Breaking Bread

The connotation associated with the phrase breaking bread probably varies as much as the different type of breads that are available to us. If you grew up like I did, your first thought might be one with more religious overtones (the breaking of the bread during the Eucharist). Or maybe your experience with breads leads you to take the phrase literally, as in breaking bread apart versus cutting it with a knife. Or maybe the phrase takes on a metaphorical meaning such as sharing a meal with someone, which still might involve breaking bread of course.

In my writing, I’ve noticed that I tend to include scenes that involve meals. The most recent scene had my main character eating alone at a restaurant. Alone with his own thoughts, yet still observant of those around him. This most likely reflects my own experiences of eating alone when I travel for work. My favorite way to include a meal in my writing though is with multiple participants, regionalities of the food expressed, and with natural dialogue. Often sharing thoughts, and oblivious to everyone except the meal participants. Again, much of this is based on my own experiences. Write what you know, right?

Meals can be intimate. Particularly if one is experiencing more than just food. What do I mean by that? The list here could include dinner dates, holiday meals, family picnics, or just a meal with good friends. Or maybe strangers. From my own perspective, there are hundreds, if not thousands of personal experiences I have had with food that I would say were somewhat intimate. There is one that stands out in my memory that I would like to share here.

“You have to taste a culture to understand it.” – Deborah Cater

I visited a friend in Berlin Germany many years ago and stayed with her and her family for a few weeks. Like any first-time visitor to a foreign country, I filled my days with sightseeing and was fortunate to have a resident guide in my friend. I was there a few years after the wall came down allowing me to see both West and East Berlin at a time when Germany was still adapting to reunification, stark contrasts ever apparent the moment one crossed into what was East Berlin.

I experienced the Berlin nightlife with my friend and her many friends, explored Nuremberg and Bonn, and partied at someone’s garden along the Rhine River. My most memorable experience however was breakfast on her back patio each morning while at her house.

Each morning before breakfast, she and I would go out and buy our groceries for that specific meal. Why? I honestly don’t know. We’d walk around the block, first stopping at a small bakery that had fresh breads. There is something about the smell of a bakery first thing in the morning that grabs you and won’t let go from the moment you first walk in. Sold! Instantly. We would buy more than enough bread and rolls for breakfast then venture on to the next shop for meats, cheese, and milk or some type of juice.

Upon returning to her house, her parents would be waiting for us on their back patio with an outdoor table set for breakfast. There’d be a steaming hot pitcher of coffee, various jams and spreads, butter, and Nutella already on the table and we’d put out the breads, various meats, and cheese we had just purchased. I can remember thinking that I had never witnessed so much food for breakfast or variety of food for that matter. There was this type of bacon that was uncooked and somewhat greasy in appearance.  I’d follow their lead and have it on a roll will butter and a slice of cheese. Amazingly delicious and to this day, I have no idea what I was eating. There were other meats, some familiar tasting, some not. All good.

Although the food itself is a memory I’ll never forget, what made these morning meals even more memorable were the conversations that followed. Her mother and father spoke no English yet each morning we would discuss politics, food, German history, and technical commonalities of the industry her father and I were employed in. All translated by my friend.

I honestly feel I learned more about Germany during those breakfasts than I had in any history book or class. I asked many questions about the influence the British, French, and Americans had on what was West Berlin and how it affected them. I asked about the influx of Turkish immigrants I noticed. I asked about the wall, reunification, and of course  – Hitler and the war.

My takeaway from this and many similar experiences I have had breaking bread with friends or strangers, both here at home in the United States and abroad – during those moments we are all so much more alike than we are different.

Bill

 

“And do as adversaries do in law, strive mightily, but eat and drink as friends.” – William Shakespeare (1564-1616) ‘The Taming of the Shrew’

 

My Year In Review – Numbers

The Bridge

Happy New Year! This is my first post of the year and sadly, my first post in about three and half months. I probably should have written a post saying I was going to take a break for a few months. To do whatever people do when they take breaks. My apologies for not doing that. But, I’m here now.

Like many people, I enjoy taking a moment to reflect on the previous year. A year in review if you will. Not so much a way of dwelling on the past, but as a way of learning and reminding myself that the positive events in my life greatly outnumber the negative events. Always. And for that I am grateful.

So, 2016 by a few numbers that were important to me…

1 – That would be for one year. On January 4th, I celebrated one year of not having a cigarette. I quit for many reasons. My wife. My kids. And selfishly, for me which is what my last year spare time efforts have been geared around: improving my health. So not really a full year in 2016 and more like 362 days but I’ll round it up and say a year.

2 – I had two meals on business trips that were not paid for by the company. The first meal I had was dinner with a wonderful friend and her family. What’s special is that she is a fellow writer and we were meeting in person for the first time after having “met” on the internet. The second meal was with a childhood friend I hadn’t seen since I was 13 years old. It was great to re-connect with him and meet his wonderful wife.

3 – I ran a 5K for Veteran’s Day in November. It was my first organized 5K in many years and my first one running as a non-smoker. I took 3rd place in my age group and my 13-year-old son took 3rd in his age group despite walking his. My wife walked it too.

