Our one hundred year old house had a finished basement at several points in its history. The latest iteration included a dropped ceiling, a 3/4 bath and even an Oakland Raiders room sometime after 2016. However, at the time of our purchase it was moldy, damaged and partly gutted. Our project over the last two weeks has been to remove the ceiling and Raider room.
We discovered that the original century-old plaster and lath ceiling was still extant but hidden by the dropped ceiling. Someone had added the dropped ceiling to cover up the heating and plumbing pipes. But it also lowered the ceiling of the room by 18 inches. Removing it will give us a basement with an 8 foot ceiling! We also revealed the knob and tube wiring that still powers the house. Some of it had been added after the original ceiling was installed. There were wires running all over, many that no longer connected to anything.
Our biggest surprise was to discover that we had asbestos pipe insulation on our hot water heating pipes. This detail was not mentioned in the sellers documentation. However, instead of being upset about it, I just removed it. We suited up and pulled it out.
We then pulled all of the plaster and lathe ceiling work down, along with 100 years of dust. It was seriously nasty work. I wanted it all down in one weekend so we could be done with it. The three of us tackled it and got it completely pulled down. A dumpster will be delivered this week and we will spend next week loading it up.
Our new basement will have an industrial theme with a little steampunk bar area. All of the pipes and wires will be exposed and I’m leaving the ceiling bare up to the joists and subflooring above. It’s going to be cool. Trust me.
My wife and I have not owned a house for many years. First, we relocated and tried to sell a house during the housing crash of 2008. Then we finally had to give up the house after the last renter trashed it and we were still unable to sell it. We then relocated several more times for work. So, we have been renters for the last twelve years.
That ended today. We just closed on a 100 year old house on a half acre in St Louis. This is a long time coming and feels like one of the final pieces of being an adult. I’m fifty-some years old and just now getting around to owning a home. There were good reasons for the delay but it feels good to finally be past that hurdle.
The one good thing to come out of the pandemic for us was the rock bottom interest rates. If you had the money to spend, this was a great time to buy a house. And for once our timing was perfect. We looked at a hundred houses, I think and missed out on several truly amazing places. But I think fate was just holding out for this one to become available. We toured it on the first day it was available and fell in love at first sight. We put our bid on it right then and there.
Our next adventure is remodeling. I’ll be posting about that here also, along with updates on the new humongous yard we have. The wife has been talking about getting some baby goats. I can’t say it’s not intriguing.
I do not believe that things happen for a reason. Sure there are reasons things happen, but there is no overarching plan.
When terrible things happen, people like to say that “things happen for a reason,” as if there is some plan that made this event necessary. I think people want to believe that their lives mean something, have a destiny, a purpose. They want a reality where every action, breeze, or accident is somehow preordained to ensure that something else will happen in the future.
But for that to be true, the end result must be imagined beforehand. There must be a sum or quotient or outcome that everything leads to.
Where a + b – c = x
or in life events,
grandma dying + you losing your job – you changing the neighbor’s tire = Cubs win the World Series
But I don’t believe that life could possibly work that way. I don’t believe that there is an equal sign in my life or anybody’s. Life is not an equation.
There is no destined or predetermined endpoint. How could there be?
If there were actually a god or some kind of universal being planning everything, then free will would not only be unnecessary but impossible. Every single action would be dictated by the plan. At that point, we would just be pawns in someone else’s game. And I refuse to believe in a universe like that. It doesn’t make sense.
Also, that would mean that this god planned the rape, the miscarriage, the war, the disease, the poverty, and the slavery that lead to our lives. I could not in good conscience respect or worship or even believe in such a being.
Life is not an equation with an equal sign. There is no x at the end of it.
Life is more like a + b – c / f * d + 2 … into infinity from day 1 to day n+1. It never equals anything. It never balances, it never sums. It’s life in all its chaotic, unplanned, unfathomable calculus of infinity.
This past week in the United States has been stressful, for everyone, and because my synagogue school students are part of that everyone, I wanted to focus on teaching a lesson that would reassure them, somewhat, that there are areas of their lives where they really do have some control. And, because I love teaching Yiddish words, the lesson for this week was: what does it mean to be a mensch?
