october 2020

Longest. Game. Ever.

But at least the Braves won. It would have been a real heartbreaker to go through all that at home in a best of three series and not come away with the W. One more and they make it past the first round of the playoffs for the first time in 19 years.

Well, the Braves did it—they won the first two games of a three game playoff to advance past the first round of the playoffs for the first time since 2001. They shut out the Reds in both games and now move on to the divisional round against either the Cubs or the Marlins.

Even though I'm happy about them escaping a very unpredictable best of three series, this next round (a best of five series) is more similar to how the playoffs have worked for the past several years, and this will be the real test to see how competitive they might be this postseason. In previous years, the wildcard "round" was really just a single game between two teams, one of which would advance to the divisional best of five round.

The Braves have been knocked out of that single game twice before (in 2010 and 2012), but what's more important is what happened in 2013, 2018, and 2019: in each of those years, the Braves won the division and went straight to the division round, but lost each time (including the heartbreaking loss to St. Louis last year when the series was tied 2-2 and the Braves gave up 10 runs in the first inning).

To really break this 19 year streak and advance to a later round of the playoffs, they'll need to win this next series; otherwise this could be another offseason of wondering what might have been. But I'm excited about where they could go: despite the issues with the starting pitching, which have been an issue since the beginning of the season, they've been able to unconventionally make up for it with a hitting lineup that's solid from top to bottom—no easy outs at the bottom of the order—and a bullpen that's ready to step in and hold the line even if they are called on early in the game to relieve a struggling starter.

My mom is headed home from the hospital this afternoon, but her recovery from knee surgery was a little dicier than anyone expected. She did pretty good for the first 24 hours after getting out of surgery (the last time I wrote an update about her) and was on track to go home on Wednesday (she had her surgery on a Monday), but then she started having trouble keeping food down, was getting disoriented and dizzy, and was also dehydrated (likely as a side effect of not being able to eat).

It took a couple of scary days while they diagnosed and started to treat the various issues that were affecting her, but by Saturday she was sounding much better (and I'm sure she was being a total pain to her nurses, because she was ready to go home then) and it started to seem likely that she would actually be released in the following day or two. Now that she's home, her friend Jane will stay with her for another week, and then she'll start home healthcare for a bit as her knee continues to recovery from the surgery.

As much as I don't wish suffering or death on anyone, I thought the one thing that might make Trump take a different point of view on the Covid crisis was contracting it himself. But given how things have played out over the past few days—the focus on hypermasculine braggadociousness, incomplete/inaccurate information from his medical team, and continued defiance of basic public health protocols meant to protect innocent people from being infected by someone who is actively carrying the virus—it's clear that even being infected by the virus and having serious complications will have no impact on his personal behavior, his modeling for his rabid base, or his governmental policies in response to the virus.

As often as he has demonstrated these traits over the past four (forty?) years, it's clear that he is incapable of empathy, incapable of a rational, science-based approach to solving a problem, and incapable of understanding how his decisions and personal behavior as the person who currently occupies the office of the presidency can impact hundreds of millions of people (negatively in almost every case, but it could have been positively as well if he were willing to recognize and appreciate the extreme power that he holds).

I honestly don't know how anyone who believes in either of those things—using medical science to solve a global health crisis or having empathy for your fellow human beings, any of whom could be you or someone you love in different circumstances—can consider voting for him for another term. And that's what's really scary about Trump for me: that somewhere between 30%-40% of our nation not only tolerates or embraces his racism, his cruelty, his misogyny, and his xenophobia, among many other fear-driven, lizard-brain responses to the complexity of the modern world, but that they're still willing to support him despite his utter ineptitude and incompetency in the face of a major challenge that requires real leadership.

The Ravens rebounded nicely on Sunday, easily handling a game against the Washington Football Team that they were heavily favored to win. The final score was 31-17, but that didn't really reflect the difference in quality between the two teams: at no point in time did it feel like Washington had a chance, and that was even with our Pro Bowl left tackle sitting out the game, our right tackle moving to left tackle, and a veteran player we signed in the offseason taking over right tackle on an offensive line that is not nearly as good as last year in the first place.

UGA played their second game on Saturday, and they seemed to have settled their quarterback controversy, at least for the foreseeable future. Stetson Bennett, who came in at halftime in the season opener, got the start this time, and the offense was just as dynamic and unstoppable as it was after he entered the game last time. More importantly, this wasn't against an unranked team, but against Auburn, UGA's longest running rival in the SEC and another team ranked in the top 10.

