Change of plans…

It turns out I’ve reached a point in my curmudgeonlyness, where I’m just not willing to stand around baking for six hours in hundred-degree weather, likely getting rained on, and surrounded by 30,000 potential plague carriers, even when the reward is seeing two of the bands I consider absolute pillars of rock music in the last three decades. 

Ten degrees cooler, not as likely to be soaked to the skin, or maybe even just a little less plague-y, and I’d have probably made different decisions. There were a lot of strikes working against the original plan for today. As it is, I seem to have woken up in a mood this morning that would only be exacerbated by any of those three factors. It’s all an almost iron clad guarantee that I wouldn’t have in any way enjoyed the experience. So yeah, I’m taking a pass on the Hella Mega Tour despite the two year wait and general excitement of the last few days.

I’m a little sad at letting this opportunity slide past, but there will be other, hopefully more favorable opportunities. In an effort to even the scales, I snuck off this afternoon to one of my very favorite used book shops and brought home a few choice bits by way of compensation. It’s not the full rock concert experience I was planning to have today, but it wasn’t a bad trade off as far as I’m concerned.

Lessons from Texas…

There are lots of lessons about the debacle of the Texas electric grid.

The biggest, for me at least, is the confirmation that energy independence isn’t just about making the fuel we consume right here in the good ol’ U S of A, but also in having a bare minimum ability to produce some power or heat separate and apart from whatever grid happens to service your region.

For the average homeowner or renter, even a tiny, portable generator could power a modest electric heater – enough to keep a room warm and a lamp on as a shelter of last resort. For an apartment dweller the calculus is a bit different. Even so, there are indoor use options powered by propane or denatured alcohol that would provide welcome heating in a survival situation. The catch to all of those alternatives, though, if you need to have thought them through a bit before the “oh shit” moment arrives.

I’ll be the first to tell you that even the best generators aren’t foolproof. They need regular service and rely on a steady supply of your fuel of choice. Here at Fortress Jeff, that fuel source is a 500 gallon propane tank buried in the backyard. At best, on the day it’s filled, that tank will contain 400 gallons of propane – or a little more than six days of 24/7 run time for the average sized generator. Since most days that tank is sitting somewhere between full and “empty,” I work from the assumption that I can keep things fully up and running for half that time and maybe even less since the water heater and furnace both draw from the same tank. If it looks like a long duration outage, off and on cycling will buy me a few more days of keeping the place at least habitable.

Beyond that point, we’re at the mercy of the delivery service and the expectation that both the generator and HVAC systems keep working as advertised. That is to say, it’s not a zero risk plan that I put together. There are certainly scenarios where a deep snow or ice, and downed trees could prevent delivery or repair should an event drag into multiple days or some component fail. I assess the relative risk of that happening as being fairly low based on the historical record for the geographic area I currently occupy.

Even feeling fairly secure in my ability to operate independently from the grid for days if necessary, when the time comes to replace the current 21 years old tank, I’m planning to upgrade to a 1000 gallon model. When it comes to fuel on hand, I firmly believe the old logistician’s motto that “more is better.” On days I’m feeling particularly aggressive about my own personal energy independence, the thought of adding a wood stove also sounds awfully appealing. Without a fireplace of any kind in the house, it’s more of an undertaking than I’d really like to get involved with just now, but it’s on the radar for sure.

As for Texas, well, it’s just one more reminder than when shit really gets dicey, you’d better have a plan to get yourself through the worst of it, because the cavalry isn’t always going to ride over the hill and rescue you in the nick of time.

What I learned this week?

I’m not usually one for buying into the wisdom of movies, but I’m a life-long watcher of people.

Back in 1997, Tommy Lee Jones played a no nonsense agent keeping the world safe from the aliens among us. He said “A person is smart. People are dumb, panicky dangerous animals and you know it.”

Watching my fellow Americans “planning” and “preparing” for COVID-19, the zombie apocalypse, or TEOTWAWKI, basically confirms that his lines ring out across the ages as the most truthful words ever committed to film.

You’ll be glad you did…

You can’t miss the funny, funny toilet paper memes. I got it. Large numbers of people pummeling each other in the grocery store isles is good humor, I don’t deny it.

