Random Thoughts

I hope you’re in the mood for a Random Thoughts post. Here are some of the things on my mind these days.

-The Presidential debate happened at about 4:00 AM France time. I woke up to texts about it and spent the first hour of my day watching highlights and reading commentary. It was painful to watch. Trump doesn’t debate, he just spouts lies and nonsense. Trying to have a logical, productive discussion is not even a possibility for him, and is a waste of time for everybody else.

Olive and I had appointments with a doctor this morning (just a quick checkup as part of our visa applications) and when he saw on our paperwork that we were American, all the conversation turned to Trump. He was so embarrassed on our behalf, and I don’t blame him. Trump has completely changed, in only negative ways, how America is viewed by the rest of the world.

-My voting plan will be implemented this week. Since we live in France, we are absentee voters. The way it works if you live abroad, is that you register with the state where you lived most recently. For us, that’s California. In California, absentee voters can request a ballot via email or via mail. We chose email and it was sent to us a few days ago. In order to vote, we have to print out the ballot, fill it out, and sign it (very important! it doesn’t count if it’s not signed). Then we have two options: we can mail the ballot to California, or we can fax it.

Normally, mailing it would be a no brainer, but because we’ve heard so much about mail delays, we’ve decided we’ll fax it. We’ll either use a faxing app, or we’ll head to the public library and use their fax machine.

You can check your registration, register to vote, and learn about your voting options here. And please be aware that every state has different guidelines — for example, not every state offers faxing as an option. Do you have a voting plan? I’d love to hear it.

-If you’re interested, my thread about Trump Supporters was edited into an essay and published on Medium. You can find it here.

-Ben made it home! There was drama, but he’s home and that’s the important thing. Here’s what happened: He set off from Salt Lake City on Sunday morning and was supposed to arrive in Paris on Monday morning. There was specific paperwork required to board the plane, including a negative Covid test result from the last 72 hours. (Ben spent a hefty chunk of his time in Utah making sure he could get a Covid test and a result in time to fly home.) Ben’s paperwork was all in order and he had no problem boarding in Salt Lake. He flew to Chicago, and then on to Newark, New Jersey. From New Jersey he would go to Paris on a Sunday evening flight.

At Newark, they checked his paperwork again, but the gate representative told him his covid test wasn’t valid and wouldn’t let him board the plane. The same thing happened with 4 other people on the flight — they weren’t allowed to board because the gate rep said there was something wrong with their covid test.

So Ben stayed in an airport hotel that night, and as soon as things opened on Monday morning, he spent all his energy trying to get another covid test. By noon on Monday, after a lot of hustling, he was able to get another test — but they told him the results wouldn’t be ready until Wednesday at the earliest. So we started bracing ourselves that Ben wouldn’t get home until Thursday — or later if the test results were late.

On Monday evening, Ben figured he would try again, because the gate attendant from Sunday night had been a jerk and Ben suspected that if that specific man wasn’t at the desk that he would be allowed to board. And it turns out that’s what happened! Ben, and others who weren’t allowed on the Sunday evening flight, were allowed on the plane Monday evening. Their covid tests were totally fine — the gate attendant on Sunday was just in a bad place personally and was trying to make everyone around him miserable. Apparently that was his last shift before being furloughed. : (

When Ben arrived in Paris on Tuesday morning, they confirmed all his paperwork was in order, and the border check was fast and easy. He got on a train at Montparnasse and arrived back in Argentan at lunchtime. Hooray!

-His delayed arrival caused a bit more drama (and I am trying not to feel angry at the disgruntled gate attendant). Ben had important visa-related appointments on Tuesday morning and Wednesday morning, that had been scheduled for us 8 weeks ago. And we had planned his whole trip around them. We made sure he would arrive in Paris 24 hours before, thinking that even if one of the flights was delayed, he would still make the appointments.

Obviously, our planning did not take into account that he would fly to Paris on Monday night instead of Sunday night, and he missed the Tuesday morning appointment. We’re still trying to figure out how to get him a replacement appointment, and trying to stay positive.

