So after a few years of pandemic and all attendant precaution, I let my guard down in a predictable way with predictable results. My office had their holiday party on the 15th, and I attended without a mask, including a tightly-packed after party where everybody had to yell to be heard. And yesterday on the 23rd I tested positive for COVID. My family was planning to visit my mom and grandmother today for Christmas Eve (this, before the extreme cold front knocked out their power for most of the day, threatening those plans anyway), and I wanted to be careful; my grandma is in her 80s, and my mom has had some chronic respiratory issues. So I took a test – the first one of many prior tests to clearly indicate a positive result.
I’m pretty lucky. I’ve had every vaccination and booster I could including more recent bivalent booster. I believe this is a major contributing factor to the mildness of my case. My symptoms feel more like an upper nasal sort of cold with a bit of sinus pressure, clear runny nose, and very faint headache. No fever whatsoever. I can still taste and smell everything just fine.
Because my nuclear family has generally been (and generally remains) pretty careful about COVID, I’m now isolating in my room through Tuesday. That means I’ve been up here all day today on Christmas Eve. That means tonight I’ll be crying at the end of It’s a Wonderful Life all alone, watching it on my iPad, sitting in my bed. That means tomorrow I’ll be watching my kids unwrap their gifts on Christmas morning via FaceTime call with my wife downstairs.
I know how I got here, and I know my own part in it. But it still sucks.
Through some combination of various folks using consumer genetic testing and genealogy research websites, my family found out that my maternal grandma has a half sister that’s not quite a year older than her. This past Saturday, my family was visiting my mom and grandma on a day that coincided with my Uncle Scott visiting from New Jersey, and this newfound great aunt visiting along with her daughter (who is around my own mom’s age), my first cousin, once removed.
My mom and her brothers, along with my grandma, had already spoken to them several times over the phone and were excited for this visit, and I was pretty excited to meet them, too. Sure, I’m still on-balance an optimist, so I recognize what may be inherent awkwardness in this sort of first encounter. But my new relatives are wonderful. Truly wonderful. My grandma, the oldest of four (and the only gal) in her household growing up, is thrilled to find that she has a sister. It’s already a celebratory time of year, and we were already happy to visit family close to the holidays for a get-together. Meeting up with new family and having a terrific time learning about each other and sharing some laughs was the most unexpected extra gift.
Last night I waited in line for 30 minutes to get into “Miracle on Cary”, a Christmas-themed pop-up bar hosted at The Jasper (and other participating bars around the world) for the past few years. Because I am An Old who has kids that can’t stay home alone, my wife and I have heretofore been unable to experience this seasonal event at our favorite bar. But with some of Valerie’s recent out of town travels, she let me have a night to myself which finally gave me the opportunity.
The entire bar was positively dripping with decoration from the ceiling to the floor, and I could not have captured it all unless I’d taken 100 photos, but I did at least get a few fun shots of my beverages and other stuff around The Jasper. The drink menu for Miracle is, frustratingly, an image instead of text. Rather than link to something inaccessible I’ll at least provide the description of each cocktail I enjoyed. But first, some of the decor!
Santa’s Tipsy Village
Like I said, dripping with decoration. There was a TV at the far end of the bar playing Christmas movies (Elf was playing during my visit), and there were little nooks of classic Christmas movie paraphernalia all over, from the Griswolds’ hockey jerseys to Ralphie’s air rifle wrapped in lights (and lights extending from the barrel as if shooting). This kitschy, nostalgia-laden decor would put even the Grinch in a holiday frame of mind.
But I didn’t just go for the decoration! This is The Jasper, to me the best bar in town, so I wanted some of these holiday drinks. The menu appears to be standardized across participating locations, but not to the level of specific brands of spirits (at least as printed on the menus). I imagine this allows for participating bars to use whatever is available to them in a given category (e.g. whatever Trinidad rum they have/can get), but it also, theoretically, provides a bit of latitude for those bars to interpret the menu how they see fit. Anyway, what did I drink?
The Christmas Spirit(s)
My first drink was the Holiday Spiked Chai which, according to the menu, contained:
Jamaican overproof rum
grated nutmeg as a garnish
All of this was served on ice in the adorable barrel-shaped mug in the photo above. It was delicious, and a bit too easy to drink. Great texture from the egg white, and despite the presence of coffee liqueur, the drink really did taste quite like an iced chai latte. A pretty delicious tiki-esque start to the evening.
Round two was the Snowball Old Fashioned, which was made of:
“gingerbread” (I suspect this was some sort of ginger Demerara syrup)
aromatic and wormwood bitters
This was stored and strained over an ice ball which looked like it was made of compressed, crushed ice, which really sold that snowball effect (The Jasper typically serves old fashioned cocktails over a large clear cube with their logo stamped on one face). The illustrations of tipsy Santa on the glass were cute and, well, old fashioned looking! And the drink was a perfect late fall/early winter twist on the classic.
