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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.

Monday, July 18, 2022

Maine 2022: Three Left Turns

It's nearly the end of day 3 in Cushing, Maine, and among the observations I have is that directions anywhere around here usually involve taking three consecutive left (or right) turns.  Just play that one out in your head for a moment.  Anyway, the roads in these parts are narrow and winding around corners in ways that make the faint of driving heart nervous, at the very least.  Fortunately for me, my driving is always during the day, and my Silverado maneuvers well in spite of its large size. 

Another observation is courtesy of my younger stepson, who has noticed that many of the people he sees in Maine are of a short, stout physical disposition.  After two trips to WallyWorld, and well, I have at least some observations to back up his point.  No doubt this attribute serves them well in the harsh Springs, Autumns, and Winters.  

To that last point, I actually did some checking, and it turns out that the average month-by-month temperatures in Cushing, Maine, are not all that dissimilar to that of, for example, Scranton, PA.  So much for that theory.  Maybe it's more about a diet high in potatoes and blueberries (with the former seeming to me to be what would grow in these parts...the latter is a given).  In any event, while stocky in stature, the folks here are also pretty friendly, even to outsiders careening down their winding roads in Silverados.

All other points aside, this place is very much Maine, with all that entails.  This is an old place, and it's hard not to be impacted in some way by what you see.  

Being an old place, Maine has another lesson to teach me:  That no matter what I think, I am never really in charge.  All of us are just but pebbles on the shore, momentarily exposed by low tide.


By this measure, maybe all of the competitive things society teaches us about "getting ahead" are not nearly as important as they seem to be.  Part of Maine is simply the gift of perspective.

Finally, part of any travel story is logistics, and today's logistical challenge was the fact that it was Ms. Rivers' turn to make dinner for our 19-person crew.  With some patience, lots of hard work (on her part), and her (as always) good planning, things went off without a hitch.  My contributions included gutting a watermelon and washing/preparing what seemed like an endless supply of lettuce.  For me, well, that's enough.  No one will ever accuse me of being in any way, shape, or form a cook.  

On that note, it's time to close out today.  I have a small self-inflicted knife cut to nurse and a somewhat swollen and very arthritic right big toe to mend.  All things considered, I got off easy today. 

Saturday, July 16, 2022

Maine 2022: Hope is the thing with feathers

Starting yesterday, and continuing through the end of next week, it's officially vacation time.  As in a real, multi-day, have to travel somewhere and interact with other humans vacation.  The specifics of this particular vacation center around my in-law's 61st wedding anniversary, and involve Ms. Rivers's family gathering in Maine, as that is where the senior Mr. & Mrs. Rivers had their honeymoon, many moons ago.  This was a trip that was postponed from a prior year (a 60th wedding anniversary trip seems to make a bit more sense, don't you think?), mostly on account of the 'rona*, which was a reasonable thing to do, all things considered.

This is, by the way, my third trip to Maine over the years.  One of the wonderful things about being married to Ms. Rivers is that, sans her involvement, I am reasonably sure I would never have gone to Maine in my lifetime,   That prior statement only makes sense if, for example, you've actually been to  Maine.

As I've written here before, I consider Maine to be a different kind of place.  The coastline is nothing short of awe-inspiringly beautiful, but over and above that, there's just something uniquely Maine-ly about Maine.  It's as if there's a different set of mental rules here...a different reality of sorts...that you can only understand if you've actually spent time in Maine.  It's a feeling that is pretty hard to put into words, and pictures only do it a kind of somewhat justice.  Speaking of pictures, there will be many over the next few days.  I may even plug some into a posting or three.

I know that's standard fare to say things like "I really need this vacation" when you are writing about vacation, and while I like to pride myself on the fact that I am reasonably good at writing things down, the reality is that I  really do think I need this time off.  There has been just so very, very much that has been fundamentally changing.  By that, I mean changes in the world, so many career changes for me over the past two years, changes in health, et al.  Through it all I have been doing what I think I do best:  Plowing through.  Yet, I suspect that even the best actual farm plow gets dull after too much usage and needs some kind of sharpening.  For me?  See Maine, above.

