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. 

The dark side of time off…

You might think that coming off a few days of vacation time, I’d be feeling rested and have an improved outlook.

That’s not really my style, of course. These days off only whet my appetite for the future date when I’m no longer bound to toil for wages. It’s why I relentlessly track that mark on the wall. It’s especially true when my return is met with three days of backlogged email filled with messages about projects that recur year after year and combine to be the bane of professional existence. 

It’s Telework Monday and that does marginally improve my outlook. At this way insult isn’t coupled with the injury of eight hours of fluorescent lit cubicle hell.

It might sound like after this short rant, I should be embracing the siren’s song of anti-capitalism. Nothing could be further from reality, though. Universal basic income or whatever something for nothing schemes are in vogue now surely wouldn’t be lucrative enough to support any kind of lifestyle I’d want to live.  Exchanging time for money remains the most efficient and effective way to procure good and services I want while building a future in which my time really will be entirely my own. 

That’s absolutely a play I’m willing to make, but it doesn’t mean for a moment I have to pretend I’m having a good time while I’m doing it. It’s better to schlep through the asshattery to get where you want to be, even if that means bitching and complaining all the way, I’d think. 

The next long weekend…

I started the latest in my ongoing series of very long weekends at 4:00 this afternoon. My out of office message is set, my laptop is packed away, and I won’t be sparing another thought about COVID, or briefings for industry, or taskers for the next five days. It’s a decidedly good feeling. 

I have no real plans to speak of. I’m sure there will be a bit of junking and book hunting in the mix, but for tonight there’s nothing that even passes for a plan. I’ll be going as close as I ever do to playing it by ear. I’m not sure my version would pass as anyone else’s idea of spontaneity, but I’m ok with it.

I usually try to keep the blog schedule moving along without interruption during these vacation days, but as always, for the next few days I’m reserving the right not to sit down at the computer unless I’m really feeling a strong bit of motivation. I really have no idea whether I’ll be posting for the rest of the week or not. It’s a total coin toss.

Not to worry, of course. Even if I’m quiet here for a few days, there’s not much chance at all of me shutting up on Facebook or Twitter, so you can always treat yourself to a micro-rant elsewhere on your preferred social media platform.

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,

7000 degrees…

I just cranked the thermostat down to 65 because it’s approximately 7000 degrees outside and I’ve got a heating pad wrapped around my neck because direct heat is the only thing so far that buys me a few minutes every hour of being able to move my head like a normal person.

So that’s how the week off is going in case anyone was curious.

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. Scolding. “Your test results are always oddly good for someone… like you. That won’t last forever.” Doc, look, no one knows better than I do that I’m a walking timebomb. Someday this glorious temple of gluttonous debauchery will fall down and sink into the swamp. I know that. But today, it seems, is not that day. And I don’t intend to spend every day from this day to that inevitable day at an indeterminate time in the future doing things I hate (like jogging around the neighborhood) or eating things that I hate (like kale). Even the healthiest of us eventually drop dead. There’s nothing all the gifted practitioners at Johns Hopkins can do to stave off the end that comes for us all. Better to spend those limited days, I think, doing and eating, things I enjoy.

2. Agreeing with Speaker Pelosi. I never feel entirely well when I find myself agreeing with Speaker Pelosi. Fortunately it’s something that doesn’t happen particularly often. In the case of the House select committee on the insurrection of January 6th, it’s the only investigative vehicle left open to the Speaker in the face of a Republican congressional caucus that would rather hide from or obfuscate the truth than nail down the details of what really happened, who was involved, and what motivated them. Sedition and insurrection are among the most vile offenses against our republic. Making the details surrounding what happened plain is in the vital national interest. If elected Republicans are too afraid of the results of the investigation to call for one, well, that’s probably a decent sign that one is needed without delay.

3. Seven hours. There are seven working hours between me and a nine-day weekend. If that’s not legitimate grounds to be annoyed, I don’t know what is.