You can’t go home again…

When I go home for Christmas, I always make a point of searching out the favorite foods of my youth – unique flavors that live in my mind as essential elements of growing up in Allegany County. Across the years, savoring those tastes has become as much a part of my holiday tradition as a presents or a tree.

Sheetz coffee was a mainstay of my caffeine habit from the time I started driving. I’d go out of my way to get their standard drip brew over any other competitor. Now they’ve installed some fancy looking grind-on-demand “coffee system.” It looks pretty sitting on the counter, but what comes out of it doesn’t taste like Sheetz coffee. It might even be a decent cup of joe under other circumstances, but it’s not the flavor I wanted. For my money, Wawa or Royal Farms now offer up a better tasting selection of old-fashioned drip coffee.

For years, Snyder of Berlin (not to be confused with Snyder of Hanover) made what was packaged as “British style salt and vinegar” potato chips. As a connoisseur of salt and vinegar chips, Snyder’s was my favorite. It was an intensity of flavor not replicated anywhere as far as I can tell. Their packaging has lost the “British style” imagery… and their chips, it seems, retain only the barest hint of salt or vinegar flavoring. Herr’s and Utz now blow them away on all counts. 

The D’Atri’s cheesesteak sub has, for me, always been the definitive taste of western Maryland. That’s why I was horrified to find it something unrecognizable. Yes, it was a sub made with cheese and steak and their proprietary lettuce concoction… but the flavor profile was all wrong. Even the bread was different. It’s like walking into McDonald’s and finding that they’ve replaced their fries with tater tots. Sure, they’re made out of the same stuff, but it’s just not right. This is the one that really breaks my heart. 

Nearly all of my favorite foods from back home and back when now seem to exist only in memory. I’ve managed to recreate a few of them in my own kitchen, but most, I expect, are gone and will never return. The bright spot, in an otherwise disappointing food experience, was M&M Bakery. Their peanut butter frosted cinnamon roll doughnuts were exactly as I remember them… and that means they were possibly the finest doughnut ever devised or concocted by the mind of man. I’m wildly thankful they haven’t tried to improve upon it.

I guess old Tom Wolfe was right. You really can’t go home again. That won’t stop me from spending the next 40 years pining away for tastes and flavors I can still conjure immediately in my mind.

The interregnum…

The week between Christmas and the new year is more or less a lost week. Let’s face it, it was still 2021 and there was still plenty going on. Even if you weren’t paying attention to world events there was more than enough that needed doing, but the whole week has forever felt like it exists out of time or in a universe where time has no meaning. 

It’s an interregnum as the old year closes out and the new one starts. I don’t hate it. I just can’t shake the feeling that it’s an odd sequence of days that don’t feel quite right.

Add in that I spent most of my time alternating between the bed, the couch, and one of the various La-Z-Boy’s scattered around the house and it’s pretty much the week that wasn’t. At least it (probably) wasn’t COVID, so I’ve still got that going in my favor, even if it was one of the nastier head colds I’ve had in the last half-dozen years.

Here we are a little more than a week later and the last remnants of this particular crud are finally dissipating… but hey, I have one of those fancy oxygen meters, a few boxes of KN-95 and N-95’s, and a few other odds and ends now due to my paranoia of the Great Plague. Given how hard it is to find a simple test, even my NyQuil addled brain was able to grasp with growing realization that if I should come down with it, I need to be prepared with whatever tools I can muster to triage and treat myself.

The interregnum is over. I’ve put together a decent little stockpile against what feels like an increasingly inevitable bout with the plague. Still, I can’t quite shake the feeling that mostly it was a perfectly good week of annual leave utterly wasted.

He’s not a road dog…

During their formative years, Maggie and Winston got bundled off to various kennels and pet sitters a fair number of times due to my travel schedule for work. They knew exactly what my suitcase meant and weren’t fans. It’s appearance on the bed triggered immediate low level stress responses and minor spazzing out. 

In preparing for my brief Christmas trip to western Maryland, there has been no such response from Jorah. I don’t guess there’s any reason there would be. I haven’t traveled for work in a decade. He’s a product of the plague era where I’ve barely left the house let alone gone away overnight. 

Mags and Win loved being in the truck. Travel is something that Jorah just endures. He’s even wary and neurotic once we’re settled in at the destination. He spent most of the trip laying behind my legs or on my feet and looking generally put out. I don’t think we’re at any risk of him thinking getting there is half the fun. Especially when he seems to think being there isn’t much fun either.

I’m sure it’s something he’d get better at with time and practice, but since that would mean I need to be on the road too, it’s more likely that he’ll always just enjoy being home more than anywhere else. It’s surely an interspecies case of the apple not falling far from the tree.

Going irregular…

Over the next week or so, I’m not going to commit to keeping up the regular weekday posting schedule. I might post. I might not. It will be a complete roll of the dice depending on how motivated I am or whether something worth writing about happens to be on my mind.

At best, the schedule of posting here will be going irregular for a few days. The good news is that there’s more than a decade worth of posts right here. Surely a few of them will be new to you if you’re just thirsting for something fresh to read.

