We Have a Guest Bed (Again)

Yesterday afternoon Dawnise helped me assemble the guest bed, which had been disassembled and stowed up against the wall since before we moved in to this flat 14 months ago.

I was surprised at how much seeing a bed in that bedroom made me smile.

Yesterday was my last day in the office, and assuming our pre-flight COVID tests tomorrow don’t surprise us (incredibly unlikely, since we’ve basically self-isolated for the past week), Tuesday morning we head to Heathrow to catch a flight to Seattle. We planned the trip before the Omicron wave, and after much consideration and debate, we decided to stick to the plan.

We’ve dialed down our social planning a bunch, so as not to catch anything and become super spreaders, so if you’re reading this in Seattle and would like to catch up while we’re there – we’d love to, but “not this time,” I’m sorry to say.

The bed building that started this all is for a friend of ours who’s coming to stay at the flat for the time we’re gone. It’s a change of scenery for her and care and company for the cats, who’ve not been separated from us for the better part of two years. She might even get to spend some time wandering around London, weather permitting.

One of the hardest bits of planning this trip – or any trip – was sorting out care for Oscar. A cat sitter willing to appear twice a day to feed and inject a cat has proven to be tricky.

I’m happy to report that our cat care needs got significantly easier a few days ago, when Oscar’s latest blood work showed continued normal fructosamie levels and glucose control. When his vet called to chat about the results, she said “it’s up to you, but if it were my cat, I’d stop giving the insulin; the risk of overdose at this point is higher than being underdosed.”

You don’t need to tell me twice.

Along with the need for daily insulin, so goes the need for a strict 12 hour feeding schedule. His (very low carbohydrate) wet-food diet, and needing to ensure Oscar doesn’t eat Ivan’s food, still pose challenges for once-daily pet care vists.

We bought Ivan a fancy feeder that only opens for him when we found one on significant reduction (who knew having the cat microchipped would be useful beyond reuniting us if we wandered off?), and a lower tech dual timed feeder for Oscar. We’ve been working on figuring out how to do all the days feeding at night. We haven’t quite cracked it, but it feels like we’re close.

So no insulin while we’re gone, and a week or so after we return we’ll bring him in for another test. Assuming the blood work continues to look good he’ll go to a six-month recheck schedule, and after that TBD.

Tuesday evening we’ll land at SEATAC, pick up the rental car, and switch back to driving on the right (hand) side of the road.

We’ll sort through a couple years of mail and clean out the pantry of stuff that’s two years out of date. Dawnise has an appointment at the Department of Licensing to get her driving licence renewed, and we’ll finally get to meet our nieces. After about a week in Seattle we head to visit my parents on the east coast for a few days before heading back to London.

I wish I could say I’m looking forward to the trip, but mostly I’m just trepidacious.

Oh, that guest bed? Once COVID sees fit to give us our lives back, reservations will be available…

I’ve forgotten how to travel…

As I type I’m sitting on a LNER train to York, Dawnise and our traveling companions scattered through the carriage behind me.

It’s the farthest I’ve been from Central London in nearly two years. It’s just for a few days – were back in London on Monday – but it feels..significant.

Foreign.

A feeling I remember from the before time.

The anticipation of a new place. The uncertainty of what we’ll find.

“I hope the hotel is as nice as it looked.”

“I hope there’s a place that makes drinkable coffee.”

Getting this far took a surprising amount of work – mostly to find someone to care for our diabetic and hence high maintenance cat(s). After several false starts we’ve left the boys and a set of keys to our flat in the hands of someone we’ve only just met, but who seems lovely.

Packing used to be a rote routine. I’m clearly out of practice. I’m pretty sure I packed only what I need, and didn’t forget anything. At least not anything I can’t obtain or do without for a couple days.

Fingers crossed.

It also reminds me that I really like train travel. Watching the scenery blurring past. The quiet of a not-crammed-full train carriage, people reading, chatting quietly.

And it reminds me of work trips from a past life.