3.85 – This was my eldest son’s GPA last semester in college. He’s in his second year of college studying to be a physician assistant. There are several classes that tend to weed kids in the program starting their freshman year. I believe this is one way a school maintains their national ranking along with their high percentage of students who pass their respective licensing tests after graduation.  He had gross anatomy last semester. Lecture and lab. Yes, I’m proud of him.

10 – How many Jack Reacher novels I read last year which brings me up to 19 of them. I did much more reading in 2016 than I did writing. I think I needed it.

13 – How many years it took my youngest son to become the tallest person in our family. I’m not sure what happened here but he had an amazing growth spurt this last year. He’s the tall one in the back.

16 – How old my 13-year-old acts. Scary.

21 – I had a surgery on December 21st. It was my first surgery and a huge part of why I focused so much on health in 2016. The surgery had been planned since the day I quit smoking and I was determined to go into it being in the best shape I could possibly be in. I was. I’m so thankful it all went as planned, I’m recovering nicely, and I get to return to work tomorrow.

24 – How many times I have said “Happy New Year” to my wife.

24 – How many tamales I ordered last year for Christmas. Something important to me considering that I live about 2200 miles away from where I grew up. A little bit of the Southwest celebrated here in NY.

40 – How many years in a row I have been working steady. I’ve worked for 43 but the first three years were mostly summer jobs. So, 40 is the number and therefore, how many years I have been paying taxes. I’ve worked steady since I was 16. Why is this relevant? During the heated political climate we’ve experienced here in the states as of late, there has been a level of both arrogance AND stupidity that I have not witnessed in my lifetime. On both sides. I made the mistake of reading one of the “trending” topics in social media one day that led me down a serious of tweets by people, mainly younger college age kids along with a few I would guess to be in their later twenties or early thirties, trying to make an argument that people over a certain age shouldn’t be allowed to vote. This is their world now and older people shouldn’t have a say or voice. That “older” age group included me so I wanted to respond to some of these comments but I didn’t. That would only feed the trolls. But it pissed me off.

I’d like to think that normally I am a “peace, love and light” kind of guy despite my internal ranting and un-politically correct type thought process at times. I’d like to think that age has granted me some sort of calmness and wisdom earned from years of life experiences. That knowledge reminding me to keep my mouth shut. In my mind though, I tweeted a response on the subject that said “I’ve paid taxes for 40 years. I’ve earned that vote. So STFU.” Yes…, no substance and somewhat of an attack and why I kept it to myself. See, even older people can be idiots for a moment and I had only just learned that new acronym. OK… my only words on politics. I promise.

63 – How many pounds I lost last year. That’s three bags of dog food worth. It sure makes running easier. And life.

100 – The company I work at celebrated their 100-year anniversary last year. Specifically, the factory and business itself which has operated under many names over those 100 years. We had a huge celebration event enjoyed by current employees, retirees, and a few local and state politicians. I was amazed at the historical aspect of this and felt blessed to be a part of it with my short ten years of working there.

219 – That’s how many calories are in my favorite beer. That’s not a good thing. This is what happens when one discovers craft beer IPAs.

311 – That’s how many days in a row I logged into My Fitness Pal and tracked my food and exercise during 2016. My last post was about what was going on around 200 Days. I’m at 319 today! Accountability.

472.5 – That’s how many miles I intentionally walked, hiked, or ran last year. These were miles tracked on Map My Run starting in April of 2016. Which communicates with Map My Fitness which also communicates with my Fitbit.  This stuff all confuses the hell out of me but it seems to all work. Tools.

1000 – That’s how many miles I intend to walk, hike, or run in 2017. Intentional miles or planned exercise as opposed to Fitbit miles. I think it’s doable based on the number of miles I was averaging toward the last part of 2016 before my surgery.

There are several of these challenges one can find on the internet. I signed up for this specific one because half the money the organizer raises from the registration goes to charity and there is a team effort on raising money for charities for each mile walked.

2017 – May your 2017 be filled with light, love, and laughter!

B.

Two Hundred Days

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“A good plan violently executed now is better than a perfect plan executed next week.” – George S. Patton

I think at one time or another, most people have set some sort of goal for themselves. The goal may be social related, health related, intellectual related, or any one of another few dozen subjects. The goal might be a group goal where there is a bit more accountability or it might be personal/private goal. Regardless of the type of goal or the situational circumstances for implementing the goal, I’m going to assume that most people attempt to come up with some sort of plan.

A plan. Most people can develop a plan. Does it have to be a perfect plan? No. It just needs to have an end goal. So we can develop another plan. We all experience plans both on a professional level and on a personal level. Not taking away from anyone’s planning skills but developing the plan is the easy part. Executing the plan is somewhat more difficult and what eludes many of us.

So people, with that theme in mind, this is my attempt at an inspirational and slightly motivational post. If it helps one person. Great.

I woke up Sunday morning and had my coffee with creamer. My wife and I were getting ready to go exercise down near the river. She was going to walk and I was going to run for a while then double back and walk with her. As I logged my drink into an app I use called MyFitnessPal, I was greeted with the following information:

myfitnesspal

Two hundred days in a row. I made a plan and executed it, adapting and readjusting as needed.

