Excitement!

For a summer when nothing was going on it’s sure been kind of crazy around here. It all started in late July when the boys came running upstairs shouting that there was a bird in the house. So I stopped what I was doing and went downstairs to see.

Yup. Definitely something big flying around. Nope. Not a bird. Navigated the windows way too well and flew in the way that only a bat can fly. At first I tried to get it to leave by opening the doors but it refused. Once I turned the inside lights on it went up and hid in the rafters.

Kind of fun to see it up close like that. It was about hand-sized and is a spectacular aerialist. At the same time the boys were understandably locked in their bedrooms and my wife was keeping them calm and telling them that animal control was on the way.

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Since I had it treed in the rafters I took a photo* while I waited for the police. Calling animal control on a weekend involves calling police dispatch who send a cop out whose job is to corral the bat into a room before calling animal control to come get it.

*My first time using fully-manual flash with a fully-manual lens.

Unfortunately, our house is an open floor plan with literally no rooms available to corral the bat into. Which meant our best bet was to leave the lights on and hope the bat stayed put until animal control could get there in 4o minutes.

When she arrived, the game plan was to hit the bat with a towel and then pick it up in a tupperware container once it fell. This did not go as planned. When the animal control officer finally hit the bat (it was as high as possible in the rafters) it started flying around the house again.

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I eventually got it with a towel only for it to escape while animal control tried to tupperwear it and so had to do it a second time. Second time was the charm.* As the animal control officer jars up the bat I got to hear it chitter and squeak and recognized what a lot of the sounds we’re hearing outside our windows actually are.

*Reading about how to handle a bat in the house contains a lot of information about how a bat can’t fly once it’s on the floor. This is apparently only true if the bat isn’t strong.

Before she left the officer asked us all a bunch of questions about what we’d been doing when we noticed the bat and whether it had been in contact with anyone. This was all to ascertain our possible rabies exposure and whether or not we needed to test the bat. The problem is that testing the bat ends up killing the bat and no one wanted to kill a locally-protected animal without a good reason.

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Since it was early evening when the bat appeared and no one came into contact with it, animal control determined that it could release the bat back into the wild the following day. So she came back with the bat and eventually placed her (we now knew the bat was female) into our cherry tree so she could orient herself in a protected place. By that evening the bat was gone and we thought our adventure was over.

It was only just beginning.

Three days later we woke up to a bat circling our bedroom. This is a much smaller space and it’s WAY less fun to wake up to a bat in the morning than it is to discover one in the house at dusk. Also two people plus a bat in one bedroom is way too crowded and the bat actually ran into my wife’s face. She handled it better than she had any right to.

Remembering what we had learned during the first bat experience we shut the bat up in the bedroom and waited until business hours to call animal control since we thought everything was under control. This is when we discovered that in times of Covid any call to animal control has to go through police dispatch. Whoops. We should’ve called at 5:30 instead 8:00.

By the time animal control arrived the bat was gone—presumably through the ceiling vent that leads to the attic fan. No bat meant that we had to go to the Emergency Room for rabies shots.

Rabies is not a disease you want to mess with. It’s basically 100% fatal and yeah, better safe than sorry. While it’s not the 20 shots in the stomach I grew up hearing about it’s still not a fun vaccine. Plus taking the kids to the ER these days is not something I want to do any more than necessary and this vaccine involves four trips. Yes to the ER since it’s the only place to get the shots.

Our first trip to the ER was pretty straightforward aside from the waiting. No one questioned why all four of us were getting shots. In fact it was treated as the obvious course of action. Bat in the bedroom? Time to vaccinate the entire family.

The first day of shots is kind of brutal because the immunoglobin injections are proportional to weight and consist of a lot of volume. Definitely more involved than a regular flu shot and the youngest got a bit of a panic attack. between the ER visit and learning about rabies and having to deal with multiple injections. The kids each got two shots while the grownups got three. We were all a bit sore for a few days.

For the second time we thought we were done with excitement (aside from having to return to the ER three times over the next two weeks). I spent the day sealing up all the vents in the bedrooms so the bat couldn’t come in that way and we figured that even if the bat was in the attic it would have to go outside now.

Wrong again. That night the bat was back. Or well we’re assuming it was the same bat but we’ll never know for sure. Turns out that it wasn’t using the ceiling vents to enter our living space.* I saw it perched on our screen door but it went flying around the house again as soon as I approached it. I figured I’d give it a fighting chance to survive so I opened the door.

*I have a pretty good idea where it got in though.

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It didn’t take the chance so I switched to Plan B, turned on all the houselights again, and called animal control police dispatch. This time it took refuge high on a beam in the living room but with a lot more ease of access than the previous time. I left the lights on, met the cop outside,* and had a nice chat about how weird this summer has been while we waited for animal control to show up.

*Actually the same cop who came to our original call.

The animal control guy was apologetic about not being able to find the bat in the morning and while he stressed that we couldn’t be sure it was the same bat I think he appreciated being able to draw a line under the call.

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He netted the bat and took it off to be tested. We all knew that after three bat incidents we were going to test this one. We also knew that we’d need a proper expert to batproof our house. Thankfully you can evict bats starting on August first so by the time the batman came to our house he could do whatever he felt needed to be done.

Batman’s first visit was pretty impressive. He quickly scoped out where the bats were getting into the house* and gave us an estimate of how many bats we were dealing with based on the amount of guano. Best news of this experience was that he thought it was only a couple bats total. This also provided the silver lining of the whole thing.

*Which made sense with my conclusion as to how they (or it) was getting into the living space. Basically, instead of heading outside where the rooflines met, one of them was getting confused and followed the roof beam into the house proper.

If we had insisted on testing the first bat we caught it’s very likely that we wouldn’t have had the second and third experiences nor would we be getting vaccinated.* But we’d also probably end up with a colony of bats living in our attic which means that not only would we eventually have another bat experience, but there would be a god-awful mess to clean up. Instead we literally caught the infestation at the beginning.

*Bat we tested was negative but we were still advised to go through with the shots.

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It took a couple of tries to install the one-way bat doors* since our roof geometry was a bit more complicated than batman initially guessed but we certainly slept better after he got them in place. We also heard a lot of bat chitter outside the first night after installation. It was hard for us to not anthropomorphize the noise as being disappointment at being unable to reenter our attic.

*Sadly not labeled.

That day was also the day we went back to the ER for our second round of shots. Turns out we went a day late due to them giving us incorrect discharge papers but thankfully that wasn’t a big screwup. We also discovered how common the rabies treatment is since walking to the ER as a family is enough for the Covid temperature screener to look at all four of us and preemptively ask, “Rabies vaccine?”

The good news is that the kids are more comfortable in the ER. The bad news? The kids are more comfortable in the ER. It’s nice to not have to worry about panic attacks or keeping them calm. But now they want to touch everything and wander and we have to keep reminding them that they’re surrounded by sick people.

We got the bat doors installed right before Isaias hit. Thank god since otherwise we might have completely forgotten about them. The storm hit us around 11:00am and by 11:30 our power was out. Since our house didn’t even shudder in the wind we had no idea how much the area had gotten thrashed until the winds died down after 3:00pm and the PSEG webpage had crashed due to the number of people checking it.

It was bad. The boys kind of freak out whenever the internet buffers so having the power cut really messed them up. Meanwhile we were dealing with estimates of getting things restored in two to four days, having to plan meals around the food we had, and figuring out how soon it would go bad.

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The boys did enjoy going to bed with our fake candles though. Something about the flickering and red glow appears to be comforting even if it’s coming from a light-emitting diode and printed circuit board. If we’d had a battery-powered clock as well I suspect they’d have been just fine. Something about losing access to what time it is messed them up more than any other power-related adjustment.

They were not good on day 2 of no power. We had to keep reminding them that this sucked for everyone and that trying to make each other upset because things weren’t fun was only asking for them to get us upset at them.

I also got a chance to see how bad the town was since I went out to get ice and discovered that all the street signals save one were completely out. Between the busted signals on the big streets and all the debris and powerline work on the small streets I did not want to be out in a car any more than necessary.

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Day three though started off with more excitement. Not bat-in-bedroom excitement level but seeing your neighbor’s house on fire gets you up and running pretty quickly. This time I called police dispatch via 911 (four calls in a week and half now) and yeah, in minutes we had all kinds of sirens showing up outside to block off the roads due to a two-day-old downed electrical wire having sparked into life.

The fire never got dangerously large but there was a risk of a generator blowing up which could’ve done a decent amount of damage. As a result we backed away from the windows directly facing the fire and watched from a safer distance. Once they shut the power off the fire quickly crackled out and everyone drove off leaving the street blocked off with caution tape.

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It was an exciting way for the boys to wake up though. They’re not as into trucks as they used to be but fire engines and flashing lights are still a draw. A little scary to see them so close to the house but they gave a much more palpable sense of something happening than just waiting around for power to come back.

