Marking the long night…

I make a point never to let the winter solstice pass unremarked. Maybe it’s some kind of genetic memory harkening back to my 100x great grandparents who would have undoubtedly marked the long night in their own way, but it’s my favorite of the winter holidays.

Yes, it’s only the first day of winter. The promise of the solstice, though, means that every day now we’ll start clawing back seconds and then minutes of daylight. Like the other late December holiday traditions, the solstice offers hope of better things to come. If nothing else you’ve got to appreciate the consistency in branding the ancients came up with for their winter celebrations.

It’s almost as if people took a few minutes and looked at it unemotionally, they’d find the religious differences they’ve spent 2000 years fighting over are all horribly insignificant.

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. The cost of comfort. The cost of propane this winter is going to be stupid. By contrast, my electric bill in the winter is usually minimal. By my way of thinking, I could reasonably knock a degree or two off the thermostat if I just put a space heater in the office where I spend my telework days. It’s a fine idea. The office is a nice steady 68 degrees, which by my standards is perfectly comfortable. The problem now, predictably, is that every time I walk out of that particular room – to get a fresh cup of coffee or to make lunch – the rest of the house feels like wandering around a damned icebox. It’s downright unpleasant. I’m not at all sure this new cost saving scheme of mine will survive the arrival of actual winter. I suspect my desire for comfort and convenience will trump my aversion to paying overinflated fuel bills. The next major project here might just be scoping out what it will take to replace my current, elderly air conditioning unit with a heat pump to drive the operating cost of keeping the whole place warm down to something more reasonable.

2. Missing historical context. For some reason the algorithm keeps feeding me all sorts of articles in which people – usually the under 30 set – are opining about all of us now living in the era of a great reset. Most of their puff pieces seem to be based on the idea that some combination of the Great Plague, hundreds of thousands of jobs available, rising inflation, the collapse of the modern financial order under the weight of “late state capitalism,” and a litany of other leftist fever dream issues are the birth pangs of some kind of brave new world. Their earnestness is kind of adorable… but I can’t help but think they’re missing every shred of historical context when they decry their lives in “the worst timeline.”

3. An expired card. The card that I use to pay for basically everything online expired a couple of weeks ago. Since then, I’ve been on the receiving end of a near constant barrage of “card expired” emails when various companies have tried to push through their charges. Updating this information isn’t particularly hard and in most cases it’s not even all that time consuming, but it’s a bleeding nuisance. It really feels like one of those elements of online retail / bill paying that should have a much more elegant solution… and no, the answer shouldn’t be to just hand over my bank accounting and routing information and trust 20 or 30 businesses to keep it secure forever. 

Another winter of discontent…

Remembering the fiasco of getting anything shipped between Thanksgiving and Washington’s Birthday last year, I’ve been in a bit of a race to pick up some books. It’s not that I’m in any danger of running out of things to read, but since I have a habit of picking up a series and then racing through it to the end, there are a few titles it’s going to be better to have on hand for when delivery services go absolutely sideways again this year.

Watching the supply chain struggle to not even keep up over the last year, it really feels inevitable that loading it down with the standard end of the year holiday surge will see the whole delicate machine grind to a near halt, if only temporarily. Products will still be flowing, of course, but there’s no guarantee that was moving through the network will be what you ordered. I fully expect basic delivery of goods to be almost unusable for a good part of the late fall and winter. Sure, I suppose your stuff will arrive eventually, but “timely service” isn’t going to be something to expect.

By this time next month, I’m planning to drastically curtail my use of online shopping and delivery. The sheer aggravation of waiting for weeks or months on things that should arrive in a day or two just isn’t worth it. I’ll draw down the stocks I’ve put up for the winter, or shop regional retail if it’s absolutely unavoidable. Now if I could just find the last book or two I’m looking for (at something less than fully-loaded collector prices), I feel like I could be all set to ride out another winter of discontent.

I’m not under any delusion that the supply chain will be completely untangled in 2022, but by the time the last Christmas card arrives in February or March, maybe last mile delivery will at least be usable for household basics again. I’m certainly preparing myself to see as much or more disruption than we did in in the closing weeks of 2000 and the first months of 2021. It’s one of those cases where I really hope I’ll be proven wrong and over reactionary… but I don’t think I am or will be.

Perfectly unremarkable…

It’s been a perfectly unremarkable Friday. The freezing drizzle and fog this morning was a nice touch… and just another reason why working from home is greater than working at the office. Otherwise, the day isn’t really distinguished in any way.

I’ve built a lovely cocoon for myself here at Fortress Jeff. With a few minor exceptions there’s not much I want to do that I can’t do here from the comfort of the homestead. Whether it’s plague, foul weather, or violent insurrection, I’m ready to ride it out right here with the critters. 

True end of the world stuff is another matter, but in fairness, I’ve grown rather fond of civilization and I’m not entirely sure I want to be one of those people who get to stick around and pick through its ruins.

Where you stand depends on where you sit, I suppose. There was a time I was the first to volunteer to fly off to whatever job needed doing and I rarely thought of what might be happening beyond the next weekend. Back there and back then, I could barely stay put for half a day before needing to be up and out on the next thing. The older I get, though, the more stock I put on the world being regulated by good order and discipline. Chaos, in the wide universe of things best avoided, is the one I loath the most.

I can’t control the world, of course, but I can control a fair amount of what happens here on my little piece of it… so I’ll be striving to extend this run of “unremarkable” as far past Friday as possible. 