In happier news, we sent Ben with an empty duffle bag, and he brought it back to us full of American groceries. Brownie mix, vanilla pudding for banana cream pie, Sour Patch Watermelon candy, taco seasoning packets, and a whole bunch more. It felt like Christmas!

-On Saturday night, at 9:00 PM France time, we watched a live broadcast of my mother-in-law’s funeral. It was beautiful and made me homesick for extended family. Each of her 8 kids spoke and did a wonderful job. I especially loved Ben’s talk and I’m thinking maybe I’ll share it as a blog post. We were so sad to miss being there in person, but grateful we could be a part of it via the internet.

-How are you feeling about school? Are your kids attending in person, or online? Here in Normandy, the kids are attending in person, and so far (one month in) there have been no covid breakouts. But I know all of Europe is talking about what a second-wave could look like, and I’m mentally preparing to shut down again if/when the second wave materializes in a big way.

-We also pared down our extra-curricular activities. We cut out horseback riding and handball. The kids are participating in music lessons and swim team, but that’s it. Piano for Flora June, Clarinet for Betty, and Trumpet for Oscar. They each get a private lesson, and a group music theory class. On Friday nights, Oscar and Betty practice with the local orchestra.

-I’ve been thinking a lot about the next event for Alt Summit. It’s scheduled for the last week of February/first week of March, and it’s clear that big gatherings (or any gatherings?) will still be unsafe at that time. So we’re considering delaying till summer, or till fall, or perhaps hosting a digital conference (though personally, I’m feeling some Zoom fatigue and would have a hard time getting excited about hosting a digital event). There’s also the option of skipping the 2021 conference altogether and hosting the next Alt Summit at the usual time in 2022. How are you feeling about online events? Do you have strong opinions?

-I’m trying to figure out the best way to share house renovation updates here on the blog. I’ve been so focused about sharing them on Instagram stories, and haven’t been sharing here as much as I would expect. I don’t have a solution yet, but it’s on my mind.

Speaking of the blog, I need to hire someone to make some updates to my
WordPress template — it’s been acting wonky and I need some help. If you’re a WordPress pro (or know someone who is), please email me: designmom@designmom.com.

-Fall has definitely arrived in Normandy, and brought a temperature drop and lots of rain. Our radiators are on, and we’ve pulled out our sweaters and Olive has made two batches of pumpkin cookies. Tomorrow is October. I can hardly believe it. This must be the slowest/fastest year ever. Does it feel like fall where you live? Will you be decorating for Halloween this year?

I think that’s it for now. Please feel free to respond to my random thoughts, or you can leave your own random thoughts in the comments. I always love to hear what’s on your mind.

P.S. — More random thoughts.

30 thoughts on “Random Thoughts”

  1. I have made the decision not to request an absentee ballot (my state allows for one due to COVID-19.) I read someplace that if you are able to go to the grocery store you should at least make an effort to vote in person. We have early voting & a lot of day of options. I don’t want anything to happen with my ballot in the mail. While I would love to be able to mail in my ballot, I don’t want to risk anything happening to it.

  2. I just really appreciate your forthright, trusting, honest sharing and connecting and know how much energy it takes to not only organize one’s thoughts, but to share them productively and connectively – so this is mostly a thank you to your blog – and also a vote to skip conference events virtual or in person in 2021 while finding other ways of staying connected and staying motivated to create new paths in 2022. Strength to us all to keep being motivated by the political horrors we see and not paralyzed.

  3. What a relief that Ben was able to get home… I was checking your site off and on looking for an update. Our experience WITH French passports was an absolute nightmare. I was imagining Ben stuck for months as
    I was with my 9 and 12 year old in tow… I am so happy for you that this all went so smoothly.

  4. The debate was both horrifying and humiliating. I feel the need to apologize to all my international friends…..

    Very happy Ben Blair made it home. I was actually hoping that all went well. And I say ‘actually’ because it’s still amazing to me to make connections with people that I have never met. That is just a testament to your gift at creating connection within your online community.

    Looking forward to see how you translate your instastories to the blog!

  5. That debate was just —- ugh. I read this online, but it’s so true: Every time I think we’ve hit rock bottom, I find out there’s a new, rockier bottom lower down. I have already had multiple talks with my kids about what went down (they each saw part of it) and why Trump’s behavior just was not acceptable.

