Working like crazy

We put in a solid 16.5 hours this weekend on the house. And what did we do?

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Well, the two front windows, the last two original windows? They came out. We’d left them for a while for various reasons. One is that we don’t like having the front boarded up, but another is that one of them (the one nearest the car) is 8ft long and the other is 6ft long. We’d removed a 6ft one earlier and it was a complete pig, so we weren’t hugely looking forward to this.

Fortunately, the 8ft one was broken (our contractors broke it) so we tackled that first knowing we could chop it up to pull it out. It turned out, however, that the joker who installed it had used whatever s/he had lying around to install it. Y’know, a couple of drywall screws, a few nails here and there. The end of a tube of caulk.

In fact, it was so badly installed that we had more difficulty getting it out because it half fell out part way through. It was hanging by a couple of nails… In the end we put a tarp on the ground, Kathryn pulled the nails and sort of let slide-fall onto the tarp where it shattered.

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Fortunately, the contractors had stuck a sheet of plastic across the front of it to stop it falling apart when they broke it, which stopped most of the glass exploding out across the garden.

We then ripped out a big chunk of manky old wall…

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Framed up for our new (much smaller) window

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Made a little strip of ply to fill in the enormous gap in the siding left by the original builders… (which had been filled with spider nests and dead insects when we stripped the trim off)

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(Over a roughly 6ft span that goes from 1.5 inches to less than 1/8th of an inch). Did these people not have a f’kin plumb bob?

And as the day wore to a close we put the siding up (we’ll cut out the window after the framing’s approved).

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Sunday was a rinse and repeat:

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Only in this case they had barely installed the window. It came out almost pristine. The few nails that were holding it in were mainly the ones in the trim. Oh and 2 drywall screws and a 2 wood screws that were about 20mm long.

There was also some caulk – about 20cm of it along the top edge of trim…holding the trim to the window. After Kathryn pulled some of the trim off it became rapidly apparent that we’d have to hold it in while she pulled off the rest, because it was so loose. It actually threw us both for a bit, because less than an hour after we got there we’d removed the window and weren’t mentally ready for “now we need to demo the wall”.

This one was tricker because we had to replace the header – our plans require two jack studs either side of the header (rather than one on the original header), so even though our new window is the same size as the old window (although approximately 30cm further north than the old window), we needed to pull the old header to install a longer one.

But after quite a lot of experimentation with methods on previous windows we got this one in smoothly. Albeit with some beating it with a hammer and a block of wood to get it in the last few mm (it was pretty snug).

And ended the day with the front boarded up.

So quick shower this morning a few nails (we didn’t do all the siding nails yesterday), and I’ll call for an inspection on that. Then we can wrap the front, put in the last two windows…and commence making the rainscreen.

Also, obviously, there’s the interior electrics to do, and the drywall, and the flooring, and the heating… and and and.

Cream crackered

So yesterday we got window number five in. That end of the building is also partially wrapped, which is nice:

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It’s slightly irritating that the gas meter (which is as near to the front of the house as they’d allow) lands up right under the window. Partly because it’s an ugly thing right under the window, and partly because we’d like to have the enclosing fence in front of the meter, but obviously PSE would be unthrilled by that. So we need to work that out. We’d also like the fence there because it would mean we could put our rainwater capture tank just behind the fence, right at the front of the house, where it’s essentially invisible from the house. Buuuuut, no. So that also needs a plan alteration. It has also come to my attention that I’ll need a socket for the pump for the rain water capture system… which I’d not considered or planned for.

Poot.

Anyhow.

The window is in, the side is partially wrapped, all of these are good things.

Today I took a day ‘off’ and worked on the garden. Part of this is because of the dear. Oh, no, I mean deer. As in “Oh, deer”.

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We’d heard a hint that deer don’t like fishing line strung across at knee-ish height because they feel it but can’t see it. The theory went that they can’t see the thing and so won’t attempt to jump it.

Apparently, however, they’ll step over the damn thing and eat the plant.

Or all the plants.

