Journal of a Pandemic Year: Part Nine


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.


Journal of a Pandemic Year: Part Eight


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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!


Journal of a Pandemic Year: Part Seven

April 24th

 The exterior work on the house is almost done. All they have left to do is replace the rails on the front porch and paint the new rails and also the rails on the back porch (but we aren’t replacing those). They will be here tomorrow to take care of that. So it will be a somewhat welcome respite for the noise. I have to say, the paint job looks really good. This morning, I walked out to the street to take a look. A few people driving by stopped to say how nice it looked. Even the local meth addict was impressed with it. It’s quite the face lift for the old gal. The house was built in 1932 and turned 88 this year. From outside, it looks like a brand new house. Inside…well, that’s a different matter entirely.

There is increasing chatter in some of the college faculty groups I frequent made up of faculty from all over the country about what the fall semester will look like. As it stands, my college has made the decision that all summer classes will also be online, but no word on the fall yet. That’s okay, since the fall is still quite a ways off and there is plenty of time to make that decision. I’d wager my college will make it by mid-July, and a lot can change in between now and then, both good or bad. I suppose it is always like that though. I quit making long term plans after I got hurt. Now, I take things day by day. In a way, it makes life a little more manageable. I don’t know. Some may disagree with me. But that’s the way that works the best for me. Your mileage may vary somewhat.

The weather was damn near perfect today too! We had a nice breeze off the Bay and sitting on the front porch in the evening reminded me of why we bought this house in the first place. (Other than the fact that at the time, it was one of the few we could afford…)

April 25th

 Today will be the last day of work! They arrived at 0800 and got after it. My hunch is they should be finished around noon, maybe two pm. Now, on Sunday, we have to reseal the decks out front and back, but we are doing that ourselves. Rather, my wife, my brother, and my nephew are doing it and I will supervise. (Since I am unable to bend at the waist, not to mention do a whole host of other things like twist, lift more than five pounds, etc, I am useless when it comes to doing anything physical which frustrates me beyond all measure since I had a very physical job before I got hurt).

Also, April 25th is ANAC Day. It commemorates the landings on the beaches at Gallipoli during World War One. The best book I’ve read recently about the campaign is Gallipoli by Peter Fitzsimons. You can find it on Amazon here, but I actually enjoy the audiobook which you can find here. Eric Bogle told the story of the doomed landings in a song called And The Band Played Waltzing Matilda, though I prefer the cover by the Pogues. Go here and give it a listen, but have a tissue handy. And while we are on the subject of songs written about the Great War, Bogle wrote another one called The Green Fields of France. Check out the cover by the Dropkick Murphys here.

This is the roughest day I’ve had physically since this whole Rona thing started. Words do not and cannot describe the pain. My whole back is locked up solid and my knees are throbbing too. I have some medicine, but I can’t take it until bedtime since it makes me fuzzy headed, and so I’ll be suffering all day long. I badly need something to do distract myself, but the pain makes it hard to think, focus, or concentrate. I can’t work on anything writing related at the moment, since I’m not only in this pain, but also stressing over where we’ll find the money to get all the wiring in the house replaced, not to mention waiting to find out if the insurance changed their mind and will pay. I sent an email to the claims handler at 1230 on Thursday, but have heard nothing since. I don’t know if that is a good or a bad thing. Initially, the adjuster came out on a Thursday and the claim was denied on Wednesday. We sent the additional documentation in on a Thursday, and now it has been over a week. I’m not holding out much hope. If they deny it again, we’ll probably end up taking them to arbitration. In thirty minutes or so, I’m going to lay down on some of my giant ice packs. Sometimes that helps. Sometimes that doesn’t.

Well…crap. There was ZERO chance of rain in the forecast for today. ZERO. And as soon as they had the new rails built for the front porch and were ready to start painting, what happens? A fucking thunderstorm. Lightning. The whole nine yards. I doubt they’ll be able to finish today, so maybe tomorrow or more likely Monday. Damn weather guessers. I wish I had a job where I could be wrong half the time. Imagine if half the patients we touched in the fire department died. Or we could only put out a fire half of the time. Or if I entered the wrong final grades for half my students. When I was a kid, we had a local weather guesser come and talk to my elementary school. When I went home, I told my grandfather that I wanted to be a weatherman when I grew up. He said, “There’s only two kinds of people who try to predict the weather on the Southeast Texas coast. Newcomers and fools. And you’ve lived here all your life.” So to the fire department I went.

April 26th

 They managed to get the first coat of paint on the porch rails despite the rain, but they’ll have to come back either today or tomorrow, probably tomorrow, to put on another coat or two. That said, it is basically finished and looks great. I haven’t been paying much attention to the latest news on The Rona apart from the occasional headline. In the early days, I followed the headlines about the virus quite closely. In fact, I started paying a lot of attention to it in January, long before most people here had even heard of it. We started taking steps towards managing in a potential lockdown scenario in mid-February. Thus my wife and I were well prepared. That said, I kind of got burned out with the constant news coverage starting in mid-March. It’s odd that I paid so much attention to this story to begin with since I swore off watching the news years ago. I find it better for mental health that way.

I finished Season One of The Sopranos yesterday morning. It was pretty good and definitely well written. Still, as I mentioned in a previous entry, mafia movies/shows aren’t really my thing. Instead, I’ve turned to Boardwalk Empire. I’ve seen the first season before. The fashion and period music alone are enough to highly recommend it. Did you know that Steve Buscemi was a New York City firefighter before he became an actor? He spent four years with Engine 55 in Little Italy. And then, after 9/11, he returned the day after the attacks and spent two weeks working at Ground Zero recovering remains. He wouldn’t let the media take any photos of him, and so a lot of people at the time didn’t know about it. Once a firefighter, always a firefighter.

I’ve seen some people talking about how you should spend the time in quarantine learning a new skill. I’m learning how to colorize black and white photographs. As you can imagine, most of them are of my history crush, Mashka. But I’m also doing some old school firefighter photographs and even my grandparents’ wedding photograph. It is kind of fun, though some photos lend themselves better to the addition of color than others. Although honestly, I think there is something hauntingly beautiful about old black and white photos.

There are a lot of period dramas on Netflix and Amazon in series format. You have period crime dramas like Boardwalk Empire and Peaky Blinders. You have period family dramas like Downton Abbey. You have alternate history dramas like The Man in the High Castle and The Plot Against America. Not to mention the myriad of period war dramas such as The World On Fire and many, many others. Do you know what we don’t have any of? Period firefighting dramas! Imagine, you could combine it with a crime thriller (arson, perhaps) and have it set in late 19th Century with horse drawn equipment, or, for heightened drama, in the late 1910s as horse drawn equipment is phased out and replaced by motorized apparatus. If you look across the whole scope of television (including Amazon and Netflix), there haven’t really been all that many firefighting dramas, mostly because of the expense. Or at least, not all that many when compared to police/crime dramas. And, historical dramas are even more expensive due to sets, costumes, etc. But it would be really cool to one day see a period firefighting piece. Don’t look at me though. I’m not a scriptwriter. I just do books and blog posts and shit.

April 27th

 The painters haven’t show up to do the second/third coat on the porch rails. I guess I’ll have to call the contractor this evening. But it’s nice having a day with no work going on. Yesterday, my wife and my brother did a bunch of yardwork. I had another electrician out today to give me a second estimate (it will be emailed to me later) and I am having a third come out tomorrow morning. That’s the government employee in me…get three estimates before you make a decision! For example, when we had our HVAC replaced in 2017, the first company to quote the job quoted me a price of nearly 13K (for a 900 square foot house)! My neighbor suggested another company, and their quote was just below 8K. When I asked that company why their quote was so much lower than the first company, the technician took a look at the original quote and said that the first company wanted to replace all of the duct work which wasn’t necessary. So you can guess who I went with!

I think our governor is supposed to be giving a public statement at 1430 hours talking more about his plan to re-open the state, despite our issues with testing. I’ll give it a pass. There are lots more interesting things on TV to watch at this point than another self-congratulatory press conference. Politicians standing in front of the cameras talking about how good a job they are doing every time there is a crisis gets on my nerves. That would be the equivalent of me giving a news conference and praising myself every time I grade something. Or the firefighter me giving one and singing my own praises every time we ran a call. Speaking of grading, I think I may be behind on some of that at the moment.

April 28th

 We had another electrician out today. He gave us some slightly better news. He said that we don’t need to get the panel replaced and to rewire the house would cost around $7500. That’s not a bad price and is doable IF the insurance reimburses us for the roof. He said it would take around three days. The bad news is that he thinks that they would still have to cut patches in the sheetrock to run the wire. This would mean that eventually, we’d have to float it and paint the inside of the house, which we will do at some point in the future anyway. Until then, it isn’t like we host lavish dinner parties or anything. The only people that ever set foot in our house are relatives or very close friends, and that is a rare occurrence anyway. So we will probably go with this company IF the insurance pays. I did get an email from the claims handler this morning and she said that it is “in review,” but I guess it has been in review since April 16th or 17th. So that’s a lot of reviewing.

