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Life

There is a line – an indistinct line – between one phase of life and the next. We never see it coming, but only discern it once we’ve passed. I feel that I am on the cusp of such a line. I can feel myself moving from my adult phase to the middle age phase. And it’s not as disconcerting as I expected.

I’ve been a grandfather for ten years, but that fact did not initiate a change in my phase of life. I was an active healthy forties when I became a grandfather. The phase change didn’t happen until just recently. I found that most adults around me were younger than I. And they were looking to me for advice and leadership. Yeah, weird. Also, my children are all adults and I have taken on the role of the older parent, the ‘boomer’ that doesn’t understand anything in this newfangled world. It is very disconcerting and confusing. And I don’t like it.

My new phase in life shook my confidence, even if it was only symbolic. I had the sudden realization that I’m not only getting old, but am old. Ugh!!

When I was young, I always had a ‘someday’ waiting for me. I’ll figure that out someday, or I can afford it someday, or I’ll have time for that someday. I suddenly found myself with fewer somedays.

In years past, I put everything on my todo-someday list, because I always had someday to look forward to. Now, I’m limiting that list, realizing that I no longer have all the somedays I had before or the energy – stamina – drive I once had. So fewer things fit on the list. My PhD in History is still on the maybe list, but my singing career is probably off for good.

I think people react to life changes differently than others. For some, this is when many people go through the proverbial mid-life crisis. I’m not feeling any urge to buy a Porsche or get a mistress or even a tattoo, really. Maybe I’m handling it better than some. I wish my father were around to compare notes with.

I try to imagine his reaction to reaching this point in life and wonder how he handled it. He did not buy Porsche or have a mistress (as far as I know). But what did he go through? How did he handle it? I don’t know. I was unaware of the line at the time and so couldn’t ask. Now I wish I had him around to talk with.

Both my father and grandfather died in their mid-sixties – the grandfather phase.  I’m in the same phase now. However, they were both smokers with high blood pressure. I am neither, therefore in theory I will outlive them and enter a phase of life they never experienced. In contrast, my grandmother lived to be ninety-nine years old. I intend to live to one hundred and twenty. I don’t know what phase that is, but I will be ready.

Now that I am aware of the indistinct lines that separate life’s phases, I will be better prepared when they appear and will embrace them as the mile markers they are meant to be.

I’m sorry about the crappy picture, but I took this years ago on a trip on the Chicago subway system with my wife. Chicago has the best public transportation system in the US in my opinion. It is easy to navigate and doesn’t smell like piss at all.

But we ended up sitting across the aisle from this little button and speaker on one ride and my wife was fascinated by it.

“Could we really talk to the driver?” she asked multiple times.

“Uh, sure…” I said. “Don’t touch it.”

Which, of course, was the wrong thing to say, because now all she could do was stare at. I watched her lick her lips and reach out toward it.

“Don’t touch it.”

“But…”

“You still can’t touch it,” I repeated.

“But I just imagine a little train conductor sitting behind that grill waiting for someone to touch the button,” she said.

You have to understand that my wife and I both have very creative imaginations and tend to let them roam on occasion. Our travels are almost like improv theatre at times.  We let ourselves get crazy. So, I proceeded to play along.

“And do you know what he’s going to tell you?” I said. “Don’t touch the button!”

Yeah, people were looking at us weird, which I think is an accomplishment in Chicago.

She still wants to touch the button.

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My wife, Sheri, thinks a nice yard is relaxing and gives her a place to find contentment. I agree with her, it is relaxing. But having a yard project completed is even more relaxing. In my case I stripped out yard down to dirt and rock and started over. Now we have grass growing, paths completed, flowers planted and replanted, and even a birdbath.

I feel complete and peaceful now. My landlord will also be thrilled. Yes…that is what I said. I spent months of weekend labor and >$1000 on a yard that is not mine. All for the sake of my wife’s sanity and contentment. She has been forced to work from home for two months, while I’ve continued going to my essential industry job every day. I haven’t had any ‘lockdown’ days. So when I get home she is ready to get out or climb the walls. She needed something to spend her pent up energy on and she chose the yard.