For whatever reason, last year I gained weight. It’s probably the 4th or 5th time that has happened in my life and each time it has, I go through a short period of losing weight to get back to where I was. It has been somewhat easy for me to do that since I have participated in athletic activity most of my life.  A few years ago that changed for a number of reasons I don’t care to get into and as a result of that, I became the heaviest I had been in years resulting in a number of medical issues, most of which were being attributed to that extra weight.

If you’ve been reading me at all, you know I quit smoking in January of this year and have been on a hiking and walking craze for a while. Two hundred days ago today, I came up with a plan and executed it. It involved changing my eating habits and exercising, which really is not rocket science. Numerous meals throughout the day, increase in metabolism, the right nutrient balance, and get off my ass and exercise like I use to. Yes, I planned on a caloric deficit to do this but I planned to do it in a safe and nutritional way, hence the food and exercise tracking app to support it.

Over that two hundred days I have lost 52 pounds. That’s 52 pounds over 28 weeks. About 1.86 pounds a week. Slow and safe weight loss.To some people that might not seem like a lot and in reality it’s not but try strapping a 50-pound bag of dogfood to your back and see what toll it can take on your body just walking.

The fact that I’m bringing up weight loss as a measure of success is only for a means of what those 52 pounds mean. Those pounds mean my blood pressure has been normal for months now. Those pounds mean clothes I had put away now fit. Those pounds mean my back isn’t hurting everyday like it was. They mean I can walk or run without putting extra stress on an older body that has seen its fair share of abuse over the years. And no I won’t discuss the eighties. They represent hours of sharing in cooking duties to avoid the easy out of getting fast food. They represent hours of lifting weights and miles walked or ran. Those 52 pounds simply mean that I executed the plan. And I was rewarded for it.

A perfect plan? Who the hell knows but I can tell you it’s worked for me and that’s exciting. More importantly, I see excitement in the eyes of my wife, or my kids, or my dogs each time we are going to go do something involving physical activity. Just as importantly, I see excitement in my own eyes when I look in the mirror.

In doing this, I owe my family many thanks for participating in this journey. My wife has her own story and I’m loving watching her write it each day. She’s also shared her Fitbit friends with me. Long story but it makes the journey that much more accountable.

I think the journey has to be unique for each person. What I can tell you though is that it is doable and there are plenty of tools, resources, and people for support. I can also tell you that it gets harder each time to lose weight. My reality is that I will always have to always exercise which really isn’t a bad thing. I will also need to eat healthy foods. I read once that that isn’t such a bad thing either.

Now on to more exciting goals like reading four books this month or get a couple thousand words written this coming weekend.

B

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If We Were Having Coffee #16 – Country Roads

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If we were having coffee, I would have a few choices to offer your today. I have a breakfast blend, a flavored French Vanilla coffee, and an espresso blend. For creamers, we have Sugar Cookie and Italian Sweet Crème. I’m going with the espresso blend and the sweet creamer. I’ve come to enjoy Italian Sweet Crème with espresso blend. I think it takes me back to a sidewalk table of some not so crowded cafe in Europe.

So let’s step out on to the back porch and enjoy the morning breeze. It’s not a European cafe but I do have a small table with comfortable outdoor chairs.  Besides, it’s so much cooler on the porch right now than it is in the house. One window AC unit and a few fans aren’t offering as much as nature is doing by herself outside after much needed rains over the last few weeks.

If we were having coffee, I would tell you that we went to our first Pig Roast a few weekends ago. One of my coworkers and good friends had it at her place. She lives out in the woods, a few towns and villages away from our place which amounts to a few county and back roads away. Like every other place within a twenty-mile radius around here and probably with a number of ways to get there. There are also number of means of transportation to get anywhere including ATVs and snowmobiles. Or Amish buggies.

Country Roads. You can drive here for hours seeing so many things for the first time yet never leave that twenty-mile radius, even though it might actually be the second time. Or fifth. I’ve been in this area now for nine years and am just starting to fully appreciate it. Maybe it’s my age. Maybe my eyesight is getting better. Or maybe I’m just changing.

If we were having coffee, I would tell you that I’ve done a lot soul searching lately. Reflections on the past, accounting of the present, and directional guidance towards the future. Somehow this has led me back to a poem I read as a kid. Middle school or high school, I don’t really remember. Most likely it was explained to me by a teacher, put out there for further discussion, and thought about in a manner consistent with my age at that time. Yet here I am years later revisiting the same poem with new eyes. Older eyes. And hopefully wiser eyes.

The poem is Frost’s “The Road Not Taken” and I would venture to guess if you are reading this post, you are familiar with the poem. Like most poetry, lyrics, stories, etc., the depth of our understanding a particular piece of work might come from the author, or those enlightened few who knew the author, or those over educated few who would have you convinced they knew the author therefore they know the meaning. Or maybe the author is happy to let the reader or listener derive their own meaning and provoke thought.

That is how I feel about this poem. Whether you take this poem literally, metaphorically, or subscribe to the notion that Frost wrote it in jest; this is a life poem that should provoke thought.