So I’ve starting reading (actually listening on Audible) to Vietnam: An Epic Tragedy by Max Hastings. He is an esteemed historian of World War Two, though he has written on other subjects, including the Korean War. It is interesting to hear the story from an outside point of view, as most of the Vietnam War books that I have read are written by Americans. Hastings did spend time in Vietnam as a reporter during the War, but he notes in his introduction that the book contains none of his own personal reminisces as he wants the book to be a full history, not a memoir. Fun Fact: Many years ago, I had the pleasure of befriending a veteran of the French Foreign Legion who had fought at Dien Bien Phu. I actually find the French War in Indochina fascinating, though it doesn’t get much coverage in American books. If you are likewise interested in the roots of our involvement in Vietnam, check out Street Without Joy and Hell in a Very Small Place by Bernard Fall. The first book was written in 1961 and, if our own government would’ve headed the warnings contained therein, might have prevented our own debacle in Vietnam. Fall covered the French war as a reporter and returned to cover American involvement. He was killed by a landmine in 1967. Fall was dictating notes into a tape recorder when he stepped on the mine, which captured his last words.  “We’ve reached one of our phase lines after the firefight and it smells bad—meaning it’s a little bit suspicious… Could be an amb—”. I don’t know how I ended up here, but to return to my original point, check out Max Hastings’ book. It’s very good. (And read Falls’ books too, for that matter). And if you are interested in the full history of the French Foreign Legion, check out The French Foreign Legion by Douglas Porch.

So I finally got the quote from the company that came out yesterday. 17K which is completely ridiculous for a 900 square foot house. I’m okay with a plan to upgrade the wiring now and wait until later to do the panel, but honestly, I think if we are going to do it, it might be a bigger cost and inconvenience up front, but less down the road if we get it all done. We have decided to go with the first company which quoted us 11K, but that is conditioned upon getting the insurance reimbursement and securing the funds to pay the remainder ourselves. If the insurance doesn’t reimburse us, then there is no way we can afford it and we will just have to take our chances.

April 29th

 It’s a good thing that we got the roof fixed. We had a strong line of thunderstorms move through around 0500. Very high winds, lightning, and heavy rain. Thankfully, we did not have any hail. (How messed up would that be? Get a new roof and then have it damaged a week later). I didn’t sleep all that well last night, I guess I was nervous with the knowledge that we had storms inbound. Funny…I never worried about the roof when we had the old one, but now that we have a new one, I do. That makes no sense, but human beings aren’t necessarily rational by nature, so there’s that. I’ve mentioned before that the college has made the (correct) decision to move all summer classes online. We are waiting for word on the fall semester, but I image it will be a few months until we find out. For the time being, I’m not making any advanced plans for the fall until I know for sure.

I’m still not planning on getting out of the house any time soon, apart from my doctor appointment on Friday. I fear that the governor’s rush to re-open the state in order to ingratiate himself with the political leadership in Washington will lead to dire consequences for a lot of people. Our per capita testing ranks in the bottom five in the country, so acting like we don’t have many cases (when we are still adding over 800 new cases a day) is gross negligence, in my opinion. Sure, the economy is suffering. But it’ll suffer a whole lot more if The Rona really blows up and reaches the dire predictions in the death toll made in mid-March. The reason why the hospitals in this state haven’t been overrun with patients is because people have followed the stay at home orders. Lifting them, while perhaps giving a short term benefit, may have serious consequences in the long term. But I could be wrong. I hope I’m wrong. Time will tell.

April 30th

 Today is hair cut day! I ordered a set of clippers from Amazon when I realized I wouldn’t be going to the barber shop any time soon. I last got my hair cut in mid-January, right before the semester started. Normally, I get it cut every 8 weeks and I had planned on going to get a trim on the Saturday before we returned from Spring Break. As we all know, that didn’t happen. So now I am at 14 or 15 weeks since my last cut and my hair is longer than it has been since the 1980s. Since I normally keep it short, it is interesting to see what color it is. It’s actually lighter than I thought it was, though there is a bit more gray in it than I’d like to see. The gray hairs come from being married to a redhead. I have an outing scheduled today too! It is a quick trip to the pharmacy drive thru to pick up my acid reflux medication. Unfortunately, I’ll have to make another trip after tomorrow to pick up the prescriptions that come with my doctor appointment, but I need the acid reflux medication for tomorrow morning before the appointment, so I can’t wait.

I still haven’t heard back from the insurance company about reimbursing us for the cost of the new roof. It is amusing, in a way, that it took less than a week to deny the claim, but it has now been two weeks since we submitted the additional documentation and they haven’t said a word. Normally, I’d say that no news is good news, but that usually isn’t the case with insurance. The longer it takes, the more likely it is that they are coming up with more reasons to deny the claim. Whatever. At least the roof is fixed. That is the important thing.

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

From a proper distance, of course.


Journal of a Pandemic Year: Part Six


April 18th

 We are in the process of trying to get the insurance company to re-evaluate their decision. Our contractor submitted a report and estimate to them, along with some more photos. We’ll see what happens. I’m not holding out much hope, but the total repair cost isn’t too egregious. (Less than 10K for tearing off one layer of asphalt shingles and one layer of cedar shake shingles, re-decking the entire roof, and then a new asphalt shingle covering.) Thankfully, with a 900 square foot house, the roof isn’t all that big and there isn’t much in the way of tricky angles, etc. We will see what happens. In the meantime, we have more strong storms forecast for later this weekend and there is still only a blue tarp covering it. Sort of reminds me of the aftermath of a hurricane when blue tarps dot roofs all over town. Dealing with all this yesterday is what there isn’t a separate entry for April 17th.

And now on to a totally different subject. This is something that I have been thinking about a lot over the course of the past few weeks but I have resisted writing about it, probably because I didn’t really want to admit that I was feeling this way. As a retired firefighter, I often get asked if I miss the job. Since my retirement was due to injuries, it’s not like I had a big farewell tour or anything. It just happened. That said, enough time has gone by that under normal circumstances, I don’t miss the job anymore, with the exception of sliding down the pole. I’d love to be able to do it just one more time. I’ve found other things to occupy my time and I try to stay focused on that. Or at least I did before The Rona. My second career as a college professor occupies both my time and my mind, which typically has meant that I don’t have as much time to think about my own injuries/pain and the life I had before. The Rona has changed all that. Being at home now, I have more time to think. That’s not always a good thing. Right now, fire departments in the United States, particularly in urban areas, have been hit hard by the virus. They are running their asses off all the while, having personnel test positive for the virus. As a trained firefighter/medic, I feel like I am missing out on the opportunity to help when it is needed most. I know some might say that I should just go down and volunteer at my local hospital. That’s not an option, as my injuries prevent me from doing much of anything, not to mention the autoimmune disease I developed after I got hurt which puts me at a very high risk of complications should The Rona come to call. I was the guy that always wanted to work the shit details. I loved working hurricanes. I loved being there answering calls while everything was going to shit. It is times like this that we are needed most. Yet, I am at home typing on the computer.

Feeling this way causes my mind to turn back to my own career and the way it ended. I was a damn good fireman. As much as I hated going on EMS runs (which made up 75% of our call load), I was good at that too. All of that seems wasted now as the country and the world is in the grip of the virus. Sure, I’m still haunted by some calls. I don’t sleep much. I have a quick temper and I don’t suffer fools gladly. Sometimes, I shut down around people and dwell on my ghosts for days…or even weeks. I have a tendency to push away those that are closest to me. Hell, earlier this semester I had a break down in front of a class and started sobbing uncontrollably. But despite all the negatives that my career and my injuries brought me, deep down inside, I know that I’d give anything to walk back into a fire station again for one more shift. Just one more. Knowing that I can’t is the biggest frustration of all.

April 19th

 Storms this morning but it looks like the worst of it will slide around to the north of us, so fingers crossed as our roof is still holy. Starting tomorrow, my revisions to Molly’s Song being. I have copious notes from my editor along with notes that I have made based on those notes. It’ll be a long slog (as I hate editing), but the manuscript goes back to the editor on June 22nd. Two weeks after that, I’ll enter a region known as Query Hell. It’s not fun, but it is necessary. The writer life ain’t all fun and games like it is in the movies. It’s hours spent alone staring at the computer screen. It’s crippling self-doubt that plagues you every time you hit a snag with writing or publication. It’s a pervasive sense of melancholy that can overwhelm you at times. It can be managed. It can be overcome. But it is still a struggle at times.

Today I have to get everything set up the upcoming week’s classes. I have no idea what I’m going to do, but I’ll figure it out. I tend to work best under pressure, and so waiting until the last minute to handle things is par for the course for me. Honestly, I can’t wait for this semester to be over and my grades turned in. It is just so damn awkward for everyone involved, from faculty to students alike. For the record, I think the who self-isolation thing was the right call, and I am on the record as early proponent of it. That does not, however, make it any less of an impact. I’m sure students will be happy to put this semester behind them as well. However, at least at my college, classes during our two summer sessions will also be online. (I’m teaching Summer 2). I have to be finished editing Molly’s Song by May 15th, which doesn’t give me a whole lot of time, because in between the end of this semester and the start of Summer 2, I’ll be writing my third novel, tentatively titled Dark Raven.

