My new obsession…

Some people have used the last few months of forced disengagement to learn languages, write their great American novel, or somehow make themselves into more productive human beings. Meanwhile I’ve been over here mostly living the same life I’ve lived for years.. with the exception of developing a new minor obsession. I now find myself spending at least a few minutes every day looking over floorplans of houses I’ll never build.

I’ve spent time looking at floorplans for old houses, new houses, prop houses from TV series and movies, castles, Roman villas, and family compounds. At first blush, it doesn’t make much sense, but hear me out.

Even though the Tennessee house was “new construction,” the only personalization came in picking the finishes. The bones of the house were all pre-determined by others. Every other place I’ve lived was designed and built originally to meet someone else’s expectations and needs. In every one of them, I’ve found myself asking often, “Why the hell did they do it this way” as opposed to in an alternate way that would make more sense to me. Having spent my life living with other’s decisions, the only grand ambition I have left at this point is to build a house from the basement up – Fortress Jeff achieving its final form that puts walls, switches, and doors exactly where I want them and all with a general layout that makes sense for how I intent to live in it.

Even though I’ve spent months looking at floorplans, none of them has been quite right. Most of them have been miles off. Many of them, though, have had distinct elements that are perfect – or that could be perfect with just a bit of architectural rejiggering. I’m keeping an open file (a self-contained Pinterest board?) with screen shots and notes about each of them. That goes a long way towards showing what right looks like from my perspective here and now. We’ll see what right looks like after it’s had a decade and a half to percolate.

So, what does this perfect place look like? Well, my current kitchen layout basically gets transposed into a new setting, the front door doesn’t dump directly into the main living area, there’s a room for dogs – tiled and suitable for hosing down – a pocket office to keep the computer and other bits that keep the household running from dominating whatever other room they’d be in, three garage bays, and some bedrooms, I suppose. Forgive me, please, but I haven’t put much brainpower into the rooms whose purpose is largely to be places to go lay down in the dark with your eyes closed.

I know, describing it doesn’t do justice to what I’m seeing in my head. Sorry about that.

The heart, though, of any house I would ever build is almost certainly a “great hall of books.” You know, something medieval, but with excellent shelving. In fact, if the construction budget looks thin, you should probably just expect a library with a monk’s cell bedroom and kitchen attached… although giving up the garage would be extraordinarily painful.

The real trick, of course, will be figuring out how to cram everything I want into a footprint that doesn’t go sprawling across the countryside and send me into bankruptcy. Those details, though, are far less interesting than where, exactly, to put the inglenook. Hopefully my next obsession will be a self education in creative construction financing.

Taking care of #2…

There are whole books written about the “joy of home ownership.” Depending on the day you ask me, I’ll probably question whether the person talking about that has actually ever owned a home. The joy of having a roof over your head is surely tempered by the random bullshit of air conditioner repairs, flooded basements, trees falling, clogged drains, and the myriad other everyday problems that come along with owning a house. More than once I’ve thought wistfully about the ease of apartment living. File a work order with the office and things got fixed – eventually – although the “eventually” added its own degree of aggravation.

Today’s adventure in home ownership is the semi-regular pumping of the septic tank. It’s a necessity, of course, but there’s something disheartening about paying good money to haul your own feces out of a hole in the back yard. Then again, it may be best not to spend much time pondering on the fact that there is, in fact, a hole filled with feces in your back yard to begin with. Probably something that’s not worth dwelling on until it’s absolutely necessary.

Whether you’ve running your own waste disposal site or you’re on town water and sewer, you end up paying for the ability to poop indoors one way or another. If you’re lucky the basic maintenance won’t lead to needing to throw even more money literally down the sewer. The number of basic home maintenance projects I’ve undertaken that haven’t resulted in sprawling mission creep you can probably count on one hand.

I’ll be the first to admit that indoor plumbing is one of the most undercelebrated features of the modern world, but making sure it all stays in working order feels like the polar opposite of the joy of home ownership. 

What I learned this week…

It turns out some people get bored at home. I’m sure I knew there were people out there who filled every moment going places and doing things, but it never occurred to me that being bored at home was a possibility until I started seeing so many people saying as much. Thanks Facebook. 

