С Днем Рождения, Машка!

Мой ангел

Dear Readers,

Today is a special day! My history crush/guardian angel Mashka turns 121 in actual years, but she is eternally 19. In honor of her birthday, I decided to do a special post that links all of my previous posts about her. So if you are new to discovering my history crush, this post will explain it all. But first, I have to share the birthday tribute video that I made. Previously, I had made a long tribute video but the YouTube Nazis took it down. So for her birthday today, I made an even longer one! You can watch it here. But hurry, they may take this one down eventually too. I included a couple of my funny edits in this video. You’ll recognize them when you see them.

If you are wondering where my love for Maria Nikolaevna comes from, you can read these two pieces, but make sure that you read them in order. First, read this one that tells you about how I first discovered who she was. Then read this one, where you can learn about the time she saved my life and thus how I know she’s my guardian angel.

I like music, and so I also made an epic Mashka playlist on my phone. You can see what songs are on it here and also learn about what it is in each song that I relate to her.

In case you are wondering, yes, my office at the college is basically a shrine to her. (Though I haven’t set foot in my office since March 5th, thanks to The Rona). I also sleep with a picture of her next to my bed. And a photo of her is a screensaver on my computer and my phone. Though I do have a lot of photos of her on my author page on Facebook, I also have tons of them on my phone.

So happy birthday to my blue-eyed angel, Mashka. Я тебя люблю.

Sadly, Maria’s remains along with those of her brother have never been buried and have spent the last twelve years in storage. The Russian Orthodox Church refused to accept 25 volumes worth of scientific reports indicating that the remains found in the original grave were the Romanovs, minus Maria and Alexei. And when those remains were discovered in 2007, tests proved conclusively that they were the children of Nicholas and Alexandra. The Russian Orthodox Church rejected all of that documentation and demanded more testing be done. It was, and no surprise, it should the same thing. So then the Church rejected those tests results too…the ones they asked for. In fact, none of the Romanov remains ever received a full Orthodox burial, but at least the others are united. For f–ks sake, why don’t they reunite Maria and Alexei with their parents? It all comes down to petty politics and the Church being upset that they were kept out of the loop when the initial grave was discovered. This is their stubborn, petty revenge. Enough is a enough.

L.H.

Civil Wargasms: A Podcast

Dear Readers,

After many requests and much cajoling, I have started a podcast. It will focus on the Civil War and I am calling it: Civil Wargasms. You’ll notice a new tab by that name on my website homepage and from there, you can access the weekly episodes. Or you can subscribe to it via Apple Podcasts or Podomatic. And…I have also made a Facebook page and a podcast account on The Twitter.

It is not for the faint of heart or those with no sense of humor, as it will focus on some of the salacious and gory aspects of the war. This is history as it really was and not as we wished it was.

So until next time, take care of yourselves, and each other.

L.H.

For Whither Thou Goest, I Will Go

Dear Readers,

This might be a somewhat shocking update. Then again, it might not. Despite my best laid plans of editing Molly’s Song whilst working on the first draft of Dark Raven, it hasn’t worked out that way. Though I’ve written a little of Dark Raven and, despite having the whole thing plotted out and outlined, the story just isn’t grabbing me by the unmentionables at the moment. The edits of Molly’s Song are progressing well, which might actually be the root of the problem. Having to immerse myself in Molly’s world once again, a world I last inhabited in November when I finished the book, has made it difficult to move back and forth in time from the Russian Revolution to the American Civil War. As I’ve said before, so this isn’t giving you any spoilers, Molly’s Song is the first of a projected three (or possibly four) book series. I wanted to write Dark Raven while preparing Molly for publication and then return to her after Dark Raven was published. Well…it ain’t gonna be like that after all.

Molly’s Song ends with her headed west and I hoped to pick up her story after Lincoln’s assassination. As I said a post or two ago, my pain levels have been quite severe of late and as a consequence, I’m not sleeping much at all. (Keep in mind, I don’t sleep much anyway, so what is happening now would be best described by saying that I’m just plain not sleeping. Period.) Part of the reason why I wanted to write a non-series book in between Molly’s Song and her second book is that I had no idea where I wanted to go with the plot of the subsequent books. A few nights back, I was sitting on my porch around 0300 enjoying some Brigadier Black: Antietam tobacco in my pipe and listening to a Civil War era playlist on my phone. That’s when it happened. It was as if a voice in the darkness was whispering in my head. By the time the voice was done, I had the entire plot to Molly’s sequel in my brain. Maybe it was Maria Nikolaevna, who has a birthday coming up, was the one who gave me the plot! But I digress.

Originally, I had a vague idea of starting the sequel with her safely ensconced in St. Louis or points west. Not anymore. As she is leaving New York in the summer of 1864, there is still plenty of Civil War left. Rather, the story will open with her in Franklin, Tennessee on the morning of November 30, 1864, on the eve of the worst Civil War battle you’ve never heard of. What took place at Franklin on the evening of November 30th is a horrific tale. It was obscene and vile what took place there. It’s my “favorite” Civil War battle, though I loathe to use that word to describe a battle. But I want my Molly there to witness it for all it’s glory and all it’s horror. I say all of this simply to get to this main point, rather than writing Dark Raven while finishing up the edits to the first book in Molly’s saga, I have gone ahead and plunged into writing the sequel and it is going splendidly thus far.

