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While writing my previous post, I wanted to remember the little café we had stopped at on our first day in upstate New York.

What was the name of that place? Oh, I can find it on google maps. I’m good at maps.

I assumed I would be tracing our route on a map and locating the café that way. But once I got to the Maps page, I remembered Google Timeline. I had used the app before but had forgotten about it.  It was hidden in the drop-down options menu.

There was more than a decade of my travel history displayed on the world map. It showed my travels from 2009 onward. Almost every place I had been was there. All the restaurants, stores, places I’d worked and just driven by! I spent an hour reliving my trips and recalling wonderful places I had forgotten about.

It wasn’t until later that the creepiness started to hit me. Who else was seeing this? Could someone hack into my Google Timeline page and know where I had been, when, and for how long? And, if so, what could they do with that information?

It was at this point that my writer-imagination clicked on.

What could be done with this information? Hmmm…

– A killer could predict my daily route to work and set up an ambush or an ‘accident’.

– Someone could research my travel itinerary and pose as someone I might have met on the trip as a means of getting closer to me.

– A door-to-door salesman could predict when I would be home and available!

– An employer could check to see what I was really doing on the day I called in sick.

– A sexy foreign spy would know what coffee shop I go to alone on Saturdays and make sure to be there sitting next to me. (All foreign lady-spies are sexy by default. Foreignness plus spyiness equals sexy – period.)

I am not one to see hidden conspiracies in every shadow, nor do I have a knee-jerk distrust of new technology or BigTech. So, I actually don’t mind being tracked or filmed or recorded or whatever my Alexa is doing. But then, I am also not involved in any illegal or seditious activities. So track away. I’ve got nothing to hide.

In truth, I have an appreciation for Google Timeline. Rather than just having a file of pictures from my trips that will require me to remember where they were taken and who is in the view, I now have mapped moment-to-moment tracking of the route we took. In addition, my pictures have embedded date and time data that I can then match to the map. So, if I wanted to, I could create a minute-by-minute itinerary of my trip with pictures of that moment. How’s that for a vacation slide show?

 Google maps tracks me every day, and I am very cool with that. I find it both extremely handy and kind of creepy. However, unless I become a target for spies or start thinking about trading in contraband, my life is much too dull for this detailed information to be useful to anyone.  

“How odd… I stopped at the guitar store on the way home. And now look, Marge, here is an ad for a deal on strings at Amazon. How do those online algorithms know so much?!”

Hmmm…

Spotify is a wonderful thing. I enjoy exploring new music, but the biggest thrill comes when I rediscover music I had forgotten. That is what happen the other day when I ran across  Robbie Dupree’s Steal Away, and I was mentally tossed back to 1980. It was like a gut punch or the first drop at the top of a roller coaster; it took the breath out of me. I was suddenly standing in my grandmother’s darkened pantry, singing silently to myself.

The little space was an escape for me. I was miserable while living in Podunk, Iowa. To cope, I needed to find some form of mental escape, away from the 70’s pro-wrestling and terrible television that my grandparents considered ‘family time.’ I was eleven or twelve, I think, and I clung to my little radio like a life raft. The songs that I remember best were Shadow Dancing by Andy Gibb and, of course, YMCA by the Village People. We sang it in Chorus at school, we learned the dance moves and everything.I would stand in the dark and silently mouth the words as a mantra, a spell to take me away for that moment. Outside, the trains rolled past, the vibrations making the floor tremble under me, an additional element of the magical moment.

The Village People's YMCA is preserved for posterity - BBC News

The rediscovery of Steal Away led me to an entire vein of golden oldies that yanked on my heartstrings. Like emotional cheesecake, I couldn’t get enough. I was pulling up memories and feelings that had slipped into the cracks of my mind, seemingly lost forever. But the magic of music brought it all pouring back, and it was a rush.

Music has power. I know that. I feel it every time I go to a rock show and feel the rush of energy from the screaming guitars and thumping drums. But I had forgotten the power of music memory. Songs have a way of wrapping themselves around a moment in time and organically becoming part of that memory. Our brains attach all the tiny sensations we feel, the emotions, the smells, the environment, along with the sights and sounds of that immediate moment in time to create a multi-dimensional ball of synapses that we call memory. Later, when we experience a smell or sound or emotion that relates directly to that memory, it can come rushing back to our consciousness, fully born and alive. That’s magic.

