What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. AFGE Local 1904. Here we are 16 weeks past the “end of max telework” and the union, such as it is, still hasn’t come through on delivering the new and improved telework agreement. So, we’re still grinding along with only two days a week like pre-COVID barbarians… as if 30 months of operating nearly exclusively through telework didn’t prove that working from home works. All this is ongoing while hearing stories of other organizations tucked in next door that are offering their people four or five day a week work from home options. It’s truly a delight working for the sick man of the enterprise. There’s probably plenty of blame to go around, but since the updated and perfectly acceptable policy for supervisors was published 16 weeks ago, I’m going to continue to go ahead and put every bit of blame on Local 1904 for failing their members (and those of us who they “represent” against our will) for not getting this shit done.

2. Missing motivation. You know it’s bad when I don’t even want to sit down and write. I do more reading on days like that, so it’s a bit of a trade off, but still, it’s not exactly good tidings. I’m assuming my current lack of being motivated by anything is part and parcel of the mid-winter doldrums when the yard is a mud pit, I see very little sunlight, and the temperature very rarely claws above 50 degrees. It’s about as bland a time of year as you could ask for and it can’t help, it seems, from seeping into my bones. The days, though, are ever so slightly longer than they were a month ago, so help on the way. Probably.

3. National sales tax. Republicans are currently hung up on pushing a national sales tax. If it were to, in fact, replace the current Byzantine income tax regime with a dead simple x% addition to the cost of goods and services, I could probably get behind it. What the whole program will end up being, though, is a sales tax in addition to an income tax. I mean even if, despite all odds against, Republicans manage to implement a sales tax and eliminate the income tax, does anyone really believe that some future Congress wouldn’t come back to the income tax trough so that John Q. Taxpayer ends up getting hit with both a federal sales and income tax? In the absence of a Constitutional amendment declaring for all time that income taxes are abolished, I’m a hard “no” on a national sales tax.

I won’t be home for Christmas…

For 42 uninterrupted years, I woke up on Christmas morning on the western fringes of Allegany County. The arrival of the Great Plague in 2020 changed that. As it stands now, I’ll have only been home for Christmas one out of the last three years.

It’s a combination of factors this year. There’s been non-Covid respiratory sickness for the last two weeks at the old homeplace. Maybe it’s reached the stage of not being contagious, but then maybe it hasn’t. I came back from Christmas last year carrying a bug that unloaded on me on about December 28th… and see no good reason to ask for a repeat performance. Better, I think, to just push the visit out into January or February once everyone involved is healthy.

The second precipitating factor is the appalling weather. At 9:00 this morning, the temperature here was 46 degrees. By 10:00 it had started plummeting towards it’s anticipated low of 9 degrees. It’s not forecast to creep back above freezing for the next four days. Being away from the house for days on end while nature threw some of her worst possible conditions at us, felt like tempting fate unnecessarily. Add in problematic travel conditions enroute and staying put feels like even more of a no brainer.

Finally, and perhaps the most compelling factor, is that a certain feline member of the household came back from the vet earlier this week being diagnosed with a double ear infection. We’re treating it with drops twice a day. He’s just barely tolerating my administration of the drops. I know his normal sitter would have given it the old college try, be she only comes in once a day and there’s no guarantee he’d have been cooperative. Sitting tight ensures he’s getting the full course of meds as scheduled. Even surrounded by the comforts of my childhood home, I’d have inevitably spent the entire visit fretting that I should be doing something more for him.

It’s a disappointment, of course, but in the grand scheme of things it’s not catastrophic. I’ve got a ham to bake and made a trip out yesterday to pick up a few missing ingredients to whip up the appropriate side dishes for a proper Christmas dinner. It’s decidedly “less than” the normal traditions of Christmas, but it still won’t suck. 

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. AFGE Local 1904. Here we are 12 weeks past the “end of max telework” and the union, such as it is, still hasn’t come through on delivering the new and improved telework agreement. So, we’re still grinding along with only two days a week like pre-COVID barbarians… as if 30 months of operating nearly exclusively through telework didn’t prove that working from home works. All this is ongoing while hearing stories of other organizations tucked in next door that are offering their people four or five day a week work from home options. It’s truly a delight working for the sick man of the enterprise. There’s probably plenty of blame to go around, but since the updated and perfectly acceptable policy for supervisors was published 12 weeks ago, I’m going to continue to go ahead and put every bit of blame on Local 1904 for failing their members (and those of us who they “represent” against our will) for not getting this shit done.

2. Cold. Yes, I know it’s winter. There may have been a time when I literally walked uphill in the snow to go to school (thanks FSU), but the intervening decades have left me out of practice and utterly stripped of whatever native ability to embrace this kind of weather that I developed in my youth. I’m not saying I want it to be perennially 75 and sunny like in southern California, but don’t expect me to appreciates lows in the single digits and wind chills plummeting well below that. Winter is absolutely the dumbest season.

3. Perception. Being that it’s now Thursday, I’ve been off for almost a week now. It feels like approximately 37 minutes have elapsed. I’ve done a bit of book hunting, punched holes in big sheets of paper, and tended to a few other odds and ends that needed doing… and the days are just screaming by in a blur. Don’t get me wrong here, it’s a good problem to have, but I wish a week off felt even half as long as the standard week at work. 