So why Franklin? Well, I’ve previously written about a recurring dream that I have on the anniversary of the battle every year. Also, my great-grandmother had a grandfather and two uncles who took part in the Army of Tennessee’s ill fated charges upon the Federal works. All three men lived well into their 80s and so she knew them quite well as she was in her late teens/early 20s when they died. She once told me that her relatives, who had fought at Shiloh, Perryville, Stones River, Chickamauga, and the Atlanta Campaign could talk with great mirth at their first experience with artillery fire. They could describe with great clarity being on some of the bloodiest fields of the war. They could boast about stacking Yankees up like cordwood at Kennesaw Mountain. But if you asked them to talk about Franklin, all they could do was weep.

Obviously this is just part of her story, but I want the reader to experience this battle, unknown except to the the true Civil War enthusiast, through her eyes. Molly bade me follow her, and so I will tag along and see what she has planned for herself.

Until next time, Dear Readers, take care of yourselves. And each other.

L.H.

P.S.: I have avoided comment on this on my website because people follow me to read my opinions on Russian literature and writing, not politics and society. However, I do feel as though I need to address something here. There are times when you can’t and shouldn’t remain silent. I categorically oppose racism and discrimination. It is a great evil in this world. Everyone, regardless of race, class, gender, religion, or sexual orientation, deserves to be treated equally. We are all human and it is high time we start treating one another humanely.

Molly’s Sources

Dear Readers,

It has been 13 months since I came across some photos of an unnamed 19th Century prostitute and, while reflecting on the image, recalled the lyrics to “Runaway Train” by Soul Asylum. Helen of Troy may have had a face that launched a thousand ships, but my ‘Molly’ launched a novel. I’m going through the editing process at the moment, for a couple of hours a day as I have other tasks taking up my time too. Fingers crossed, I hope to introduce you to Molly and her world at the end of the year. If you like books with strong female leads, you’ll love Molly just as I do, for she’s got a song in her heart and a knife in her boot.

Spending a year delving into the world of 19th Century prostitution and sex trafficking was depressing to say the least, but every now and then, I came across some great and often amusing sources which I will share with you here. You might find them of interest too. Keep in mind though, that as my wife says, I have the emotional maturity of a tubercular poet in the 19th Century, which is fair, given my affinity for Uranus jokes. I say that only to say this, if you have the slightest prudish tendencies or are desirous to avoid frank discussions of sexual content, even historical sexual content, you might want to give these sources a pass.

Perhaps the most interesting piece is this slim volume titled A Vest Pocket Guide to Brothels in 19th Century New York for the Gentleman on the Go. It was published in 1870 and gives very detailed descriptions of the various houses of ill fame which existed in the city at that time. Perhaps the most amusing part is in the beginning, the anonymous author says, “But we point out these locations in order that the reader may know how to avoid them…”. Sure….and I have a bridge I’d like to sell you. In my novel Molly’s Song, she works in a second tier establishment. Not the fanciest but not the seediest place either.

If you are going to be traveling through 19th Century New York, it is absolutely necessary that you know the language of the streets. Luckily, we have this dictionary of the slang terms used by the unfortunates who roamed the streets of 1850s New York. Are you a badger? A baster? A broken leg? Or a Confidence Man? Check out the dictionary to find out!

Published in 1869, Sunshine and Shadow in New York by the English visitor Matthew Hale Smith takes you a grand tour of Gotham. From wealth and splendor to abject poverty and misery, Smith spares you no details. And, as an added plus, the book is full of amazing illustrations worth of a volume all their own. And, Dear Reader, you can see the whole thing for free here!

If the history of sex and gender is you thing, then checking out this podcast is a must. They have a series of episodes on the history of sex and a very useful episode that delves into the details of the brothel guide referenced above. There is also another great episode about Civil War veterans and violence/imprisonment. This strips away the bogus image of the past as a place where there was no sex, no violence, and nothing but people going to church all the time. As I always say, Dear Reader, if you are the type who talks about the “good old days”, remember, you could buy a ten year old virgin on a street corner in New York City in 1860.

The Exploress podcast has a great episode on “public women” in the 19th Century. She covers a lot of ground in just over an hour and gives you a full look at how working girls, well, worked and how they were viewed and treated by society at the time. Given the rigid gender norms which society clung to in the 19th Century, any woman who did not conform often found herself labeled a prostitute, public woman, fallen woman, or soiled dove regardless of whether or not she was actually a sex worker. There was also a widely held belief at the time that “normal” women did not enjoy sex and thus prostitutes were obviously of loose morals since they must really enjoy sex otherwise they wouldn’t be prostitutes. Truthfully, prostitution back then was driven by the same dynamics of today. Sex trafficking, narcotics addiction, and economic desperation is what brought women into the brothels, not their enjoyment of sex.

