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Saturday, December 31, 2022

2022: Time

 Can you teach me 'bout tomorrow

And all the pain and sorrow running free

'Cause tomorrow's just another day

And I don't believe in time

(Hootie and Blowfish, Time)

Seeing as though this is New Year's Eve, and my regular gig of being off the grid at Ricketts Glen State Park fizzled out, I think it's appropriate to reflect on the year that was (or will be, depending on when someone happens to be reading this).

One of the things that became very apparent to me over 2022 is that my very perception of time is changing, literally right before my eyes.  You see, in the past, things like seasons took forever to change, and some seemed to last forever.  Now?  Things seem to be changing in the blink of an eye.  What where hot summer days seem only like yesterday, and their return will seem like tomorrow.  I'm smart enough to understand that the actual passage of time is, relatively speaking, a constant.  What's actually happening is wholly inside my head, and I'm not sure whether this is a good or a not-good thing.  Time, as they say, will tell.

I've come to understand something about myself that probably requires some work, specifically in the area of communication.  What might this be, you may ask?  Well, outside of my wife, I probably spend more time talking to my cats than I do my fellow humans.  They have the advantage of either being very good listeners or are even better at pretending to listen to me.  While either way works for me, this may be a sign that I need to get out more often.

I am increasingly becoming aware of the fact that I am not, in fact, indestructible.  This is another thing requiring something of a sea change inside my own head.  One must understand that over the years I have been something of a walking accident waiting to happen.  In addition to THIS posting, over the decades I have managed to gash the top of my head, filet my leg with a box cutter, stab my hand separating frozen hotdogs, shatter a drinking glass while cleaning it (and shredding my hand in the process), fracturing ribs after slipping on ice and probably a few other things that I won't share (out of fear that I will sound even more ridiculous).  Shy of encasing myself in bubble wrap, I just need to be more careful out there.

There are many things I seem to tolerate less and less as the years go on, such as cruelty to animals and bullies.  It's to the point where I really can't elaborate much more on this point, as it is actually starting to bother me just thinking about the subject.

In 2023 I will turn 59 years old.  Clearly, as I sit and type this, my physical health needs work.  For example, I have the diet of an 8-year-old that hates vegetables and has uncaring parents.  In addition to making grown-up food choices, I also need to exercise more.  Yet though, there has been some progress.  I have spent more than a fair amount of time over the past several years focusing on my mental health.  With a lot of work, I think I have made some progress.  There is still work to be honest, there may always be work to do in this area...but it feels like some of the things I've struggled with for a very long time are now better managed.  

I only have one superpower:  Persistence.  While clearly not as cool as the ability to fly or having lasers shooting out of my eyes, I'm still grateful for the gift.  It has served me well.

* * * * * *

My wish for all of us in 2023?  To remember that life is short and time is fleeting, so it's time for more kindness, less conflict, and less fanaticism...about everything.

Monday, December 26, 2022

All this, and a bag of chips

It's been an eventful few weeks.

First, my right hand went from this... this....

The actual healing process continues.  This was an entirely self-inflicted wound, in the truest sense of the word, resulting from my failure to wear work gloves while handling lumber.  Whatever my co-pay ends up being from the surgery will be worth it.  I will note that Dr. Culp and his staff at Geisinger in Pittston were nothing short of terrific.  My only complaint, if you want to call it that?  Getting the stitches out was a bit of a trial, but again, I basically did this to myself.

Second, there was COVID-19, where I went from this... this... .

...over the course of about 3 weeks.  The ironic part was that I had an updated vaccination the Sunday before I actually got sick.  The actual sick part wasn't all that terrible and maybe lasted about 5 days.  As someone with asthma, I was a bit worried about having this negatively impacting my breathing, but all things considered, I did okay.  It didn't actually impact my sense of taste either.  Ditto for Ms. Rivers, who got sick around the same time I did.  As to where/how we got sick, well, we think it happened around Thanksgiving.  

Lastly, we had my taking a bit of a tumble down some steps last Wednesday.  Where "little tumble"
actually means landing on my hip, then my elbow, and then my head.  I now have the honor of having the largest bruise I have ever actually seen on a human being.  It's literally bigger than two of my hands put together (and I have giant lobster-claw-sized hands).  The brush burn on my head actually hurt more than my hip, and if I were a betting man, I'd say there was a mild concussion at work.  Again though, I consider myself lucky in that it could have been worse...and my bruised hip deserves credit for breaking my fall.  

All of the above though is trivia when you think about it.  Life is the ultimate contact sport, and I'd rather suffer some of the inconveniences of trying to live life to some degree of fullness and getting hurt (once in a while) than the alternative, namely sitting around and turning into some kind of gelatinous pile of physical, mental and emotional goo.  I sadly see that alternative all too often, and it truly makes me sad.  All of us have reasons to live, all of us have talents to offer the world, and all of us have important work to do.  If that results in a scrape, a bump, or a bruise the size of Rhode Island, well so be it.  

In the sum total of our lives, the actuality of getting hurt (physically or otherwise) is always less dangerous than what happens when we take no chances.  

