Author: W.C. Cunningham (Page 2 of 7)

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.

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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

Do, or do not. There is no try.

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“Do, or do not. There is no try.” – Yoda

For anyone seeking inspirational guidance or motivation, there is no shortage of information out there to help an individual or group pursue a desirable goal or achievement. That information may come in the form of famous quotes, one liners from movies, written works, slogans, or music. There is also no shortage of individuals or groups willing to offer guidance and/or motivation. They might be professionals (speakers, authors, educators, etc.) who receive a fee for their actions or they might be family members or friends seeking nothing more than the enjoyment of helping or watching someone succeed. Those same friends or acquaintances might even be on the same journey or endeavor. Your running club, the gang at the gym, your writer’s group, or your classmates. There is also a third person offering guidance or help. Yourself. Wait, that’s the first person. And yes, that’s my attempt at writer humor.

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“I know of no more encouraging fact than the unquestionable ability of man to elevate his life by a conscious endeavor.” – Thoreau

I’m thinking about this subject for a number of reasons. I have numerous friends at any given time trying to elevate their lives and I am always respectful and supportive because at any given time, I am usually trying to do the same. Currently, I’m writing, refocused on my health, and recently agreed to pursue a professional certification at work. The writing has no end goal other than finish, then start the next, then finish, and repeat. The focus on health is for no other reason than I want to be around for some time. The certification is another story. I don’t need the certification. I have many years of experience, a degree, and have always taken on more responsibility than originally asked. I’m at that stage of my career that is comfortable and secure provided I perform and remain relevant. Due to some added job responsibilities, I felt I needed to study up on some new things as well as refresh my memory on others and in doing so, was offered an opportunity to take a course leading to certification. I have plenty of motivational sources for writing and my health but the certification effort will be solo and with that, so will my motivational source. No worries there.

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I’m also thinking motivational speak this weekend because I am trying to be there for my son. Last August we were dropping him off at college and here it is already finals week. His first year of college is almost over with and I have been sending him short texts offering words of encouragement as he crams for finals. That is probably all I can do at this point. He’s endured hours of motivational speak from both me and my wife. I say motivational since most of it was meant to be encouraging but some of it was more facts of life type speech. I won’t call them lectures. More of a life talk and that is always harder but my wife and I have not wanted to sugarcoat anything with our kids.

Fifty percent of the kids he graduated with last June that are going to college, will not finish. At his orientation for college last year, the staff let us know that approximately twenty percent of the freshman class would not return for their sophomore year for a number of reasons. Facts of life. Through research of our own, along with what my son has learned this year from others, there are certain classes in the program he is in that will weed out students from continuing in the program. After next week he will have completed four of them. There is another critical one next semester but I’m confident he will do OK. He is on an academic scholarship that demands a certain GPA be maintained in addition to being in a program that demands a specific GPA be maintained for all classes taken related to the program. My son is well aware of this and well aware of the consequences should he not meet those requirements. The program GPA is what it is and there is nothing mom and dad can do about that one. The financial scholarships are what they are and cover a good portion of his costs. The rest is being paid by student loans and Mom and Dad. We’ve made it clear that we will not make up the difference should he lose his scholarship. This is a partnership in my mind between the school, the government, my son, and my wife and me and there are expectations for each vested party. One of those Dad things I say to him all the time is there is no practice life. This is it and what you do or don’t do counts. Or maybe I’m repeating something I heard in a movie or song, or something I read or some other life lesson I try to share hoping he makes the connection and seriousness of it all. That and reminding him to enjoy himself and make memories in the same conversation. It all seems to be a contradiction of sorts.

My son gets all this. He budgets and balances his time. He reaches out for help if he needs it and he crams when he has to. That impresses me. No safe zone, no sugarcoat, no bullshit. He is realizing something now that takes others years to even conceptualize. His hard work in high school only gave him the opportunity he has now in college. Nothing more. The rest is up to him and only him and that demands more hard work.

There are a lot of inspirational quotes or passages I could share with him this weekend. Most of them I have already shared. My personal favorite is something many attribute to Nelson Mandela but is actually a passage from a book by Marianne Williamson:

“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness, that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small doesn’t serve the world.” 