This is the book which contains the photos of the prostitute who inspired Molly’s Song. The photos were taken in Pennsylvania in 1892, so obviously I decided to put Molly’s character here during the Civil War for reasons that I explain in the Author’s Note of my book. But all of the photos in this book are remarkable, not just the photos of ‘Molly’. They are artistic, and though it does contain lots of nude photos, they are not vulgar or pornographic. (And I’m saying that as someone who is a bit of a prude myself with heavy infusions of Irish Catholic guilt!)

And, of course, we have the song and original music video of ‘Runaway Train.’ Both the lyrics and the actual video worked in concert with the photos to provide the inspiration for the book. Writers are dreamers by nature, and perhaps when all is said and done, the series of Molly novels will be made into an Amazon or Netflix series starring Madison Lintz (with red hair) as Molly and having this song as the theme song. I think that would be grand indeed!

Obviously this is not even remotely close to all the sources I used. In a future post, I’m going to share some 19th Century quotations about NYC prostitution which will no doubt amuse and perhaps even repulse you.

So until next time, Dear Readers, take care of yourselves.

And each other.

L.H.

Imagine a Catchy Title…

screaming man

Dear Readers,

I struggled to even come up with a title for this post. It’s been a rough two weeks for me. I woke up in the day after Memorial Day and knew right away that I was in for it. Typically, I know how rough a day I’ll have within ten minutes of waking up. For a solid week, I battled horrific back spasms, neck spasms, and pain in my shoulders. It all stems from my injuries, so there is nothing new wrong with me. Friday, I had a toradol shot at the doctor that didn’t even make a dent in it. Then, on Monday, June 1st, I woke up feeling better. Back to normal, really. (My normal pain level is a 4 to 5/10). It was my son’s high school graduation and I made it down for the ceremony and was able to stand for the whole time (because I can’t sit on metal bleachers). I went to bed that night thinking that I’d put the latest flare up behind me. Tuesday started off good too. I was confident that I’d turned the corner.

And then, I reached for something and my entire back locked up again. And on Wednesday, my right knee decided to join the party and it locked up too. I live in constant pain, but I’m used to it being a certain level that I can manage. Protracted flare ups like this scare me because I don’t know if it is the new normal. If so, I don’t know how I can cope with it. It’s the kind of pain that forces everything else from your head. I’m used to working through pain. I’ve written two novels standing up because I can’t sit down, but right when I was wanting to start writing my third, this hit me and I haven’t been able to put so much as a single word on paper yet.

There’s nothing that can be done for me that hasn’t already been done or tried. The damage is too significant to my spine and more surgeries just risk serious complications with no chance of improvement. We all have our crosses to bear, and this one is mine. This is my reality. There is a point in my second and forthcoming novel Molly’s Song where our young heroine says, “The world is just a prison without walls.” I channeled my own frustration into her voice because that’s exactly what it feels like to be me. But that’s life. You hope in one hand and sh-t in another, and see which one fills up first.

L.H.

Restoration Update

SideNew

Friends,

Last week was…crazy. We had the house rewired. They are 98% done and will be out tomorrow to take care of a few smaller things left to do. While that work was going on, we uncovered some interesting things about the house. And did some other restoration work in two rooms. It’ll be a while before we are completely done, but we have some ideas on how to return it to its original 1930s appearance inside. I think when we are done with all the work, I’m going to write the whole story of how we came to buy the house, what work we’ve done to it, and what we’ve learned about it while living here. It’ll be short story length, most likely.

Enjoy your Memorial Day Weekend.

Until next time, take care of yourselves, and each other.

L.H.

Quick Update

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And as I work, a photo of my Mashka watches over me.

Dear Readers,

I will not be posting a weekly pandemic journal on Thursday as I have been doing for the past nine weeks or so. With the disruption caused by the electrical repairs to the house which start today, I won’t have consistent power inside to type each day’s entry. (We are replacing the entire electrical system, all the wiring, breaker panel, etc). Also, today I start working on my third novel, tentatively titled Dark Raven and set in Imperial Russia through the war, revolution, and civil war. My history crush Maria Nikolaevna, my Mashka, will be making a cameo appearance at one point in the story. I’m starting the first draft out by writing by hand due to the electrical work.

So to tide you over until I post again, here are a couple of links to the two songs that inspired this novel. The first one you can listen to here. And the second one is here.

Until next time friends, take care of yourselves. And each other.

L.H.

Human Trafficking Awareness

Hutch

Friends,

As those of you who’ve followed the progress of my novel Molly’s Song (hopefully out this winter), you know that it touches on human trafficking in the 19th Century. As a firefighter, of course I knew a little bit about human trafficking, but we weren’t provided with much training at all back then. As a person with an academic background in history, I knew a little bit about the historical context, especially in the 1800s. However, I had no idea how prevalent and pervasive an issue it was until January of 2018. It was my first semester at the college and we had a professional development day prior to the start of the semester. One of the sessions I attended was on human trafficking. I had no idea that the area that I had lived for the past several years was one of the major hubs in the country. It was taught by a colleague who, apart from being a professor and a truly kind and caring human being, is also the President of the Restoration Life Project. You can find more about the organization here. It is dedicated to helping survivors of human trafficking rebuild their lives. This is such an important mission. Survivors need advocates like this who are willing to extend a helping hand.

