Return from a wasted week off…

After a week off that was decidedly not a vacation, I’m back to work. Admittedly, it’s working from home, so it’s not nearly as onerous as it could be, but I wasn’t in any way ready to come back to the world of answering emails, fighting online systems, and generally being a productive and responsible adult.

Look, there’s nothing inherently bad about my particular job. I’m not out there laying asphalt in 100-degree heat or slinging hay bales into the loft. I’ve got a decent chair, a good desk, and a couple of monitors that bombard me with information for eight hours every day. It’s hardly rocket science. It’s not usually particularly hard work, even if it does demand pretty close attention to detail and some higher order processing skills from time to time. 

I’ve been doing some variation of it since January 2003. By this point, there’s not much new under the sun. Sure, some of the details change. When I started, Iraq was the talk of the town. Now it’s Ukraine. Different players, same game. The broad strokes have changed very little. Do any job long enough and I suppose you’ll find a rhythm in it. 

So, I’m back at the keyboard. I’ll do the work and I’ll do it well, but I won’t pretend to be thrilled or excited or meeting a great new challenge every day. I do my part to keep the gears of the bureaucracy grinding along because I seem to have a, perhaps unfortunate, talent for it. I’m trading my time for their money and will keep after it until I hit my own magic number and don’t have to do it anymore. 

I’m most definitely a creature of habit, but this is one I’ll be happy to break out of at the first financially responsible opportunity. 

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. Blame and credit. OK, it’s fashionable to blame Joe Biden for interest rates and inflation and gas prices and whatever else anyone believes is going off the rails at any given time. Fine. Taking the blame is an occupational hazard of being president. I think, though, we’re missing some of the up side of the current economic environment – namely that gas prices and generationally high inflation levels have apparently made backyard fireworks a budget line item that was ripe to dramatically decrease or be cut out completely for people in 2022. With only a few individual outliers, personal fireworks displays within earshot of the homestead were constrained almost exclusively to between 9:00 PM and 10:00 PM on Independence Day and were dramatically smaller and less intrusive to the general peace and tranquility of the evening than they have been in previous years… so, thanks, Biden. I mean if we’re going to blame him for global economic forces at work, he might as well get some credit for the good stuff he doesn’t have any control over.

2. Time. The standard work week lasts approximately 375 hours. A week of vacation time wraps up in just short of one hour and 26 minutes. I know here are psychological reasons why we perceive the passage of time differently under various conditions, but that doesn’t make the fact any less annoying – particularly when your most recent batch of days off is quickly diminishing. It this case, perception is stupid and I hate it.

3. Religion. I’ve covered it before, but it bears repeating: I’m under no moral, ethical, or legal obligation to follow the tenants of your religion. I don’t care if you follow the old gods, the new gods, the Greek pantheon, Sol Invictus, Vishnu, Buddha, or Jesus Christ himself. Your beliefs govern the way you live your life. The minute you turn your faith into a belaying pin to cudgel others about the head and neck, no matter what peace and love you preach, I’ll oppose you loudly, at length, and with whatever force is necessary to get you to cease pummeling others with your interpretation of faith and goodness. You’d think in the year of our lord two thousand and twenty-two we might have left some of this medieval fuckery in the rear view, and yet here we are. 

Men plan and the gods laugh…

My annual birthday week book buying spree was interrupted, as you know, by the long-awaited master bathroom remodeling project. At the time, I pinned my hopes to get back to the world of dusty, mote filled shops during the next block of leave I usually take during the first week of July. Then, of course, there was the repeated county inspection fiasco that set us back by a matter of weeks. 

That sad story brings us to where we are now – the first week of July – when I once again have vast sweeps of unallocated time that I planned to use for chasing books. Here, I am, though, tethered to the house while work in the bathroom continues.

This summer won’t go down in my personal history as the best use of vacation time I’ve ever experienced. Given how many small change decisions it’s helpful to be able to discuss and make on the spot, the only real alternative was to cancel out my leave this week and log in for another session of working from home. That thought was even less enticing than just pissing away 4 days of leave doing piddling odds and ends around the house. 

After last week’s water system blowout, I’d be wildly uncomfortable being away for any real length of time. I’ve snuck away for a few appointments during this process – those that have taken months to get and that changing ranked as too hard to do – but otherwise I’ve been able to be here throughout. As this effort drags on, though, I increasingly wonder about the sanity of anyone who stays in their home through a more involved renovation that isn’t just contained to one room.