April 20th

 I’m not gonna lie. The past few days have been rough. I’ve been dealing with a lot of nightmares and intrusive memories. Things have a way of sneaking up on you. It’s like the memories of calls gone bad lay coiled just beneath the surface of your mind waiting for you to let your guard down for a moment and then WHAM! They jump up and smack the shit out of you. That’s kinda where I’m at right now. If you’ve followed my blog for more than 30 seconds, you know two things about me; one is that I am in love with Maria Nikolaevna Romanova and the other is that I love music. There are three songs in particular which, though they were not written about PTSD in particular, do a pretty good job summing up what it is like, at least in my experience. The first one is When I’m Gone by 3 Doors Down. Specifically, the opening lines which say “There’s another world inside of me that you may never see. There’s secrets in this life that I can’t hide.” This speaks to the invisible scars that I carry with me everywhere. Later, the song says “Roaming through this darkness I’m alive but I’m alone, part of me is fighting this but part of me is gone.” That’s what is feels like sometimes. Like I’m groping blindly in the dark, trying to find a light. The second song is Only God Knows Why by Kid Rock. In fact, if I had to pick a theme song, this would be it for a myriad of reasons. However, as it relates to traumatic stress, it is the line that says “People don’t know about the things I say and do. They don’t understand about the sh-t that I’ve been through.” If you were to observe me for a period of time, you’d be able to tell that something was off about me, even if I didn’t say anything to you about it. That’s normal. But it causes me to feel like everywhere I go, people are watching and judging me without understanding the experiences that led me to be this way. It’s irrational on my part, I know, but I can’t help it. Last but not least, we have “Unwell” by Matchbox Twenty. “I’m talking to myself in public, dodging glances on the train. And I know, I know they’ve all been talking about me. I can hear them whisper and it makes me think there must be something wrong with me out of all the hours thinking somehow I’ve lost my mind.” The chorus is particularly apropos too. “I’m not crazy I’m just a little unwell. I know right now you can’t tell but stay awhile and maybe then you’ll see a different side of me.”

I don’t want it to seem like I’m complaining. That’s not my intention at all. I’m merely voicing frustration with my own brain. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again. If I could go back in time, I’d still join the fire service even knowing what the outcome would be. There’s a certain victory in that and it does provide me with some comfort, but the dark nights are still dark. The ghosts are still there. But there’ll be a light at the end of the tunnel eventually. It goes in cycles for me. Good weeks or months and bad weeks or months. So no, I’m not complaining, It is what it is. We all have our crosses to bear, and I have two very heavy ones. My physical injuries and my mental injuries.

April 21st

 I am typing this at 0800. I’ve been up since 0300. The roofers started work at 0700 this morning. We are going ahead and getting the work done now, while we wait for the insurance to review the additional documentation we submitted. This is the stormy time of year, and having two holes in the roof, even with the tarp over it, risks more damage which, if it were to happen, would not be covered by the insurance as they would claim it was due to the existing damage. Typical. We’ve decided to go whole hog on the repairs. Obviously, even if the insurance does pay out, they will only cover the roof. But we are also getting the 2×6 trim replaced, along with the soffits, and also having the house and trim painted. If the work is finished by Thursday when I post this week’s entry, I’ll include the before and after pictures. If not, I’ll do it next week. The roof comes out to 9400 and the other work is 4500. So it’s not too bad.

April 21st is a bit of a somber anniversary. Five years ago, I lost my feline best friend, Dr. Simon Diogenes Legree. He was from New Orleans and was a Katrina survivor. He passed away of sudden kidney failure at the age of 13. I adopted Anastasia Colleen Hutchison after that and she’s been my “little” girl ever since. (The little is relative as she has big bones). Needless to say, with all the noise around here today, it won’t be a day for getting much work done. There’s currently a big pile of cedar shingles (the layer under the asphalt shingles on my roof) just outside the window behind me. They’ve made short work of the demo portion of the job and have managed to tear off the asphalt layer and the cedar layer in an hour and a half. The contractor says they might be able to finish with the roof portion of the job today. That would be nice, as the other work will be less noisy!

April 22nd

 They finished with the roof yesterday. Took them 12 hours to get it all done, which is pretty impressive given how much work they had to do. They were planning on finishing up some of the exterior carpentry work today and then pressure washing and painting the house and trim. However, there is rain followed by storms predicted for this afternoon/evening. It is 1100 as I type this and they haven’t finished the carpentry yet, so I’m thinking the pressure washing and painting will have to wait until tomorrow, which is fine. I’d rather them do it when we have several days of predicted sunshine to follow. I’ll post some before and after pictures once they complete all of it. If it is early enough tomorrow, I’ll do it in this week’s post, but if not, it’ll be in next week’s. However, I’ll post them on my author Facebook page and on Instagram, so you can see them there as soon as they work is done.

What is funny is that we are kind of getting mixed signals from our state and local government. Our governor is touting our low case counts and low fatality numbers and pushing to re-open the state. His numbers are flawed since at the end of the day yesterday, our state was butt naked last in per capita testing. It’s never been ranked higher than 47th. So we have no idea how many cases are actually out there. My city is reporting 43 cases, up from 33 a few days ago. Despite the governor acting like everything is coming to an end and re-opening state parks, etc, today the County Judge issued an order stating that for the next 30 days, anyone over the age of 10 going out in public has to wear a mask. But there are no masks available for purchase, at least not cheaply, so I’m not quite sure how that is supposed to work. Thankfully, I have a stash of N-95 masks that I’ve kept stored for a few years. But I don’t go out in public right now and my wife only makes a grocery run once a week.

That said, on May 1st, I have a doctor’s appointment at 0900. It is not an appointment that I can cancel or postpone. As of yet, I haven’t heard if they are doing telehealth appointments. Probably not, given the kind of doctor it is, so I’m getting worried that I’ll have to go in person and thus risk being exposed to The Rona.

I’ve spent some time working on an epic tribute video for my Машка. I completed it today. It consists of five songs, a few hundred photos, some film footage, and comes in at 21 minutes long. You can watch it here! I’ve been working on this one for a very long time. All five songs included are songs that are on my playlist for her which I’ve written about here. Admittedly, it is a bit weird to be in love with someone who has been dead for not quite one hundred and two years, but it is what it is and I make no apology for it. If you are new to my website and would like to read about where my connection to her comes from, go here to read about her spirit saving my life one afternoon. If things are ever back to normal, stop by my office on campus one day and you’ll see the shrine of photos of her that I keep there. Я люблю тебя, мой голубоглазый ангел.

April 23rd

 The paint is going on the house today and that will conclude this round of work. However, there is a new snag, and potentially an even more expensive one. We probably need to have the house re-wired. I’m having an electrician come out to take a look today and give us a quote and another one will come out for another quote on Monday. Sweet Chocolate Christ! Doing the roof and exterior repairs cleaned us out, but I don’t know how I’ll manage to pay for the wiring, if needed. And that’s a priority repair given the potential for a fire hazard. I’ll update you on the first quote once the inspector comes out. At 1500 hours, I have a telehealth appointment with my therapist. I have a suspicion that we will be discussing the rapid increase in nightmares and intrusive memories I’ve had this week.

So, as I feared, the house needs a total re-wire and a new breaker panel. It isn’t up to code in its present condition (as I knew), and so to do any work, they have to bring the whole thing up to code. The cost? 11K. That’s almost equal to the entire amount that we’ve spent on the outside. I still haven’t heard back from the insurance regarding the additional documentation we submitted in reference to the claim, though I did email the claims handler today to ask for an update. If we end up getting the $7500, then we can probably find the additional $3500 somewhere in order to cover the electrical repairs. If not, then we can’t afford it under any circumstances and we are maxed out, so we can’t borrow any more either. I guess in that event, we will just have to live with it until either we find the money or the house burns down.

They won’t be finished with the painting today, and so I am going to go ahead and post this on Thursday, my usual posting day. I’ll put the exterior before and after pictures in  next week’s entry. My apologies to those of you who have been looking forward to the release of Molly’s Song, but I’ve had to postpone finishing my edits and the copyedits until the fall. The book will still be out eventually, but probably not until next spring at the earliest.


Journal of a Pandemic Year: Part Five


“Rain damage according to the insurance…”

April 10th

 The adjuster came out yesterday and met with us and our roofing contractor. He gave everything a thorough going over and took a lot of pictures. We largely stayed out of his way and let our contractor handle it. When the adjuster left, the contractor said that the adjuster told him that he was going to recommend that our windstorm insurance pay to replace the entire roof. 90% of the time, they go with the adjuster’s recommendation, so our fingers are crossed that they will do that this time. We should know something by early next week. Later in the day, someone else from the roofing company came out to put a better tarp over the holes (they are basketball sized), but we had storms last night and severe weather forecast for tomorrow night into Sunday morning.

This morning while I was sitting on the front porch having my coffee, I saw a CNN article on The Twitter about people having what are called “pandemic dreams”…probably stress induced. I found this interesting. Other than my dream about the Alamo, I haven’t done much dreaming but that’s because I haven’t done much sleeping. Last night, I went to sleep at 11:00pm. I awakened suddenly at 11:59pm and I’ve been up ever since. I am typing this at 9:30am. I woke up because we had a big storm come through and I was worried about whether or not the new tarp on the roof would hold. It did, so far. However, they are forecasting heavy winds and severe storms and rain later this weekend. If we can get 72 hours with no further damage, then we will be okay as it is going to dry out next week. No sleep, of course, means that I’m stiff and in horrific pain today. Lucky me.

