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.

Isolationist Vibes (Cont’d [Cont’d])

The weather turned from snow and bare trees to mid-80s and full greenery in the span of about 10 days. I’m welcoming the warmer temps, even though it would have been nice to have a bit more gradual of a transition. Despite keeping very busy, there has been plenty of time for introspection. I’m starting to wonder if I don’t miss being around other people as much as I thought I did. One thing is for certain– I have a profound amount of gratitude for the good fortune I have encountered from the outset of these uncertain times. That’s not to say that I don’t still find things to complain about (I do). But I also realize that those banal annoyances are inconsequential compared to what they could be. For this, I am truly grateful.

I have also been lucky enough to get back on two wheels. I spent the majority of Memorial Day weekend exploring country roads. There isn’t really anything else that I find quite as satisfying this time of year. Here are a couple of snaps I took along the way:

Britt and Lola

The Subjects of this Post Hiking Through the Snow.

This is the final entry for my series about stuff that I brought with me into isolation. I saved the best for last. Even though Britt and Lola are not gear, they have certainly been the factor during all of this craziness that have made things bearable. Britt and I joked at the outset of this adventure that it would either make or break our relationship. I’m happy to report that she hasn’t dumped me yet. Transitioning from the inflatable mattress to a real one certainly aided the cause. In all seriousness, this has been an experience in team building like we have never had with each other. I don’t often publicly share many details about our personal life, but I would be remiss to finish this series without nodding to Britt as the amazing partner that she is.

Burton Glove Liners

Burton glove liners are awesome.  As a person who prefers mittens over fingered gloves when participating in winter sports, I have found these glove liners to be nearly essential on very cold days. It enables one to remove the mitten while on a ski lift in order to shoot off a quick gram or two without getting frostbitten fingers. I also keep one of the heavier weight pairs (seen above) in my jacket pockets to use as commuter gloves. Back in the days of riding the subway, they kept my paws toasty and enabled me to be a strap hanger without having any actual skin contact with the strap. Both index fingers and thumbs are outfitted with touchscreen friendly material. Seeing how it has been snowing almost every day since we have been in the Catskills, I’m really glad to have brought these with me. A wintertime must-have, in my book.

Life and Death on the New York Dance Floor 1980-1983 by Tim Lawrence

I first discovered this book from the Benji B. radio show on BBC Radio 1. I guess the author, Tim Lawrence and crew put together an LP compilation of the music that is part of the subject matter in this book. Benji played a bunch of tracks from the compilation (which were awesome) and talked up the book enough that I had to check it out. I still haven’t finished “Life and Death on the New York Dance Floor 1980-1983” yet. But I’m enjoying every chapter. If you are a sucker for NYC’s cultural history like I am, I would definitely recommend this book, whether you are a music fan or not.

Muji House Slippers

Some of Japan’s Finest Slippers, Together with the Author’s Veiny Scarred up Ankles.

First of all, everything Muji is awesome. Britt got us matching pairs of these for like $4 each. I was never the type to wear slippers around the house until these ones came along. They were one of the last items to go into the duffel when we were packing to get out of dodge. Man, am I glad I brought ’em.

Garmin 645 Music


I have had a few different GPS running watches. One was powered by Tomtom. The rest were all Garmin. This is my favorite, to date. I picked it up last year on Prime day when Amazon had it for like 50% off. The beauty of the Garmin 645 Music, is that it pairs with bluetooth headphones and I can listen to my Spotify playlists without having to bring a phone with me. This is also the first Garmin that I have owned with a built in heart monitor. Heart rate has been a fun new metric to track. The watch has all of the regular smart watch functions as well for those who want to get alerts on their watch, count steps, etc..

As far as the GPS system is concerned, it works the best of any that I’ve owned. When I have GLONASS enabled (this allows it to talk to the Russian satellites as well the GPS satellites), I rarely have to wait more than a couple of seconds for the GPS to link up when I start an activity. I use it predominantly for running. But when I was recovering from surgery I used it on the bike quite a bit. It has also been fun to wear on some hikes that we have done here in the Catskills. The only drawback is that the battery life is not great compared to other models I’ve used. But I don’t mind charging every couple of days, so whatev. It is an awesome device that I have really enjoyed using.

BR Chinos

The Author in One of His Daddest Getups | Photo: Britt

Business casual gets a bad rap for being boring, and rightly so. Boring or not, I find nicely fitting khakis to be much more comfortable than jeans. This was part of the reason that I brought these along with me. I would get sick of wearing jeans every day, and unfortunately it has not warmed up enough yet to wear shorts (other than when running). At this juncture I still have too much self respect to wear sweat pants all day (except for those days when I have been sick). Not ruling out the possibility that could change in the near future if current status quo persists.

They are super boring pants, for sure, especially when paired with dad shoes like in the photo above. They do look pretty decent with boots though. I don’t have any special affinity for Banana Republic, but they do seem to be what I usually buy. It is mostly because I know exactly how their various cuts fit me without having to try them on. Also, the perpetual 40% “discount” makes them the right price for a person who goes through as many pairs of chinos as I do.

 

Isolationist Vibes (Cont’d)

Taking a small break from my April series of “stuff I brought into isolation with me“, and getting back to the vibe generally: Here are some owl photos. I started seeing this guy (these guys/girls?) our first week at the cabin, but have only been quick enough to grab the camera twice, so far. The most recent of such instances, it also happened to be snowing, which made for some pretty dramatic images when the owl flew from one perch to another. After sharing a couple of these with a friend, he told me that it is good luck to see an owl. I had never heard this before. But I’m hoping that he is right and that good luck is on the horizon.

 

 

Canon 5D x 50mm f/1.2

My most used rig.

I love this camera and lens combo. I have been a Canon guy since before the digital era, and this 5D is my favorite camera I have ever owned. My 50mm f/1.2 is essentially glued to this body. It is not the most versatile lens, but in my opinion the quality of images that it produces makes up for the extra work required to get the shot. I did a cheesy unboxing video over here, the day that this body arrived. I was super stoked that day, and have subsequently been stoked every time I feel the shutter click. In case it is not already clear, I heavily endorse this setup.