Saturday, November 26, 2022

Profundities and the News of the World

"The phone, the TV, and the news of the world"
(The Pretenders, Back on the Chain Gang)

I love the song Back on the Chain Gang by the Pretenders.  For years though, I thought that one of the song lines was "Proundities and the news of the world".  As noted above, it's not.  I confess that I like my wrong version of the lyric better than the actual one.  Anyway, I don't have any profundities to share, but that has never stopped me before.

The song Back on the Chain Gang is about grief.  Specifically, the album came after two members of the band (The Pretenders) passed away tragically.  You can read more about the song HERE.  This comes, also, on the heels of my listening to a few videos about the life of Pink Floyd founder Syd Barrett.  More than a few songs by the group, such as Wish You Were Here, are about Syd, who left the group and spiraled into decades of mental health issues afterward.  The conventional wisdom is that Syd "freaked out" after repeatedly taking the drug LSD, but from what I've learned (backed up by interviews with Pink Floyd band members David Gilmour and Roger Waters), it's more likely that he suffered from schizophrenia, which the LSD only made worse.  Not exactly, pleasant stuff, I know, but these things come to mind as I think about some of the things that have happened, and are happening, in my life.

I know that last phrase is, shall we say, a bit on the "loaded" side, and I'm going to apologize in advance for not being particularly direct.  That's part of the balance that has to be maintained sometimes in life as we try to weigh our own need for expression vs. a genuine desire to not make things worse.  I'm going to try and walk that line.

In this time between the Thanksgiving and Christmas, I often think about past holidays.  Now at the time, as I (and really all of us) experience these things, it's never clear how important they will become to us in the future.  Every parent can relate to this, as we collectively measure the memories of our little children against the realities of now-functioning adults who are busy creating memories of their own.  For me, while some of those times were very stressful, for a variety of reasons, I would pretty much give anything to see my daughters, as those long-ago little girls, at Christmas one more time.  

I also think about my late brother Chris quite often around the holidays, and in most respects, I would never want to go back and see him again around the holidays, at least not as an adult.  For people that struggle with mental health issues, the holidays can be very difficult.  That can be far easier to discern in hindsight than it is in real time.  Part of that struggle ends up with those loved ones who end up bearing witness to that difficulty, over and over again, in their collective memories.  

Lastly, I am okay.  As I've written in the past, in sometimes visceral detail, I'm fully aware that my fate ends up being the observer, "that which survives".  I am grateful for that survival instinct, for that ability to step back, shake it off, learn a bit, and move on.  And end up writing stuff like this.  Like any talent though, it's never free.

Sunday, November 20, 2022

After the Ball, 2022 Election

It's been an eventful month or two since I last posted, so this might be one of several entries over the next few weeks.

Side note:  For additional reading, you can also check out this cross-blog posting written with Ms. Rivers.

First up, we have an election that was, and while no election ever left everyone happy, I think a majority are glad at least about the results of the Pennsylvania governor's race.  For the benefit of the uninformed, that race was between the existing Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro and state Senator Doug Mastriano.  The results are:

While I am happy with the net result, the sad underlying reality is this:  Over 2 million fellow Pennsylvania residents voted for a man who basically embodies the very notion of Christian Nationalism.  You can read more about the candidate HERE and HERE.  Now I get not necessarily liking Josh Shapiro; on a good day, he is about as engaging as a plain English muffin (untoasted, without any toppings).  However, he has one major advantage over Doug Mastriano, in that he doesn't want to impose a religiously-centered government in Pennsylvania.  That comes from the candidate himself, by the way.  From the Guardian article previously linked:

As a state senator in Pennsylvania, he said women who violated a proposed six-week abortion ban should be charged with murder. Mastriano frequently attacks trans people and has said gay marriage should be illegal, and that same-sex couples should not be allowed to adopt children.

From a speech he gave (as quoted in the New York Times, and other sources):

The separation of church and state was a "myth" he said.  "In November we are going to take out state back, my God will make it so"

From an interview given in 2018 (quoted in the Rolling Stone article):

The hosts asked Mastrianio if gay marriage should be legal. “Absolutely not,” he answered, citing the Old Testament. “I’m for traditional marriage. And I am not a hater for saying that. It’s been like that for 6,000 years,” he said, invoking the Bible: “It was the first institution founded by God in Genesis, and it needs to stay that way.”

One has to wonder what other biblical mandates Senator Mastriano would seek to impose on others.  

Anyway, I don't know how someone can defend these stancesIt also makes me somewhat ill thinking about the fact that I probably have social media connections who agree with these ideas.  In the end, though, better people prevailed, but not by nearly enough.  We still have a society where someone who trades in fear that is white-washed with religious zealotry can attract a large following.  My hope is that younger generations will help right those wrongs.  