Wandering around the UK and Europe visiting business partners with colleagues who were good travel companions and friends. The sinking feeling when a colleague realized she’d left her handbag on a train. The incredulity when the train operator confirmed that they had her bag and it would be back where we were via the first train the next morning. The utter shock when it actually appeared as promised, contents intact.

We’re approaching our penultimate stop.

Soon I’ll be somewhere I wasn’t this morning. That I’ve never been before.

I miss this.

When The Juice Isn’t Worth the Squeeze

I generally avoid writing about “work stuff.” This is an exception.

It’s early November as I type this, but it’ll sit unpublished for at least a couple weeks. A couple weeks ago, in late October, I “gave notice” that I intend to resign my role and part ways with my employer.

In the US it’d be all done and dusted by now. Not so in the UK.

Per my employment agreement (contract, even!) I owed the company (and the company owed me) three months notice if either side wanted to end the relationship. So notice in October translated to leaving in January. At the time of this writing, only a handful of my colleagues and leadership are aware of my decision. Communicating broadly this early seemed unnecessary and likely counter-productive, hence the delay in publication. As you’re reading this, it means the proverbial cat’s been let out of its bag.

The frequently asked questions from peers and leaders were “what’s next?” and “why?”

“What’s next?” is the easy one. Nothing, at least for a bit. I’m going to take a break. We’re planning to stay in the UK for a while, and hopefully (all appropriate digits crossed) eventually get the chance to do some of the traveling we moved “over here” to do, before Covid repeatedly dumped cold water on our plans. I figure I’ll start looking around for the next thing in the spring, and we’ll see where that ends us up.

Saying “easy” is maybe glossing over things a bit. That we can stick around, and don’t face a deadline to get ourselves and the cats out of the UK, comes from a healthy dose of good fortune, a bit of good planning, and help from some good friends*.

So that leaves “why?”

When someone decides to leave a group there are three sets of reasons. There are reasons they keep to themselves, reasons they share with the group, and reasons the group hears. To me, making the reasons I share and the reasons that are heard “the same” is important. And can be surprisingly difficult. I figure the best strategy is to pick one message you want to deliver, state the message as simply as you can, and deliver it consistently. Even then people, to a large extent, will hear what they want to hear. They’ll focus on the bits of the story that resonate with their world view, their experience, or their biases. And there’s not much you can do to prevent that.

The message I’m trying to consistently deliver is rougly “it’s not you, it’s me.” Over four years working in three different parts of the company under different leaders on different projects, I’ve proven to myself that I can be effective and impactful in this peculiar environment – something I wasn’t completely confident of, having been in my last role and company for over a decade. In that time I’ve also come to realize that I’m not having as much fun as our tagline suggests I should – especially given the energy and time the role demands.

At the end of the day I’m moving on because, as a friend (and soon-to-be-former colleague) likes to say, it feels like “the juice isn’t worth the squeeze.”

I’ve learned a bunch over these four years. I’ve gained a deeper understanding of how this “really big tech company” does what it does. What it’s good at. What it struggles with. I’m leaving with no regrets and (hopefully) no bridges burned.

I’ve met some great folks who I’m happy to call friends, and who I’d happily choose to work with again. And who I’m definitely going to miss.

That reason is true, by the way. Which to me is really important. But it’s obviously not the whole truth. One could ask “why?” again and again, until there are no new answers. I’m not going to bore you with that exercise, but I did do it. It pointed me at root causes that I don’t have leverage or agency to fix. Indeed, “fixing” some of them would mean changing fundamental tenets the company culture holds close, and has been successul following.

So, it’s time for me to try something new.

All that’s left now is to figure out what that might be.

I Will Not Take These Things for Granted

Europe and the UK are entering another holiday season with COVID hanging menacingly over the festivities like The Sword of Damocles.

Christmas events across the countries in Europe hardest hit by the current wave are being canceled. The trip to Belgium we failed to take in 2019 owing to a French rail strike is this time being scuttled by the near vertical case growth in Belgium and the restrictions that accompany it.

