The Wisconsin Mobile Weather Isolation Unit

Every morning during the cold months, I find myself sitting in a long line of cars, with my daughter in the passenger seat, as we wait to get to the drop off location for school. And then, after she gets out, I wait an even longer amount of time, just to be able to actually get out of the school parking lot and on to the road.

It’s a mess of traffic. There’s no real good flow in this process, and so these cars inch along at a snail’s pace, waiting for the car in front of them to move slightly forward so they can move slightly forward, all in the hope that it will soon be their turn to wait for the freedom of turning off of the small side road onto the much busier road that will entail freedom from the weird frozen conga line which is school drop-off.

And while I sit in this line, peering through the haze of frozen car exhaust filling the street and parents attempting the most ridiculous driving maneuvers in order to somehow increase their chances of moving through the line faster, while risking the lives and car integrities of their fellow humans, I can’t help but think of this weird situation where all of these people are seated in their warm little rooms, staring out at the rest of the world, wishing for their turn to be free.

I hate the cold, and I often find myself willing to burn all the carbon I can just to feel all the warm I can while stuck out in the harsh freezing temperatures of a Wisconsin winter. But at the same time, I look at all of these cars, idling as they expel fumes from their tailpipes, filled with people struggling to feel the warmth of their car’s heaters, and, well, I can’t help but feel a little ridiculous as I sit in my warm little weather isolation unit, hoping to somehow get back to my much larger home and sit on top of a space heater hoping to thaw out from my time where I didn’t actually get out into the actual cold, because I got into my car from my garage.

But it also seems so…oddly modern. This line of cars all waiting to move forward is too perfect of a metaphor for the rat race we often describe ourselves as living in. These people who swerve through the lines trying to get through quicker because they have some other place to be, presumably, forgoing any care for the rules, while I sit there (im)patiently hoping my turn will come.

In other words, I have far too much time to my own thoughts while I sit in this line, and sometimes those thoughts don’t come out fully formed, and now I’m here trying to present them to you without a real thought of where they are going.

But the real point here is…I hate school drop off.

The Great Human Hunkering: A Retrospective

We are now 2 years out from day 3 of what I had been referring to as The Great Human Hunkering, a crazy period in which we, as a nation decided to close up shop for a couple months in order to ‘flatten the curve’. Okay, so, yeah, obviously “we” didn’t decide, those in power decided and then there were plenty of people who revolted against it, at the same time that most of our country was still out and about because they were the underpaid folks who were considered essential workers.

But, for those of us who weren’t essential workers and wanted to try to help keep our hospitals from being overrun, we stayed in, away from the rest of the world, and simply hunkered down.

My Timehop (does anyone else still use that app?) has been reminding me of the daily posts I was doing at that time, in some self-appointed need to record the history of it for my family. Things started out feeling a little cheerful about the concept. My wife had come up with a whole bunch of ideas for ways that our kids could keep entertained, having even developed a huge list of online activities of things that had been made free for the hunkering, like museums and drawing classes and, well, just a giant pile of things that I honestly can’t remember any longer. I filled our inflatable hot tub with water and set it up in the basement (a terrible idea when you have cats, btw…RIP inflatable hot tub), all with the idea that we were going to try and make this brief period in our kids lives not nearly as terrible.

Not only did this period not end up being nearly as brief as we had thought, but by day two our kids were already at each other’s throats, and in my office on the regular telling me how bored they were, even though my wife had spent an awful lot of time getting all the things together so they wouldn’t need to ever tell us that.

I’ve often said that one of the weirdest things for me was how not-weird the whole quarantine period for our country was. And in a lot of ways, it really wasn’t that weird, but when I look back at it, it was downright eerie. Not only were my kids, who had suddenly all become these incredibly social kids, stuck at home all the time, not able to see their friends or really go anywhere, but there was also the fact that none of us were seeing anyone. I remember a night where we decided to break the rules and have my sister-in-law over for a drink on our deck. Not only were we outside, but we also kept our distance from each other. And it was amazing to have someone new to see in person again. While still feeling like we were breaking all the rules just in doing so.

Things like going to the grocery store, holding your breath as you walked past anyone else, both to keep from passing or receiving this virus that we knew so little about. Things like giving a wide berth around people while walking down sidewalks, or crossing the street, so as to avoid breathing the same air. And this same look on everyone’s face, even visible beneath the masks, which seemed to question whether we would ever get out of this.