We’ll see about getting back on a regular schedule next week. Or maybe the week after that. Or maybe when the new week kick off. Lord knows I’m not making any money doing this, but it’s definitely work and I’m in dire need of not feeling obliged to do anything at all.

So if you don’t hear it directly from me in some other way, I hope each and every one of you have a delightful and enjoyable winter holiday of your choice.

May the odds be ever in your favor.

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. Systems of systems. Outlook was down most of the day on Wednesday. That was after three days of fighting another “file sharing” system. It’s possible that this week will enter my personal record books as the one in which I spent the most effort to accomplish the least. I’m sure there are good and fine reasons why all out tech seems to be tits up more often than it’s not, but it continues to be one of the top two or three most reliably annoying elements of the job. It’s just one of the many reasons I’m dedicated to being able to walk out the door in thirteen years, five months, and a hand full of days.

2. The week before Christmas. It’s the week before Christmas, or close enough for all practical proposes. It’s certainly less than eight working hours before my long Christmas holiday commences. It’s also been just about the busiest week of work I can remember since the beginning of the Great Plague. Easily 50% of the week’s dumpster fires are entirely self-inflicted because someone just got around to looking at something that should have been handled last week, or because our electronic communication system suck, or for untold other reasons. I shouldn’t say this with so many bosses, former bosses, and other trusted professionals following along, but with seven hours left in my work year, every single one of my fucks has already been allocated. Anyone coming at me between now and 4:00 Friday afternoon expecting much more than a blank stare is going to be sorely disappointed.

3. Prednisone. Thanks to the as-yet unidentified reason my arm had been broken out in a rash for about three weeks, I had a 4-day course of prednisone this week. The (mostly) good news is that the arm has sort of cleared up – it at least looks a lot better than it did a week ago and I’m not longer tempted to satisfy the itch by scratching it with a circular saw. What the four days of prednisone also gave me was an insatiable craving for salt, rampaging blood glucose levels, an even shorter temper than usual, and I’m pretty sure at least one panic attack. I have no idea how people stay on that stuff for weeks or months on end. Next time I’ll just scratch myself bloody and it will still be a less awful experience. 

My after Christmas list…

I couple of nights ago I noticed my iPad wasn’t holding a charge quite as well as it used to. The cover is pretty tatty and the aluminum housing is scratched and scraped. Every now and then it even stumbles trying to render a website. 

I didn’t think much about it until it popped up a notification that I was due for a software update. Poking around in settings (since I was there anyway), it dawned on me – probably not for the first time – that I was updating an almost 9-year-old piece of equipment.

I suppose that realizing that my venerable iPad Air crossed the pacific in 2013 made me a bit more forgiving of some of its latest foibles. With a little effort, I’m sure I could keep it limping along another few years, but I think maybe it really is time for an upgrade.

Yet another thing to be added to my after Christmas list. That should give me enough time to properly convince myself it’s a need and not just a want.

Party in a plague year…

Glancing through my Outlook calendar this morning, I noticed an appointment labeled “Holiday Gathering.” Based on past precedent that could mean anything from a non-denominational holiday afternoon of food and drink at a local watering hole, or more often a soulless pot luck served around a conference room table.  

In the (plague) year of our lord 2021 both options have at least one thing in common: The distinguished representative from Cecil County votes no.

In the last 21 months I’ve sat down in a restaurant exactly one time. It was in the middle of the afternoon with one other person at the table and maybe 10 people in the entire building. The idea of gaggling up elbow to asshole with 20 or 30 people to spread both holiday cheer and pathogen, feels like something I can avoid with absolutely no regrets. 

Plus, it looks like it happens to fall on a day I’m already scheduled to work from home, so there’s one more reason it doesn’t have any significant appeal. I’m sure if there’s something pressing, someone can dial me in on Teams.

I’ve never been on Team Office Holiday Party, but a party in a plague year feels even less enticing and like it’s missing a bit of the big picture. 

On trumping festivity…

Last year was the first time in 42 years that I wasn’t in western Maryland for Christmas. It was different and decidedly subdued, but I didn’t particularly hate it. Now, here we are in December again and I’m starting to put together the plan for this year… even though it feels like we just did Christmas about seven weeks ago. 

Barring any significant Great Plague related issues, I’m more comfortable with the idea of making the trip this year… even if I’m not thrilled with the idea of driving into an area where every other Facebook post seems to mention friends, friends of friends, or family members who are militantly anti-vax or who are being throttled by the bug. 

Assuming I do go home for Christmas this year, it’s going to be another different experience. Excursions to the local watering holes, the casino, or restaurants are probably right out. I’ve avoided those things for the last eighteen months and making a Christmas exception probably doesn’t exactly pass the common sense test in the current environment. That alone opens up expanses of time I’m not use to having during these flying trips. Historically they’re a mad dash to see everyone I’ve promised to drop in on while I’m in the area. I don’t expect to make many of those promises this time around.

In all reality, what Christmas could mean this year is a change in where I’ll be tucked in with a dog and a few good books… and the need to potentially recruit a cat and tortoise sitter for a few days. It doesn’t feel particularly festive, but for the time being prudence continues to trump festivity.

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.