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 Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. The CDC. I know the CDC has an obligation to follow the science and make recommendations based on data. Even so, rolling out a recommendation that everyone should wear two masks just makes me want to smack someone over there. The previous administration dropped the ball in failing to convince a sizable portion of the people that they needed to wear one mask… and that’s not even counting the ones who technically have a mast on but can’t manage to wear it covering both their nose and mouth simultaneously. Maybe I’m reading the room wrong, but it seems to me that we might be better served to use the PR campaign to convince the rest of the people to wear just one mask before we spend a lot of time and effort hectoring everyone to double up. 

2. Snow. We seem to be in a cycle where every third day it drops a few inches of snow on us. It’s rarely enough to shutter or delay anything, but it’s certainly enough to be obnoxious and need clearing off the driveway and sidewalks lest the freeze-thaw cycle leave me with sheet ice on every side for the next month. I like winter well enough, but if it’s going to snow, it should come in increments measured in feet and not inches.

3. A poll released this week showed that 33% of Republicans would join a new political party if it were formed by Donald Trump. Another 37% said they’d consider joining such a new party. As a long time conservative and someone who has been a registered Republican for most of his adult life, I welcome and encourage their departure from the party of Lincoln, Eisenhower, and Reagan just as quickly as their little legs can carry them. If you can unabashedly continue to support a former president who used his last days in office to call his supports to insurrection against our Constitution and laws, I’m not sure you’re really tracking with the historical principles of Republican Party. I’d rather see the GOP go down in defeat in every election for a generation than throw my lot in with seditionists and wanna be tough guys.

Absolute rubbish…

As we trundle towards the middle of December, we’re almost constantly reminded that “It’s the most wonderful time of the year.” 

Who came up with that nonsense? It’s cold. It’s dark all the damned time. For about two weeks people pretend they’re not truly insufferable douchebags the other fifty weeks of the year.  We collectively ignore all evidence to the contrary and insist that the vast sweep of human history on this planet has anything at all to do with peace and goodwill.

I don’t care about most of that, really. I can deal with the cold. I can tolerate fake ass people. God knows I’ve got enough experience at that. I don’t mind the snow or ice when it comes right down to it. 

It’s the fact that I’m sitting here at 10:00 AM on a Wednesday and the sun, shining through my home office window, is now nearly at its zenith for the day – and that means by the time I turn around again it’s going to be headed back towards the far horizon and it will be nearly dark by the time I shut the lid on my laptop for the day. Everything else is marginally annoying, but it’s the 27 minutes of non-work time daylight that makes this wonderful time of year excruciating. 

With the exception of knowing that the solstice is fast approaching and we’ll start adding precious minutes of daylight soon, this is just an absolute rubbish time of year and that’s absolutely a hill I’m willing to die on.

A minor concession…

Today was the first of many concessions made to the changing season. Putting on jeans instead of shorts isn’t exactly abject surrender, but it does mark the day as the tipping point of the long slide into hibernation weather.

I’m ready for a bit of a break from schlepping hoses all over the yard, keeping the grass in check, and keeping up with the long list of other items on the summer maintenance list. Even though I’ve largely been home this summer, the indoor “stuff” always takes a back seat when it’s nice enough to be outside. With the extra traffic in here for the last six months it’s probably well past time to shift focus.

I’ll be in love with these days of coffee on the porch during these increasingly crisp morning… right up to the point where crisp gives way to cold. After that, of course, I’ll spend a few months pondering the virtue of those creatures that head south for the winter.

For now, I’ll appreciate the minor concessions… and hope that we catch a last few days of Indian summer in the coming weeks that will make such minor concessions briefly unnecessary.

The reason for the season…

Christmas is soon to be upon us. Yes, yes, it’s all about Jesus and Santa and shopping and family. I’m more than passingly familiar with what makes the contemporary Christmas season swing. I personally don’t have a thing against any of it.

Still, though, I think we’re all forgetting what makes this season really important… and that’s the simple truth that the winter solstice is about to arrive and that within a few days the amount of daylight we enjoy here in the northern hemisphere will start getting measurably longer. It’ll be an agonizingly slow process, but with a few weeks it will be really noticeable. Instead of darkness at 4:45, it will have pushed nightfall back to 5:00 PM and it won’t be pitch black when I take the dogs out for the last time before work.

I’ve never been the kind of guy who wants to lay out soaking up the sun, but I can certainly understand why there’s a thread running through ancient civilizations that finds many of them celebrating the Sun as a god. I’m not a particularly religious person by anyone’s standards, but you can bet your sweet ass I’ll be giving thanks this holiday season that the longest night of the year is about to be comfortably in the rear view and longer days are ahead.

Southern dogs…

It was too dark to make for good pictures, but Jorah got what I presume was his first exposure to snow this morning. Given the fully stricken look in his face I got the impression that he didn’t love it. Hard to blame him there.

It occurs to me that with one long ago exception, I’ve always had southern dogs. In fact, Winston, Maggie, and Jorah all originally hail from Tennessee. I don’t suppose that counts as “deep south,” but certainly a great deal further south than their new home in the mid-Atlantic.

Of the lot of them, Winston was the only one who legitimately seemed to ever enjoy a snowy morning… even though his love was based on shoving snow into his mouth moreso than doing anything particularly entertaining.

So I’ve got another southern dog who doesn’t seem to want to spend a minute longer than abslutely necessary standing around in the snow. Do dogs take on the craracteristics of their owners, or do owners taken on their dogs personalities? Either way, I think this new revelation will work out for the best.