All posts by tremendousblog

The Painting I Love the Most

I’ve always found Picasso’s Les Demoiselles d’Avignon particularly beautiful. When you walk into the room where it lives in the Museum of Modern Art, it’s impossible not to be drawn to it. The bright, rose color, the striking jagged shapes, and the eyes of the women staring back at you always hold me rapt.

I particularly liked to go to MoMA during the wonderful Free Fridays, but last March the pandemic shut MoMA along with everything else. I remember being home at night, looking at the darkness outside, and thinking that inside that gallery was dark now too.

For perhaps the first time since it was made in 1907, no one was looking at my favorite painting. Perhaps a caretaker came by from time to time to check on it, and cleaning crews to sweep up, but aside from that it was alone. I missed it like a friend. And I wondered if it was lonely.

In the fall, I finally got the opportunity to see my old friend again. I relished looking at the warm colors and the beautiful figures. I was happy to be together with it again, happy to reclaim something of the life I’d had. And maybe the painting was happy too, to be admired once more.

My point: what we’ve lost, we will regain. Even more. Let’s be patient and look forward to that day. Everything we’ve loved before, we’ll appreciate more than ever.

The Incredible New Blender I’m Loving

With cold weather and ample time at home, I’m getting a lot of use out of a wonderful Christmas gift I received: an Instant Ace Plus blender. It’s so powerful I jumped away in fear the first time I turned it on! Since then, I’ve made friends with it, and it’s rewarded me with silky soups and delicious smoothies.

I particularly like putting some broth and vegetables into it, pressing a button, and having a delicious hot soup in a few minutes. I can take a shower while it’s running and eat whenever, since it keeps the soup warm for two hours. I also use it to make a smoothie every morning with milk, frozen fruit and greens which ensures I get protein, vitamins and fiber right when I wake up.

I did a lot of research on blenders from Vitamix, BlendTec, and others, and this one seems like the best combination of features and cost. For some reason, the Instant Pot slow cooker is enormously popular but this blender seems all but forgotten. Give it a shot!

How Israel Is Vaccinating More People Than Anywhere Else On Earth

Israel has vaccinated over a million people in a matter of weeks, moving faster than any other country in the world. About 12% of its population have now received a dose, compared to under 1% in the United States. 70% of the elderly should be vaccinated by the end of this week.

It would be easy to attribute Israel’s speed to its small size and population density. But New Jersey, where I live, has vaccinated only 72,000 people, a rate no better than the national average. So how do you explain Israel’s success?

Israel’s health system is highly centralized and is contacting people who are eligible to get them in for their vaccine. We are expecting those who are eligible to find a vaccination site themselves, which means navigating a fragmented system that sometimes announces available vaccines on Facebook or websites that repeatedly crash.

We have people’s age and residence information available through the Social Security Administration and the IRS. Why are we not using that data to encourage the elderly to get their doses? And why are we not building a central portal for Americans to find out when and where they can be vaccinated?

Israel’s eligibility criteria are broader than in the US, with anyone over age 60 eligible. In the US, we have tight eligibility criteria and few people being vaccinated. This benefits no one as doses sit unused.

Israel also avoids wasting doses at the end of the day by giving doses at risk of spoilage to anyone who wants them.

With a more centralized system, broader eligibility notifications to those eligible, and policies to avoid waste, we could protect our fellow Americans at a much faster rate. Now that we have a solution, it’s a crime to let it sit unused.

What Made Me Happy in 2020

We are waving goodbye to this year, and a lot of people are saying good riddance. But I’ve been thinking to myself, how can I write off an entire year of my life? Even optimistically, it’s at least 1% of my existence. So lately I’ve been reflecting on all the great parts of 2020. These are some things I have been grateful for in this most unusual of years:

  • My dear little pet gerbil lived over 3/4ths of this year, so I can never say 2020 was bad. He passed away in October, and in 2021 I’ll be without him the entire year. So since I had the joy of being with him in 2020, I can never say 2020 was bad.
  • I made more new friends this year than in the prior 5, oddly enough. I think people are reaching out for human contact, but also trying to be safe. My relationships with my existing friends also became deeper as distractions were removed and all of us needed more of each other’s support.
  • I discovered yoga, which helped me heal from a tendon injury that made it hard to walk. I now have a great new hobby I plan to vigorously pursue in the New Year. It also provides me a community of great people to talk to.
  • I got into camping, which is something I never thought I’d enjoy but came to love. As our usual activities shut down, my friends and I went to the one thing that was open: the woods. We deepened our friendships by facing challenges together and found peace amongst nature.
  • I will truly appreciate getting to see family and non-local friends again. Normally, I would’ve seen them from time to time as a matter of course, but being deprived of that this year means I’ll relish their company all the more in 2021.
  • I’ll also really enjoy being in a crowd of friends, being able to act in TV shows and movies, volunteering at the animal shelter and other activities I can’t do now.
  • I gained real understanding that the world can change absolutely unpredictably in an instant. I had only ever seen gradual change before in my life. That will give me greater insight into the world and help me prepare for other challenges.
  • Even though unexpected changes can happen, I realized certain solid habits like exercise, a decent diet, and saving money set you up well for any eventuality.
  • I gained greater confidence in myself. I assimilated new information quickly about testing, masks, etc. and successfully kept myself and my family safe. I feel like if I can get through this, I can get through most anything, and I think the same is true of society at large.
  • This blog! I was searching for a lockdown-proof hobby and rediscovered my interest in writing. We’ve had views from countries as far away as Belgium, India, Dubai and Nigeria. What a joy to be able to connect with people from all over the world!

What did you enjoy in 2020, despite all the difficulties this year has presented? Let us know in the comments!

Happy New Year everyone!

“New Year’s Eve 2020 at Numbers” byenigmaarts is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Where I Was Last New Year’s

We have made it through a challenging year. And now I’m starting to reflect. Lately, I find myself thinking back to where I was last New Year’s, and where I’ll be next one.

As this year began, I was walking up the steps of a beautiful shrine in Tokyo, Japan in perfect blue sunlight. Just ahead of me were my wife and my sister-in-law, with her newborn in her arms. We made the traditional New Year’s Day visit to the shrine, where they asked for blessings for the coming year. Me, I mostly just looked around in wonder at the beautiful shrine and the clear blue above.

Today, my wife is in Japan again with her family, my family. I cannot be there by law. They won’t be doing the shrine visit this year because of the crowds. But they still plan to eat sushi at the same place we went to last year. 🙂

My little nephew is walking now. He actually remembered my wife! I wonder if he’ll remember me. Even if he doesn’t, we can start making new memories together.

At the beginning of 2020, I could never have predicted how this year would unfold. But here we are. We survived and we have new hope heading into 2021. We have not recovered everything we’ve lost…I cannot be in my second home with my wife’s family, nor can I go see my mother or grandmother. But the difficult days are, at last, numbered.

Where will I, where will we, be next new year’s? I don’t know. But I think we will have beaten this. And we will be feeling great joy at being together once again!

Until then, don’t give up the fight.

What It’s Like to Get the Moderna COVID Vaccine

About ninety minutes ago, my dear friend Laura* received the Moderna COVID vaccine. She’s the first person I know to receive the Moderna one, and she reports that she hasn’t felt a thing so far. No pain or side effects of any kind.

Laura works in a medical facility and got severely ill with COVID this spring. I’m very happy for her that she is now protected as she goes about her work of protecting others.

She sent me a picture she took right after, and she looked more happy and relaxed than she has in a long time. They even get a cute sticker to show they got the vaccine!

We hear a lot about COVID vaccines and their side effects, but now I know two people who have actually received one (another friend just got the Pfizer vaccine). Hearing directly from a trusted friend rather than a news report gives me enormous confidence and peace of mind.

Talk about hope for our new year!

*Not her real name

“medical syringes” by begemot_dn is licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0

The New COVID Strain Is Now in the United States

The first US case of the new strain from the UK was just reported a few minutes ago by the Wall Street Journal. The case was discovered in Colorado. If we have one identified case, how many unidentified ones are already here?