Our fruit bush planting took a deer related munching, so today I made up a temporary fruit cage, and I have plans to make a fully fledged fruit cage, but that requires more time and energy than I have today. Also, more chicken wire than I bought. And a discussion with Kathryn about how big to make it.

I expect I caused much entertainment to anyone watching as I danced around with the bloody chickenwire as I unrolled it, and it re-rolled itself. And much cursing and pulling at it was had. And I attempted to semi-flatten it out and install it over my head and it would collapse or tangle itself up.

I suppose, if I design it right, I could make the fruitcage disassembleable and sectional.

Hrm.

Anyhow, I also threw together a second raised bed (because I may have had a seed/bean buying incident).

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We just need to steal more soil to fill it. I’m thinking I might start digging the trench that’ll carry the rainwater back from the front of the house (it follows the line of the old soakaway pipe from the back of the house), so I can steal that good quality(ish) soil for the bed. I can also dig some more of the trench around the front of the house. That might work :-/

All the soil that’s left from the pit is really lousy clay with stones. I put some in there to hold down the card, but it’s not really what we want for the veg bed.

I also, having changed the faulty relay on the mower yesterday, put it to work. Sorta.

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See, while the relay definitely seems to have been faulty – and replacing it does make the mower ‘work’, the ancient AGM battery in it is… uh, possibly somewhere after it’s last legs.

The motor does spin, and if you have short enough grass and walk very slowly around the garden, occasionally tilting the mower up so it can spin back up to speed when it’s encountered some long grass, it does cut. I imagine it was quite nice to use when it was new, because it’s super quiet.

It is, however, not terribly effective. I mean, it’s more effective than our cylinder mower. Well, it’s less effort for an equivalent level of effective.

I’m trying a few cycles of discharge and recharging to see if that helps, but I suspect it needs a new battery in addition to needing the new (and installed) relay. Which is irritating because Neuton do sell batteries – but they’re $100 apiece. Which I’d not really mind too much if I knew the mower worked. But I’m not absolutely convinced that the battery is going to be the last of its failings. It could probably also do with the blade sharpening…

So I’m not sure what we’ll do about that…

Less productive…

So yesterday I had a small plan for the morning – errand, B&Q Home Depot, fix lawn mower, maybe attach one of the exterior sockets.

What happened instead was:

Collect tyre (takes a while, the woman didn’t twig that the tyre stood on the rack was a package for several minutes, looked very confused when it said it was in the collection place until I said – “It is a tyre, so it should be pretty big…”).

Home Depot – meander round for hours trying to work out how best to manage the exterior sockets and the conduit that’s possibly required. I’m still unclear if it is required, but it only cost a few dollars and means I only have to install the sockets once. If I do it right. Stare at pipe for our rain-water capture system. Buy some… Get back to the house, unload, laugh like an idiot* because I realized that yes, I bought enough pipe to do the run from the (theoretical) storage tank to the (theoretical) pump but… I didn’t buy anything to connect those lengths of pipe together. Get back in the car, drive the 20 minutes back to home depot to buy those bits, a couple of other options for conduit (wrong choice), more drainage pipe (I realized that I should hook up the gutter at the front if we want to save enough to flush toilets too.

Then when Kathryn arrived and we went to start work she realized that we were lacking something else. I can’t remember what, so I ended up making a third trip. By the end of that I was feeling pretty grumpy with myself. Which made me grumpy. I know I shouldn’t be, I’m trying to work on letting the days when we don’t get as much as I’d like done wash over me and be gone, but I didn’t really feel like I’d made a huge number of things for me to do yesterday…

…But still, we managed to get two layers of house wrap on, which is a good thing.

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It means today we need to cut the window opening, add one more layer of house wrap and pop the window in, then we should be able to move on to doing the front windows. Which are, to be fair, some of the most difficult ones. They’re longer, heavier and require much more rebuilding (the bedroom) or working around the old header and framing (the office).

On which note, since I have washing up to do, and a shower to have, I should get on.

*Causing the guy doing roof work across the street to stare at me in alarm

Well, that was hot.

Not in the sense of hawt, obviously.

Just fucking hot.