Two years ago, we entered this odd Twilight Zone version of our planet, where people all wanted to interact with each other but were absolutely terrified to do so. Terrified that they might get this disease and then pass it on to someone else who simply didn’t have the immune system necessary to fight it off. People were starved for social activity, but the best we had was to look at faces on screens while we hoped our internet would be good enough throughout the free 45 minute Zoom call, while also knowing that this conversation still wasn’t as good as the real thing.

Two years ago, I went through my normal routine of work and life like I always did, not fully realizing how much my life had been impacted by this global pandemic, and it’s taken me probably two years to actually realize that things were, in fact, really really weird. Sure, the roads might not have been devoid of traffic, because people were still going places, but just the way we all would interact with each other was completely different, down to the looks we would give each other to try and determine where the other person sat on the whole debate of masks, hugs, and whatever else.

Things feel a heckuva lot more normal now, but the weird thing is, I think if we had gone straight to where we are right now, I’d probably find it all much more weird than I did the actual hunkering period. Because during that period, it really just felt like I was back to being my standard I’m-a-parent-and-don’t-have-time-for-social-activity self.

All the same, I’m really appreciating being in a place where I can feel at least a little more comfortable with being a part of the world again, even if I’d really like these case counts to go down a bit more…

And I’m really really glad that my kids aren’t stuck in the house all the time this March. Although Spring Break starts this weekend and I’m sure that will be a whole ‘nother problem brewing.

So Close…

Oh crap, another school-related post!

I am 8 days away from the end of my term, meaning 8 days away from being a graduate, meaning 8 days until I can stop checking my school email on the regular to see if my grades have all come in (I’m down to three left). And I’m also approximately 20 days past submitted my final assignment.

And I just got an assignment back asking for additional work to be done.

Now, I’m not going to claim that what I submitted was my best work. Considering this was the last assignment I submitted during my flurry of effort to try to get work done before we bought a bakery, I can admit that I may have worked through it a little quicker than I probably should. And the fact that I have the opportunity to resubmit as opposed to getting a failing grade and therefore having to tack on an extra term of school just to redo this one class is also something I am very happy for (because of the way this school works, any assignment that is considered less than a B is considered a failing grade for the whole class). But…I really don’t want to do any more school work.

Like, I was incredibly happy when I finished to be able to consider myself as being done. Sure, I had this dark cloud hanging over me for the past month where I fully expected something like this to happen, and therefore haven’t actually allowed myself to feel comfortable with the idea that school was over, but I was just starting to get over that, starting to feel as though maybe I could relax a little, starting to feel, well, done.

And now, here I am, within a second of getting the notification that this grade came through, feeling all that weight of the world once again. I’m quite literally ready to just throw in the towel over one grade, where I really just have to write a wall of text to justify things that I simply didn’t give enough text to justify (like, I don’t even need to do a better job of justifying, just have to write more).

I’m going to do it. I’m going to get it done, but, I feel a lot like a whiny little toddler just crying “But I don’t wanna!”.

School might really just bring out the worst in me. Here’s hoping 8 days from now I’ll actually be in a place where I finally feel absolutely done, because I’m really tired of thinking about school.

Return to Normalcy

After World War I, Warren Harding used the phrase, “Return to Normalcy” as his slogan for election. I’ve always really liked this phrase, and not just because of how it has long caused scholars to debate whether or not the word actually existed prior to this point.

There are many moments through history were the question comes up about whether or not we can ever return to normal. Often throughout this pandemic, we’ve seen the usage of the phrase, “The New Normal”, which causes me unhappiness because I miss the old normal. Which is probably why the concept of a return to normalcy is a big one. Just imagine the world during Harding’s time, coming out of a war, and the Spanish flu, and the first Red Scare, all wanting the world to go back to what they used to know.

And then Harding comes along saying, “I’ll get us back to where we used to be!”.

Of course, he didn’t. Our issues with Russia and Communism continue to this day, we still have our regular flu shots, and World War II was far worse than WWI could have ever been, and ultimately changed the face of war for forever.

Similarly, we saw the return of this phrase during the most recent American Presidential election, attached to the campaign of Joe Biden. And similarly, we really shouldn’t see things ever actually go back to normal.

Just looking at what all we still have to do in order to get through airport security, which was a response to the September 11th attacks, its apparent that it’s really difficult to go back to the way things used to be.

And that’s sad.

And that’s also how I’ve been feeling lately with my personal life. I’ve been really excited about getting out of school and returning to the normalcy of my life before school. But, just like with COVID (which has lasted about as long), I don’t even really know what that life was like any longer. The idea of not constantly rushing through everything to cram homework into all of the quiet seconds of the day, well, that feels foreign. Of course, for the couple of weeks I’ve been done with school, I’ve managed to have a bit of down time to reboot, but the truth is that something feels incredibly wrong when I don’t have all the things to do.

