Category Archives: Random Thoughts

New Shoe Syndrome and Other Thoughts on the Vaccine

Train station in Rowland, North Carolina

I’ve gotten a few questions about our experience with scheduling and actually getting the vaccine, and thought it might be helpful to share a few thoughts.

The Process: I’ve mentioned previously how frustrating the registration process is for many of the county and health agency websites.  Kathy & I are fortunate to be registered with the two major health providers in our area, so we were able to use our login credentials to access those sites, which likely led to a slightly better experience.  We ended up with the Moderna Vaccine through Novant Health.

We were fortunate to find any locations at all on the very first morning of our eligibility.  The fact that the one we found was 200 miles away was no big deal for us.  We have the flexibility to go wherever we need to, and it was easy for us to make the trip.

The vaccination  site was in the parking area of a community college near Wilmington, NC.  The approach was well marked, there were National Guard personnel directing traffic into several lines, checking to confirm appointments and providing forms for completion.  The one glitch was that we had pre-filled everything online, but they still had us manually complete paperwork with the same information.  Taking the paperwork pre-filled and printed would not have helped.

We arrived at about 10:40 for an 11:00 appointment, and although the lines looked long, we queued up and were directed to the actual vaccination line promptly at 11:00 (not due to any process on their part, it just happened to work out).  We sat in our car until someone came around, asked us a few more questions, explained the process and handed us each a card with confirmation of our follow up appointments for the same time and day of the week in four weeks.  Shortly thereafter two nurses came up with the vaccine, plunked each of us in the arm, wrote the time on a paper stuck to the windshield, and told us that after the prescribed waiting time we would be released.  We rolled out of the parking lot at 11:30.

Train station in Rowland, North Carolina

The Vaccine: Did we have any concerns about getting the vaccine? None.  We feel strongly that the vaccines have been adequately tested, we trust in the scientific validity of the data and believe that getting the vaccine has a much lower level of risk than not getting it.  Everyone makes their own choice, but we feel that in order to do the kind of travel we want to do, more states, countries and companies will require a vaccination than not and we don’t want to be left out when the time comes.

Train station in Rowland, North Carolina

Side Effects: None really, but it surprises me how hyper-aware we become when we’re looking for something.  I call it “new shoe syndrome” because of how when we buy a new pair of shoes we spend days paying attention to every little twinge or pinch.  We recently bought new tires for the car, and for the first few drives I paid close attention to the sound, feel and ride.  After a while you forget about it.  We stopped at a restaurant for lunch, and while there a guy came in wearing a really strong cologne.  Strong odors like cologne and smelly air fresheners always bother me, so when my throat got a little scratchy I wrote it off.  No big deal.  Our arms hurt for a few days, especially while we slept.  But my left hip is often sore anyway, and since I got my shot in my left arm, I just spent more time on my right side!

Dilapidated building near the train station in Rowland, North Carolina

Eligibility: We’ve read about people gaming the system by falsely answering the questions, crossing state lines to states with more favorable rules or otherwise getting the shot before they should have.  Kathy & I waited for our group to be called, answered all the questions truthfully and lucked into an early appointment.  Could we have waited?  Sure, but why?  Everyone who wants a shot will eventually be able to get one, so it really doesn’t matter when we go.  Could we have gotten an appointment closer to home?  Perhaps, but once we got our appointments I stopped looking.  I read somewhere about local appointments now booking out into May or June, but it doesn’t matter any more.  The owner of the restaurant we had lunch at told us that someone called him the other afternoon to say that they had 15 Johnson & Johnson shots that were going to expire at the end of the day and to send along anyone who needed them.  That happens too, you never know.

I don’t really have a lot to add.  If anyone has questions I’ll be happy to answer them as comments or emails.  Ultimately everyone is going to make their own decision and have their own experience, but I’ll help where I can.

The Photos: These photos are from the town of Rowland, NC which is on the NC side of the NC/SC line near South of the Border.  They are in-camera JPEGs taken using the Kodachrome 64 recipe from Fuji X Weekly.  The conditions were less than ideal for Kodachrome and look a little warm/brown for my taste, but I’m not sure I got the white balance right.  I’ll try them again under sunny skies and see how they look.  I also shot in RAW and will process those my usual way for comparison.  It’s an interesting look and I’ve been enjoying playing with them.

We’ve Been Shot!

First Covid-19 Shots!

