‘Tis The Season To Get Stressed Out

I loathe the whole christmas-expectation-of-being-given-things, and I usually try to break Hallmark’s lock on my time by just doing whatever I want and sometimes randomly giving people stuff.

My farm has a large area of coal mine tailings and tip from where there was a deep mine that closed in 1920. Today, what used to be the high wall has collapsed and there’s only a small opening, which is used by Robert Cat – a palatial home. In the snow you can see his tracks to/from the entrance. Over at the side of the tippings is an area where I suppose they were first digging the mine – there is a lot of sulphur coal (nasty stuff to burn, bad for lungs and environment) and it contains a lot of fossils. I mean, it’s all fossils, but the limestone rocks have a pretty good selection of the same plants that made the carboniferous period a boring time on Earth – it’s just lots and lots of little bits of leafy symmetrical stuff that looks like locust tree.

This morning it dawned on me that for christmas, I could literally send people chunks of coal. I don’t relish the idea of digging around in the snow and cold, though. Maybe I’ll try to remember to collect a sample next summer so I can wiseass next Christmas. “Here! It’s a fossil!”

Miles and Jake playing in the strippings, winter of 2005

It’s snowing right now and I’m stressed out because I know it’s blowing in the open door of the metal shop. Fact is, I did not get the doors done and hung soon enough, and now it’s really shitty weather to do woodworking and run wire in. I was having too much fun making things and did not put enough work into setting up infrastructure. The machines should be OK; I’ve layered everything with lots of WD-40 and wrapped them in tarps. It makes me sad with a deep sense of failure as though I was the proverbial grasshopper singing and having fun instead of doing what needed to meet nature’s schedule.

I put the power switch for the trip hammer up on a beam about 6′ from the machine. I don’t want to be near it when I turn it on; this seems like a good way to encourage safety

The awareness of things incomplete has been toxic; it’s hard to sleep or relax, and I feel like instead of doing anything, I ought to be out there running 220V wires as the snow blows around me. Some idiot bought a steel-framed building instead of using nice flammable wood, but that means every wire I want to mount on something entails drilling holes in steel and using my numb, awkward, fumbling fingers to get washers and nuts on the back of little bolts to hold it all together. I know this is not Jack London’s To Build A Fire, which was a traumatic bit of reading when I was a kid, but it feels like it; I’m a computer programmer – my idea of hardship is when I run out of cloves for my hot cider/fireball bedtime, uh, hardship. See why I feel guilty? Who am I kidding? My life is as close to perfect as it can get and I’m complaining about handling cold miserable jagged steel in howling wind.

I’ve been running the wires under the horizontal stiffeners, which is great except that means I need to drill holes for retaining tie-wraps every so ${distance} and make largeish (5/8″) holes for the wires to go in and out of. All of that drilling is really time-consuming; if I was working with 2x4s I’d just blast holes right through with the drill, and lace the wire. Instead, I have to drill a pilot hole, then the actual hole, then grind down the edges so I don’t cheese-grater myself on the razor-sharp steel, etc. It’s a time-factor of 10x worse than wood, so it means I am making progress very slowly, which just makes me more miserable and inclined to hide under the covers. And look at me complaining! PZ lives in the frozen wasteland of Minnesota, where my Norwegian forebears fetched up because the nice guy at Ellis Island wanted all the scandinavians to go freeze to death, or something. Scandinavians were not as highly valued by American fascists, once upon a time. But if I think about it, I can summon the ghost of my grandfather to stand over me while I work, which really makes me feel miserable: “back when we were building hangars for the air base in WWII we were nailing and hauling plywood in -32F you kids with your global warming don’t know anything. Get cracking.”

All of this adds up to me realizing this morning that: I haven’t done anything for christmas except slice myself and bleed and I have precious little good cheer to send around. And time is running out. I have the ingredients for massive amounts of caramel corn, stacked down in the kitchen, but the stuff will not assemble itself. I have laundry to do and a washing machine on the blink (literally: it has a light that blinks to say “something has gone horribly wrong, what is why I am sitting here full of water.”) Holiday cheer. Then I realize that: my family is getting together, and I don’t have anything for anyone. What to do?

Now I know what I’ll be doing tonight. I have some lovely birdseye maple, and I have sharp chisels, and a lovely great big cast iron monster of a wood lathe. I’m gonna make some deely-bops, polish them and oil them, and epoxy little wire loops in the top, and declare them “christmas tree ornaments.” I mean, FFS, a wood lathe is a machine for churning out wood deely-bops. Why had this not occurred to me before?