And lest you think that trafficking is only an urban problem, please understand that it happens everywhere. It happens in rural communities. It happens in upscale neighborhoods. It happens in the suburbs. It is all around us and if we don’t know what to long for, or if we are willing to turn a blind eye, then it will persist forever. The victims are not nameless, faceless entities. They are our sisters, our brothers, our husbands, our wives, our sons, and our daughters.

So what can you do? Get involved. Educate yourself about the issue. Learn the signs to watch for. But how can I do that, you ask? The Restoration Life Project offers awareness sessions that are now online due to the ongoing issue with COVID-19. I’m going to quote from the email below:

“Restoration Life Project is still on its mission!  Sadly, even a pandemic is not enough to put an end to human trafficking. Therefore, we are moving our awareness chat sessions online until at least August 31st, 2020. If any church, community organization, employer or family would like to schedule an online chat session to learn more about human trafficking to be provided by RLP members, please send an email to therestorationlifeproject @ gmail.com (just remove the spaces). Chat sessions are free, but donations are needed and appreciated.  Stay safe and remember the RLP slogan… Love restores!”

So please, friends, consider getting involved in the fight to end this scourge upon society. There are ways to get involved in every community, but it all starts with an email or a phone call. Let’s all work together to make this world a better place. And what better place to start than our own communities.

Until next time, friends, stay safe.

Lee Hutch

Journal of a Pandemic Year: Part Nine

tatiana

Tatiana looks quite pleased with herself.

May 8th

 A bit of good news this morning. Actually, a lot of good news. We were able to secure the funds to rewire the house. 11K for a total rewire and a new breaker panel to bring the house up to current code. They will start work on May 18th. We can’t do it next week since it is final exams for me and so I need to have electricity and internet service to grade exams, enter final grades, etc. I think we’ll be dead before we are finished paying for all of the upgrades, but that is okay. It needed to be done. I’ll sleep better at night knowing that we’ll have a reduced risk of an electrical fire. We’ve been playing Russian Roulette with that for a while now, ironic, me being a retired fireman and all. So, if you are keeping track, that’ll be 25K in upgrades since this whole Rona thing began, not the virus has anything to do with it.

To mark the 75th Anniversary of VE Day, I’m having a Foyle’s War marathon.

May 9th

 Though the Western Allies celebrate VE Day on May 8th, due to the time difference, the signing of the surrender wasn’t announced in Moscow until just after midnight on May 9th. Yuri Levitan, the official radio voice of the Soviet government, made the official statement which you can listen to here. Incidentally, he was also the individual who, at eleven am Moscow time on June 22, 1941, told the Soviet people of the German invasion. You can find that announcement here. His voice was so recognizable that Hitler declared that upon the capture of Moscow, Levitan would be the first person killed by the Germans. All of his news broadcasts opened with the words, “ГОВОРИТ МОСКВА” (‘Moscow speaks”).

Though I suppose that I should be watching some epic Russian World War Two (or Great Patriotic War, as they call it) dramas today, I am forging ahead with my Foyle’s War marathon since I have quite a few more episodes to go. Instead, I will give you some recommendations here! One of the more recent ones that I’ve seen is Ancestral Land. It is a sweeping family epic that begins in the pre-war period, but the viewer follows the fortunes (or misforunes) of the family through the war and into the post-war period. At times funny, at times tragic, it is a worthy successor to the epic Russian dramas which have come before it. It is free if you have an Amazon Prime account, but if you don’t, you can find it, with English subtitles, on YouTube here. The tale of the all-female Soviet fighter pilot squadron known as the Night Swallows was also made into a series. It is excellent. I also recommend The Attackers and Three Days in the Life of Lt. Kravstov. Check out the Star Media YouTube channel for lots of series, covering all sorts of subjects, with English subtitles.

If you prefer books to TV, the classic Russian novel to come out of World War Two is Life and Fate by Vasily Grossman. It is often called the Soviet War and Peace. That’s an accurate statement, as it is massive in scope with lots of characters to follow, just like Tolstoy’s masterpiece. When he originally submitted the book for publication, it was seen as so inflammatory by the Soviet government that the KGB raided his flat, seized the manuscript, his notes, and even the typewriter ribbons! Grossman was told that the book could not be published for two or three hundred years. However, it was published in English in 1960, but the first Russian language version wasn’t published until 1980. This is somewhat akin to Doctor Zhivago which, despite being written in Russian, was originally published in another language. Though the book is widely available on Amazon, etc, if you want a special quarantine treat, you can find the BBC radio play adaption of the novel on Audible here. Who doesn’t like a good radio drama, right?