They usually give us trouble, but the Bulldogs ended the game with a score of 26-7, and again, that score makes it seem like it was closer than it was. Georgia put 24 unanswered points on the board in the first half, with Auburn finally getting their first score—a field goal—with only a couple of minutes remaining in the opening half. They would tack on another field goal early in the third quarter, but that was it for their scoring, and the defense for UGA was so dominant that the offense was content to grind it out on the ground to run out the clock.

My friend came over for another socially distant visit last night, the second time he has done so in the past couple of months. My friends Clint and Jonathan have also come over for (separate) socially distanced visits, but Steve is the first one who has come for a repeat visit.

As is expected these days, we talked a lot about Covid impacts at work and at home. I've been working really, really hard on not being judgmental about people who I respect who make different but still relatively safe choices about where their limits are for interactions and activities in the age of Covid, and Steve is a great one to talk to about that. We've known him and his wife for almost as long as we've been in Atlanta, and they're both smart, thoughtful people who don't take a lot of risks in normal times, so it was interesting to talk to him about risks that they've decided are within their tolerance range that are not currently in ours.

The biggest of these is around whether or not to send kids back to an in-person learning environment if our local schools open up to that experience again in the near future (they're in Decatur and we're in DeKalb, but those two school boards seem to move in lockstep with one another, so my guess is that whatever Decatur does will be followed by a very similar plan for DeKalb).

Despite Will's struggles with the online learning environment and his loneliness in being a very socially oriented boy who hasn't done in-person play with another kid for months, he's actually handling things pretty well. One of Steve's kids, however, is really struggling in a way that affects not only their academic focus but their mental health and sense of self-worth,  and although Julie and I are pretty united in not wanting to send Will back until things are truly safe again (a vaccine and/or a better understanding of who's truly at risk and/or a suite of solid therapeutics), after talking to Steve, I could see how their choice to send at least one of their kids back made complete sense and was worth the added risk given the struggles that child is having.

It was good to see him as always—he was a regular attendee at trivia nights, we share a block of season tickets to Atlanta United, and we would often go to concerts together, and I can't wait until we can get some of those things back. But in the meantime, being able to interact with him in person in even a limited context is far better than not seeing him at all.

Wow. The Braves are on quite a roll, completing a three game sweep of the Marlins in the best of five divisional round. Now they move on the the NLCS, which they haven't gone to since 2001.

This series is the immediate predecessor to the World Series, which the Braves haven't been to since 1999. For the NLCS, they'll face the Los Angeles Dodgers, who have also swept both of their postseason series (against the Brewers and the Padres) and who are heavily favored by most pundits to win against the Braves. But most people never expected the Braves, with their starting pitching issues, to advance this far in the first place, and they certainly didn't expect that the team would sweep two series in a row and pitch four shutouts in those four wins.

I don't want to get too far ahead of myself, because the Dodgers are definitely going to be a challenge, but I can't help but remember that the last time the Braves won the World Series was in 1995–also the last time we had a shortened season (that time it was due to labor issues, which delayed the start until late April). So maybe there's something about a short season that leaves them with extra gas in the tank for the playoffs.

They've pretty consistently been a great regular season team—they won 14 division titles in a row between 1991 to 2005 (there was no postseason and no division winners in 1994 due to the same labor conflict that delayed the start of the 1995 season), and this year is their sixth postseason appearance since 2010. But they haven't been able to push past their first postseason round in a long time, and I have to believe that at least give the Dodgers a good fight in the NCLS.

We weren't sure if we were going to be able to visit my mom this weekend for the first time since she got out of the hospital from her knee surgery due to the predicted heavy and constant rain leftover from the Delta hurricane (our visits with her are outdoors so we can maintain good social distance), but on Saturday morning the weather forecast was updated to show a break in the rain around lunchtime, so we quickly got our stuff together and headed out to see her.

We got to spend two or three hours visiting with her and her friend Jane (who was in town to help take care of her at home for a few days following her release from the hospital), and it was a pretty good visit, although mom was clearly still in recovery—she was much weaker than usual, and even though nothing enlivens her like a visit from Will, I could tell that she was ready for us to go by the time we finally left.

Hopefully she'll continue to take it easy so she can mend, and hopefully she's recovered enough now that she can navigate her home by herself like she could before the surgery. Her friend Jane had to leave (after being here almost two weeks, she has already done so much for mom), so we'll have to see how the next few days go—we might have to consider hiring a healthcare professional to check in with her a few times a day or even spend most of the day there with her.

Will's truncated fall break (it's normally a Thursday, Friday, and Monday, but this year it was just a Monday) was on Monday, so as a surprise, we went to Howard Finster's Paradise Garden in Summerville, Georgia (about an hour and a half away). And we didn't just go for a day trip—we rented an Airbnb on the property that has a back patio that connects directly to the garden so once the attraction was closed for the day, we had the place to ourselves, including at night when the garden is lit up and becomes an even more mystical place.

