have small hands), a raw egg, quite a lot of Worcestershire sauce (not optional!), and generous amounts of seasoning. Here's one option: salt, pepper, paprika, garlic powder, finely chopped fresh thyme or fresh oregano, and if no fresh herbs are on hand, dried oregano, kind of sparingly compared to paprika (cannot have too much) and garlic powder (use lots). Another option: cut back bit on all of the above and replace with Penzey's Turkish blend. 

    The goal of the oats is to bind everything together because you're adding a lot of liquid. If you have a fattier grind you could maybe add a bit more oats. 

    Layer the seasonings and the meat! Put in 3/4 of an inch or so of meat into the bowl, season with all powders, repeat. Then add the oats, egg, and Worcestershire. Hand mix, don't over mix. Let it sit out to take the chill off while you prepare the toppings above.

    Cheese! I try to avoid cheddar because it doesn't melt very good. I usually don't use blue cheese, but sometimes do if I am missing some of the toppings listed above. 

    The secret to how I make all of that above is the cast iron pan. And even though I am usually making burgers for 8 other people in my family, everyone else only wants lettuce, tomato, ketchup, mustard, relish, and pickles, maybe a bit of onion. So I only have to prep everything else for just me, and since I'm only making one (large) burger, and that's a lot of different toppings, I only need to prepare a little bit of everything. 

    So the cast iron pan. I make burgers for absolutely everyone else in the house. Shoo them out of the kitchen, then I put my largish size patty on the cast iron. In the other corner of the cast iron, I put on the mushrooms, onions, peppers, and jalapeños (don't forget to season!). Depending on the size of the pan I am using, sometimes I can cram the egg in there too, but often times I use the smaller egg pan to get the egg right, if there's lots of crusties on the bottom of the burger pan. The egg won't flip right and it gets to be a problem. 

    Then it's a matter of cooking everything up so it finishes at the right time, and that takes practice. But when it's all done, I have this monster burger... that I eat all alone in the kitchen because everyone else has run off. Still delicious though. 

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    At least I got a good shoulder workout

    Submitted by John on Wed, 12/29/2021 - 20:48

    I've been working on making a carving bench for some time now. Nearly 9-10 months maybe? Kind of like this: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=a_TML30m-fk

    Found a log that was the right size, as well as another larger diameter one to use as a base for the axe work. 

    I put maybe 20-30 hours into cutting and shaping it last spring. (Mostly by hand, with an axe, then a draw knife.) But around end of April, beginning of May I started working on other projects and set it aside. In part, I needed some tools that I know I own but haven't been able to find since the move. 

    Refusing to buy replacements for tools I already own, I borrowed the tools I needed from a neighbor last week, and sat down to work on the bench today. 

    Unfortunately, after I lifted the bench off the axe block, I noticed a dark strip where the bench was in contact with the axe block. The green wood of the axe block wasn't able to dry in that spot, and it had fostered some mildew growth.

    And... a whole mushroom had fruited in the bark on the underside of the bench!

    I thought maybe I could salvage the bench by just taking off the bark, but when I started taking the bark off the *top side*, farthest from the mushroom, I could see the mycelium had spread throughout the whole bark layer. It didn't smell like anything I wanted to keep in the house, so I chucked the whole thing outside. 

    Ah well. Now I need a new axe block and a new log to make a carving bench out of.

    Omicron Update

    Submitted by John on Fri, 12/17/2021 - 03:38

    Alright folks, it's time for an Omicron update.

    I mean, it could be worse. But if you look at "how bad is this going to be for the health care system", it's going to be quite bad, and possibly even worse than that. 

    You've probably heard that Omicron is milder than other forms of Covid. This is true, and it's good news! So why would a milder form of Covid be bad for the health care system?

    First off, it's looking like Omicron is more transmissible than Delta. This means that if someone gets Omicron, they're more likely to pass it on to more people. 

    The second bit of bad news is if you get Delta, it doesn't do a good job of protecting you against Omicron, and if you get Omicron, it's not going to do a very good job of keeping you from getting Delta. 

    These two facts combined are going to be quite bad for all of the hospitals out there. For one thing, we are already in the middle of a Delta wave in the United States. Some doctors and nurses have been raising the alarm about how bad Covid is getting this winter. A wave of Omicron on top of our existing Delta wave is going to push hospitals to the breaking point, and possibly past it. Some hospitals are already turning away patients, the Delta wave is still not peaking, and Omicron hasn't even hit in force yet. 

    Even though Omicron gives milder cases, people are still dying from Omicron. Omicron is still sending people to the hospital. It's still sending people into the ER. It's still going to be a big strain on the healthcare system as a whole. 

    So what's the good news? 

    The first bit of good news is that even though Omicron is better able to slip past the natural antibody response of the adaptive immune system, the killer T-cell response is mostly not going to be fooled. So if your adaptive immune system has been exposed to Covid, either through infection by Covid or through a vaccine, you have some level of protection against serious disease or death.

    The second bit of good news is that we have a vaccine that is protective against the Omicron variant. It's three shots of Pfizer or three shots of Moderna. 

    Are you going to ask "Why do we need three shots if one or two shots didn't work the first time?" Are you going to make me answer this question when it's already way past my bedtime?

    Alright, but only because I love you and don't tell Mom we stayed up this late. 

    Your immune system has two parts. The first part is known as "innate immunity." You can think of this part as the first responders, because that is what they are. The biggest chunk of this innate immunity are the neutrophils. They attack every germ they see, whether they have seen the germ before or not. They can chase germs down, break apart connective tissue between cells to squeeze in there if there's a pocket of germs hiding away, call in more neutrophils for backup, and more. 

    If neutrophils are so great, why don't we have more of them? Well, it's because they are fairly expensive to make, in terms of body energy. So you just have enough for day to day needs (like when you eat your fries without washing your hands), with a reserve force in case you get a small cut or something like that. 

    If a neutrophil catches a germ, they engulf the whole thing, and take apart the germ and split it up into proteins. Then they examine each protein a very small piece at a time, looking for any spots in the protein that an antibody could possibly attach itself to. 

    These spots where antibodies could attach are called "epitopes". The neutrophil slices out the epitopes and sends each one along with a message to the bone marrow that says: "Hey, I found this thing, I think it's important! Start making antibodies for it!"

    And this brings us to the second part of the immune system, the adaptive immune system. The bone marrow gets all of these requests for antibodies, all over the time, all over the place. It makes antibodies, but it also makes more antibodies for an epitope if it gets more messages about the epitope. 

    It tunes the immune system response based on what it has seen before!

    The bone marrow really starts remembering all of this, remembering just how many messages it gets for each epitope. The more messages, the stronger the memory. The stronger the memory, the longer it will take for the memory to fade, and the quicker the body can gear up the antibody factories in the future. And the more recent the messages are, the more likely you are to have antibodies in your blood stream. 

    Why is your body doing this? Well, in part it's because antibodies are super cheap for your body to make. One cell can make MILLIONS of antibodies! 

    Amd here's a cool thing about this memory response of the bone marrow. If an immune system cell captures a germ with antibodies attached to it, it immediately tells the bone marrow all about it. And the bone marrow then pays closer attention to those antibody messages, because it knows for sure that that particular antibody is working!

    So the first shot of the vaccine just gets the bone marrow started, and kicks off that initial antibody response. 

    When the second shot hits, since you still have antibodies in your blood stream, some of the antibodies bind to the spike proteins. This is a much stronger signal to your bone marrow! This new stronger signal, plus the existing signal coming from the innate immune system, provides a good level of memory response, good enough that your body can handle the Delta variant effectively. 

    The third shot deepens the memory response of our bone marrow even more, which enables our immune system to mount an effective defense against Omicron. Even though Omicron is evading a certain amount of our antibodies because of the mutuations in the spike protein, the third shot boosts the level of all of the rest enough that it (very nearly) makes up for it. 

    And that's why three shots provides robost protection against Omicron!

    Which brings me to my final point. Omicron is going to be all over the United States by January. And it's growing at an exponential rate. "Oh boy, here we go again" I hear you say. And oh, I am right there with you friend. I'm tired, and not just because it's 3:30 in the morning when I'm typing this. 

    But, here's what I'm asking you to do. To the extent that you have the energy or capacity to do so, please consider taking your Covid precautions back up a notch. Right now, wearing your mask is the most bang for your buck you're ever going to get for the next year or more. Maybe you wear a mask in more places than you have been doing before. Or you upgrade from your old cloth masks to a new pack of N95 masks. Keep more distance away from others, linger less in the grocery store. Order some food to go instead of dining in. Stay out of all stores during peak hours. 

    I do not want to be sitting here asking you to do this. I don't want to do a bunch of this stuff myself. Earlier in the week, I was supposed to go eat lunch with my mom. Instead of dining in or even sharing a to-go meal in the car, she went to the store and picked up some sandwiches, drove to my work, and she ate hers in the parking lot in her car, while I stood 6-8 feet away and I ate mine. 

    I just want you all to be prepared and have a good understanding of what's coming. By the time January rolls around, all of the news reports will be about how many "fully vaccinated" people are getting sick with Covid. Or unvaccinated people who already had Covid so they thought that they didn't need the vaccine, but then they got it a second time. Don't be surprised when you see it.

    Stay safe. 
     

    Dry Turkey

    Submitted by John on Fri, 11/26/2021 - 09:05

    Lets talk about dry turkey.