Most people I’ve ever talked to look at this poem in two ways. Either Frost was content with the path he had taken, or he had regret for the path he had not taken. Sounds simple enough to my non MFA type mind. I enjoy the challenge of complexity but embrace practicality of simplicity.

If we were having coffee, I would suggest that the poem offers something to each belief. And a solution. Something my technical mind grasps. When I picture two roads diverged, and in the manner described at the beginning of the poem, I picture a fork in the road. A fork being less than ninety degrees. If you’ve ever studied geometry, and have an understanding of statistics, then there is a good chance you might come to the conclusion that the probability of those two roads intersecting once again is very high. Or, maybe you live in the country like I do. With hundreds of country roads, going all different directions, with more forks than a school cafeteria, yet somehow connected and often leading back to the original road.

What does all of this mean to me? It means it’s possible for us to enjoy both roads. Still. To have no regrets. To see where it all takes us. Adventures that are waiting, and often with us seeing or experiencing something new. Or other times our seeing or experiencing wonders we’ve already enjoyed, or at lease should have yet now are approaching as though it were the first time.

Just like my writing at a later age. Or my renewed interest in my guitars. Or more simply, like the country roads I explore each week.

So, how about you?

B

Country Roads

Country Roads

Weekend Coffee Share is hosted each week by Part-Time Monster

Pics courtesy of Pixabay

If We Were Having Coffee #15 – Happy Trails

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If we were having coffee, I would have a few choices to offer your today. I have a breakfast blend and an espresso blend. For creamers, I have French Vanilla and Hazelnut. I’m going with the espresso blend and black. I’m normally a cream guy but have been trying to mix it up some during the week and keep the sweet calories down to a respectable level. That and there’s a music festival we are going to this weekend so I’m saving a few calories for an extra beer. Or two.

Had this been last weekend, I’d have been offering you a camp chair and we’d be having fresh brewed coffee. Camp coffee. We spent three days and nights camping so coffee was made each morning in an old percolator type coffee maker on a camp stove. Those were definite creamer days for me. This was our second camping trip this summer. I wrote about the first trip HERE.

If we were having coffee, I would tell you that enjoying nature soothes me. It rejuvenates me in a manner that allows me to filter out much of noise I return to afterwards. By noise, I’m referring to much of the news we’re all being saturated with. That’s a subject for another post though. This morning is coffee and happy thoughts.

And I am happy. And healthy. I’ve been very conscious of my health for the last six months. In a few days I will celebrate seven months without a cigarette. I’ve also reduced my blood pressure to a normal level and genuinely just feel better. Oh, I’ve lost weight too! For a number of foolish reasons, I had gained weight last year. I didn’t feel good. I do now.

If we were having coffee, I would tell you that I can attribute feeling good to a number of things: not smoking, eating healthy, and exercise. It’s really not rocket science although there is a science involved. We have made eating an adventure in my house. Some days, food is purely fuel but other days, food becomes an exploration in creativity. My wife is a Pinterest fanatic and takes advantage of the wealth of recipes available there. She’s clever (and I tell her).

Exercise has been a few trips to the gym each week (for both cardio and strength training), daily walks, and hiking. All of it usually involves the entire family and the walks often include our three dogs. They need the exercise too. We walk roads and trails most every day and recently have been hiking more difficult trails at nearby state parks. Our camping trip last weekend included some challenging trails. I had the week off from work this week so I hiked two nearby trails with my kids and my son’s girlfriend. Those trails rewarded us with numerous waterfalls, dense woods, and heart-rate rising climbs.

Waterfall

Like I said, soothing. And happy. A therapy of sorts and no hourly charge.

Although I don’t think my happy trails were what Dale and Roy envisioned, they are my hikes and now my trails, so, my rules. In a happy way of course.

So… how about you? Do you walk or hike? Urban or country?

Hope you enjoyed coffee and Happy Trails to you!

B

me

Weekend Coffee Share is hosted each week by Part-Time Monster

pics courtesy of Pixabay and me.

Warmth, Light, and More

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There’s something magical about a campfire. The dancing of flames that entertains us for hours in the evening, ending in bright orange and red embers inevitable fade into darkness. The added smell of burning wood to mix with camp coffee and whatever your pleasure might be grilling in the frying pan. The stories told, the confessions, the dreams discussed, the laughter, the tears, or the perceived silence. It all happens around a campfire.

I suppose I should clarify what I mean by a campfire. I have a fire pit in my backyard. You might have a fire pit in yours. I don’t consider that a campfire, although it could be. Set up a tent next to it, or a cot, or roll out a sleeping bag. Now it’s a campfire. Semantics, I know but relevant for this post.

Yes, there is a historic aspect to a campfire as well as a functional purpose but that’s not what’s on my mind this week. A campfire is definitely about warmth and does provide light but it’s the more that has me excited as of late – that more being camping. And the campfire is a centerpiece for camping.