In case you've never heard of Howard Finster, he's a self-taught artist who spent 40 years of his adult life as a preacher and handyman. Then, at age 59, he had a vision (in the form of a face made out of paint on one of his fingers) that told him he needed to start painting. His response to the talking face on his finger: "But I don't know how to paint." The face's response: "How do you know you don't know?" So he picked up a paintbrush and started painting, committing to painting 5,000 works to the glory of God. But he reached 5,000 in less than 10 years and kept on going; from 1976, when he received the vision, until his death in 2001, he painted over 46,000 pieces of art, a staggering output even given than many of his paintings were text (often bible verses) and his rudimentary folk art style.

I first encountered Finster's work in a significant way at the American Visionary Art Museum (AVAM) in Baltimore, an institution that focuses on the work of outsider and visionary artists like Finster. You have highly likely encountered his work as well, but his most famous pieces were ones that graced the covers of two significant albums from the 1980s, R.E.M.'s Reckoning (the band knew him and filmed one of their earliest videos at Paradise Garden) and Talking Heads' biggest selling record, Little Creatures.

Almost every museum with any sort of 20th century American collection will have some of his pieces; the High Museum in Atlanta has a room dedicated to an installation of several pieces and a large collection of his pieces that rotates through (one of which is a giant plastic Coke bottle that pop/primitivist artist Keith Haring helped Finster assemble during a visit from NYC to Paradise Garden in November 1989, only a few months before Haring's death). Without Finster and his widespread acclaim that led to the "serious" art world reevaluating the importance of folk art in its many forms, it's unlikely that a museum like AVAM would ever have been brought into existence.

We checked into our Airbnb shortly after 3:00 in the afternoon, and since the gift shop was only open until 4:00, we headed right over to see if there was anything we wanted to get as a souvenir, knowing we'd have plenty of time to explore the grounds after the garden closed for the day. We ended up getting two prints: one of an elephant for Will (we didn't realize it at the time, but there were tons of tin elephants hanging all over the garden) and a print based on the bible quote "In my father's house are many mansions".

After we stored the prints safely back in the Airbnb, we started to walk around the garden. Even though the museum didn't close until five, I think the only other people we saw were the two families that had rented the other Airbnb, a duplex house across the street from the main entrance. Donnie, who had helped us in the gift shop, found us wandering in the water feature section of the park (that looks like it used to be the main entrance) and gave us a little bit of history while we were socially distanced and all masked up. He also got out the leaf blower and cleaned things up a bit; there had been rain and wind the day before, and there were a lot of leaves covering the walkways. He also introduced us to Lucy, a neighborhood stray who started hanging out at the property several years ago who Donnie formally adopted when both of her owners ended up in jail at the same time.

We had read that there were also two cats (Calvin and Hobbes) who call Paradise Garden home, and we encountered the first of the pair while we were sitting on a bench in the waning sunlight. He was a big red tabby, and we knew it was Hobbes because he had a stub tail, which we also read was his distinguishing feature. He jumped right up in our laps and rolled over for belly scratching while he purred happily. Cat people (like our family) believe that cats know how to spot cat people, and we got another point of validation from Hobbes; he appeared out of nowhere and trusted us like he'd been living in our house since he was born.

A little after five, we picked up some drive thru for dinner and brought it back to the picnic tables, knowing we wouldn't have to share the space with anyone. It was here that we met Calvin, another red tabby who was clearly Hobbes' brother, who joined us at the picnic table and was rewarded with bits of chicken from each of us. His visit was cut a little short, however; about 10 minutes into his visit, he spotted two dogs running loose on the property and high-tailed it back to his hiding spot near the gift shop (these dogs were clearly frequent visitors; we encountered them later that evening, running up and down the covered bridge structure and hassling Hobbes, who was irritated but didn't seem especially concerned with their presence).

We waited until it got dark and the lights were turned on and then went back to re-explore the garden in that context. If anything, it's even more magical in the evening with all the lights; it's more mysterious and more surreal, and you really feel like you're in another world, and not on a couple of acres of swampy land in rural Georgia. We revisited every inch of the property, especially the covered bridge feature that intermingles original work from Finster and some of his favorite pieces that were sent to him by friends and fans (he would often note who made the piece, along with their address and phone number and when they had sent it to him). As we were winding up our evening visit, we again encountered Hobbes, who followed us back to the Airbnb and made himself at home for an hour or so before being asked to be let back out to continue his nighttime patrol.

