Unsettled…

One of the undeniable perks of working from home once a week is getting outside with the dogs at lunch time. Usually it’s about as close to a mid-day moment of zen as you’re ever likely to find around my place. Today, though, the only way I can describe it is that the whole outside felt unsettled.

It’s not that there was anything wrong with me, or the dogs, or the house but it felt very much like this little patch of woods was holding its breath – and waiting for something. There were no birds chirping and no small fuzzy creatures – or even large fuzzy ones for that matter. Aside from the steady wind in the upper reaches of the oaks, it was unnaturally quiet. I can’t say it made me nervous, but it definitely had the feeling of being something other than normal.

I’m not a fancy big city scientist, but if I had lay down a guess, it would have something to do with rapid changes in barometric pressure and “big weather” moving in. If it can make the old timer’s arthritis act up, I don’t see any reason not to believe the other creatures of the forest can sense the same thing since they’re the ones really living out in that mess. At least that’s my meager effort to explain today’s brush with the strange and unusual.

In any case, I’ll be happier when it all feels normal again. Like that’s a surprise.

This (not particularly) old house…

A couple of weeks ago, I posted an open call for readers to “Ask Me Anything.” One reader asked what projects I’d tackled around the house since moving in. This post is my best effort at describing what was, what’s been done, and where we’re going in the future.

Anyone who has ever owned a house knows that home ownership isn’t so much a state of being as a state of doing. Over and above the normal cleaning tasks, there is, literally, always something that needs some kind of attention – a leaking toilet, an overflowing gutter, filters to clean, driveway cracks to patch, trim to touch up, brush to haul away, or mulch to lay down… and that’s just the basic upkeep work that goes in to keeping a house from falling down around your ears. Sure, I know that people can go months or even years without doing any of that stuff but in addition to a place to live, home is an investment and it’s one I’d like to make sure pays off when it’s time to hang up the for sale sign.

I’ve been in this new house of mine for a little over two years now, which means I’ve lived with it long enough to have found a number of its personality quirks. Some of those quirks are tolerable – like the section of kitchen floor that’s just enough out of level that it will try to trip you if you are tempted to shuffle your feet instead of picking them up when you step. The basement window that let in a small flood every time it rained for more than 15 minutes was one of those that was less quirky and more demanding of an immediate fix. Mercifully that hole in the ground is now relatively dry and my paranoia about returning home after a rainstorm to find an indoor swimming pool has begun to recede. In the garage, I’ve removed the wheelchair ramp that occupied an entire bay when I moved in. That space is now occupied with set of steps cannibalized from parts of the ramp, a proper work bench, a bit of shelving, and a Jeep.

The work that never ends continues outside, where so far I’ve pulled out or cut down two score trees and shrubs of varying sizes, stabilized a muddy mess of a hillside that washed across the driveway in the slightest fall of rain, and filled in a badly designed flower bed with sod. As far as I can tell, most of this work is in compensation for 5-7 years of maintenance deferred by the previous homeowner. Adding a permanent generator sized to meet all possible power needs of the homestead was a personal priority of mine that felt like an extravagance… right up until the point where the power was out for the better part of 24 hours this past winter. After that, being assured that life can continue uninterrupted by weather or falling trees has come to feel like something essential. The last (I hope) significant outdoor project was adding a “rustic” fire ring in the back yard… since “burning brush” is frowned upon by the local home owners association, but having a fire pit is not. Two birds with one stone, that.

I’m sure there will be more to do, because there always is. I can’t even blame the honey do list on anyone else since mine is entirely self-generated. I want to move a few light switches and add a few electrical outlets, which (probably) I can do on my own. Unfortunately I’m also reaching the point where many of the things I want to do are beyond my level of technical skill and expertise. The master bath is badly in need of a walls-in renovation. Four rooms and a hallway need new carpet. I despise the laminate counter top in the kitchen. Seriously. That was a crap place to cheap out on the original build back in 2000. There’s also a 10×8 foot alcove in the living room that’s crying out to be floor-ceiling book shelves.

So the list of things to do never really gets any shorter with me adding one or two new things for every one that gets ticked off. I figure that at the rate I’m going, by the time I’m ready to sell the place off in eighteen years I’ll just have finished up everything I wanted to do with it.

Marking the inflection points…

We all have the important dates that mark inflection points in our lives. Since I’ve dispensed with the standard dates of importance like anniversaries or children’s birthdays, my set of dates is, unsurprisingly, different than most. My dates largely revolve around the times where I have extracted myself from situations that for one reason or another had become simply untenable.

