went to topsham, brought some back

front door

So. One of the questions I get asked a lot is “When was the last time you went up to your place?” I say “Oh it’s been a while…” but the truth is it had been almost a year and I had been putting it off and doing other things and generally enjoying myself while also secretly dreading what I might find there. My house in Topsham is a great little place that was never really set up to be a year-round house. Michael, who I bought it from, made a go of it and did okay but I always found someplace else to ramble to when I was there alone for too long. A series of caretakers, some good, some not so good, left the place a little worse for wear and the final straw came almost three years ago when a renter left early, left the propane on empty, and the place froze solid and really broke.

This all happened when I was in Australia and Greg was taking finals and things were never the same between me and the house, or me and Greg and the house again. I had to get a lot of expensive plumbing work done by a not-great plumber [okay work, lousy attitude, slow. I don’t expect more but I do appreciate it] and his last project was to put a drain on the house so I could leave it over the Winter which I had never been able to do before. So, I left it.

I went up once with my sister last year to pick up some things and was relieved to find the place standing. I have some sort of quirky dread that I’ll round a corner and see the barn as a pile of sticks. You can keep your “those are the joys of home ownership!” remarks to yourself. So, I went up again yesterday after getting an email from Ola saying she might be coming back stateside to take care of her sister in TN. I don’t know if or how much she might be up here but I figured I might want to have a Plan B in case my little honeymoon here was wrapping up. So I got in the car and went up there before I could talk myself out of it. There was no pile of sticks. The place was still standing. It looked sort of like I thought it would — distressed but not destroyed — but there was a lot I had forgotten.

ash shovel, with lichens

As I mentioned in the caption to this photo, I basically stopped the bi-coastal thing in 2003 and started a library job in Vermont. Greg started law school and we moved from Topsham to Bethel. At first we were coming up on weekends and we slowly did less and less of that. Bethel is a nice little town, Topsham is more of a remote outpost and you really need to like that “I’m at the edge of civilization” feeling to want to spend a lot of time there. I had forgotten how much I liked that feeling. I grew up in a fixer of a house that my parents worked on, seemingly non-stop when I was a kid. I felt at one time that maybe I wanted a house to work on non-stop. But my life is different from my parents’ lives; I may have felt like I lived on an outpost back then, but I didn’t really.

When I packed up my house in Seattle, I left some things behind and mailed some things out to myself in Vermont. The bedroom in Topsham had a few of these only-partly-unpacked boxes in it from 2003. I had taken some books and some papers and my favorite mugs to Bethel and left behind a lot of storage and knick-knacks and furniture and stuff I’d gotten in garage sales. I had left bahind all my photographs, my printed photographs. I had left behind my Burning Man gear. Did I really wear a black bra that said “I love you” on the cups out in semi-public? I guess I did.

On Saturday, I filled my Subaru with stuff I thought I might want: my old iMac, my banjo-mandolin (no, I don’t really play), my engineer boots, my photos, my raincoat, my wooden boxes, my knickknack shelf made from an old printer’s tray. Being there was just really strange. I bought the place shortly after Jack and I had split up and I was thinking a change of scenery might do me good back in 1997. I was reading a lot of Mother Earth News and making plans to make braided rugs all Winter long. I never did settle in for good though, and moved back and forth between there and Seattle until I met Greg who moved out there and then decided to go to law school which turned out to also wind up being in Vermont but not close enough to drive to. We moved south to Bethel and when we split, I was set up here with a town I liked living in and a job I loved, so I never thought much about going back to Topsham for good. I still don’t have a good answer to what I want to do with the place.

Going back to it now, I can still remember all of my ideas I had for the place and they washed over me in an oddly poignant rush of “what might have been”s. Some of that was tied up with Greg, who left a lot of stuff there, but a lot of it was just being almost-40 remembering being almost-30 and looking at the world a little differently. In fact the queerest thing about being in Topsham is how quickly it took me back to a place before I’d known Greg, or Bethel, or a lot of my current local friends. It took me back to when I had a cat, to when I was sort of pseudo-married, to before my Dad was remarried (happy ninth anniversary guys!), to before my sister could drive. Back to when I had Fourth of July parties every year and a big sleepover on 12/31/99. It also took me back to before I travelled for work, before all this public speaking stuff, before I’d been to Australia, before I had what I now amusedly but happily call a career. Before I was published. Before I cut my hair. Before I started swimming. Before I drove a Honda. Before I worked at MetaFilter. All this stuff.