I fell asleep early with the window open and the distant sound of the repeating video about Finster that could occasionally be heard above the white noise of the crickets, but I woke up around 3 and couldn't go back to sleep. After reading for a while, I decided to go take a solo walk around the property around 4. I first went to the covered bridge and watched the Finster biographical video all the way through, then I took pictures of the names and contact information for all the people who had sent Finster a painting or a drawing that he hung up next to his work, with the vague idea that I might see what has become of them. It was so quiet and so serene; it's worth the price of the Airbnb just to be able to have the experience of being all alone late at night surrounded by the spirit of the artist.

I encountered Hobbes bossing his brother Calvin around while I was on the way back to the Airbnb, but he abandoned his territorial enforcement when he saw me and followed me back to the house, where he again invited himself inside for a few minutes of belly scratching and purring. I went back to bed to read some more after he left, but I never really got back to sleep.

We left the next morning at 10 to head back to Atlanta, and I finally got a couple hours of sleep once we got back home. When Julie suggested doing this, I was afraid there wouldn't be enough to do even if we just stayed one night, but I'd seriously consider going back for a long weekend at some point now. This was easily one of the most interesting and meaningful experiences we've had while living in Georgia.

On Tuesday night we had another surprise from Will: we got tickets to a Braves NCLS watch party that was held at the Braves stadium (which is now called Truist but which we still think of as SunTrust).

We've been very conservative about Covid precautions—more conservative than anyone else we know, especially any families with kids—so we were a little hesitant at first. But the guidelines—everyone must wear masks except when eating or drinking, very limited attendance, contactless tickets and concessions, hand sanitizing stations everywhere, etc.—made us feel better about this being an experience where we could keep safe.

What really sold it, however, was the option to buy a pod for our family group—not only were the pods 8x10 with 16 feet of space between each pod, they were also on the actual field, which added significantly to the coolness factor (we've walked around the warning track on the field a few times for the Scouts parade and for the Kids Run the Bases event that they normally do every Sunday home game, but we've never actually been on the field). We ended up getting a pod on the edge of right field, a few yards behind first base in the outfield.

It was a really fun night. I felt very safe even though we did see a few people who took off their masks before they got to the pods, and Will was completely surprised—he wasn't even aware that these watch parties existed, and even as we were pulling into the Delta parking deck, he was trying to figure out what we could be doing, because it couldn't possibly be anything to do with the Braves. It also helped that the Braves dominated for most of the game, and although there were some scary moments in the ninth inning, they came away with a 8-7 win and took a 2-0 lead in the series.

There's still a long way to go before they get to the World Series, but if they do, we'll definitely do this again for at least one of those games. Given how unique and how much fun that was, I'd even consider doing this for away games next year if they continued to offer this as a possibility when we are (hopefully) back to a post-Covid world.

Before we left for Paradise Garden, I got a chance to watch the UGA game against Tennessee, their second of three games in a row against ranked opponents. Even though Tennessee is ranked, the Bulldogs were heavily favored, and this had all the makings of a trap game after trouncing a more highly ranked Auburn team the week before. And it first it looked like it might turn into just that—Georgia fumbled the ball on the second play of the game, and Tennessee not only recovered but returned it for a touchdown. Although UGA quickly scored to even things up on their next possession, neither team could establish any distance from the other as the traded scores through the end of the half, with Tennessee holding a slim 21-17 lead to start the third quarter.

But Kirby must have given both the offense and defense one hell of a pep talk during halftime, because it was all Georgia for the last half of the game. Tennessee wouldn't score again, but UGA scored two field goals and three touchdowns in the second half, giving them a final of 44-21. Stetson Bennett had another strong outing, which will hopefully help boost his confidence heading into next week's game at Alabama.

I didn't get to watch the Ravens game until Monday night after we were back home from visiting Paradise Garden, but it was another solid but somewhat lackluster easy win over division foes the Cincinnati Bengals. Rookie quarterback Joe Burrow, the first overall draft pick for 2020 who won both the Heisman and the national championship with LSU in his senior year, has been playing well on an individual level, but he's still a rookie who was facing a complex Ravens defensive scheme and who doesn't have a complete team around him. He was sacked seven times, hit a lot more than that, fumbled the ball to Baltimore once, and was intercepted once. The Bengals only score came in the final seconds of the game and it was only a field goal to put the final score at 27-3 and giving Baltimore a 4-1 record.

20 years...

What a heartbreaking end to a weird, wild, fun season for the Braves. After going up 2-0 in the NLCS, and then 3-1, meaning they only had to win one of the last three games, they dropped all three to the Dodgers, who will now move on to the World Series instead of the Braves. It's especially disappointing because all three of the games were winnable, and two of them featured significant baserunning errors by the Braves that not only likely cost them an immediate run or two, but which also put a halt to what could have been significant innings where they scored several runs. But we lost to the team that was indisputably the best team in the regular season this year with 43 wins, 3 more than the next-best team in all of baseball and 6 more than any other team in the National League, a team that was also undefeated in the postseason heading into the NLCS.