In classic tasteless fashion, as can be so prevalent in my household at times, I opted for words of encouragement that were not so profound but still offered some motivational insight:

“Time to nut up or shut up.” – Tallahassee

Photos courtesy of Pixabay and GoErie

 

 

 

Told You So, The Cloud, and Faith

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Told You So

Last weekend I lost digital information. Thankfully, not a lot of digital information. I’ve had a new laptop for a few months now so the majority of information I had on it was copied over from a memory stick. New information consisted of downloaded images, some research information, and about two months’ worth of writing. It could have been much worse. The writing was a short story that was quickly approaching novella length. Had it remained a short story, I might not have been so upset but it had taken on a life of its own and grew. I lost it and for most of Sunday, I was devastated.

Over the last two months, I kept getting messages to upgrade to Windows 10. Last Sunday I decided to try it. The first change I noticed after I completed the update was the lack of information in my documents. My first thought was what an idiot I was for not having any of it backed up somewhere else. I then had a panic attack for about fifteen minutes while sitting at my desk staring at an empty directory on the screen all while hearing imaginary voices tell me “I told you so.” It was probably a good thing they were imaginary voices or I might have flung the nearest available object toward those voices. That very well could have been a lamp, my computer, a book…

After I calmed down (yeah, right), I found a few websites that told me the files should be stored under a certain user directory and that is where I found them. Evidently I was not the only idiot to lose files after upgrading to Windows 10. I then “moved” them back to the documents folder. I had been given a second chance! For some reason, I had to reboot one more time for the install to be complete and the first thing I noticed after rebooting was the document file was empty again. So was the original user directory where I had found the missing files. I guess I should have “copied” them there. Or quickly backed them up. Hindsight is… never mind. Idiot.

I’ve lost things before. Physical things. Although I might have been upset at the time, I moved on knowing whatever I lost might reappear someday. Physical matter just doesn’t disappear all by itself. Except socks and I think I covered that once before.  When it comes to technology, I thoroughly understand mechanical things, most likely because I work in a mechanical world. Things don’t disappear. The digital world is something completely beyond my comprehension despite the fact that I depend on it for so much both at a professional and personal level.  I bet we all do.

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So, most of the tech savvy people I know and especially the IT people I work with would be asking me why I didn’t back up the data somewhere, or more importantly, why I was not backing it up each time I updated something. At a minimum, my WIP and a budget spreadsheet, both files I actively write to throughout the week. Great question and I have no answer.  It’s not like I didn’t have an opportunity to back everything up. For a few years, my wife had been urging me to back up the digital pictures we have but I always felt safe having them on the computer and I had backed them up to discs once. One day I took a look at how many digital photographs we had stored and realized the majority of pictures we have of our kids were on our computer. About a month before I got the new laptop, I bought an external hard drive and backed up every picture we had along with all our pictures from our phones. I should have backed up every directory and not just pictures.

The Cloud

There are other options too. When I got the new laptop, I opted to get a new version of Office. I looked online and thought I might try Office 365 which would continually give me access to the latest and greatest version of Office. It also pointed me towards other features I have never used: OneDrive. This is one of the advantages of having this particular package. Access from anywhere. Files and working documents stored in the cloud. Or is it on the cloud? Whatever. I was not going to use that feature.

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What the hell is the cloud? I don’t understand where I store information now and I can see the computer or memory stick or external hard drive it is being stored on. I can’t see the cloud. Well, that’s not completely true. I see clouds all the time, I just don’t see storing information there. Maybe the nomenclature itself resonates a not-so-secure connotation. A cloud is open and airy, here one moment then gone the next. Who was the marketing genius that came up with that name?

Faith

Then I had a vision. I use a cell phone. Both my television programming and internet service in my home come from two satellite dishes on my roof because that is all that we have available out where I live.  No cable, no DSL, no physical or hard wired connection other than the cables running from the two dishes into my house. I have a modem, a router, a network booster for our cell phones, something called a genie DVR that lets me watch shows I record on multiple televisions throughout the house.  I’m typing on a laptop this very moment, using Wi-Fi. I text my wife and kids all the time. I see the physical devices but I don’t see or understand how the data travels from one place to the other. But it does, and I have faith in that despite the fact I don’t truly understand it or, see it.