So despite a predicted high of 28°C we’d made the plan to try and get the south window in yesterday. Allowing a good chunk of day for us to do it, we planned to arrive early to try and avoid the worst of the sun, and then spend the day getting the window in – which meant cutting the hole, wrapping that side of the building, flashing, putting the window in, then fixing it in.

Being a Sunday and not wanting to be deeply obnoxious, we didn’t want to get there really early.

So, off we went – and realized that the sun hits that side of the house full on well before 9. Probably before 8.

So, uh, that didn’t work.

But we carried on regardless – having to take breaks to hide in the shade every few minutes because it’s f’ckin hot cutting and hammering in the sun.

So just as a reminder…

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and now:

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It’s getting there.

But yesterday was slow. Damn slow. It was so hot it took us nearly 8 hours to put in the window and wrap that side, most of which was us sitting in the shade going ‘fuck, it’s hot’.

I was not built for this kind of weather.

Anyhow, we’re going to start wrapping the North side today, so off I jolly well trot.

Solidity arrives, and the garden continues

Work has more or less continued apace. Wednesday was less productive than I might have hoped because of a pointless waste of my life dealing with the American healthcare ‘system’. It seems that between my pharmacy and my insurance company the wires have become crossed, and the pharmacy thinks my meds are no longer covered, or possibly I’m no longer covered. Lord know which. It’s tedious in the extreme. Thankfully the meds are cheap anyhow. But it means I’ll get to waste time on the phone on Monday working out what is going on. Yay.

But no, remind me again how the NHS is a wasteful government bureaucracy.

*sigh*

Mind you, it wasn’t all Costco’s fault. I was slow getting going, then went to the house to measure the protrusion of the windows from the siding with the intention of getting a bit of Z flashing that’d allow us to match the window protrusion on the French door trim (when we make the trim for them). Then I went to B&Q home depot where I realized that since my next stop was Costco, I couldn’t buy the 10′ long bit of flashing (which is the length it comes in), because it’d mean leaving the window open in the car and the flashing sticking out. Then Costco took a while… And when I got to the house I was a bit… well, vague.

I kinda pootled around for a bit staring at the wiring. Trying to work out the best way to run it. Considering options and considering that we need some boards to run the cables along, if I want to make it nice. And then that I need to know where we’re framing the ceiling.

And after pondering it for a while I realized I need to check with my wife before I do that, and that I’d rather that the windows were in and not in the area where I’ll be wielding hammers.

So I decided to wait.

Then I meandered around the house a bit before realizing I could probably put up the crossbracing on the 13′ walls. Which I did… yay :)

And it is astonishing the change. Even at this point the interior walls had a flimsiness running down the length of the house. I kinda assumed it would be that way until we put the drywall on, but adding the (Fine Homebuilding recommended) crossbracing has transformed things. The interior walls – and the bathroom – now feel solid in every direction. Which is good, because the drilling fairy needs to come along and throw in the lighting cables. To do that we need to frame up the last bits of the walls above the hall ceilings and above the laundry room – because that’s where some of the cables will run.

Anyhow, so Kathryn arrived in the afternoon and we got the third (and final) window into the back wall.

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The back is now almost ready to have the rainscreen cladding put on (just need that flashing across the top of the back door) – we have an open question with the local planners about the grading of lumber for the cladding. I’m hoping “shop grade” / “ungraded” is sufficient. I don’t see why it wouldn’t be, given that it’s just ornamental. But then I often fail to see why some things are checked and other things aren’t.

I still don’t really see why they have such interest in my plumbing. I get wiring more (although I’m not fond of having it assessed). But plumbing? Seriously, if it drains into the drain it’s doing a damn sight better than it was before.