I’ve been in a good mood lately and so all this thinking and reflecting wasn’t at all bad but it was engrossing. I came home and got in the pool, then I went to hang out with Kelly and Forrest and some of their visting friends and had a great time meeting new people and experiencing Autumn in Vermont. Then I came home and slowly unpacked and took a look at the time capsule of stuff I brought with me. I never did turn the water on up in Topsham but, unlike the last few times I’ve been up there, this time I am looking forward to going back.

power, tech, quick and slow catch-up

I sort of like the zombietime that I have when I get back from travelling. There is always a morning — or if I’m lucky a day — where I just hang around in my PJs and catch up on things digital — email, blog updates, photo uploading — and do all the “I was away” things like laundry, opening mail, watering plants etc. The following days are for longer-term catching up like paying bills, going to work, unpacking, food shopping and the like. I’m at the end of catching up. It went well. I did some good work with some local libraries, I helped some folks do computer stuff, I planned out my next few months and I made these excellent homemade croutons out of some everything bagels I’d had in the freezer. I also caught up on a little YouTube.

When Kate and I decided that the Natural History Museum really wasn’t probably going to amaze us, we started riffing on it a little. I made a little movie with Kate in it called Halifax – Great people, so so museums. You can watch it.

I also found out that my favorite Channel 4 unwatchable-in-the-US TV show is available via YouTube. Granted, you have to watch a 25 minute show in three segments, but I find it to be worthwhile. The show is called The IT Crowd and it’s about nerds that work in an IT department in the basement of a big office building. What makes it amusing, to me, is that the guys are really nerdy they’re not Robert Carradine in high water pants and horn-rimmed glasses. They act weird, they talk weird, they interact with women weird; they’re spazzes. You can also peek around their office set and spy EFF stickers and Flying Spaghetti Monster propaganda and think “oh hey those look like the stickers on MY laptop”. Anyhow, you can look at some of the playlists on YouTube and watch it. I recommend this one which I think has all the episodes on it.

It’s raining and thundering a lot this evening. Anyone wanting to get to VT before the leaves are gone probably has about 5-10 days to do it in.

autumn crept in while I was away

I’ve mentioned before that one of the best parts of going away is coming home and realizing it’s just as nifty here as anyplace. Usually I’m driving home from points south — Manchester or Boston — and there is a part of the trip where I come around a corner and all of Vermont is just laid out in front of me all hilly and empty and I get a little giddy knowing that it’s my life and not my vacation. Anyhow, it was Summer when I left and Autumn when I came back and the usually green hills were going a little golden and all the way to reds and oranges by the time I got back. My inbox was full of people coming to visit and the lawn needs raking not mowing at the moment.

The rest of the trip was just grand. I put up my Nova Scotia photoset on Flickr which includes a few more shots of the caboose, many more photos of Kate (I have pix of her, she has pix of me) and some more librarians. I wrapped up my trip with a few talks in New Hampshire and got home late last night. You can also read the “What I did on my work vacation” part of the story if you’re interested in that.

I think my favorite parts of the trip were just lazily driving around Prince Edward Island and Cape Breton in a sort of aimless way. Nova Scotia has these “trail” systems where you can follow a scenic travelway that has a specific theme and you can download maps, learn more, etc. As we got further north the language of the radio stations changed from English to French and finally to Gaelic. When we stopped in Baddeck — home to the first British Flight by a British Subject — there was a wedding going on. So, all of our travels through town, to the wool festival, to the public library, to the Alexander Graham Bell National Historic Site, were accompanied by bagpipe music. It just seemed like that was the way Cape Breton was supposed, to be, you know? Between that and the huge preponderance of redheads I find myself wanting to go back and I’ve only just left.

@maritimes til further notice

gone canoeing

Kate and I are in Halifax this evening. Last night we were in Tatamagouche, sleeping in a very very cold caboose. Yesterday I drove across the most expensive toll bridge I have ever been on. Coincidentally, I had read about this bridge a few months before in a book by Henry Petroski about bridge design. It never occurred to me that one day I might drive over the bridge that has been described as one of “the last really heroic constructions of the twentieth century.” So yes we went to Prince Edward Isle for dinner and managed to cut through New Brunswick in the process making this a three-province trip so far. When I went into my computer’s “date & time” settings to adjust the time zone I managed to click on the weird half-hour time zone that is a little bit over from here — a few pixels on the screen but oh what a difference — and Kate and I spent a chunk of the day not sure if it was now or a half hour from now. I’m sure you’ve been there.

Today we walked and walked. Saw the waterfront and went to the library and had some oat cakes which were really hard-to-explain delicious. Saw the Old Burying Ground (12,000 people buried, just a few hundred headstones) peeked in store windows, drank coffee and had something tasty and turkish for dinner while watching some tv show about tornadoes. Called it a day pretty early. Too much sun and walking and currency conversion. We’ll be here and up in Antigonish for the rest of the week and uploading photos as we go (Kate’s latest are here). I get home Monday late sometime.

what I meant to say was this…

The last post was maybe too many words which could be summed up thusly: the next time someone asks you how you keep it all together so well, just grin at them and say “magic!” and keep all your fussy lists and habits and routines to yourself, for yourself. I’m a little more impressed at the people that make it seem effortless, is what I’m saying. And with that, how about this weather huh?

L'Shanah Tovah!

lifehacks! jessahacks!

I haven’t had much to say in a bit for a number of reasons. I pulled something in my back swimming on my birthday and now thoroughly hate getting older — I was okay with it before — and have been out of the pool for a while. I do my best thinking in the pool, so my mind feels sludgey. I’ve also been nose-deep in books, working on maybe one too many WordPress projects, and let a friend talk me into a drinking-and-working evening which left me in possession of a bad hangover (a merciful rarity) and this photo.

It looks like the site works well. If you hit something that doesn’t work, please tell me.

Mostly I came over here because I just read this post on Lifehack. Lifehacking is really popular among people I know, online nerd types who are looking to eke a little more happiness or productivity out of an already pretty happy and/or productive day or life. I don’t read it much because I already hacked my life the way I like it. The photo with the article is one of a man wearing a suit. My jessahack number one is don’t wear suits, unless you like them in which case you should wear them all the time.

Here’s the rest of their list and my commentary on it. I’m not trying to be a sanctimonious pain in the ass about this, I just think that lots of these sorts of essays have so many cultural assumptions built into them that we forget that there are so many more changes we can make if we are willing to look outside the normal “coke or pepsi?” set of choices. Actually, I just wanted to try out bulleted lists in this new template.

  • Lifehack: Get up early.
    Jessahack: Sleep until you wake up, you’ll feel better. If you have to stay up late working on something or playing with something, don’t arbitrarily get up early because your Calvinist forebearers think there is some sort of honor in what time you get up.

  • LH: Establish a morning ritual to help you do what you need to do easily and avoid forgetting things.
    Jessahack: make your lists whenever your brain works best. Don’t walk through any part of your life like a robot, even the groggy morning part.
  • LH: Always eat some breakfast.
    Jessahack: Always eat some breakfast, preferably something good for you.
  • LH: Give yourself plenty of time for your morning commute.
    Jessahack: Screw commuting. Live near your job. Work in your community
  • LH: Vary your route to work as much as you can.
    Jessahack: See above. Walk or bike to work. Work from home. Carpool. Take the bus. Join a local rideshare group.
  • LH: When you arrive, have a simple ritual to ease you gently into the work environment.
    Jessahack: Be mindful of what you need to do at work and go do it. Don’t screw around at the coffee machine if someone is waiting for a phone call from you.
  • LH: Take 10 minutes to set the day’s priorities.
    Jessahack: Reprioritize whenever you get something done, check your long-term list. Stare out the window or go for a walk if you can’t get anything done. When in doubt, go to the post office and if there’s no mail for you, send some.
  • LH: Never, never start your day with distractions, like checking e-mail.
    Jessahack: Read email while drinking coffee, wrap up email (first pass) when you’re done with your coffee.
  • LH: If you aren’t sure what needs to be done first, follow this simple rule of thumb: look to see whatever needs to be done next and do it. Repeat until the end of the day. the result will be faster, more secure progress than you ever believed possible.
    Jessahack: This is flat out mysterious to me. I have no response
  • LH: Above all, make a gentle start on the day allows you to preserve your energy for whatever’s still to come.
    Jessahack: If what you want is a fantastic day, don’t pussyfoot into it.

happy birthday me, new blog

My birthday was yesterday. Today I had some free time. I decided to toss Blogger out the window and move this blog to WordPress. I’ll be tweaking with the design and functionality for a few days (oh let’s be honest, weeks) but I want to bang on it while it’s actually working. So, bear with me and report anything that’s weird. Thanks!