I grew up camping. It’s one of the few memories I have of spending time with my father. We camped all over Southeastern Arizona. When I was older and moved on to the city, that camping moved to the deserts outside of Phoenix and to the high country along the Mogollon Rim near Payson.  I love camping, whether it is in my backyard, ten miles out of town in a high Arizona desert, twenty miles out of town in cactus laced deserts outside of Phoenix, five miles deep along the Highline Trail at the base of the Mogollon Rim, or any number of wooded places near my new home in New York. I love camping in an area that I might have driven to as much as I love camping in an area I might have backpacked in to. I simply love being outdoors.

A younger me backpacking the Highline Trail in AZ

A younger me backpacking the Highline Trail in AZ

When I was asked what I wanted for Father’s Day, I told my family I wanted to go camping. There were ulterior motives to my request of course. Hey, it was MY day. Camping meant hiking, relaxing, reading, and a campfire.

Like anything else people do these days, there are both real and so-called experts at camping. Just like there are experts in reading, writing, walking, running, exercise, cooking, etc., etc., etc. There are those that might suggest it’s not really camping unless… or it’s not really running unless… and so on. Expert advice from know-it-alls, elitists, and purists. Expert advice from the intellectually gifted as well as from the intellectually challenged. There is validity to knowledge and there is also bullshit and we become wiser when we can see the difference.

Want to be a reader? A writer? A walker (TWD excluded)? A runner? Or a camper? In the words of some out of the box thinking, cross functional leveraged synergistic MBA-speak marketing guru: Just Do It. But learn a few things first.

I would suggest that much like other activities, camping is a personal experience where there is no absolute right or wrong way to do it although there are guidelines and safety concerns people should learn about before camping to avoid a miserable experience. Read. There’s no lack of information on how to enjoy the great outdoors. There are plenty of websites and books available and the helpful information on food, water, fire, first aid, equipment, safety, and camping etiquette are worth knowing.

Per my Father’s Day request, last weekend we went camping. My son brought his girlfriend with us so we were a camping party of five. We opted to stay at a state park in Pennsylvania. It had fairly private campsites, a lake for both swimming and fishing, boat rentals, and miles of challenging trails to hike. Perfect.

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We set up our camp early Friday evening for what would become home for two nights. We are a tent family. With air mattresses, sleeping bags, outdoor chairs, a big cooler, and a Coleman stove for cooking. This hasn’t always been our camping repertoire. There was a time we cooked over the campfire. Now it’s only for s’mores and hotdogs. Sleeping bags have been a constant but we have evolved over the years when it comes to comfort. I can remember sleeping on the ground with no tent as a kid. Then on a mat years later and with a tent. Now, my back aches so when we can, we use an air mattress. I think my wife’s back aches too. Age does that to you. Change is good when there is benefit to it.

Lyman Lake

Lyman Lake

Saturday my wife and I were going to take a hike by ourselves. Walking through the campground on our way to the trail-head, I took time to notice other campers and their method of camping. There was someone sleeping in the back of their pickup, numerous tents, pop-up campers, and camper trailers.

I also might have caught a glimpse into my possible future and it excited me. It was something I’ve never really noticed before, or maybe just haven’t given it much thought. You know, the how I will or could spend those days down the road where I (better) get a government issued check each month and strategic withdrawals from my ailing 401K.

I noticed couples who had camps setup in manner that said they were there for longer than a night. Older couples who obviously didn’t have to return to work on Monday. Some were simple camps while others were more elaborate. All had campers with real beds and shade awnings over the door. I bet their backs ache too. Some had little signs that had their names and where they were from. Some had screened enclosures around their picnic table. Some had carpets outside their camper doors. All had comfy chairs and I swear every time I walked by at least half of them were reading. And they all had campfires.

We are going camping  again this month. For three nights this time. I’m going to practice for that day when I have a sign at my camp that has our name and where we are from.

A campfire is just tinder, kindling, and firewood. On fire of course. Warmth, light, and so much more.

View from camp

View from camp

B

All photos courtesy of me

Outside Looking In?

Tempe

Tempe

I was looking through CD’s this morning to find something to add to my iPhone. I wanted something mellow to listen to while walking or running. I came across Outside Looking In – The Best Of The Gin Blossoms. Sync completed and the music takes me back home to Arizona.

Outside looking in is how I feel sometimes as writer. Or how I felt as a musician. I suppose some of this feeling comes from feeling stuck along the fringe. The perpetual wallflower.

But how do we define being in or how do we define success? Success to me now means nothing more than enjoying myself along the way as I do the things I love. I would write for no one much the same as I would play guitar for no one. Anything beyond that is a plus.

Back to Arizona and the Gin Blossoms. I spent the majority of my life in the east valley area of Phoenix (Tempe, Mesa, Scottsdale). There was a bar/grill in downtown Tempe called Long Wong’s where we used to walk or ride our bikes to at least once a week for cheap beer and chicken wings. Long Wong’s had a small area set up for live music in the bar section. For the better part of a year, it seemed the Gin Blossoms were playing there more than any other band.  I spent many Fridays and Saturdays enjoying their music at Long Wong’s and other local venues.