Anyhow, this weekend we’re hoping to do at least one of the side windows, then it’s just the front windows… and then cladding the entire building, finishing the wiring rough in*, putting up all the drywall, plastering, doing all the trim…installing a kitchen…painting, tiling the entire floor, oh – installing the heating system…

In other news, we’ve been sucked into gardening. The raised bed was just the start; we’ve cut in a second bed at the back (with aronia – which it turns out produces berries you can substitute for sloes in sloe gin), some Eastern European raspberries (groundcover, apparently), elderberries, a type of ornamental wheat that looked very pretty…

We’ve also planted the plants in our herb garden and then had the audacity to start creating a herby/culinary border which is where things got interesting (in the bad way). Part way through planting the rosemary as we tried to dig over the soil we found what we think is a barrel. It’s so rusty and holed that I don’t think there’s going to be anything noxious in it. But we want to know if it is a source of noxious things, because currently our bay tree is planted there, so is our rosemary (although further back now) and that means digging more.

And it may mean renting a digger.

Feh.

* I realised I’d forgotten to install any network cable. And I want network cable. I’m not sure where the cable will come in, but I do like to hide the media server out of the way and for optimum performance that means having a decent wired network. So I forked out the money today for some Cat6 cable (I know, I could have got Cat5e, but the last Cat5e I got was terrible).

Now with less lawn!

So, our project to almost completely eliminate the lawn has started. We had an incident yesterday at the farmer’s market. The usual kind of incident. The ‘oh, we’ve just bought a lot of plants’ incident.

We weren’t as bad as we sometimes are. We kept it to edibles.

And not that many, because, well, the house currently lacks liveability.

But, having got a couple of them in the ground last night and realised there was little hope for us to get the rest of the stuff done (because it was getting late), we laid out where we wanted the raised bed. Today I grabbed the chop saw, the nail gun and threw together our first raised bed. I then strimmed the grass as short as I could get it, threw down an enormous pile of cardboard, and then between Kathryn and I we transferred a lot of the soil which has come out of the hole that will be our rain water capture device into the new raised bed. And lo:

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I’m really rather proud of it given it’s made with the shoddiest bits of wood and a couple of hours with a chop saw and a nail gun.

We also both had a bit more of a go at strimming the grass, which is proving to be a bit of a mare. It’s already long enough that it needs cutting again – which is a double pain because the (Free) lawnmower we picked up at the weekend (“Free! Free! Free!”) which is a Neutron EM 4.1 – an old battery lawnmower – does not work. Irritatingly it looks like it’s been apart (and not been well put together). So I need to do some fault finding. I note that both the motor and relay are available as spares, which is suggestive of common faults. Feh.

This afternoon, before we set to on the garden we… fitted a second window!

It’s not quite finished yet – I got a bit keen on the caulk, so we decided to let that dry before putting the final layer of flashing on.

So there’s no picture of it yet…

But…there was a picture of the hole…

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It is definitely coming along now :)

More electrics, more wood

So, having posted about trying to hodge it with the wrong tools yesterday; today I decided to suck it up and buy a new 90° drill. Not a good quality one, obviously*. I grabbed a Ryobi One tool. Largely because I picked up the Ryobi One impact driver for putting in the bolts that attach the Simpson anchors** to the walls.

I’m glad I got it, although it’s clearly cheap and not going to last a terribly long time. But it does mean, I think for the first time ever, we have a power tool with a battery pack where you can buy the tools and the pack off the shelf. Our Makita drill has an ancient version of the 18v pack (not compatible with the newer ones – it’s several generations behind). The Ridgid stuff is similarly archaic – no packs off the shelf, no new compatible tools.

It’s weird to be able to go into a store and just buy stuff that works with it. Kind of nice, too. I actually picked up a strimmer today (because the grass was getting beyond out of hand – and needed to be cut back from the house (it’s done now)). It came with another battery and charger – so we now have 3 batteries, two chargers and 3 tools that take the same battery. Yay!

Anyhow, the 90° drill is only a baby one and also makes the hot smell and stalls a fair bit trying to cut through the studs. But it is way easier. And less prone to trying to break my wrist, or smack me in the face. Hopefully it’ll survive through the entire wiring experience.

