Antique Vellum Books

Right before the lockdown, around the second week of March, I went to a couple of estate sales and bought up a ton of books without really looking at them; I was very busy, but I really wanted to have a stacks of books to keep me busy in case we were stuck inside for a while. The books were a buck a piece, so there wasn’t much risk. If the book covers were pretty, I bought them. 

In a truly unremarkable mid-century house in a working class suburb lived a guy who had collected movie memorabilia, old 40’s Westerns, and history books. I scooped up about 40 or 50 books without looking at them closely.

Turns out that four of that stack are from 1821 and are printed on vellum paper. Written in Italian, they are history books about America with some amazing maps in the back.

These three volumes of “History of America” by 18th Century Scottish historian William Robertson, translated into Italian. Vellum books, published in 1821-22 in Milan. There are four pull out maps in these three books.

I also have an Italian translation of “History of the Late War Between The United States and Great Britain” by Henry Marie Brackenridge.  Vellum book, published in 1821 in Milan.  Includes detailed map of the United States.


I was one of the last people in that house. I’m sure that everything that didn’t sell went in a dumpster. I hope I didn’t miss other gems in there.

No Thanos Snap Will Bring the Economy Back (Plague, Day 34, April 6, 2020)

In The Avengers: Infinity War, Thanos, the super villain, is on the search for six infinity stones to fit into a special shiny glove. Once all the stones are in place, he snaps. Instantly, he turns half the population into ashes in the breeze.

The good guys spin their wheels for five years, until they come up with a plan to reverse history. In the next movie, The Avengers: End Game, Iron Man gets control of Thanos’s glove and snaps again. Though he destroys himself in the process, he brings back his dusty friends and everybody else.

Things aren’t totally back to normal, because half the population is five years older and the other half had a nice nap, but life carries on somewhat normally.

We in the midst of a slow motion Thanos snap. People are dying. 10 million people are suddenly unemployed. Entire sectors of the economy and social life have ground to a halt. From education to tourism to entertainment, life has changed so drastically that people haven’t wrapped their brains around this fact.

And some people say this situation could carry on for 18 months. We could go in and out of seclusion for months, as we wait for a vaccine.

And every week that we spend in our homes — trimming our own hair and growing zucchini in the backyard — we are building new habits. People are gaining new skills right now. They are learning how to cook and remembering how to clean their shower. Especially if they’ve had some financial hits, they are going to be very, very slow to spend money on housecleaners and restaurants in the future.

Some entrepreneurs are going to do very well with all of this. Never forget that early adopters always rule the Internet. So, people who move quickly will win. What kinds of industries and skills are going to be hot now? Online only businesses, anything in pharmacy or medicine, private online education companies. Professions in finance and law seem stable right now. The hot skills are social media, programming, communications, lifestyle gurus.

We’ll be okay, I’m sure of it. There will be some adjustments, of course. But we’ll adapt.

Our Pearl Harbor… And Some Pearls (Plague, Day 33, April 5, 2020)

Things are going to get super bad this week. Some officials are saying that this is going to be our generation’s Pearl Harbor. I thought 9/11 was my Pearl Harbor, but I was wrong.

I’m in the nation’s hot spot and I’m hearing the whispers from people who are close to medical workers or policeman. I’m hearing stories about dead bodies left in apartments, because no one will touch them. I’m hearing nurses calling their hospitals “war zones.” And these aren’t some far off places. These are hospitals that I drive past every day. One was a hospital that Ian and I were in just three weeks ago.

And this isn’t going away for a long time. If Bill Gates is thinking long term, we should, too. And wait until this virus gets to sections of the country that have already been ravaged by drugs and bad diets. The Tiger King parts of the country aren’t going to handle this well.

I urged Steve to triple the production of little seedlings this morning. We’re looking at various corners of the property with the best sunlight to massively expand our backyard garden. I’m thinking about building a new raised garden bed using railroad ties. I’ll share pictures of that project as we go along.

My mom begged that we stay away from the supermarket this week. I have to do one last shop tomorrow, because my boys are powering through gallons of milk too quickly. We have to rethink our shopping system, so we can avoid that place for as long as possible.

In the meantime, we’re cooking, hiking, running, writing, studying, gaming, chatting, and even watching streaming Palm Sunday mass at St. Patrick’s Cathedral. All this is surreal.

So, here are my pearls in this midst of Pearl Harbor:

A Weekend Hike

Chicken soup cooking…

Be well, be safe, everyone.

If Learning Stops, Does It Matter?, Excerpt From Newsletter, (Plague, Day 32, April 4, 2020)

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If Learning Stops, Does It Matter?, Apt. 11D, April 3, 2020

Hi all!