As a Braves fan, I can sympathize with the recent vintage Dodgers fans: the team has won eight straight division titles, but they have not yet won a World Series. The Braves won a record 14 straight division titles from 1991 to 2005 and went to the World Series 5 times, but they won only one title. If the Dodgers win this year, they will follow a very similar pattern to the Braves: Atlanta went to but lost the World Series in 1991 and 1992, did not make it to the World Series in 1993, and went back and finally won in a shortened season in 1995 (there were no playoffs in 1994). Similarly, the Dodgers went to and lost the World Series in 2017 and 2018, did not make it last year, and now are back again in a shortened season.

The one thing we can all be happy about: the Astros, who cheated their way to a World Series  title in 2017 and who now somehow see themselves as victims because they eventually got caught (although they were allowed to keep the title and none of the players were disciplined), were eliminated in game 7 of the ALCS by the Tampa Bay Rays. So thankfully, we don't have to hear them continue to be obnoxiously unrepentant about their stolen championship from three years ago, nor will they get a chance to "redeem" themselves (that word is in scare quotes because in their minds, winning it this year would have proven that they could have won in 2017 without cheating) by playing in the World Series this year.

And as an added karmic bonus, let's remember who it was that the Astros "beat" in the 2017 World Series: these very same Los Angeles Dodgers who are now representing the NL in the championship. The team that really deserves a shot at redemption will get it now.

It was an interesting weekend for sports watching all the way around, starting with the Ravens and their by-a-whisker win over the Philadelphia Eagles. Baltimore is currently 5-1 and heading into a bye week where they can rest up and heal before a big game against hated division rivals the Steelers, and they also have one of the most effective defenses and the largest point differential in their wins in the league.

And yet, aside from a stomping of the Browns in the first game of the season, the offense has just seemed off. Lamar's not hitting targets as sharply as he did last season. He's not making as many explosive plays with his legs. The running game is definitely not what it was last season despite the additional of explosive second round pick J.K. Dobbins. Except for Sunday, the games they've won have never seemed in doubt, but neither has it felt like the Ravens were playing anywhere near their peak.

Sunday's game felt like it would be in the same vein as the games against Houston and Washington: taking a solid lead over a clearly inferior team and never having the win in question, but still missing something, especially on the offensive side of the ball. Baltimore was up 17-0 going into halftime and 24-6 entering the fourth quarter, having only allowed two Eagles field goals by that point.

But then something happened that hasn't happened in any of their wins so far: the defensive started making colossal mistakes, allowing big plays of 50 yards, 40 yards, and a pass interference call that gave the Eagles 49 yards on three pivotal drives that all resulted in touchdowns. The Eagles went for 2 after each touchdown and were successful the first two times, putting the score at 30-28 Baltimore with under two minutes remaining and a 2 point conversion attempt that would tie the game if successful. Luckily the Ravens defense came through at this moment and got the ball back, and the offense did what it needed to do to run out the clock and secure the win in a game that most people would have stopped watching at halftime.

Most NFL fans would be overjoyed to have this record and the other high ranks on defense and offense, and it's certainly better to be 5-1 than 4-2 or worse. But by winning the final 12 games of the regular season last year and going 14-2 overall, they set incredibly high expectations for themselves, and as hard as it is to believe if you've been a Ravens fan for a while, it has suddenly become routine and expected for the team to score 25+ points and have blowouts relatively frequently (they are also currently tied for second place for most consecutive regular season games with 20 points or more, with the Eagles being their 28th such game, and they only need two more to tie the all-time leader in this category).

This time last year, the Ravens were 3-2 and had serious questions about the consistency of their offense, and they were also entering the most difficult part of their season with games against the Patriots, the Seahawks, and the Texans with a couple of divisional games scattered between them. No one expected them to go on the run that they did and to fix all the problems that had been apparent in their losses to the Browns and the Chiefs, and even in their week 5 game against the Steelers. But they just got better and better from that point, eventually becoming well-nigh unstoppable in the regular season before hitting a brick wall in the playoffs.

All of the Ravens' wins this year have come against teams that did not have winning records at the time (the Browns, who are now 4-2, are the only one that would go on to develop a winning record), but their next five games after the bye week will tell the story of the season. This stretch is bookended by games against the currently-undefeated Steelers, with away games in Indianapolis and New England and a home game against the also-currently-undefeated Titans, the team that knocked the Ravens out of the playoffs last year. They will need to use their upcoming bye week to address all the issues so the offense can keep piling on points even when they have a decent lead, and the defense can close out games without allowing the opposing team to mount a comeback when the offense is having a bad day.