April 11th

 The lack of sleep on Thursday night meant that I actually slept okay last night. And now, Saturday, I have to admit that I’m struggling with a serious amount of lack of drive to get things done. I checked the stats on the videos that I had made for class and found that for the previous week, the most viewed video only had 14 views. (In my four face to face 1302 classes, I have around 140 students, just to give you an idea). So why spend hours putting videos together if no one watches them? I guess I can just use premade videos from other sources. That seems to be what a lot of faculty are doing anyway. It is frustrating to put a lot into a class and making sure the Great Online Course Migration doesn’t negatively impact students when they don’t give a shit.

I think instead, I’ll spend the day playing Silent Hunter Four and sinking the Imperial Japanese Navy. Incidentally, a few days ago I ordered a collection of World War Two era radio broadcasts, news program, and radio shows. It totals around 1,250 hours of wartime programming. It is coming on MP3 discs, but it is also available via digital download and so I’ve downloaded about 1/3rd of the material so far. It is kind of cool to listen to the news broadcasts in order and follow the war as it unfolded in real time.

Tonight, we’ve got major storms in the forecast which does not bode well for the tarp on our roof. I’m not sure it can stand up to the predicted strong winds, hail, and heavy rain. It might be another sleepless night trying to make sure we don’t spring any more leaks.

April 12th

 We got lucky. I feel asleep last night full expecting to be awakened by storms. Instead, I was awakened at 0245 by my bladder. I checked the radar and saw that the strong storms were staying well to our north and were predicted to do so through the morning on Sunday. When I woke up for good at 0645, I saw that the ground was dry and the radar again showed the heavy stuff well away to the north, though we may get the occasional stray shower this morning. So we dodged a major bullet. I’m hoping to hear from the insurance company tomorrow as to whether or not they will cover the repairs. With this past Friday being a state holiday, it no doubt slowed down their response and so I’m not sure if it will be Monday or not. It could be Tuesday/Wednesday. My contractor indicated that if the insurance covers it, they can start work very quickly and if it is Monday, it is possible they could be done with the roof by the end of the week. The less time with a tarp the better, but at this point, I’m honestly just hoping that the insurance company decides to cover the damages.

Today, I have to do some more work related to the edits on my novel in preparation for my meeting with my editor tomorrow. I want to have my plan put together to go over with her. It helps to have someone to bounce ideas off of, that’s for sure. Then I’ll probably give it one more week of not touching the manuscript before beginning my edits, one chapter at a time, on April 20th. I plan on editing at a rate of 10 chapters a week. That’s put me finished around May 3rd. At that point, I’ll set the book aside so that I can begin work on novel number 3, Dark Raven. Then, I’ll pull Molly’s Song out again for another pass around June 15th in preparation to send back to copyedits on June 22nd. Sometimes, I confess, I wish that I could write full time. My sales are nowhere near enough to make that a reality though, probably because I suck at marketing. The odd thing too is that all the awards that So Others May Live has either won or is up for haven’t actually translated to an increase in sales either. Kind of makes you wonder what the point of awards is if they don’t increase sales. I guess they are good for the ego, but perhaps not much else.

April 13th

 It’s a Monday that doesn’t feel like a Monday since every day is now a Monday or a Saturday, depending on whether or not you are an optimist or a pessimist. Yesterday evening, I got some material posted for my classes for this week. I did not shoot any videos myself though. Part of it is that I am suffering from a severe lack of motivation, part of it is that we are still dealing with damage to the house, and part of it is that my students weren’t really watching my videos anyway. I spent of most of yesterday doing very little of use apart from checking emails, working on my edits, and watching TV. Speaking of TV, yesterday evening, I watched an amazing movie called One Day. It’s based on a novel by the same name which I’ve read part of, but since I didn’t finish it, I didn’t know the ending until I watched the movie. It’s an amazing movie and I highly recommend it. However, if you prefer every movie to have a happy ending…you might want to give this one a pass. Personally, I think movies/novels should have realistic endings, which aren’t always happy. Lord knows, I’ve been chastised by several readers for the way So Others May Live ended. As far as that goes…World War Two did not end happily for tens of millions of people. So I’m not sorry for ending it the way I did.

I don’t have much on my plate for today apart from paperwork this morning and at 1400 hours, I have a video conference with my editor to go over my revision plan for Molly’s Song. It’ll probably be next week before I actually start putting fingers to keyboard. This morning, I listened to my favorite podcast while I drank my coffee on the porch with Cravat Cat, the feral cat who is trying to steal my wife. They are saying on the news that we are two weeks away from seeing our peak case numbers in Texas. I don’t doubt the accuracy of the statement but seeing as how we rank near the bottom in per capita testing and the governor wants to reopen businesses, I fear that this will go on far longer than people think. It has gotten to the point that I now know a couple of people personally who have been infected, though thankfully they are not in critical condition. Before all this is over, I think we will all be touched by it in some way.

April 14th

 I’m having an increasingly difficult time remembering what day it is. I always know the date, but I can’t remember the specific day of the week. This is the opposite of how I normally am. In non-COVID times, I always knew if it was a Tuesday or a Wednesday, but I couldn’t tell you the date without looking at the calendar. That’s rather amusing if you think about it. Isn’t it odd how quickly people can adjust to new circumstances? I think that in the aftermath of this virus, things will probably never go back to how they were before. There won’t be any “getting back to normal.” What I think will happen is that we will find a new normal. We will date things as pre-virus or post-virus, in much the same way as those of us that live on the Gulf Coast tend to use major hurricanes as benchmarks (pre or post-Ike, Katrina, Harvey, Rita, etc, etc). And, of course, until we have an effective vaccine, we face a risk of a resurgence of the virus thus necessitating us doing this whole thing all over again. I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but it is what it is.

I’m Catholic, but I’m not overly religious. I tell people I’m a practicing Catholic…practicing because I’m not very good at it. I’d say I’m more spiritual than religious, though I still recite the Rosary from memory every night before I go to bed and, prior to the virus, recited the prayer to Saint Michael before leaving the house every morning. That’s more out of habit than anything else. In life, I’ve always taken comfort in music, including old hymns. Two that I find particularly comforting in times of trouble are Abide With Me which was a very popular hymn with British troops in World War One. “Where is deaths sting? Where grave thy victory? I triumph still if thou abide with me.” Go here to listen to it being sung at the 2010 Festival of Remembrance. The second one is the hymn It Is Well With My Soul. “Whatever my lot, thou hast taught me to say it is well, it is well with my soul.” There’s a tragic story behind how it came to be written which you can read about here. And this is the best performance of it I’ve ever heard.

April 15th

 Still no word as of yesterday evening from the insurance. Part of me is of the mind to think that no news is good news, however, the pessimist side of me thinks that the longer it takes, the more likely it is that they are trying to come up with a way to deny coverage. After all, there’s no profit for them in paying claims. But maybe that is just me being cynical. Today is a Wednesday. I double checked on my phone before I got out of bed. In the pre-COVID days, I’d get up at 0630. By 0745, I was on the road headed to the Sugar Land campus. I’d arrive around 0900 and have an hour in the shared office space (my actual office is at the other campus). At 1000, I taught a 1301 class. At 1100, I had a 1302 class. Then I had an hour off in which I would eat lunch and check my emails. Then I would have another 1302 class at 1300. After class, I’d go upstairs and check my emails again, then I’d be on the road for home around 1415. Fun times. Now I don’t have a set schedule and I think that is part of what is causing me such problems. I allow my body to dictate my tempo and schedule rather than forcing it to adjust to one. I think starting next week, I might start setting my alarm for 0630 or 0645 and trying to work on a similar time system as before The Rona. Of course, that is all well and could to type that now. Come Monday morning, I may have a different opinion.

My wife is in the other room running a department meeting on Zoom. She’s the chair. It is amusing to listen to her run her meetings. Very German. “You vill listen to ze information und den you vill do ze the verk!” (She doesn’t have that accent, but it still basically goes like that). This morning, I have the 1952 John Ford film What Price Glory on the TV. It stars James Cagney and the lovely Corinne Calvet. You can watch it on YouTube here. I think it is one of the better World War One films, especially from the American perspective, but it is largely forgotten today. Speaking of James Cagney and World War One films, The Fighting 69th is another classic. The best documentary on World War One, a multi-national project which was released for the 100th anniversary of the start of the war, is 14: Diaries of the Great War. It is phenomenal. It was on Netflix for several years, but is no longer. Likewise, it isn’t available on YouTube either, at least not in a watchable format. It hasn’t been released on DVD anywhere but Australia either. I was able to get an Aussie copy and, since I have an all regions DVD player, I can still watch it. It is frustrating that such a great documentary isn’t widely available. I’m not sure why I am on a rambling World War One rant this morning. Probably because I’m planning on finally watching 1917 tonight on Amazon.