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My connections to information

Now for my WIP. Thankfully it was not the novel and I had a version of it still stored on our desktop computer, albeit a few months old and thousands of words lighter. There are greater tragedies right? I copied it back over to my laptop and with everything still fresh enough in my mind, I’ll be able to recover and get back to where I was. I also copied everything to our external hard drive. Lastly, I copied it to the cloud. Faith.

Lesson learned.

B

images courtesy of Pixabay, Amazon (I bought that drive so … great deal), and from mentioned drive

‘Tis The Season?

The poetry of earth is never dead.”  – John Keats

As we begin our yearly routine of flirting with open windows, moving cushions back to our patio furniture, grocery shopping with grill friendly meals on our list, and all the other yearly activities associated with the welcoming of spring, I’m sad to see winter go.  I thought about this last night as we are a few weeks into our nightly walks up the hill and back.

Growing up in the southwest, the seasons were blurred. Although the desert has a beauty of its own any time of year, I don’t think I ever had a real appreciation for seasons like I do now living in the northeast. Maybe I just never noticed Arizona seasons. Or maybe I’ve just grown and would have a newfound appreciation should I ever find myself living there again.

But here, in the now, I am enjoying seasons. All of them. Including winter.

Each year I listen to so many people complain about the cold or the snow. Maybe it’s still novel to me but I embrace it. Yes, there is a beauty to snow but there is also a beauty to everything it brings. The beauty of a cardinal and how it stands out against a backdrop of snow. I never saw a cardinal in Arizona. I take that back, I did. On the football field.

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Winter is the welcome sound of chickadees when I take the dogs out to do their business in the yard. Winter is warmth from a fire or heater. Or maybe a kitchen after baking seasonal deserts.  Winter is the flashing lights spraying my bedroom ceiling at 5:30 in the morning, immediately followed by a beeping alarm as the snow plow  backs up in front of my house. Winter is family and cabin fever, binge reading and binge television series watching. Winter is extra blankets, extra clothes, extra time for the car to warm up. Winter is the hope for a snow day that I never get at work but my kids happily except when we get the pre-alarm, recorded call from their school (which still makes me wonder which school official is getting up at 4:00 to decide this). Winter is Christmas songs, cheesy Hallmark movies, and the twinkle of lights seen in three different rooms as they make bank shots off a mirror in the middle of our living room.  Winter is so much. And I’ll miss it.

But now we have spring and I’m excited all over again, like I will be in summer, and of course in the fall. This excitement never ends and with each new season I find one more sound, or one more memory association to file away with that season.

‘Tis the season? ‘Tis always the season.

Grasshoppers and crickets. Keats was on to something.

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photos courtesy of me and Pixabay

 

If We Were Having Coffee #13 – Daylight Savings

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If we were having coffee, I would have a number of choices to offer you today. We have a breakfast blend, a donut shop blend, a dark roast, and a hazelnut flavor. Creamer was on sale too so we have a cafe mocha, French vanilla, and a sweet cream (my personal favorite as of late). I’ll have a dark roast with sweet cream. It’s Bliss, or so the brand name says.

If we were having coffee, I would tell you I haven’t had a weekend coffee share in months. Yet here I am, up an hour earlier than usual so I thought I might join in. Wait, am I gaining an hour or losing an hour? Nine years in the Northeast and you would think I’d have it figured out. I never had these problems living in Arizona.

I remember seeing a poster once that somewhat explained it. It stated that only the government would believe that cutting a foot off the top of a blanket and sewing it back on to the bottom of the blanket would yield a longer blanket. That explains it. The government.

Speaking of government, I really wanted to write a piece this morning about a government related topic: politics. A teacher in high school once told me there were two topics to avoid when writing and I’ve tried to adhere to that advice over time. Politics was one of them. It was only two topics back then, probably more now. So… no political piece from me. Suffice it to say my only red hats are Cabela’s or Arizona Cardinals. And, I’m not drinking the Kool-Aid. Still it all makes me sad and has me walking around mumbling “WTF” a few dozen times throughout the week.