I could also comment on the Pennsylvania Senate race, but I won't (much).  Suffice it to say, the miracle cure snake oil salesman and New Jersey resident doctor didn't win.  And he was defeated by a man who suffered a stroke.  That says a lot.  Oh, and one more thing:  The man who had a stroke, Senator-Elect Fetterman, is an outstanding example for anyone who suffers from a physical setback, such as a stroke*, but nevertheless keeps moving forward.  That's nothing short of inspirational.

Post-election, and it goes without saying that no one likes a sore winner, but with so many viewing politics through a sports-team lens ("Your team sucks!", where "team" is either Democrats or Republicans), that exact thing is bound to happen.  So be it.  Elections, like life itself, have a certain shelf-life, and that which is won today will be lost tomorrow.  What really matters is the larger direction our society is moving in.  Are we going to govern based on fears (of immigrants, of the LGBTQ community, of the Jews...and the list goes on) or are we going to start with the underlying assumption that we all have inalienable rights, without (many) strings attached?  Where "all", by the way, includes those who are not just like us?  

Finally, and to touch on one issue in particular, by all means, be vigorously anti-abortion if that's your passion, but don't assume that your passion gives you the right to make decisions for others.  For example, I wish no one had an abortion, and that those kinds of decisions never had to be made.  However, that's not living in the real world, and I find it repugnant that a government can impose such a deeply personal decision on a woman.  Abortion bans end up being an example of a big, intrusive government at its very worst, which is a bit of irony that (supposedly) small government individuals such as Senator Mastriano can't seem to grasp.

(*) I have a tiny bit of skin in this game, as because of any underlying heart issue, I am considered as having a greater risk of stroke.  It's something I'm working on addressing, but I will confess that the characterization of Senator-Elect Fetterman as being cognitively impaired due to his stroke made me angry.  Political campaign rhetoric aside, you can learn more about stroke risks and support for stroke survivors at the following links:

Stroke Risk Factors

Community Resources for Survivors of Stroke

Saturday, November 19, 2022

Cross Posted - Carroll Boys Blog "Update - Notes for After Our Passing"

This was something that Ms. Rivers and I collaborated on recently.  You can also link to the original posting HERE.

* * * * * *

Saturday, November 19, 2022

Update - Notes for After Our Passing

It has not been quick or easy to make our final arrangements, but we are trying to get it done to minimize what you and the girls will need to do.  For a couple years, we periodically visited cemeteries (per the original post in 2019, we have specific criteria).  I like walking around cemeteries, probably because I grew up immediately next to one.  We ended up choosing the West Pittston Cemetery, which works since it has many trees, small animals, a view of the mountains and as a bonus for me is near the Susquehanna River.  (Although it was annoying that a lovely tree quite near our plot was cut down shortly after we bought it.)

Then it took a over a year to get a monument, probably because we wanted unique stuff.  We started at a Dupont monument business, since the Carroll headstone at the Wyoming Cemetery was purchased there.  After picking marble and sending pictures of a mourning dove (happy first sign of spring, for me) and an entwined eternity and heart symbol, there was no further response to our inquiries.  The problem may have been that we wanted special, multi-colored marble from India, and during early phase of COVID-19 it wasn't feasible to get it.  So we started again with Pesavento Monuments in Scranton, and this time decided to get locally-sourced marble.  Eventually after months of follow-up emails/calls, the design was set, order finalized and grave stone was placed in July.  Here is the result, which we are pleased with:

Now we go "visit ourselves" every so often during walks in the cemetery.  However, we are not done yet - still have to arrange more stuff with Metcalfe-Shaver-Kopcza funeral home.  

As more practical information, we each created a Death Box which is supposed to have useful information to help with estate work.  So far, mine includes account/website passwords, and a few letters.  We did minor embellishing to decorate the boxes - but the letters are not sticking well.  Steve's is supposed to say "Steve's last waltz", and mine is supposed to say "See ya on the far side banks of Jordan" (pretty much, that's a song - I suggest listening to the Carter Family version).  Here's what they look like, with sleepy Oren & Rambo nearby.

In other news, Theresa Caputo, the Long Island medium continues to post videos on YouTube.  I'm still watching those, and also found Allison DuBois (a medium who has worked with law enforcement) who even more compelling.  Fascinating stuff!  So maybe there is an afterlife!!  

Steve's Two Cents

Ms. Rivers asked if I wanted to contribute to this posting, and while I mostly don't take writing topic requests, I'll make an exception in this case. 


First and foremost, I just don't know.  As in I don't understand the whole "hereafter" stuff.  In some ways, I suspect that is at least partially a case of avoidance, as in I don't want to think about death and what happens next...if I'm basically just going to ignore it.  That, however, flies in the face of my desire to live a more or less ordered life.  There is also a very practical reason why, as noted by Ms. Rivers, we're doing this work:  We don't want others burdened with it when our mortal coils expire.  I've seen too many examples of people passing and leaving a whole heaping serving of work for others to figure out.  In my book that's just plain wrong. 


