Author Archives: jimphelps

About jimphelps

Chair, ITANA Enterprise Architect, Sr. IT Architect; UW-Madison

Appreciation – Art in the house

The bottom kind of fell out Tuesday. I was tired and had a nap (actually two) midday. I don’t know if I was on the back side of a anxiety period when all that anxious energy ran out or if it was emotional exhaustion from the Sunday – Monday (and every other day for the past 8 weeks) events. That night, I was having trouble falling asleep which is very rare for me.

As I was trying to fall asleep, I started thinking about some of the art objects we own and their story. I found this very comforting and full of appreciation for our life together. I thought I would do a post each week about some of these things. A switch from the regular angst and worry.

This was the first piece that came to mind. It was made by a friend of ours in Madison. Gretchen Olson. Gretchen lived a few blocks away. She also had a doodle named Bode. We would take Lola for a walk and stop and say “hi” to Gretchen and scratch Bode if they were out. Gretchen would host an art fair in her house around Christmas time. Each Christmastime, we would walk down with Lola and put her out back with Bode. At some point, while we were there, the dogs would get into the house and they would race around lacing through the people and furniture wagging like crazy. I was always waiting for the crash of bookcase full of pottery or a table full of glass but it never happened.

We already lived in Seattle when I bought this piece. I saw it on her Instagram account (@gretchenolsonarts) and wrote to her instantly saying, “Ooo! I would like that piece!” This sits out in the living room. It makes me smile and warms my heart with both its beauty – simple organic lines, lovely soft pale turquoise glaze, open form – and the memories that are bound to it.

We have many other pieces by Gretchen. She made this wine chiller for us as a special request. The small Bee Bowl was another Instagram – “Ooo. I want It Piece”.

Pottery wine cooler with red dot and organic circles in black

It is good to have things that you can look to for calm and warm remembrances. It is also good to realize that many of the things that bring us happiness and connect us to others are close at hand. All you have to do is sit calmly and look.

Stay well and healthy. I’m still looking for a new normal and new rhythms. I hope you are finding the places where there is peace for you in this turbulent time.

Week 8 starts with a scare

Update: 7PM PDT

I was about to post the blog post below when Ena got a call from her cardiologist. “Come to Urgent Care right now”. Off we went to Urgent Care about 3:00 this afternoon. I dropped Ena off and waited around for about an hour. She has been texting and she seems fine but she is still there. I haven’t heard from her since 5:30 so maybe she is in a procedure of some sort. I’m waiting to get a call that I should come pick her up or that they are keeping her over night. Don’t know which.

We had put beans on this morning in the slow cooker and we had a whole raw chicken that needed to be cooked or dealt with tonight. So I came home and went to work cutting up the chicken and packing up the beans. It was a very strange time of needing to hurry and get things done while also not being sure how long I would have to wait.

Update: 7:05PM

As I was about to post the post with update above and post below, I got a text from Ena saying, “She is ready to come home now.” So off I go to Kaiser to pick her up. Yay!

p.s. F#ck this getting old sh*t.

<the original post>

Last night at 10PM, Ena had an angina attack. Her drugs worked and she slept well and seems fine this morning. But still, it would be Sunday night at 10PM not Wednesday at 11AM when these things happen. I was timing her drugs, getting her comfy, and thinking, “5 more minutes and I call for an ambulance”. Fortunately, I didn’t need to make that call.

She has a call with her cardiologist tomorrow morning early so we can learn more about next steps. It has been 4 ½ weeks since her last attack so that is good. And her Nitroglycerin tablets did their trick and her symptoms went away in 10 minutes or so. Also a good thing.

She has a little Nitroglycerin tablet necklace that she carries. When she pulled it out to take her pills, it felt a bit like an old movie when elderly aunt suddenly calls out to the butler or maid, “my pills, my pills!” as they clutch at their chest. Her event wasn’t that melodramatic. Scary and dramatic, yes. I’m kind of amazed we both slept well last night after that.

Otherwise, it is hard to believe that this is the start of week 8 of the COVID-19 Seattle Don’t Meet Up.

The weather has continued to be nice – with rain to help wash the pollen out of the air and to keep things watered. Ena spent some time reading out on the deck yesterday while I went for a walk. It will be good to get her off crutches. Hopefully, she can start rehab and walking without crutches (at least move to just one crutch) next Monday.

We had a lovely virtual chat with Paul and Jo Hobson on Friday evening. Paul was supposed to come down for a visit in a couple of weeks. Instead, we had FaceTime drinks and a chat. Paul and I really are brothers from another mother. I do miss them both, and their kids, dearly. It was nice when they were in North Shore. They seemed close and accessible even if we didn’t visit as much as we liked.

