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Sunday, 20 September 2020


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I think that's great, we all have to care for ourselves and doing something you really enjoy, that also gets you moving is not at all a trivial thing in those long cold gray winters. It is a very good thing in fact. It will bee a good photographic project as it gets built up and Built out. Once done, it doesn't have to be lonely, you Can shelter in place with a like minded, pool playing buddy. You both just have to be honest and careful. If either of you have other contact that is suspicious, you just suspend the pool games for 10 days. A lot better than 6 m months.
Will you heat it with a wood stove? Perhaps you could line the walls with shelves and dig out your library. -Lots of possibilities Good Luck

The difficulty with pool at the current time is that it’s played indoors. Maybe you could start a pétanque league locally. I guess it could be played in agricultural sheds in the Winter.

What do the Mennonites and Amish do in the Winter? If you don’t see them about maybe they all go to Florida ;-).

I weathered the first 6 months or so of all of this as well as anyone I think. I have developed a fairly high tolerance for solitude (once I sailed a sailboat 2000 miles by myself, although admittedly I did find the experience acutely lonely [big surprise there]). But as much as the Baltimore summer is an abusive monster and I was praying for it to be over, I had about a week long sad spell where I started to really worry about the winter.

Obvious reasons: COVID is likely to get worse for a number of reasons, I've been socializing and playing music outside just a bit with a few close friends in town and at some point it will be too cold for that. And the political situation is very scary to me right now, for the reasons you mention.

I've managed to more or less get back to where I was before. I'm a bit flat but flat I think given the circumstances is fine.

I'm lucky that in the last couple years music has taken over in my life and just practicing beings me great joy and keeps me interested. I've been getting up at 5 am almost daily since March for group lessons with a South African guitar player Derek Gripper eho I have always admired. It's given me structure that I'm grateful for.

I was engineering a move to Maine and had booked a van and everything but I decided to go in the spring. I've moved north for the winter 3-4 times. Never works. Fool me 4 times, shame on me.

I hope we all survive.

Pool table sounds totally logical to me.

Mike, life is short, and we only live once. Enjoy the pool table. You earned it, and you're worth it.

Get the shed and get the pool table and start playing and no looking back as you might miss the ball and whatever you do keep writing...and hurry up!

Cross. Country. Skiing.

Just wonderful, set your own pace. As beautiful as fly fishing. But if you do it, DO NOT buy the typical beginner package, unless you live next door to an XC ski area with tracks. So, you'll need a wider ski with at least partial metal edges, and better, full metal edges. This way you can break your own trails.

Aaaaaand, you can take your camera!

Sounds like a worthwhile investment. The shed will still add some market value to your house, should you eventually sell it. And the pool table with shed will add value to your daily life, especially if you sometimes have a buddy come over and join you. My dad suffered from debilitating depression, and after one hospitalization he spent months playing pool with a friend who lived a few miles away and kept a table in his garage. It helped his slow recovery.

And think about all the nice wall space you will now have for photos!

Unless we get a reasonable COVID policy going (as in the head of the CDC said on TV that the best weapon agains the virus, better than a vaccine, is a MASK), I fear it could be a difficult winter for many. In places where it gets cold, or even seriously cool, the outdoor distanced social gatherings we enjoyed in the summer will be a thing of the past. It will be inside (high risk) or nothing. It sounds as though you live in a lovely place, as do I in northwestern Oregon (except for the recent horrible fires and accompanying smoke). I agree with your point about gratefulness being the antidote to self pity. More of the privileged among us need to remember that. Perhaps they'd not be so terribly greedy. Perhaps it comes with age, I'm old. I do not recall feeling so incredibly grateful for all my good fortune when I was young and I had good fortune then as I do now. I sincerely hope Lulu either makes it through the winter or has a peaceful demise. I've thought for a long time that ee are much more kind to failing animals than we are to failing humans. In any case, I hope you stay well and keep writing. It's good for all of us.

Mike, I've had a pool table for 42 years. I've had to move it twice. That is a pain. But, I still use it even though I mostly (95%) play with myself. Most people are not good enough to play or (90%) have no interest. That's a problem. If you get one, get a good smooth playing surface (sand it - they don't come that way) and spend some bucks on a good cloth. Used tables are a bargain. Make doubly sure the floor where you put it is very rigid. Do not place the table on any kind of soft surface like carpet (unless it is very thin industrial carpet). Then take the time to carefully level the table (I use cardboard and laminate shims). Nothing is more important than having a level table. There are a gazillion videos on how to do this. Check the level every year - houses shift - really. Then just enjoy - that is what life is all about! Rack 'em!