I’m in a lot of pain this afternoon. My back is really unhappy. It is funny, really. There is so much damage in my lower spine that it is impossible to figure out why there is still so much pain, but it doesn’t matter, I guess, since there is nothing that they can do for me that hasn’t already been done. They can transplant hearts, lungs, and kidneys, but they really can’t do any more for a damaged spine than they could do a hundred and fifty years ago (other than fusion operations, which usually don’t have good outcomes). The benefit of having a damaged spine one hundred a fifty years ago is that you could order morphine through the mail, no questions asked. I don’t want to go on a rant here, but the problem with the government pushing the “opioid crisis” is that it doesn’t have an impact on illicit drug users. They don’t obtain their stuff legally anyway. So instead, the DEA and CDC go after legitimate patients. If you were to look at my MRIs, you’d see how remarkable it is that I can even get out of bed. The doctors have said as much. But I can’t get adequate pain control because of all the restrictions. That said, I do get some and I make do with what I have. Truthfully, I have to be able to function anyway, and so more medication would make that difficult. Still, it would be nice to not have days like this. On my best days, my pain level is a 4. My usual day to day pain level is a 6. That’s my normal. Days like this are up around an 8. It is difficult to describe the pain, other than it feels like someone is pounding me in the back with a sledgehammer while simultaneously zapping my legs with cattle prods and sticking an ice pick into my hips. Fun times, right? I’ll be laying on some ice packs here in couple of hours. That always helps some.

May 10th

 I’ve had a lot of congestion in my chest due to allergies. Coughing is absolute murder on my back. The medication and ice helped yesterday, but I’m suffering today. Thankfully the coughing calmed down after I had been up for an hour or so. Due to my spine, I have to sleep flat on my back with a pillow under my knees. This means that overnight, all of the allergy gunk settles in my chest and getting out of bed in the morning triggers coughing spasms which then trigger back spasms. I’m assuming it is allergies, because they have been pretty bad of late, and not The Rona. I have no fever and don’t feel feverish. It is funny that with The Rona, allergy season has turned into the Salem Witch Trials. One cough and every stares at you. Or so I’ve been told. I’m avoiding going out in public.

This morning, virtual final exams opened. They’ll be closing at 11:59pm on Wednesday, May 13th and grades are due Friday, May 15th at noon. Final exam week, professors are usually bombarded with emails begging, demanding, cajoling, etc, a higher grade than what was earned and/or the opportunity to turn in an assignment that was due three months earlier. It is bad enough during a regular semester. This time, I’m expecting it to be REALLY bad, but we’ll see. Not to mention the fact that Blackboard, our online learning platform, is known to crash during periods of peak usage and now we have every single student taking every single final online. Most probably won’t log in to do them until Wednesday afternoon/evening. It’s a recipe for disaster, but there isn’t anything we can do about it. The important thing is, the semester is almost over. I’ll be glad to see it go. Lord knows what the fall will bring. Right now, the college is forging ahead with plans to have everything be business as usual in the fall. I’m not sure if that is wise or not. I think we should be making serious contingency plans.

May 11th

 I got a decent night’s sleep last night. It may very well be due to the dose of Nyquil I took about thirty minutes before bedtime. Today, I had to do some grading and, of course, the emails have started trickling in from students who haven’t turned in a thing all semester but still somehow feel entitled to an A. Yesterday, I finished my Foyle’s War marathon. Today, I am watching Band of Brothers and last night I watched Battleground, which is one of my favorite World War Two movies of all time. I’m just ready for Thursday to get here so I can enter grades and put this whole semester behind me as quickly as possible. I’m pretty sure that everyone feels the same way. But I don’t know what things will look like moving forward. The jury is still out on what the fall semester will look like.

I’m working on giving up the cigarettes too. It isn’t going all that great. With the downtime caused by the quarantine, I’ve had eight weeks in which sitting on the front porch and having a smoke is the only time I get outside the house. (I don’t smoke inside the house). This might actually explain some of my lung congestion, now that I think about it. Quitting, I mean. Yesterday, I made it thought the day with only ten cigarettes, down from my usual 30 or so. That’s a step in the right direction. Today has been better. I’ve only had three and it is already 1 pm. So I’m getting there, and I will get there, it’ll just take time. It is funny, but several years ago, back in 2012, I quit for a year and a half. I just woke up one day and said I wasn’t going to do it anymore. Never had so much as a craving. I remember wondering why people said it was so hard to quit when I had done it so easily. Well, I’m finding that out now.

May 12th

 Yesterday, I had an appointment for the electrician to stop by between noon and two to go over what we’ll need to do to get the house ready for the rewiring. He didn’t show up, but this morning I got a message from him on my cell phone saying that the office told him that I wanted him to call me. So maybe I just got confused with what the office told me. Regardless, I’ll call him back here in a little bit. It can easily be discussed over the phone instead of in person, so I’ll be able to get my questions answered. I do know that it is going to be a challenge for us given how small the house is and how full of furniture it is. Furthermore, I am unable to move any furniture owing to my damaged spine. We will probably have to have some help. A lot of help.

Tomorrow I have a task force meeting at ten. It is the task force on re-opening the college. This morning, I’ve looked over the draft plans for resuming normal operations and found some flaws, but I’m not sure what can be done about them. I’m afraid that we are planning for the best case scenario and ignoring the worst case scenarios. That’s the opposite of how it should be. We should be preparing for the worst case scenario and hoping for the best case scenario. I guess I’ll have to be the “bad guy” at the meeting and ask the uncomfortable questions that no one else wants to ask. (I have a bit of a reputation for doing that anyway). State entities like colleges are between a rock and a hard case with our governor acting like everything is fine, yet our daily case counts are the highest now that they’ve ever been. Maybe the pandemic will burn itself out this summer and we’ll be fine in the fall…for a while at least. People are predicting a second, potentially worse, wave in the fall. Who knows what will happen?