Kathy and I received our first dose of Covid 19 vaccine yesterday.  Getting it involved a trip to Bolivia.  Bolivia, North Carolina, that is! 🙂

When North Carolina announced a few weeks ago that they would be opening up vaccinations to Group 4 (our group), I knew that because it included anyone from 18-64 it was going to be a huge group unless they somehow broke it down.  Well, they did, sort of.  They determined that the first wave would be people 18-64 with pre-existing health conditions, which in my opinion (and the CDC’s guidelines) is just about everyone.  That essentially created a huge group vying for the next batch of vaccine, especially when I’m not sure how good of a dent they’ve made on the 65 and up crowd.  I know all or most of our neighbors have gotten it, but we have a pretty aware and active bunch.

Anticipating a wait of days or weeks, I went online Wednesday morning with my pre-saved folder of websites for the local hospitals and county health organizations.  These websites are extremely aggravating, as most of them require you to enter and re-enter information, only to take you to a page that says there are no appointments available. I don’t know if it is result of poor (or no) user testing or if it is intentionally designed to keep people from continually refreshing multiple pages.  There has to be a better way, but I’m not smart enough to figure it out!

When I went to the website for Novant Health, one of our two large local hospital networks and one for which I already had an online profile, a few clicks took me to a page to show what appointments were available.  There were no appointments available locally, but they were showing numerous appointments available at Brunswick Community College in Bolivia, North Carolina.  Where the @#$%^ is Bolivia, I asked?  Well, Bolivia is a little crossroads just outside of Southport and near Wilmington, in the southeast corner of the state and a little over 200 miles away.  Kathy & I immediately snagged appointments for the same time on the same day.  ROAD TRIP!

Of course it doesn’t take much of an excuse for us to load up the car and head somewhere.  But the promise of a vaccination appointment just two days away was not a hard decision to make.  So we found a motel, an Italian restaurant and a place for breakfast, just like we would do anywhere.  It’s good to have lots of practice. 😉

I’ll talk more about the trip and the vaccination process in another post, but suffice it to say it was smooth as silk.  They automatically provided us with appointments for our second dose in the same place at the same time in 4 weeks, so we’ll go back and do it all over again!

Oh, and we made some photo stops along the way there and back, so that will also be the subject of future posts! 🙂

Food For Thought About Food

Signals stored at a train station in Williston, Florida

Over the last year or so, Kathy & I have come to understand the impact of food choice on nutrition and overall health.  One of the arguments I hear a lot as to why people make poor choices regarding food is that not everyone has access to quality food.  My opinion is that people don’t know how to make good choices regarding food, because they don’t know what good food is, let alone what it tastes like.  Why?  Because the marketing messages we receive aren’t pushing healthy foods.  They’re too often promoting foods which are actually bad for us but are sold to an unsuspecting public as being good for us.  As I like to say, there is little profit in selling (for example) broccoli.

One of the food blogs I follow is Marion Nestle’s “Food Politics.”  A recent post titled “Feed The Truth: Draining The Swamp” outlines a study and paper by an organization called Feed The Truth titled “Draining The Big Food Swamp.”  This paper outlines the influence that “Big Food” has on national politics, which in turn affects the information people receive to make decisions about food.  I highly recommend reading Nestle’s post and then following the link to at least the Executive Summary of the report.

This is important stuff.  And this report only covers part of the problem, as it does not address the influence of pharmaceutical companies on the health care profession.  Drug companies don’t make money off of healthy people any more than food companies make money selling healthy foods.  We could solve a lot of the country’s health problems with a focus on quality food as an alternative to drugs and miracle cures.

Time For A Brain Transplant

Side view of my computer. The big blue fan is a cooling fan while the small fan (currently red) changes colors. Ooooooh!

My computer brain, that is.  🙂  My trusty machine was getting a little long in the tooth, having begun life as a pseudo-Mac about 7 years ago, then was transformed to a Windows machine about 4 years ago.  The hardware was good, but the choices were made primarily because they were compatible with the Mac OS.  It still made for a decent Windows machine but was not ideal.