My posting and commenting may get a bit flaky over the next few, because I’m going to be running wire, cutting deely-bops, making caramel corn, and my buddy Mike G who is an amazing woodworker is coming out to help me make some doors for the forge. My cup runneth the fuck over, and so runneth also my nose with snot.

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By the way, that was my grandpa’s sense of humor for you: when you’re a kid from New York, visiting the ancestors in frozen St Paul, Minnesota, they hand you a copy of To Build A Fire and say “this may make you feel better.” Seriously. Ha, fucking, ha.

Now that I’m older and wiser, when I want to feel miserable about cold, I remember the parts of Sergeant Bourgoyne’s description of Napoleon’s army crossing the Berezina River during the retreat. It was -32F, snowing, blowing ice, but the river was broken up – so the engineer corps waded into the water, built a bridge, and died nearly to a man while they were doing it. When someone like Bourgoyne, who had marched from Paris to Moscow, via Borodino and Maloyaroslavets says “that was the most miserable place there ever was” you have to pause and reflect seriously. The character in To Build A Fire had it easy. Kids, these days.


  1. says

    Then I realize that: my family is getting together, and I don’t have anything for anyone.

    Being obliged to give gifts on some specific day is a bad tradition. Personally, I mostly ignore said tradition. My family members already know my attitude towards consumerism and using material stuff as a proxy for measuring love, hence they don’t protest. Of course, every now and then I do give gifts to people I care for, but that’s only when I have something they might like, and I don’t do it because of some sense of obligation.

  2. lumipuna says

    According to a common saying, war is hell. Also, according to a Finnish saying, “Russian Hell” is a very cold place.

    It seems as if every time someone starts a land invasion into Russia, and it inevitably drags on into winter, the early winter of that year turns out record-breaking cold. (This also happened when the USSR invaded Finland in 1939, again in early winter.) I haven’t seen those temperatures in my lifetime, and wouldn’t want to, either.

    Typically around Christmas, the weather would be barely below freezing here in Helsinki, and not much colder in Moscow.
    Right now it’s really mild and rainy, today was around +40F in both cities. My neighborhood is almost flooding from the rain, and it gets incredibly dark at these latitudes in December if there’s no snow and no sun. I don’t tolerate the cold very well either, but a little freeze and snow would be nice.

  3. lumipuna says

    I’m also not a Christmas person, in part because the dark wet weather makes me so very depressed. Maybe we’ll at least win the war when the Arctic sea ice melts and Santa drowns.

  4. chigau (違う) says

    I was about ten years old when I read To Build A Fire.
    I thought that guy was a fucking idiot.

  5. Jazzlet says

    Hah, I went to look up ‘deely-bops’ and guess who comes up fifth on duckduckgo?

    I went to a wedding between a Geordie and an Aussie, they did that weird party favours thing where they give you a little present at your assigned place. The British men got a miniture of Bumberger rum – truly disgusting stuff, the British women got a small glass kangaroo, the Aussie men got a minature of Johnny Walker Black Label and the Aussie women got a sheep made out of coal; the Aussies definitely got the better deal Johnny Walker is drinkable and at least they could burn the coal. That was the wedding where Mr J got into conversation with a bloke a few years older than us who ended up admitting that he was a drummer …
    Mr J; Oh, anyone I’d have heard of?
    T’other bloke: …The Animals?
    Mr J: *mortified* – he did know that one of our mate’s uncles was in The Animals he just hadn’t put the two facts together. Him and his partner were lovely and we spent most of the do talking with them about things we all enjoyed like gardening.
    Anyway I love the idea of giving your relatives fossils from the coal.

    Miles and Jake look as if they were in their element, a beautiful pair.

    As for the not getting stuff done, I always find it hard to get stuff done in winter so I feel rather the way you do although the things needing to be done are different. Try not to get too bloodied on the swarf-y edges.

  6. says

    I’d kill for some chill. Here it’s supposed to reach 44C today, 45C tomorrow and a relatively pleasant 32C for the x-messy day. At least we’re not yet into fires in a big way like the neighboring state of New South Wales, their fires have burnt more land than the area of actual Wales in the UK and the fire season has barely started.

  7. says

    Jazzlet @#7

    The British men got a miniture of Bumberger rum – truly disgusting stuff, the British women got a small glass kangaroo, the Aussie men got a minature of Johnny Walker Black Label and the Aussie women got a sheep made out of coal

    There can be no better way how to assign gifts to people than by the shape of their genitalia! “Women get X, men get Y.” Again and again.

    We live in such a disgusting society…

  8. lorn says

    Good point about you, all of us, having it good. I get it extra nice because I’m down here in Florida. Mid-day Wednesday has been a bit north of 60F. A far cry from you Northern folks suffering far smaller numbers, and the less fortunate among you, snow and ice up to your hips.

