Saturday, April 18 2020

stick collecting, remote meetings, and bread fails




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Dear Journal,

Good morning, everyone! Happy Saturday. I hope you’re all feeling well-rested, and primed to soak up all the relaxation ahead of us. Take a minute to appreciate Saturdays. For us, Saturdays mean sleeping in, drinking twice as much coffee, and spending extra time in bed while Rodney tools around with things in our bedroom. And finally, after brewing coffee and cooking some bacon, I think enough caffeine and calories have hit my system that I’m feeling ready to write.

Sip. Yesterday was a great day. My team spent another day swarming on the service that caused a small incident earlier this week. Seeing how much we’ve built, improved, and researched in only forty eight hours of attacking the issue was pretty inspirational. By the early afternoon, we had already recreated the failure conditions in a testing environment and found a permanent fix. To celebrate the long work day, I went for a walk around the block with Marissa, Rodney, and the dogs.

It was a beautiful day outside. We walked all the way around the block, stopping to wave to neighbors and help Rodney collect sticks. Don’t be fooled - stick collecting is serious business. Rodney has very specific and elusive criteria that ought be considered before adding a stick to his collection. It should be long enough to swing like a sword, but not so long that it’s difficult to run with. Obviously, it should be straight, but small off-shoots are OK if they make for a convincing hilt or a rifle trigger. It’s also OK to walk with the stick for a few driveways, giving it a few test swings or pretending to fire it at trees and passing cars. If it breaks, it probably wasn’t meant to be anyway.

“I think these walks are important to me right now,” said Marissa. “I’ve been kind of depressed lately about being pregnant, but I like these walks. I look forward to them.”

I smiled at her. Rodney ran ahead of us, setting down his bundle of sticks on the ground and turning his attention toward a bush. He reached for it and started to heave.

“No no no no, dude. You can’t pull things out of people’s yard, only the loose sticks are fair game,” I scolded.

As we turned the corner to head home, I glanced at my watch to check the time. “Oof,” I said. “I’ve got about seven minutes to make it home for our last meeting.”

“Do you need to run ahead?” asked Marissa.

“Nah,” I replied. “It’s just the end of the week retro, and we usually spend the first few minutes just chatting away.” I fired off a quick slack message to the team, and we continued strolling home.

Something interesting happens to meetings when everyone’s remote. More of the work is done before the meeting. For each thing on my calendar, there is a shared Google doc where people dump agenda items, notes, questions, and decisions that need to be made. As a result, more of the work is completed before the meeting, and with fewer tasks looming, we are suddenly free to spend more time together socializing and joking around. I don’t want to worry you, but I think I actually look forward to meetings.

After getting home, I headed upstairs, grabbing a shot glass and my bottle of mezcal. “Whatcha drinking, Recker?” asked Heath. I proudly held up my bottle of mezcal to my webcam, turning it so my team could get a clear view of the little mealworm floating around at the bottom. “I’m making good progress on it,” I laughed. “I got this bottle for Christmas, and I’m on track to make it to the worm before quarantine ends.”

“I thought you would have gone through that in a week,” Heath laughed.

“Oh no,” I replied. “This isn’t exactly easy drinking. Mezcal is like a smoky, spicy tequila. It tastes like somewhere between chewing on a cigar and biting into a jalapeño. I’m really just drinking it to conserve beer.”

After our meeting, we bid each other goodbye, and I joined Marissa in the basement to play some video games. She was starting to set up for her art show this weekend, tidying up her studio and sorting paintings. Rodney joined us on the couch, and together we drove around a virtual desert with ATVs and motorcycles. Rodney is starting to get the hang of video games. Today we learned how press the blue button when the bike gets stuck in the water.

“I like having you guys down here,” said Marissa. “It’s nice, because I’m used to being down here by myself. I like that you’re using this little corner.”

“Yeah, it’s a good feeling isn’t it?” I replied. “It’s kind of how I felt when we set up my upstairs office, and you two started hanging out up there sometimes while I work.”

“Oh really?” replied Marissa. “I thought you hated that?”

“Of course not!” I replied without taking my eyes off the screen. “I love it when you guys visit me while I’m working.”

We ordered a pizza, nodding off on the couch watching Backyardigans while we waited. We ate dinner, and after putting Rodney to bed, Marissa and I made our way downstairs.

“Before we get started, can I quick finish the bread I have in the fridge?” I asked. Marissa nodded, and I got to work laying out the dough on the counter, doing my best French baker impression. My first mistake was cutting the dough into three very tiny portions.

“OK, so these are going to be more like breadsticks than baguettes,” I laughed from the kitchen. “But I bet they’ll still be good. I’ll just have to watch them closely. Later in the evening, after the bread had a few hours to proof on the counter, I popped them in the oven, kneeling by the oven window in anticipation.

“Just watch,” I said. “They’re gonna puff up and look pretty any minute now.”

But they did not puff up. They remained three long, skinny, ghostly white breadsticks. When they were baked all the way through, I took them out of the oven to cool, presenting Marissa with my work. She did an admirable job holding back her laughter.

“Well maybe they at least taste good,” I said. I picked up a breadstick and cracked it in half. We each chewed a piece, studying the flavor and texture. Marissa squirmed with discomfort.

“So it’s really dense,” she said.

“Yeah. I feel like I’m eating four slices of bread at once. It’s like super bread.” We laughed.

“Man, and just when I was starting to feel confident about my knack for bread-making,” I complained.

“Baguettes are hard,” said Marissa, talking me down.

“You’re right,” I replied. “This was just an experiment. I’ll watch some more videos and try another batch later this weekend. I was bound for at least one bread fail in all of this. Do we even want to keep these?”

“Oh yeah. Rodney will eat them. He’s bread boy,” Marissa laughed.

Thanks for stopping by this morning. I hope you have a wonderful Saturday, and I’ll see you at Marissa’s art show!