On Sunday we chatted with Ruth and Ceri in Wales. It was great to see them again. It brings back wonderful memories of our trip to England and our time with them both. They picked us up from the train (before it turned into a bus to Cardiff) and took us out to Tintern Abbey. Ruth loaned us her flat (which was lovely) and Ceri chauffeured us around and played tour guide quite well. We had lovely walks in the Welsh countryside and dinners out.


These virtual chats do lift my spirit. We need to do more of them. It is about time to catch up again with Christy and Ryan and our cousins Michael and Bev.

Stay well and stay safe. Connect with the ones you love and miss. Fill your heart with glad things as we plow headlong along this unpaved and unmarked pandemic road.

7 Weeks and 2 shirts

So week seven of working at home closes. How many more? 50? Sigh…

Tonight I wonder if I can do it. If I can make it through to the end of all of this in all of its aspects: health, social, financial, political. Tonight is a down night. I look around and I see things that need to be done or threats – boxes that need to be unpacked and groceries that need to be sanitized. I was looking for a small Apple charger and every drawer I opened I thought, “I should really clean this out.”

Brain – that is not really the help I need right now.

It didn’t help that I looked at a work email from the President of UW that was talking about the unknown financial impacts to the University. They are big – what ever they are. I had just come in from planting some new native plants out back and I was feeling pretty good. I needed to get on my computer for a minute to look at the list of native plants that I’m thinking of ordering when I saw the email. I really shouldn’t have read it. Once again, brain – not really the help I need right now.

I also noticed that I have bleach marks on two of my shirts. I’m sure that this is from disinfecting everything that comes in to the house. So now I have a new thing to add the protection procedures – change into old clothes first.

I find myself looking for solace in aphorisms and Winnie the Pooh. There are so many news stories about – “What is the worst thing that could happen” like what if next Fall/Winter’s influenza season is also awful at the same time COVID-19 Part 2 hits the box office. The What Ifs are not really the help I need right now.

Someday, in a week or so, Ena will be off her crutches and more able to help I hope. That’s a positive thing to look forward too. She hasn’t had another angina attack since the one right after her surgery (4 weeks ago). That’s another good thing to think about. Spring is springing in a big way now.

As for the What Ifs that run through my brain? I look to Pooh’s and Piglet.

Stay well. I’m pulling for you. We will get through together.

I think of August

I have good days and bad days during all this CoViD19 stuff. Today was a more bad than good day. We had Pacific Northwest rain all day – gray and continuous. Unlike Midwest storms, these storms come from low woolen clouds that drizzle all day long. We probably got ½ inch of rain all day. Maybe more. The Midwest storms could dump an inch and a half in 30 minutes – 3 inches in a morning. Dark and brooding with flashing lightening and roaring thunder. Dumping and dark – so dark that street lights come on midday. But I digress again.

I feel like I oscillate between being a bit manic about everything that needs to get done efficiently to run the house, take care of Ena, and do work and depression that haunts the back of mind over the dark impact of this pandemic on life, business, restaurants, people and our society. Today was darker. It helps if I can escape into work but today I worked on “what it means to come back to work”. I’m helping leadership think about all the things that must be thought about when people return to work… whenever that happens… however that happens… and whatever that means.

When things get dark mentally, I think of August. Bright Summer. It might not be this August but next August – 2021 or maybe even 2022 – when we will gather with friends in the back yard on a lovely Summer evening, the smell of the BBQ will be rich in the air. We will have wine or Blanc d’Blanc. We will talk. CoViD19 won’t be the only topic. When we discuss it, CoViD19 will be in the past tense. Mostly, we will breathe warm summer’s night air and listen to birdsong and discuss food and drinks and hopes and dreams and travel and other things.

I think of that August to come. The one where things are back to a new normal and all of this is a thing that happened that one year. “Wasn’t it crazy!?”, we will say. “I’m so glad it is behind us”, we will all sigh.

I think of August.

Stay well.

Rain, Mighty Mouse and This Life

We had rain Saturday morning. It was a welcome rain. It gave you a comforting reason to stay in and clean the house and bake. It also washed some of the pollen down out of the sky leaving yellow-rimmed puddles and boarders around splashes. I cleaned the house and did laundry. I’m glad that Mom taught me to do these things and do them well and efficiently. I think a lot of people don’t understand that cleaning the house is a skill. That there are best-practices and efficiencies to be had in doing it well and thoughtfully. There is pleasure and looking around at a clean house afterwards too. Simple things in these crazy times.

Wood deck with pollen puddles

Ena continues her recovery. She is still on crutches though we go to the doctor today to see if / when she can start to transition off. I have started to sing the Mighty Mouse theme when I hear the ka-clonk ka-clonk of her crutching her way down the hall or up stairs. “Here she comes to save the day! That means that Mighty Mouse is on her way.” It is good to have a theme song for your recovery.