    Yesterday I cooked the turkey, checked the turkey temp, pulled the turkey out when the thermometer said it was done (which matched the recipe time, so I figured I was in the right ballpark), let it rest before carving, started carving, noticed pink, realized where I made my mistake when checking the temps earlier, bundled the turkey back up and put it back in the oven, FORGOT TO TURN THE OVEN BACK ON, and then, after I corrected that mistake, it got up to 163 degrees and stayed there for over 45 minutes....

    When I tell you the turkey was dry, the breast was crumbling as I carved it. I mean, it tasted good (thanks, pre-brined fresh turkey) but wow was it dry. I doused that turkey in gravy and it was still sucking all of the moisture out of my mouth. 

    The time I was able to hand deliver a karma package

    Submitted by John on Tue, 10/05/2021 - 21:04

    This story takes place in a Target parking lot. This particular Target is always busy (at least it was back then), and the parking lot, well I was going to try to draw what the parking lot looked like but then I realized I could just take a screenshot from Google Maps: 

    Image
    An aerial view of a large parking lot near a target store, with only a few very long rows for cars

    So as you can see, the parking lot is shaped like a large oval, with the short end tucking between the Target on one side and the J.C. Penney's on the other side. 

    Look at those long, long aisles of parking spaces! If you didn't compromise quick and get in at the back of the lot, you could be slowly driving through a massive line of cars with no hope of a parking spot, only to turn around at the top and do it all over again. 

    Usually I compromised quick because I don't mind the walk, but one day I was in kind of a hurry and I was hoping for a spot nearer the door, because I was picking up some medicine for my pregnant wife and was trying to hurry home. And the clouds parted and a shaft of light pierced down from heaven and for the most part the aisle I was in was packed with cars, but not busy, so I got in quick and then got the first or second spot, right next to the handicap spots! I mean, I literally could not believe my luck. It's the closest I've ever parked to the entrance of any big box store, ever. I went in to pick up the medicine and some chocolate. 

    On my way out, the parking lot had only gotten even more busy. The whole lot was now gridlock as cars were just plonking themselves in the aisle to wait for someone to unload their stuff and get in and go, and the aisles are narrow besides and people have giant SUVs they are trying to cram into all of these little spots. It was a massive mess.

    So I'm coming out of the store, and I need to cross the lane in front of the store to get to my car. 

    As I am waiting for a safe moment to cross, I take in the situation. There's some folks who are loading up their bright green car and getting ready to leave. And there is a woman in a red car coming up around from the top, getting ready to go back down to try to find a spot. She's eyeing the green car spot. The green car starts backing out. The red car lady sees me trying to cross, and she waves me over to cross, but clearly that spot held by the green car was going to be hers. But, because she waited for me, another car ZOOMED up and AROUND the green car and squeezed in before she could get a chance to get that parking spot!

    I looked over at her and she was so indignant, not at me, she was just gesturing at the other car that stole her spot like she couldn't believe it. It was truly a dick move because of how the other car sped up and around the green car. Instantly, I knew what needed to be done.

    I walked back in front of her car for just a little bit and waved to get her attention. She gave me a quizzical look. And I made a "come follow me" gesture and I did the most ridiculous prancing dance 15 feet over to my car and pointed at it with both hands! She immediately caught on, got a huge grin, and then stopped exactly where she was at. I got in my car and backed up, making sure to block the ability of any other car to get into that space or get around me in any fashion. (Believe me, the folks coming up the aisle the other way started inching up, but I wasn't having it!)

    It was a flawless execution! I backed out, blocking everything, and she turned in front of me and got my space (which was even slightly closer than the one she missed out on), and I drove off ecstatic that we pulled it off!

    It's a hot one

    Submitted by John on Sat, 06/19/2021 - 07:19

    It's been so hot for the past couple of weeks. But even worse than the hot, it's absolutely refused to rain for quite some time.

    We got a hose to water the decorative grass and it's too short, and the water pressure at the front of the house doesn't allow for a decent sprinkler (still have to figure out why that is, the easy answers are not the answers), so the plants by the front of the house are working fine and the plants on the edge of the yard are looking rather bedraggled.

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    Moving

    Submitted by John on Sun, 12/27/2020 - 00:00

    We're moving in a few months, and as soon as we made the decision, my stress level went through the roof. So to cope with it, I decided to make a plan and map everything out. I have a few different areas of the house that I'm responsible for, so I listed them all out. Got pretty granular, and divided the garage and basement into zones, and everything.

    Based on the number of zones (20) I allocated around two hours a day, and two days worth of work to each zone. Spread all of the work out over the course of two months, and leave 20 days of "just work on the rest of the house" days.

    Based on how much I got done today, I think I'm already behind. Ugh.