The 16th of May stands far and away as the most important of these inflection points – not only because it’s the most recent, but because it marked what was probably the most trajectory altering. You see, despite all protests otherwise, I’m of a type that thrives best when planted in its native soil. Carry me too far away from the brackish water of the Chesapeake and I wilt, my abilities waning. Oh, I can function if needs be, but the end results will never be as good as they might have been in other circumstances.

Tennessee was supposed to be my grand adventure – undertaken earnestly and with all the best intentions. Four years later it ended up being not much more than a mire, determined to drag me down and beat me. That end came closer than I want to admit – I’m still rattled at the toll in proverbial blood and actual treasure that particular experience extracted from me.

The Glorious 16th of May, though. That date that cleared the decks and let me begin the process of getting back to my best self. There are days that sometimes make it hard to remember that I’ve come to my better place. Occasionally those days are more frequent than others. Six years on and it still feels like my very best self-extraction… and it still feels a whole lot like it happened yesterday.

A happy place to hide…

Last year on this day I wrote that I was amazed a year had gone by and that “feels like there’s been some part of the place under construction for most of that time; not to mention an ever-lengthening list of projects yet to come.” As much as I would love to say that the second anniversary of buying Fortress Jeff finds that to be less true, of course it isn’t. The place is still a near constant construction zone (though fortunately this year’s efforts have been less dramatic) and the project list has only continued to grow.

It’s taken a while to get to a place where it feels like I’m not walking into someone else’s house that just happens to have all of my stuff in it… but I’m pretty much there now. Except, of course, for the occasional discoveries of little things that leave me wondering the logic behind why things were done a certain way when they built the place (like mystery light switches) and the perplexing rational behind not putting this place on a full basement.

All things considered I think I can be happy hiding from people here for a good long while.

Mister Ed…

It’s not exactly a secret that I’m not a fan of large groups of people – or of people in general. My misanthropic tendencies run pure as a mountain stream and remain one of my most consistent personality traits over time.

Mister Ed.jpgDespite my misgivings about people and groups, I’m a reasonable enough adult human being to know that both are sometimes unavoidable. While social engagements aren’t something I seek out, they are a fact of life from time to time. In those circumstances, I’m perfectly capable of behaving myself in polite company, of making small talk, and generally being a pleasant enough human being.

So you see, what I mean when I say “I don’t like people,” is I don’t go out of my way to find them, but I’m perfectly aware that they are a simple fact of modern life with which I have learned to contend. I learned a long time ago that most people need far more social interaction than I do in order to feel some sense of community or fulfillment. I’ve made peace with it. Mostly.

I’m never going to be the guy who wants to be the center of attention at a party of social event. Like Mister Ed, I’ll likely never speak unless I have something to say. Others may be more tempted to flap their gums to fill in awkward silences. That should in no way be mistaken to mean that I’m going to stand in a corner looking surly for the duration of the event. Just because I don’t usually want to doesn’t mean I can’t play nicely with others when the need arises.

Sometimes, you see, circumstances demand that we do that which we would not otherwise do, not because it’s how we’d rather spend our time, but because it’s something important to the person asking us to tag along. That said, I find myself growing less and less accommodating by the minute. If I’m going to be condemned in either case, I’d rather be condemned for what I am rather than what I am not.

Home sweet home…

Jumped two deer on my walk down to dump my bucket of trimmings. Before 8:30 my totals were up to two deer, half a dozen squirrels, a woodpecker, several humming birds, and sundry others. Add in yesterday’s box turtle and I am reminded entirely why ended up here instead of back in a cookie cutter shoulder to shoulder subdivision.

Breaching the firewall…

For most of the last five or six years I’ve worked to build up a firewall between home and office. They were the twin streams in my life that must never, every cross. Today, with a few strokes of the pen, I’ve started the process to un-make that bulwark and let the two halves scrape past one another a bit more closely. Actually, that’s not accurate. I’ve given work a written invitation to conduct a wholesale invasion of Fortress Jeff.

That sounds more dire than it probably is since all I’ve really done is start the wheels in motion to get approval for working from home one day a week. As much as I value the hard wall of separation between home and office, the hard math isn’t on my side. Once I ran the numbers, finding that tucking myself in to my home office once a week would save me almost 40 hours a year of commuting time it makes the thing a bit of a no brainer, really.

I did the whole working from home thing years ago and I’m well aware of its virtues, particularly when it comes time to really study an issue and give it the mental once over without Chatty Cathy in the next cube spending the whole day in your ear. Plus, although my colleagues are decent enough (mostly), chalking up at least one day of the week where two dogs, a cat, and a tortoise are my officemates sounds preferable in just about every way.

We’re going to take this idea out for a bit of test drive starting (probably) sometime this month… but I’m not making any promises. As much as I’d like to spend another day at home, letting the office creep into the sanctum sanctorum may be a bridge too far.