The other big game this weekend was UGA's game against Alabama. Both teams were undefeated going into the contest, and both have their issues to work out, but it was expected to be a close, hard fought game. And it looked like it was going to be at first: both teams scored a touchdown in the first quarter, and then both had many scoring drives in the second quarter, with Georgia ending up on the positive side up 24-20 going into the half.

But then UGA lived the other side of the story that they experienced at Tennessee the previous week: instead of the Bulldogs taking charge in the second half and putting the game away, Alabama did that to them. The 24 points Georgia scored in the first half would be all that they scored the rest of the game, but Alabama would more than double its point total with three touchdowns for a final score of 41-24.

Any Georgia fan knows this story by now and is sick of hearing it every time these teams have met in recent memory. The last time UGA beat Alabama was in 2007, despite the fact that six of those seven contests were played in either Athens or Atlanta (this weekend's contest is the only one of those seven that was played in Tuscaloosa). Several of those are heartbreakers that put a halt to Georgia's national title aspirations: the 2012 SEC championship game, where UGA came within 5 yards of winning the game, and the 2018 SEC championship game, where UGA was up a touchdown going into the third quarter before giving up two to Alabama in the fourth.

Most devastating of all was the 2018 National Championship Game (played after the 2017 season), where Georgia actually won the SEC championship that year but the selection committee decided to let Alabama into the four-team College Football Playoff that year despite the fact that they didn't even win their conference. UGA had a 13-0 lead going into halftime and a 20-10 lead at the start of the fourth quarter. Nick Saban made an incredibly bold move to bench starting quarterback Jalen Hurts at halftime and sub in true freshman backup Tua Tagovailoa. His instincts were dead on, because Tua took over the game in the fourth quarter, leading drives that tied the game and also gave them a chance to win, but a missed field goal by Alabama took it to overtime. Despite UGA scoring first with a field goal, Tua threw a TD pass on the second play of OT (after being sacked for 16 yards on the first play), ending the game and giving Alabama yet another national title.

At this point, Georgia's problems with Alabama are the same to me as Lamar Jackson's and the Ravens' issues with Patrick Mahomes and the Kansas City Chiefs: Jackson has only lost four regular season games in nearly two full seasons' worth of starts, and three of those four games have been to Mahomes and the Chiefs. If Baltimore wants to win the Super Bowl, they're going to have to figure out a way to beat the Chiefs, who they will almost certainly encounter at some point in the playoffs; similarly, if Georgia wants to win a national title, they're going to have be able to beat Alabama, likely in the SEC championship game.

But also similar to the Ravens losing to the Chiefs in week 3 this year, it's better that Georgia had this loss early in the season, because now they have time to develop and refine an Alabama-specific game plan over the rest of their regular season games and practices. Because all of their games are in the SEC, there are no gimme games on the schedule, but the toughest part of their schedule is over: they only have one more ranked opponent, and that's University of Florida, who they have dominated in recent years. If they play up to their talent level the rest of the regular season, they should get another shot at Alabama in this year's SEC championship game. Let's hope they learned something from this loss that will allow them to end this decade-plus losing streak and move on to the playoffs this year.

After the non-fiction How to Hide an Empire by Daniel Immerwahr, I stayed in the non-fiction area with The Drunken Botanist: The Plants that Create the World's Great Drinks by Amy Stewart. It's a fairly comprehensive cataloging of the major herbs, fruits, grains, seeds, trees, flowers, and other members of the plant kingdom that are used to brew, distill, and flavor the seemingly endless selection of alcoholic beverages from all ages and all parts of the wold.

I enjoyed this book pretty well, and appreciated it both as a light primer on how different kinds of beers, spirits, and wines are made, along with a history of humanity's interactions with the various plants that are key to their creation. My only criticism would be that, as we moved deeper into the book, the plants became more obscure and the information surrounding them seemed to be limited to what olfactory notes they bring to the party and what drinks they are used in.

This would be a great book to have out at a home bar for a cocktail party, because it would be easy to pick it up, flip to a random entry, and likely learn something new. The book also includes many cocktail recipes using the ingredients it describes, so you could actually plan an event around making drinks from the book that are twists on classic cocktails.

Julie requested her absentee ballot a few weeks ago, received it a couple of weeks ago, and submitted it by dropping it off at one of the official ballot boxes at an election office. Georgia has a website where you can check your voting status—whether and where you are registered, and if you have submitted an absentee ballot, whether or not it was accepted (presumably meaning that they have reviewed the signature and other details and now all they have to do is tabulate it on election day). She checked the site a couple of days later, and it had been marked as accepted, so that's how she voted this year.

