One Year Later

A Photo from Last May Prior to my First Pandemic Haircut [Photo: Courtesy B. Maschal Private Collection]

A year ago, this week, we packed up a couple of suitcases and headed for the hills (literally), to spend what Britt and I both assumed would be a week or so. These were the beginnings of the weirdest 12 months of my life, so far. I wrote some of my initial impressions about my new isolationist life over here. During the first several months, I felt every shade of survivor’s guilt. There is definitely a lot of ire directed at people who chose to leave NYC when all of this hit the fan (This terrible attempt at satire sums it up pretty well). Knowing that was the case did not help my own mental/emotional process. Some time last autumn, I think that I finally settled in and decided to embrace my situation.

A few months from now, I will most likely be sitting back at a desk in midtown beginning the awkward transition to the new post-pandemic normal life, whatever that looks like. Until then, I will continue to enjoy my “gap year” (stealing that term from Britt) and attempt to maximize the unique opportunities that it presents.

The New Deck, Shortly After Completion Last September

The House-

Britt and I had been searching for a fixer upper in the Catskill mountains since the first year we were together. January of 2020, we finally found something with great potential for the right price. The dumb luck we were afforded on the timing of the transaction is uncanny. Our initial plan was to complete the renovation last summer after spending every other weekend working on it. A year later as I type this sitting 10 feet from a bathroom that still dawns its original 1985 glory, I can confidently say that we grossly underestimated the amount of time and work that it takes for a crew of two people to DIY renovate a house.

I struggle with anxiety about certain things over which I have zero control. The past twelve months has afforded many, many opportunities to confront this self imposed psychological taxation. Working on this house was no exception. Almost nothing has happened on “our” timeline. We couldn’t really even officially get started on the work when we wanted to because the NY State shut down made it impossible to record a deed in this county for several weeks. Once officially underway, it has been an endless battle of securing permits, shortage of materials, non-compliant weather, and the fact that we seem to unearth 3+ additional problems each time we start a project.

Despite all of that, it has been an awesome experience. Britt and I have learned a lot together (about home renovation, and about each other). Plus, we kind of expected setbacks. It would have been foolish to think that everything was going to go exactly as planned and that every job would be as straightforward as it seemed. I will say though, the times when things did go well it was insanely satisfying. One such example was after I hooked up all of the new plumbing under the kitchen sink and found that everything worked perfectly as it was meant to upon reopening the water valves. As banal as it sounds (and probably is), to me personally it felt like a massive win.

Even though we still have an entire bathroom to redo, I know it will be our best work. With each progressive project, Britt and I have become a better team. We have also jointly become better at tiling, drywall, plumbing, painting, etc.. We will be installing a larger window, and adding an externally venting fan (two things that I definitely would have been nervous to attempt 12 months ago). I look forward to it.

Returning From a Run on a Six Degree February Morning [Photo: Courtesy B. Maschal Private Collection]

Running-

When we first moved to the Catskills, I was still in the early stages of rehabbing from a pretty major surgery. I had attempted a few short runs (at the track) prior to the onset of this pandemic pandemonium, but had not attempted any real road running since July of 2019 when the injury in question had forced me to stop. Mind you that running in NYC is mostly flat. Sure, you can mix in a bridge here and there for elevation. But mostly just flat. Where I currently live, my run starts out climbing 200+ feet in .3 miles. In 5 miles, depending on which route I take, I can get as much as an 800 foot elevation gain. That is more elevation that I was getting in an entire week at home, even when I was doing a full loop of Central Park 3x per week (all of the hills combined are only 200 feet and change). So, it was a bit of an adjustment, all of this hill running. I’m still nowhere near my pre-injury pace, nor do I have the range. I may never get back to those stats. But I’m crushing those hills like I never thought I would be able to. I’m actually kind of excited to see how I do on a flat course, once we transition back to NYC.

Social-

Missing seeing my family and my NYC friends in person has probably been the most difficult part of all of this for me. We have stayed in pretty close contact via digital mediums, but it’s just not the same (for obvious reasons that I do not need to explain to anyone who has lived through this past 12 months). That being said, there is a nice little bubble up here, where we have made some new friends. It has been awesome to get to know our neighbors and do neighborly things like lend/borrow tools, etc.. Our neighbor even came to the rescue when the truck got stuck in the snow. Another time, a different neighbor made us some awesome banana bread. These guys have also been kind enough to have us in their homes to break bread. Something that is a luxury when your own kitchen doesn’t really work, and and you don’t own a proper table at which to sit and eat. I’m sure that we will remain friends with these neighbors beyond the gap year, and I’m truly grateful to have befriended such interesting and kind individuals.

I think that staying super busy has been key to my personal sanity through all of this. I thank the stars that B and I have had the fortune of staying employed through all of this. Not only employed, but incredibly busy with our respective professions. Between that, and filling almost all of our off-hours and weekends with renovation work, our hands have scantly been idle. The reason that I posted the top photo (of my crazy hair) is because I currently have the same coif. The last time I have been able to venture to the barber was prior to Thanksgiving– so, coming up on five months worth of mane. I’ll be taking a vacation day from work this week so that I can trek into Kingston to have my locks trimmed and tamed. What better way to commemorate a year in isolation? I think, none.