I’ll be the first to agree with you that panic buying is stupid. With that said, I think it’s stupid for reasons different than “coronavirus doesn’t cause you to die of shitting yourself.” For me, the rolling of eyes is triggered more by looking at people who don’t already have a “safety stock” of items essential to keeping a household running for a few days, a few weeks, months, a year or more depending on what your risk tolerance and budget will support.

I know some real, honest to God end of the world prepper types. I’m not even close to being in their league. I’ve got no interest in taking it to that level. They’re legitimately trying to be prepared for the collapse of civilization. It’s not out of the realm of the possible, but I’m not entirely convinced I want to hang around for that party. My personal cognitive bias tends towards the belief that over time, things will trend towards that status quo… that tomorrow will be more or less the same as yesterday. I could also be 100% wrong about that assumption.

I’m extremely comforted in knowing that if, for some reason, I needed to button up Fortress Jeff for a period of a few weeks or a month or two, I could get along without any significant impact on my standard of living. We could probably hold out a bit longer than that if I did a little rationing. It’s the level of insurance and peace of mind that I’m comfortable with maintaining over the long term.

Because I’ve done a little advance planning and bought extras a few items at a time, there’s no need for panic buying. My regular shopping trips involve simply replacing what I’ve used from week to week to maintain the baseline – usually a few canned goods, some fresh mean and vegetables, dog or cat food, and so on. Keeping a bit of extra on hand just makes good sense. When everyone else is panicking and buying up 54-packs of Charmin, you can smile, make another cup of coffee, and get on with your day.

Next time you make your weekly grocery list, add a few extra items that are good for long term storage. Buy stuff you know you’ll use anyway. Try having a little bit of a plan that extends beyond the next three to five days. At some point, because of flood, fire, snow, or pandemic, you’ll be glad you did.

The vine and fig…

It occurs to me that part of the reason weekends are so much better than weekdays is I pay virtually no attention to the news on Saturday or Sunday. Of course I catch bits in dribs and drabs from Facebook posts, whatever is trending on Twitter, or what the BBC pushes out in alerts, but I don’t make a conscious effort to seek out news during those 48 hours blocks.

Maybe some would say it makes me a bad citizen, but it makes me a more sane human being. It’s probably worth the trade off. I think I’ll continue trying to keep the shitshow of events entirely outside my own sphere of influence confined to the 5 days of the week that are already dicked up by other factors. Two days of willful disengagement out of seven days in a week don’t feel like an outrageously big ask. 

I’m left to wonder if we might not all be better off if everyone spent more time tending to the things that are within their own span of control and less tuned in to Big Events over which no one has any real control. It’s a pipe dream, of course. There are too many people too tied in who seem like they might just get off on soaking in the drama. 

As for me and mine, we’ll double down and take a page from General Washington to increasingly strive to be the kind of man who seeks mainly to  “sit in safety under his own vine and fig tree and there shall be none to make him afraid.”

Saturday, in the morning…

It’s Saturday. By now it shouldn’t be a suspense to anyone that I have a plan for that. Even in the absence of a plan I’d have a routine to surely keep myself in track.

Wake up. Do dog stuff. Shit, shower, and shave. Coffee. Pay bills, check finances, etc. then my favorite part – after establishing that the household will be on a sound financial footing for at least the next week – the 90 or so minutes of calm and quiet before launching out to get groceries and run the other errands necessary to keep the homestead functioning.

Its probably the most singularly peaceful block of time in my entire week and I love it for that.

It’s a scattergun approach, but that’s by design…

It’s Monday, but it’s a short three-day week and there’s at least one telework day between me and the start of the weekend on Wednesday afternoon. Summer and fall are my favorite times of year to be in Uncle’s employ. Unlike the interminable, holiday-free stretch from February to May, the holidays flow with reasonable regularity in 4-6 week intervals. They’re always something to look forward to on the horizon – a minor way-station on the long trip to 2035.

I make a point of pride out of making sure I’ve burnt off all my leave by the end of the year. I generally aim to carry precisely the maximum amount of leave across from year to year… not an hour more or an hour less. Keeping a big honking pile of leave available is a safety blanket of sorts – an insurance policy – against the idea that something catastrophic could happen at any time, but I have a cushion of paid time off owed to me to help mitigate whatever the problem might be.

