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.

Sunday dinners that weren’t…

I’ve ruined Sunday dinner for the last two weeks running. I mean it wasn’t bringing a hooker to Thanksgiving, having a shouting match with Aunt Mildred, or putting my elbows on the table ruined, but the food just plain sucked. I’ve never claimed to be a fancy cook, but most of the time my fairly simple recipes to satisfy my decidedly uncomplicated palate come out exactly as expected.

Even in a plague year, Sunday dinner is a big deal at my house. It’s the one day of the week I can reliably counted on to make a full and proper meal. It’s usually also the day that leaves me with plentiful leftovers to spread over the week to come. I’ve now chucked a gallon of soup and almost three pounds of beef over the fence to feed the local wildlife with what should have been half a dozen days’ worth of easy meals. 

You might think roast beef and potato soup would be fairly indestructible. It turns out they’re not. If anyone needs me, I’ll be over here culling my recipe books down to about a dozen recipes that have never let me down. I’m not sure I’m mentally equipped for another disappointing meal coming out of my own kitchen.

I might be a little tired of some my “greatest hits” menu items, but I know exactly what they’re going to taste like when they hit the table… and it turns out that counts for a lot more than I thought it did before I started turning meals into absolute trash.

Light a candle…

I’ve often noted that I’d happily drive over a line of people to help and animal in distress. I don’t suppose it would surprise anyone to find that the charities I choose to support are nearly exclusively devoted to “animal causes,” although the bent towards environmental awareness and protection will certainly surprise some.

If you find yourself in a giving mood after the gluttony of Thanksgiving, Black Friday, and Cyber Monday, I heartily recommend sending a few dollars towards any one of these worthy causes:

Delaware SPCA. Delaware SPCA, the state’s first animal welfare organization, has provided shelter, veterinary care, and adoption services for over a century. Last year, Delaware SPCA placed more than 1,000 animals into loving homes, many of whom required urgent care and medical attention when they came to us. We are also a leading provider of low cost spay/neuter services, have a state-of-the-art wellness clinic for community pets, and offer regular, low-cost vaccination clinics. This organization was also responsible for bringing Jorah (then Sonny) from from a high kill shelter in Tennessee to be adopted.

Cecil County Animal Services. CCAS is the county animal control authority serving Cecil County Maryland. The staff and volunteers are doing yeoman’s work maintaining a no-kill philosophy here in a largely rural community that remains somewhat behind the times in terms of promoting animal care and welfare. Hershel was a CCAS bottle baby and supporting their continued good works is a cause near and dear to my heart.

International Fund for Animal Welfare. The International Fund for Animal Welfare is a global non-profit helping animals and people thrive together. We are experts and everyday people, working across seas, oceans, and in more than 40 countries around the world. We rescue, rehabilitate, and release animals, and we restore and protect their natural habitats. The problems we’re up against are urgent and complicated. To solve them, we match fresh thinking with bold action. We partner with local communities, governments, non-governmental organizations, and businesses. Together, we pioneer new and innovative ways to help all species flourish.

Chesapeake Bay FoundationServing as a watchdog, we fight for effective, science-based solutions to the pollution degrading the Chesapeake Bay and its rivers and streams. Our motto, “Save the Bay,” is a regional rallying cry for pollution reduction throughout the Chesapeake’s six-state, 64,000-square-mile watershed, which is home to more than 18 million people and 3,000 species of plants and animals.

World Wildlife FundOur mission is to conserve nature and reduce the most pressing threats to the diversity of life on Earth.

I’ve heard it said that the coming months could be the bleakest in living memory, but doing your bit for the creatures and places that have no voice other than what we give them feels like a good way to light a candle instead of cursing the damned darkness.

Two paths to a “good” December…

It’s the last day of November. That’s important for a couple of reasons – not the least of which is it means I only have 17 work days between me and a glorious 16-day weekend. That’s sixteen days to stow my laptop and neither schlep to the office nor work from home. It’s two weeks and change of just hanging out. Let me tell you, friends, even in a plague year that’s already been filled with time at home, I’m kind of living for the long end of the year time off.

Even if my standard two-week Christmas vacation wasn’t in the offing, there’s actually a different, and possibly mor important date fast approaching. The 11th of December won’t stand out to anyone who doesn’t draw a check from Uncle Sam, but that’s the date most of the federal government runs out of money and would be forced into another shutdown. 

Look, I have no idea what a government shutdown would look like in a plague year, but hey, what’s one more bit of fuckery in the mix? With a mostly useless congress and a president who clearly has no interest in governing (and has a propensity for last minute tantrum throwing), it feels possible, even if not likely, that we could have a as much as 40-day break between funds running out and the new president taking office. Even though Congress seems to be working to stave off the possibility, it remains a wildcard.