I'm not hoping for any miracles, by the way.  My hobbled right big toe will, for example, be as painful the week after next as it is now.  In fact, I'm not hoping for anything.

“Hope” is the thing with feathers -
That perches in the soul -
And sings the tune without the words -
And never stops - at all -

And sweetest - in the Gale - is heard -
And sore must be the storm -
That could abash the little Bird
That kept so many warm -

I’ve heard it in the chillest land -
And on the strangest Sea -
Yet - never - in Extremity,
It asked a crumb - of me.
(Emily Dickinson)

I've learned that hope is pretty much a useless kind of thing when viewed just by itself.  Where it has any real value in our lives is when it's coupled with some action.  See Maine, above.

So, what does all of this really, truly mean?  Well, seeing as though I started writing this at 6:02am in Portsmouth, New Hampshire (and it's now 6:33am), I'm not sure I can say.  As much as I haven't been writing much lately, sometimes the words just come out on their own without any real effort from me.  That's the case now.  This post is basically just writing itself; I'm just here to edit.

On that note, it's time to move on to other things.  There will be more to come.

(*) COVID-19 for the more sophisticated types out there.

Wednesday, May 25, 2022

Cars Can Kill People...Should We Ban Them Too?

I am admittedly reaching my mental and emotional saturation point when it comes to school shootings.  That's not to say that I'm going to bury my head in the sand, but I just need to dial back on the social and other media consumption when it comes to this horrific stuff.  I'll act in other ways for positive change. 

Anyway, as something of my last social media comment about this, I've read multiple times an anti-gun control argument that does something like this:

"Cars can kill people too; should we ban them too?"

The argument itself has some major logical flaws.  First and foremost, we have the fact that virtually anything that is misused can kill someone.  That includes hammers, reciprocating saws, 80lb bags of concrete, a printed copy of the Internal Revenue Code, zip lines, box cutters, gasoline, a can of Raid And and Roach killer, and someone's dog woofy.

Guns, however, are different.

Why? Because guns are one of the few things in this world that have, as their primary design purpose, killing people.  Guns were not some tool that was morphed into a killing device...they were developed as killing devices.  This is what they do.  

Can a gun be just used for target practice?  Sure.  But they are still designed to kill.  It's not a coincidence that many gun shooting targets are silhouettes of people (see HERE as just one example).

Can they be used to deter violence?  Sure, but let's not kid ourselves...that deterrence is based solely on the ability of a gun to kill.

Can they be used for hunting?  Sure, but a bullet designed to cut through a white-tail deer will just as easily go through a fellow human.

I am not suggesting that we ban guns.  If you own a gun and you are a responsible human being about it, well good for you.  I am also not suggesting that the solution to mass shootings can be found solely in the area of gun control because it can't.  For example, we have to have a far better discussion about mental health in this country and what drives someone to kill innocent children.

What I am saying is that changes to gun laws, in terms of access, capabilities, and monitoring, have to be a part of the discussion.  

Sunday, May 15, 2022

It's Been A Bumpy Ride

Spring 2022 has been rather bumpy.

Now normally, come later in April my mood tends to perk up a bit.  There are flower planting rituals to be followed, plans to be made, and schemes to be plotted.  April started out good enough, but mid-month we had snow on a Sunday, and it was as if a mental emergency brake was pulled inside my head.  Granted we are not talking about anything significant in terms of actual snow, but that wasn't the point.  The disappointment was the point.  

Now that we are in mid-May, and Spring has more forcefully sprung, it feels as if I am playing catch-up.  

The flower-planting ritual is supposed to ground me.  To make me feel better.  It's a part of my seemingly never-ending quest to feel as if I have some control over things, all the while acknowledging that, in reality, we really don't actually control all that much.  My reaction to April snow is proof-point #845 to that last sentence.

(the front flower-bed, two weeks ago)

So here I am here now, it's a warm Sunday evening, and I think I worked reasonably hard this weekend.  I know, weekends are supposed to be relaxing, not excuses for hard work.  Especially when it comes on the heels of sheer, utter exhaustion, courtesy of about 5 hours of sleep Friday night into Saturday morning.  

5 hours sleep + significant physical labor + age 58 = probably not a good idea.  