Mensch is a Yiddish word, from German, meaning “human being,” or a person of integrity and honor. The opposite of a mensch is an unmensch, a person treating others cruelly and without compassion, as opposed to the word ubermensch (Nietzsche alert) which is usually translated as “the superman,” someone who is superior to other humans. The word Mensch has gathered a lot of associations in American culture (bearded, male, Jewish) but it really means a person who is…
Have you ever found yourself glued to the television or following a particular news story, your attention laser-focused on the outcome of the event? Focused as if your life depended on the result or even as if you could influence it? It’s this last belief that I want to address.
It all began with a genuine interest in the dumpster fire that is our president. I then found myself refreshing the news site every few moments to ensure that I had the newest and freshest updates. Events were moving so fast that I couldn’t afford to turn my attention to other things because my attention was needed! The end result required me to stay focused.
Or so I believed. So we all believe to a certain extent.
Some scientists believe that humans have an innate tendency toward religion. I think that it is less about a higher being than our collective ability to influence the world around us. Essentially, an inherent faith in the power of belief or a belief in the power of faith.
However, I believe that this instinct is more a group focus than a religion. We believe that our attention on an event can influence that event. I call this the Attention Effect. It is similar to the Observation Effect in Quantum Mechanics, where “the mere observation of a phenomenon inevitably changes that phenomenon.” The Attention Effect is the belief that “the focused attention of the observer on the phenomenon can influence the phenomenon.” Not only can we change the phenomenon by observing it but can consciously change the result.
“We must have Faith” is another way of saying this. But rather than focusing our attention or faith on a diety to influence events, we have sidestepped the need for a diety with belief in our own ability to directly control events.
The secularization of society has redirected our faith away from religion to other outlets. The news cycle, the drama of social media, sports, the stock market, and currently, in my case, politics need our attention and influence to move in our favor. We have convinced ourselves that we can nudge the events by watching by paying attention.
In my case, politics is much like watching sports. I couldn’t afford to miss a single play because the entire game may hinge on that one moment. I needed to Pay Attention! Because of the Attention Effect!
Rather than a diety, society has turned our superstition to other things. Our institutionalized faith is now focused on the news cycle, sports teams, politics, or a celebrity’s love life. Our attention has been siphoned off, bottled, and monetized. And, yet, still has no effect on events. None…Nada…The same nothing as always. But marketing and capitalism have conspired to give us the warm fuzzy feeling of participation and accomplishment. But it’s illusory. Yes, we participated in a cultural moment, but that moment will ultimately be lost in the static of every other cultural moment.
The hours I spent focusing my attention did not accomplish, influence, or earn me anything.
In the meantime, my novel isn’t finished, I have not mastered German, I still can’t play Crazy Train, and all my goals of youth, of last year and even yesterday are unaccomplished, sacrificed on the altar of attention. If Michelangelo or Leonardo Da Vinci or Shakespeare had had access to the internet, we wouldn’t have the masterpieces they created because they would have been too distracted to do the work. Their attention would have been needed, nay demanded elsewhere.
So, the next time you find yourself glued to the television or the internet for no constructive purpose, TURN IT OFF. Turn it all off and walk away. Get some work done. CREATE!!
I have a particular fondness for fall. I love the smell of the autumn air and the crisp chill of the mornings. Yes, I also enjoy Halloween and football and pretty leaves and Thanksgiving and all the other stuff. But none of those really hold a candle to my favorite fall activity… snuggling!!
After months hot sticky summer nights where the AC just barely registers, where you can’t get any more naked but yet still wake up in a pool of sweat, and where I get banned from touching my wife because I’m walking furnace, the return of sweater weather is like the return of the sun to the Arctic. The long months of being shunned and alone on my side of the bed are gone, and I again become the best, warmest, most snuggly-wuggly husband in the world.
Yes, folks, I said snuggly-wuggly.
Once the chill air of autumn starts wafting fragrantly through our bedroom windows, I become the space-heater and home hearth that my spouse loves and cherishes. Under a pile of comforter, she burrows into my chest as if she could crawl right in, and I bask in the glory of being the torch that keeps her warm. I’m like a cozy, romantic fireplace you can hug.
She calls me her Huggy-Buggy-Muggy Bear, and I am fine with that. As far as I’m concerned, the Goddess can call me anything she wants.
I took this photo on a trip to Austria years ago and it’s always been one of my favorites. Just a loyal dog waiting patiently for his owner.