Last night, I’m sure because of how little I had to do during the day, I couldn’t sleep, my legs wanting to run off to somewhere because my body was sure we still needed to be on the run.

And, of course, with the purchase of a bakery now in the mix, things really aren’t going to be quiet for that much longer around here.

But that doesn’t mean I don’t miss it…not that I’m even sure if my memories of the Old Normal are all that accurate any longer…

Will it Never End?

I’ve been a little hesitant to spend much time thinking about the current situation in the Ukraine. Not that I don’t care. It’s a big deal. War is always a big deal, and it feels like the world is always at war, even if we haven’t officially had a world war since the 40s. And I’m a pacifist, so, I really hate the idea of war in general, even if I’ll allow that there are probably some times in which we, as a country, may need to go to war to defend either ourselves or those who are in trouble.

In other words, I support stopping Russia.

But, at the same time, I don’t know if I have the mental bandwidth to care much about it at the moment. I do, don’t get me wrong. I care a whole lot. But getting invested has been troublesome for me. Here I am, a guy who has watched the world, and especially our country, tear itself apart, mostly due to political differences, and has found himself at his emotional wits end trying to understand how far people will go to make their point on something as little as being required to wear a mask, and now I see a country being torn apart by literal war, by another country who believes they hold some claim to the land they are now invading. And I just don’t know that I have it in me.

Which, I guess, might be part of the point.

When I first saw the reports that Russia was going to invade the Ukraine, my immediate thought was, c’mon Putin, haven’t we had enough lately? Like, is fighting a global pandemic not enough for us all to deal with, do you really need to do this now?

And after some thought, I’m realizing this might exactly be why he’s gone this route. For a world that has been torn apart by political strife, and a populace which is generally exhausted by it, now might be the very time to commit some horrendous atrocities, because people like me are just too darn overwhelmed with all the things that have happened over these past 2+ years, not to mention everything before the pandemic came along.

Which means I need to care. I have to care, even if I really don’t want to deal with this mentally right now. I want the world to feel some semblance of peace, and if it takes ignoring a violent conflict to do so, I find myself wanting to do it. But we can’t. We can’t ignore things like this. We can’t ignore a madman taking violent means to gain power.

But that doesn’t make it any less exhausting.

I stand with the Ukraine, and I hope that this can be ended soon. But I also really want to find a moment where I can feel as if all is right with the world. Just a moment.

Teh Exhaustion

I know I’ve talked about my levels of exhaustion a lot over the past few months. Between school, work, kids, and everything else life has tossed our way, 2022 has been a whirlwind of activity.

…And then we bought a bakery…

This past weekend was our first weekend in both owning a bakery, and having the bakery open for business, and there have only been a few billion times in which I’ve found myself questioning whether this whole owning a business thing was a huge mistake.

Don’t get me wrong, there were some awesome times this weekend. I found myself waxing nostalgic about my old days working in food service and thinking that I could really be happy working this place like a good old mom and pop shop, with my wife hanging out in the back and I’m up front smiling and slinging coffee. Other times I realized that I hadn’t slept or eaten anything throughout the course of the weekend, ending with a moment on Sunday where my batteries quite literally died, like a robot, where my speech started slurring and my body had to absolutely give out under the weight of my not taking care of it.

A weekend of washing dishes and running from place to place to make sure the business could keep running while also not taking care of my own needs showed me my exact limits, and I quite literally have never seen myself in quite so exhausted of a state as I found myself on Sunday.

And I was working nowhere near to the extent my wife was, causing me to wonder how the heck she’s still standing. As I write this on Monday morning, she had her fifth morning getting into the bakery before 5am in a row, and she’s still kicking.

There are a ton of things we learned about our first weekend running a bakery, one of which being that we need more staff, and another being that we’re nowhere near as young as we used to be, and another being that people really love this place that we found ourselves luckily enough to take over.

I’m so happy that we finally found a place we could call our own, and I’m extremely excited for the time in which we can actually feel like we can control the crazy that the place is, considering its rabid fanbase, but I’m also so darn tired.

However, every time I start to question whether or not this was a good idea, I remember my hours of washing dishes while the store had a line out the door with customers, hearing nothing but the happiest of noise from all the people eagerly awaiting their treats. And also just knowing that we have an incredible staff who are ready to partner with us to make this place the place it should be.

So, mixed emotions, but mostly excited to see what we can actually do with this fantastic location in the coming months and years.

Marketing!