In a shocking first, the government here has taken quick action in response to the new “variant of concern.” England has reinstated mandatory masks on transit and in public indoor spaces (but not restaurants or pubs, the places people tend to gather close and trade exhalations), and as of today will require mandatory self-isolation pending a negative PCR test on (re)entry to the country.

Against this backdrop, Dawnise and I hosted two other expat couples to celebrate American Thanksgiving on Sunday. It was the first time we’d had six people around the table in the year we’ve lived in this flat.

We spent the morning prepping our contributions, and when guests arrived we spent the day cooking, laughing, and quaffing wine before eating good food with good friends.

After dinner, we each took a moment to share some of the things we were thankful for over the past year.

There were a few shared themes. Being healthy. Having friends to share moments of lightness. Of having been incredibly lucky to find a life partner who’s a good partner – even after two years in near constant close quarters.

We played a few games before parceling out the left-overs and saying goodnight. One couple caught a cab home to their place a few miles east, and the other covered the few blocks that separate us on foot.

After putting the ovens into self-clean mode, loading the dishwasher, and washing the handful of things that needed it we adjourned to the sofa and found something funny to watch before turning in for the evening.

It was a poignant reminder of the sort of thing we used to do fairly regularly, and the sort of thing I sincerely hope to do with increasing regularity in the future.

And something I will do my very best to not take for granted.

A Creeping Sense of Normal

Boris has been vocally insistent that despite persistently high case counts, the UK has no plans to re-impose COVID restrictions. Which is pretty much what he was saying last year before abruptly canceling Christmas.

So as you can imagine, we’re all aquiver with antici….

London is looking more and more “normal” – where normal means something not quite 2019, but more like 2019 than 2020. I took the tube to London Bridge and met a former colleague for a burger and beers the other night, and Dawnise got rush tickets to a show.

Aside from a communication snafu owing to the pub being a very efficient Faraday cage, which caused Dawnise to spend the first half of her show wondering if some evil had befallen me, it was a shockingly “pre-pandemic” evening.

We’re starting to make plans for around the holidays – including inviting folks to ours for Thanksgiving, and hopefully including a Christmas market trip to Belgium that was aborted by a French Rail strike last time.

Closer to Christmas we’ve got a booking for anniversary Beef Wellington at the Goring, which was canceled last year by the “we’re not going to cancel Christmas” lock down. And a smattering of friends from the States are planning to be in London over the next few months.

We’re even starting to think about a trip back to Seattle early next year.

In the mean time, I finally got my UK driving license. It took a year from the time I registered to sit the written exam – but it’s done. So we can hire a car and go somewhere we can’t easily get on a train. Which sounds great, assuming we can sort out cat care.

And speaking of the diabetic cat… He was back at the vet for a checkup the other day and he’s doing pretty well. He’s steadily lost a bunch of weight, which the vet’s very happy about. It turns out when you can’t help your self to snacks, sticking to a diet and losing weight is a piece of cake. Oh, wait, he can’t have cake. Ahem. We’ve lowered his insulin dose after measuring his blood sugar and finding it was too low a couple hours after eating. We’ll check him again in a couple weeks.

We’ve been in the “new flat” for a year, so I guess it’s not “new” anymore – and I’m happy to report that on the occasional days of heavy rain, the water stayed outside, just like it’s supposed to. We occasionally reflect on how fortunate we were to find this place when we needed it.

Further bulletins as events warrant.

Exhausted from Social-ing… A lot.

I’m sure weekends like this used to be pretty normal… in the before times. But I’m out of practice, and I’m totally knackered.

Dawnise found-out on Facebook post that a neighbor of ours from Seattle was moving to London. She arrived (and made the aforementioned Facebook post) earlier this week. She got settled into temp housing, got a clear COVID test, and we had her around for Saturday brunch. I made brioche french toast and we sat and caught up for a couple hours. It was fantastic.

Saturday night we caught the DLR to a “do-over” birthday party for a friend, at a gastro pub in east London, along the Thames. They had arranged a room – food, drinks, and more people than we’d been in one place with in quite a while. At some point, somehow, Dawnise and another extroverted friend ended up chatting with a group of very well dressed folks who turned out to be quite interesting. Two were musicians, one in media, and the last a bit of a serial entrepreneur.

