The interregnum…

The week between Christmas and the new year is more or less a lost week. Let’s face it, it was still 2021 and there was still plenty going on. Even if you weren’t paying attention to world events there was more than enough that needed doing, but the whole week has forever felt like it exists out of time or in a universe where time has no meaning. 

It’s an interregnum as the old year closes out and the new one starts. I don’t hate it. I just can’t shake the feeling that it’s an odd sequence of days that don’t feel quite right.

Add in that I spent most of my time alternating between the bed, the couch, and one of the various La-Z-Boy’s scattered around the house and it’s pretty much the week that wasn’t. At least it (probably) wasn’t COVID, so I’ve still got that going in my favor, even if it was one of the nastier head colds I’ve had in the last half-dozen years.

Here we are a little more than a week later and the last remnants of this particular crud are finally dissipating… but hey, I have one of those fancy oxygen meters, a few boxes of KN-95 and N-95’s, and a few other odds and ends now due to my paranoia of the Great Plague. Given how hard it is to find a simple test, even my NyQuil addled brain was able to grasp with growing realization that if I should come down with it, I need to be prepared with whatever tools I can muster to triage and treat myself.

The interregnum is over. I’ve put together a decent little stockpile against what feels like an increasingly inevitable bout with the plague. Still, I can’t quite shake the feeling that mostly it was a perfectly good week of annual leave utterly wasted.

Running out the clock…

With three days left in this grand 16 day weekend, I guess you could say the only thing I have left to do is run out the clock.

With a bit of a sore throat and a touch of post nasal drip, but no other signs or symptoms of crud, COVID, or anything else catching, I’ve laid in groceries and have no further plans besides three days of proper hermiting before work raises its ugly head and demands my time again. It’s celebrating this long stretch of days off by doing that which I most enjoy.

These last two weeks seem to be ending with more a whimper than a bang, but I’m not exactly complaining. Being holed up with the animals, rooms full of good books, food to cook, and vast quantities of tea and gin hardly sounds like a disaster. Who knows, I might even get crazy and watch something on Netflix or Hulu instead of just using the television as background noise.

All while in the back of my head rumbles the warning that Monday is coming. I don’t think any amount of time off will ever change how I feel about that.

Coming at you quick…

I spent a lot of the summer of 2000 driving around the state of Maryland interviewing for teaching positions. I had interviews in every corner of the state from the Atlantic coast, to the upper reaches of the Bay, and back down the western shore to southern Maryland. The only place I didn’t have an interview was anywhere close to my home county. No amount of family connections in teaching there could overcome the surplus of fresh young grads wanting to stay close to home that Frostburg turned out every semester.

I signed on with St. Mary’s County for the princely sum of almost $30,000 a year. I could say that it felt like making big money after four years of full time school and part time minimum wage work, but it didn’t. Not after all the bills were paid and $25 out of each check went to a retirement account, untouchable until a day then so far into the future that it didn’t even seem like a real mark on the calendar. Maybe all time feels imaginary when you’re 22 and on your own for the first time. Being three hours away from everything and almost everyone I knew felt like it might as well have had me living on the other side of the moon

I’m not sure what got me thinking about those days in the pre-dawn hours this morning, but something pulled me back there – to thoughts of what passed as a “splurge” in those days. The most unreasonable was probably a set of marble drink coasters from Bed, Bath, and Beyond, purchased on a trip to the “upscale” shopping venues in Waldorf. They might have set me back about $20 at the time.

Now here I sit, plotting large scale home improvement projects – the bathroom renovation about to get underway, the roof that’ll be due for replacement soon, the HVAC system I could squeeze some more efficiency from, the huge oaks that needed to be tended to sooner rather than later, lest they drop thousand pound limbs on the house, and the first twinkling of an idea for a bit of renovation in the kitchen. The scope and scale of what passes for a splurge these days is absolutely staggering – well beyond anything 22 year old me would have even imagined back there and back then.

I guess my point is life really does come at you quick. But I still have those old coasters, so they might turn out to be the best investment of the bunch. They’ve certainly proven to be just about the only tangible proof that I did anything at all in a time so long ago and far away.

The best ten weeks…

Here we are in mid-October, I’m comfortable saying I’ve mostly adjusted to the diminishing daylight and have started into one of my favorite times of year. Sure, it’s about to be the “holiday season” or whatever, but that’s not really it. Not directly, anyway.

I’ve long made a habit of mostly hoarding vacation time through the first 2/3 of the year. With the arrival of October, though, it’s time to start letting those days spool out. For me, that means the next two and a half months look something like this:

Three-day weekend… Work for two weeks… Five day weekend… Work for a week… Four day weekend… Work for three weeks… and finally the last, glorious Fifteen day weekend capping off the year.

The annual burning off of vacation time is a real thing of beauty. This annual rite of autumn is made easier in my case by not having to burn time during the rest of the year to tend to sick offspring or in accommodating spousal wishes. I sprinkle days through the rest of the year to get a quick breather when necessary, but it’s here in the fall where I really get my head right.