I want to make clear that she does NOT have a green thumb, by any means. She likes flowers, and pretty plants, and even vegetable gardens, but she has little skill or luck with them. When we go to our local garden center the ferns and hibiscuses shake and shiver as she approaches. She is the ‘widow-maker’ of ferns. She loves them and waters them and moves them into the sun and out of the sun and talks to them and then they still die. So every spring out trip to the garden center for a new troop of plants is much like a prisoner selection for the gulag. It is a short one way trip. Always.

I’ve joked with her about just planting silk or plastic flowers. Which just makes her laugh. Apparently her grandmother actually did that and even water them. For years, my wife thought they were real. So, I believe that her lack of plant skills is hereditary.

I dislike yard work in any form, so am willing to support her yearly death march to keep her happy. I absolutely do enjoy a good yard and beautiful flowers, so if I have to continue to be the undertaker and bury the corpses of each years batch of volunteers, I will do that. In fact, I will bury whatever I need to to keep the Goddess happy. Mostly because I’m afraid of what other projects or interests she would find to spend her energy on. I have no desire to start square-dancing, or bowling league or stockcar racing or competitive tatooing. I am a simple man that wants a complete yard with as little of my own labor as possible. 

This year has turned into kind of a bust in the no-labor plan, but I do have a nice yard now and a very happy wife. So, overall, mission accomplished.

 

 

 

Once in a while, I like to compare myself to my father at the same age. What did he feel at this point? What were his thoughts? What was he experiencing? What had he accomplished? And then ultimately: How do we compare? Like most kids, my father was my role model, my hero. He was the standard that I was set against.

Now, I see the years behind me as a trail of signposts, allowing me to compare us, my father and I side by side at the same point in our lives. These signposts and comparisons are a way of putting myself in my father’s shoes, so to speak, and wondering how I compare to him. He is my benchmark for being a man and a father. He taught me about hard work, humor, optimism, humbleness, wisdom. So, by attempting to place myself in his shoes, I am trying to fill them and to feel that I deserve them.

However, as my analysis of my father has progressed, I am finding faults and limitations and shortcomings. I’m finding that my memories and the myth/image I built of my father are not standing up to the deeper scrutiny I am giving it. The gilding and luster are rubbing off. It’s like the old saying: “Never meet your heroes.” In my case, it is: “Never look at your heroes too closely.”

It’s proven correct on several occasions. But in this case my father is the hero, the person I looked up to and tried to emulate. But the reminiscing and timeline comparisons have done nothing but show me that my father was fallible and human. We made different decisions and held different opinions.

For example, he was religious and I am not. I think we are the same politically, but miles apart when it comes to books, movies, and art. We both had mechanical skills, I even became an engineer. We were both curious and not afraid to learn something new. And we both married more than once; the second one is always better. We both raised large families, he five boys, and me five girls. I think he was a good father and I hope I compare well. But was he a good man? Am I? That is really the big question. 

He only lived to see sixty-five years. I have never smoked and have better healthcare, so I expect to live far beyond that. In less than ten years I will surpass him and strike out on my own establishing lone signposts with no one to compare to.

I can honestly say that I’ve stood in shoes similar to my father’s. I can say that I’ve been my own man and feel that I could look him in the eye as a near equal. And to me that is saying something. He is still my role model, the origin of my work ethic and sense of humor. But he less a hero and more a peer and good friend. As he should be.

 

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I went to high school in a small town in Northern Minnesota. It was a great place to grow up and taught me the value of hard work and education and getting out. I left soon after graduation, eventually gained a college degree and a career. Since then I’ve continued my education and explored the world. However, like many people, I failed to maintain contact with friends from home or people from my past. I honestly suck at keeping friends. But Facebook and other social media have made it possible to reconnect with people or even to stalk them if you are just curious and unwilling to actually reach out to them.

Lately, Covid-19 and middle age have got me thinking about the old days and old acquaintances. Curiosity eventually led me to Facebook in search of old classmates. A few of them had at least a basic profile and some pictures. It turns out that most have not gone far from home. Most are still in that little town raising kids and hunting and fishing.  Living the Good Life, so to speak. Things haven’t changed much.

