Setting the tone…

Ah, so it’s New Year’s Day. There is a temptation for it to feel somewhat celebratory, but it’s got a darker undercurrent. The arrival of the new year means that this great ultra-long weekend has been whittled down now to no more than the length of a normal weekend. Just two days. Sigh. 

I’m not ready for this. Even constrained by the plague from doing those things I’d normally have spent the last two weeks doing, it was time much better spent than any normal week (even a week in a plague year) could offer. I’m in no way prepared to my time to stop being entirely my own. Knowing that moment is near has already launched a cloud over this new 

People make an effort this time of year talking about turning over a new leaf or having a better attitude going forward. Me? Yeah. That’s not going to happen. It’s a new year, but I’ll be trundling through it as aggrieved and surly as ever. The things that annoyed me a month ago are sure to keep annoying me well into the future.

From one year to the next, at least you can rely on my fundamental consistency… So I’ve got that going for me in 2021, which is nice.

The year in books…

This morning, Goodreads helpfully provided a summary of “My Year in Books.” It turns out that I’ve churned through 77 books and 32,168 pages this year. If I can keep up the pace between today and tomorrow, I’ll add one more book and 358 more pages to that total before we formally close out the year. Those are respectable numbers, but I’m a little surprised that they weren’t higher, being in a plague year and all. All in, I’ll have exceeded last year by 12 books and 5,000 pages, so the Great Plague earned me one additional book a month.

For purposes of not wanting to sound like a lunatic hoarder, I don’t formally keep track of the number of books that end up in the to-be-read stacks over the course of the year. I suspect that number might actually be lower than the number I read this year. That’s an unprecedented situation, at least in recent memory. 

As far as what I’m reading, that ebbs and flows between obscure histories to pop fiction, with a healthy dose of anything related to Buffy thrown in. I make absolutely no apologies for the eclectic nature of what ends up filling my bookcases, because I love them all – even if I love some of them more than others.

So, what do we expect from 2021? More of the same feels likely. Maybe in the back half of the new year I’ll get back to making the rounds of local (and a few far-flung) used book shops on a semi-regular basis. Maybe I’ll even take a long look at what’s currently on the shelves and make some hard decisions about titles that seemed interesting when I browsed them for a $1 a piece at a neighborhood thrift shop, but are unlikely to ever drift to the top of the pile. Then again, maybe I won’t do that at all. Surely there’s a way to just add some more bookcases to that back bedroom without hiring a structural engineer to check out how much dead weight the floor will actually hold before everything ends up in the crawl space.

The only thing I know with certainty, that was true in 2020 and will be true in 2021, is that no matter what the year looks like, there will always be more books I want to read than there is time to read them.

With all respect to The Twilight Zone, even when there’s “time enough at last” and your glasses work fine, it’s not nearly enough.

Second week…

I’m now into the second week of this long Christmas break. I’m quite sure I feel more relaxed, though probably no better rested than I did a few weeks ago. Lying about in bed or whiling away the hours snoozing on the couch aren’t really in my repertoire. The psychological imperative to “do something” is far too strong, even if that something is just tinkering around with truly minor repairs or sticking my nose in a book.

I’d usually spend this week chasing down new (old) books for the collection or running errands/tackling projects that are more involved than is convenient to fit into typical weekends. Life in a plague year has given me ample opportunity to take on those projects already – or at least the ones that don’t involve any specialized skills or abilities and therefore need to be farmed out. The search for books, of course, will have to wait for a bit yet, despite the almost overwhelming temptation to mask up and roll the dice. I could plug in some online orders to scratch that itch, but seeing them fall into the black hole of the US Postal Service for delivery God knows when feels like it would do the exact opposite of improving my sense of relaxation.

Probably more than anything else, what this two-week reset has done is reaffirm my firm belief that I’ll be beyond satisfied not schlepping to work (either in office or virtually) at the moment I reach that magical congruence of age, years of service, and fiscal sufficiency. Even here, in the belly of a plague year, when I can’t or opt not to do many of the things that I so heartily enjoy, time is better spent than it would be knocking together version fourteen of a random set of slides or flinging email into the bureaucratic void. 

The consistent thread…

By the time this post goes live, it will be 6:00 Christmas night. This Christmas was different, to be sure, but there was one consistent thread the connects this Christmas to all the others; I’ve arrived at Christmas night having consumed approximately 30,000 calories and feeling like whatever’s larger than a beached whale. 