This morning we got up, made breakfast, and caught an early afternoon train to Guildford, to meet up with friends and former colleagues we haven’t seen in far too long. We spent the afternoon chatting, eating and drinking with friends with better weather than we had any right to hope for. We got a ride back to the station, fortuitously arrived just in time to catch an express train back to London, and got home just on time to feed and medicate the diabetic cat.

Tomorrow we’ve got tickets for a play we were scheduled to see just before the theaters were closed, with friends who’ve since moved back to the US.

Put a fork in me. I’m done.

But also, more of this, please-and-thank-you.

This Is Going to Hurt Me More…

After two weeks of insulin, Oscar had a follow-up to check his fructosamine levels. The good news was that the levels had fallen several hundred points, into a range the vet considers “healthy.” He’d also lost a bit of weight, at a rate the vet also considered healthy. Barring acute events or observable change in behavior, he’ll goes back in three months to test again.

So the 7am/7pm feeding and injection regime is “the new normal.”

Cats, it turns out, are much better at knowing when they’re hungry than they are at knowing what time it is – so Ivan generally starts demanding food a couple hours before it’s time to be fed.

That’s far less irritating in the afternoon than it is at 5:30 in the morning.

Dawnise is really good at ignoring him and either sleeping through it or falling back to sleep. I, on the other hand, am not. And the cats figured out long ago that a pretty sure fire way to get my attention (and get me out of bed) is to make destructive sounding noises in a room just out of sight.

So, yeah… Three weeks in and it’s already getting old.

In other news, the UK’s third COVID wave seems to have peaked at 60k daily reported cases (a ~12% positivity rate in England) in mid July. So far much lower than the estimates – some as high as 100k per day.

The latest eyebrow-raising news is that the NHS has only recently started gathering and reporting data that differentiates people being admitted to hospital with COVID from those being admitted to hospital due to COVID.

That data shows that over the past month about 1 in 4 admissions are of people who test positive, but for whom COVID symptoms are not the cause of admission.

Hospitals were measuring and reporting what they were asked to measure and report. And from the perspective of a hospital, counting patients with COVID is reasonable and important. COVID infected patients demand more resources, in the form of increased isolation, PPE, etc., than non-COVID infected patients. So whether a patient arrives with a broken leg and tests positive, or comes in with low blood oxygen clearly due to COVID, that patient places more demands on the hospital. Knowing how many patients are admitted with COVID is a key data point for understanding the capacity of the health care system.

But health care system capacity wasn’t the only way the data was being interpreted by the media, the public, and seemingly by the government. As the vaccination program suppressed the link between infection and acute illness, public attention turned from case counts to more focus on hospitalization and mortality rates. And this reveals that recently, the hospitalization numbers haven’t quite represented what people thought they did.

The data being gathered told how many people were in hospital with COVID – and using that data to reason about the risk of being hospitalized due to COVID isn’t straight forward, indeed may be impossible.

But it was happening all the same.

Why is this data only being gathered now? I have seen no good answers. The Telegraph quotes Professor Carl Heneghan, director of the Centre for Evidence-Based Medicine at the University of Oxford, as saying: “This data is incredibly important, and this is information we should have had a very long time ago. We have been crying out for it for nearly 18 months.” (emphasis added) Going on to say “the Government might have made very different decisions about restrictions if it had access to data which actually measured the situation accurately.”

Were the decisions wrong? Hard to say. But making decisions that affect many millions of lives based on data that doesn’t mean what you think it means certainly seems … not great.

It’s also hard to say if the difference between what we were measuring and what people thought we were measuring has been consistent over time. It’s tempting to naively retroactively apply the 25% “over estimation” to hospitalization numbers from January – indeed that same article quotes Heneghan as saying “at the peak of the pandemic in January, we were talking about close to 40,000 patients in hospital – this new data suggests that back then around 10,000 of them were primarily there for other reasons” – but that’s almost certainly wrong. Nothing else about this virus has been stable over time, this seems unlikely to be the exception.