Finally, I was digging in a drawer looking for my ruler when I came across a Target Therapeutics luggage tag. I worked at Target in 1991 to 1995 (or something like that). Target was a young startup – I think I was the 25th employee. We were in a borrowed space inside of Advanced Cardiovascular Systems in Mountain View, CA (Target had spun out of ACS). There was lots of fun at work. Travel back then was easy. You had paper tickets and you could pretty much go straight out to the gate. There was real silverware on the flight to eat your food with.

Seeing the Target luggage tag seemed like looking back into a different life completely. It is hard to imagine the thread of events between then and now that make this life a complete narrative. I can. I can walk through all of my life’s events and connect the dots. It is just that right now, in so many ways, seems so disjointed from those youthful days that it is hard to believe they are both my own.

Stay well and grounded. Enjoy the simple things. Keep washing your hands.

5 Trips, Groceries, Snowing Pollen

Before I get started on all that. This is my niece Molli. She is nurse. She just recovered from having SARS-CoV-2 (COVID-19) that she picked up on the job. Here she is going back to work. I am amazingly proud of her. All of my love Molli. You are doing the work the world needs right now.

Molli dressed in PPE going back to work as a nurse

Now on to the more mundane…

5 Trips – that’s the number of back-and-forth trips between the dining room table and the kitchen I did this morning to set up breakfast for us. Ena is still on crutches so she can’t do things that involve hands AND feet. She can go places, but not carry things. Or she can hold things but not go places. This doesn’t help with coffee, cereal, waffles, etc. So, back and forth I went. I guess I should get a tray and stand. We could be our own little diner. The Phelbach Diner. I want a neon “Eat” sign.

Yesterday, I made a grocery store run. It had been three weeks (“not bad”, says I). We had filled in with Whole Foods delivery when we could get a time slot and an InstaCart delivery. Getting a time with Whole Foods is not easy I might add. I had been trying for two days to get a time slot. People are coming up with the magic mojo for getting a time slot. So far I have heard, “You have to wait until Midnight, then they open new slots” and “You have to check exactly at 6:30AM”. I’m not staying up that late and I have looked at 6:30 without luck.

But I digress. We had hit the point where a fill in shopping was definitely needed. We had run out of graham crackers and Nutella… among other things.

I have to gear myself up mentally to go to the grocery store (and physically too I guess). There is angst to overcome. People really don’t understand what 6 feet apart looks like, how to execute it properly, that they should wear a mask because they might be infected but not have symptoms, etc.

Then there is all the additional faffing when you shop: putting on gloves, grabbing hand sanitizer, putting on a mask, sanitizing things when you get home, sanitizing the car and any other surfaces you might have touched, washing your hands twelve times – then starting the mental “5 Day Clock”. I actually like grocery shopping in Ye Olde Times. I liked seeing what was on and figuring out what to cook. I like cooking and creating meals. Now, it is a no-man land to cross as quickly and effectively as possible without meeting danger.

To add to this, the trees are joyously sexing it up outside. The amount of pollen that is raining down constantly is stunning. We live in the midst of big trees and they are really busy trying to make more big trees. There is a yellow film on everything outside. My nose is running pretty much constantly regardless of the mix of drugs I take.

So ends week 6 of the stay-at-home lifestyle that is probably with us for months if not a year more. Come on science – hit it out of the ballpark with a vaccine soon.

Stay well and safe. Send Nutella.

Is this over yet?

I feel like I suddenly lost my… reserve… gumption… bottle as the Brits would say… for getting through this whole SARS-CoV-2 pandemic. It happened about the time I drug my hoodie sleeve through the raw chicken and herb mix I was putting together for dinner.

How did the English get through WWII? That was years of no meat, little milk and butter, bombs falling from the sky, men disappearing to war to never return. And so soon on the heels of WWI where they lost so many men. Whole towns were decimated.

I just been doing this shelter-in-place thing for 5 weeks. Nothing compared to the Blitz that went on for just over 8 months. Though, we are looking at something similar if not longer.

The weather is absolutely lovely. Our yard and garden is starting to put on its full Spring Showcase. I’m so tired of walking in the neighborhood. It is a fine neighborhood – all urban/suburban. But really, how many times can you walk around the same 4 square miles looking at the same houses before you go a bit nuts.

I’ll have a G&T, think of lovely times in the UK and Ceri and Ruth, and hope that I wake up tomorrow with my grrrr back to see through another 5 weeks of this.

Stay safe and healthy everyone. We’re all in this together. I’m pulling for you.

What day is it? And raccoons.