Fortunately, I have in-house tech support who is willing to work for food and drink.  My son Kevin helped me pick out new hardware, and I ended up keeping the case, power supply and video card.  I (actually he – I just stayed out of the way and tried not to break things) replaced the motherboard, processor and memory plus a new SSD.  I already had upgraded my photo drives from 2TB to 4TB, so they stayed intact.  Not replacing everything saved me a bit of money, and that made the CFO pretty happy since it gives her more to spend on decorating. 😉

For those who care (and know what it means!), here is a summary of my upgraded hardware:

  • GeForceGTX760 Video Card
  • ASRock X570 PHANTOM GAMING 4 ATX AMD Motherboard
  • AMD RYZEN 7 3700X 8-Core 3.6 GHz Processor
  • WD BLACK SN750 NVMe M.2 500GB Hard Drive
  • SanDisk X210SD 512GB SATA Hard Drive (Currently unused)
  • WD 4TB Desktop Performance 7200 rpm SATA III 3.5″ Internal HDD (X2)
  • CORSAIR TX650M Case with 650W power supply

It’s a pretty sweet setup.  Getting everything back up and running took a little time, but at least that was something I know how to do! 😉

Workstation with new computer January 2021


Art Versus Decor

Print made for a private booth at Dressler’s Restaurant in Charlotte

One of the household projects Kathy & I have been dabbling with over the last year or so is some decorating.  We’ve been in our condo for just over 7 years, and other than buying new furniture and hanging some things on the walls it’s been pretty much the way it was when we moved in.  We just never got around to “finishing” it – traveling is way more fun!  But now that we’ve been spending more time here, spending less money on travel and are generally tired of looking at the same stuff, we’re trying to change things up a bit.

Print made for a hallway at Dressler’s Restaurant in Charlotte

When we downsized from our old house, we had a lot more prints hung there than we needed for our new place.  There were several that had been admired by friends and family, so I was happy to give some of them new homes.  Others I removed from the frames, stored the matted prints in an archival box, and they are under the bed.  I sent the frames to Goodwill.  I’ll probably never hang the prints again but I have them and they are out of the way.  I had new prints made for some specific places, but for the most part we just recycled prints that had been hung in our old house.  I haven’t wanted to spend money on prints for prints’ sake without a specific location to hang them.

One of two grids of prints made for a banquet room at Dressler’s Restaurant in Charlotte
One of two grids of prints made for a banquet room at Dressler’s Restaurant in Charlotte

I have never collected prints by other photographers.  I have several prints from photographers that mean a lot to me, and with the exception of one that needs framed, I have them displayed prominently (sadly, I don’t own a Curto 😉 ).  One of our rooms is dedicated to prints of paintings by an artist in St. Martin, and that room doesn’t need a thing.  But there are places in the house that just need decor.  We recently had our bedroom and bathrooms painted.  I have a beautiful grouping of prints on wood that I rehung in our bedroom over the dresser, but the other bedroom and bathroom walls are currently bare and awaiting our inspiration.

Prints made for the dining room of Dressler’s Restaurant in Charlotte

We’ve constantly struggled with the question of what to hang on the walls.  I obviously have a huge selection of photographic material, but (a) we’re both sensitive to the idea of not wanting our house to be a “photography gallery,” (b) there is only so much wall space and (c) deciding on what to print and hang is a huge challenge.  Printing and framing is expensive, and once we’ve put down a few hundred dollars for printing and framing (or for canvas or metal) we’ve always felt like we needed to be willing to live with it for a while.

Prints made for the ladies’ room of Dressler’s Restaurant in Charlotte
Print made for the men’s room at Dressler’s Restaurant in Charlotte

But is that really the case?  I consider a lot of my work to be “artistic” but I don’t consider myself to be an “artist” in the sense that any of my work will ever mean anything beyond a close circle of family & friends and a few “accidental” clients.  If I went to Ikea, brought home a carload of decor, hung it on the wall for a few years and then tossed it in the trash, so what?  But other than the fact that it’s my work and it cost me a bit more than Ikea, what’s the difference if I throw or give it away after I get done with it?  We don’t mind spending (say) $300 on a case of wine or a fancy dinner, so if we spend that same money on a few things to hang on the wall, I don’t see anything wrong with considering them to be “consumables.”  Better to give them away to an appreciative recipient of course, but we don’t have to live with them forever.

Print made for the bar at Dressler’s Restaurant in Charlotte

So the question I’m struggling with is this: If we consider replacing artwork to be no different than buying a new bedspread or draperies or having a chair reupholstered, so what?  As long as we’re good with the money, no one cares but us.  Yes, I would always try to find a new home for old pieces with someone who appreciates them.  But that appreciation is more likely to be because they came from me rather than them being an artifact with some kind of collectible value.  It feels a little weird to think of it that way, but I think it is OK.

Print made for the bar at Dressler’s Restaurant in Charlotte

Pride and Patriotism

Fourth of July Parade in Belhaven, North Carolina

It’s hard to not be moved by a sense of pride in this great country when our democratic system is permitted to function as it was intended.  I shed a few emotional tears watching the ceremonies today, but I look forward to our future with optimistic and hopeful anticipation.

Fourth of July Parade in Belhaven, North Carolina

I need to go back and re-watch or read Biden’s speech, but the words that keep returning to my head are when he referred to ‘leading not by the example of our strength but by the strength of our example.  Amen to that.

Fourth of July Parade in Belhaven, North Carolina
Edenton, North Carolina

Minds Over Mayhem

Moonrise the night before the official full moon, October 2020. Hilton Head Island, South Carolina

Like many people, I am astonished and embarrassed by the behavior of my fellow humans, especially over the last 24 hours but indeed over the last what? 24-48-60+ months?  The extent to which people can be deceived, incited and provoked to extremes is frightening.

It’s very popular right now to talk of impeachment, imprisonment and removal from office those who have corrupted and vandalized our democracy.  Whether it happens or not remains to be seen, and I don’t necessarily disagree with that approach.  In fact, in many ways I welcome it as a lesson to those responsible and as a deterrence against continuing such behavior.  What I ultimately hope, however, is that once all the angry words settle down and people go back to their lives, cooler heads can take a look at the problems in our country today and try to come up with meaningful solutions.

The question I keep coming back to is this:  How desperate are the people who are attracted to false hope, lies, deceit and corruption that they so fervently believe in it to the extent that they can be moved to such atrocious actions?  This is more than racial, religious, ideological or political difference.  This more than an undercurrent.  It is a raging river.

Whether by chance or by choice we as a society tend to be attracted to turmoil like moths to a flame.  Thankfully, I spend most of my time doing things that I find calming and rewarding, and don’t get myself too riled up over all of the negativity that has swirled around us for far too long.  I don’t ignore the media, in my opinion that would be irresponsible.  But I have managed to insulate myself and – for the most part my opinions and attitudes – from most of the mayhem so that I’m not living with the anger and angst that many people feel and that I might otherwise be dealing with.  Not everyone is able to do that and I feel fortunate that I can.

I don’t have the answers.  I can only hope that the changes coming over the next few weeks, the next few months and the next few years, can head us in a more positive direction.  One where we can disagree peacefully, work together for the common good to find equitable solutions to problems and to live in peace within our own country and in our world.  Let’s hope for that, and where we personally are able, live that.

After The Demolition Derby That Was 2020, We’re “Still Running!”

St John, USVI

When I was growing up, my family would regularly attend stock car races at a couple of local race tracks.  A few times a year the tracks would have events called Demolition Derbies, where a bunch of stripped-down cars would start out running around the track and purposely wreck each other, with the last car running declared the winner.  I’m recalling this through 50+ years of possibly (likely!) faulty memory, but as I recall, somewhere near the end when there were only 2 or 3 cars running, the announcer providing the blow-by-blow commentary would say something like “CAR 83 IS SMOKING BADLY, HAS A COUPLE OF FLAT TIRES BUT IT’S STIIIIIILLLLL RUNNING.”  I have to say that after the demolition derby that was 2020, we’re badly damaged but STILL RUNNING.  And hopefully running well enough to hang on through 2021.

Tom and Katy at the beach!

Somewhat counter to the rest of society (contrarians? us?) and despite the various impacts of the virus, Kathy & I look back on 2020 as overall a very good year.  We made some important changes that we possibly would/should have made anyway, but the arrival of Covid made them imperative.  It worked out, and WE”RE STILL RUNNING!  Believe me though, I am quite sensitive to the fact that not everyone can say the same about 2020.  For way too many folks, 2020 was a very ugly year.  A disastrous year.  A demolition derby with not everyone escaping unscathed.  From where I sit, however, life has been pretty darned good and I am thankful for that.

Yellowtail Dam area in Bighorn Canyon National Recreation Area in southern Montana near Fort Smith

But we traveled.  We traveled a bit differently than in past years, with a little more attention paid to places and conditions, avoiding the famous places with big crowds, carrying more of our food and water than we might have taken otherwise, but the country was open and we went.  In fact, we traveled more in 2020 than we ever have.  We spent 90+ days away from home, crossed off 5 new states and visited friends and family in locations far & wide.  Despite only driving 426 miles in March, April & May, we’ve put over 18,000 miles on the Subie since 12/31/19, mostly in the second half of the year and including our 8,000-mile road trip to the Oregon coast and back in September.  And we did it safely, staying away from popular places like National Parks and sticking mostly to sparsely-visited National Monuments, National Historic Parks, State Parks and Wildlife Refuges.  A number of places were not open so we made do by seeing just the outside.  Yes, we traveled!