7th & Mill

7th & Mill

On New Year’s Eve, the Gin Blossoms were playing at a club around the corner from Long Wong’s (much larger venue and with two floors).  It was one of those New Year’s Eve specials where one buys a ticket in advance and the evening includes a concert, some sort of food, and cheap champagne to toast at midnight. There was a second band called August Red who should have been the headliner but oddly opened that evening, the reason unfolding later.

When it was time for the Gin Blossoms to go on stage, a local radio DJ came out to introduce the band. During that introduction, he announced the band had just been signed to a record label. Headliner explained and a few months later in the early 90s, the rest of the world got to enjoy a band from my neighborhood. Success.

I got to see them a few more times over the years. Surprisingly, one of those times was at a music festival in Racine Wisconsin. I wore an ASU sweatshirt but never got close enough for the band to notice. Or anyone else to make the connection for that matter. It’s alright. I knew the connection. I’d have worn a Long Wong’s shirt if I had one.

7th & Mill Today

7th & Mill Today

Maybe I’ll see them again. I just read they’ll be on my new side of the country in July and August. Twenty five years later and they are still making music. Yes, they’ve had their own tragedies over the years. Who hasn’t? No, they are not selling out venues they might have easily sold out in the early 90’s. Long Wong’s is long gone – a casualty of corporate greed. The Gin Blossoms are still around.

So am I.

Outside looking in? More like the inside looking out. I can relate to that.

Some bar on Broadway in Tempe

Some bar on Broadway in Tempe

Photos courtesy of me, NewTimes, & Google images

Walk This Way

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“All truly great thoughts are conceived by walking.”- Friedrich Nietzsche

Like many families, we try and incorporate exercise and fitness into our daily lives. Daily might be a lofty goal, bi-daily might be a bit more realistic. We’ve been going to the gym twice a week for a nice balance of cardio and strength training and we also enjoy taking a walk in the evenings. Usually that walk includes three dogs and at least two of us leading them up the road behind our house then back down the road. I say up the road because it is literally up. As in uphill. The dogs love it and we get in about thirty minutes of exercise. We take in beautiful scenery and keep a running count of deer we see each evening.

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Road behind my house

We have a river that runs through town. Although known for great fishing, the river also has a hiking trail along one side of it that starts near a park and extends for miles toward the Pennsylvania border. I’ve found that I use this river quite often in my writing.

The Park

The Park

For walking and/or running, I have an app on my phone that tracks both distance and route in addition to letting me know how many calories I’ve burned. This is important and is the decision maker on whether or not I have a beer with dinner. Last weekend, we drove in to town and did a short walk along the trail and ended up with a little over 2 miles of walking.  Having the day off on Monday, we returned and ended up walking down to a bridge and back and found we had walked 3.44 miles. Although I’ve both ran and walked this distance before, it was a first for my wife. Her first 5K.

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I’ve always enjoyed walking and/or hiking. There are times when I have done this on my own, enjoying the solitude while allowing my mind to both relax or wander off in thought. There are other times where I have enjoyed the company and conversation of being accompanied on a walk.

Yesterday, my wife and I decided to drive into town. Out intent was to walk another 5K along the trail. We were also celebrating my not having had a cigarette in six months. We ended up walking 7.4 miles. Technically her first 10K and then some. Mine too. I earned enough calories to drink two beers last night.

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The simplicity of walking. Something I’ve done for my entire life yet feel like I’m doing it again for the first time each time we take a walk.

B

Photo’s are all courtesy of me… my attempt at cell phone photography

 

 

 

An Affair of Sorts

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Something Different This Way Comes

Two weeks ago started off like any other week. Off to work on Monday after a relaxing weekend that included checking out a vacant old farmhouse we’d noticed a few weeks earlier while out driving around country roads. There was information on one of the windows designating the home as a Fannie Mae property and gave contact information which I jotted down and followed up on once we got home. We made arrangements to see the home and property on Wednesday.

Although I saw the home and property as having potential for the cheap price, my wife was seeing the amount of work it would take to get the place up to code. She was right and we abandoned further thought on the house. That house anyway. We wondered what type of other homes were available in the county so we jumped online and started looking.

It’s not that we aren’t happy with our own place. We live out in the country along a mildly traveled county road about six miles out of town. We have a few neighbors nearby, almost an acre of land, and we have beautiful woods all around us. Sounds wonderful to most people and it really is. Our house just needs some minor upgrades and a little TLC on the normal wear and tear a house goes through. The lazy part of us thought there might be something better available. Something with more land and less things wrong.

We found a property online that was a similar distance out of town but on the northeast side. Not much different landscape than where we are now, which is mainly wooded hills, country roads and hollows, but the property had more land. A lot more land. My wife was off work on Friday so I took a half day off and we made arrangements with the same realtor from Wednesday night to view the property at 1:45.

That’s when our adventure began.

Almost Off the Grid

Fifty plus acres with a cabin and a pond the listing said. Not only a great hunting camp but a place to take the family for a getaway the listing said. Living room, kitchen, two bedrooms, sleeping loft, wired for a generator, and a wood burning stove the listing said. A covered front porch with a wonderful view of the pond and hills the listing said. Paradise.