In a few months the new year starts and with it a new round of hoarding time off begins… with the promise of another fall filled with days not spent dwelling under fluorescent lighting. For now, though, I’ll happily celebrate the best ten weeks of the year,

Cynical and jaded…

My laptop took 90 minutes to boot up this morning. Combined with the more than an hour it took to get access to our primary workspace, that put me about three hours into the workday before I could really even start “working.” That’s the point at which I realized that thanks to some very helpful new “improvements,” I didn’t have access to one of the email boxes I need to do my actual job.

The whole thing got mostly unfucked sometime after I’d have usually gone to lunch, so now you can add general hangeryness to the mix of what was stupid today. Add it atop all the things, unseen, piling up in the mailbox I’m supposed to be working out of today. They were all things piling up on me, because I’m the designated stuckee for the next week, so there’s no reprieve in knowing I can just pass the buck to the next sucker who comes along.

The very best part of today is that even though all my systems are now “working,” in order to send an reply from Mailbox #1, I first have to copy the body of the email and the intended recipients into a Word document, close Mailbox #1, open Mailbox #2, paste in the reply itself and the rest of the email thread, manually build the distribution list, hit send, close Mailbox #2, reopen Mailbox #1, and hope the reply shows up. All told, something that should be as easy as sending email could take 5-10 minutes per message depending on how slowly the software opens and the size of the distribution list. There’s a recurring report on Monday with upwards of 100 recipients. It may be the only thing I get done before lunch.

Normally I roll my eyes at coming to the office to do things I could just as easily do from home. Today, of course, I spent a large portion of the day not even able do those things. If you ever find yourself thinking I’m too cynical or jaded, I promise you, it’s all for cause.

Same as it ever was…

There are about 16 different online or in person “training modules,” I’m required to take annually. Most take an hour or two of endurance. A few take a bit longer, particularly if you get a live host who likes the sound of their own voice.

This is the time of year when I’m working against the clock to get all of them finished… not because I think I’m going to gain any benefit from them, but because it’s just easier than fighting city hall on why this sort of thing is mandatory in the first place. 

I registered for one of the last two modules I need to knock off for fiscal year 2021 this morning. The registration guide for this particular class noted in bold red text that “the content for FY21 is the same as the content for FY19 and FY20.”

If the content is exactly the same this year as it has been for the last two years, it begs the question of why anyone is expected to cover that ground again – since they presumably passed the training on both previous occasions. I’m not saying it’s all perfectly wasted time, but you’re free to draw your own conclusions. 

It’s the kind of thing that will drive you to madness if you dwell on it too long.

If I’ve learned nothing else from almost trips through most of these training opportunities, it’s that sometimes it’s just better to turn your brain off and check the box.  

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. Workforce “recovery.” This week I’ve started hearing the first rumbles that planning is picking up for the inevitable “return to work” phase of the Great Plague experience. It’s part of the workforce recovery plan that’s lain more or less dormant for the last year. The bosses will talk about it in grand terms of “bringing people home” to the office or of the supposed productive benefits of stacking thousands of people into 6×8 foot cubicles. They’ll talk of being “better together,” of having team synergy, or a hundred other phrases that mean, more or less, nothing. That’s the story they’ll tell themselves. Some people, I suppose, will even believe it. Me? Well, I’ll know from fourteen months experience that there’s almost no part of my job that requires being in a specific place during specific hours. I won’t have the audacity to say everything I do could be done from somewhere else… but I will say my time sitting in a cubicle could be limited to, like the old National Guard slogan, two days a month and two weeks a year – and every lick of my work would keep getting done on time and to standard.

2. Intellectual property. In a press release yesterday from the White House, the Biden Administration announced that it supports waiving intellectual property protection for COVID-19 vaccines. Patent protection is among the most important functions we expect from government. It creates a safe and secure environment for innovation. While the federal government, through its expenditures supporting Operation Warp Speed, has a vested interest in vaccine development and distribution, the more rational course of action would seem to be continuing to ramp up domestic production of vaccines for export and cooperation with a few foreign manufacturers as trusted agents rather than handing over the keys to the kingdom without sufficient safeguards protecting the monumental intellectual effort that went into creating these vaccines.

3. Schedule. I had some maintenance scheduled here on the homestead this week. The day before they were to do the work, their office confirmed that “Yep, they’ll be there at 8:00.” Perfect. I like and appreciate early hours. The catch, because there’s always a catch, is the crew didn’t actually roll into my driveway until 9:05. Had the arrival time been given as “between 8 and 10,” I’d have been fine with it. I’d have even give at least partial credit for a call letting me know they were running behind. Yes, I know I’m more a fanatical devotee to staying on schedule than most. I tend to leave so far ahead of my projected arrival time that I’ve been known to tuck in to a nearby shop’s parking lot for a few minutes to avoid arriving obscenely early to appointments. I don’t necessarily expect that from other people… but if you say you’ll be somewhere at 8:00, being there at 9-something tells me you’re not even trying.