Three weeks ago, my kids were sent home from high school and college. After some bumps getting my special needs kid, myself, and his teachers all on the same page, Ian is happily marching through his Algebra 2 worksheets, recording his band lessons, and having daily Google Hangouts sessions his teachers. My college kid’s professors were ready to go on Day One, so there were never any issues there.

Both my kids are learning, entirely independently in their own spaces. It’s untraditional, but I no longer feel like we’re living in a Code Red Meltdown Situation. Arguably, my college kid is learning more now, with a full belly of food and with a normal blood/alcohol level. 

But that’s our house. The low key buzz from teachers is that the picture is definitely mixed. Some houses, like ours, are making it work; others aren’t. From what I hear, learning is happening sporadically elsewhere, but learning levels are largely dependent on zip codes, the kid’s personality, parental resources, and the abilities of particular teachers. 

At this moment, there are some homes were the engineering dad is helping his daughter zoom past two years of math; in another house, nothing is happening but back-to-back Switch games. Some teachers had two weeks of professional development on running Zoom classes before turning their AP History Classes into online version of the real thing; others had a couple of hours of training and were told by administrators to simply put some worksheets on the Internet for kids. Some schools have shutdown entirely and aren’t even bothering with any form of virtual education.

As a former academic, I like to know numbers. How many kids are learning? How many aren’t? What groups of kids are learning more than others? We will probably know the answers to those questions. 

We do know that nine out of ten kids are out of K-12 school right now, but beyond that, we know nothing, John Snow. We don’t know even the most basic of information about what’s happening to kids — like who’s learning and who’s not — because nobody at the national or state level is keeping track of the big picture. Now that Betsy DeVos suspended state standardized testing requirements, we won’t even get that datapoint. So, we’ll may never know which schools have closed entirely, which one are hobbling along with lower level virtual education, and which one’s have implemented higher end Zoom classes, like my college kids gets.

Ultimately, education is a hyper-local enterprise in this country with only of the flimsiest of oversight from state and national government, so school districts lack a common approach to training and closures. The lack of central oversight also means that teachers have little guidance and have shouldered all the responsibility for translating years of classroom lessons into an Internet-friendly format. With every teacher struggling alone, the process has been painful and inefficient. Thousands of the nation’s calculus teachers are muddling through on their own, when they could all be using a common lesson. 

Rather than providing central support, our Secretary of Education, Betsy DeVos, has been loosening standards. In addition to ditching the testing requirements, she’s working to relieve schools from various requirements around educating kids disabilities. School districts could be forced by the courts to provide vulnerable populations — younger students, students with disabilities, and students in high need communities — with compensatory education down the line, which is a fate that both school districts and DeVos want to avoid. 

In truth, some students will fare better than others during these shutdowns. Even my son who struggles with learning differences will keep learning, because he attends a high-resource high school, has highly-educated parents filling any gaps, and is highly motivated. We live in a house full of books and food, and our jobs aren’t in immediate jeopardy.

But vast numbers of other kids without those privileges aren’t going to learn anything until school starts up again in September. Research on the Summer Slide, shows that middle class students thrive without school, but lower income kids suffer regressions. America’s schools have always been unequal; but education in the time of Corona means that the gulf between rich and poor will grow even greater. 

Missing months of education is simply is not acceptable. Schools must remain open in the summer, particularly for students with disabilities, younger students, and in areas with the greatest economic strain. Schools will need a bailout from Congress to pay for this summer program. Parents, particularly those who care for highly disabled children, should be immediately compensated. In the long term, we also need to detangle schools from non-educational missions, like providing food and childcare, as well as increasing  centralization of curriculum and training. 

Be well! Laura

Thriving in the New Normal (Plague, Day 31, April 3, 2020)

I’m nearly done with my work chores for the day — newsletter is done and sent, activities for Ian for his “spring break” are arranged, and boring paperwork tasks were crossed off the list.

Newsletters and paperwork were part of my life, prior to the plague. Now, I have to tick off the plague chores — take Ian for a walk, deep clean a bathroom, bake a cake with Ian, look around for mid-semester online college class for Jonah to take advantage of his free time. I have a list of people to call/text today, because they need a little extra contact.

It’s funny how we’re getting used to the new normal. After three weeks, I could do this for a lot longer, which may in fact be necessary.

Of course, my new normal is really the privilege of those with secure and boring jobs, with suburban homes, with youthful constitutions. We aren’t going into a hospital or riding a subway or bagging groceries on a daily basis. For some of it, we’re managing, and even thriving during these strange times.