    I’m sorry for the drama surrounding Ben’s return trip – what an unnecessary stress for you all. I did wonder if he would come home with a bag full of US treats – glad you guys thought of it and that he was able to make it happen!

    I got a smidge teary at your description of your mother-in-law’s funeral. It never feels good to feel like you’re not in the right place and I’m sorry for the five of you that you had that experience.

    I filled out my vote-by-mail ballot yesterday. I double and triple checked that everything was bubbled/signed correctly and even took a pic of my driver’s license next to my ballot signature as proof that they match. Once my husband does the same, I will drop both off in a dropbox at our local library. It’s 100% legal for family members to delivery ballots for each other, which definitely simplifies things for us.

    Separately but related, I have been writing postcards for Postcards To Voters. I’ve contributed to five vote-by-mail campaigns in Florida and four actual races, including Jon Ossoff’s Senate race in GA.

    My kids are doing virtual school. We have the option for them to attend in person, but four of us have autoimmune disorders so we decided that keeping school within our control instead of the school system’s was our least-bad option. I’m a certified teacher turned SAHM, so I’m both available and qualified to help my kids as needed, which makes a big difference in our ability to stay virtual. Also, keeping school at home will allow us to enroll the kids in dance and tennis which don’t have virtual options. Piano and clarinet lessons will remain virtual.

    It was 48* this morning – by far the coolest we’ve felt here. I think the weather may be turning, though I fully expect more summer-like temperatures this month. We are decorating for Halloween, getting costumes, etc., but I don’t think we’ll trick-or-treat the way we usually do. The kids have been talking about decorating the doors to different rooms and “trick-or-treating” around the house, so we may do that + drive to a few special homes like the grandparents’.

    Woah – that was a long and detailed answer from an internet stranger. My best wishes to y’alll with the visa appointments, etc. Enjoy the rest of your week!

  6. zoom fatigue is for obligatory things that don’t matter. a virtual alt summit would be inspiring and opens up the opportunity for people who aren’t typically able to attend in person!

  7. I relate to your feelings about events in 2021. I was visiting with my cousin about an annual Girls camp for summer of 2021 and We just don’t know if it’s better to plan it with the very real chance of another cancellation or postpone until 2022. There are no right answers but no end to opinions 😁.

    As to the debate, my teenagers had a great time identifying the logical fallacies. Thanks honors English! It was painful to watch.

  8. I m so relieved for you that your husband is back. If you feel like sharing i would be interested to know what your older kids think of the whole situation. I watched 2 minutes of the debate and it reminded me of the Macron Le Pen debate and just for the memory of that i can forgive Macron mistakes. Biden is quite admirable knowing his speech difficulty I mean he was talking to his bully. That s impressive. Things are pretty normal in Paris, mask and distancing are part of our routine. School has been good for our 7 y old.and all his activities ( dance and music). I understand your zoom fatigue, i work online and need long breaks from the computer (zéro screen on week-end). Thanks for your thoughts.

  9. I agree that zoom fatigue is a problem for so many right now. On the flip side, I have been able to participate in some meetings that I would have had to skip if I had to attend in person.

    My kids in Rome are attending school in person. Lots of hand washing, separation, and masks. They are happy to be back in class. Online was tough for them. In one school there were two covid cases in a different grade, friends who picked it up on an end of summer trip. In the other school no cases so far. So far so good. I hope it stays this way.

  10. Most of our Fall/Halloween decor is out. A lot of neighbors put their Halloween stuff out early too. High temp today is supposed to be 100!

  11. I was wondering if you planned on posting a what to wear to school post this year? Also, does Olive get to stay with you this year or does she have to return to the US? Hopefully, she gets to stay and have more quality family time in France!!

  12. I had an overload of blech from watching the debate highlights this morning and I was prepared for it to overshadow my drive into work. The sky was filled with amazing color and the sun turned everything it touched into the most beautiful silhouettes. It was the perfect reminder for me. I need to strive for balance between the blech with the beauty.

    I so enjoy your writing. I feel blessed to have found you! Hoping your transition into Autumn is filled with peace and beauty.