What a great dog!
This would never be my dog. My dog would have run away or followed me into the store or taken off into the store without me. Anything but what a good dog would do, such as this very good dog is demonstrating.
I don’t have a dog, but if I did, he would be an asshole. That’s just the kind of dog parent I am.
What do we do with them now,
these new dead? Where do we put them?
How can we keep them company
in the remaining earth,
too full already with our living—
Christ, with our dead?
How do we launch their ashy bodies, newly furnaced,
into the fiery ocean or the stream
chugging along in useless concrete basins,
scooping whatever’s left between the seams
of the old junker driving back to truth,
an empty house, and an open server?
There is so little left for us to do.
Each day is mildly different—
death stays the same, remaindered
from the very first to fall
among the unmourning vegetation
or drift in silent waters towards a soul.
And like a closing sale, all things must go.
More importantly, must go somewhere.
Hence the teeth-white matrices
of soldiers’ graves fanning the freeways,
the McDonald’s arches flecked
with a thousand crucifixions,
When I was growing up, I remember adults telling me that farting wasn’t ladylike. This statement was lost on me. What the hell does that mean? Ladylike? Isn’t farting frowned upon by everyone? Is there someone you know that can fart in public, and it’s completely acceptable? I want to meet this person. Better yet, I want to be this person.
You wonder how I ended up on this subject. Let me tell you! First, I need to tell you some stories from my past that will help to build some understanding. Each story is like a building block to the end of this squirrel-like thinking of mine.
When my stepdaughter Kyra was about three years old, we went camping. This was the first time that we took the kids camping, so it was an new experience for all of us. We were in a parking lot of the campsite…
Last weekend we took a long weekend trip to San Francisco. We had this trip planned for some time and refused to cancel it due to COVID. After months of being shut up in St Louis, we needed out. I, at least, get out almost every day, my work schedule has not been affected by the pandemic. I haven’t missed a day. However, I do limit how much time I spend around people, particularly in public areas: fewer trips to the store, limited restaurant exposure, always wearing a mask, etc.
My wife, on the other hand, has been working from home for months and has been taking it rather hard. She is a social butterfly with an innate talk quota that she must meet to maintain general health and sanity. This trip months ago as a replacement for a family reunion that was canceled. Neither of us had ever been to Frisco and had a long list of things we wanted to do. Alcatraz and the Winchester House and see the Redwoods and ride the streetcars… Basically, San Francisco had been on our list for years. We planned a five-day trip and booked an Airbnb.
But then things started to fall apart. Alcatraz remained closed. The Winchester House was closed. The National and State Parks were closed. And then travel was discouraged. We had reserved and even prepaid for some tours and tickets. What is California without a wine tour, right?!
But regardless of all the roadblocks, we refused to cancel the trip; we needed to get out of St Louis!
Our new plan was to do more hiking than anything else. The National and State Parks were reopened, so we headed to Muir Woods to see the Redwoods. They were INCREDIBLE!! Walking through a grove of thirty-story, perfectly straight trees is a very grounding experience. The stress of the last months melted away to insignificance.
In San Francisco, we focused on the attractions at Pier 39. We went sailing in the bay, into the shadow of Alcatraz, and even went whale watching out into the Pacific. Watching whales jump out an ocean that covers 70% of an entire planet, makes life’s problems seem rather insignificant.
However, COVID was still a concern, and California is considered a hotspot. However, unlike St Louis, 95% of the people around us were wearing masks. I found it encouraging and even comforting to see everyone watching out for each other by simply covering their faces. Rather than focusing on the inconvenience and uncomfortable aspects of wearing a mask, they just jumped on board and did it. I believe that once a majority of people are participating, there is an unconscious peer pressure placed on anyone not participating. San Francisco has reached that level of conformity. And that’s a good thing!
For me, our trip was less about getting away from home or seeing something new than it was about resetting my perspective. I live a rather stress-free life and have built it that way. But I do tend to get hung up on issues around me and tasks I still have to complete. I’m an engineer, so task lists and deadlines are part of the gig. However, in the end, they really don’t matter in the long run. I need to keep that in mind when things start getting to me.
San Francisco was amazing, and we plan to return to hit all the things we were unable to do this time. We rarely return to a place once we’ve hit the major attractions, but Frisco has enough for multiple trips. I look forward to it.