To be clear, I am not a statistician – I don’t even play one on television – clearly neither is Boris Johnson, and based on the quote above I have my doubts about Professor Heneghan, too. Having said that, I’m pretty sure a better past estimate could be had using long term hospital admissions data. Fortunately, that data exists, hopefully someone’s working on that as I type.

It takes context and understanding to turn “data” into “information,” and again to turn “information” into “knowledge.” Decision making, certainly on a national scale, demands rigor at each step.

If there’s a moral here, I think it lies somewhere between “lies, damn lies, and statistics” and “never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity.”

And there’s certainly been no shortage of that.

My Elephant Votes “No”

A few weeks back, Dawnise got us tickets for tonight’s taping of Comedians Giving Lectures. Despite enjoying the host (Sara Pascoe) and the format, and really wanting to take steps back toward normal, we’ve decided to sit this one out.

We got an email this morning with updated tickets; “please use this updated ticket rather than the previous version.” it said, along with a note that “there have been two changes to the ticket; the social distancing statement has changed and the PPE statement has changed.”

Well, then, guess it’s time to re-read the fine print.

In line with the dropping of legal restrictions on Monday, the producers and venue decided that “at this event, there will not be enforced social distancing.” and specifically noted that “each group will not be seated apart from each other group.”

We’re both vaccinated, so the risk to our health seems low. On the other hand, the news cycle has been dominated lately with articles about the so-called “pingdemic” (the British press loves naming things) – a surge of people being instructed to self-isolate by test-and-trace. With the daily case count averaging 48,000 new cases per day – about 80% of the peak level seen in January – the heretofore largely vestigial test-and-trace system has suddenly woken from its slumber to rain on the freedom parade.

I figure the chance that someone in a shoulder-to-shoulder, young-trending audience tests positive for covid in the next few days is approximately 100%.

So while we’re unlikely to get sick, and even less likely to get “seriously sick,” we figure there’s a pretty good chance we’ll get ping’d by test-and-trace and have to sequester ourselves in our flat for a week and a half.

The final nail in the coffin was learning that Dawnise couldn’t head over to get in the queue for the taping ahead of me, while I finished up a work meeting – their check-in protocol is to hand out numbered wristbands on arrival, and they were clear that people who didn’t arrive together wouldn’t sit together.

So we decided we’ll stay home, and watch the episode when it ultimately airs.

And while everything I’ve just written is true, and tells a pretty good story for why we’re (not) doing what we’re (not) doing – I think the reality is that my elephant leaned away, and I’m just explaining its behavior.

Things You Learn to Live With

A week from Monday, on the 19th of July, England plans to remove all remaining legal restrictions on behavior instituted due to COVID-19. No more limits on the size of indoor gatherings, no requirement to wear masks indoors, no more mandate for social distancing, and no more government guidance for those who can to work from home. Fully vaccinated travelers still need outbound and return PCR tests, but can skip quarantine on return from “amber list” countries.

People are being encouraged to ‘exercise judgement.’

Case counts are doubling roughly every 6 days.

The new health secretary; Sajid Javid, who replaced Matt Hancock when Hancock was observed “breaking social distancing rules,” says the UK must ‘learn to live with’ COVID. Maybe it’s me, but this isn’t the sort of statement I’d expect from someone charged with protecting public health when cases are growing this quickly.

Israel – where the majority of the population (56%) is fully vaccinated – has responded to their case count rising by reinstating a mask mandate, six months after having removed all restrictions.

So I give it a 7/10 chance that some set of restrictions are re-introduced before Christmas. I’d be happy to be wrong.

Also from the things-you-learn-to-live-with department, Dawnise and I find ourselves – for the second time – caring for a diabetic cat. We took Oscar to the local vet about two weeks ago, having noticed an uptick in his fluid consumption and, um, return.

They did an exam, drew blood, and found acutely elevated blood glucose leading them to suspect diabetes. A subsequent fructosamine panel reinforced the diagnosis. So he’s getting twice daily insulin injections, and both cats’ eating schedules have been strictly controlled – which I assure you no one in the house is particularly happy about.