BTW, on drawing the cue ball. Good chalk is #1, a straight stroke is #2 and practice, practice, practice is #0! After age 60, NOTHING comes easy!

It's interesting how Covid, and our societal remedies to mitigate it, effect everyone so differently.

For those who have been infected, or have close friends or loved ones who have been infected, Covid is a health issue. Most of my friends have not had a personal connection to the health consequences of Covid. Likewise, most of my friends have not felt a financial impact from Covid. In fact, they earn the same amount and enjoy a more convenient lifestyle with less travel. Their biggest lifestyle impact from Covid has been the disruption of their kids' education.

For me, the health side of Covid is distant and hypothetical - for that I am fortunate. What is very real is that my livelihood as a professional photographer has been decimated. Hopefully temporarily, but more and more I am not seeing a viable end-game in the shutting down of society. I'm not seeing any objective metrics that, when met, get us out of this. The idea that a vaccine will bring back normalcy within a year seems unrealistic. All subjective moving targets.

As Americans, and as humans, we assume risks every day. We fly in planes, drive cars, smoke everything, eat unhealthy food in large quantities. We know for a fact that each of these things absolutely leads to death in hundreds of thousands of people each year. But we allow people to live their lives.

For generations we have been gathering in large, close groups, touching common things and drinking out of water fountains. We do all of these things knowing that we are making ourselves vulnerable to flu, strep and any number of terrible viruses and bacteria. But in the name of living, we have largely assumed and accepted those risks. Until now.

I don't think we are going to round the corner on Covid with a vaccine. I think if we wait for that, we will be mired in a scene resembling 1933 and Covid will pale in comparison to the societal impacts we face.

I think we need to remove politics from the equation and take a fresh look at the data - at the science and the stress or lack thereof of the hospital systems. For example, in my state of Massachusetts, there are currently 355 people hospitalized with Covid out of a population of 7 million. The number seems to not match our response? Not even remotely. Something seems wildly off?

Almost every school district in the state is remote or partially remote, bringing with it massive disruptions to the economy that are negatively impacting the lower classes, immigrants, minorities and people of color the most. Kids that were already facing an achievement gap and being further disadvantaged - to a point where closing that gap is becoming more and more difficult.

So yes, I too am worried about the coming winter. My livelihood is in the balance. From where I sit right now, it is not being destroyed by Covid, but rather our response. I'm very concerned indeed. I have some optimism that come November 4th, maybe, just maybe, the election comes and goes and we have a winner. And regardless of who that winner might be, maybe there will be a dissipation in the use of Covid as a political football on both sides. And maybe we as a society will let Covid settle into its place of risks that we assume in our daily lives. A real risk, and one that each individual can assume to their own degree, but one that society accepts.

PS, Are you going to get a FF pool table or a Crop slate table...??
I guess Snooker would be LF........

Winter can be wonderful for a photographer. Any time a storm is predicted I'm ready to head out with the cameras. Blizzards are especially good - IF I can get out before the drifts are too deep. Stark contrast, subtle low angle lighting, blowing and drifting snow, ice patterns. It is a great time to be out and about with a camera. Ice fishing overalls, military "bunny boots" good for 40 below, windproof face shield and a good bomber hat keep me warm while working on images. From sundogs to ice patterns to wind driven trees to quiet days when the snow collects on every limb of the trees - winter is a gift I look forward to.

Am I crazy or is this idea inspired?

While you play pool, record the audio. Dictate your stream of consciousness and transcribe it using your computer. Blog content done. No?

How are you going to do heat in the shed?

hmmm....hopefully you factored in lighting & some sort of HVAC, otherwise it's going to be tough going w/a miner's headlamp & mittens~!~

Having been under Covid-19 lockdown through winter for just over 4 months now - not as isolated or as cold as your winter will be but still grey and miserable and utterly abnormal - may I recommend you acquire a musical instrument you can't play? A guitar or harmonica (you'll need a few keys) or whatever. I have been playing on an out of tune piano that I haven't played in decades and - if I'm honest - I am pretty spectacularly bad. But it does keep my mind focussed in a completely different key for hours at a time when I need the distraction. When tradesmen are allowed into my home again, I'll get it tuned, and I might even keep it up.