My allergies have been extreme today. I started sneezing immediately upon getting out of bed. Allergies have been bothering me all spring, around the same time this quarantine thing started. It is funny, but for the first 29 years of my life, allergies never bothered me. However, all that changed in 2007. I don’t know why/what happened to cause them to kick in, but they have. Every spring since then, I deal with sneezing, runny nose, occasional sore throat, and a dry cough. I loaded up on allergy medication this morning, and I’m doing a little better now. (10:30am)

This morning, I’m watching a British reality series called Churchill’s Agents: The New Recruits on Netflix. In the show, they take modern British volunteers and put them through the WW2 Special Operations Executive selection. For those who make it, they move on to the training portion. It is very interesting. Following the end of World War Two, my grandfather was part of the first contingent of Americans to arrive in Berlin. He stayed in Germany until early 1947 and was involved in Operation Paperclip. One day, a group of civilian men in uniforms visited him and offered him a civilian job to stay on in Berlin. He figured out that it was doing intelligence work for what would become the CIA. He said no, and they put him on a plane headed home the next day. At that point, he’d been overseas since 1942 and in the Army since 1940, and so it is understandable why he was ready to return to the States.

I talked over the game plan for repairs with the electrician by phone today. On Monday they are going to replace the panel. On Tuesday and Wednesday, they will re-wire the kitchen and living room. On Thursday and Friday, they will do the bedrooms and bathroom. We will be without power entirely on Monday while they do the panel but will get it back at night. After that, they will shut it off to the room they are working in but leave the rest running, so we will have some power during the repairs instead of being without power for the whole five days. That’s a definite plus. I now have a plan for how to move the furniture and where all to put it. As I said earlier though, the issue will be physically doing it since I cannot help at all and my wife can’t do it all by herself. We will manage though. I’m sure of it. It is five days of inconvenience and after that, we can sleep soundly knowing that the risk of fire is greatly diminished. (Not all the way diminished, since there is always a risk. But right now, our current electrical system is VERY risky.)

May 15th

 I just realized that I skipped two days of entries, but I had the last day of final exams and I had to enter grades. Also, they start working on the rewire job on Monday, and power will be sporadic for most of next week, so I probably won’t post on Thursday and will post over that weekend instead. (They’ll be finished by then.)

Until next time, friends, take care of yourselves.

And each other.

L.H.

Journal of a Pandemic Year: Part Eight

Rona

May 1st

Yesterday afternoon, the doctor’s office called and said that I could do a telehealth appointment this morning instead of going into the office. I jumped at that chance, obviously. My appointment took around ten minutes, which is the same length it takes when I go in person, but the difference is that I didn’t have to drive twenty-five minutes there and twenty-five minutes back home. So it definitely saved time, not to mention, it means no exposure to The Rona. I did go to the pharmacy yesterday, and I’ll probably have to go back later this afternoon to pick up the prescriptions renewed at this visit. Also, yesterday afternoon I bid adieu to my hair and shaved it all off. I sincerely hope it never gets that long again! I felt like a hippie.

Haircut

We are nearing the end of the semester, thankfully. One more week of “classes” and then final exams the week of the 11th. I’ll be slammed with grading on Sunday as I have writing assignments coming in from all six classes. Originally, I had my big 1301 and 1302 assignments due one week apart to make it easier on me to grade them, but with The Rona and all, I wanted to give the students as much time as possible to work on them. It makes for a more compressed grading window for me, but that is okay. I’m usually a fast grader anyway, and I’m going to get a head start tomorrow by grading everything that has been turned in up to that point. I’m ready to get this semester over with, as I’m sure my students are too.

As soon as it ends, I’ll turn my focus to writing my third book. I know, I know. You want to read Molly’s Song. I’ll be working on edits in the afternoons while I’m writing the first draft of the third novel in the mornings. I still hope to have her story wrapped up and ready to go by mid-October. I want to stick to my schedule for writing the third book. The bright side is that Molly’s Song and the third novel ought to come out in rapid sequence, so at least there is that, right? I have my days where I wonder why I spend so much time and expend so much of my limited energies writing books that, let’s be honest here, aren’t bestsellers. I don’t have a ready answer for that other than to say that writing makes me happy (while at the same time frustrating the ever living shit out of me). I don’t write for fame or fortune. I write because it is the only thing in my life that gives me a sense of excitement that approaches that which I felt in my previous occupation. On the subject of writing, I’m wondering when I should consider bringing my Journal of a Pandemic Year to a close. Our state is starting to re-open today and so we will not be in lock down mode much longer. I might keep it running for a few more weeks, maybe through 10 installments, and then evaluate where the state and country are at that point. (I think this early re-openings are going to cause a resurgence in cases, but that is just my opinion).

May 2nd

 The night before last, I made a new friend. I was sitting on my front porch around 8:30pm, and an orange and white cat came up and got in my lap. She looks like she is around eighteen months, maybe two years old. Her fur is in good condition and she looks healthy, so I am assuming that maybe she belongs to someone who lets her out at night. Last night, she came back to visit me again. She is very talkative. I offered her some food, and she ate a little bit, but didn’t seem all that hungry. I wonder if I’ll see her again this evening. I guess I’ll find out later.