If you’re in the lucky group, you might as well thrive. At lunch, I was telling Jonah that he should use this time as a gift. We’re talking about thinking through ways to scoop up some online college credits and/or learn new skills. No, the hydroponic garden in the basement is not up for discussion! I was thinking more about a CAD class or a programming boot camp. Expanding the kitchen garden is okay.

But we all can improve, too. Here are some ideas:

  • Maybe start an Instagram account and take pictures of daily life for future historians. I set up an account for a local business last week and learned how to make “stories.”
  • I’m planning on learning how to set up an accounting system for my strangely profitable online bookshop. I can offer a quickie class on building an online vintage shop, if anybody is interested.
  • I want to reread Emma this weekend, and then watch the movie, which I heard is available for a regular rental fee now.
  • A few months ago, I learned how to make my own newsletter. I’m finding it very fun, an interesting side venture where I can reach a different audience.
  • I want to organize pictures and make some albums.

SL 779

Work From Home (WFH) tip:

  • Start every day (after dealing with urgent email) by mapping out the day on iCal or Google Calendar. Red is for family activities, Green is for work, Yellow is for dumb chores, Orange is for birthdays (set for yearly repeat).
  • If you’re a parent and you have a ton of dumb chores, like food shopping, dinner making, and now… fun, fun, fun… homeschooling. Put it all on the calendar. Recognize ALL the work that you do.
  • Make sure you put time on the calendar for exercise. If you don’t write it down, it doesn’t happen.

And taking my own advice, I’ve made my list of chores for the day. Writing chores are slated for after lunch today, but I do have some links that I want to jot down now.

Stuck home with your kids next week without school, camps, outings, and playdates to keep them home. Looking into the abyss? Here are some online activities that are getting passed around. Ian will probably do a computer class, but it’s structured and a full day program.

Looking for something to do with all those canned beans? Cheesy White Bean-Tomato Bake looks good.

Springtime for Introverts.

Great map from the NYT about where people didn’t obey social distancing/travel rules.

When we’re done with all this, we’re all going to have a long chat about federalism. Some governors are making good choices. Others, like that asshole in Florida, are downright stupid and evil, ie those cruise ships outside Florida begging for help.

My in-laws subscribe to Heather Cox Richardson’s newsletter. Everyday, she breaks down & explains the big news stories of that day. She’s a history professor at BU. She writes for regular folks, like my in-laws, but leans into her academic background.

Back this afternoon.

Bunker Even More (Plague, Day 29, April 1, 2020)

1:30am — During this pandemic, matters regarding health and the economy should be of top priority to political leaders and the news editors who set the agenda for the nation. Schools, my little area of expertise, ought to take a backseat to keeping people from dying or from becoming homeless.

But it’s not inconsequential that some kids are not being educated at all right now and that others are suffering without the safety net of schools. The lack of learning matters. When kids get derailed, they never get back on the road to degree, credentials, and diplomas.

I’ve talked with many teachers over the past few weeks. They tell me that they are able to reach motivated kids, like Ian, with well resourced families like ours. Ian sits at his computer promptly at 8am every day and plugs through the laundry list of educational chores. After some (alright, a lot) advocating from me, Ian now has daily face to face contact with most, if not all, of his teachers. He’s not getting live classes yet, but things have improved from Week 1.

Other kids aren’t doing any work at all, even in middle class suburbs. For these kids, the problem isn’t the digital divide. They weren’t engaged in school before; now, they aren’t even checking into Google Classrooms to look at their assignments. They’re done.

Learning is happening in fancy private schools and the strong charter schools. The learning divide is huge right now.

9am. — Greeting from the nation’s hot spot. Every morning, I check the mayor’s sick/hospitalized/dead list on Facebook. Friends are already getting sick or having business woes. But over next two weeks, the situation will get worse — more people will be sick and our hospitals overwhelmed.

I’m spending this morning preparing for the bad times. I’m making face masks, preparing for a massive pantry reboot tomorrow, making menu’s. One kid will turn 18 in 2 weeks, so must come up with a plan for that. I’m loading up on ice cream and wine.

My goal is to do complete social distancing for the next two weeks. Good bye, real life people!

I’m making also preparations to keep the kids busy and healthy and distracted. The college kid might do another online class to pick up a new skill, like CAD or programming. The high school kid needs interaction with teachers over spring break next week; his daily FaceTime chats with his teachers is the only thing keeping from dwelling permanently in AutismLand. So, I’m researching online camps that have a FaceTime component for him, too.

Social distancing is going to get more distance-y soon. Be smart, people. Be safe. Be well.

I’ll be back later, after I plow through some chores. Here are some links to keep prepared: