so far away


I got back from eight days on the road Friday night. I’m used to getting home on a Sunday or a Monday so having a whole weekend available is sort of great. I came back to a Vermont where people were out and about doing things and being pretty cheery about it. The weather passes for warm, the mud has receded, the tree leaves are visible. There was a festival in town, the Fiddlehead Festival (my pix), which I went to with a few friends. I saw sheepdog demonstrations and ox pulls and had a localvore lunch with a few hundred neighbors. Then last night I went out to a friend’s birthday party which mostly took place in the driveway near her outdoor pizza oven which we put pizza after pizza into. The evening wrapped up with home made strawberry shortcake, pound cake, present opening and coffee.

When I was in New Jersey more than one person asked me why I lived “so far away from everything” as I was explaining the ups and downs about working for a teeny rural library. I explained that I like the lazy pace, the casual dress code, the lack of traffic and honestly the lack of humans. I enjoyed the proximity of everything at the Jersey Shore and I’ve got some longtime history with Amherst and the environs as well as my friends who live there, but I’m okay with frequent visiting. Waking up here every day where it’s quiet and slowly, subtly, greening is the thing I always miss when I’m away.


A good question, I think

My favorite part about holiday days isn’t so much how the town empties out (and its pretty empty here even on a work day) but how the whole world seems to quiet down. My internet world is quietly muttering about chocolate. My email inbox is empty. MetaFilter is subdued. The lack of buzzbuzzbuzz in the periphery gives me some freed up cycles to do a lot of weird maintenance things.

  • I upgraded WordPress on both my blogs. If you are reading this, it worked.
  • I added a few new stories to the Donald Barthelme page and contemplated a redesign but I don’t think I’m there yet.
  • jailbroke and customized a loaner iphone; no good for calls, good for everything else.
  • I’m bringing a ton of stuff into my apartment that I brought back from Topsham

Topsham is my “rise from the dead” story for today. I have friends moving in to caretake the place and it needs a lot of work. I’m approaching this work like a long distance runner, but it makes me bolt awake eyes wide open wondering “what next? What now?” Yesterday I went with a friend and brought home some books (OED and Encyclopedia Britannica, you are home now) and my tent and some photos and a big container of clothes. When I looked at the clothes there was this whole “Oh wow, I forgot all about that t-shirt!” experience. I’m generally pretty good at compartmentalizing; this brought back a big chunk of time I’d long since filed away, in good ways and bad. I looked at my Burning Man outfits, my tie-dyed socks (really?), my orange coveralls, and my shorts that were too big on me even then and now aren’t even options as clothing. There were a lot of Greg’s clothes too, things he left behind that I never even knew were still there. I’ve split the stuff into “to wash” and “to get rid of” piles and I’ll be looking at old photos today and hanging up my spurs that were a 30th birthday present from a friend I’ve lost track of.

A few people got in touch with me to say that they thought my last post might be a “hey I think I need to leave Vermont” post, which it wasn’t. I’ve been a little melancholy lately — family stuff, not too much personal stuff — and looking at other people’s plans makes me investigate my own more closely. This is the best time of year to go see Topsham. The snow has melted, the grass is greening up and not yet so tall that you can’t see the shape of the land. I feel like such a weird schoolgirl having a dysfunctional love affair with a piece of property. Every time I go up there, even as the house continues to silt in and deteriorate and the barn leans more and the taxes go up, I look at the 40 acres of field and hill and woods and things seem rich and full of possibility. It’s a tonic to an otherwise bumpy set of weeks.

the secret is not to breathe


One of my pseudo-resolutions was not really to update this any more than I generally do. Once a week, maybe more if something big is happening. And yet, I feel that I’m really trying to avoid BIG things to the extent that I can. Last night it snowed. This morning I was out on the porch getting birdseed and noticed the snowflakes were big, and all their little points were visible. Neat! Grab the camera!

I also haven’t done the booklist update yet, I’m still in a bit of denial about the precipitous decline of my book reading last year. The swim update got eaten by the hard drive crash, but I’m swimming more at a maintenance level than a “get across the lake” level and that’s okay by me. I went to a MetaFilter meetup in Barre last night and checked out a cool brewery only to learn that it was closing that evening. I haven’t been out to see a band that wasn’t Jim’s in a long time.

This coming weekend is the Mystery Hunt and my massive team is slated to win. I have complicated matters by signing up to teach an in-service day in Vermont on MLK Day which is not a good start to what I’m hoping will be a less-complicated 2009. Then I have a weekend off. Then I go to Toronto where my MeFi couch surf got disrupted by my friend’s landlord selling his place. Know anyone with a comfy guestroom in Toronto? This is a money-solveable problem, so I’m not in a jam, but it would be nice to stay with humans not with hospitality corporations.

what 2009 means to me

A day late and a few words short. I was snowshoeing. New Years wrap-ups will be late this year. I do have a few resolutions which can be summed up easily.

1. The internet neither smells nor tastes like anything. Make up for this by making the rest of the world smell and taste awesome [this is a nice way of saying cook at home more and get in the shower more and make sure the kitchen doesn’t smell like compost and the bedroom doesn’t smell like socks]
2. Have people over more often, otherwise there’s no point in a nice apartment because I’d be just as happy in a box under a bridge most days.
3. Save receipts, don’t become an IRS statistic. Otherwise travel more, charge more, be more awesome
4. You like that boyfriend, make an effort to keep him around, Rainman.

What’s your New Year bringing you?

cocooning and entropy

Christmas Bird Count chickadee

Wikipedia has an entry on cocooning. While I’m pretty “whatever” on Faith Popcorn and her pronouncements about society, I think this staying home and doing a little more navelgazing than usual is part of the December day-shortening and air-coldening. I’m pleased to report that my apartment stays decent temperatures and relatively draft-free in Wintertime which makes it the first place I’ve lived in Vermont that does that. I finally bought a shovel which means I’ve accepted that there will be several more months of snow. Even though I’m indoors more, I’ve been trying to make it count by doing that pesty crap that is really only possible when you’ve got several hours of indoor time and only low to medium cognitive functioning (I’ve had a bit of a cold).

So, this weekend after some nice dinners and movies and blah blah time with friends, I hunkered down to

  • make hard drive backups
  • read some books – my booklist is at an eight year low this year which concerns me
  • send out holiday cards to my card exchange list
  • do nearly 500MB of system updates
  • learn to use bittorent so I could watch Canadian television
  • finally move all my MP3s from my standalone ancient iMac.

I had done this MP3 project once before but then never moved the files from my laptop which later dropped dead. The iMac isn’t on the network so there was a good deal of sneakernet activity in all of this, but it’s now done.

I had the strange sort of upbringing that causes me to feel actually virtuous when I decrease the disorder of a system. This is reflected in my professional choices, certainly, but it also makes Winter much less of a slog because there’s always something around here that could be better organized, and adding the digital realm to the To Do list makes this an absolute certainty. I’ve got a lot of social time coming up — a Solstice bonfire, a New Year’s Eve party, family time, boyfriend time — so watching the birds and squirrels from the treehouse for a few days doesn’t seem anti-social at all.

tis. the season. yadda yadda.

sunrise over snow on lilacs

I have to thank Ola for teaching me to enjoy the wacky dress-up and drink aspects of Christmastime without feeling pressured to go shopping or (necessarily) love my neighbors. Actually, since I’ve moved I like my neighbors a lot more. Anyhow, here’s an old link to sixteen of the santas she had up in her house in 2003 and, for good measure, some photos from the Santa Rampage in Seattle in 2002.

I’ve been mulling over the whole charitable giving thing this month. As you probably know, my middle name is Charity [thanks Mom!] but this is more about thinking about what to share with people at this time of year or any other. I always do a bunch of volunteer stuff and in most cases I’ll fix your computer for free [hi Dad! Kate!] but I’ve been stingier with my cash, historically. As you may remember, I got a charitable donation made in my name in May via Donors Choose which has gotten a lot of good press in tech geeky circles. I like their website and their general philosophy.

Last month I got a big envelope of stuff, photos from the Vermont classroom with kids dissecting owl pellets as well as letters thanking me personally for the donation. Actually, the letters originally said “Dear donator” but in every case the word donator had been erased and was replaced with the name Jessamyn. It was nice. It also came with a “Project Cost Report” in the name of transparency which told me where all the $171 that was donated went. About $117 went to supplies — actual owl pellets, books about food chains, and tax — $17 went to “camera, photo development and postage for thank you package” which seemed a little odd (10%?) and then the rest was “[optional] Donation to Cover Project Fulfillment Labor” which was an additional 20%. I’d hate to work for a charity because I know that every good works project has jerks like me saying “Did you really need to spend that money on a disposable camera?” but at the same time, I would have rather written a check to the Cavendish school district for $120 and taken a few snapshots myself.

In any case, it wasn’t my money, and I’m happy Donors Choose exists in a general sense. I tend to like to give money or in-kind donations to places like Food Not Bombs or Books to Prisoners where workers volunteer their time, truly destitute people get some help, and you never hear people use words like fulfillment unless they’re talking about food or books. Two more weeks and the days get longer.

The two day work week

I got moo cards

A friend asked me how my “work downsizing” project was going and I reflected that it’s going pretty well. I looked at my calendar from last semester and realized I was working more, enjoying it less and not doing the sorts of work I wanted to be doing because I felt like I was so busy doing the work I should be doing. That had to change. It mostly did.

I kept most of my travelling work because I enjoy that a great deal, but I set things up so that I’m not coming back from a long trip just to go back to work the next day. I’m also not on call for as much tech support. I also say “no” more often. So I travel a few times a month, alternating between local and farther away. I charge more so I get paid better when I do travel and if the trip is a total nightmare (happens less and less often, but travel is always uncertain) I at least feel well-compensated. I trimmed down my drop-in and teaching days to one a week. Seems like almost none but teaching adult learners is a lot of work and this way drop-in time is full, rarely empty. I’m also a real librarian, sort of.

I’m helping a local library automate their collection of about 8000 books. I’m also doing their website and maintaining their computers. I have a job with librarian in the title but I’m not working with patrons, unless they bring their laptops in. I do that one day a week, sometimes a little more at home.

This month is vacation for a lot of the local students so I’m also lifeguarding at the pool. It’s just barely work to sit in an 85 degree room in the sunshine for a few hours but they do pay me. Add to this that my apartment is pretty much set up the way I like it — so I’m not endlessly re-arranging and can just sit and BE here — and I’ve actually got travel for fun scheduled during the holidaytimes when travel for work drops off.

Though I haven’t mentioned it much here lately, the treehouse has a guestroom, or a guest closet, and another spare bed. People cruising through Vermont won’t get quite the same palatial digs they may have gotten used to over the past five years, but this place also comes with no early risers and a barely used Bananagrams game. I’m expecting the WinterWonderland snowdump any minute now — had a little preview on Sunday as I was coming home — otherwise see you in the Springtime!