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.

Threat vectors…

American tourists dropping like flies in the Dominican Republic. Squeegie Kids attacking commuters in downtown Baltimore. Random violent acts in shopping malls and on the street. People generally behaving like assholes in every conceivable public space – some dangerous, some simply stupid beyond all comprehension. The average person spends their day surrounded by threat vectors without every really knowing it. It’s probably for the best. If most people really understood what a dangerous place the world was, I’d wonder how they managed to get through the day at all.

There’s a saying that I’ve often heard repeated, “Nothing good happens after midnight.” While I’ll admit this bit of received wisdom isn’t 100% accurate, experience tells me a whole lot of dumb and dangerous stuff happens between midnight and dawn – things that wouldn’t necessarily happen in the full light of day. I long ago adopted a corollary to this Midnight Rule, which says “That’s the kind of dumb shit you can avoid by not leaving the house.”

People look at me cross ways when I say it – perhaps too loudly and often. Yes, yes, I know that most accidental injuries happen in the home. Slicing your finger open with a kitchen knife or falling down in the shower are unfortunate to be sure, but can also largely be avoided by not getting too distracted from whatever task is at hand. The outside threat vectors, though, are far more difficult to control for – the disgruntled coworker, the squeegy kids, and all the great long laundry list of stupid people out there wandering around in the world at large. What all of those vectors have in common is that they are abso-fucking-lutly not in my house.

And that, friends, is in large part why I go places for the most part when it can’t be avoided, but am otherwise entirely happy to pass the time reasonably secure from the kind of jackassery you open yourself up to by going places and doing things. I like to think I’ve done reasonably well by sticking to the ideas that nothing good is happening after midnight and dumb shit can be be avoided by not leaving the house. I don’t suppose it works for everyone, but I’ve found it to be a sound basis for getting by.

The better part of a month…

Jorah has been part of the household now for a few days shy of a month. He’s weighing in at a svelte 36 pounds and based on some best guess work from me and the vet, we’re estimating his age at about 7 months.
He’s loaded with good dog tendencies. He’s remarkably calm and takes guidance well. He wants to please… but remains very much a work in progress. We’re still spending our “family time” quarantined to the kitchen and laundry room with their blessed solid surface floors for easy clean ups. Given the option he still like sneaking off to pee in front of the washer or dryer… a habit we’re combating largely by a combination of keeping him leashed to me or crated when I can’t keep eyes on him every moment. Eventually I’m sure he’ll catch on to the whole idea that “out” should be a consistent thing, but just now he has some stubborn “teenage” dog streak and the lessons seem to be going slowly. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t miss the living room, with its comfortable furniture and giant TV that I haven’t used in weeks. The sacrifices we make…
He likes to eat grass and sticks and rocks. The rocks are probably the most troubling in terms of the damage they can do to teeth and the digestive system. We spend a lot of time in the yard with my fingers jammed in his mouth, muttering “drop the damned rock.” I’m sure that’s not the best training strategy. This week he’s decided he also likes eating charred remnants out of the fire pit. Those he’s crushed and swallowed long before I can get to him. So that’s a thing that happens now as well.
I’m doing my best to remember that he really is still very much a puppy (despite his size) and that the transition from living at the shelter to the domestic bliss of Fortress Jeff has got to be a challenging one. I’ll admit, too, that I’m a bit of a shit when it comes to proper training techniques, so there’s a fair amount of blame for me in all this. Still, I missed the stage of middle of the night bathroom breaks and teething so on the whole I’m getting the better end of this deal.
I’d be lying if I said I haven’t gone to bed more than once in the last few weeks wondering why the hell I got another dog – and a young, energetic one at that. Those feelings are mostly contained to the days when I’ve spent all day at work and he’s spent all day getting rested up.  All things considered, Jorah is a remarkably good boy who has come a long way towards fitting into the household. Now that I’ve said that, I fully expect he’ll spring the door on his crate tomorrow and demolish the entire house.