My third drink was called the…uh…Yippie Ki Yay Mother F****r! Heh. Yeah. Sure it’s the name of the drink that will get your attention, but this was deeeelicious. It had:
Trinidad overproof rum
ube and coconut orgeat
acid-adjusted pineapple juice
It was served over coarsely crushed ice in a Santa pants mug and garnished with some powdered sugar and fresh mint. More holiday tiki! Absolutely delicious.
I had one more round before walking to dinner and getting a ride home, but it was “only” a Sazerac (my favorite classic cocktail, and made to perfection last night). It’s challenging for my wife and me to find time and a babysitter to do this sort of thing, but if I can make it happen, I will, because this was the most fun I’ve had at a bar in a long time. It would be ten times more fun if I can share it with Valerie. At any rate, I highly recommend it to anybody who can safely/comfortably drink in the Richmond area at least – though I imagine similarly excellent bars are participating elsewhere.
Here are a few unremarkable photos from my ride on the Oak Leaf Trail in Milwaukee County, WI. I rode a healthy chunk of the Menomonee River Line while exploring Wauwatosa, where my sister-in-law lives with her family. The whole trail network seems incredible, and I fully intend to bring my bike every time I return to Wisconsin so I can explore more of this system. I was lucky to see it with enough snow to add some beauty without being so much as to interfere with my ride.
The entire trail was paved and pretty well maintained, with enough winding pathways and river crossings through the landscape to keep it interesting.
My favorite part was the Hoyt Park Footbridge, which I think was a WPA project:
On my way back from Wisconsin this past weekend I tried to catch a few screenshots from the maps app on my smartphone (safely!) as I noticed some fun street names.
And finally, I noticed a nifty little detail when I was closer to a major metropolitan area (Chicago in this case): the map gained more 3D detail and, to my surprise, the route line passed beneath overpasses with color and opacity adjusted accordingly:
Not seen is that the indicator for my current position would also adjust when passing beneath an overpass. I’m sure people would rather have more accurate data and directions within Apple Maps, but I’m sure the visual design team isn’t responsible for that functionality, and I always appreciate these sort of details. They aren’t strictly necessary, but they add a nice bit of fun and a subconscious signal of attention to detail.
I’m up in the Milwaukee, WI area with my family for Thanksgiving. Earlier this week we went out to dinner at a restaurant called Organ Piper Pizza in Greenfield, just outside of town. It’s been open since 1976 and is, apparently, only one of 3 places like it left in the states. This place had me smiling ear-to-ear from the moment I saw the old sign with flashing lights and its mock Tudor exterior. The smile only widened as we heard the classic organ sounds and watched the flashing lights, quacking ducks, and mechanically-actuated percussion around the room.
Was the food any good? It was fine – exactly what you’d want at a family pizza place. Tavern-style pie that was crispy and tasty, and soda by the pitcher. The kids loved it and so did all the adults. If I lived near this place I’d be here every few months to be sure.
And hats off to Perry Petta, the organist. That man is a treasure.
This past Saturday I took a drive down to Farmville with my bike. I wanted to test my cycling endurance a bit with my longest ride yet: out and back to Burkeville, the eastern end of the High Bridge Trail. This was just over 30 miles and it left me a little bow-legged, even with some nice cushy chamois liners.
The trail itself leaves a lot to be desired. Don’t get me wrong – the weather was gorgeous, and being outside on my bike (especially without having to dodge traffic) is better than not, but the trail isn’t all that exciting. Excepting the eponymous high bridge and its views, there wasn’t too much to see.
A persistent tree canopy rose over my head, just a week or so past peak fall foliage, and the path only turned occasionally. Most bewildering was the end of the trail in Burkeville – nothing but a lonely picnic table and no clear way to reach the trail directly at that end other than the trail itself!
Still, I feel a sense of accomplishment for having ridden that far. My previous longest ride was a little more than 22 miles (On a single speed! Around the city!), and I really get the effort on this one. The grade was pretty easy over the entire ride, but pedaling that long and sitting my obese frame on a bike saddle for over 3 hours was as much a mental exercise as physical.
This past Friday was my birthday and I decided to walk the 2.5 miles from my home to the restaurant where my family would later meet me for dinner. The weather was gorgeous, so I took my DSLR with me. I didn’t get much, but I figured since I had the time and no pressure, I’d rather have more than my iPhone on hand if I saw something interesting.
I’ve been quite a bit more active lately taking strolls around town. Yesterday, while my car was in the shop I was able to enjoy a particularly beautiful morning and snapped some photos along the way around Richmond’s Fan District