Like most teenagers, my parents and I disagreed about music. We were children of different times. At my house, Saturday night was Game Night. The whole family would sit at the dining room table and play games until after midnight. An Oldies station would be playing on the radio. Back then, the Oldies were the 50’s and 60’s. I grew up listening to Roy Orbison, Buddy Holly, Chubby Checker, and the Everly Brothers. Little Suzie and At The Hop were still hits in our house. For me, this was ancient music, never something I would listen to by choice. However, it was catchy, and eventually, I learned all the words. But it wasn’t music I could relate to. However, my parents would get excited when a particular song came on and would crank the volume and sing along like it was the greatest thing ever. I didn’t get it.

The Oldies stations now play the ‘80s and ‘90s, with a smattering of the 2000s thrown in. I know the music and enjoy it, but even these songs rarely have much of an effect on me. I’ve heard them all a million times.

My musical memories seem to be more attuned to the late ‘70s and very early ‘80s. Music that rarely gets played on the radio anymore. Those are the songs that evoke the most vivid emotions, such as the darkened pantry or first heartbreak. Even memories of high school aren’t as powerful as those.

I just wonder if this was the feeling that my parents got from certain songs? Were they re-experiencing a moment in their youth similar to my memory? I now feel a new connection with my parents that I never had before: a clarification and understanding. I’ve realized that it’s only with age and a little time in their shoes that you can really understand your parents. I have now stepped into my father’s place, and I’m feeling his feelings. I finally get it!

What’s next on the playlist?

Lady by the Little River Band.

Lady - Little River Band.jpg

We now have a DOG. It is a CAPITAL LETTER DOG. In fact, a heavy breathing, barge through your day, take your spot, steam-powered DOG.

My wife and I have wanted a dog for a few years. Anytime we saw someone walking their companion in the park or saw a head sticking out a car window with ears flapping, we would turn to each other and in unison say:  “We need a dog!” We even purchased a home after years of renting – and liking it – with the intention of getting a dog. I didn’t want to limit a dog to an apartment or a tiny little postage stamp yard. So, we set the goal of having a big backyard before we got a dog. We now have a half-acre of dog-ready yard. And a couple of weeks ago, we finally got a dog.

My wife and I differed on our preferred model of dog. We both wanted a larger dog because we hate little barky dogs and wanted something our cats couldn’t beat up on. We wanted one that was smart and not a puppy. We don’t have the energy for a puppy and wanted them mostly trained already. Neither of us is well-versed at being dog parents and didn’t want to ruin the poor thing.

My wife fell in love with pitbulls a few years ago and was dead set on getting one. I’m more of a German shepherd or hound kind of guy. But, of course, she won. The dog was meant for her anyway. I’m solidly a cat person and could go through the rest of my life without a dog. Yet, we now have one.

ARLO is a pit-bull-lab mix and, again, is CAPITAL letter-worthy. He is intelligent and stubborn, and very well-behaved. He is only aggressive in his friendliness; he will lick your face off! He is only a year and a half old and still partly in the puppy stage, which is exhausting.

And now, several weeks into our dog years, we are exhausted. I can honestly say that there have been some fleeting second thoughts, not quite adopters’ remorse, but… thoughts. I knew that dogs were high maintenance and high attention. I even warned my wife of this. Up till this point, we have always had cats and could basically ignore them most of the time. Cats are self-sufficient and self-entertained. That is why I like them so much. Whereas dogs need your attention, need to go outside, need to be exercised, need your attention, need to be noticed, need to go outside, and need your attention. We were NOT ready for the level of attention ARLO required. It is much like bringing a baby home. Suddenly, your life revolves around this being. ALL OF YOUR LIFE!!

We were also surprised to find that they still make steam-powered dogs. Who knew? Arlo breathes like a steam engine. All…the…time! Chugga Chugga Chugga Toot Toot! Here comes Arlo! We’ve tried having him sleep in our room, but we couldn’t sleep with the chugging. Once he calms down, it gets better, but he fidgets all night. He now has a prime kennel in the dining room. I believe he will eventually be more a part of the family and be able to crash with us. Until then, he gets a private room.

We are adapting and aren’t going to return Arlo or dump him off or anything silly like that. We will modify our life and make it work, just like you would with a new child. I am now in charge of the 5AM walk. I’m not at all sure how that happened; I am NOT a morning person – at all. 5AM is not a waking time. That is a going fishing time or maybe even coming home time after a great Friday night, but NOT a wake-up time. Yet, here I am dressed and vertical, walking the dog every morning. This is not how I imagined my life.

Overall, Arlo is a really good dog with some really poorly trained parents. It will get better; I have faith. We love our steam-powered dog and will build our future around him. But now I’m tired and need to get up in – like – five hours to walk the dog. These are the Dog-years.