We went for our third round of shots that day and grabbed a free bag of ice from PSEG afterwards. This meant we were feeling pretty good about our food situation although we were still working on a run list of what to cook when. But a least we knew we’d make it whenever we got our power back.

Later that day we took a bike ride to check out the neighborhood and yeah, there were some impressive downed lines still. Biggest of the bunch involved a huge tree which fell and took out three whole lengths or power lines. Two days after the storm and PSEG had finally managed to remove the tree. Despite being out for over 48 hours it was clear that we were also somewhat lucky.

We caught another lucky break that evening when a worker came out to check the line that burned. We’d received a revised estimate that put us as not receiving power back until day five but he saw me watching him and wandered over to chat. Turns out that we live at a junction of sorts where we can be connected to multiple lines. The one we were connected to was busted but the worker said he might be able to hook us up to another one.

Sure enough, 30 minutes later our lights flickered on and the refrigerator started to run. After 60 hours of being without power we got it back in time to stream a movie that night.

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The next morning we had all sorts of cherry pickers on the street working on the downed line. Where the boys were into the fire engines still, these were of no interest. How sad. It feels like only yesterday when they would’ve sat outside for hours watching the guys work.

The week since then has been relatively calm. Thank god. Power has been steady. The last round of rabies shots which went without incident. No more bats in the house. We’re just eating down our frozen foods since we don’t trust them for long-term storage anymore and waiting for the ER bill to come.

Bible Lessons

Continuing my trend of posting pre-war cards on Mondays, today I’m going to look at a pile of cards I found at my parents’ house last summer. We’d saved a bag of ephemera from my grandparents’ house but I’d never properly looked through it. Last summer, as I was finally clearing my stuff out of my parents’ I took a moment to look through the bag.

It was pretty cool. Lots of valentines and postcards but what caught my eye was a stack of over 50 Sunday school Bible lesson cards. The oldest of the cards are from 1902—older than both of my grandparents actually. I’m not going to scan the entire stack but this one shows off why they caught my eye. Most of them are printed in wonderful chromolithography with lush bright colors and really intricate artwork.

The more I look a old cards like these the more I appreciate the stipple patterns and the way they were designed for specific inks rather than being a generic CMYK process screen like I’m used to. Yes I love looking at my halftone rosettes too but there’s a world of difference in looking at an image being reproduced in process colors and one which is using each ink for a specific purpose.

Despite starting in 1902, there’s a decade gap in years before a good run of cards starts in 1912. These 1912 cards are printed just as nicely and the dark cards are especially nice with the amount of contrast they can hold.

What caught my eye the most with these though is that while they’re produced in the United states, the text is all in German. This fits with family history since my great-grandparents immigrated from what would eventually become Germany* and so attending a German-language church makes complete sense.

*Family lore, the timing of the immigration, and where my ancestors came from all point to them trying to escape the Prussian Army in the 1870s. All of which makes it difficult for me to say that my ancestors come from Germany.

The thing about printing these in German though is that it’s a reminder of how there have always been multiple languages in the United States. There’s a lot of ahistoric “speak American” rubbish that comes from the racist wing of our society and it’s important to remember how not only has the US always been multilingual, that there have been large institutions set up to support those languages.

This isn’t a single German church in California printing its own Sunday school lessons in the basement. This is a printing company in Rhode Island which is supplying these cards to churches across the country.

I have German-language cards from 1912 through 1915. Again not scanning everything but I’ve selected a few examples where the artwork really pops. I especially love the card of The Deluge (Die Sintflut) and how the stippling changes so much between the swirling water, solid boat, and sleeting rain. It’s kind of the perfect example of what chromolithography does best.

The backs are also in Fraktur which, as I mentioned before in my first Sanella post, is especially interesting due to the direction that German typesetting would go in the following decades.

1915 though is the last year of German language cards. The last card I have from that year is from the 4th quarter so my family appeared to attend that church through most of the year. I have no idea if they moved or if this is related to the changing political climate.

Anyway, starting in 1916 the cards are in English. More disappointingly, they’re now printed with a standard halftone screen. The art doesn’t glow the same way and they’re nowhere near as fun to look at. They’re still pretty cool though for being over a century old. As my kids are going through their catechism it’s interesting to compare their lessons and the worksheets they get in church to these cards.

Of the 50 or so cards I have from 1912 to 1917, it’s worth noting that none of them appear to duplicate the same story. Yes these are from different manufacturers but I have about a year’s worth of Sundays over enough time to cover two full liturgical cycles.