If you’ve been following this space for any length of time, you’ll be well aware of how much I absolutely hate marketing. I worked as a salesman for a few months of my life, and ever since then I’ve had an incredibly bad taste in my mouth for anything remotely sounding like salesmanship. Marketing, obviously, falls into that realm.

So, with my books, I’ve been historically terrible at actually letting people know they exist, much less giving reasons for why anyone should read them. I have a hard time with the idea of convincing people to do something they don’t want to do. If you aren’t already reading my books, then I really don’t want to force you to do so.

But now, I have this big building and business that my wife and I just purchased, and that business needs to do a solid job of helping us be able to afford all the money we just promised the bank that we’d pay them back. This means that I’ve now found myself in the very real position of needing to rethink my feelings towards salesmanship, or as least to get over my hatred of it in order to use my writing talents to find ways to convince people there are very real reasons that they should come by and get a croissant and a coffee, and also maybe a few macarons…and a tart or five?

It’s been a long road these past couple weeks of trying to wrap my head around not being afraid of marketing. It helps that I’m not trying to sell myself, but instead my wife and this business, both of which I believe quite strongly in. But, that doesn’t change the fact that I’m still trying to convince people to do something, regardless of their current feelings on the matter. I need you all to come out and check out the business and give it as much money as you can. I’m not looking for handouts, just you to choose this quaint little building in downtown Altoona for your weekend breakfast and lunch needs.

You absolutely won’t be disappointed.

So, yeah, like I said…I need to work on my marketing skills…

Or…you could buy one of my books for less than the cost of a cup of coffee…just saying 😉

The Nostalgic Bean is Open for Business!

So, while I had been incredibly excited to make a return to writing regularly once school was done, it’s turned out so far that I’ve done nearly zero writing, outside of in this space here and some marketing materials for the new bakery. I’d love to get mad at my wife for making my post-school period full of extra things to do that I hadn’t planned on doing, but, well, I can’t. Not really. Because, well, I kinda forced her to do this.

You see, when we decided to move back to town from the farm, I realized we would get a nice little bit of extra cash (thanks to the ridiculousness of the housing market). And I also knew that she needed a creative outlet. And I also knew that she had long wanted a retail space to flex her culinary muscles. So, I stupidly told her that she would have 2-3 years to get that space and do the thing, or else I would get to use that extra cash for something absolutely stupid, like a pool. I should note, we live almost directly across the street from the municipal pool, so having a pool in our yard, while nice, is really, in many ways, a waste of money.

Now, I didn’t think about how 2-3 years would directly correlate with the moment I would finish school. In fact, it was a rather arbitrary time frame I put into place. I also didn’t actually think she would manage to follow through timely, and I fully expected to have to take a bit more direct action to make it happen…after I finished school.

But here I am, freshly done with my schooling, and in the midst of a raging stress party of trying to prepare for the first days of owning a bakery and making sure that our employees and customers don’t see the issues that come with trying to transition from one owner to the next. And, of course, most of that activity of transition can’t happen until after we actually manage to get the keys and whatnot from the previous owners, so, I’m sitting here trying to prep all the things I need to prep so that once we have all the pieces in our hands, I can quickly do the things necessary to transition everything over.

While my wife does the much more important stuff like planning menus and figuring out insurance and whatever other crazy actual important things need doing.

This isn’t me complaining, just noting. Because I actually like these little bits. Sure, I’d be much happier if I were to be able to sit back and enjoy some writing time, but, I guess I should be happy knowing that this summer, I’ll have the perfect place to sit outside on our little café patio and drink all the coffees while I write in between waiting for the next thing to need to be done.

Things could be a lot worse.

Besides, I’m still really excited for my wife to finally have her space. Sure, there are plenty of uncertainties at this point, but in general, I foresee a solid transition of ownership, and plenty of opportunities to do some cool stuff. And I’ll be the guy sitting there as the head cheerleader (maybe that should be my official title?), making sure that I can fill in any of the gaps in needs as necessary.

But all of that is really overlooking the entirely huge point that as of the time that this thing hits the site, we will officially be open for business. That’s right, folks. My wife is sitting in the kitchen with our staff right now trying to figure out whether we have enough or too much food to feed all of you. Which means, you need to get out there and get as many pastries and coffees as you can to show your support and to make them all have to work just that little bit harder. You might even get to see me! I’m not sure if that’s a selling point or not…

So, come on down. Check out the site for details on how to find us. TheNostalgicBean.com

Let’s Talk About Wordle

It’s the game that took the world by storm, only to have its inevitable purchase cause everyone to get up in arms about all of the changes they perceive to have happened since that date.