April 16th

 My hunch was correct. The insurance denied the claim. They say it was water damage and not wind. The fact that the wind lifted the shingles which then caused the water intrusion was conveniently ignored. And they also claimed that water dripping from an electrical outlet does not cause electrical damage. Since we live on the coast where insurance companies won’t write windstorm policies due to hurricanes, we have to have our windstorm coverage through the state risk pool. This means you cannot appeal their decision. All you can do is file a lawsuit, but you have to give them advance notice of your intent to sue. In the meantime, we still have holes in our roof and now, if another storm were to come before it is fixed and it suffers more damage, they will refuse to cover it and claim it is due to the pre-existing damage. Furthermore, with the damage, our roof is out of compliance with windstorm codes and I’ll give them about a week before they start threatening to revoke our coverage completely. I fucking hate insurance. Medical. Dental. Homeowners. They are all evil bastards. After all, you don’t make a profit and CEOs don’t get million dollar bonuses if you are paying out claims. Keep in mind, the premiums we’ve paid for windstorm coverage in the twelve years we have lived in this house are more than enough to cover the cost of a new roof with a tidy profit left over for the company, and that’s not even factoring in our $1900 deductible. Part of the reason they are so stingy on claims is all of the lawsuits they’ve lost.

In the meantime, let’s hope it doesn’t rain.

P.S.: I ended up not watching 1917 last night.


Journal of a Pandemic Year: Part Four


(Part Four of my Quarantine Diary)

April 3rd

 Today is D-Day on numerous fronts. First of all, and the thing I am most excited/nervous about, Molly O’ returns from my editor this afternoon. Of course, this means I’ll have a lot of work ahead of me as I sort through all of her suggestions, but it’s work of a positive nature. Then she will go back for a copyedit in late June. After that, I enter Query Letter Hell. On the other front, I figure that today should be the day that I know if I have The Rona or not. This afternoon will mark 72 hours since the onset of my sore throat. As of yet, I don’t have a fever, so I am assuming that if I don’t have one by bedtime tonight, then I can chalk this up to allergies. And then…at 1300 hours, I have a live “drop in” hour for my students on Zoom, mainly for those who would like to feel connected. I’m not doing a live lesson or anything and it is optional. Then, at 1700 hours, we are having another Zoom Happy Hour! The last one was fun, so I’m looking forward to this one too. Funny how in the space of just a couple of weeks, I’ve become a Zoom devotee. On the downside, I had some really good days pain wise, but the past couple of have been rough. It comes and goes in cycles, so that’s to be expected, I suppose. But the pain kept me up a good chunk of the night and I needed to be on my toes today given the live meetings.

April 4th

 It is the weekend, but it doesn’t much feel like it given how all of the days run together. I have a lot of school stuff to do this week. Today, I have several videos to upload to YouTube for my 1302 classes. That will get them set for the upcoming week. Tomorrow, I have to record videos for my 1301 course. I’m still fever free, but I woke up this morning feeling generally shitty. My sore throat which had improved to the point of being unnoticeable yesterday evening is worse this morning than ever. My sinuses feel full. I’m checking my temperature every hour and so far, so good. My back is still killing me. It’s the lack of activity. I know it sounds counterproductive, but with my damaged spine and constant pain, I actually feel better the more active I am. Being more or less confined to quarters as I have been for weeks now isn’t good for me. I don’t have a choice though.

There’s some good news though. Molly’s Song has returned from the editor! I have a lot of suggestions to work through and digest in order to come up with my edit plan. It can seem kind of overwhelming at first, but I make lists starting with the big picture stuff and then working my way down to chapter lists. The book is already pretty good, I think I can say that without sounding like too much of a braggart, but it will be even better once I’ve made the revisions. Molly O’ is the kind of character that publishers like…the kind that end up on bestseller lists and she would be great on the big screen. I have no idea who could play her though. She is 18 when the story starts and 20 when it ends. She would have to be played by a young redheaded actress in the 17-24 range and that is pretty specific. I’m sure if we make it to that point, the studios could come up with the appropriate person. In a way, I wrote her as a tribute to all of the strong Irish women in my family that I grew up around, and the strong(willed) German redhead that I married.

Today, my wife also had to go pick up some groceries. I did not help put them away this time, even with gloves, as I am already not feeling great and if I do have The Rona, then it is from the groceries. After she finished, she wiped down everything with Lysol wipes, but we are dangerously low on them now and the stores are still out of them. (Along with toilet paper). Perhaps one day, we will sit around and talk about the Great Toilet Paper Shortage of 2020. Frankly, I think all this stems from the day they shot Harambe. It’s been downhill ever since. But that’s just my opinion.

April 5th

 As if COVID-19 wasn’t bad enough, last night around 4:45pm, two large holes opened up in my roof which led to a flood of rainwater into the bedroom. I’m not sure exactly what caused it. From appearances, it looked like something hit the roof (we had been having rain all day), but I didn’t hear anything. So who knows? We’ve got the roof damage and since water was dripping from a light fixture, electrical damage as well. I filed a claim with our Windstorm Insurance, but I don’t know if they will cover it. If they don’t, we are looking at extremely expensive repairs…all for a house that is only worth 70K. Thankfully, I’d already shot my videos for this week’s courses and so I was able to get them uploaded this morning. I’m comforting myself today by watching my favorite detective series, True Detective Season One. (Season Two sucks. Season Three is a little better than Season Two but not up to Season One standards). Obviously, the damage to the house will impact what I’m able to do moving forward for my classes, but I don’t know exactly how all that will play out. Time will tell.

I’ve also been going through the suggestions from my editor chapter by chapter and making my own revision notes. Just to give you an idea the amount of work that goes into revisions, I’ve made two pages of notes for the first six chapters and there are 33 chapters total. Great books are not written. They are rewritten. I think most authors dread the revision process, but we all know how important it is. Banging out a first draft is great and obviously the important first step, but the true work comes when you go through it time and time again to make it perfect. Or as close to perfect as you can. Thankfully, Molly is a fun character to work with. She’s kind of mouthy. Just like me.

April 6th

 I woke up at 0500 this morning because I was eager to listen to today’s episode of All Bad Things. It is my favorite podcast and today they were doing my episode script. I ended up listening to it twice. After that, I had to do some grading since I had assignments due by 11:59pm last night. It didn’t take that long as basically everyone who turned it in got full credit. To me, that’s the fair thing to do given the circumstances that The Rona have forced upon us. None of us wanted this mess.

Yesterday, I decided I want to go and re-read the complete Dave Robicheaux series by James Lee Burke in preparation for the release of the next book in the series which will be in May. There are currently 22 books in the series, so it is quite a bit of reading. But it makes for good reading. And I have also decided to binge watch all five seasons of Bosch on Amazon in preparation for the release of Season 6 later this month. I’ve previously seen the first two seasons, but I have not seen 3-5. I’m starting from the beginning though. Watching Bosch has proven quite useful. I think I know who could/should play Molly if her story gets made into a series. The young actress Madison Lintz who plays Bosch’s daughter in the series might just work. She’s 20 years old, which is the right age. She has freckles. And though her hair isn’t truly red (it does have a reddish tint), I’m sure they could touch it up for the show. Alright. There you have it. Now all I have to do is land an agent/book deal and have someone option the film rights. Truthfully, her story would work best as a Netflix/Amazon original series, especially since I envision her story being a three book series.

April 7th

 Not much sleep last night. I went to sleep at 11 and was up at 1 and 3:30. From 3:30, I stayed awake until 5:30 and then slept until 7:45. So I’m tired and in a lot of pain today. As I was sitting outside this morning enjoying my coffee and a conversation with Nick O’Tine, I read an article about plans (admittedly in the very early stages) for baseball to resume in May (or possibly June) with all games to be played in Arizona with a lot of concessions due to social distancing, etc. I have mixed feelings about it. As much as I’d love to have baseball to listen to on the radio again, which I greatly prefer over watching on television, I’m not sure it is worth the risk. No matter what controls are put in place to prevent infection, it would just be a matter of time before someone gets sick and if you end up having to quarantine a whole team shortly after the resumption of the season, then what? I get that baseball is important to the country, though arguably less important than it was when FDR made the decision to keep the league going during WW2, but is raising the spirits of people at home worth the risk to the players, managers, and team staff? Personally, I don’t think it is. However, I admit a certain bias since I have no doubt that the Red Sox were going to be positively putrid this season anyway.

The adjuster called me yesterday and he will be out to take a look at the holes in the roof on Thursday morning. I’m hoping that the insurance covers it. If they don’t, I’m not sure we can find the money to fix the roof and the electrical system. That’s a lot of cash to come up with at once if you aren’t expecting it. But we’ll see. It may work out in the end. And my roofing contractor will be here when the adjuster is here to advocate for us and I’m hoping that proves to be the difference. Yesterday I also finished working my way through the editor notes and I’ve made 6 pages worth of detailed notes to myself about the manuscript as well. I won’t start the actual revisions until next week sometime, as now I have to craft a plan for how I am going to tackle it.