Maybe I’ve never even considered the possibility because I’ve spent years structuring life in such a way that boredom at home isn’t something that can happen. Here in its penultimate form at Fortress Jeff, I’ve surrounded myself with books and movies and animals, failsafed the power supply, and laid in sufficient food to mostly sustain us all beyond the occasional need for fresh produce. Even if I weren’t working from home, there would be enough around-the-house projects to keep me going indefinitely… and that’s before even starting in on the yard work. 

The idea that I should somehow be bored under the circumstances simply never crossed my mind. The world has merely adopted social distancing. I was born into it, molded by it.

So I’ve got that going for me. Which is nice.

What I learned this week…

I’ve had a raging coffee habit since my freshman year in high school. Under normal circumstances,  my average intake is about a pot a day, so call it 10-12 regulation sized cups.

While I’ve been more or less at home continually over the last two weeks it seems my intake of tea has increased dramatically while coffee consumption has cratered. I still need that 5AM kick in the face that only steaming hot coffee can provide, but after three or four cups, I’m moving to tea for the duration of the morning and the entirety of the afternoon.

I’m sure someone could uncover a deep psychological reason for the shift, but at least some of it is practical, I’m sure. Coffee and plenty of it is easy to come by in the office – mostly by way of the thermos on my desk that keeps it scalding hot through most of the day. Proper tea brewing isn’t impossible in a cube farm, but it is, even if only slightly, harder than making a regular cup of joe… Mostly because of my refusal to use the employer provided tap water or the kettle surely tainted by the aforementioned water. 

I suspect when all this is over, assuming the republic doesn’t collapse into some Mad Max-style free for all, I’m going to end up needing  to buy a damned electric kettle to take to the office.

Thats’s it. That’s the big voyage of self discovery triggered by a week working from home. Sorry if you were expecting some kind of big finish.

They’re all good dogs…

I got a note from an old friend that he had to put down his dog a week or so ago. That’s normal cause for sadness, but I felt it particularly because his dog, Smokey, was one of Maggie’s littermates. I’m about as jaded and cynical as they come, but if you think things didn’t get a little “watery” on the homestead for a little while, you’ve completely misread me.

I don’t think I’d seen Smokey in more than a decade. That was just a fact of space and time and not in any way relevant. Smokey was a good dog. They’re all good dogs.

Knowing that he’s gone is an unwelcome reminder of the all too brief time we have with these furry critters who share our homes… and that my sweet, unflappable Mags and I have run out a lot more of our time together than we have left to go.

Give your good doggo a scratch on the head for Smokey tonight. You’ll be glad you did.

Postcards from the past…

Two weeks ago I passed a few days in the house where I did most of my growing up. For all my travels, I’ve always managed to find my way home at least at Christmas time.

I get up early. That doesn’t change just because I happened to have a few days off. One of the perks of waking up before the sun is that you get to see it rise over the Appalachians. In a lot of ways, those clear mornings were a throwback.

On a dead calm Boxing Day morning, the wood smoke hung thick in the George’s Creek valley. A hundred years ago it would have been coal, but for a distant observer it didn’t make enough difference to notice.

For a couple of minutes, it was like watching a living picture postcard from another age – a sight that realistically hasn’t changed much from the 19th and 20th centuries into the 21st. It was one of the first times I think I really appreciated just how slow time can move out there in the hills.

It’s the rare moments like this one that fill me with the idea that maybe someday I’ll go back to stay… but before long other realities of time and space crowd in and the moment is gone. There are real reasons I’ll never really go home again, not to stay… but those reasons will never, ever be because I’ve gotten tired of the view from down the crick.

What I learned this week…

I can cover some basic home maintenance tasks with a degree of competence. Others – like schlepping up the ladder to clean the gutters – I’m more than happy to pawn off on the professionals. The net result is usually something done faster and with less chance of breaking other things in the process than I would be able to manage myself.

Other times, though, instinct tells me I can do a thing – often because I’ve done that thing previously. Sunday, instinct told me that it might just be better to buy a old fashioned standard toilet at Lowe’s and replace the whole 20-year old contraption instead of fiddling with repairs. Especially because the repairs were going to take proprietary parts and be a pain in the ass to complete myself. A straight up replacement would have been almost plug and play and taken no more than 45 minutes.