Second, and to repeat, I just don't know.  Now I admire those with faith in a life after this, including Ms. Rivers, who insists that there will be many concerts...and Heaven.  Mind you I have tried to (intellectually) understand this, but there is a gaping flaw in my approach to this overall topic.  That flaw, however, is that faith, by its very definition, is having a belief precisely when there is a lack of evidence.  It does not play well with my attempt to intellectualize the hereafter and is therefore basically doomed to fail.  The thing that I've relied on all my ability to process the world through logic and also the thing that stifles me.  At some point, I'm hoping that changes. 


Third, while I don't know about some things, I do know that it makes sense to have a final resting place in death that somehow exemplifies the kind of life I've tried to live.  As noted by Ms. Rivers, trees are important.  I like trees.  I also love the idea that squirrels and rabbits will be doing their small animal things on top of our remains.  There's something simple and wonderful about life continuing at the very same place where life has been marked to an end. 


Finally, yes, I am quite tardy with creating content for the poorly named "Death Box".   See the first point, as I suspect that part of this is all about avoidance.  I am, however, reminded of what John Lennon noted in a song... 


"Life is what happens when you're busy making other plans", the balance is to continually work on having a good life while also planning on what happens when there is no life to be had.  I'll get there, eventually. 

Friday, October 14, 2022

Alex Jones, Dirty Wad of Gum

In an editorial published in today's edition of the Scranton Times-Tribune, radio personality Alex Jones is described as a "provocateur".  You can find that editorial HERE (warning, paywall).  The "provocateur" is in the news over his latest court loss.  One of the many related story links posted is below.

As a side note, the Howard Stern Show has made some of the best parodies of the "provocateur".  Here's a sample:


Anyway, in case my response to this editorial is removed, I've decided to capture it here.  Now in fairness to the Scranton Times-Tribune, I've rarely, if ever, had a story comment taken down.  Just in case though, and for the sheer joy of noting again just how horrible of a human being the "provocateur" really is, I've included my editorial comment below.

A "provocateur"? Wow, that's rich. How about this instead: Remember that time when you stepped in gum that was laying on the ground, and hours later, after taking your shoes off, discovered the flattened wad with all matter of detritus stuck to it? That dirty wad of flattened gum has more value than "provocateur" Alex Jones.
Yes, by all means, Mr. Gum Wad has a "right" to say what he wants. That includes, as horrid as it sounds, literally tormenting parents who had their LITTLE CHILDREN MURDERED. What he doesn't have though is the "right" to be from the consequences of his words. As a parent, I want this "provocateur" to have no wealth...and no shelter...until the day when he truly feels, if that's even possible for a wad of dirty gum stuck to the bottom of a shoe, a 10th of the horror experienced by these parents.

Sunday, October 9, 2022

Close-Up Time

This space has a long, rich history as it relates to posts about October, and while I'm not going to re-hash what has already been written about before, I can't help myself but write something appropriately themed for this current month. 

Moving on...

I usually "close up" the backyard at the end of October, but for some reason, it just seems to make sense to do that earlier this year.  And so it goes, with this weekend being filled with a lot of colder weather preparations.  I still have some of the front flowers in the ground, but they are definitely on borrowed time.  My marigolds have already made their way to the yard waste container, but in all fairness, their fate was sealed while we were on vacation in Maine, having been halfway water starved.  There are still things yet to do, such as closing up the gas grill, but that will come.  My only real deadline is November 17th.

Segue to the hand story.

After two doctor visits, with the second being to a hand specialist, it's been decided that I need to have surgery on my right hand to remove a cyst that apparently isn't going anywhere on its own.  This is truly a self-inflicted wound, as it comes after I managed to spear the palm of my hand with an inch-long shard of pressure-treated lumber.  I will note that I own about 5 pairs of work gloves, none of which were in use when said shard speared my hand.  Anyway, while I took out the shard, either part of the wound did not heal properly or there is some small piece of lumber still in my hand.  Or both.  Regardless, I either get this cyst removed or kick the can down the road a bit until it gets worse.  The former seems like the smarter move, which is pretty ironic given the fact that this whole mess is the result of a dumb move.  Either way, on November 18th the cyst and me part ways.

Looking back over the years, I can point to maybe a dozen other battle scars (figurative and actually) resulting from my home improvement and other (mis)adventures.  One of my "Greatest Hits" included the time I managed to filet my leg, which I was using as a makeshift table to trim ceiling tiles with a boxcutter.  Most people would have regrets over such things, but me?  Nahhh...I think of them as souvenirs.

Road Trip.

Call me crazy (see above for a good reason), but I've wanted to take a trip down the area of the southern anthracite coal fields for a while now.  See THIS POSTING from 2015.  That trip happened last Sunday, with my brother Rich.  The weather was pretty terrible for a trip, so I didn't take much in the way of photographs, although we did have a great lunch at the Lost Mined Brewing Company and Restaurant in Shamokin.   You can link the place HERE.  Of course, no trip to Shamokin would be complete without a visit to the town's most important place, Dunkin Donuts.

That clip, and especially the outstanding contribution of Mr. Dutch Smith (skip to 1:30 in the video) is nothing short of a classic.  No legal work was performed during the trip.