The next couple of weeks will be big on the awards front too. On April 13th, I’ll find out if So Others May Live is a finalist for the First Horizon Award which is part of the Eric Hoffer Awards and is specifically for the best first novel. It is awarded for multiple categories, including historical fiction. On May 4th, they will announce the winners. On May 11th, the short list for the Hoffer Awards Grand Prize will be announced, followed up on May 18th with the Grand Prize winner and also the category finalists and winners. Then, on June 17th, the category winners for the Foreward Indies Awards will be announced. (I’m a finalist in the War & Military Category). It is kind of odd when you have one published book in the running for awards while you are working as hard as you can to finish your second. I had actually hoped/wanted Molly’s Song to be out this spring, one year after the release of So Others May Live but it is looking like a late 2020/early 2021 release instead. Oh well, life happens and our best laid plans often don’t come to pass like we had hope or wanted.

April 8th

 I slept a little last night…enough to have a dream that I was at the Alamo, but I’m in a lot of pain today. My whole spine feels like it is being jabbed with ice picks while I am simultaneously being beaten with baseball bats. I have some college work to take care of today. I also need to record some videos for next week, but I don’t feel up to that right now. Maybe tomorrow. My plan is to tackle the paperwork today and the videos tomorrow. But we’ll see. While I work today, I figure on binge watching some old Alamo movies since it was the subject of my dream last night. Available in my video library are The Last Command (1955), The Alamo (1960), 13 Days to Glory (1987), and The Alamo (2004). That’s enough to kill a whole day, and probably a bit more. Alamo movies tend to be on the long-ish side. I suppose that is because it is such a vast story that it isn’t easily contained in 90 minutes. I’m out of audiobook credits for the month, so I had to buy three more. The more distractions I have, the better.

I’m not going too stir crazy yet. I tend to be mostly a home body these days anyway and don’t tend to get out much unless it is to go to work. Otherwise, I’m happy enough staying home. Obviously, before I got hurt, I enjoyed going places and doing things, but with my injuries being as painful as they are, sometimes it is all I can do to even make it to work. Doing that five days a week (during non-pandemic times) takes every ounce of strength and energy that I have, so I assume that I can be forgiven for being somewhat sedentary on the weekends or when I’m socially distancing…which I guess I do all the time anyway, now that I think about it. Despite what I’ve just said though, remember, I tend to feel better the more active I am, so it is a bit of a paradox. Every couple of weeks during this time, I have a telehealth appointment with my therapist and that also helps take some of the edge off.

April 9th

 As planned, I had my Alamo movie marathon yesterday. Funny…they all ended the same way. Typically, at the end of every spring semester, I have a Sharpe’s Rifles movie marathon. (While binge playing Napoleon Total War on the computer). The semester is still one month from its conclusion…we are staggering towards it slowly but surely…yet I’m tempted to dive into the marathon anyway. (While still fulfilling my duties, of course). It is definitely an attractive option. Chosen Men, to me!

This has been a shit semester since before it even started. The fall semester was a constant battle with severe pain, but I genuinely started to feel better over the Christmas Break and was looking forward to returning in the spring. And then I ended up in the hospital and missed the first week of class. It was down hill from there. I just felt off all semester. Then, I had a very bad experience in Feb that I do not wish to describe other than to say it brought up a lot of baggage that I thought I’d kept long buried and for the first time, really, made me question whether or not I wanted to continue teaching. In a way, the Great Online Course Migration has given me something of a reprieve. I’m not sure I would have made it through the semester otherwise.

In order to dive into my Sharpe’s Marathon a bit early, I will first have to go ahead and record the remainder of my video lectures for the duration of the semester. That will take several days. Granted, it isn’t 6 hours worth of lecture material for each week. More like 1.5 hours per prep, so 3 hours total instead of six, broken into 20 minute chunks. Since the adjuster will be out around 11 am today, I can’t get started until this afternoon. I’m going to try and get one week worth of material for one class recorded today. Then, over the weekend, I can probably get a couple more weeks done. I did sleep last night too, so that is a plus. I feel a bit more rested today.

And now we await the adjuster.

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

(From a distance of six feet)


Journal of a Pandemic Year: Part Three


March 27th

 Today was a full day, even though I decided to step away from working on my classes for the day, apart from sending and replying to some emails. It’s a funny thing, this switch to virtual classrooms, I’m actually busier now each day and indeed, I have longer days, than when I’m teaching a normal semester. But normal this semester is certainly not, so I rewarded myself with having a bit of a free day. I started watching the AMC series The Son. It is pretty interesting. Granted, I’ve read the book before (technically, I listened to it on Audible) and so I roughly know how it is going to play out, but it is nice to see how they converted it to the screen.

At 4:45pm, we had our first virtual happy hour. It was fun. A colleague and I intentionally dressed alike (white shirts with red ties). I think we had 5 or 6 people there at varying points. Hopefully we will do it again soon. It’s nice to see colleagues, even if it is on a computer screen. I’m lucky because I’m not along at home. My wife is here, and most importantly, my little girl Anastasia Colleen. I went to bed around 2300 hours, but I woke up every two hours all night long. Probably because I’d drank more water (and kool-aide) during the day than normal, so my bladder was a bit more active than is typical.

March 28th

Though perhaps best known for their song Eye of the Tiger which plays on an endless loop in boxing gyms across the country, Survivor has another song called Moment of Truth (which, if memory serves me, was used in the Karate Kid movie). There’s a line in the song that says, “Deep in the night, a dream is born. One that you can’t ignore.” Why am I quoting that here? Well, Dear Readers, while I was laying in bed around 0130 this morning, I got to thinking about something. I was mulling over the plot of my third book, which I planned on starting to write here in a few weeks’ time. Everything is sketched out from characters to plot outline to chapters. I have it set during the Russian Revolution, at least I thought I did. As I stared at the ceiling, I got to thinking. What if I lifted my plot out of Russia and transported it to our side of the world, and dropped it into the Mexican revolution? It would work. Both revolutions were happening more or less simultaneously, though Mexico’s started earlier. Other than the setting, the plot would not need to be changed all that much, only tinkered with a bit. Revolutionary Mexico is as fascinating an era as Revolutionary Russia. In fact, my minor field in graduate school just so happened to have been Revolutionary Mexico, which is why I speak Spanish in addition to Russian. And, since I live in Texas and it comes in handy, I speak Spanish a whole lot better than I do Russian. I haven’t decided for sure, but I’m leaning heavily towards shifting the setting.

March 29th

 Today is the last day before the Great Online Course Migration begins, or rather, the first day of virtual classes begins. I had to do some last minute preps that stretched into the entire day, mainly because after two weeks of working to get all this shit set up, I’m tired. One of the reasons I don’t much care for teaching online classes is that they take three times the preparation compared to face to face classes on the instructional end. In a typical semester, I only teach one online section, out of six classes, but now all six will be online for the duration. I’m also scheduled to teach two sections during the Summer 2 semester, but the jury is still out as to whether or not those courses will be in person, online, or even held at all. I have a sneaking suspicion that they will be online, but we’ll see. The cats are enjoying us being home. Or at least they appear to be enjoying it.

March 30th

 Today is D-Day. Classes have resumed. When I checked my email at 0930, I already had four messages from students. For sake of comparison, I’ve had three student emails total from March 6th through the 29th, so I guess this is a harbinger of things to come. Of course, the college is bombarding us with emails this morning too. As if they don’t know that we are getting lots of student emails today and the demands the college keeps sending out could wait a day or two…it isn’t urgent. But those who aren’t instructional, have time to send emails out in a constant stream all day to make it look like they are working, and so I have no doubt this will continue unabated until the end of the semester.

On the writing front, this is a big week. Molly’s Song will come back from the editor on Friday. I’ll take a look at her feedback and then start on revisions. It’ll go back for a copyedit in June. Right now I can’t give a firm timeline for when the book will be published. It could be late fall…or even later. So stand by for information on that as I will keep you updated as things go along. And now I must go back to checking emails.

March 31st

 There’s a wrinkle in the self-isolation plan…the pharmacy. I had to submit my refills this morning via the Walgreens app, but I’ll have to go or get my wife to go to pick them up. I can go through the drive thru, of course, but I still have to give them my card and, of course, they’ve touched the bottles. I can wear gloves, I guess. I’m not sure how many cases we have in the immediate area, since the news doesn’t say specifics other than over 1000 cases in the Greater Houston area. But the Greater Houston area encompasses quite a few counties and the total population is larger than many states.

I’m not suffering from cabin fever, quite the contrary. There’s plenty to keep me occupied by work related items and stuff on TV to watch. I had a nice surprise this morning. The SyFY Channel is hosting a 24 hour Twilight Zone marathon! Normally, my New Year’s Eve tradition is to watch the 48 hour marathon they host at the close of every year, so it is nice to have a 24 hour mini marathon. I know what I’ll be doing today apart from replying to student emails! At 0830, they showed “Time Enough At Last” which is one of my favorite episodes. That bodes well for the rest of the day. In the spirit of quarantines, I think they should also show “The Shelter” and “The Monsters Are Due On Maple Street.”