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We met the real estate agent at the bottom of a dirt road that would lead us up a hill. We followed her up the road through very thick woods. There were two small clearings along the rough dirt road, both with homes on them. The first one looked like squatters lived there and  the second, somewhat nicer, was near near the gate to the property we were going to see. The gate was guarded by a dog that must have belonged to the owners of the that house.The realtor got out, unlocked the gate, and we all drove through avoiding the dog that was still barking too loudly and acting as though he wanted to bite the tires. We drove forward about two hundred or so yards then hung a left and drove down a grass road canopied by trees to the cul-de-sac that might be ours someday. Actually, scratch that. Cul-de-sac is not a country property term.

Cabin

Let’s take a closer look.

Cabin 2

We gathered in front of the cabin and soaked in the surrounding area.  There was a pond directly in front of the cabin and I already had purchased a comfy chair in my mind for the front porch. Or maybe it was a porch swing. We noticed three deer peeking through some cover in the woods beyond the pond.  We continued our three hundred and sixty degree view from in front of the cabin. There were two small shed looking buildings about thirty yards away and an outdoor grill similar to what you might find at a park.

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The realtor had moved on to unlock the cabin door after we all stepped onto the porch. We walked into the cabin first and instantly fell in love. There were wooden walls everywhere and stained beams overhead. There was a small kitchen to the right with a breakfast bar. A living room to the left with a large wood burning stove in the corner. There were two very small bedrooms, and a ladder to a sleeping loft above the two bedrooms. Six hundred square feet. I’ve lived in apartments larger than that in my younger years. But, size didn’t matter here. Our current home is about eighteen hundred square feet and our bedroom is four hundred square feet with a covered porch off the back. And a deck. None of that mattered at the moment.  We had already built on additional footage in our minds and added another bedroom. We were now looking at this cabin like we were going to move into it. As in permanently. My wife and I were absolutely sold on the cabin as a home.

Well, almost.

We then started noticing little things.  There was no refrigerator. There was a stove, run off a propane tank outside of the cabin.  And the sink had no running water. That was because the barrel outside that collected rain water and runoff from the gutter happened to be empty and that is what supplied water to the cabin. No running water. Wait a minute. No running water. And where is the bathroom? Or refrigerator?

The two sheds outside? Yes, one was an outhouse. The other a shed was for wood and a generator. The generator was not a secondary option for power. It was the option. There was no septic system, no electricity, and no running water. Maybe not sold now.

We walked back outside and down passe our SUV and stared at the pond. A beautiful pond that had been stocked with fish.

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We walked back up to the porch and took it all in. My focus again back to the pond and the surrounding woods and the hills beyond that. And then the realtor spoke and mentioned something about envisioning a writer sitting here on the porch working on his or her next story. Wait, what? A writer? I’m a writer, and yes, I see it too and thankfully, or so I thought, so did my wife. Back to sold. We might even be able to enjoy the seventeen year cicada invasion from this porch.

“I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.”  – Henry David Thoreau, Walden

Oh how I wish.

What happened next is somewhat of a blur, but I’ll do my best.

A Ride, Dinner, Home Depot, and More Wandering

We took some paperwork from the realtor, thanked her again, and with visions of our potential new home clouding our normal 20/20 vision, we got in our vehicle and slowly turned around glancing quickly to the pond on our right and quickly back over to our left to look at our cabin one last time. Our potential new home.

No septic system, no water, and no electricity. No problem.

We estimated the distance from the cabin down the grass road before we hung a right to head back down hill. Two hundred yards I guessed. Then another two hundred yards to the gate and the still barking dog and a pole with power I now noticed. So four hundred yards post to non-existing post near cabin and another fifty to get power to house. Four hundred fifty yards.

We had’t even made it down the dirt road to the county road when words started flying between my wife and I.  It was 2:45 and we had been at the property for an hour. We were discussing downsizing. All our stuff would not fit in a small cabin. We’d have to store some of it and get rid of some of it. Mental note to get a price on a storage unit. After our tires came into contact with pavement, my wife suggested a trip to Home Depot. To dream. Get prices. Why not I thought. We had no obligations the rest of the day with our youngest  at orchestra camp. Not band camp, orchestra camp. As for our eldest, he was at home reading and can fend for himself, you know, being a college boy and all.

We decided to head to a Home Depot in a small city about thirty miles away.

During the first few miles we decided we could live with a generator short term. We could do laundry in town at the laundromat. We could get by with an outhouse during the summer. And we could fill that large drum with water. This could work. We could even put up an outdoor shower. Who would see us anyway?

A septic system, water, and electricity. Alright, maybe a problem but workable. At least through summer and most of fall.

We’d have to build a bathroom and have room for a refrigerator. The bedroom adjacent to the kitchen could be a bathroom. The boys could just sleep in the loft. Our oldest is only here during the summer and breaks anyway right? We’d get a small refrigerator to start. A dorm style one. My wife added that to our list for Home Depot.

During the drive, she started searching for prices on her phone. First, was a septic system. She found prices varied from $2,500 to $7,500. She also searched for prices on putting in a well.  The realtor mentioned a couple of natural springs on the property, not that I would know how to tap water from there. But, there is a pond so there must be water. Well prices could be around $10,000. We also have friends who have had this done so it can’t be rocket science but we could assume the worst of course. You know, for budgetary purposes. We’ll figure $20,000 to be safe for septic and water.