Definitely fun to look through in an album (these are roughly 3″×4″ so they‘re in 4-pocket pages). They’re currently in order chronologically but it might be fun to reorder them by the order events happen in the Bible.

Ugh

Seems weird to just let scheduled posts keep running in the midst of everything going on but I also don’t know what else to do so everything will continue as it has been. At the same time I can’t not acknowledge how things have gone from having to fill idle time to feeling guilty about not being out there supporting the protests.

Not that there are really any events to go to anyway. I’m in a place of extreme privilege to not be near any of the protests and police riots. New Jersey has been better than most places in terms of police behavior—yes Trenton had some stuff happen anyway—but in general things have been good here.

So I’m left with figuring out what organizations to donate to and explaining what’s going on to the kids. They’re already pretty stressed about the Covid situation. While I want them to be plenty skeptical about government it’s tough to explain just how broken everything is. My eldest just learned about the three branches of government and balancing the lessons between “what the design is,” “what’s wrong with that design,” and “how we’ve deviated from the design” is A LOT for an elementary school kid to wrap his head around.

Heck it’s a lot for me to wrap my head around. What’s going on right now feels existentially worse than anything else I’ve lived through. I’ve had the sense that things were broken before. I’ve never had the sense that they were completely irreparable. But right now we’ve got a government that’s declared war on its citizens, a pandemic that’s already killed 100,000 people and is poised to spike like crazy this month, millions of people out of work, and in the background an impending climate disaster.

There are days when I see all the hope in the world in my kids and am inspired by their potential. And there are days when my heart aches at the world they’re going to inherit and the problems they’re going to be stuck with. I’m trying to have more of the good days than the bad ones but it’s difficult. Especially now.

Stay safe out there. Do what you have to do to stay sane. It may be trivial blog about baseball cards and flower photos but it’s kind of my only release.

Season Stolen

So today was going to be a big day. The first day of spring break and we were going to go to our first ballgame of the season. This would be adding another park to my life list plus both boys can count the number of Major League games they’ve been to on only one hand. I’d even procured a couple Greg Luzinski cards just in case.*

*Last year he was always signing at his restaurant out in left field.

No need to go into what happened but instead of spending last month doing the research and acquiring cards for the upcoming Trenton and Somerset seasons, I’ve been homeschooling the boys and have only gone out one time in the last three weeks to stock up on food. I can’t complain. We’ve been healthy. We have a house and a yard. We can afford to buy a month’s worth of food at one go. We’ve got a ton of movies on DVD/Blu in addition to Disney+ and Amazon. At the same time though I can’t help but feel sad for the time and experiences we’re going to miss and never be able to get back.

Last year was magical. One of those perfect moments of parenthood when I got to enjoy my hobbies and interests with my kids. I loved watching them get hooked into baseball and autograph collecting. I love even more that it was our thing that we shared and that they’d come back from a game excited about the game and eager to share their experiences and show who they got to their mother.

After our last game last year it’s no understatement to say that I was excited for this coming year. We all were. Now that that’s no longer happening, I’ve had to swallow my disappointment and help my kids focus on the good things going on now.

Yes good things despite how scary life in New Jersey feels.

As much as we (all of us) can’t tear ourselves away from the ever-increasing numbers and the fear that we’ll lose someone we know and love, there’s something comforting and amazing in the fact that we’re living through one of the rare moments in history when the vast majority of the world is in complete agreement about what humanity’s priority should be.

Finding a vaccine and developing treatments is the single scientific focus right now. Like 90% of the people out there are doing what they can to protect themselves and everyone else. Most of us are outraged and appalled by the abhorrent assholes who are trying to profit off of massive-scale death and suffering.

These are strange and scary times but also exciting ones because of the potential to see what we can achieve in the coming months.

Am I overly optimistic here? A little. I know that once the death numbers start dropping it’s going to be impossible for us to keep our discipline long enough to really kill the number of new cases. Hopefully by then we’ll have new treatments and ramped up capacity (both testing and hospital beds) to properly react to the inevitable second spike of infection. And hopefully that spike occurs much closer to the vaccine’s release so we don’t have to endure a third.

A month ago feels like years ago. I can only imagine how a month from today might feel like years into the future. Until then we’ll be hunkering down as a family. Reading books. Watching movies. Playing catch. Knocking a soccer ball around. Facetiming relatives. And yes looking at baseball cards.