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My new friend. I call her Tatiana. 

For breakfast this morning, I had a piece of red velvet cake and a can of Ensure. My stomach has been angry with me ever since. Given my history of recurrent bowel obstructions, every twinge in the stomach is enough to send me into panic mode as it gives me flashbacks of NG tubes and weeks in the hospital, not to mention surgeries which rearranged my intestines. I’m hoping that it eases up soon. I’d hate to be in the hospital right now. That would almost certainly put you at risk of catching The Rona. Plus, I think the hospitals around me are not allowing people to have visitors, so that would REALLY be boring! And don’t even get me started on the fact that there aren’t any sports to watch either! No thanks. I’ll just hope this discomfort passes. This is a bad time to have either a bowel obstruction or The Rona given that next week is my final week of classes, and the week after is final exams and grade deadlines. I started this semester in the hospital and I absolutely do not want to end it the same way.

It’s kind of funny to think about, but apart from not going to work five days a week, the lockdown hasn’t really changed my life all that much. Other than work, I only leave the house for doctor appointments or trips to the pharmacy (and occasionally the convenience store). I’m not leaving for doctor appointments now, but I still make a once a month run to the pharmacy. Other than that, I’m in my room working on my computer while some television program mindlessly drones on in the background. At 6:30pm, I lay down on my ice packs for an hour and read while watching TV with Anastasia. I get up and sit outside from 7:45 to 9:00 and talk to my wife (and also the orange cat now). It is ice packs again at 9:00pm. At 10, I get up and have a snack. I turn the lights out around 11. I’m waking up around 7 or 730 these days, which is preferable to the 0530 wake up call during normal semesters!

May 3rd

 I’ve discovered a new epic period drama to binge watch. It is called Love in Chains and it is free for those who have an Amazon Prime account. You can find it here. It is a Ukrainian production, but filmed in Russian. If you do not speak Russian, don’t worry…it has English subtitles. It’s a love story set in the mid-19th Century. The landscape and the costumes are stunning, as are quite a few of the actresses, if I may say so myself. It ran for two seasons with 48 episodes total, so it’ll fill some of your days if you are finding them empty. At times funny, at times brutal, it is a worthy companion to other great Eastern European period drams. I try to watch a certain amount of Russian language programming each month to keep my comprehension skills up, but I’ve been a bit negligent in that regard during The Rona.

LoveinChains

Love in ChainsNo….it’s not like Fifty Shades of Gray, despite the name and image

My stomach is feeling a little better today, actually, it started to feel a little better last night. So I’m fairly certain now that it wasn’t a new small bowel obstruction, or, if it was, it cleared on its own. It could have been due to the large piece of red velvet cake I had for breakfast. Perhaps that was not the wisest morning meal. Otherwise, I feel okay, apart from the usual stiffness and pain in my spine. I’m used to that, or a certain level of pain. I only notice it if it is worse than normal. The orange cat has come by every night and she also stopped by this morning. I am calling her Tatiana. I think that’s a good name for a girl cat. (Kind of like my “little” princess Anastasia). I saw some news footage from down the bay in Galveston yesterday. It was packed with people and no sign of people wearing masks or social distancing. Admittedly, it was a beautiful day yesterday. But do you want The Rona? Cause that’s how you get The Rona. I guess some people think it is worth the risk, yet they’ll be the first ones bitching when they get sick and can’t get immediate care due to all the others who also got sick from not adhering to the guidelines. We saw this all the time in fire department. The very same people who love to talk about how much they support first responders are the first ones to complain if it takes us more than thirty seconds to get to them when they call 911. Human beings are not rational creatures, despite what we may believe about ourselves. I don’t know if I believe in aliens or not, but if they are real, then it is no surprise to me that they won’t come down and visit us. I’d stay away too.

May 5th

 I skipped an entry for yesterday, May 4th, because very little of note happened. It was Saint Florian’s Day. He’s the patron saint of firefighters and so it is also International Firefighters Day. That’s not really a day that I know how to celebrate though, especially seeing as how I’m no longer on the job. For my bitch session for yesterday though, my college sent out an email yesterday afternoon with a mandatory two hour online training we have to do that is due the same day our grades are due. It’s the end of the semester, and we are all swamped with everything that goes along with that, and now we get this dumped on us. The email said the training is to comply with a new bill that passed the legislature. But…..the bill isn’t new. It passed in May of 2019, and this training has been made available at other institutions weeks ago. For example, my wife did the exact same course in early April. So I’m very curious as to why we are just now being made aware of it.

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Saint Florian, pray for us.

This morning, I typed a final exam for my 1301 course and uploaded it to Blackboard along with a new review sheet. That took up a few hours. Tomorrow, I’ll tackle 1302. The end of the semester is in sight and it cannot come soon enough for me! Given the way the semester started, I was already ready for it to be over and that was before The Rona. I’m looking forward to seven weeks of no emails and nothing to do school wise until it is time to prepare for my Summer 2 courses. That’ll take some work though since I’ve never taught a 5 week course online. Usually, I teach face to face in the summers, but that is out the window now. For evening distraction, I downloaded a new game for the PlayStation. I wanted to branch out and play something outside of my usual games, so I bought a hockey game. It’s been fun so far, and somewhat educational. My knowledge of hockey is limited to the fact that I know the US beat the Soviets in 1980. That was about it before I started playing the game. Now, I know what a power play is and what offsides and icing are. It kind of reminds me of basketball, but with skates. Incidentally, I have never been ice skating. In the 80s when roller skating rinks were popular, I couldn’t make it five feet without busting my ass on the ground, so I avoid any chance to ice skate since, at least to me, that looked a lot harder than roller skating. However, I will gladly defer to someone more knowledgeable about both than I am.