A proper winter holiday…

Just a bit more than an hour ago, we marked what, for me, is the best of the winter holidays. Yes, this time of year, Christmas gets top billing. That said, the Winter solstice has long been the mark on the wall that my eyes turn to as the sunlight dwindles and the cold seeps into my bones.

Long before Christianity, the darkest days of the year were marked by the solstice – the sure sign that even in the depths of Winter, warmth, growth would return as the days now grow ever so slightly longer. Whether that was celebrated as the solstice, as Saturnalia, as Yule, or feasting for Sol Invictus, Western Civilization has scattered a great many major celebrations here around the point of the year when we face the shortest days and the harshest weather. 

I’m hardly a religious scholar, but it doesn’t feel particularly coincidental. While my devoted Christian friends will wait a few days more for their big day, I’ll burn my candle tonight and wish you all a very happy solstice.

I’m not fool enough to think Winter is over, but it’s at least the end of the beginning. Now if I can avoid freezing to death when the temperatures drop into the single digits over the next couple of days, we’ll be all set. At least, unlike our heathen forbearers, I don’t have to worry about my larder running short before the harvest comes in. So I’ve got that going for me, which is nice.

A dream of spring…

As the days lengthen, the household is beginning to shake itself loose from four months of winter inaction and beginning to lay out the list of things that need done as spring arrives.

This week, I’ve got a repair scheduled for a garage door that’s badly needed adjustment for months. I’ve also made calls to get the yearly generator service put on the books and to get a date for the spring mulching, two other annual expenses I’m perfectly happy to incur. Sure, I could do both of those things myself, but once I figure in the value of my own time (and half a dozen trips to Lowe’s), letting the professionals handle it in 1/3 of the time just makes sense.

Still to come projects are having the windows recalked and the angle iron lintels and a few other bits of trim scraped and repainted. I’ll farm those out too. I’m too old and too fat to fall off ladders. Heading out to pick up a new battery for the lawn tractor is at least one item on the list I’m competent to manage without direct supervision. Judging by how green some parts of the yard have started looking, we’re nearly to the time of year where being able to cut and trim is important. That also means “summarizing” the snowblower and de-winterizing my venerable Echo string trimmer. By the time that gets done and the garage is reset for warm weather operations, it’ll be time to clear off a winter’s worth of grime from the back porch and get the planters ready for a bit of color.

That leaves the wildcard… the master bathroom renovation that I expected to start around the end of January is still pending. There was a 16-week lead time just for the damned vanity, but now we’re past the half-year mark from the date I signed off on the final plan. With a third of the price already paid out to purchase supplies, I feel like I’ve been reasonably patient to this point, but now I just want to get things started so it might actually end someday… though I’ll admit the heated floor felt like a much more reasonable expense in the fall than it does with summer just over the horizon. 

I just made my bi-weekly call to the contractor to check in and remind them I’m still here. I’m not sure it does any good, but it makes me feel slightly better in hoping I won’t be marking a one-year anniversary of starting the design/build process before demo even starts… though I won’t pretend that it’s outside the realm of what’s possible at this point.

It turns out any house can be a money pit if you’re obsessive enough about things being just so.

Ice, gas, and appreciation…

Early last week there was rumbling of an impending ice storm. Having been seasoned by 21 winters in Western Maryland, most versions of frozen precipitation don’t phase me. I mean if I have the option, I don’t want to drive around in any of it, but with snow or sleet, you’d need to see some pretty biblical amounts before I’d be concerned about not being able to get the Jeep through it if I absolutely needed to leave the house for some reason.

Freezing rain, in my estimation, has always been something of a different animal. Good 4-wheel drive and all the torque in the world might let you get going, but with one little slip it’s hard to tell exactly where you might end up. 

Fortunately, my schedule last week called for me to mostly be home, so driving around in anything wasn’t going to be an issue. The catch for me was the propane tank buried in the back yard being only just a hair north of 25% full. Under most circumstances that wouldn’t be low enough to worry about. 100 gallons is plenty to run the furnace and water heater for a good long while. 

What it isn’t enough to do, however, is keep the generator running for more than a day without manually powering it on and off to conserve fuel. The whole point of putting the genny in was to avoid needing to do that sort of thing during a power failure. I want the heat on. I want George’s sun lamps on. I want the well and sump pumps running. I want light in every room. What I told the guy who calculated the size generator I needed was that I wanted to be able to still host Thanksgiving dinner even Delmarva Power suddenly went out of business. 

All the utility cables in my neighborhood are underground. It means we don’t get too many local outages. The outages we do get, though, tend to be because the larger transmission lines stretching through wood and dale have somehow gotten smacked. When they go down, they tend to stay down for half a day or longer.

All of the long power outages I’ve experienced since moving in here have been the result of freezing rain. Since it looked like there was a good chance we’d be getting iced over, I called my propane delivery company hoping they could pull me ahead on the delivery schedule. Sure enough, the next day Tri-Gas and Oil backed up the driveway and pumped off 300 more gallons for me. The ice ended up bypassing us here at Fortress Jeff, but it’s a decided comfort knowing that our local run time is now measured in days rather than in hours.

As much as my teeth grind when it comes time to pay the fuel bill, it’s hard to be too mad at a company that makes an effort to come when you call rather than making excuses about why it’s too hard to do. I appreciate the hell out of them for that.

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.