Dear Mike,
I hope the shed will be sufficiently insulated, away from dangerous trees etc, and the snow shovel is up to the work both front & back.
I take it having a toilet or evening running water (let alone hot) would be a luxury (cue Monty Python Four Yorkshiremen). But will there be room for the tea kettle? ;~)
Hope it all goes well.

Yay! Really glad to read this, Mike. Picturing you with a pool table close at hand makes me smile.
Last Winter was my first in our new home (built in the 1880s) in East Lancashire, England. It was so gray, so wet, so much of the time, it really got me down. Much more than I thought it would. My wife and I are (hopefully) working through some issues now, so I am back in the US for some indeterminate amount of time, but I am hoping to be back there for the upcoming Winter. Am going to have to come up with some kind of coping strategy.
Please let us know when you have your pool table set up and ready to go.

Mike, as an outside observer who feels he kind of knows you from my time reading TOP, I support the shed and the pool table purchase. Sounds like just what you need to get you through what is almost certainly going to be a challenging winter. Consider it an investment in your physical and mental wellness. Perhaps you can find a partner or two Inside your COVID circle of trust to play with regularly. Like a private league.

Unless one lives in like San Diego 5 months might be the average for good weather months. Here in the Austin Texas area 4 months are just too damn hot. Winters are easy but late Nov. through March can be off and on chilly and sometimes a bit cold.

Mike be it left or right? Well I don’t care much for professional politicians nor do I trust many of them. The system is dated and seems broken at times. I feel we need something new.

Hi Mike,

This reminded me of what my father used to say when he lived in Siberia.

They had ten months of winter, but from then on it was just summer and summer and summer.



Here's a suggestion, although no doubt you have done it already. Make B&W still-lifes of balls on the pool table. Different arrangements, different lighting, different angles, lenses, apertures, etc. I can envision almost architectural shots. You'll get some good photos, and increase your time standing and moving around as well. I'm sure not many photographers have pool tables so this project will be relatively unique. Cheers!

Great idea. This winter will be a tough one to get through and if this will help you, why not? My salary just came in, so I'll see if I can drop a few quit (sp?) in the kitty for this.

I'm having kind of the same dread. Although over here in the Netherlands we don't have your cold winters they are darker. My recent method of handling my winterdepression is to go out a lot; to concerts (around once every two weeks at minimum), and several photography events. All that stuff has seen serious restrictions for obvious reasons. Unseen Amsterdam has been cancelled, and several of the concerts I had planned have been cancelled or moved to 2021.

One thing the lockdown in the Spring did do, was help me to be more confident in photographing on the street. I do not photograph people, but I still always found it scary to do it with all these people around me (I live in a largish city, so plenty of people around). Going out on those empty streets has helped me.

I'm 10 years closer to the finish line than you, Mike, and I count my lucky stars that I live in the world's best climate, I reckon. Mediterranean, meaning cool wet winters and hot dry summers, but a cool winter's day to me means 16C max and 4C min. Hot means 38-40C max, but with humidity avg 35%. Long evenings, cool breezes. Perfect for the beach cafe.

I'm feeling a bit of survivor's guilt though. There's no virus community transmission here in Western Australia, all 2.6m sq km (1m sq miles) of it, but our borders are closed, even to the rest of Australia. Apart from hand hygiene we're free to do anything, go anywhere. It's been more than 160 days since the last local infection.

Personally, I have no worries - no mortgage, no job to lose, a govt pension, no kids or aged parents to worry about, enough money to buy a Nikon P950, but not the Fuji GFX50 that I crave.

But I fear the future, if that lunatic gets back in. He has damaged your country so badly and his Q followers are infecting ours as well. It's our business too. Everything the US does affects us. I am witnessing the decline of a once great power and I fear.

Have you considered buying a daylight lamp, to brighten those grey dull winter times? Someone got one of those?


I've been following your winter time posts for the past four years and, each time, you've pulled through.

Agreed that Lulu is getting older. Many old folks don't get past winters. Take it a day at a time.

Sad that pool gatherings are curbed as people are born to fraternize and fellowship. Do the Mennonites and Amish people make friends with outside people? Surely, they can allow you to snap a family picture and share a glass of apple juice, no?

Dan K.

I'm glad you bit the bullet and did this. Make sure you hang some nice photos inside.