Closing time…

The good news, I suppose, is that after months of screwing around, I’ll be closing on the new mortgage for the homestead on Friday morning. The new rate, 1.26% less than the original note, will save me several hundred dollars a month. 

As far as I can tell, all the paperwork is in good order and there theoretically shouldn’t be any problems getting to the closing table. The team I’ve been working with to get this work done have been spectacular – as johnny on the spot as any bunch of paper pushers I’ve ever dealt with. Color me cautiously optimistic.

I looked into a lot of options this time around – and strongly considered going with a 15 or 20-year mortgage to slice years off the life of the loan. Ultimately, though, reducing the overall cost of housing was the more important consideration. I can certainly allocate the savings to more entertaining or remunerative uses than keeping a roof over our heads. At rates under 3%, there’s very little incentive not to use other people’s money for as long as possible while seeking out a better ROI for my own dollars.

The only catch in this otherwise good news story was the moment I read over the estimated pay off date – sometime in 2051. As a child of the middle-to-late 20th century, 2051 doesn’t even feel like a real year. It’s some Jetson’s, deep space, basically unimaginably distant point in the future. Although I’ve spent nearly as much time in the 21st century as I did the 20th, I don’t think I’ll ever be entirely settled with it.

Under other circumstances, I’d be concerned about having a mortgage sticking that far out into the future – well past the date I expect to throw off the yoke of working for a living. As much as I like this house, though, staying here forever has never been the endgame. I think I’ve got one more big move left in me, hopefully to something built to suit my own undoubtedly quirky specifications. With this latest refinance, I won’t be paying off a hell of a lot of principle over the next 15 years, but I’ll make a modest dent. Throw in a decade and a half of (presumed) appreciation and there should still be a respectable nest egg to throw at building the last and final Fortress Jeff. 

We’ll just have to see how well that particular plan holds up to the intervening years… but again, on this point I’m choosing to be cautiously optimistic. 

Second week…

I’m now into the second week of this long Christmas break. I’m quite sure I feel more relaxed, though probably no better rested than I did a few weeks ago. Lying about in bed or whiling away the hours snoozing on the couch aren’t really in my repertoire. The psychological imperative to “do something” is far too strong, even if that something is just tinkering around with truly minor repairs or sticking my nose in a book.

I’d usually spend this week chasing down new (old) books for the collection or running errands/tackling projects that are more involved than is convenient to fit into typical weekends. Life in a plague year has given me ample opportunity to take on those projects already – or at least the ones that don’t involve any specialized skills or abilities and therefore need to be farmed out. The search for books, of course, will have to wait for a bit yet, despite the almost overwhelming temptation to mask up and roll the dice. I could plug in some online orders to scratch that itch, but seeing them fall into the black hole of the US Postal Service for delivery God knows when feels like it would do the exact opposite of improving my sense of relaxation.

Probably more than anything else, what this two-week reset has done is reaffirm my firm belief that I’ll be beyond satisfied not schlepping to work (either in office or virtually) at the moment I reach that magical congruence of age, years of service, and fiscal sufficiency. Even here, in the belly of a plague year, when I can’t or opt not to do many of the things that I so heartily enjoy, time is better spent than it would be knocking together version fourteen of a random set of slides or flinging email into the bureaucratic void. 

Excess free time…

Being on leave at the moment, I’m living in a bit of a strange gray area – somewhere between paying attention to what’s happening in the broader world and not. The further I slide into this little vacation-in-place, the more “and not” that area takes up. Dispensing ear scratches, fiddling around the house, and the mountain of books I live with are slowly expanding to take up all the available white space. It’s hardly the worst way I’ve spent my time.

It would be easy enough to slip back into a mode of ranting about the president, or Congress, or the Great Plague. The closest thing I’ve come to that, though, is occasionally kicking a hornet’s nest on Twitter just to see what kind of reaction I can gin up. It’s a mildly entertaining way to pass the time. As it turns out, according to anti-vax / plague deniers on that particular platform, I’m a damned dirty commie who should shut my stupid mouth. Like I said, it’s entertaining enough, but not exactly an intellectual challenge. I am learning to appreciate their furious thrashing when I only respond to them using gifs, though.

I know I shouldn’t be using this time to feed the trolls, but honestly, I just can’t help myself. There are some honest to God issues in the world, but getting your blood pressure up on the internet doesn’t feel like a way to solve any of them. I’m sure the novelty will wear off in the next couple of days.

It’s a good thing the books and animals are always standing by to fill in as much of the excess free time as comes along. I mean I could finally get around to filling the 852 nail holes the previous owner left in the walls here on the homestead… but since that project has been on the list for five years and hasn’t gotten done yet, chances aren’t so good for it making the cut.