It was nice to spend time with my brother, and I was left thinking about how it would have been fun to have Chris (as in my late brother) come with us.  That's the thing that is hard to explain to someone who has not lost a sibling...namely, the times when, just out of the blue, you really and truly miss that person.

And finally...

I would be remiss if I didn't mention the following about this corner of the Internet: Sometime in September, I went over 1 million page views.  You can link to my very first posting, from October 27, 2008, HERE.  I'm not going to claim this as any kind of accomplishment, but I will take this opportunity to thank those who have taken the time to read what I've written over these past 14 years.  While my output has dropped pretty significantly over the years, I still enjoy this, and who knows what the future holds.

Sunday, September 4, 2022

Picking Up Leaves

I recently bought a small, 20-volt battery-operated leaf blower to compliment the massive gas-powered Toro model I usually use for stuff around the property.  I also have a gas-powered Husqvarna leaf vac that only gets used about once a year, as I end up looking like a coal miner by the time I've finished using it (i.e., it spits out a lot of dust).  Anyway, with that gear in mind, Ms. Rivers commented that, with the new leaf blower, I will have less time to spend outside picking up leaves using a bucket and the greatest tool I own...a $3.00 plastic pick-up tool from Harbor Freight (link HERE).

This last piece of leaf pick-up technology is shown below.

Picking up leaves (and other yard thingies) using this combination of gear is, quite frankly, exceedingly inefficient.  In fact, it is ridiculously inefficient.  There is an almost "Fool On The Hill"-esque  quality to the activity.

Well on the way, head in a cloud
The man of a thousand voices
Talking perfectly loud
But nobody ever hears him
Or the sound he appears to make
And he never seems to notice
But the fool on the hill
Sees the sun going down
And the eyes in his head
See the world spinning round

This is pretty much an activity I engage in most days, March through November, so if you are ever in West Pittston, Pennsylvania just driving around one evening, you're likely to see this ungainly guy (me) wandering around with a bucket and a blue stick-like thing.

So what gives?

Simply put, this really isn't about picking up leaves, sticks, or other yard detritus.  The actual end-product of the buckets-full-o-plant matter is only a by-product of a sort.  This is about me having a seeming excuse to 1) Be outside on a nice day, and 2) Be alone with my thoughts.  I feel, in an odd sort of way, at peace when I am picking up stuff.  It feels as if I have some measure of control over my world, even if that world is confined to just a yard in Northeastern Pennsylvania.  And for the record, the worse the day I have, the more I look forward to picking up yard stuff, one bit at a time.

My bucket detail work isn't just a bad-day kind of thing.  Good days warrant it as well.  In fact pretty much any day when it's not raining (or snowing) and about 45+ degrees fahrenheit outside is fair game.

I do have a more upgraded metal pick-up tool, but it's just as much fun to use the $3.00 model.  The only downside to the $3.00 model is that it has a limited shelf life, meeting its eventual demise via cracked plastic parts.  I always have a few spare ones on hand, by the way, for just such situations.  Over the year it has not been uncommon for me to buy 3 or 4 of them at a time, just to keep a supply on hand.  They are also quite handy for picking up the odd thing that falls behind the dryer every once in a while.  

They say you can't really buy happiness, which is probably true.  But for $3.00 I can buy some measure of contentment though, which seems like a really good deal.

Wednesday, August 17, 2022

"...her face is a map of the world..."

The title comes from the song "Suddenly I See" by K.T. Tunstall.  You can find the full song lyrics HERE.  In the aftermath of last week's medical stuff (see THIS posting) I'm left thinking about some of the bigger things in life.  That's where the song lyric comes in:  It's this idea that somehow you can see in someone's very face the life that they have lived, the world they have been in (or, in some cases survived).  When I think about the life I've lived and the world I have been in, well, at times it's not always a pleasant sight.  Kind of just like my face.

Now I'll say right off the bat that I am far, far luckier than many.  Heck, I am only here by the graces of modern (well, at least late 1960s modern) medical technology, courtesy of a removed but-formerly-ruptured appendix when I was about 5 years old.  Lessor versions with that same story theme have played out over the years, and there have been a few occasions over the recent past as well.  There have also been plenty of occasions where, rather than somehow being able to celebrate the fact that I, unlike some others, didn't fall prey to some terrible thing, I've been left with a kind of pit-in-the-stomach form of survivor's guilt.  It's as if there is this thing inside of me that refuses to accept the positive side of just about anything.  

I am, according to some learned folks, hard-wired for adversity.  My mental machinery is designed to seek out and survive all that the world throws at me.  I am in a perpetual state of looking for threats and preparing for the worst.  Is this a good thing?  I don't know.  When I think though about what happens after literally decades of having that kind of constant tension in my life, I'm left wondering if there is a kind of physical toll to it all, a kin to a rubber band that has been stretched too far for too long.  Time, as they say, will tell.