The increased transmissibility of the new strain, along with strained hospitals in many parts of the country, could lead to serious lockdowns soon.

The Art Piece I’m Loving Lately

I came across this beautiful art piece recently. It’s a mixed media piece made of acrylic paint, paper, and safety pins. It is in the silhouette of a girl seen through a fence. It appears to be meant to evoke the many people coming to the southern border for asylum in recent years.

I spoke with the artist, Amy Putman, and she said she got the idea from an article in the New York Times about people using safety pins on their clothing as a statement about people being linked, whether they be fortunate or disadvantaged.

Ms. Putman plans to make a series of prints from this image. I hope to get my hands on one when they’re ready!

What interesting pieces of art have you seen this year? Leave it in the comments!

How I Took An Awesome Yoga Class for $1.75

One of the new hobbies I’ve picked up in 2020 is doing yoga. I became a believer when it helped me recover from a painful tendon injury, and I’ve been turning myself into a pretzel (or trying to) ever since.

Yoga classes can be expensive, but I’ve found a way to take great classes in person for as little as $1.75, which is what I paid last night. Perhaps as a way to coax people back into gyms, ClassPass has yoga, spinning, and numerous other classes for incredibly low rates. And you can do it all a la carte with no monthly membership fee.

You can do a 0 credit a month plan for free and then buy credits any time to take a class. That’s what I do.

I’ve taken almost a dozen classes since November and I’ve never paid more than $6. I go to a local studio with great teachers, and I feel very energized and relaxed afterward. I work out, socialize a bit, come home and eat dinner, then sleep like the dead due to the evening’s exertion.

An a la carte model is perfect right now because the COVID situation can change rapidly and impact people’s willingness to go to a gym. With this plan, you only pay when you actually go.

I don’t know of any cheaper way to do yoga, and the app is easy to use, so I strongly recommend this to anyone who is interested in yoga or other fitness classes.

I can’t tell you how nice it is to be around this community of people who enjoy yoga and live nearby. It makes me feel normal and feel happy, and that’s valuable nowadays. See you at spinning tonight!

Try CkassPass for free for 14 days using this link. (If you do, I will also receive some free credits. )

“Yoga in King George Square Brisbane-06=” by Sheba Also 18 Million Views is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

What International Travel Is Like Right Now

So I’m a bachelor again…at least until Sunday.

On Saturday evening, I loaded my wife’s luggage onto a bus and kissed her through my mask…very 2020! She headed to JFK Airport, bound for her home country of Japan for the first time in a year.

Yes, you can travel overseas during a pandemic…if you’re very, very patient. Her flight was delayed by 8 hours. Once they finally let her on, the plane was almost empty and no one was sitting anywhere nearby. The lack of passengers and the powerful air filtration systems means flying is not nearly as dangerous as most people think. You’re a lot more likely to get COVID at the supermarket.

She arrived in Tokyo after midnight. Next came a required COVID test. She waited an hour or two for the results, and then was free to leave the airport.

One problem: it was the middle of the night, so no transportation was available. She thought she’d have to wait another 6 hours or so until a car service could pick her up. People who have just come from overseas are barred from using public transit, even with a negative COVID test, which strikes me as extreme.

Her brother saved the day by renting a car and picking her up. I didn’t even know he had a license! Soon, she was with her mom having coffee at a new cafe in their neighborhood. She later tortured me with pictures of beautiful dumplings they had for lunch.

This trip was actually the second one she booked…she had booked another on Air Canada that was cancelled. They refuse to provide a refund. The only option they give is rebooking on itineraries that take days to reach Japan. I strongly recommend avoiding Air Canada at all costs. She wound up going with ANA at a price around double what we paid last year.

Given the enormous number of delayed and cancelled flights, her friend who works for ANA strongly recommended booking a direct flight. My wife took her advice and was glad she did.

Being with her family is restorative for her, but for me, I’m not going abroad until all restrictions are lifted. The combination of delayed and cancelled flights, long waits, and high costs are enough to keep me close to home.

“File:Boeing 787 N1015B ANA Airlines (27611880663) (cropped).jpg” by pjs2005 from Hampshire, UK is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0