Hey Mike,

Farm fields and wood lots aren’t bad places to wander around on in winter, with a camera and on foot, skiis, or raquettes.

Think Andrew Wyeth.

I spent my college years in Syracuse and now live in NW Connecticut so am pretty familiar with the malaise of Winter. As I've grown older I've decided that you should indulge yourself whenever/wherever possible as you are at the short end. That said, the shed sounds like a pretty good idea, assuming that it is heated.

a friend woke up one morning and promptly died

his wife saved him

after a month of rehab he was going batty
his life consisted of work, fishing and his family

he wasn't sure if he could manage three more months of hospital and home

so he likewise asked his md for a prescription

months later he showed up hale and hearty after rehab and recuperation on a variety of minnesota lakes

of course hr and benefits had a hissy fit
but he had the receipts

Mike remember the foundation is everything especially in a pool table shed so that floor must be brawny or those balls will be going other places. And I'm sure you know this but make sure the table will fit through the bloody door(s)! I played a lot of pool when I was a teenager including on tables that were not in such good shape so we would put the cue ball in the middle of the table and see which direction it rolled and we would apply a bit of Kentucky windage to counter the problem.
I think this is money well spent.

It’s good that you’re looking at the big picture and planning ahead but try not to fret too much about what might be. Have you been using any of the video conference apps (Zoom, MS Teams, Adobe Connect, etc.) that are available? It’s important to see a friendly human face once in a while. Mr. Handsome can only do so much.

The place to be/Fresh air: Maybe when you get the shed and pool table set up you can install a room size HEPA filter and a nice pants hanger. This way if virus concerns improve you can invite the guys over for a game or two. The HEPA filter will keep the air nice and clean on those cold winter days when the windows are shut and the pants hanger will ensure everyone maintains the perfect crease. :-)

I’m not sure if the horrible quality of that last clip makes if better or worse. It was all I could find.

Will this be a heated shed? Unless it is, your pool playing might be hurt by shivering throughout the winter. If it is, your finances might be even more negatively affected.

Recent studies by some of the best minds working on this topic have come to an incredibly important conclusion: you can't take it with you. Yes, that's right. When you die, you're dead, and you can't take stuff with you.

Relative to this startling conclusion, your plan makes a lot of sense to me! Enjoy.

Also, do not fear winter, gray skies, cold and monotone! I I enjoy photography vastly more in the depths of winter than in the heat of summer. Spring and fall are my favourite, but winter is special.



Invite friends over for a weekend once a month. This will force you to clean up, vacuum, buy groceries and cook for them, i.e., force you to think about something other than winter isolation. While they're with you, you can play billiards, talk bollocks (Brit slang for shoot the shit), look at photographs together and discuss them if they are photo-type people. Break the routine in a deliberate conscious way. Take an online course in relativity or quantum mechanics, it will blow your mind. Do not think about Trump, that way lies madness. Watch good movies and TV series (The Wire, Trémé, original Day of the Jackal). See if you can sit through Easy Rider now, I tried a few years ago and couldn't; how can your brain change that much?
Try to remember what it was like to NOT know how to ride a bicycle. How come you cannot put your brain back in that state, since that WAS you at one time?

Mike, regarding your choice of a split AC system, you said awhile ago it was hard for you to make decisions without a significant other.

So pretend I’m your partner. Having installed 6 split systems in 4 houses in CA and FL do not go with that low cost Pioneer.

What’s that saying “if the price is too good”. And if you doubt me, as you likely will, since you’re an authority on everything, call a few of your local HVAC professionals and ask about parts and expected life of that Pioneer.

Spend more money and get a Fujitsu or Mitsubishi. Also don’t buy it on-line. These units need to be serviced at least once every two years based on usage. Find a friendly, professional company in your area to install it and provide service and you’ll have years of trouble free operation.

Now, dear, listen to me. I don’t want to tell you in two years I told you so:)

For myself winter is darkroom weather as the windowless laundry room is cool enough to work in. (Although I have whole house AC, inexplicably there is no duct to the laundry room.)
That, and tinkering with various photo hobby projects keeps me occupied through the winter months.

Head down to Miami for a weekend bender in November, I suggest getting a table at whatever nightclub is in the basement of the fountainbleu. Then, when you get back home, you will have NA meetings as another option.

Winter is that time in California when we might get that thing called...rain.

If we're lucky.

FWIW, except for a brief 30 min shower after the lightning storms that started the fires here in California in mid-August, it has not rained here in NorCal since...January 28th.