Where does all this lead?  I don't really know.  What I do know is that I've been thinking a lot lately about the costs of survival.  I'm also wondering what more I need to do in order to get off the built-for-survival train that has carried me throughout these past 5 or so decades.  At some point, I should run out of threats, real or imaginary.  Then, in what could best be described as an adult-sized portion of irony, perhaps the final threat to me is the toll that decades of stress, anxiety, and surviving have taken.  Yes, the final threat may very well be me.

Finally, I know in my very gut that all of us, me included, are always capable of changing, learning, and growing.  I also know that part of the drive I describe above has helped me do some good things in my life as well.  Like most tools though, the trick is to use it as intended.  After all, you can use a $150 DeWalt drill to bang a nail into a wall (and break it in the process) or you can use a $20 hammer for that same purpose.  Life, it seems, always comes down to some kind of choice.

Thursday, August 11, 2022

Tube Time

An actual joke I told the nurses who wheeled me into the procedure room for a recent combination endoscopy and colonoscopy...

Q:  What's the difference between the tubes used for a colonoscopy and an endoscopy?

A:  The taste.

I know, that's pretty horrible, but consider the fact that it's pretty darn hard to come up with an "endoscopy/colonoscopy" joke.  And yes, I actually came up with that all on my own.

What's definitely not a joke is the fact that I had been trying to get this procedure done since early 2000, and have endured more reschedules than Walmart has endured employee class-action lawsuits (I know, HR humor isn't very funny either).  Up until the actual event, my last procedure date was supposed to be July 29th, which got rescheduled a week beforehand to today.  For the record, anyone who thinks that COVID is no longer an issue in this country needs their head examined.

So what have I learned from this whole experience, outside of the fact that COVID is alive and well, still wreaking havoc with healthcare?

First, I shouldn't give driving directions while still under the lingering effects of sedation.  I actually had Ms. Rivers driving in circles around Scranton for a bit on the way home.

Second, I need to think long and hard about what happens next.  For example, they want to do another colonoscopy in a year, mostly because, in their estimation, my prep wasn't very good this time around.  I will note that following the rules was burned into me from an early age.  I followed the prep instructions to the letter.  Upon hearing this, one of the staff at the hospital suggested that I may need to do two days of prep for "2022 Colonoscopy 2.0".  This is where the "think long and hard" part comes into play.  At this stage, I am unwilling to do that; while my opinion could change, I doubt it will.  If you've ever been through colonoscopy prep you will know why.  I'll certainly consider other options, such as maybe different prep potions, but two days of broth, Gatorade, and orange jello?  I don't think so.

Third, the older you get, the more you think about the mortal coil.  My test results were not great, but, I am sure they could be much, much worse.  For example, the newly decreed lifetime forever ban on all things Advil (and its various cousins) will be a pain in my head, but if it stops some degree of gut rot, well, it's probably worth it.  Other things will not be quite so simple, such as potentially altering my diet away from that of an average 12-year-old boy and more towards that of a 58-year-old boy.

Finally, it's all so very, very tiring.  As noted above, I have been trying to get these tests done since 2000.  Now that it's over, well, I am just fatigued, both physically (from the IV joy juice they gave me) and mentally (all that time spent beforehand thinking about this, and the prospect of having other things to think about after the fact).  In the final analysis, though, this is life, which reminds me of the fact that the older I get, the more the John Mellencamp song Minutes to Memories makes sense.  

"There are no free rides, no one said it'd be easy"...

Friday, July 22, 2022

Maine 2022: Big Blue Sky

Today is our final day in Maine, and tomorrow's trek home will likely begin around 7:30am-ish.  Seeing as though my wife's family is composed mainly of (notoriously) early risers, we may in fact be the last to leave.  It's all good though, no matter how things play out.  As I mentioned in a prior posting, today was kept purposefully unscheduled, except for some preliminary packing.  

The actual day was fine.  We ended up making a second trip to the Maine Prison Showroom, where I purchased a shirt and a cool red birdhouse.  The prices there for the products offered are really very, very good.  It's also good to know that purchases benefit prisoners who are trying to better their lives.  In my estimation, the penal system in this country doesn't seem to provide much in the way of rehabilitation; instead, this is much more of a punishment-based system.  Yes, there should be consequences for illegal acts, but society also has an obligation to help those who want to serve their time and then live a better life.  

Also on tap for today was a hike that Ms. Rivers was interested in taking.  That yielded a few photographs...

...all of which scream Maine at a very high volume.  

Speaking of photographs, after deleting a few errant photos of nothing, I made copies of the shots I've taken and provided them to Ms. Rivers' brother and one of her sisters (for sharing with her parents).  As I noted during a kind of closing campfire, I haven't been taking many photographs over the past year or so.  I think that's as much a statement about how difficult the past two or three years have been as it is anything else.  When stressed, it seems only natural that some of the things we enjoy doing end up taking a backseat.  Coming to Maine and being an unofficial photographer has been helpful for me.