  13. I am adding my gratitude for the safe trip home, that would definitely make me nervous! I am glad it all worked out -adding my good wishes for a new visa appointment soon!

    My take away on the debate was, who offered actual solutions, who was able to remain calm when challenged, who promised to follow the people’s will, who promised unity and leading *all* Americans no matter their political party, and because I am a Christian, who actually bore more Christlike qualities? If anyone chooses a different theology or beliefs, who best followed your tenets?

    My voting plan began with checking my voter status (we have been absentee/mail in voters for decades). I have researched all the candidates for state, local, and federal positions, researched all local propositions, etc. I received and marked my sample ballot. Upon receiving my actual ballot I will be filling it out and personally delivering it to our Registrar of Voters asap, and I have signed up for ballot tracking -just to make sure.

    Our family, kids, grandkids, have all decided to just ride the Covid wave and assume it will continue to influence our lives one way or another for at least another year*, so we are adjusting and making those kinds of plans. Grandkids are all in virtual learning -which has been such a curve, but we’re all getting there. We kind of have an attitude of hitting the basics and allowing the non-necessary parts fall if need be. Less stress for everyone involved. “We can do hard things” has been said more than once!

    Happy fall y’all! (Pass me one of those cookies please!)

    *Article from ‘The Atlantic’ on the “Covid Spiral” if anyone is interested: https://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2020/09/pandemic-intuition-nightmare-spiral-winter/616204/

    1. I recently got an online subscription to The Atlantic-and it’s been great (tough) reading. All of their covid articles are fantastic.

  14. I vote for skipping the conference until 2022. I have a professional conference that I love and look forward to all year, and this year it went virtual. The thought of spending 4 solid days watching live videos of people talk feels really draining and tedious, and doesn’t give me any of the same excitement of being there, meeting people, running into old friends, visiting a new city. And if I’m not physically there, then it doesn’t feel like a legitimate excuse to stop doing my regular work or responding to emails. More likely, I’d be half-listening to sessions while also working the whole time, and I’d miss all of the stuff outside of normal work hours, because I’d have my same family responsibilities as usual. Video calls can be great and productive, but I find that it’s really diminishing returns over about half a dozen people. At that point, it’s hard to get a work in, it’s easy to zone out, you feel like your being there doesn’t make any difference (hence one reason why virtual school is such a bomb for so many kids).

    I think people will remain very hesitant to travel throughout 2021. Also, my company pretty much stopped paying for conference attendance and professional development altogether due to the financial upheaval of the pandemic. I know they’re not the only ones to tighten their belts this year.

  15. Curious what airline Ben flew from EWR to Paris? And also if he plans to contact the airline to let them know what he went through because of a single onerous gate attendant. This is customer service issues airlines should know about if they want the public to feel confident flying anywhere, not just internationally, given the states’ varying reopening guidelines.

    I plan to vote in person. I don’t want to risk ANYTHING that can disqualify an absentee ballot. I’m young, healthy, and can vote early. I voted in my state primary in person even though I did request an absentee ballot, and thought the experience was safe and organized. I plan to vote early just to be double safe.

    I am definitely feeling Zoom fatigue. I was invited to a lot of professional virtual conferences this summer and didn’t want to go to any. I can barely sit through a daily work Webex call, let alone hours and hours in virtual seminars no matter how fascinating the topic. I am confident about events being able to happen in the last half of 2021 though; either that or just focus on 2022 to be absolutely certain.

  16. So happy Ben made it home safe and with a bag of gifts!! Reading and viewing everything you offer is such an uplift in my week, even the hard tweets you offer on Insta. Important stuff to know. Thanks for the pic of the pumpkin cookies! And for all the renovation updates, which totally feed my fantasy of moving (at least part time) to Normandy. Life these days is bleak without a fantasy or two. My voting plan is that within two days of receiving my absentee voting ballot (any day now, I hope), I will fill it out, drive it over to city hall and hand deliver it. I’m so anxious about the whole thing, I can already feel my writing hand being shaky with not wanting to make any mistake. I want a pristine ballot to state clearly and perfectly that my vote goes to Biden and Harris. And I want to make sure it gets counted. I’m also participating in some letter writing Get Out the Vote campaigns… My heart is so heavy with the sick state of our nation, most obviously represented by Trump, but so much more widespread in the GOP and the widely armed populace of white supremacists who are delighting in this moment, not to mention the millions of brainwashed “mainstream” Americans who are behaving exactly as the Germans acted in 1930s Germany, allowing and supporting Hitler’s rise to power. Sorry that got so heavy. As I said, my heart is. Mostly I’d wanted to say I am so grateful for how you are both fiercely honest and joyously uplifting. I’m sure you do more good than you can imagine.