My estimate of what would constitute a nice, reasonable Christmas dinner here on the homestead ended up being something more in line to feed a family of five while providing them ample leftovers for the weekend. Overkill? Most assuredly. Still, having all the right flavors felt like an important part of marking the holiday in a plague year.

If anyone needs me, I’ll be on the couch… or possibly the floor if I can’t make it all the way to the living room.

Excess free time…

Being on leave at the moment, I’m living in a bit of a strange gray area – somewhere between paying attention to what’s happening in the broader world and not. The further I slide into this little vacation-in-place, the more “and not” that area takes up. Dispensing ear scratches, fiddling around the house, and the mountain of books I live with are slowly expanding to take up all the available white space. It’s hardly the worst way I’ve spent my time.

It would be easy enough to slip back into a mode of ranting about the president, or Congress, or the Great Plague. The closest thing I’ve come to that, though, is occasionally kicking a hornet’s nest on Twitter just to see what kind of reaction I can gin up. It’s a mildly entertaining way to pass the time. As it turns out, according to anti-vax / plague deniers on that particular platform, I’m a damned dirty commie who should shut my stupid mouth. Like I said, it’s entertaining enough, but not exactly an intellectual challenge. I am learning to appreciate their furious thrashing when I only respond to them using gifs, though.

I know I shouldn’t be using this time to feed the trolls, but honestly, I just can’t help myself. There are some honest to God issues in the world, but getting your blood pressure up on the internet doesn’t feel like a way to solve any of them. I’m sure the novelty will wear off in the next couple of days.

It’s a good thing the books and animals are always standing by to fill in as much of the excess free time as comes along. I mean I could finally get around to filling the 852 nail holes the previous owner left in the walls here on the homestead… but since that project has been on the list for five years and hasn’t gotten done yet, chances aren’t so good for it making the cut.

Home is a funny place…

I grew up in what many people would describe as “the sticks.” The town where I grew up was so small it didn’t warrant having its own stoplight. You had to drive to the next town down the crick if you wanted to see one of those in action. Most of the towns in the area were so small that for all practical purposes that if a particular service was available in the county, it was considered fairly local.

Once upon a time, the region was a powerhouse of both light and heavy industry. Generations of a family’s men made their living by “going down the mines.” By the time I was a kid, most of that world was dead or dying, though I’m old enough to remember the last of the coal trains rumbling through the center of town to be used out there in the wider world beyond the ridges and valleys of home. Some bits of that life have clung on grimly, but it’s a world gone now for 30 years.

You’d never know it from listening to people, though. Even now, there’s an inexplicable feeling that tomorrow or maybe the next day an enormous, smoke belching factory will spring up along the banks of the Potomac and all will be well again – that the future can be exactly as it was in the past.

I’ve got an expatriate’s love of my home town (of the region, really), even while knowing I’ll likely never do more than visit occasionally. Maybe I see its charms and its flaws a bit more clearly because I’m looking from the perspective of someone who hasn’t lived there in over two decades.

Home is a funny place. 

One of the favorite local sports is bitching that business don’t want to open, or industry has left, or that six other things are fucked up and use to be better… but then immediately bitching and complaining when someone opens a new business or has the audacity to try something different.

The county is getting its first Starbucks. Already people are out of the woodwork bitching that burned coffee, overpriced, unpatriotic, corporate chain Starbucks would dare to open a shop locally. My favorite bit of local-ism is that “Having a Dunkin would be better.” Some of us are old enough to remember when there use to be one of those, too. It went out of business, so maybe it’s not as popular an option as people seem to think.

A few weeks from now, the furor over Starbucks will dry up. Everyone will be back to bitching that they want more stores or restaurant chains. Bring on a Panera or a Chipotle or an Outback. But take my word for it, as soon as one of them announces they’re coming, that business will be awful, their food will be overpriced slop, and we don’t want them here.

You’d be hard pressed to find an area more desperate for new business and economic development… as long as it changes absolutely nothing.

Who failed who?

I’ve had a Jeep in my garage for a pretty sizable part of my adult life. The one constant in all that time is that wherever I pointed my tires, it went without complaint. Snow, mud, washed out roads, none of them ever required more than maybe shifting from high range to low.

This past Friday morning, for the first time, I pointed the Jeep’s nose in the direction of an obstacle it couldn’t surmount. Of the two ways out of the neighborhood, the one I most commonly follow involves a quick right turn directly up a short, but steep hill. This hill, on the day in question, was, at least partially, a sheet of ice. 