If we were having coffee, I would tell you that today is ten weeks since I have had a cigarette and almost two weeks since I have been off the patch. Although I have a son in college, my youngest is still in Middle School. I need to be around for a while. Not smoking also makes food taste better and my nightly coughing fits are gone. Maybe it will also improve my 5K times.

Now, back to figuring out if I am gaining or losing an hour today. I know tomorrow I will be heading in to work in the dark once again.

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Weekend Coffee Share is hosted each week by Part Time Monster

Clock photo courtesy of Pixabay

 

It’s Been Awhile – Step 3

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Sitting at my desk at the top of the stairs, I’m enjoying my Sunday morning alone time, my quiet time, although it’s never completely quiet of course. There’s the sound of forced air from our heater, my fingertips knowingly finding letters on the keyboard, cats racing up and down the stairs, and lastly, a slight ringing in my left ear from either too many years in a factory or listening to music with the volume on ten. Still, a good sort of quiet.

And for the first time in over four months, I’m writing a post and happy to have some sort of presence here again after being invisible for a while. Maybe I just needed a break, some self-reflection time, time to rediscover what I love about writing, or… maybe something else. I don’t have a good reason most likely.

So why today? I tweeted an archive post yesterday. It was a post I wrote immediately after my uncle passed away. A year ago today. Re-reading it, it got me thinking about being more focused on writing. Finishing works I’ve started. My uncle would have encouraged me to do so. So here I am this morning and feeling somewhat rejuvenated. The new laptop my wife got me Friday helps too.

Presently I’m writing a novel and another short story. Other than some research for my novel, my focus has been on completing the short story. For reasons unclear to me, it took a different direction and I’m going with it. Conceptually, I think it’s the best writing I’ve done and I’m excited to finish it up, get it edited, and release it. Then back to the beast I’ve titled November Rain.

Other news? Back in early November I felt something was wrong with me. My wife is a nurse and confirmed what I felt and pushed me to bring it up when I went back to the doctor to discuss results of a routine fun filled adventure guys my age eventually must have done. I met with the doctor, discussed the earlier procedure from October, then brought it up. She examined me, and confirmed what both my wife and I already suspected. Not an emergency but I was going to need surgery. I’ve never had a surgery.

There was a catch though. Isn’t there always? The doctor said she would not do the surgery unless I quit smoking. She would not even schedule it until I had quit for at least eight weeks. Her terms or get someone else to do it. I live in a small town. Someone else only means the other doctor capable of doing it. Or head to the city.

Tonight at 9:00 will be exactly seven weeks since I have had a cigarette. I’m using the patch. I’m on Step 3 which means my nicotine intake for the day is one third of what it was when I smoked and technically, even less because I take it off when I sleep. I have one more week on the patch then I am done.  Nicotine free. Smoke free. It’s been awhile since I could say that.

One more week on the patch. One more week and I can call and make an appointment to schedule my surgery.

B

photo courtesy of Pixabay

Right, Wrong, and the Power of Influence

Sicario

Sicario

Friday night was date night for me. My wife and I did something we don’t do very often – we went out by ourselves. We decided on dinner and a movie in a city about twenty five miles away from us. Although our town has great places to eat, we only have one theater that shows two movies and neither really appealed to me. After a wonderful dinner, a large beer for me and disappointingly strong margarita for my wife, we went to a Movie Theater nearby that has eight theaters. After living here for eight years, it was our first time there. I wanted to see Sicario. If you are a fan of Benicio del Toro, Emily Blunt, or Josh Brolin, I would highly recommend it. The story takes place in Phoenix, Tucson, Nogales, and Juarez, all cities I am very familiar with and I found myself trying to find markers I recognized. Only the aerial view of Juarez stood out to me. I found out later that the majority of the movie was shot in Albuquerque and the Juarez street scenes were actually filmed in Mexico City. You have to love Hollywood.