  17. Virtual schooling with my 6 year-old GS, a first grader, in my home office, four days a week (no onscreen classes on Wed). It is intense. I feel so badly for working parents who don’t have support and for daycare providers overseeing children of multiple ages who are pulled in so many directions. And total admiration for teachers who are being asked to do SO much. My GS’s teacher (mom of 3 young ones) has been terrific. Now into our fourth week and the kiddies are settling into their on-screen class time…fewer kiddie interruptions; the teacher is really keeping the children engaged. Teacher screen time with the entire class of 22 occurs in the a.m. hours. She also has a series of 20 minute afternoon small group classes (each with only 4 students) where she does individualized reading and math skill work. Asynchronous work (first graders even know what that means–basically homework, but at a higher level) takes almost as much time as onscreen class time. I try to have my GS complete all his work before I take him home later in the afternoon (interspersed with lunch/play/snack breaks)–both parents are working; my DD’s job is particularly demanding. Not unusual for GS to have three-six paper assignments (plus 20 minutes each on two other computer programs)–and that is for a first grader. As I said, intense.

    The stupidest thing our state did this past week was to make students do the MAP testing (reading and math) virtually. It was a bit of a nightmare for teachers, parents and especially, the students. Teachers had to try and watch the individual kids onscreen to see if they were getting help, but then the usual tech breakdowns occurred and you could hear kids/parents asking the teacher what to do–all of these voices overriding the voice asking the test questions. Just hearing it in the background sent me a bit nuts and was so tough for the students. If they want to make kids hate learning, these kinds of tests will do it. My GS was furiously frustrated by the time he completed the test.

    1. My husband is a testing coordinator for a big district in the southeastern US. Our state actually mandated MAP testing for all kids grades 1 – 9, to be completed within a certain number of days after school started. We are all virtual as well; MAP is one of the few testing platforms that allows virtual testing.

      The district’s choice definitely would have been to wait and administer these tests.

  18. I found the debate so upsetting. Trump’s behavior was predictable and disgusting. But I also found Biden so cringe-worthy. I am going to vote for Biden and I believe he is the candidate who will move us in a safer, more equitable direction. But I was so embarrassed for him. All I could think about was what an amazing job Elizabeth Warren or Kamala Harris would have done. It just feels like incredible women were passed over for a mediocre man and I’m so, so sick of it. I don’t let my middle school students tell people to shut up. I just pictured Michelle Obama shaking her fists at the TV (Joe, go high!). I am trying desperately to convince my parents (non-voters) to vote for Biden, and all this did was convince them neither candidate was worth their time.

    1. There is no equivalence between Biden and Trump. Biden did his best to adhere to a debate while he was bullied, shouted at, and being talked over. Should he have just sat there quiet? Then he would have been deemed “weak”. Trump is a danger to our democracy and cares nothing for the rule of law. Therefore, It is absolutely worth voting…and that vote must be for Biden.

  19. Could Alt be smaller and different and online this year to allow more people to get a taste of what it is like, leading up to 2022? I would love to watch something like the keynote interview online.

  20. Random thoughts are a thing this year, in the Netherlands we’re still discussing masks, it’s been 7 months. In April I read comments by, I thought quite reasonable people, that elderly people should just sacrifice themselves for the economy as that should be the course of nature, and I was disgusted.
    My dad celebrated his 88th birthday in August, I fought battles for months with care givers bosses as he still lives alone, who come to clean and do his shopping and of course stay for a cup of coffee. I love them for what they do, but wearing a mask was out of the question, because of costs.
    Renewed contact with nieces after 40 years, in our dysfunctional family, promoting Trump like conspiracy theories and Q. Almost making me regret the renewed contact.
    I’ve had a lot of forgiving to do this year, but I’m sure some people feel that way about me. Everything’s a mess and then there’s my dad video calling on his new tablet, being overjoyed to see me or my daughter. And there’s nothing better than the long talks I have with her on tackling racism and gender discrimination. Because of it not being so openly and aggressively apparent over here, makes it maybe harder to really address.