I’m sure at some point this week, I’ll scour a few of the online shops I frequent, just to scratch the acquisition itch. Otherwise, it looks like a week of reprising those distant times of puppy training when all the creatures of the household piled into the kitchen. I suppose, spending a few days huddled up with books, tea, and furry critters isn’t really the worst bit of vacation time I’ve ever spent… but it wasn’t at all what I had planned.

A trip to Disney it ain’t…

The first week of June is usually the point in the year where I start taking time off in bulk. The first half of the year is for slogging through. The back half is for maximizing days not tethered to a desk or laptop. Historically, this is a week allocated for sweeping through antique and book shops ranging from Philadelphia to DC. After two years of Plague measures, 2022 was supposed to be a return to normalcy. Except, of course, that’s not how it has turned out. At least not for this week.

With a team of plumbers, carpenters, and electricians crawling around and under the house, stretching my legs like that is off the table this year. Sure, they’re bonded and insured and I’ve got cameras keeping an unblinking eye on everything, so I don’t strictly need to be here. Still, it looks like I’ll mostly be spending the week knocking around the house if only to answer random questions as they come up.

It’s not an ideal week of vacation, but after seven months of waiting to start, I certainly wasn’t going to delay further in the name of saving a cherished early summer tradition. Besides, I’ve got another tranche of time off coming up for the first week of July. This whole thing has been a bit of an exercise in delayed gratification. Why shouldn’t this be as well?

Fortunately, I’ve got a wall full of books I’ve been meaning to read and a list of odds and ends that need doing but never quite make it to the top of the list. There’s no time like the present to get after those things. Quite a few of those items got lined through today. If it all gets too tedious, I can always forgo a few vacation days, log in for telework during the tail end of the week. That feels like he worst possible option, but one never knows.

We’ll see how everything looks after a few days of just hanging out while other people stream in and out doing the heavy lifting for the week.

The least they could do…

I’ll never turn my nose up at a federal holiday. If you want a holiday to celebrate or recognize someone or some thing, I’ll support you. Juneteenth? Sure. 9/11 Day? Yep. Kwanzaa? I’m in. Lunar New year? Sign me up. I’m happy to take any day off that the brain trust that is the US Congress wants to put on the books. 

I just wish a few more of them would fall between the middle of February and the end of May. 

Washington’s Birthday is always the holiday that hurts most, because it’s the holiday that leads in to the long slog through the spring of the year. In my mind there’s no worse part of the calendar than the stretch from Presidents Day to Memorial Day. It’s three months, a quarter of the year, or about 98 days, with nothing aside from standard issue weekends. Those weekends account for 28 days if you’re trying to do the math in your head.

I know, an extra day here or there doesn’t make a huge difference, but they do serve as helpful marks on the wall. If nothing else, they’re some small point of light to look forward to among the normal grind of spreadsheets, PowerPoint, and event planning. Sure, I could just burn off some of my own vacation days, but they just don’t feel as good as “free” holidays.

I normally try to struggle through the first half of the year without breaking into any of my own days. They make a nice reserve for the back half of the year, when the weather is better and I’m well and truly tired of everyone’s shit. Here in February, it means my normal early June tranche of vacation days still feel like something way out over the horizon. Almost a figment of my imagination. 

So yeah. Call your senators and representative and tell them we absolutely need a few more federal holidays in the mix. Since they can’t figure out how to pass a budget or do any actual programmatic oversight, it feels like the least they could do for us.

You can’t go home again…

When I go home for Christmas, I always make a point of searching out the favorite foods of my youth – unique flavors that live in my mind as essential elements of growing up in Allegany County. Across the years, savoring those tastes has become as much a part of my holiday tradition as a presents or a tree.

Sheetz coffee was a mainstay of my caffeine habit from the time I started driving. I’d go out of my way to get their standard drip brew over any other competitor. Now they’ve installed some fancy looking grind-on-demand “coffee system.” It looks pretty sitting on the counter, but what comes out of it doesn’t taste like Sheetz coffee. It might even be a decent cup of joe under other circumstances, but it’s not the flavor I wanted. For my money, Wawa or Royal Farms now offer up a better tasting selection of old-fashioned drip coffee.