I ignored my instincts last weekend, ended up calling in a professional for help, and still finished off by buying and installing a brand new toilet. At least this one has reasonably accessible bits and pieces that I can (probably) deal with when the inevitable time comes.

What I learned this week – or what I re-learned for the 247th time – is that when it comes to home repairs, I should always check my first instinct and then go directly where it points. Ninety-nine times out of a hundred that’s where I’m going to end up anyway.

What I learned this week…

After getting my first job out of college I moved into a tiny apartment with a rattling old window air conditioner that I would only turn on at night (because electricity is hella expensive) to change the room from furnace to obnoxiously hot. I could sleep fitfully under those conditions… and some sleep was better than the none that I’d have had otherwise.

It was sweating through those late summer nights at the southern tip of southern Maryland that I vowed, with God as my witness, that when I’d “made it,” I would set the temperature in my home for comfort rather than economy.

For me, the ideal indoor temperature in both summer and winter hovers right around 67-68 degrees. When I’m home, that’s where I set it and let the furnace or a/c do it’s thing.

Here I am now, almost twenty years later, having officially “made it” by my 22-year old self’s definition. Living the fully controlled indoor air temperature dream…

So, the whole point of this post: What I learned this week is that I’ll tolerate the house being 1-2 degrees colder than the optimal 68 degrees if I’m wearing wool socks. I feel like that’s something I probably should have known years ago. Better late than never, or something.

Problems in the stack…

There should be someone whose job it is to follow me around and keep me from wandering in to used book shops and spending a ridiculous amount of money. Since that job apparently does not exist, I’m left to my own devices… and since there are so very few things that truly spark joy in my heart, the chance of my ever willingly turning this one off feels awfully slim.

Since I’m not going to stay out of book shops and I’m definitely not going to hire someone to slap books out of my hands, it seems my dad plans on filling in the gap a little bit. We talk just abiout every weekend and one of the first questions he asked this past Sunday was when the hell I’d actually be reading the three boxes of books I brought home on Saturday. Uh. Well. Eventually. Probably. It definitely wasn’t the time to admit to the books that have been lurking around on my to be read shelf for years already. I had been seen, no question about it.

The sad fact is, the “to be read” stack – TBR if you spend time in the subreddits on book accumulating – has grown so quickly over the last two or three years that I really do need to slow down the pace of acquisition… and I think I’ve come up with a plan on how to do that without pretending that I can just stop cold turkey.

Now that I’ve admitted there’s a potential problem, the most likely way ahead is to narrow the apparure of what’s coming in to the collection. I can get after that in two ways – first, by concentrating on finishing out sets of authors I know I enjoy reading and second, by increasing the mimimum acceptable condition of what I’m putting on the shelf. Neither of those constraints will stop the flow, but combined they should slow it down to a more manageable level.

So now that I’m resolved to be a more targeted buyer, there’s also the possibility that I’ll wade into the stacks and cull some of the one offs, random books, and items I’ve intentionally passed over for years. It shouldn’t be terribly hard to pick off 20 or 30 titles that looked terribly interesting at the time, but that have been overwhelmed by the incoming tide since then. At this point anything that frees up shelf space and gives the collection a bit more of a focused feel is probably a good thing overall.

I’ll wait…

Occasionally people who don’t know me well ask “Jeff, why haven’t you ever gotten married?” I can think of several reasons, but the biggest one is simply this: On Saturday I did the grocery shopping for the week, did a big chunk of the fall yard work, made dinner, and tucked in for the night with a good book and a well made cocktail. On Sunday morning I had soup simmering away for Sunday dinner, ran four loads of laundry, made ham salad to enjoy for lunch, spent some quality time with all the animals, and had the house cleaned by noon.

I pay my bills and handle my business. I’m self sustaining and self sufficient and have been for a very long time now – although I’ve lived enough life to never rule anything all the way in or all the way out. If I were to break with a lifetime of habit it would take a pretty remarkable set of circumstances – and an even more remarkable person.

I’ve found through occasional, unscientific sampling that the only thing a fair proportion of the population brings to the table is a vagina and a metric shit ton of drama. Sure, both of those can be entertaining for a while, but what possible incentive would there possibly be to welcome that into my life on a full time basis

Show me someone who makes my life better and less complicated and I’ll eat my words. Go ahead. I’ll wait.