After the disaster of the primary earlier this year, where a significant percentage of the people who requested absentee ballots never received them (including Julie) in what seemed like an intentional sabotaging of the voting by our incredibly untrustworthy secretary of state (who was appointed by the previous secretary of state, Brian Kemp—now the governor—who used his time as secretary of state to disenfranchise tens of thousands of voters who would have likely voted for his Democratic opponent, Stacey Abrams, and who only won the gubernatorial race by the slimmest of margins that were entirely the result of his efforts to make voting harder over the previous three years), I decided I wanted to vote in person. But instead of taking a chance with the high probability of lines on election day, I decided to vote early.

Early voting takes place for three weeks leading up to the election, so I decided to wait for a midweek afternoon the second week of voting, hoping that would give me my best chance at a short line. I went on Wednesday afternoon around 2, driving about 15 minutes to a local college (I chose this location not just because it's pretty close, but also because, like most college campuses, they have a mask mandate while you are on campus). I was able to park right across the street from the voting location, and it only took me about fifteen minutes total to fill out the paperwork, have my ID reviewed, using the voting machine, and put my paper ballot into the tabulating machine.

My only small complaint was that the voting machines were very close together with no real dividers, so social distancing wasn't possible and the people on either side of you could easily see your screen and who you were voting for if they wanted to, but everyone was wearing masks and it only took about 2 minutes to fill out the ballot (there weren't that many races to vote in, and I had done my research on the ballot initiatives beforehand, so I already knew how I wanted to vote on those). All in all it was a pretty painless experience; now I just have to hope that my ballot is counted properly on election day (although I checked the voting website the next day and it confirmed that I had voted).

I wasn't planning to watch the debate last night—I had obviously already voted, so it wouldn't make a difference from that perspective, and best-case scenario it would be a "normal" debate now that Trump was going to be theoretically controlled from his interruptions/outbursts by having his microphone muted when it wasn't his turn to talk. But I was already scheduled to have my friend Clint come over for a socially distanced visit on the screen porch, and he wanted to watch it, so I moved the tv in the exercise area outside along with a Roku box so we could stream it while we talked.

It went about how I expected. Whatever coaching his handlers did and/or whatever cocktail of stimulant and anti-anxiety medication they had Trump on allowed him to give one of those occasional performances where he seems almost like a normal politician for the majority of the time. There were still lots of little moments where you could tell he was having trouble controlling his impulse to shout out even though his mic was off,  and there were still plenty of times when he talked over the moderator to veer off-topic and reference a Fox-bubble conspiracy theory that made no sense unless that's your only source of news. But compared to the first debate, it was the kind of performance his people hoped he would give. Biden performed as expected, and while there was a slightly more substantive discussion of actual issues, I don't think either candidate likely changed the minds of anyone who wasn't still undecided before the debate.

Clint stayed until the end of the debate, but we didn't watch it closely, using it as a jumping off point to talk about the issues and the history of our political beliefs. I've really enjoyed these visits with my friends, as infrequent as they are compared to how much we used to see each other, but even if we elect someone who has an actual plan for how to control the pandemic, and even if we start to understand enough about Covid to know who's truly at risk for an serious reaction, and even if we have better therapeutics and/or a safe, effective vaccine that's widely available, I don't think life will return to anything that looks like pre-Covid for at least another nine months.

And that's the best case scenario; I've heard some experts start to predict that a solid combination of all these factors could still lead to us living in a masked, socially-distanced world through early- to mid-2022, which seems unfathomable given how eternal these last seven months have felt. But that's what happens when you pretend a deadly, highly-transmissible disease doesn't exist and you convince at least 40% of the country to ignore all scientific evidence and basic public health practices. So you can probably guess who I voted for.

Today was supposed to be the launch day for the latest World of Warcraft expansion, but about a month ago they announced that they were delaying it to an unknown date (but still supposedly in 2020). The only problem with this: I put in for a few vacation days to coincide with the launch about two weeks before they delayed it (which they've never done with a WoW expansion once they announced a release date, which they did back in August for this one).

But I had to take the vacation anyway or lose it, so that's what I'm doing. And aside from a quick presentation for our file reading training this morning, I'm going to do my best to stay away from work tasks the next couple of days. Not that I really have anything specific to do, but I'm trying to relax and take some time for myself (as much as that's possible given the reality that there are two other people in this house who are still going to school and work during my days off).

Last Friday Will was skipping around the house getting some of his excess energy out, and he stubbed his toe very badly. He's always more prone to dramatics, especially about physical pain, than I was as a kid, so we sometimes have a boy-who-cried-wolf response to his complaints (he broke his elbow falling off a piece of playground equipment when he was younger, and it took a few hours for us to believe that he needed to go see a doctor). But we did preliminary outreach to his pediatrician just in case, and they recommended we see how he did over the weekend and then see if it got any better or worse.