Now I don't consider myself to be a stupid person.  Granted, there are some areas where my lack of intelligence borders on the glaring, but by and large I am capable of telling "Sh*t from Shinola" when it comes to most things.  That noted, I still struggle greatly with sleep in general and feeling rested in particular.  It's a kind of puzzle of the worst sort.

In the back of my head, and as my late brother Chris' birthday approaches, I can recall countless discussions with him about how his own sleep issues were a significant stressor for him.  Now I know that Chris' sleep issues were just a sliver of his story for sure.  Yet it's just another bump, not unlike most of the roads in this area.

So where does this end?  I don't know.  I do know I have more flowers to plant.  And a decorative sidewalk to put in.  And a new border to put in around my front bushes.  Part of me gets tired thinking about it, yet I also know that, deep down, these kinds of things are important.  Every flower and every project (small or big) helps me feel alive.  In the end, what's the alternative?  We all need small things in our lives that matter.  Even when exhausted.

Anyway, here's to a smoother ride.

And here's some Supertramp.

Sunday, May 1, 2022

Time We Have Wasted On The Way

As is customary each April 26th, I had a birthday, and I want to take a moment to thank everyone who made the decision to take a moment out of their day to send me well wishes.  Honestly, I don't think it's the words that people say that matter in times like this, it's the fact that they gifted me with a tiny bit of that most precious commodity, their time.  The older I get, the more I see the real value in such a thing.

(As a birthday present, I will engage in some rampant stupidity.)

As I think about getting older, it occurs to me that where I am now is absolutely not like anything I could have ever expected.  That's not a bad...or a good...statement; it's just a basic fact.  In all honesty, we're all probably far better off that our lives aren't quite so predictable, although that is admittedly a first-world statement of fact.  Anyway, a few specific things do come to mind though as I start my 58th rotation around the sun.

You Don't Figure "It" All Out
I always thought that by the time I got this old, I would somehow have magically figured it all out.  What "it" means doesn't really matter.  "It" is really anything important.  And yes, there are things I have figured out.  For example, I am reasonably sure of the things I do well, and those things that, quite frankly I suck at.  As a corollary to that last statement, I actually have an entire catalog of things that I suck at, but which I still do anyway.  Chief among these things is signing...or anything musical for that matter.  

The big white element in the room of "things to figure out" is the very notion of what it means to be happy.  I have studied this.  I have read things from smart people.  I have sought out learned advice.

And yet I just don't know.  Now there have been times when I have been genuinely happy.  It's just that those were very specific events.  Part of me thinks that the notion of happiness as being this event-driven thing is just wrong.  That's how children think about things; we adults should have this kind of happy baseline thing going on in our lives, assuming we are doing "it" right.  In any event, I am going to going to keep looking.  And thinking.  And maybe considering the fact that happiness isn't something that can or should be intellectualized...maybe such things are the very antithesis of happiness.  Maybe I have been happy all along.

I Value Connections (but I'm not good at them...)
The older I get, the more I realize that all humans need connections with others.  We need to interact.  We need friends and acquaintances.  We need people who value us more than maybe we value ourselves.  These are people who see us without the cloud of self-perception that hampers our own first-person view.  

The reality for me is that I've always struggled with this very basic thing.  Oddly enough, I think I am good at connections when it comes to my professional life, but I feel like I have trouble translating that to my personal life.  I do have people I consider friends that I met at work, but on the whole, I just wish I were better at this very basic thing.

The Best Things Aren't Things
Growing up we didn't have much.  In fact, the very first polo short I ever owned I bought myself at Sears using my paper route money.  I now have good clothes, from my Timberland socks to the Columbia long-sleeve shirt I wore yesterday while doing yard work.  Ten years from now yesterday's outfit won't matter at all to me, but that first polo shirt (it was navy blue...a Sears knock-off of an Izod polo) will because it was more than just a was a kind of first step in my becoming an adult life

There's Value In Simplicity
I have come to a deep appreciation of the value that simplicity brings to our lives.  That value has been greatly amplified by just how complex the world of information has become.  In the early 90s, I marveled at the Internet being a kind of library you could visit anytime online.  Now?  The value is overshadowed by the machine-gunning messaging that we all face in the connected world.  As I think about this, I appreciate even more just how wonderful it is to, for example, see my grass being high, cutting my grass, and then see how much better it looks after that effort.