Maine provides, in addition to things like popular dinner arthropods and unpopular mosquitos, an opportunity for deep thoughts.  As I was trying not to think about anything this afternoon...always a losing proposition for occurred to me just how essential things like vacations are, no matter where, no matter how long.  It's just far too easy to fall into mental ruts and unhealthy patterns when so much of how we are wired is geared towards sameness and predictability.  Even when that sameness and predictability is ultimately unhealthy.  Vacations can provide something of a lifeline out of these ruts.  The trick, I believe, is to take bite-sized pieces out of a vacation and graft them as new pieces into our daily lives.  

Finally, in addition to using my Sony digital SLR camera, I have been using my Pixel 6 phone to take photographs, and it has not disappointed me.  I'll end this series of posts with a very fitting sunset or two.

Here's to more beatiful sunsets, be they in Maine or anywhere else for that matter.

Thursday, July 21, 2022

Maine 2022: Puffin

One of the things I wanted to accomplish during this vacation was to just have the time to read.  By way of disclosure, I read all of the time.  As in constantly.  As in I am always reading.  What's been difficult over the past two years has been actually reading books cover to cover.  This is more about a series of cosmic disruptions in my life, mostly related to employment than anything else.  Put more directly, I just have gotten so tired with everything I try to do that, by the time I want to read a book I have nothing mentally left.  

All of the above noted, I brought two books with me on vacation, although one of them is well over 700 pages, so I think it should count as multiple books.  That book, Ashes to Ashes, is a history of the tobacco industry.  You can find that book HERE.  About 150 pages in, and I love the book.  Now I'm not going to sermonize about the topic of the book, but what I will say is this:  I wish no one used tobacco products.  They literally kill you.  Our lives are just too precious.  

As I write this, it is about 8am, and today's literary includes, of all things, puffin watching.  This is actually more about being on a boat and taking pictures than it is about puffins, but I'm going to run with it.  From there?  We shall see.

Back again and it's the end of the day.  As for puffin watching, well, it was a success.  Here's some evidence:

I didn't get any puffins in flight, as the little guys (and gals) are small and move very quickly, making photos with a zoom lens kind of difficult.  All things considered though, it was enjoyable, even if my hands felt like a salted pretzel afterward.  To and from Puffin Island there was the usual assortment of scenic Maine things...

I will add that there was a substantial haze in the air to and from Puffin Island. 

Finally, whenever the subject of puffins comes up, I am always reminded of Bloom County's Opus the Penguin...

(with apologies to Berkeley Breathed)

On that note, I am going to wrap this posting up.  Tomorrow is our last full day in Maine, and while we don't have much planned, I still hope to get some picture-taking time.  Speaking of pictures, I have taken a few hundred so far, and after a culling of the memory card, a copy of what remains will be going to the parents of Ms. Rivers, as I think part of my job is to be an official family photographer for these kinds of things.  Capturing memories for two wonderful people (Rev. David and Liz Rivers) is a wonderful job to have by any measure.

Wednesday, July 20, 2022

Maine 2022: Why

I can't think of a more compelling title, so I'm going with simply "Why", that is until something better comes up.  There probably is a good reason for the title, by the way, but the bigger question is this:  Is it worth sharing?  I know, cryptic stuff makes for bad writing, so I'll stop.  For now.

Anyway, today had been planned as a day trip to what could best be described as an "artists island", but that didn't pan out, mostly on account of the fact that we could get ferry tickets to the island, but getting ferry tickets back wasn't possible.  And it's too far to swim.  Artist island being off the table, there was a replacement in the form of a visit to Port Clyde, a lighthouse, and a cemetery (in that order).  

Tackling that itinerary LIFO* order, the cemetery trip was to find some deceased Rivers clan members, along with accompanying members of the Davis family (who, I am told, are connected to the Rivers family by marriage...make that many marriages...apparently).  It was hot work, but several Rivers and Davis folk were found, and photos were taken for future genealogical reference.  Or to just help the next person not spend an hour looking for lichen-encrusted tombstones.  A sample is noted below.

It was nice helping Ms. Rivers with this most family of tasks.  

Side note:  While this part of Maine is something of an ancestral home of Rivers (and Davis), apparently, there are no above-ground Rivers to be found in these parts.

The Marshall Point lighthouse, working backward on my original list, was actually very nice.  A few photographs below provide some evidence of this fact.

Our first stop was Port Clyde itself, where lunch was had at the Port Clyde General Store.  This place looks exactly like what one would expect from a "Port Clyde, Maine, General Store".  The proof is as follows:

Rounding out the day was a lobster dinner at our compound.  What I'll say about that is the following..." I am sure it was well prepared".  That last quote is my standard response to virtually any food that I will not eat, and lobsters are definitely on that list.  I will note that I have tried lobster, and I found it to be basically just rubbery, with a fishy taste.  Again, no slight intented against the cooks, but it's just not my bag.  

"I only extrovert when I am paid."

The above quote gets to the title of this posting.  I'll admit to a certain feeling of being disconnected at family gatherings.  That's 100% me, and 0% everyone else.  This just wasn't something we did a lot of in my own family growing up, so I think there's a part of me that just doesn't know what to do.  Now part of me thinks that's a pretty asinine thing for a 58-year-old to admit (and/or write), but I've always tried to be honest and real in these writings over the past 14 years, so I'm going to stick with my guns here and keep going.  