We have lived in the Century House for about three months now and have settled in very comfortably. However, we have been living without a cookstove. We sold the ancient one that came with the house because we knew we had one on the way – soon.  We wanted all new matching appliances and ordered them in January for a March delivery. Two and half months ought to be enough time to get them shipped from ‘wherever’, right?

This proved true for the most part. Everything was fine and in place by the first of April. However, I made the mistake of ordering a super special order stove with an oven that could be split into two, with dual controls. Along with this, my wife ordered a microwave with all the bells and whistles. You clearly see our cooking styles.

The Empty Spot in my Kitchen

The last two items, the stove and the microwave, did not show up on time. However, to add to the story, we were contacted several times to schedule deliveries that never materialized. The supplier both called and emailed us to schedule the delivery of our products but then didn’t show up at all. They were phantom deliveries. It was very frustrating.

Then the Suez canal blockage happened. The container ship Ever Given had run aground in the middle of the canal and blocked delivery of our stove. At least that was the story we were telling.  We don’t know the exact reason for the delay, but it worked well for laughs.

In the meantime, we have been getting by with a $75 microwave and a $25 electric griddle. We tried using our slow cooker to prepare meals ahead, but you know “SLOW COOKER” is not something we wanted to use daily. Instead, we got very comfortable with our griddle and had lots of eggs, salmon burgers, and fish fillets. All of which was fine and tasty, but I really missed a good fried egg or a stir fry or even mac-n-cheese.

$25 worth of saddness!!

Soon after we moved in, we had a technician in the house installing our security system. The control panel is in the kitchen opposite the stove – or where the stove is supposed to be. He had been at it for about thirty minutes before he finally looked up and asked: “Where’s your stove?” It took him that long to notice the odd empty spot in our kitchen.

I found it difficult to adjust to cooking on an electric griddle. I love to cook, and cutting a bunch of vegetables into a stew or a stirfry is very relaxing for me. But cooking on a griddle doesn’t require much for cutting. It was all fish fillets, chicken breasts, and patties with lots of salads. The ‘cooking’ part of cooking was a sad shadow of what I liked to do. I’m sure I could have gotten used to the griddle and eventually felt creative enough to do something interesting with it, but thankfully that time was avoided.

We have a stove! It’s a Samsung gas range with an oven that can be split into two and controlled separately. It also includes an air fryer option that I am particularly excited about. My wife wants me to make wings in the worst way, but I guess there is a chicken wing shortage or something. She was unwilling to trade an arm and a leg for wings. So, that will have to wait.

I am excited about the high-powered burner on the cooktop. It is meant for cooking with a wok. My wok is my favorite pan to use. I make a lot of stir fry and curries and similar recipes.

This is the first cookstove I’ve purchased new, and there is a huge big technology jump in this range compared to what I’m used to.  I can control the oven from my phone! Which is ridiculous! I have never once thought: Damn… if only I could turn the oven on from the mall. I personally can’t see the use of this feature. My wife has offered different scenarios to justify it. Still, none of them ring true or reasonable or an event that would happen more than once in a lifetime. However, my phone is now synced with my stove, and I’m going to dream up some weirdly unlikely situation where I will just have to use it.

Frickin’ WIFI!!!

What is the first thing I cooked on my new stove, you ask? Was it chicken marsala? Or a stir fry or a nice spicy curry (YUM!!) or some other fancy or difficult or iconic meal that would inaugurate my new stove in style. No… That is definitely not my style. Simple cooking is the best cooking. I made fried eggs, sausage, and toast. And it was glorious. I never got the hang of cooking eggs on the griddle. They were never quite right.

If only we could capture that moment of connection

The fire and energy, all cosmic pieces fitting

That moment, that microsecond before rinsed away

By the wash of time, of thoughts and senses, living and life

Oh woe for the lines and lyrics, and visions lost

For want of a notebook


There are so many times that I’ve had a brilliant flash of inspiration only to have it vanish into of other thoughts. It’s frustrating to think that our lives are so very limited and the true sparks of the muse even more so. But yet we can watch them slip through our fingers so very very easily never to come again.

Scotland

Yesterday’s coffee
Cold or reheated
Is never quite what we seek

No matter how steaming
Or ‘fixed’ up
It still lacks the warmth and comfort of fresh

Those elements must fume off and dissipate
Leaving a lesser liquid
With all the kick but none of the bliss

What remains is a faded interpretation
Of godly ambrosia
The aroma now dampened and muddy

Yet, still I hold you close
And sip your faded essence
To forego the waste of the perfect cup you were

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.

Inspiration, Finance Manager, and General Labor

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.

That should be enough.

Life Without a Plan

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.

Yeah, I love fall. Cause I’m warm.

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Scotland 2018