Despite being an action movie, Sicario dealt with a deeper issue that prompted a conversation between my wife and I on the drive home that evening. We discussed the ethical behavior and decisions of the main characters during the movie. Some of this was to keep me attentive driving country roads in the dark but most of it had to do with questions raised by the actions of those in the movie. I enjoy when something I see makes me think. Usually, I read a book and comment that it would make a great movie. This movie would make a great book.

As a writer of fiction, I can create fictitious characters, cities, or worlds. I can bend some writing rules to suit my own needs to create my own style. I can explore morality and behavior, leading the reader to consequences or non-consequences. I can write the past, present, or future with a mixture of actions or customs that are either factual or made up yet plausible. I can borrow from tried and true formulas of other writers in specific genres: good guy gets the girl, reluctant hero coming to the aid of those that ask, good triumphs over evil, the pursuit ends in capture, sleuth solves the crime, true love prevails, and so on.  Or if I was creative enough, I could devise my own formula that defies the norm yet still attracts readers. For the most part, I can do whatever I want to do… within reason. It’s fiction. What I can’t do is plagiarize. Why? Because it’s wrong. Period. That would be cheating. Yet we see and are exposed to cheating on a daily basis.

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I had a poster I special ordered once. There is a photographer who covers Le Tour de France who takes the most amazing pictures of the riders and countryside that fill this epic race. I took the poster to Michaels and had it framed in a very expensive frame with no glare glass. It hung on my wall for years and was an inspiration to me on what was possible when someone has the drive and determination to succeed. To win against the odds. And then it all came crashing down and that expensive frame sits in a closet somewhere less the poster that I ripped up and tossed in the garbage. Some might argue that his winning served a greater good, benefiting the philanthropic efforts he is a part of for cancer. I would argue that it didn’t. More cheating was exposed throughout the sport and I haven’t watched it since despite religiously tuning in each July for over fifteen years, not missing but a few stages of the race.

“We are more likely to cheat if we see others doing so. We tend to conform to accepted norms of reasonable behavior, rather than adhere to strict rules.” – Evan Davis

I get an executive briefing each day from a professional engineering society I am a member of. There a number of briefs regarding inventions, innovations, and contracts that involve major manufacturers throughout the world. Recently it contained a brief regarding a major car manufacturer that had cheated on their emission testing. This bothered me not only because it’s a company I have always respected but because it took a substantially large group of engineers and decision makers to collaborate and pull this off. I won’t speculate as to why this decision was made because I can’t fathom the thought that it was even up for decision. There are rules in place because society deems them necessary. If you’ve ever driven in or near Los Angeles, it’s easy to understand why (and I’m only picking on LA because it was the first city I visited where I noticed smog for the first time). It was an abuse of power by some, it was cheating, and it was wrong.

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A private email server being used by a government official. Unless you’ve been living under a rock, I’m sure you know what I am talking about and this is the moment I might upset a few of you. That’s not my intent and it’s not political. This is also the time where I probably need to make a disclaimer and state “these thoughts are my own” although I feel my thoughts are in line with the code of conduct paperwork I sign off on each year. I am not a direct government employee but work in the government division of a very large company. My division builds key equipment and components found on aircraft carriers and submarines in addition to equipment used in nuclear plants. Because of this, there are strict rules I have to abide by. There are procedural rules regarding everything involved in acceptance or non-acceptance of component parts and/or finished assemblies. There are also strict procedural rules regarding how we conduct business, both general everyday business activities and how we communicate and work electronically. Is some of it inconvenient? Yes, but what is at stake overrides any inconvenience. There are lives that depend on the following of these rules. My job also depends on my following the rules. This is black and white to me with no grey area so I don’t buy into anyone at any level not following the rules.