“Wheel Fence” at the Dahmen Barn along US-195 in Uniontown, Washington

With exceptional (in hindsight) timing we took three cruises in January-February before the virus hit but have stuck to car travel since then.  Staying off airplanes and cruise ships has saved us a bunch of money and allowed us to see parts of the country we might have put off if we had continued to fly places.  It looks like that trend will continue in 2021, since the question of when we might expect to receive a vaccine remains a bit of a mystery.  That assumes that the vaccines are actually effective, that we can eventually actually get one and that the virus begins to subside.  Cruises and air travel will likely need to wait until 2022 for us, but there is still a lot of this country to see and we’re ready to go.

Haystack Rock at sunset over the Pacific Ocean from Cannon Beach, Oregon

Staying out of restaurants has been very good for our waistlines and for our budget.  Kathy & I have never been and will never be skinny, but there is a lot less of each of us to haul around these days.  We’ve been making regular donations of too-large clothes to our local Goodwill.  Even now when restaurants have mostly re-opened, we’re finding that we like our own cooking just fine and we continue to lose weight at a reasonable and sustainable pace without “dieting.”  Interestingly, our reaction to a lot of restaurant food now is that it is over-seasoned, over-portioned, overly meat-centric and over-priced.  We’ve got a great source for fresh fish, a nice selection of our own wine, and find that we can dine in for a fraction of the cost of a fancy meal out.  We love our restaurant people and have many friends in the business, but it is an estranged relationship these days.  We weaned ourselves off of junk food years ago and didn’t succumb to the temptation of “comfort food” during the pandemic.

Lunch stop during our tour of Roatan, Honduras during our February 2020 cruise aboard Norwegian Dawn

I took nearly 17,000 photos this year.  Not as many as 2019 when I took over 21,000, but still a lot!  Why so many?  I take a lot of our grandson Edison, and he moves so fast most of them are blurry!  The number of photos that are actually worth keeping will be far less but remains to be seen as I’m still working on them.  I did get a new camera this year, which was fun, and I have enjoyed working with it and the constantly updated software to process the files.

Perrine Memorial Bridge over the Snake River in Twin Falls, Idaho

We have a lot to be thankful for from 2020 despite all of the negative happenings, and we have plenty of reason to look forward to 2021.  I don’t know how it will all shake out, but the best we can hope for is to get to 12/31/21 in at least as good a shape as we got to the finish line of 12/31/20.  My primary goal is to keep a positive outlook, to find the silver lining in every situation and seek out the positive wherever I need to go to find it!

Shoshone Falls on the Snake River near Twin Falls, Idaho

The photos here are just a selection from the friends and family we were able to visit with this past year and who we look forward to seeing again this coming year!

Boat cruise on Lake Geneva, Wisconsin with Jeff and Mary Pat
Jeff Curto and Mary Pat Larue during our cruise on Lake Geneva, Wisconsin
Jim & Lisa at Seneca Point in Cook Forest State Park in Pennsylvania
Castillo San Felipe del Morro in San Juan, Puerto Rico
Bill & Cathy aboard Carnival Breeze
Bill & Cathy, Tom & Kathy in the dining room aboard Carnival Breeze
Jim & Tom atop the Historic Fire Tower #9 in Cook Forest State Park in Pennsylvania
Breakfast with Monte at The Chicken Coop Restaurant in Fort Collins, Colorado
Edison loves Grandma!
Pine cone inspection
World’s Largest Barber Pole in Casey, Illinois
World’s Largest Mailbox in Casey, Illinois
Grandma & Edison reading Cars & Trucks & Things That Go
Lamoille Canyon Scenic Byway, part of the Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest in eastern Nevada near Elko
Bonneville Salt Flats, Utah
Roatan Rum Shop in Roatan, Honduras
Roatan Rum Shop in Roatan, Honduras during our February 2020 cruise aboard Norwegian Dawn
Scott and Edison on Mother’s Day 2020
Quarry Exhibit Hall and the wall of dinosaur bones at Dinosaur National Monument near Jensen, Utah
Monte taking Kathy’s picture sitting on “his” rock along the Foothills Trail at the Reservoir Ridge Natural Area in Fort Collins, Colorado
North Carolina Transportation Museum in Spencer, North Carolina
Fall along the Blue Ridge Parkway near Licklog Ridge Overlook MP 349
Capella on 9 rooftop bar and tapas restaurant at the AC Hotel by Marriott Hotel in downtown Asheville, North Carolina
Nike Missile Base Historic Area in Everglades National Park, Florida
Wine tasting at Ken Wright Cellars tasting room in Carlton, Oregon