Well, it didn't get any better (although the fact that he stubbed it severely AGAIN goofing around probably didn't help), so Julie called on Monday and was able to get him an appointment for today. They took x-rays, and he did indeed have a slight fracture, so he'll have to wear a boot when he's outside the house for the next couple of weeks. It's not the worst outcome, and he already doesn't seem as bothered by it, so hopefully it will be a fairly minimal inconvenience, especially given that we don't go out much these days anyway (although he and Julie usually take the neighbor's dog for a walk every morning before school).

I noticed that Terminator: Dark Fate, the most recent movie in the franchise (that they are calling the true sequel to Terminator 2 because it continues Sarah Conor's story from that timeline and has Linda Hamilton reprising her role), was streaming for free on Netflix, so I decided to give it a try over the course of three days while I worked out on the treadmill.

Terminator sequels/reboots have been very hit or miss after Terminator 2—Terminator 3 is pretty forgettable, Terminator Salvation was meant to be a franchise reboot that would begin anew trilogy, and Terminator Genisys was very polarizing (although I thought it was pretty enjoyable as a franchise entry that didn't take itself too seriously). So I didn't have high expectations for Dark Fate despite it's high-caliber creative team—in addition to getting Hamilton back as an older version of the badass she played in Terminator 2, it was written by David Goyer (the Dark Knight trilogy), based on a story by James Cameron (who also co-produced), and directed by Tim Miller (Deadpool).

It also brought in geek fan favorite Mackenzie Davis as a human/machine hybrid sent back to protect the group from yet another super-advanced terminator who builds on all the abilities of previous version but adds the ability to separate its liquid metal aspect from it's skeleton so it can literally be in two places at once and work in tandem with itself. They also find yet another new way to keep Schwarzenegger's old school T-800 around as a more humanized Terminator who ends up aiding and protecting the protagonists (a role the T-800 has played in every movie by the original, effectively turning the titular villain into one of the most consistent heroes of the series).

I enjoyed this one pretty well, but despite that, it's hard to see how they do any more movies in this series without a true reboot or reimagining that leaves the T-800 and the Connors complete behind and starts from some other point in the universe and/or timeline. And while this might be doable, and will likely eventually happen, it still might not really be worth it. Between all the films we've had so far, they cover a lot of ground in terms of alternative timelines and outcomes, and they've probably milked about all they can from this as a creative property.

It was nice to have Hamilton back to finish off Sarah Connor's story from where we left her at the end of Terminator 2, but despite the film ending with a slight cliffhanger (as every film in the franchise does), it's also a good stopping point. We don't necessarily need to see the rest of this particular timeline/narrative arc; the characters have given us what we need to be satisfied with this as an ending.

The power went out around 1:30 a.m. this morning as the high winds from Hurricane Eta swept through the Atlanta area, and we have no idea when it might come back on. A big tree fell in one part of the neighborhood near Will's school that took out four of five power poles, and even though they are working on that this afternoon, it could take a while to get all that cleaned up. Plus, on the opposite side of the neighborhood, a huge tree is down that's blocking the entire road and has taken down a bunch of wires.

I don't know how the gird works in our part of the neighborhood—it could be that only one of these has to be fixed for our power to come back, or it could be that both have to be fixed—but it's not a good sign that the Georgia Power app has an estimated restoration time of Sunday by midnight for power to be restored, and no trucks appeared to have visited the fallen tree that's blocking the road. We'll see how long it's actually out for, but at this point Saturday would be an optimistic estimation.

To no one's surprise, our power is still out today. They've finished up a semi-replacement of the downed poles near the school, and part of the neighborhood close to that area has its power back, but we don't, and no one appears to have touched the downed tree blocking the road. And until they get that removed, the power crews can't do anything to fix those wires.

In an attempt to save the food in our deep freezer, we drove all the way out to my sisters to borrow an old gas powered generator that we would dedicate solely to keeping the big freezer in the basement running. It took us about two hours to drive out there, get a demo on how to start it up, and get it back home, and then another 30 minutes to set it up in the back yard and run an extension cord to the basement. And after all that, it ran for approximately 25 minutes before it conked out.

I made sure it had plenty of gas, and I added some oil, but that didn't really help. If I sat and manually played with the clutch, I could keep it running for 3 or 4 minutes, but otherwise it would start up and run for about a minute before it cut off again. We're going to have to throw away all the food now (which sucks, because we stocked up early on in the pandemic), but we're still going to have a neighbor come over tomorrow to see if he can get it running—even if we can't do anything to salvage the frozen food, we could at least have power to run a couple of devices downstairs and have a charging center for our phones and iPads.

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