This morning I woke up and really had no idea what day it was. I was sure it was a work day but that was about it. So I made this:

I have also been working in the yard. I said that the raccoons tore up part of our yard looking for chaffer beetle larva. The right half of this photo, the dirt, is all the lawn that the little trash pandas pulled up.

They are cute… but a total PITA. But, this is spring and the seeds I scattered are coming up. It is a mix of grass and flowers called Fleur De Lawn from Portland Seed Company. I am adding some other flowers to the mix this year (Alyssum, Dwarf Lupin, Crimson Clover, and others). It is really lovely to sit out back amongst the daisies, clover, baby blue eyes et al. And, bonus points, you only mow it once a month.

Stay safe and healthy everyone.

5 ½ Weeks

Hump day of week 5 of working from home. It has been sunny and lovely in Seattle so that helps. I put a lounge chair out back in the sun for Ena yesterday afternoon and she spent an hour recharging her solar cells. With Ena being on crutches, her outside time has been practically zero for the past 2 weeks.

Ena’s surgery spot is healing well. She has a couple of more weeks on crutches. We heard from her cardiologist. She thinks Ena has a blockage but it isn’t high risk at this time. There are drugs in the mail – a statin that will reduce blockages. We will try that before something more invasive like an angiogram and stent placement or angioplasty (do they still do angioplasty?). All this is taking me back to my time at Target Therapeutics developing catheters for interventional neuroradiology.

Things that get me through the day: I use the Calm Blog’s – Take Deep Breath to do a 10 to 20 minute mediation each morning. I go for a brisk 30 minute walk before I sit down for the day. I have spending more time in the garden. We have an area that the raccoons tore up getting to chaffer beetle larvae that I had to replant. The very first sprouts are starting to pop up.

I take heart in the fact that Seattle’s early intervention seems to be paying off. There are vaccine trials under way.

I have really enjoyed watching Adam Savage’s Tested YouTube channel. He is like a close friend who is funny, cheerful, smart and insightful. It is a really joyful thing to watch him answer questions or to watch him build his various (and I do mean various) projects.

I leave you with a quote from Adam, quoting Letters to A Young Poet by Rainer Maria Rilke, about these times: “I think we find our moment of sadness terrifying because we find ourselves standing in a place where we cannot remain standing. The past has left us but the future has not yet taken hold.” You should really listen / watch Adam tell this story.

Stay healthy and stay well.


Besieged. /bəˈsējd/ adjective

(of a place) surrounded by armed forces aiming to capture it or force surrender. “the besieged city”

Ena asked how I was doing, how I felt. “Besieged” was the answer to came to mind first. I feel like the packages on the front step are little armies waiting to invade. The groceries I’m try to sanitize and unpack have tiny assassins hidden within. When I go for a walk, the people on the street are secret agents for the enemy empire.

She is recovering from surgery – still on crutches – and doing well. Our GP called to say that she looked at Ena’s chemical stress test (cardiac test) and that the results looked normal to her. We talk with the cardiologist tomorrow afternoon (by phone). In the mean time, she is lounging with her leg up, helping where she can, and plowing through novels otherwise.

Our very lovely and fun neighbor, Maggie, sewed face masks for us. It is awesome to have great neighbors. I have promised that when this is over, we will gather at our house and I will open some lovely Blanc de Blanc and we will breathe a great deep breathe.

All that said, besieged is how I feel. Watching over Ena’s recovery, and running the house, while trying to keep SARS-CoV-2 at bay, while managing my anxiety is making me a bit nutty (at best). So I look for some external rational help.

I look at the numbers for Washington and we are doing well. I take solace in that. We have had 338 deaths (at the time of this writing). If the fatality rate is 1% (1% of people who get the virus die), then we have had a total of 33,800 infections overall. If the fatality rate is 2%, then that number is about 17,000. We have had about 8,000 positive test results which, if you take that 50% of people who get COVID-19 don’t show any symptoms, lines up with 17K total cases.

All that means that there aren’t actually that many people out there in the whole population of Washington who are contagious at any moment in time. On Saturday (April 4th) 28 people died. That means (following the math above for 1% and 2% fatality rate) there were 1,400 to 2,400 infected people on Saturday. Washington state has 4.8Million people. That is pretty low odds of running into an infected person. If I am thinking about this right.

The other interesting number is the number of positive tests out of total tests. Given that we are testing only people with COVID-19 symptoms, the positive rate is less than 10% (just over 91,000 tests administered, just under 8,000 positive). Chance are good that if you have flu like symptoms, you have the flu.

With all this said, I hope for summer-time slowing of the disease and quick development cycle for a vaccine.

We did a brilliant thing with a whole chicken. Maybe I’ll write about that next time. Until then, stay well.

P.s. I love this from Das Frank. It is available on their site.