Life experience has also taught me that I appreciate time off more in small doses than I do en block. With the exception of maybe a week or ten days across Christmas and New Years, I take most of my leave a day or two at a time. A four day weekend seems to hit some sort of neurological sweet spot for me – enough to feel rested, like it’s been something more than a regular weekend, but not so long that the very act of coming back to work feels torturous. Coming back after a long stretch – like the “Christmas break,” has a funny way of leaving me more annoyed and dispirited than I was before I left. For me that’s the real danger of taking too much time in one run.

So, here I am, my projected leave schedule covering the calendar like shot from a scattergun. Most aren’t random strikes, though. I try to set them to maximize preexisting holidays or to compliment the few days of the year I know I like being somewhere other than work. Throw in four or five more days held in reserve for the inevitable mornings I just can’t face eight hours in the cube farm, and it’s my own special, patent pending formula for dragging my carcass through another year while preserving some semblance of sanity.

On the downhill slide…

Even though I should have been happily ensconced today in my home office, I walked in to the building this morning with a little extra spring in my step. Unremarked and unknown to anyone I have slid past an auspicious milestone and that knowledge has, at least for today, has helped give me a little better perspective. 

You see, I’ve rolled by the halfway mark of my anticipated career as a professional bureaucrat. That means, should everything go to plan, I’ve already spent more days sitting in a cubicle than I’ll have to spend sitting in a cubicle in the future. 

Yes, an extraordinary number of things have to go right to make this reality – the stock market needs to match or exceed its historic rates of return, I have to avoid doing anything egregious and getting fired, and I need to not drop dead or otherwise completely wreck my health. 

Still, though, for the first time I’m on the right side of the countdown and I have a rough plan for the way ahead. It’s hard to believe that finding myself on the downhill slide could possibly feel so good… but it does. 

Plans…

Let me start by saying I roll out of bed every morning with a rough plan in my head of how I expect the day to go. Plans are wonderful things, even if they are so often driven completely off the rails by outside influences.

IMG_2720It doesn’t happen very often but every now and then the perfect image how how a weekend might go lives up to all the hype in planning. You see, in my deepest dreams, weekends are long unbroken stretches of quiet time – time to be alone with my thoughts, time to tinker in the house or yard, time spent companionably silent with the resident critters, or neck deep in a stack of books.

Every now and then I manage to hit one right in the sweet spot. If I’ve remembered everything on the grocery list and tended to all the other errands than need tending, when the garage door slides down on Saturday morning it need not open again until Tuesday. It’s like living inside my very one dreamscape.

I got to walk the property and note down trees and limbs ready to feed fall’s backyard fires. I got to spend a long time just standing in the yard playing out different plantings for next spring and what arrangement they may take. I got to distract a chocolate lab long enough for one of a friendly rink-necked snakes living in the back yard to make a get away. And I got to enjoy an inordinate amount of time spent watching five hummingbirds dive bomb each other for getting too close to the feeders.

Sigh, yeah, if money were no object… but of course it is an object so these plans are but a dream to be observed through a glass darkly. At least I know I’ve got a solid grip on what I want to do when I don’t have to do anything. It might not be the hole plan, but it feels like a solid first step.

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. Surprises. I will never in my life understand why anyone likes being surprised. In my experience being caught off guard, having a bombshell dropped in your lap, getting a wake-up call, or enduring a rude awakening are all fundamentally bad things. It is, sadly, impossible for any one person to know all the things and to be prepared for all the eventualities. Even so, that doesn’t mean we have to like getting blindsided even in the exceedingly rare case where it’s a “good” surprise.

2. Decisions. Look, if you’re not going to “empower” me to be a decision maker, the very least I should be able to expect is that someone up the line will actually be making decisions in something approaching a timely manner. Sure, some questions are difficult and need great thought and discussion, but mostly are run of the mill and answerable as part of a simple yes/no or this/that dyad. Getting the answer shouldn’t take weeks and slow every project down to the point where forward progress can only be measured in a lab environment by high-precision lasers.

3. Training. My employer has made a few stuttering baby steps towards eliminating some of the onerous annual training requirements that eat up time and net very little in the way of return on investment. However, they still insist of gaggling everyone up for far too many of these “valuable opportunities to learn.” After fifteen years on the job if I haven’t learned not to be a rapist or walk around making sexually suggestive comments to my coworkers, I’m not sure the 16th time around is going to generate that magical “aha moment” they seem to want. At least the box is checked for another year… and that’s what really matters.