In The Future
When I think about my life 5 years from now, when I'll probably retire for real, my goal will be to continue to create a simpler life.  I don't know that this will make me happier (see above), but I do know that's what seems to make sense at the moment.  In the end, I think all we really have is the moment.  This moment.  Everything else is just time wasted on the way.

Saturday, April 16, 2022

Desert Moon


"Those summer nights
When we were young
We bragged of things
We'd never done
We were dreamers, only dreamers
And in our haste
To grow up too soon
We left our innocence on Desert Moon
We were dreamers, only dreamers
On Desert Moon
On Desert Moon
On Desert Moon
Desert Moon"

(Dennis Deyoung, Desert Moon)

During a trip, last November to Maryland and West Virginia, Ms. Rivers and I made a detour on the road home.  That detour was to a town in Perry County (Pennsylvania) where I lived in the late '80s.  This is also where my oldest daughter was born and was the first time I had been in that corner of the universe since December 1988, although I may have driven by once in the 90's on the way home from a business trip.  Regardless, it was definitely the first time I actually spent the time to notice things.

What did I notice?  Well, the very small town has grown a bit, and the former home we (my first wife and I) rented has changed a bit.  See the photo, above.  

Back in those days, we rented the house from a very nice older woman named Mrs. Shull.  The decision to rent to us came down to one factor:  Her husband (Clarance) seemed to think that I reminded him of his younger self.  

"The waiter poured our memories in a tiny cup
We stumbled over words we longed to hear
We talked about the dreams we'd lost, or given up
When the whistle caught the night
And shook silence from my life
As the last train rolled toward the moon"

Looking back, things were a bit stressful (low paying job, constant car troubles, being a new father, etc.) but in retrospect, I think I actually enjoyed living in Perry County those 3 + decades ago.  I realize there is some element of nostalgia that time brings on to most situations, but there was also something kind of magical about having to figure out the world one's self.  There were daily struggles, but there were also seemingly endless possibilities.  The challenge then...and the benefit of that I can only clearly see that now.

Speaking of now, it's been said in songs, poems, and popular culture that you ultimately can't go back, defining "back" any way you choose.  What I love about the song Desert Moon is that it makes that very point, but in a way that makes me (at least) feel better about it all.  Not that I wouldn't want to necessarily go back, but it would be nice to experience those times once more, if even just for a fleeting moment.  Not because they were "better" but just because I was so very different.

These days I would say that I am smarter.  Maybe make that more "seasoned".  I also have more than 35 years of memories between then and now.  Some of those memories are priceless, including the birth of two more daughters, and watching all three become independent professional women; some of them are pretty damn terrible, including witnessing death and heartaches.  Maybe it's a testimony to perseverance...or maybe just being incredibly stubborn...that somehow the good and the bad seem to balance each other out most days, although I will readily confess that there have been times when that balance has been pretty precarious.  

In the end, I suspect that there is a reason why, outside of the world of science fiction, we can't really ever go back.  Maybe we're just not capable of processing such a thing if it were possible.  Then again, maybe we our memories...and possibly in some way after our mortal coil has been fully spent in this life.  In any event, we all get to find that out eventually.

Sunday, April 3, 2022

Florider, Days 2 & 3

Yesterday's time in the town of St. Augustine did not disappoint, and for anyone with even a passing interest in architecture, this is quite a place.  I didn't bring my DSLR camera for this trip, mostly because I didn't want to end up dealing with it at the airport, but I was able to grab a few great photos using the Pixel 6 Pro.  Here's an example...

(Flagler College, St. Augustine)

The limits of transferring cellphone pictures to my laptop mean that it's just too impractical to share a ton of photos now, but I will include this...the most ornate Presbyterian church in the known galaxy, one that would give any Roman Catholic cathedral a run for its money:

Yesterday's walk-about included some time at the Castillo de San Marcos National Monument, which is genuinely a treasure and a must-see for anyone visiting the part of Florida.