So, with that in hand I ran the rough in for the kitchen. I’m still using up the last of the salvaged wiring, but it’s getting to the point where I’ll need to switch to the new and painfully expensive stuff. I’m still stunned by how expensive materials here. Anyhow. Basically, the far end of the house (longer runs) will be all new cable. Apart from the odd short segment running between outlets. Oh, and I realised that I was a fool, and about to make a dumb mistake. I’d thought about putting each of the two kitchen lights on the two (required) circuits for the kitchen. Of course, that doesn’t work if you want them to be switched on the same switch, which we do. Thankfully I twigged that before I’d run any wire. It was one of those “oh, I could do this” moments, when I should stick with the plan. Stick with the plan Kate, there’s a reason you made it.

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I also spent a chunk of time today digging through our wood pile to find short bits to make into the diagonal reinforcing bits to go in our 13ft (4m) walls, and then cutting them to length.

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They will actually sit about half way up the wall – adding some much needed strength to the flexy 13′ lengths of 2×4 – but to avoid them getting confused for anything else I’ve tucked them in the wall and will hopefully get them nailed in on Saturday.

I’ve also cut some of the bits for attaching the ceiling drywall (plasterboard). I’m also optimistically trying to look at plasterboard lifts.

And this weekend we’re thinking about putting windows in. Again, the plan was to do that earlier in the week, but instead it rained and I threw myself off a step. But this weekend looks to be dry and so do the Monday and Tuesday following. So that’ll keep us busy…

* The number of times I’ve broken my rules about buying good quality tools is growing. I’ve still more-or-less stuck to buying good quality drill bits / blades, because they can make a shitty tool into an adequate one.
** These are U shaped bits of metal that hold the house to the foundation – designed for earthquake resistance.

NEMA what?

So, thankfully despite it saying in my electrical book that some early NEMA marked cable had a smaller diameter earth wire than is the current standard, it seems that which we pulled out from the house at least appears to be the right diameter. I hope to hell it is, because the new wiring in our new lounge is entirely old cable.

Despite me attempting to snap my ankle like a twig 2 days ago (I slipped off the step into the house carrying a 4′ x 8′ x 3/4″ sheet of plywood by myself, like the daft ha’peth I am*) I spent today working on the house. Yesterday I rested with my ankle up on the sofa most of the day (apart from a meeting about selling our land). But today I made a more significant start on roughing in the wiring.

This has meant drilling a lot of holes.

A lot of 3/4″ diameter holes.

Our poor little ridgid drill does not like it. I mean, really I should do them all with an auger bit and a right angle drill, but I’ve instead been abusing the spade bit and the forstner bit. I keep using the spade bit and most of the time it’s fine, but it’s certainly working the drill out. It’s also giving the nasty cheap Ryobi 90° adaptor a tough time. We did have a Harbor Freight right angle drill, but it upped and died (ironically when I was not doing anything at all – I’d just put a bit in to drill a hole, turned it on and it made an unpleasant graunching noise, before failing to turn the chuck).

The cheap harbor freight forstner bit is, however, wearing out. Not really surprising, this isn’t really what it’s for.

And the random double studs (often followed by a stupid little gap, then another double stud) which are around because of the way the house was framed – then we’ve modified it – then we’ve repaired rotten bits – or replaced sections of framing – or added a window… All of that means a lot of fun trying to work out ways to get the spade bit in.

The winner today was having to drill the hole, feed the extension bit in, then with it all in place open the 90° drill adaptor’s chuck as wide as it could go, then I could get that over the top of the extender, tighten the chuck and then add on the actual drill to the end of that.

Still, the lounge cable now runs to the wall where the fusebox will be (note to self – label wires tomorrow).

Kathryn and I have finished putting up ceiling joists in the hall, so that’s definite progress. And the 3/4″ ply is for the attic floor – two pieces are up, just the rest of it to go…

Right, to bed with me because tomorrow is another day of drilling holes and feeding wires.

* My wife arrived literally 3 minutes after this debacle, at which point I was still trying not to make wimpering noises. I knew she was coming, but it looked like it might rain, so I was trying to be… quick. Or stupid.

‘the fuck?

I am beginning to consider the possibility that Washington is not, in fact, made of the normal stuff that land is made of. Instead it appears to be a well disguised pile of ants and pine needles.