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So where am I going with all this? Back to writing of course. As writers, we have a lot of freedom to write about anything and everything. This can be through works of fiction or non-fiction we intend to publish or simply through a blog post. We can draw on the events of the past, the present, and of probable or not so probable events of the future to create a story or simply to talk/rant about something. Those events can be feel good events or they can be events we deem morally wrong, subjective to the individual interpretations we all derive from them. Throughout this process, we can play with our own perceived ethical or moral behavior in a manner that might or might not influence at all. The potential for influence is there though and with that comes accountability and responsibility. I’m not suggesting tossing artistic creativity by the wayside. I’m only suggesting, that much like the examples I mentioned above, or the everyday influences of leaders, athletes, teachers, coaches, parents, and newscasters to name a few, we all have the potential to influence. Don’t abuse that power.

People have a choice of what they can and can’t live with, what they see as right or wrong, or what they are just indifferent to. Is it always black and white? No, sometimes it is grey. I can live with grey occasionally when the argument for it is compelling enough.

Now to go punish my main character for bad decisions…

images found on google images and Pixabay

I’m Not Saying It Was Aliens, But…

“To my mathematical brain, the numbers alone make thinking about aliens perfectly rational. The real challenge is to work out what aliens might actually be like.” – Stephen Hawking

I believe there are many influences we have at a young age, particularly some books and movies that might be too much for our young minds to comprehend much less fully rationalize yet I wouldn’t discourage the practice provided they are discussed with an adult. Through my parent eyes, I do have some exceptions to this thought process that would include certain books and movies. There is an age appropriate criteria that should be set for some content or subject matter. That’s my job as a parent.

When I was young, I read two series of books that I was probably too young to read. One was a series of books by Carlos Castaneda in which he wrote about his training in shamanism under the tutelage of a Yaqui man named Don Juan. Some of this training introduced Castaneda to the use of psychotropic plants such as mushrooms and peyote in order for Castaneda to enter a reality in which he could better understand Don Juan’s teachings. My mother had been reading these books for a college class and talked openly about the books. She was convinced that Don Juan lived somewhere along the Mexican border where we lived (the Mexican state of Sonora having many border towns adjacent to small towns in Arizona). I didn’t find out until years later that much of what Castaneda wrote was questionable and disputed in some scholarly circles but by then, I had long forgotten much of what I had read. I would like to re-read the books as an adult and see if I feel differently.

Nasca - Parrot

Nasca – Parrot

The other series of books I read were by Erick von Däniken suggesting alien influences on earlier cultures. These books fascinated me then, and admittedly fueled an interest in ancient cultures. Had it not been for these books, I might not have been introduced to some of the amazing feats of construction that are prevalent in both Central and South America. Sure, we were all taught about the Great Pyramid of Giza and other wonders in Europe and Asia in grade school but not much was taught about many of the same wonders that existed directly south of us. I was twelve years old when I read Chariots of Gods? and thirteen when I read Gods from Outer Space.  Erick von Däniken tried to connect it all in his books and for a young reader, the theory was plausible. Did I believe aliens influenced or supervised these cultures, allowing them to accomplish things that were supposedly not possible with the technology and tools of that time? Absolutely.  Do I believe this now? Read on…

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During my later teens, I camped out in the desert near my house. While on a peyote induced trip to find my spirit animal, I had the chance to seek answers to many of the questions the books I had read a few years earlier had left me with. While flying, and I’m not sure what type of bird I was, I was abducted by a passing aerial craft of some sort. To my surprise, it was manned by aliens. Not wanting to pass up an opportunity to have my questions answered, I asked them if they had anything to do with all the great mysteries I had read about only a few years earlier and they said they hadn’t but did admit to crashing at Roswell. So there I had it, firsthand knowledge directly from my abductors.  Alright, before you think I’ve completely lost it, yes I am just kidding. Actually, they couldn’t understand my question because I was bird and couldn’t speak (yes, maybe I was too young to read Castaneda or von Däniken).