Yesterday ended with dinner at a small chain restaurant called "Willie Jewells Old School Bar-B-Q".  I'd have to go back to visits to Texas in the 1990s to remember brisket that was as good as what I had at this place.  As a kind of post-script, the brisket I had was actually too in I ended up visiting GERDland twice last night.  Not fun, but then again we are probably going back tomorrow.  I am nothing if not a glutton for punishment.

Today's events included an earlier morning trip to the beach at Anastasia Island, which was wonderful.  There weren't a ton of people on the beach, but I don't think swimming was either allowed or advisable due to surf conditions.

(hanging with the locals at the beach)

After the beach, there was some time with an old friend of Ms. Rivers and her husband, followed by a last-minute visit to a place called Buc-ee's, which can best be described as the Jerry Springer of mega-gas stations.  Mega as in you could probably fit 3 or 4 Sheetz inside of it, with room to spare for additional beaver-themed merchandise.

Yes, the company logo is a cartoon beaver wearing a baseball cap.  And yes, I got a teeshirt of said cartoon beaver wearing a baseball cap.  Think of this place as being somewhere you probably want to visit at least once, if for no other reason than the sheer experience of it all.

And that was the day.  Tomorrow is our last full day in Florider, so there will be more hiking, more brisket and likely another GERD attack tomorrow night.  It's all for a good cause though.

Saturday, April 2, 2022

Florider*, Day 1

(*) I love regional accents.  One of the most fascinating is that of people from Long Island, NY.  Sometimes these folks will pronounce an "a" as an "er" when it comes at the end of a noun.  For example, "Aruba" becomes "Aruber" and "Florida" becomes "Florider".  Don't get me started about how people from the Philadelphia area pronounce "water" as a word that rhymes with "udder".

* * * * * *

The next few days are what I consider my first real vacation since 2019, and my first time flying since August 2018.  Actually, and maybe to make up for a lost time, this is my first of two vacations this year, with the second being a week in Maine during July.  For this extended weekend, the place to go is St. Augustine, Florida, where a good friend of Ms. Rivers spends the winter months.  I've never been to this part of Florida, and I've always wanted to see the old Spanish architecture of St. Augustine, so I was all in for this trip from the very beginning.  I will note that this same trip had been rescheduled I think more than once due to various, sundry issues.  In any event, we're here.

(vultures...hopefully not an omen)

I'll confess right off the bat that Florida isn't necessarily my favorite place to be.  I've been here about a half-dozen or more times, going back decades.  For me, it's one of those places where the promise is always 1000% better sounding than the delivery.  That's not a reflection of the people here, who are almost always exceedingly friendly, but rather more about other things, including the weather.  Yes, for example, it's nice to not have to deal with 20 degree days in the winter, but then the trade-off is jungle-esque conditions in the summer when you don't want to go outside anyway.  As they say, life is about trade-offs.  

I also have this image that every other person down here is carrying a gun.  Not my thing.  If it's yours, well, that's good, and I hope it works for you.  As for me, well, seeing someone other than a police officer packing heat in a Cracker Barrell restaurant seems just oddly immature, and it makes me feel far less safe.  Just what is that person trying to prove by side-holstering a 9mm pistol while eating pancakes?  Is that some kind of warning to the kitchen staff, along the lines of "these pancakes better be good, or Mr. Glock might get upset..."?

Here's one other oddity about Florida:  I was reminded this morning that sometimes the water stinks.  As in smells.  As in it smells like what I expect of a salt marsh during a breeze-free 90-degree day in July.  It smells so bad that I feel like I need a shower after my shower.  Thank God for deodorant.

Not to be outdone, the actual trip down here was mostly uneventful, but I did learn something important:  I breathe differently when I am falling asleep.  I discovered this while almost dozing off on the flights yesterday (we got up a 4am to catch a 6:15 am flight out of Scranton) with a mask on my face.  I literally could not breathe, so much so that I ended up having to go to the restroom on the flights not to meet a biological imperative, but rather just to have a few minutes to catch a deep breath.  I'd be more bothered by the whole thing if it weren't for the fact that having everyone wear a mask while flying in a contained tube tightly packed with other humans actually does seem like the right thing to do during (hopefully) the waning days of a pandemic.

Anyway, I am here and it's about time to start the day.  I'll do my best to stay out of trouble.