#ants in our new house #ants in our apartment #pine needles everywhere #what the fuck

Other spaces

I’ve always been other. When I was a kid I was pretty much the only Asian kid in my class (I can’t find a school photo to check, but I’m pretty sure). And at any rate, I was much in the minority. Being in the minority pretty much always means being othered in some way, whether or not it’s intentional. I didn’t really understand at the time. I always thought of myself (as a small kid) as English. Then as I grew up I claimed other things.

My Welsh and Sri-Lankan heritage. My European upbringing. My queer identity.

All of it makes you part of a group (although the Sri-Lankan/Welsh combo is definitely not a huge group, at least, as far as I know). Finding our place in those groups is amazing. Having been other for so long, when I first started meeting LGBTQIA+ people, it was breathtaking.

Here were my people.

Well, some of them. But I do – and have always remained apart. There’s always an other. I don’t know that it bothers me as such – but as I’ve grown older and more aware, I’ve become more aware of it. It is something that at some points makes me proud and vocal, and at some points is frustrating and isolating.

Anyhow, when I first considered living abroad, emmigrating to another place, I took myself away from friends and family. Possibly the best decision I’ve ever made in my life – I most likely met Kathryn because of that decision.

But it wasn’t until Kathryn and I started to really talk about moving to the US that she raised the spectre of not being of a place. Although I’d lived all over the UK (well, all over the South and the Midlands) I’d always been from the UK. When people asked that ever irritating question “Where are you really from”? By which I don’t mean the honest, genuine, where are you from. I mean the racist undertones, you’re brown and clearly not from here, and you can’t possibly be from the West, foreigner version; the one that follows the first “Where are you from?”…

It was always (and irritatingly, I’m sure) answered with Watford, then Wales.

And it was a definitive – I’m from this place. I’m from this land. And I feel at home here. Why don’t you fuck-right-off.

But now, now I don’t know where I’m from.

I mean, I know. I know logically and technically.

I know what the facts of that are.

I was born in a Britain that, for me, always felt part of Europe.

I listen to music sung in French, or German, or Welsh (or in Cornish) or Scottish, (or even in English ;) ) and I feel at home. I even listen to music in Norwegian and it reminds me of home.

I listen to Sri Lankan music my mum played as a kid, and I have a deep connection there, and so Indian Classical and Bollywood music, while it’s not quite ‘mine’ it’s close. It is a kindred spirit.

I know that when I’m in Europe I feel something – some connection to place. But I’m also not of that place anymore.

And I’m not of this place either.

I made that decision to cut my roots. To sever them. To rip my feet out from the soil in which I’d grown, and transplant myself thousands of miles.

When we plant a pot-bound plant, my mum taught me to gently release some of the roots so that the plants send the new little root tendrils out into the surrounding soil. Without it, the roots will continue to grow inside that root ball, they’ll eventually push out all the soil from that space, and it’ll become one lump of root that can’t get nutrients from anywhere.

Do too much, though, and you’ll damage the roots and maybe make the plant unhappy. Maybe even kill the poor thing. There’s a sweet spot. A point where the roots can make their way into new soil, but the soil that came in the pot will hold it over until then.

I’m not sure if I hit that sweet spot with me. And I’m not sure I’m compatible with the soil here. But I’m fairly convinced whatever happens I’m not really compatible with the soil back ‘home’. I’ve changed – and been changed – by my time here. And while I find the debate here about guns, the environment, race, social support incredibly toxic. I find much of the same at ‘home’. Which means…

… well, I’m not sure what it means.

It means when we were in Paris, and for a fleeting few days it felt like somewhere I could grow, it made me want to be there. And while I adore(d) the Lake District, it only feels like somewhere I could hide. And while I’m pretty crap and doing stuff about the state of the world, I find myself inexorably drawn to follow it.

And realistically, France has a strong nationalist bent. I know that the right wing parties are rising in prominence and power throughout Europe just like the right wing are here. So perhaps it would prove as toxic as it is everywhere in the West at the present. And it doesn’t really matter, it’s not like we’re in any position to emigrate anywhere else at this point, or in the near future.

But it leaves me in a constant state of considering places we could be, to see if that would be a place that I might call home.