I did see today that my city has the third highest number of Rona cases in the county. Lucky us, right? And yet everyone here is going around congregating in public places with no masks and no gloves all because the governor said that it is okay to re-open things. We’ll see an explosion of cases in the next ten days, no doubt. Also…finally…the painters are supposed to come back this afternoon to put another coat of paint on the rails around the porch. They were supposed to be here this morning. It is now almost 3pm and they aren’t here yet, but will allegedly be here in around thirty minutes. That’s great. But…we have a strong line of storms that is going to start pushing through the area at around 5:30pm. Which puts us right back at square one.

May 6th

 The painter managed to finish in time to let everything dry before we got pounded by more storms last night. It is a typical pattern for this area in the spring. Once a week or so, sometimes more, it’ll be hot as hell all day and then a massive line of fast moving storms will blow through around sundown. Thankfully we are far enough south that the weather has usually started to break up by the time it gets to us, so we avoid the hail that often accompanies it. At least now, with the new roof, things are a little more secure. Though I’m sure that if it got damaged, the insurance would figure out another way to deny it. And on that front, still no word from them in regards to the additional documentation they submitted. The documentation was submitted on April 16th. I emailed them to check the status and they said it was “in review” on April 28th. (Funny how it took less than a week to deny the claim but they are dragging their feet with the review). I’ll send another email next Tuesday and tell them that if I haven’t gotten an update by the end of the week, I’ll be turning it over to my attorney. It is bullshit that I have to do all this for a $7500 claim which even their own adjuster said was wind damage. Now, I’m going to write my 1302 final exam.

I got excited earlier today because I had a call from a 512 area code. I knew it would be the insurance. It was! But all they said was that the claim had been forwarded to a different department to review and that I would have a decision in two weeks. That’ll be six weeks since I submitted the additional documentation and close to two months from the time of the original claim. I guess I should just be happy they haven’t said no yet, but I’m sure they’ll say no in two weeks. The important thing is that it is fixed. The bad thing is that I need the insurance money to be able to replace the wiring. Patience is a virtue though…or so I’ve been told.

Waiting-Memes-52918-aad4877

So I finished the 24 episodes of Love in Chains. I’m hooked and eagerly went to start Season 2. That’s when I discovered Amazon’s tactic! Season Two is not free for Prime Members and instead, costs $19.99. Of course I paid it! Like I said, I’m hooked!

May 7th

 And just like that, another week has gone by. Time is passing pretty quickly. Yesterday evening, I learned that I was nominated to be the Task Force to Re-Open the College. I guess we will come up with a phased plan for re-opening. I guess we’ll be meeting via BB Collaborate or doing everything by email. I have a sneaking suspicion that my inclusion is due to the email I sent back before Spring Break with a laundry list of things we should be doing to prepare for what ended up becoming a reality. That coupled with the fact that I am unable to say no when asked to handle something or do something work related. It was the same way in the fire department. I always ended up doing extra stuff (for no extra pay, mind you) when asked. I guess I’m of the mind that if it has to be done, it may as well be me doing it.

My final exams are made and I’m caught up with grading for now. It’s all over but the crying. I am fairly certain that, with all our students taking all their finals online, that Blackboard will crash at some point next week. My guess is that it will go down around 8pm on Wednesday when every student tries to log in and complete every final at the last minute. (The deadline is 11:59pm on Wednesday the 13th). Blackboard is a great course delivery platform, but it does tend to be a little buggy and it has a tendency to crash during periods of peak usage. That’s the nature of the beast, but we’ll make the best of it since that is all we can do.

I cannot begin to tell you how ready I am for the semester to be over. It’s not that I have big plans for the summer or anything. I’ll still be socially distanced at home. It was a bad semester for me before The Rona, and it didn’t really get any better as time passed by. Next week will be a headache, for sure, but once I’ve submitted grades on Thursday morning, I can finally breathe a sigh of relief. I’ll take that weekend (15th through the 17th) to mentally switch gears, and then I’ll dive into writing the first draft of Dark Raven on the 18th. Getting lost in Imperial Russia and swept up in the Revolution is just the ticket to put a taxing semester behind me. Who knows, maybe I’ll run into my Машка or my literary crush Aksinia. On that note, your homework assignment for the summer is to read Quiet Flows the Don and The Don Flows Home to the Sea. They are technically one book, but were published as two when translated into English. There is no need to write a book report for me though, just read them and enjoy them, as I have many, many times.

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Я люблю тебя, мой голубоглазый ангел.

Until next time, Dear Readers, take care of yourselves, and each other.

While keeping a safe distance, of course!

L.H.