He goes back in a week for follow-up blood work to adjust his daily dose.

If the idea of jabbing your cat with a hypodermic twice a day isn’t enough to get you irritated, consider that it also means you – or someone you trust to jab your cat with a hypodermic – needs to be home twice a day, on a pretty predictable schedule.

So that makes life in general, and travel particularly… complicated.

We had been starting to discuss a return visit to Seattle, once the quarantine-on-return requirement was dropped, and this throws a spanner in those works. We need to at least get him on a stable treatment plan before the two of us can consider vanishing at the same time.

Our hope – which may be pure optimism – is that we can get to the point where his condition can be controlled through diet. Unlike humans, cats with type 2 diabetes can experience spontaneous remission – we know, ’cause our last diabetic cat (Junior) “got better” after a period of diet control and treatment. Fingers crossed.

Not much other news of particular import – Dawnise is starting to occasionally venture out of the flat – shopping trips around London, solo and with friends. I’ve been fighting the good fight to remain engaged and motivated. Some days are better than others, but mostly I feel like I’ve long run out of fucks. Whatever I have now are to fucks what chicory is to coffee, or carob is to chocolate. Sorta similar looking, but you’d never mistake them for the real thing.

I guess this is what burnout feels like.

Another thing to add to the list of things I’d rather not to learn to live with.

Once more ’round the block

Tomorrow marks two years since our arrival in the UK. It seems both forever ago and only yesterday that it had been a year, and if we hadn’t moved flats in the middle of the blur, there would have been even less to mark the passage of time.

Our plan had been to live here for “a couple of years” – but our plan certainly hadn’t been to live here for “a couple of years almost entirely in our flat.” Our plan had included things like exploring London, traveling around the UK, and visiting places in Europe we didn’t get to while we lived in Luxembourg. The pandemic had other plans, and as it stretched toward the end of last year, we started talking about what we wanted to do, and if we could figure out how to do that.

We sorta decided that unless the pandemic situation in America got a bunch better, and got a bunch worse in the UK, moving back without doing any of the things we came to do felt like something we’d regret.

Moving internationally takes work. We haven’t found it to be as hard as people expect, but it certainly takes effort, and comes with its fair share of stress (especially if you’re moving animals). Oh, and it’s not exactly cheap.

The hardest bit is typically immigration – getting permission to live and work in a country you’re not a citizen of. Both times we’ve lived abroad my work visa has been sponsored by my employer.

The term of my agreement to come to the UK was two years – and while extending that agreement was possible, there was no guarantee. Around April of last year I’d moved out of the group that I was part of when we moved here, and for several reasons it wasn’t clear the group I had joined was going see enough value in me being here that extending my stay would make sense to them. If they weren’t supportive, I didn’t have too many options, and none of them seemed great.

So I started working on a “Plan B.”

I engaged a local immigration law firm, and with their help and with some graciously written letters of support from a few former colleagues, I was able to petition the UK government to decouple my immigration status from my employment.

It took a couple months, but by the end of last year, I had a Plan B – and more options.

With that in my back pocket, I had a frank and honest conversation with the leadership in my org, and we mutually agreed that there were probably places I could be more valuable than where I was. So I started chatting with other teams and moved into a new team (again) earlier this year. As it turned out, the new team was amenable to extend my assignment, so a little paperwork later and our new plan is to be in the UK through the middle of 2022.

In other news, we’re both fully vaccinated – and by this time next week we’ll both be +2 weeks from our second dose (“maxinated”). The government is making optimistic noises that the four week delay to eliminating the last legal restrictions will stick – and that July 17th, we’ll be back to normal. “This time for real.” I’m not sure the data I can see supports that optimism, but then Boris’ government hasn’t established a particularly good track record of ahead of time decision making.

Still, with any luck the next year won’t be like the last year. We’d like to do some traveling, get back to Seattle for a visit or two, and generally speaking not spend another twelve months in our flat.

Fingers crossed.