Winter roared down from Lonelyheart Pass like Hillary Clinton on a bad hair day. It buried the sagebrush in two feet of snow. It coated the barbed wire with an inch of ice. And coated the pickup trucks and watering troughs and the statue of the Drunken Cowboy and the backs of cows and the Dean for President sign in Dora's front yard.
Nobody in Hardyville could move for two frozen-solid days. I couldn't even make it to the Hog Trough Grill and Feed.
It could be argued that a day without Hog Trough food is like a year without a heart attack. But bad as the Hog Trough is, I missed it. I didn't really miss the lard-dripping mystery food, but the company. And ... oh, what the heck, I might as well be honest here. I missed Hardyville's best excuse for avoiding unpleasant work and household chores.
Snowbound. Icebound. With no Hog Trough hangout, I had to face it: The Junk Drawer.
Every winter, between making New Year's Res-illusions and finally giving up on them, during that long, dark winter of guilt, come the Winter Projects. You know what they are. They're those things you meant to do last April but got put off because you were planting your garden. Those things you meant to do last July but you were too busy having a life. Those things you meant to do last October but you were too busy beating yourself over the head for not doing them already so what the heck, I'll just have another beer and watch Six Feet Under instead. Those things you meant to do in December but there's way too much to do in December.
But there's nothing to do in January and February with a snowdrift blocking your front door.
So you have to face those chores like putting all the tools back on the right hooks on the pegboard, throwing out grocery receipts from food you ate ten years ago, combing matts the size of basketballs out of the dog's fur, and sticking all those old photos into albums even though you no longer remember who half those stupid-looking fourth cousins or best friends from kindergarten are.
And worst of all, there's The Junk Drawer.
All year long, year after year, everything that doesn't have a place of its own goes into The Junk Drawer. I know what's in there. A tin of shoepolish as hard as a rock. A buy-one-get-one-free offer you might really want to take advantage of someday. A recipe for beet and pineapple salad that now sounds repulsive but last summer seemed like a gourmet treat. A nightlight in the shape of the Virgin Mary. A tube of caulk that's glued itself to the back of the drawer. One tablet of penicillin. An electronic doodad with a thig-a-majig missing. Dog registration papers you forgot to mail. Odd-sized screws that fell out of somehing that really needs to be screwed back together if only you could remember what it is. And something that might be the leg of a lost nicknack, which absolutely can't be thrown out because if you throw the leg out the nicknack will certainly turn up two days later.
At least that's whats in my junk drawer. And since everything's in there because it has nowhere else to go ... what do you do with it now that it's so full the drawer won't close?
No. I can't handle it. Even snowbound, I can't face bringing order to The Drawer.
So, restlessly pacing, I do those other winter projects. The ones that aren't just for the good of the house, but for the good of peace of mind. The good of security. Not the Homeland Department kind of security, but the real "Whew, I'm glad I finally took care of that for the sake of my kids, my freedom, my privacy, my whatever" kind of security.
Just like everybody else, I have to remind myself to do this stuff. I sometimes have to whup myself over the head to make me do it. But I can tell you a bakers dozen winter projects more useful (not to mention more pleasant) than facing down The Dreaded Junk Drawer.
- Make a copy of your address book or the cards in your Rollodex. Make two copies. Give one to a friend to hold for you and put the other in a safe, dry, secret place away from your house. Then if your house burns down, you're raided by ninjas, or freelance thieves strip your little cabin to the walls, you can quickly contact folks who can help you.
- If you use PGP or any other form of encryption, go through your e-mail files and your document files and make sure you aren't keeping any decrypted copies of encrypted messages. Delete decrypted files and wipe them from your system. (And if you don't use encryption -- start!
- Make a file containing all your online usernames and passwords. Give it a name like "Children's Health Record" or "Notes for Novel" -- something that sounds too important to throw away, but doesn't reveal the file's contents. Encrypt that file. Then erase and wipe the original from your hard drive. Send a copy of the file to one or more friends for safekeeping, also retaining a copy in your own e-mail files. (Do NOT give your friend the key to decrypt the file! But DO put a spare copy of your private and public encryption keys in a safe place outside your home)
- Do the same thing -- in a separate file -- with your credit card account
numbers, bank account numbers, and other important financial accounts.
- Go through your stocks of canned foods and long-term storage foods. Bring the oldest cans to the front of cabinets for use. Open and start using up any storage foods that don't have a super-long shelf life. (You can't count on those banana chips, butter powders, or cheese powders being edible 10 years from now. You'll be really sorry if you try.)
- Check and clean your firearms. Check your ammo storage area and make sure it's nice and dry.
- Change the password that lets you access your computer. Memorize it. Don't write it down. DO write down a question or statement that will remind you -- and only you -- of what the password is. Then store your incredibly cryptic little reminder note in several places off site.
- Get a program that automatically encrypts your data as you create it. Install that program and start using it. (If you follow the link you'll also find some cool advice for making hard-to-crack but easy-to-remember encryption passwords.)
- Check your first-aid kit. Make sure that all medications are current, that no liquids have leaked, and that everything that should be in the kit is in the kit.
- Check your three-day grab-and-go kit -- the one you keep in the house for earthquakes, power outages, hurricanes, floods, etc. Is everything there? Is everything in good condition?
- Check the emergency kit in your vehicle.
- Back up your hard drive. (If Santa didn't bring you a USB hard drive, consider getting one for large, quick backups.) If you don't want to back up your entire hard drive, then at least copy all your current working documents, your e-mail address book, your encryption keys, the encrypted password and account-number documents you created up above, and any other critical documents. Store them in a safe place away from your home.
- Check your will, living will, trust documents, organ-donor instructions, and "who to call in case of emergency" wallet card. Make sure they're all up to date and say what you want them to say.
THEN you can tackle The Junk Drawer from Hell.
If you're lucky, by the time you get through with all those other chores, it'll be April and you can go back to the "I have to plant the garden" excuse.