All other things being equal, I’d have been sorely tempted to put her in 4-low and crawl up and over this stretch of ice. Such is my confidence in the Jeep’s almost universal sure-footedness. The hill, though, had already claimed at least two vehicles in their attempt to reach the promise of flat ground and dry pavement at the top. One was tantalizingly close to the top, though stuck awkwardly sideways straddling a travel lane and the ditch. The other was stopped dead on the steepest portion of the hill, the driver seemingly unsure how to extract themself from the situation.

As sure as I’m sitting here typing, I believe the Jeep could have carried the hill – although that would have meant swinging into the oncoming traffic lane and putting her perilously close to the two earlier vehicles who’d blown their chance. The margin of error would have been measured somewhere between inches and feet. 

I decided the better part of valor was looking for an alternate route, which involved an extra twenty minutes and two more bits of backtracking before finding a path that hadn’t already claimed victims that morning.

I’ll never know for sure if the Jeep failed me or I failed the Jeep. In my overabundance of caution, it feels a lot like the latter.

Some other beginnings end…

I’ve got nothing special tonight. I wish I did. The arrival of the last workday of the year is always big news around here. It’s the highlight of my anti-social season.

Coming through the door tonight, I heaved a mighty sigh of relief and it feels almost like my brain is in the process of purging a year’s worth of everything. That’s not a bad feeling, but it doesn’t lend itself to even mediocre writing. I’m not sure it lends itself to anything beyond a quiet night with a good drink.

Honestly, that doesn’t sound awful in any way.

Happy end of the work year.

From me, to me…

I’ve reached an age when I occasionally wake up in the middle of the night when I inevitably have too many tasty libations too late in the evening. Usually, it’s a quick trip there and back where I’d barely qualify as being awake. Most of the time it doesn’t feel like my sleep has even been interrupted. Fine. It’s an inconvenience of getting a bit older I’ve mostly learned to accept. Well, not accept exactly. Maybe tolerate for lack of other options… and unwillingness to curtail my after dinner “hydration.” 

There’s the rare night when the return to sleep doesn’t happen immediately. Usually that’s resolved with a quick scroll through Twitter or calling up the dulcet tones of whatever BBC World Service presenter happens to be broadcasting at the time. A few minutes later and I’m happily back to sleep.

As it happens, Monday was one of those nights where I woke up. It must have been around 2:15. I know this because that’s the time stamp of the email receipt from Amazon… from that moment in my sleep addled mind I decided that I needed a shave ice machine.

Awake me would definitely not have ordered a $60 countertop appliance designed solely and exclusively for turning ice cubes into shards, but I’d be lying if I said I don’t recognize how having one would raise my level of frozen drink making to a new level. Yes, I could just send it back, but now I’m intrigued. I think I’m just going to write it off as a Christmas present from my subconscious. 

It gets here Friday, so I’ll be over here looking for frozen drink recipes if anyone needs me. 

Christmas pud…

Christmas pudding, or plum pudding as it’s always been called around my family table, as far as I’m concerned, is the definitive flavor of Christmas. It’s the treat that’s topped off every Christmas night for as long as I can remember.

It’s a dish so rich and tasty that the regicide Puritan and traitor Oliver Cromwell banned it in the 1650s. It’s dessert made with beef fat and a host of other sweet and savories, so you know it’s bound to be good, right?

I’ve mostly come to terms with the idea that I won’t be making my traditional Christmas trip home. Schlepping across the plague lands to a place that’s recently made it into the New York Times as having one of the highest positivity rates in the country feels like a bad idea, regardless of the justification. It’s a tradition I care deeply about, but when pitted directly against my instinct for self-preservation doesn’t really stand a chance. 

While I’ve settled myself on the idea not being home for Christmas, I realized quite late in the game that I don’t have the skill (or time) to make a proper pud on my own. Having a plum pudding to serve up on Christmas night, though, is a tradition I simply am not willing to forego even in the face of global plague. Fortunately, our friends across the water in the mother country are happy to drop one in the post and have it flown over. If the tracking is to be believed, it should be here tonight or tomorrow.

Now all I’ll have to do is manage the vanilla sauce and some semblance of proper Christmas tradition can proceed uninterrupted in spite of taking place in an alternate venue. For 2020, that’s probably doing alright.