    Down here, warm and moist enough to keep the rust active year-round, rust is always a thing. One of the better products for fighting it:


    I used to be able to get anhydrous lanolin but this stuff it about as good. Looks to be based on lanolin. Sheep grease, good stuff, keeps your tools free of corrosion and your hands smooth.

    If you have lots of holes in steel to drill spend the $ and get a professional-grade tool:


    The DeWalt model is good, as is the Milwaukee and Greenlee. I don’t see any major differences between brands. Those carbide teeth really make a difference. Eye protection is mandatory because the chips come off fast and hot.

    For working in cold-wet conditions I use what are called “freezer-gloves” they are a grippy and flexible waterproof plastic with a quick-drying synthetic insulation. I keep two pairs. One I’ve cut the tips out of the thumb, fore, and middle finger so I can mess with the fiddly bits. These make a big difference.

    As I’ve got older I notice I appreciate warm gloves that work, reliable rust prevention, and drill bits that make short work of what might be a tough job. Used to be I would just muscle it through and suffering was just part of the job. Now, I’m into easy.

  9. johnson catman says

    Lofty @8: 45C?!!!! Damn, that is (quick calculation) 113F!! I hope you have good AC and don’t have to go out in that.

  10. says

    I used to be able to get anhydrous lanolin but this stuff it about as good.

    Dude! It’s on ebay; I’d post a link except their links are fugly and full of tracky stuff. It’s nice and cheap, too.

    Lanolin is great wood polish; melt it, add a bit of beeswax, and diatomaceous earth. You can buff wood with that or lathe-buff it with a chunk of sheep’s wool. Amazing finish. When I worked at Digital, the mill in Maynard was an old wool mill; the floors were cedar planks that had been so thoroughly soaked in lanolin that they were like iron hard plastic.

    It never occurred to me to use it for rust prevention! This is going to be handy. Actually, I am now wondering if that is what machinery is shipped from China coated with. It’s some kind of clear goo.

    If you have lots of holes in steel to drill spend the $ and get a professional-grade tool:

    WOW! I just ordered one. That’s gorgeous.
    My main drill is an old Milwaukee hammer drill I got on ebay a decade ago. It’s a beast. When it hangs on something, the whole planet changes its rotation. I bet those carbide teeth, combined with a strong-arm drill… I’ll be careful.

    The freezer gloves sound like a good idea, too. I have a friend who used to make a “hot bag” for hands – basically a quilted bag with a hole for hands, and a few of those sodium acetate heat reservoirs. (Said friend is a birdwatcher) I think I would not take my hand out again, which means I would stop working.

  11. says

    At least we’re not yet into fires in a big way like the neighboring state of New South Wales, their fires have burnt more land than the area of actual Wales in the UK and the fire season has barely started.

    You guys managed to dodge the hole in the ozone layer that we set up for you, but it looks like this time we’ve got you.

  12. cafebabe says

    Meanwhile our Australian evangelical fuckwit prime-minister says “Pray for rain; now is not the time to talk about climate change.”

  13. voyager says

    That’s a fabulous photo of Miles and Jake. They look like wolves – big and hairy and totally at home in the winter cold.

    I say you should stop feeling guilty and go ahead and whine a little. Conditions are crappy, the whining is justified, as long as it doesn’t turn into self-pity.

  14. says

    @ johnson catman, the inside of our lightly air conditioned house probably won’t exceed 30C which is bearable, and it’s a little cooler up on my little mountain just now but sadly tomorrow I have to go down to the Big Country Town for my partner’s podiatrist visit. I must say I have a little trouble breathing the hot air but I should be grateful I’m not out in the desert where it could exceed 50C. 50.9C is the record at one dusty little town but the Met office is saying it’s an even bet to break that record.

    @ cafebabe, meanwhile our fake Prime Monster (aka “Nero in a Baseball Cap” according to one Guardian commenter) has scuttled off to Hawaii for his hols so he doesn’t have to breathe in the bushfire smoke.

    @Marcus, hey, I’ve done my bit for the ozone hole, back in the early 80’s anyone could just buy big bottles of the R12 stuff and jam it into any old leaky car air conditioner. Garages just used to bleed it off every year and replace it with fresh stuff anyway. I’m just glad that SPF30+ sunscreen now comes in one litre pump packs.

    Oh and just watch out for those Hole Sores.

  15. says

    After flagellating myself for using “just” in 3 sentences in a row, I’m gunna suggest you look up some neat little punches on ebay. Title is “(¾ Inch, Punch, Die & Draw Stud) – Gardner Bender KOS-750B Slug-Out Mechanical” and it’ll save you quite a bit of finishing work.

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