It is wonderful to see them with kids and grandkids, looking so mature and happy and in some cases old. Compared to many I seem to be aging well. Good for me.

What struck me most during my look-through of posts from home was the unexpected realization of how far we had drifted in ideology. The Trump flags and assault rifles and racism were surprising. And disappointing. Could these be the same people I knew from the halcyon days of my youth? Could we all have come from the same place that molded what I believe and who I am? It made me question my view of the place and stripped away the whitewash that time had used to cover up the old uglinesses.

I then recalled the homophobia, sexism, the Indian jokes and hatred, and the narrow insulationist thinking. And I remembered why I left. I never belonged there. Not ever.

People will always have disagreements on important issues but I have made a lifelong point of avoiding extreme opinions. I’ve tried to see both sides of an issue in order to meet in the middle. I believe that once you remove the most extreme ideologies we tend to agree on more than we think. We should concentrate on the things we agree on rather than getting angry about what we don’t. There is always a middle ground where we can live as neighbors. But the social media coming out of my hometown doesn’t make me believe that I could find a middle ground there.

I’ve considered going home for a visit, but I have no family there and haven’t been back in almost twenty-five years. I also realize now that I don’t have any friends there really, just people I used to know. I’m not a part of that world anymore and I’m fine with that. I also believe that the part of there that I thought I carried me never really existed or else was chased out of town and forgotten like a gay cousin.

Maybe I’ll visit someday, but I’m in no hurry to put myself through that. Particularly since no one there has reached out to me. Maybe someday.

Or – maybe it’s not that you ‘can’ never go home, but that you never should. Maybe it was never home, to begin with.

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WE HAVE GRASS!!!

For two weeks we didn’t see anything and then suddenly one morning I saw a haze over my dirt-yard and bent down to see GRASS! Thin spindly barely-there grass. Let’s just say that I could finally release the breath I had been holding. I was secretly terrified that we had done something wrong and would never get grass to grow again. Glad that fate was dodged.

It was a difficult couple of weeds that didn’t see much activity due to rain, but I did add a brick platform for our rain barrel. We have a spot along our rain gutters where the water just pours out onto the ground. A hole had been drilled into the yard where it had been eroded away by years of rain.

Fixing the gutters would be the best solution, but not one we can tackle at this point, for reasons. However, we have a drain in the middle of the yard that allows rain to go directly into the sewer. I suggested we rig it so that the water off the gutter would drain to there instead. It took a while to find a workable and aesthetically approved solution, but I located a wine-barrel planter on Craigslist for $20. I then drilled a hole in the bottom to allow the water to drain out into a hose and ran the hose in a trench to the drain. The drain and hose are now hidden and not an eyesore.

The yard will need a little repair, but it’s still growing and will cover my damage in time.

The next project is to add a path extension along the garage. Then I think I can relax and just watch the grass grow.

In the last month, I’ve had to replace two laptops, a CADmouse, and Bluetooth earbuds. I find that technology is being more of a hindrance than a help lately. I can write on any-old-thing: a grocery receipt, the back of my hand, etc. But I can’t publish or post anything without the technology that is failing me.

My wife has been working from home for the last month and relies heavily on her laptop. She works in customer service and is essentially hogtied without it. Around 10am Monday morning, it decided to go tits-up and would only show the Blue Screen Of Death. She called me at work (cause I’m still working a day job) frantic because she was in the middle of a busy morning and was completely offline. Luckily my laptop was available and practically new. – Yeah, she got to touch my stuff!

I am pretty good with computers, but a computer with a dead harddrive doesn’t really have a fix – it’s a ‘replace’ situation. Our options were to either replace the drive or replace the computer. We went with the new computer. At $499 they’re cheaper than a good set of tires. Which, I found, rather eye-opening for two reasons.

  1. I remember paying $2000 for a laptop that was a Model T compared to this thing and cost more than my car at the time.
  2. I remember when $499 would have made me choke. Now, it barely gets a ‘meh’.