Wordle!

If you haven’t played Wordle, it’s a simple little word puzzle game, similar to Code Breaker or Mastermind, where you have to figure out a five-letter word, with some special tools to help you along the way. It’s fun, it’s simple, and it’s only one word per day, so it’s perfect for those of us who don’t want to get stuck playing a game on our phones for hours on end every day.

I was first introduced to this game through the same rather cryptic way most people are introduced to it, with a weird series of different-colored blocks being shared on my friends’ social media pages. I figured out quickly that it was a word game, and I surmised it was similar to Code Breaker (an old favorite of mine), but it took me a few weeks before dipping my toe in. And now, mostly because of those people who like to post clues (read: spoilers) on their social media pages, it ends up being one of the first things I do in the morning.

And I’ll admit, I’m nearing the end of my caring for this game (although a math-equation version called Nerdle has been a lot of fun for the past week), I’ve been really troubled by how many people are blaming their disinterest on the game being purchased by the Times. Like, first of all, kudos to Mr. Wardle (the creator) for managing to get the Times to pay him over 10 million dollars for this little game. Secondly, the only reason I’ve seen for people to complain that they don’t like the game any longer is because the words have gotten harder. Isn’t that kind of the point of these types of games, where you have to try harder and harder as you get better at them? If anything, the one thing that has kept me going is that it has become more of a puzzle game than just a lets-see-how-fast-I-can-guess-this-easy-word game. It’s a struggle for me to try to figure out what words I can make with the few letters I have left, hoping I don’t crap out by the 6th guess. And I like that struggle.

But, the real issue here is the same issue with all trends…we’ve just gotten tired of it. While it was fun at first, it can’t offer much more than it already does in terms of gameplay. And once you feel as though you’ve mostly mastered the gameplay, you’re left with hoping that you can guess things faster. And once that loses its interest, or the words get harder, you just start getting annoyed that you can’t brag as hard to your friends about how well you’re doing.

Which means, the real issue here is that you’re just blaming the Times for something the Times is actually the reason you’re aware of. That’s right, this game had nearly zero players before the Times ran a piece on it. You know about it because of the Times. So, although I’m not feeling like I really need to defend this paper that I can’t read because of paywalls, I do think that you people need to stop whining.

Because the reality is, Wordle is just another fun fad that we’re already tired of. Like the Backstreet Boys. And the only thing we can blame it on is the fact that neither of these options had much more to offer past their starting point.

Now Nerdle on the other hand…

Time to get a Little Sentimental

EPSON MFP image

As we near the moment in which my wife and I take over ownership of a cute little café/bakery (which, assuming all goes well, should have happened a few hours before this post hits the site), I can’t help but feel a little sentimental. While I’m not the kind of guy who should be owning a café or a bakery, since my knowledge of coffee ends at black Americano, and my knowledge of baking got me as far as that one time I made cookies over a decade ago, I can’t help but recognize how everything in my relationship with my wife has really led to this.

You see, when I first met my wife, she was working in a little coffee shop in the mall. I’ve long joked about how half the reason I ended up wanting to date her is because of how much free coffee she would get me. She introduced me to the trendy coffee shop in town as well, a place where all the young kids who were still too young to drink alcohol would hang out. Not long after that, she started working at a bakery, where she quickly rose to prominence as the kitchen manager, taking over most of the activities in there while the owner, well, didn’t exactly do a good job of owning the business.

In those few short early years with my now-wife, it felt as though I had far more coffee and baked goods than I had ever had in my prior twenty years on this planet.

And it was already back then when she started talking about wanting to open up her own bakery.

For the past twenty years, it’s felt as though everything we’ve done has been to get that bakery. And the very second we finally were able to scrape together enough cash to get there, a place posted to their social media accounts that they were looking for someone to buy them out.

In this magic moment of kismet, after years of scheming and looking at buildings and trying to come up with a way in which my wife’s baking could finally have a place of prominence, nearly twenty years after I first met that coffee-shop girl, we’ve got it.

I can’t speak for my wife, but in my mind, this is the moment in which she finally achieves her ultimate self. Where she can finally be who she truly is, and show the world (or at least the Chippewa Valley) of what she is capable. And the fact that this happened within months of me having a truly revelational moment regarding my writing and the stage makes me think that maybe, just maybe, 2022 will finally be the year where these two Osters actually finally feel like they’re on the path they’ve wanted to be on since they first met.

And that makes me more than a little sentimental. It makes me think back to that coffee shop girl and that young unformed creative first meeting at the theatre and realizing they were kindred spirits. We’re just a lot older now…