    So, I want to let you all know that I appreciate all your efforts to vote and I’m with you on this in my very minor way. What happens in the US affects the world and our local politics. You wouldn’t believe how Trump can even inspire people here, talking about shame.
    So hopefully we can all start feeling safe and sound again soon, so we’ll have room for the real issues that need to be addressed. And who better to lead us than you.

  21. I voted with “in person absentee ballot” at my county courthouse last week. I was planning to vote in person because I wanted my vote to be counted on Election Day, but when I read that my state explicitly excluded polling places from our mask requirement I decided not to take the risk. I think (hope!) my neighborhood polling place will be quite busy. My once a week grocery runs seem safe to me only because every single person is required to have a mask over nose and mouth. I have contributed more to the presidential campaign this year than all previous political contributions combined. I was thrilled to hear that my sister and brother-in-law spent their stimulus checks by contributing them to Biden. So much depends on this election!

  22. I found the debate so sad. My children had to watch it for school. It was supposed to be a homework assignment but it felt like a punishment for all of us. Hoping that the Harris/Pence debate will be more informative. (I think she’ll shine and I hope Pence doesn’t try to copy Trump.) We have early voting areas in our county and my husband suggested that’s how we celebrate our wedding anniversary so why not??

  23. I want to thank you for the way in which you described what happened to Ben at the airport. Recognizing that the airline attendant was in a challenging emotional place because he was being furloughed the next day was gracious and set a tone I appreciate. Your words remind me that we never know what another person has been through or is going through. This doesn’t excuse their behavior but it allows us to be kind to people even in challenging situations.

  24. Greetings from New Zealand. As a Kiwi relatively new to your blog I’d like to echo comments made by Avi earlier in this thread; a big thank you for your personal insights amid the turmoil. For many NZers the Trump spectacle beggars belief. I watched the Trump-Biden Debate yesterday from start to finish and was exhausted by it. New Zealanders go to the polls on 17 October and will most likely vote back a Prime Minister who could at least be described as a decent human being. And Biden seems to fit that bill. Keep up your efforts to promote voting plans. It can’t be a vain hope that that ultimate right and privilege will restore some kind of sanity in America. Look forward to hearing more of your thoughts in the lead up to 3 November.

  25. I live overseas too, in Armenia. I actually voted about a week ago! I received my ballot via email and was able to submit electronically. I realize there would be a lot of people that are concerned about this process, but I am choosing to trust the systems that are in place. Also, I have a home in West Virginia, and most people are fans of Trump…so my vote may not count very much. Regardless, I feel like what I voted for my local elections are far more important for me and my kids when we return in a few years.

    We have not been talking much about the election here, but that is because Armenia is at war with Azerbaijan right now…so that is all that I seem to be thinking about. I woke up to watch the debate. I was mad at all the back and forth interruptions, but I also feel like if Biden was offered a debate against a candidate that tried to be respectful then he would have behaved differently. it is hard to keep your cool when you have a bad example pulling you the wrong way. I just want to know…why can’t they just MUTE the mics when it is not their turn?

  26. I am so grateful to live in Germany right now with political leaders that seem to handle the covid crisis quite reasonable in comparision with other countries. I am grateful that my kids can go to school again, and even though masks are everywhere we are able to live a quite normal daily life.

    On the very same day of the Trump/Biden debate there was a long speech of chancelor Merkel in the German Parlament. She is far away from being an excellent speaker, but I was just happy to hear her debating in the usual objective, quite unemotional way.

    I am so fed up by all these egomanic, selfcentered, dangerous autocrats. I am often thinking about my grandparents who grew up in Germany of the 1920’s and cannot help myself to see parallels.

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