We weren’t fifteen miles into our drive and we had tentatively solved two problems, or at least had an idea of a plan. Septic system and water would be the most important. Electric could wait provided we got a generator. We decided to have dinner first and I would get online and come up with an estimate for power. Both a short term plan and long term plan.

During the remainder of the drive we added on a larger bedroom and expanded the kitchen. We also changed the bathroom to a laundry room and added on a bathroom to that. This would expand the back of the cabin and the left side where there was already a deck. It’s only money right?

We reached Applebees, ordered our meals and drinks, and started looking into the long term plan for power. I found out quickly it’s done by feet and not yards so my four hundred fifty yards now became one thousand three hundred fifty feet. It also became anywhere between $10,000 and $20,000 depending which site I wanted to believe. I wanted it to be the cheaper site of course.

Maybe power from the grid would have to wait until year two. 57a5f094-d358-46df-9266-6d33da0c0f69_1000After dinner, we went to Home Depot. We started on the far left side of the store that conveniently had generators. Perfect. I grabbed a worksheet that helped calculate how much generator we would need, started a new note on my phone, and entered a model, size, and price. We then found a mini frig somewhere between a dorm frig and a normal frig and entered a price. We continued this exercise on each aisle looking and writing down prices for: vanity combos, vanity mirrors, faucets, shower heads, shower stalls and tub, toilet, and an electric water heater. As we progressed along each aisle, I also noticed our tone was changing. We were not only pricing these items for the cabin but making comments regarding how nice our current bathroom would look with a new vanity combo and mirror, or how nice it would be to add a storm door with a slide down window revealing a screen to the door on our porch.

By the time we got through the doors, storm doors, building supplies, and deck material, we were now pricing things for current projects we have talked about doing to our home.  Quick math said the additional money we would have to spend to do all these things for a new property would be foolish. Fun but foolish, and not part of my ten plus years to retirement plan. I won’t even get to the discussion on how we only have two vehicles out of four that could have made it up the hill to the cabin. We’d have to get rid of the Fusion and small truck and get another 4WD. More money, more money.

Our ride home from home depot had a different tone than the ride there. What were we thinking? We talked about it and brought up the idea of looking at houses in town. Close to people. Real neighbors. After an orchestra performance for my youngest on Saturday, we spent the remainder of the day looking at houses. For this, we included the kids. We did the same thing on Sunday. There were some beautiful houses within walking distance to my youngest son’s school and downtown. Some nicer than ours and some about the same. But with each house, we were finding we’d have to add a deck, or a fence for our dogs, or this or that. Still, this exploring was both fun and emotionally draining at the same time.

Not surprisingly, by Sunday evening we ended up right back where we started: our home, with all her faults and beauty and familiarity. I think we’ll put some effort into her this summer. I still have a supply list and prices on my phone.

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Our Home

 Photos courtesy of me, Pixabay, and Home Depot

 

 

 

 

If We Were Having Coffee #14 – 8 ½ Months

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If we were having coffee, I would have a number of choices to offer your today. I have a breakfast blend, a butter toffee, a house blend (somewhat dark), and a caramel pecan roll flavored coffee. For creamers, I have French Vanilla and Italian Sweet Crème. I’m going with the house blend and Italian Sweet Crème. Let’s head out to the back porch and enjoy the morning shade. It’s uncharacteristically cold out this May morning and the forecast rumor is snow but coffee will surely warm us.

I haven’t had a coffee share post in a few months, instead opting to read a few each weekend. Since my thoughts today are related to a coffee share post 8 ½ months ago, I though it only appropriate to drop by this venue for today’s post.

If we were having coffee, I would tell you about how lost I felt 8 ½ months ago after saying goodbye to my oldest son when we dropped him off at college. At the time, I was bouncing back and forth between how excited I was for him and selfishly wallowing in the sad reality that is just one recurring stage of parenting; continually letting your child go.

Through this forum, I had received many kind words of support, both from people who have been there before and from those going through the same thing. It helped and I am forever grateful.

If we were having coffee, I’d tell you it wasn’t all that bad. We had daily texts and were able to see him numerous times over the last 8 ½ months. There were school breaks, weekend shopping trips, and a few times we drove down just to take him out to eat. There was the occasional phone call or FaceTime. It worked. One hundred and twenty miles away was not that far. We survived. And grew. All of us.

We picked him up at school Friday May 6th. He was both excited to come home for the summer and sad to leave a new friend who would not be returning next semester. We moved him down there in our car and moved him back home in a new SUV. He asked if it was “ours” which tells me everything is the same despite being different.

If we were having coffee, I would tell you we got his grades a few days ago. I could brag. Really, I could. Suffice it to say I am proud of him along with all he accomplished and figured out his first year in college.

I suppose I should have expected nothing less. In the meantime, we are going to enjoy the next 3 ½ months.

Until next time…

B

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Weekend Coffee Share is hosted by Part-Time Monster

Pictures courtesy of Pixabay and my son

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