Enjoy your winter....we'll be lucky if our state is not burned up by then.

Mike , mini split heat pumps are convenient and unobtrusive, the A/C half will work great, on the heat side , the colder the climate, the less efficient heat pumps are, so they use electric ‘backup’ heat. In your climate you will be running electric heat 90% of the time. That’s the most expensive heat you can buy, but it IS convenient, and the heat goes out when the power goes out.
As long as you know that, and are ok with it , great. If you want alternatives, there are lots of cent through the wall propane furnaces that are very reasonable. Same for separate A/C.
Be sure you have a service contract with your unit.
Great good luck.
Ps Tons of full spectrum lighting will keep it cheerful.

You might want to consider another model minisplit since that pioneer only is rated to provide heat when it's 5F or above. It also has a relatively low HSPF. If you went with a Gree Sapphire 9K it's about twice the price, but with an HSPF of 15 vs 9 for the pioneer it will probably pay for itself in a few years of energy savings and it will work in the coldest temps you are likely to see. I've been researching the same thing as I am getting my woodshop ready to use year round as an escape from covid.

Mike, Mini-split heat pumps are convenient and easier to install than separate systems, and the A/C will be great, but for heat, Heat Pumps are not efficient in very cold weather, so most include 'Electric Backup Heat. But when it is really cold you end up running 90% Electric Heat- the most expensive way to heat a house. If you are aware of that and are ok with it, that's fine. Otherwise look at alternatives like wall vented propane for compact reliable heat. No heating fuel is truly cheap, but for a very cold climate like yours, I'd think twice about a heat pump.
---or get a small backup wood stove.
I think it is great that you are doing this. Best of luck.

The pool table shed is a well earned gift to yourself, enjoy the process of the build and completion. Please do your research on the so called heat pump, We had one in southern North Carolina and the compressor ran constantly.
They do not do well in cold climates and the compressors do not last since they run winter and summer. Consider a propane tank heating system and a split unit for AC only. The warmth from the propane heating system will be a huge difference compared to a compressor run heating system, trust me your pool room will never feel warm on those cold winter days with a heat pump.

Rash and drastic? Hardly - you've been writing about this since you moved to NY. Heck, I thought it was already done! Remember to have an insert cover made so you can spread out your prints under the full-spectrum, stained-glass, linear pendant light. Your local pool buddies will humor you after a match. ;)

Take a road trip or three to NYC. With your cameras. Winter my favorite time to photograph the city. In my final year there I racked up about 2000 foot miles from our Clinton Hill home, mostly in the quieter seasons. Glorious.

The word 'autumn' is a synonym for depression. I hate winter. I've spent the last 25 years in Singapore, and I've gloated over the fact that winter there doesn't really exist. I am now spending more time in London, and the wretched Covid-19 has screwed up my plans to spend the worst of the winter back in Asia. So now I face months of greyness and gloom. And most of the things that make city living enjoyable are unavailable just now. I know some photographers (including some prominent YouTubers) just love all those mists and clouds. I don't. I like the contrasts and colours of sunnier places. No chance of that for the foreseeable future. At least I can suppress my camera-buying itch for a while ...

I think you’d love the climate in England, Mike. We can have hot days in summer - there’s been a few at around 30° Even here in Yorkshire, and I think more in southern England, but there are rarely more than a handful of such days at a time.

More importantly, winters here are seldom really cold (especially recently...). Last winter we had very few frosty days 😟 and effectively no snow at all 😃. The hard winters, when snow might lie for more than a month, are so unusual that they are remembered for generations: 1947/8, and 1962/3. (I was alive for and remember the latter but not the former.) What we do tend to get are wind-storms, often (but not always) accompanied by heavy rain. I have no solid evidence to confirm this, but my feeling is that the number and severity of these storms is increasing. But they are generally well-forecasted and it’s very rare that they’ll last for longer than two or three days. Most of the time the temperature is above freezing; it’s often cloudy and grey, which can be a bit depressing; and it does rain quite frequently. But as I’ve got older i have come to think that’s better than snow.

I just remembered this similar and helpful post by my friend Jason Kottke:


Heat pumps don't pump heat when there is no heat for the heat pump to pump (if it is freezing outside) look it up

Along the lines of dealing with isolation...Found this 12min film about a guy who took dawn photos in the surf off Cornwall every day last May. Beautifully shot...


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