Times change, technology changes, and the value of things changes. But I am only slowly catching up. I’ve got more money than I’ve ever had in my life and the things that used to be expensive and impressive have become mundane commodities. I used to drool over ads in PC Magazine and Computer Shopper for PC’s capable of doing CAD drawing and music recording. Now you can do all of it on your phone. I even worked at Gateway Computers for a short time and remember when 60megabyte harddrives were the size of small carry-on luggage.

Now I’ve only succeeded in making myself sound old and crotchety. I think this is what growing up feels like once you realize you’re there, when in reality, it is already miles behind you.

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Weather and life teamed up to delay our concrete work and tilling, but this weekend we took advantage of beautiful weather and hammered through both tasks in two days. I am exhausted and sore but also done with the heavy work.

Last weekend I laid down the brick path to the garage. It was cold and rainy all week so it just sat there waiting for me. So, on Saturday it was above 60F and sunny. It was perfect for some concrete work. My wife and I were on our hands and knees for over three hours pushing mortar between bricks. I don’t think I will ever do it that way again. It turned out great but I can’t really say it was worth it. There has to be a better way to do this.

BUT… it is complete and looks great.

The next phase of the project was tilling the yard for new grass. I was able to borrow an old Troy-Bilt tiller from a friend and fired it up on Sunday. I then spent the next three hours being drug around the yard like a dog toy. It was comical and, again, exhausting. This ground hadn’t been worked or dug up in decades or ever. It was full of bricks and nails and mystery trash along with long-dead roots and buried steel posts. It was an adventure in itself.

The ground is now fluffy soft and waiting for seed. It’s supposed to rain on Wednesday, so we plan to have it seeded and fertilized by then. All the hardest work in our project is complete and our yard has been beaten into a semblance of submission. Right now, every muscle in my body is sore and I need Chiropractor. 

My wife has already announced that we will be contracting someone to do the sidewalk next time. I am in full agreement! I won’t even ask the cost.

The weather has held, but the labor is not fairing so well. I’m getting worn and tired. But I am plugging forward. We completed the small patio area under the deck. The place where my grill was parked didn’t have a full brick underlay so my wife wanted to use larger paving stones to redo it. I’ve done larger sizes before am not a fan. I’m not sure why maybe my technique is not up to it?

However, our cat Turkey has turned into quite the assistant. Has to have his paw in everything.

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Turkey supervising.

But we finished that area on the weekend and then did the next section in the original repurposed red brick. The smaller bricks were much easier to work with. They are more forgiving. The area is NOT level or uniform or anything else professionally expected. I mortared the joints on Monday after work. It took a lot more than I expected. However, they are pretty and permanent. That is enough for me.

My knees and feet are killing me. Today, rather than tackle the next section, we broke mandatory isolation and snuck to Menards for more mortar and sand. I think we had 1000lbs of materials in our old beat-up minivan. It was NOT happy.

Tomorrow we’ll tackle the run to the garage. It should be easier than the patio. I might know what I’m doing now. My goal is to survive this lawn. I haven’t bled into it yet, but I gave it all my aches and pains. This is why people hire professionals.

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The weather here in St Louis has been cool and sunny. Perfect for DESTROYING… I mean remodeling a yard.  My wife is still working from home and it is beginning to wear on both of us. (I go to work daily to get away from her.) She is taking her frustration on our back lawn. Weekend #2 is coming up, so I’m sure there will be some significant activity.

During the week we work on it in the evening. I have sprayed chemical death on everything living and it is all turning brown. I’m assuming that is a good sign. We also decided to dig up the sawtooth leaf thing on the side of the yard.

Can you tell I’m not a plant guy? I have NO IDEA what these things are called. They all have leaves, a stem, maybe flower…plants, right?

Anyway, we dug up the hideous sharp leaved plants that were there when we moved in. The roots went deep, so I had to dig up the yard a bit. I expect to see them again. Nothing with roots like that dies easily!

Now, while we wait for everything to finish dying, we’ve decided to redo that path also. So, yesterday we dug up all the old bricks and trim. We even found some old path we didn’t know about hidden under an overgrowth of grass. Tonight, I’m researching how to install a bricked garden path. This should be interesting.

Please keep in mind that we are renting this property. I keep trying to explain that to the wife, but she must have what she wants. Because… Happy Wife, Happy Life.

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