Enough funny business and I will get back to the question: do I believe this now? I do believe that in a universe as vast as the one we are in, or other universes that exist, both known and unknown,  we would be very vain and naive to think we are the only intelligent life form. It comes down to numbers as Hawkins suggested in the quote I shared at the beginning of this post. Having said that, do I believe aliens influenced or helped the cultures of the past. No, I don’t. Not because it isn’t possible but because there is no proof. That doesn’t diminish my fascination with the possibility that it could have happened but the technical side of me demands proof and to my knowledge, there is none. The technical side of me knows enough to understand that many of these mysteries exploited in such books or television shows are easily disputed by an understanding of math, which we now know many earlier cultures were very proficient in.  A basic understanding of geometry for example, allows the construction of very detailed and exact shapes. Take a crop circle, or some other seemingly perfect geometrical shape, that supposedly could only be done with access to an aerial view. A group of people with a few stakes, long ropes to construct lines, and an understanding of right angles and arcs, could theoretically create most any shape. This has been proven numerous times by hoaxers. Toss in an understanding of astronomy and agriculture and it should be no surprise that ancient civilizations were able to accomplish many of the engineering feats we are fascinated with today.

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What I love about books that make us question things, both fictional and non-fiction, is the fact that they should spark interest in learning more. I can honestly say I am fascinated with ancient civilizations and the engineering feats they accomplished.  I believe I can attribute that fascination to a few of the more controversial books I read as a kid along with the not so controversial follow up reading found in other more scholarly books or magazines such as National Geographic. Thankfully, my mom encouraged both.

It’s all good.

Bill

Photos courtesy of Pixabay and Google images 

If We Were Having Coffee #12 – The Write Place

image (3)

If we were having coffee, I would have a number of choices to offer you today. We have a breakfast blend, a donut shop blend, a dark roast, and a Kona blend. Since many of you don’t drink coffee, I also have tea. What kind of tea you ask? The kind you drop into a cup and pour steaming hot water over. I need to learn more about tea. As for me, I’ll have a dark roast with pumpkin spice creamer since it feels more like an October morning than it does a September morning.

If we were having coffee, I would tell you that we got to see my son last week for his birthday. We traveled to see him at his college, took him shopping, and then went out to dinner. We brought him home for the weekend since we had a three day weekend. Coming home with us was a last minute decision on his part but he wanted to get back to school on Sunday afternoon versus Monday so he’d have a day and a half to study. We also took his girlfriend with us. When he first got home and went upstairs to his bedroom, he came down and complained that his room was a mess. My wife reminded him that he left it that way but she still felt bad.

He got to spend a little time with us, time with his girlfriend, and time with some of his friends. We took him back Sunday afternoon, along with a few supplies he needed and got to see what his dorm room looked like after a few weeks on his own. His desk area looked academic, as did his dorm mate’s. The rest of the room was organized with the exception of their beds. Apparently college students don’t make beds. I helped unpack the few supplies we got him and my wife made his bed. He walked us downstairs and we played a quick game of pool, hugged goodbye and my wife and I were home by 5:30. I think that is the first time I have ever played pool with my son. I enjoyed it.

If we were having coffee, I would tell you that last Monday was a lazy day for me. I wrote a post then read a book the remainder of the day. Not so for my wife. She also had Tuesday and Wednesday off and had decided she was going to clean upstairs. We have two bedrooms upstairs, one being my son’s and the other being used as my wife’s “woman cave” for scrap-booking and crafts. There is also a small landing outside the two bedroom doors that has been filled with junk for years it seems. I seldom go up there. Her mom came over to help and I graciously stayed out of their way (hid is more like it).

Although my youngest has hinted that he wanted to move upstairs, we want to leave things the way they are. I think it’s important that my oldest has his room to come home to on breaks and summers. He’s dealing with enough change.

When I got home from work Tuesday evening, my wife was very excited to show me upstairs. My son’s room was immaculate, her scrap-booking/craft room was organized, and the landing was clear with one exception – it had my son’s desk. Really it’s my desk that I gave him a few years ago to give him an area to do homework in his room. The right place. It helped him develop good study habits.

If we were having coffee, I would tell you that my family has been very supportive of my writing. I haven’t had a designated writing place or an office like I’ve had in other homes we’ve had over the years. I’ve been writing while sitting in a recliner, sitting at the kitchen table, sitting at the dining room table, or sitting outside on our deck.

My wife’s gift to me Tuesday evening was a spot to write. The right place. The write place.

I freaking love it!

B

My Desk

Weekend Coffee Share is hosted each week by Part Time Monster

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