"I only extrovert when I am paid." was my response once to someone who, at work, was shocked when I told them that am basically pretty introverted.  This shock comes from the fact that, over my many years in the professional workforce, much of my work has centered around teaching adults things.  Part of that, I will bluntly state, involves entertaining people.  Simply put, no one is going to listen to, let alone learn anything from someone who is about as engaging as a wad of chewing gum.  While I wouldn't use the word "engaging" to describe my professional work, I will say this:  I know how to make boring stuff seem interesting; see "entertaining people".  

To tie this all together, I choose not to be my work self when I am on vacation.  Part of me thinks that I should, but that would require work, which would then be in defiance of what a vacation is supposed to stand for in the first place.  It is, in a sense, a very real "catch-22":  I feel somewhat disconnected, but I also fight the urge to be entertaining or engaging as I would at work.  What's left?  A very uneasy kind of mental truce that can sometimes be difficult to navigate.  That navigation seemed more difficult today than it did on other days this week, for reasons I just can't explain.

Lastly, all of the above isn't intended to endear sympathy or even understanding from anyone; it's just me being honest, with both myself and the world.  In the final analysis, I think the world has something of an honesty deficit these days, as the complexity of our lives can make discerning fact from fiction increasingly more difficult.  Score another victory for the clarity that Maine has to offer.

(*) In case you forgot your Accounting 101 lessons, that would be "Last In, First Out".


Tuesday, July 19, 2022

Maine 2022: A Dog's Life

In addition to the 19 or so humans with us during our week in Maine are two dogs, Blue and Laya...

...who came with Ms. Rivers' sister.  

These are wonderful dogs by the way.  Well, most dogs are wonderful.  In fact, as I've noted before, most dogs are better than most people.  That's about a 50% indictment of bad-actor humans and a 50% endorsement of dogs.  In fact, I'll even blame bad-acting dogs on crappy human owners.  All this noted I'll never own a dog.  Growing up we had a dog (Choo-Choo, who was a beagle/dachshund who I am told smelled), and while that was enjoyable enough, it's just not for me.  I recognize that I'm not a good enough human to own a dog.  Unlike many actual dog owners.

Back to Maine.

We're staying at a rather large rental that sleeps in excess of 20 people, split between a large building and a smaller cottage.  All told a nice place.  It did come with something of an "October Suprise" in the form of a message from the property owners, who basically said, "hey, we're being sued by our neighbors, so if you be on your best behavior, well, that would be appreciated".  For the record, we are nothing if not a well-behaved group.

The good news is that the above message from the owner is far worse than the reality of this place, so no complaints (so far...).  I think that Maine is the kind of place where people basically just leave others alone.  That's a far better concept than that of New Hampshire's "Live Free or Die", which doesn't leave someone with much in the way of options.

As I start to write this (at 7:55am) it's kind of damp here in Cushing, which is understandable given the rain, mist, fog, and 180% humidity.  There's a kind of beauty in all of this and is yet another example (as referenced in the last posting) of how Maine has its own way of thinking about things, giving us the gift of perspective.  

Today's plans include a trip to Augusta, where my younger stepson will meet a friend of his and I will, hopefully, find that Holy Gail of sneakers, namely a decent pair of Rockports.  Seeing as though I probably have less than 5 millimeters worth of sole left in my sneakers. Being in Maine you would think that finding sneakers that are kinda-sorta associated with Maine would be relatively easy, but that's not been the case.  Hopefully, as we travel to the actual Rockport (Maine), my quest will yield some results.

On that note, it's time to end this screen.  I'll pick things up later.

It's now a hair bit after 10pm, and I am tired.  Today's jaunt included a trip to Augusta, the capital of Maine.  I will note "in all of its 16,000 inhabitants glory".  I think that last sentence speaks for itself.  The trip itself was not motivated by a desire for sightseeing, as there literally is not much to see in Augusta, but rather because my younger stepson has a friend in the area that he wanted to spend some time with.  Augusta just seemed to be the most logical place to visit.  Anyway, and as something of an update to this morning's screed, I did find a pair of sneakers, all be it not Rockports.

Regarding that last sentence, I can say with a bit of astonishment that, in actually buying new sneakers in Augusta, Maine, something unique happened:  I actually visited a shoe store that, gasp, didn't include vast stacks of shows followed by implicit directions of "fend for yourselves customers".  Yes, for the first time in something like 40 years, I actually got my feet measured (a bit over 12.5, and between EE and EEE in width) and got what seemed like the concierge shoe service.  I ended up not buying Rockports (apparently the company went bankrupt or some other terrible thing), but I did find a higher-end sneaker that fits and is comfortable.  Maine, it seems, was not going to least in the shoe department.

The rest of the day has been more or less laid back and included a 1-year-old's birthday party.  

Some additional photos from the day included those from a morning walk...

...and a set of spectacular sunset photos; one shown below...

As for tomorrow, well it's a bit of an open book.  This is not the worst thing in the world.