Good Reads: ‘A Short History of Nearly Everything’ by Bill Bryson

This is another recommendation from my old man. It is actually his copy (complete with hand-marked copy editing, haha). This was my first read by Bryson, and I quite enjoyed it. Brittany has read most of his catalogue, and got so excited when I picked this thing up, that she bought me 4 or 5 other of his books to read. Anyway, the premise of this gem is that Bryson was interested in science, but could never pay attention to the dry text that is so ubiquitous in science writing. So he set out to explain science in a way that is captivating (and even entertaining). In my opinion, he succeeded. It doesn’t hurt matters that he is a pretty funny writer. I definitely recommend this book to fellow nerds.

Recap of the Year 2020 in Jake’s iPhone Photos

This year was a lot different for pretty much every human on the planet, including me. As a result, the difference in this year’s photo recap, vs those from past years is pretty stark, starting around March. In keeping with tradition, I dumped all of the photos from my phone that were taken this year into a video editor and gave each frame 0.2 seconds. Some of the photos were taken by Britt and sent to me. Some were taken on a real camera and saved to my phone for sharing with others. The effect is the same- a ~9 minute flip book of 2020 soundtracked by a couple of jams that I had on heavy rotation this year. A lot less travel this year (in fact no travel at all except for a work conference in January that took us to Miami for a weekend). A lot more selfies this year. Not really sure what was up with that. There is also 1000% more Lola and nature.

Behold, 2020 in photos from my phone–

 

2020 Photo Recap in Jake's iPhone Photos from Jacob Breinholt on Vimeo.

First Snow

It snowed overnight last Thursday, and for most of the day Friday. Despite adequate warning and a couple of cold weeks to get us acclimated, it still felt too early for snow. Is sure was pretty though.

My first pair of Sorels since high school.

Autumnal Views

Being in nature during these crazy times has really been a game changer. B and I are entering the third consecutive season living in the Catskills (not counting March as part of winter, even though it was still snowing a lot). Fall can be a tricky time emotionally. It is a signal that winter and cold are around the corner. But there are plenty of trade offs: wearing sweaters, enjoying a fire in the evening, all of the fall spices, football (even though my team may not play this year), and last but not least, the autumnal foliage. The changing leaves are so beautiful, even from the windows of our house. By nothing other than dumb luck, we bought a place that is literally steps from one of the best views (my very biased opinion) in the Catskills. Even though Britt and I have been insanely busy with work and are spending all of our free time working on the house, Britt convinced me to do a golden hour walk to the lookout. It was generously rewarded. Thank you, mother nature for all of your dramatic autumn glory.

This timer shot might be one my favorites of us in recent history

October 2020 Playlist

I traditionally struggle to put together a strong playlist for October. There are several reasons for that. One is that there isn’t a lot of new music being released as summer is winding down. Another is that I’m generally insanely busy with work. Even though this is another relatively short playlist, I’m into it more than the October iterations of yore. I dropped in a couple of clutch throwback tracks. Chemical Brothers will always remind me of autumn. I have a vivid memory from my early years as an NYer- blown away by the dramatic colors of changing leaves. I was still a student at the time, but had managed to get my hands on my first real German built sports sedan. It was late evening and I was driving solo, going through the gears, whipping around on some country back-roads in LI with the sunroof open and heat blasting. The musty smell of damp leaves on the ground mixed with someone’s fireplace smoke had my heart racing. The soundtrack was Chemical Brothers’ “Star Guitar” turned up to 11 on the custom sound system I had built (I was into that sort of thing back then). In the rearview mirror I could see leaves flying up in the air behind the car, like some scene out of a Batman movie. As my current-day self, it seems super corny when I reflect on the experience (as with many other experiences I had as a twenty-something year old boy). But that fall evening I felt a very Zen moment that has stuck with me all of these years.

Get your own autumn vibes right here:

Labor Day Weekend 2020

Hiking with our neighbors at Kelly Hollow

Britt and I have spent the lions share of our free time over the past several months working on our house. As a result, there has been very little downtime and (for all of the other painfully obvious pandemic related reasons as well) socializing has been almost nonexistent. We are lucky enough to have met a few of our neighbors (more than we ever knew living in NYC), and they are all cool. We took a break from the work around the house on Labor Day and went for a hike at nearby Kelly Hollow with our backyard neighbors and brought our respective dogs along to socialize.

When I say “backyard” I mean, we literally own properties that abut each other at the rear property lines. During this hike, we hatched a plan to make a trail between our two houses. This is awesome for me, because as a kid my best friend lived in the house right behind mine. During the summers I had perpetual splinters in my knees from climbing over the cedar fence in our backyard to go hangout at my friend’s house.

It is a little bit of a different scenario here. But the novelty of it is not lost on me. In the week since Labor Day, Britt has been busy raking a trail up through the woods. On Sunday, she met our neighbors at the half way mark, where they had also been clearing a trail from their end. Pretty awesome, in my opinion. Like a mini version of the golden spike!

Here are a couple more snaps from our Labor Day weekend in the Catskills:

Britt building some planters from scrap wood.

Hanging out at the fire pit.

Some of the leaves were already changing on Labor Day weekend.

One more from the Kelly Hollow Loop.