April 1st

 I’m afraid it has happened. Yesterday afternoon, I developed a nagging sore throat. I took various sore throat remedies to no avail. Overnight, I had a hard time getting to sleep. When I woke up this morning, my throat was still sore, though perhaps not as pronounced as last night. However, I feel kind of weak and shaky. I am not running a fever as of yet. The thing is, for me to have caught The Rona, it would mean that it travelled in on bags from my wife’s last trip to the store. She wore gloves when she was there and I wore gloves when I helped put everything away. All the plastic bags went straight into a trash bag. And when we finished putting things away, we wiped down all the surfaces with Lysol, including the doorknob. So if I have it, then it is truly a durable virus. I guess time will tell. Either I’ll develop a fever or I won’t. That will be the telling symptom.

In the meantime, after much reflection and a few sleepless nights, I’ve decided to keep my third novel set during the Russian Revolution as previously planned. This epiphany occurred to me as I was laying in bed last night looking at the photo of Maria Nikolaevna that I keep by my bed. I don’t think my guardian angel would approve if I moved the location, especially seeing as how she was to make a cameo appearance in the book if it were set in Russia. I think I owe it to her to keep her there. I’m planning on starting to write it on Monday (it’s already plotted out), assuming I don’t have The Rona, that is. If so, all bets are off.

April 2

 Yesterday, I admit I was a bit lazy and did very little other than reply to emails and watch funny YouTube videos. As of yet, I have not developed a fever and, assuming I can make it through the next 24 hours without getting one, then it is likely that I do not have The Rona. Today, however, I have been sneezing up a storm this morning which does tend to reinforce the notion that this is allergy based. I have some more videos that I need to shoot, but I don’t want to risk a sneezing fit on camera, so I am probably going to put that off until the weekend and then do some binge recording.

I was planning on doing a giveaway when my Instagram account hit 400 followers (you can find me @LeeHutch_author ). However, due to the virus, I can’t mail out the books even though I’ve surpassed that number. In fact, the author copies I had ordered to send out won’t even arrive until today due to Amazon shipping delays. I’ll have to put gloves on to open the package, then wipe the books down with Lysol, and then place them in quarantine until such time as I can get to the post office. And Lord knows when that will be.


I don’t have a whole lot on tap for today other than to keep up with some work-related items and at 3pm I have a therapist appointment. (It is a telehealth appointment, so I’ll be socially distanced). I neglected to mention this earlier, but on March 30th I learned that So Others May Live is a finalist in the General Fiction category of the Independent Audiobook Awards. That’s kind of a big deal. It’s the small/indie press equivalent of The Audies which are like the Academy Awards for audiobooks. I had a stellar narrator, of course, and all the accolades on this one go to her.

And I’m counting down the hours until I get Molly O’ back from my editor. It is, of course, amazing to me that seeing early drafts of my novels haven’t driven her into early retirement.

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

(From six feet away, of course!)


Journal of a Pandemic Year: Part Two


Dear Readers,

This is the second installment of my Journal of a Pandemic Year series. If you missed the first one, you can find it here.

March 19th: Night

My wife and I sat on the porch tonight between the hours of 8pm and 9pm, as we do every night, pandemic or not. The internets is rife with rumors of martial law (which people misspell as “marshall law”. I don’t believe the rumors. That’s the negative thing about social media. These things spread like wildfire. Still, we only have enough supplies for one more week. If people are believing the rumors, it might cause another run on the stores, so my wife and I decided that she would venture out to Dollar General in the morning. (I can’t go out due to my health and with my damaged spine being what it is, I can’t lift groceries anyway). When I got in bed an 9pm, I decided to watch the movie 28 Days Later. I’ve seen it one time, many years ago. The scene in the church when the infected priest appears still scares the shit out of me. I only made it halfway through it. I’ll finish it tomorrow. I went back outside at 10:15pm or so until around 11pm, and then it was time for bed. I’m having a hard time falling and staying asleep right now. Inevitably, I toss and turn until around 2:30, then I’ll manage to sleep for a couple of hours. I get up and go to the bathroom, but then I lay awake until around 7am when I crash hard for an hour and wake up groggy at 8. This is an every night thing and has been since I started Spring Break back on March 9th. What’s odd is that I normally don’t have this issue during breaks from school. I’m not sure if it is stress or something else. My back is killing me, so it could be due to that, but I think it is something more.

March 20th

I made it out of bed around 8:15am. I had an Ensure and a big slice of red velvet cake for breakfast. The pandemic breakfast of champions! My wife left around 9:30 to run her errands, returning home at 10:15. She wore gloves. While she was out, a friend sent her a text message of a grocery store in a nearby town with people lined up around the corner. That’s why she went to Dollar General instead of Kroger. She was able to get most of what we need and top off our supplies. We can make it around a month without leaving the house again. When she got home, I wore gloves to help put the food away and the empty bags went directly into a trash bag that we then placed outside. Then we wiped down the cabinet door, the front door, and the fridge door. I washed my hands all the way up to my elbows under water hot enough to be scalding for around four minutes and my wife got in the shower and put her clothes directly in the washing machine. If the virus finds access into our house, it’ll be through this but there was nothing else we could do. So we tried to be as safe about it as possible.

California has ordered the entire state into lockdown according to the news which broke last night. Governor Newsome announced it. I’m in Texas and though we are urged to do the same, it isn’t really mandated yet. With those measures taken by California, I wonder if other states will follow suit. Probably. I had to check my work emails this morning and didn’t have much that needed my attention. Now it sounds like New York is doing the same as California. I turned on the radio and there was a press conference on, but I missed the beginning of it.

This afternoon, I started working a script for my favorite podcast, All Bad Things. I won’t tell you what it is about as I do not want to spoil the surprise, but I hope it will be good. I also binge watched Season 8 of London’s Burning on Amazon. I replied to a few emails and did very little else of value. I have a rough plan of how I’m going to proceed with the semester and I will start working on the details next week since technically the college is still closed this week. Around 7;45pm, my wife and I sat outside for an hour and fifteen minutes or so. I didn’t listen to much in the way of news this evening, as I figured it wouldn’t be anything good anyway. I did, however, get an email that informed me that my novel, So Others May Live, has been selected as a finalist in the War & Military Fiction category of the Forward Indies Book Awards, so that’s one piece of good news!

March 21st

Last night I tossed and turned until the wee hours of the morning. I really don’t know what is wrong with my sleeping patterns. My back felt okay yesterday, but it doesn’t today. I had an Ensure and some yogurt for breakfast, a bit healthier than what I had yesterday. Today, I’m planning on working on the script a little more. My co-worker set up a meeting on Zoom for us scheduled for 1:30pm to test out and see how it works. I spent around 30 minutes this morning setting up an account and I made a virtual background with a photo of my history crush Maria Nikolaevna. 😊

In the afternoon, I had my Zoom conference. Everything worked fairly well. I then checked my emails, talked on the phone to a colleague, and watched funny YouTube videos. That evening, I decided to go back and play one of my favorite PlayStation games, Red Dead Redemption (the first one). I am a creature of habit and I take comfort in familiar things, so I often watch the same movies/shows over and over again. And I play the same games religiously too. I’ll probably keep playing it for the duration of the crisis.

March 22nd

I slept…okay…last night. I fell asleep around 11pm and slept until 3:30am. I woke up and got out of bed to go to the bathroom and sat outside for a little bit. I fell back asleep around 4 and slept until 6:45am. I didn’t want to get out of bed that early, so I messed around on my phone and fell back asleep around 7:30 only to wake up groggy and confused at 8:30. This has jacked up my whole schedule for the day. For breakfast, I had ham and eggs, though the eggs were regular colored and not green. I worked on the podcast script until lunchtime. I’m getting close to finishing it. I am hoping to get it done this evening some time. Tomorrow I have to start back to work on my class stuff and try to get everything set up for the students when they virtually return to class on March 30th. I have a pretty good plan for what I’m going to do, now I just have to do it.

The Zoom conference went well. We are going to try and have a weekly get together (virtually) with some other co-workers. It should be fun. I didn’t do much in the afternoon/evening other than play my game. Tomorrow, Monday, I have to get back to work for the college (at home, of course). I also finished up my script this afternoon and sent it over to the All Bad Things podcast.

March 23rd.

Well…shit. I flat out could NOT fall asleep last night again. I tossed and turned until around 3am, so on the day I really needed to buckle down and do shit, my back was killing me again. I soldiered on though. Using Zoom as my recording platform, I pre-recorded three lectures for my 1301 class for when they start back next week and also got their syllabus adjusted and updated the course Blackboard page, so they are all set to go. It took me most of the day to do it, but I also got a head start on setting up my 1302 courses so that their Blackboard is done and all I have to do tomorrow is record three videos.

I’ve found that recording the videos on Zoom is kind of fun. I don’t have much to say for today, since I was mostly working. I wanted to record a video with me standing in front of a planet so that I could say to the class, “Look, everyone! I’m lecturing in from Uranus!” My wife wouldn’t let me do it. I made it to the missions which are set in Old Mexico on Red Dead Redemption, so that is where I’ll be tonight. And hopefully I can sleep some too. I also decided to shave off my goatee tonight. It was starting to turn white. This is what happens when you marry a redhead.