Now I’m not saying I’m rooting for a crippling Christmas themed government shutdown amidst a rising tide of plague… but hey, if it happens, I won’t be marching in the streets or anything. Obviously, everyone’s circumstances are different, but I should be able ride out a 40-day shutdown without resorting to cat food and tree bark soup… and from that perfectly selfish perspective, more than a month just dicking around the house hardly sounds like the worst thing in the world. 

That’s true at least if precedent is followed, meaning there will be back pay for the shutdown and they’ll restore the two weeks of pre-scheduled leave that got overwritten by the closure and add it in my bucket of vacation time for 2021. If a shutdown happens without those two key components, then I might just be tempted to take to the streets after all.

My eyes are firmly on the calendar for the next couple of weeks, either way.

A nine hour mistake…

I spent the first nine hours of today mistakenly under the impression that it was Thursday. 

It turns out, it is not… and that has been a tremendous disappointment throughout the remainder of the day.

It’s mostly a disappointment because it injects an additional day between me and my next scheduled long weekend. In the panoply of possible sins, that feels like a mortal one, as there’s not much I take more seriously than time spent not spent fiddling with spreadsheets and briefing slides.

Since I had originally planned to fire off the week’s edition of What Annoys Jeff this Week tonight, I don’t have all that much to say. I was woefully unprepared to need what now feels like an extra post this week.

What I will say, without additional comment or commentary, is that almost eight months into doing business under the black flag of the plague, you’d think we’d have sorted out most of the day to day issues. You’d think that, but you couldn’t be more wrong. The deeper we forge into the plague lands, the more people seem to forget about things I thought we’d sorted out months ago. 

That realization seems somehow fitting for the day, really.

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. Ammo. The ongoing shitshow that is 2020 has had many troubling moments. One of the bright spots, from my perspective, is that it’s brought a huge number of first time gun purchasers into the fold – people who have made a conscious decision that self-defense isn’t something they can or should leave to “the authorities” and decided that owing a firearm isn’t, shouldn’t be, the sole province of local Bubbas and Gomers. I think it’s absolutely terrific… but holy hell, this year has made it somewhere between hard and impossible to lay your hands-on ammunition at anything approaching a reasonable price. 

2. Housekeeping. If life in a plague year has revealed nothing else to me, it’s uncovered how much I truly despise basic housekeeping chores like dusting, vacuuming, cleaning bathrooms. In the before time, I could get away with doing them no more than once a week since for huge stretches of time there was no one here getting things dirty. With me and the animals now occupying all parts of the house 24/7, though, I’m after it three times a week. Sure, it’s better than the alternative of being back in cubicle hell full time, but I’m not a fan of the new cleaning regime. I’ll keep at it, of course, because my deep desire for neat and orderly is far stronger than my aversion to running the vacuum one more time.

3. Cooking. Over the years I’ve grown reasonably competent at keeping myself fed. I have a three-ring binder of recipes I know I like – and most of which will provide me with a few days of leftovers so I can make large dinners for myself three nights a week instead of seven. I love every meal that comes out of that binder. The trouble is, now that we’re well into the seventh month of the plague year, I’ve made each of those recipes multiple times and the regular infusion of things picked up on the way home from work has dropped to almost non-existent. As competent as I am at feeding myself, sometimes you really just want someone else to do it. Those opportunities, by my own choice, are few and far between. Sure, I could drum up some new recipes, but, for the same reason I don’t pick new things off a menu in my favorite restaurant, that would inevitably lead to ending up spending time an effort making food I won’t necessarily enjoy. I’d rather sit down to a meal I’m bored with than risk something that’s inedible… so it looks like I’ll be spending some time over the next few weeks tweaking some of the old recipes to see what I can come up with.

Don’t go breakin’ my heart…

My home state of Maryland is moving swiftly towards ending the last of the COVID-19 related business closures. Now we’ll be able to go to the movies and concerts in addition to bars, restaurants, and retail establishments. It’s surely good news if you’re dependent on any of those businesses to make your living. Personally, it’ll still be a good, long time before I take advantage of most of these reborn opportunities.

I’ve never been what one might call “social,” but I can’t think of anything I’d rather do less during a plague year than sit in a movie theater for a few hours, belly up to the local bar, or go out for a long, lingering meal at a neighborhood restaurant. I wasn’t terribly keen on it in the before time and I’m even less so now that as many as one in twenty could be walking around blowing the plague out of their face holes.

Other people, I’m sure, will be happy to do those things. They’re welcome to it… as long as they keep the hell away from me afterwards. Though I don’t suppose that’s much of a break from my usual approach on interacting with people.

Fortunately, the bookstores and junk shops that I tend to haunt aren’t generally hotbeds of activity. Their few, but loyal clientele are well versed in avoiding other consumers. We were doing it well before anyone was worried about the Great Plague. Who knows, maybe while everyone else is busy going to movies and loading in to bars and restaurants during this long holiday weekend, I may even try to sneak in a visit to pick out a few new (old) books or find a hidden gem buried among shelves of junk… or I could just make a pre-dawn supply run and head on back to the house for four days on interrupted peace and quiet. Neither course of action would break my heart.