For years, Snyder of Berlin (not to be confused with Snyder of Hanover) made what was packaged as “British style salt and vinegar” potato chips. As a connoisseur of salt and vinegar chips, Snyder’s was my favorite. It was an intensity of flavor not replicated anywhere as far as I can tell. Their packaging has lost the “British style” imagery… and their chips, it seems, retain only the barest hint of salt or vinegar flavoring. Herr’s and Utz now blow them away on all counts. 

The D’Atri’s cheesesteak sub has, for me, always been the definitive taste of western Maryland. That’s why I was horrified to find it something unrecognizable. Yes, it was a sub made with cheese and steak and their proprietary lettuce concoction… but the flavor profile was all wrong. Even the bread was different. It’s like walking into McDonald’s and finding that they’ve replaced their fries with tater tots. Sure, they’re made out of the same stuff, but it’s just not right. This is the one that really breaks my heart. 

Nearly all of my favorite foods from back home and back when now seem to exist only in memory. I’ve managed to recreate a few of them in my own kitchen, but most, I expect, are gone and will never return. The bright spot, in an otherwise disappointing food experience, was M&M Bakery. Their peanut butter frosted cinnamon roll doughnuts were exactly as I remember them… and that means they were possibly the finest doughnut ever devised or concocted by the mind of man. I’m wildly thankful they haven’t tried to improve upon it.

I guess old Tom Wolfe was right. You really can’t go home again. That won’t stop me from spending the next 40 years pining away for tastes and flavors I can still conjure immediately in my mind.

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.

He’s not a road dog…

During their formative years, Maggie and Winston got bundled off to various kennels and pet sitters a fair number of times due to my travel schedule for work. They knew exactly what my suitcase meant and weren’t fans. It’s appearance on the bed triggered immediate low level stress responses and minor spazzing out. 

In preparing for my brief Christmas trip to western Maryland, there has been no such response from Jorah. I don’t guess there’s any reason there would be. I haven’t traveled for work in a decade. He’s a product of the plague era where I’ve barely left the house let alone gone away overnight. 

Mags and Win loved being in the truck. Travel is something that Jorah just endures. He’s even wary and neurotic once we’re settled in at the destination. He spent most of the trip laying behind my legs or on my feet and looking generally put out. I don’t think we’re at any risk of him thinking getting there is half the fun. Especially when he seems to think being there isn’t much fun either.

I’m sure it’s something he’d get better at with time and practice, but since that would mean I need to be on the road too, it’s more likely that he’ll always just enjoy being home more than anywhere else. It’s surely an interspecies case of the apple not falling far from the tree.

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.

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. Systems of systems. Outlook was down most of the day on Wednesday. That was after three days of fighting another “file sharing” system. It’s possible that this week will enter my personal record books as the one in which I spent the most effort to accomplish the least. I’m sure there are good and fine reasons why all out tech seems to be tits up more often than it’s not, but it continues to be one of the top two or three most reliably annoying elements of the job. It’s just one of the many reasons I’m dedicated to being able to walk out the door in thirteen years, five months, and a hand full of days.

2. The week before Christmas. It’s the week before Christmas, or close enough for all practical proposes. It’s certainly less than eight working hours before my long Christmas holiday commences. It’s also been just about the busiest week of work I can remember since the beginning of the Great Plague. Easily 50% of the week’s dumpster fires are entirely self-inflicted because someone just got around to looking at something that should have been handled last week, or because our electronic communication system suck, or for untold other reasons. I shouldn’t say this with so many bosses, former bosses, and other trusted professionals following along, but with seven hours left in my work year, every single one of my fucks has already been allocated. Anyone coming at me between now and 4:00 Friday afternoon expecting much more than a blank stare is going to be sorely disappointed.

3. Prednisone. Thanks to the as-yet unidentified reason my arm had been broken out in a rash for about three weeks, I had a 4-day course of prednisone this week. The (mostly) good news is that the arm has sort of cleared up – it at least looks a lot better than it did a week ago and I’m not longer tempted to satisfy the itch by scratching it with a circular saw. What the four days of prednisone also gave me was an insatiable craving for salt, rampaging blood glucose levels, an even shorter temper than usual, and I’m pretty sure at least one panic attack. I have no idea how people stay on that stuff for weeks or months on end. Next time I’ll just scratch myself bloody and it will still be a less awful experience.