March 24th

Thank God for small miracles. I managed to sleep from 11:00 – 0200 and then again from 0215 until 0600. So I’m somewhat rested. Tomorrow morning we have a Zoom coffee hour and today I have to record 4 mini lectures for my 1302 students. The first one will be a short introduction to the new way the course is structured. The second one will be about prostitution in the late 19th and early 20th Centuries. The third one is about Prohibition and the Jazz Age. And the fourth one is about the Great Depression, which is depressing. But at least I’ll get to do WW2 lectures after that! Yay! I might share some of my WW2 lectures on my blog. We’ll see.

I’ve been too busy to follow much on the news, but I hear that in the US we are inching closer to 50K identified cases in the United States with close to 1K in my state. (I say identified cases because of the issues with testing that have no been resolved yet). There’s a lot more of it out there than we know. I’m happily getting my work done, though I wish I had time to start writing my next novel. (Molly’s Song is out with the editor at present). I’m going to try and get as much done for setting up my classes for the duration this week so that I can have time to write moving forward. We’ll see how that goes.

It’s 5pm and I can now say that my classes are all set for the first week back (March 30th). I’m going to spend the rest of the week trying to get two more weeks done so that I’ll have half of the remaining weeks covered. That’ll buy me a little time in which to work on writing. That’s the plan, anyway. We’ll see how it goes. I think that this evening, instead of playing my game on the PlayStation, I’m going to read a book and listen to an old time radio drama or something. And enjoy a cigar out on the porch.

March 25th

I listened to part of a radio drama as planned. Instead of one from the 40s or 50s, I listened to the BBC radio adaptation of Bomber by Len Deighton (you can find the radio version here) as I am about to start recording my WW2 lectures. (Some today and some tomorrow). Last night I slept like the dead, though I guess that isn’t an appropriate analogy to use during a pandemic. I ate some cereal for breakfast and at 9:30, had a coffee hour with some colleagues from the Sugar Land campus on Zoom. After that, I set up the Zoom Happy Hour for Friday. I hope people show up. It would be kind of awkward to host a happy hour for co-workers and have no one show up! But I’m sure enough people will to make it worthwhile. I enjoy talking to my colleagues, even if it is through a computer screen. On tap for today, I have to do some small detail oriented things for my classes before lunch, and then I’ll do some recording in the afternoon. Oddly enough, I’m having a blast recording these mini lectures. I plan on using them for my regular online classes in the future. One challenge is making sure I change shirts in between videos so that it doesn’t look like I’m wearing the same thing every day. (I’m not, but honestly I’m just wearing an undershirt around the house, but that wouldn’t look right in a video!)

March 26th: Day

Last night I fell asleep watching TV. It was around 10:15 or so. I awoke to my wife taking my glasses off and covering me up with a blanket. Needless to say, I ended up sleeping fairly well. I woke up at 0645 fairly well rested and didn’t fall back asleep. That’s the good news. The bad news, and it is a wicked trade off, really, is that when I sleep well, I’m in more pain in the morning than if I tossed and turned, so today will end up being an extra medication day.

My wife has a bunch of video conferences today, so I’m taking advantage of it to record some more lectures. I got half of the WW2 lectures done, which means I now have two weeks of material for my 1302 courses. This afternoon, I’ll start recording the rest of the WW2 lectures. That will carry me into tomorrow when I’ll handle weeks two and three of my 1301 course. It’s a brave new world we have entered into, and I’m not sure how all this is going to play out in the end. I’m going to stop this diary entry here so that I can post it.


Journal of a Pandemic Year: Part One


Dear Readers,

This semester was well and truly f—-d from the beginning. I missed the first week of class due to being hospitalized for a complication stemming from the disease I was diagnosed with a couple of years ago. When I returned to class, it felt like I was struggling to get my feet under me. Then an incident happened that made me question my whole decision to teach in the first place. And now? Well, now I’ll be confined to quarters for the duration of the semester as we have switched over to online instruction for the balance of it owing to the virus. It is the right decision. But it still kinda sucks. Now, I’m not Daniel DeFoe, but he wrote a wonderful book called Journal of a Plague Year which is technically a novel (though it is often seen as non-fiction) about the Great Plague of London in 1665. I decided to do something a little similar. Not in book form, but in blog post form. While this plays out, I shall record my weekly record of my experiences here. In this first post, I will talk about everything that happened from when I first learned about the virus to now, so it might be a little longer than the subsequent posts.

CAVEAT: I am not a medical doctor. Nor do I pretend to be a doctor in bars. This is due to the fact that I don’t drink alcohol and so I don’t go to bars. And even if I did, I wouldn’t pretend to be a doctor. I’d pretend to be an attorney. So nothing that follows is medical advice. It is merely the pandemic as I have experienced it.

I first became aware of the novel coronavirus during the last week of January. Now, I’ll confess that viruses, plagues, and pandemics have always fascinated me. I’m not sure why. Part of it is professional, as I helped draft my FD’s pandemic response plan back during the whole bird flu mess. At that time, I wasn’t much worried about it, though some of the leaked video and images out of China were fairly alarming, frightening even. I think I referenced it in class for the first time either that week or the next when talking about the Bubonic Plague in my 1301 class.

Around Valentines Day, I discovered a podcast that posted daily updates on the virus. It was pretty in depth and scientific. Often, they’d discuss some new conclusion reached by the doctors several days before the mainstream media did. I’ve continued to listen daily. It was around this time that I had my first twinges of alarm. Given how interconnected the world is, I knew it was just a matter of time before it reached my state.

I was kind of amazed over the next couple of weeks how not many people seemed to care of the looming threat it posed. I wasn’t afraid, necessarily, but as a person who is immuno-compromised with s–t for lungs, I knew I’d be at high risk of contracting it should it result in a large outbreak. Better to be safe than sorry? Right? Well, apparently not. Late February into very early March, we had troubling news out of Washington state. An outbreak in a nursing home. Firefighters exposed. Patients dying. Nurses exposed. What a s–t storm! Coming soon to a town near you!

And then, the first week of March, I think, the City of San Antonio said that the CDC let a patient (from a cruise ship) who had been quarantined there was allowed to walk out of the facility and even visited the freaking mall when still positive for the virus! What a clusterf–k! And then, Dear Readers, it happened!

The first case in Texas (not connected to the cruise ship passengers quarantined in SA) was reported on the evening of March 4th. It was in Fort Bend County, where my college has two of its three campus and I teach at both of them! Within a couple of days, there were six cases in the county all connected to a trip to Egypt. The college where I teach was supposed to draft a pandemic response plan back in 2006 (probably in response to the bird flu), but it was never completed. On the morning of March 5th, I sent a lengthy email to one of our VPs outlining the specific questions we needed to be thinking about. Yes, in a way I was exceeding my brief, but at the same time, I do have experience with this type of planning. She agreed and had some questions of her own. As I understand it, the issue was discussed at the cabinet meeting that day, but I know of no specific measures that were taken at that time.

We were on Spring Break the week of March 9-13, and that is when the bottom dropped out. NBA player testing positive. Tom Hanks testing positive. Baseball suspending Spring Training. The NBA suspending the season. The Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo cancelled, despite the Mayor having said a day or two before that it wouldn’t. And then the school closures. Wave after wave of colleges and public schools began to announce closures. My college sent an announcement on Thursday, March 12th that said we would be extending Spring Break by a week (March 16-20). Rumor had it, we were going to be switching to online instruction like virtually all of the schools around us.

My wife and I had enough groceries and water that we were able to stay more or less isolated during Spring Break, but with the extension of the break, we made a a double grocery order on the 14th which will last us for a while. We used Kroger’s click list so we don’t actually have to go in and shop for it ourselves.

The college sent out its official notice to us on the evening of Monday, March 16th. (Word was sent to students two days later). Full time faculty/staff were to report back on Monday the 23rd, but the college would remain closed until March 29th. Classes would resume, in an online format, on Monday, March 30th. I teach at least one class online each semester, so it isn’t a huge deal for me to make the switch, but that isn’t the case for everyone. Given my health issues, I do not have to report to work on the 23rd, and, to be honest, I doubt very many people will.

It was a greatly subdued St. Patrick’s Day. I don’t drink, but I do pour out shots for my absent friends and relations. Pouring out liquor is kind of a hood thing, but that’s where I grew up, so I merged it with my paddy ways. Sadly, I had to add a glass this year for my cousin Marty who passed away unexpectedly last summer. Apart from that, it was a day filled with Irish music and Irish movies.

My wife is a high school teacher and she’s working from home now too. It’s funny, really. Yesterday, she woke up at 0600 and pretty much worked all day (phones, Google hangout meetings, emails) while I played video games in my room. When she noted that we will basically be together all day until August, my response was, “Sweet Mother of God! Somebody infect me now!”

But now we are headed into a brave new world. I worry for my students who don’t have reliable internet access or technology. I worry about the ones who might lose a family member. I worry about my brothers and sisters in the fire service knowing that they will take casualties from this as well. I don’t worry about myself. As I write this, we are at nearly 9,000 cases and 150 deaths when just a week or so back, it was 100 cases. My back is f—–g killing me. I can’t sleep. And I’m bored out of my mind. I don’t know what the future holds for me, or for any of us. But I do know that we can get through it. We’ve survived terror attacks, hurricanes, tornadoes, floods, wildfires, and pandemics before, and we can do it again.

And for all you teachers and professors out there, this is our new anthem!

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

(But do it from six feet away)