Friday, January 10, 2020

End of 2019 Music Roundup

It’s difficult to believe that’s been twenty years since Y2K mania swept the country. I don’t feel old but maybe I should…

I guess I should do some writing and what better writing to do than an end of year list? Lazy, yes, but it’s less lazy than doing nothing.

Heart – Jupiter’s Darling
Sure, it’s from 2004. This list is the best that I heard this past year, a kind of “New to me” list. Anyway, this album is amazing. I’ve been a medium Heart fan, loving Dreamboat Annie but never really digging much past that. But this album is stellar! It’s got amazing melodic hooks, searing guitars, and vocals to climb the walls! I had never noticed it before but Heart are fans of Led Zeppelin and nowhere is this more apparent that on this album. Absolutely killer.

The Claypool Lennon Delierum – South of Reality
Crazy psychedelic fun! As a weird bassist I should love Claypool but I find his usual stuff technically interesting but melodically boring. Plus he takes one or two ideas per song and drives them into the ground. Here, though, he makes actual songs and Lennon’s contributions just send everything soaring into the stratosphere! Beatley? Sure. But inventive, melodic and anything but boring.

I Don’t Know How But They Found Me – 1981 Extended Play
An EP by a guy who was the bassist in the band Panic! At the Disco for a while. Loads of insanely catchy hooks, breathy vocals, super saturated synth tones and a whompin’ good time. A bit like PATD, sure, but definitely its own thing.

The Rembrandts – Via Satellite
I was glad to finally have some new Rembrandts music and there are a couple of really good songs but sadly it seems like it’s incomplete, like maybe they needed to work on the songs a bit more before committing them. I found a note from maybe five years ago with this title so is it possible that albums been waiting to find a company to release it? It’s not bad by any stretch but I only listened to it for maybe a month whereas their previous albums (except L.P.) still get regular listens twenty plus years later. Kind of disappointing.

Neal Morse – Jesus Christ The Exorcist What is not “kind of” disappointing but is actually really disappointing is this double album by Neal Morse. It just can’t make up its mind. Is it a church cantata with simple parts so regular folks can sing it? Or is it a prog album with a few complicated passages? And maybe I missed it but I don’t recall there being ANY exorcisms discussed in the lyrics… it’s just a kind of more Biblical version of Jesus Christ Superstar but without those pesky catchy melodies, something Neal normally has in spades. I really tried to like this but it’s just bland. Sorry.

Devin Townsend – Empathy
Also disappointing is this latest album by Devin. I think the problem is, at least for me, is that now he takes himself too seriously. I mean, there are videos leading up this album where he’s doing psychoanalysis on himself and the songs and whatnot. I wouldn’t exactly say the music is pompous but you can’t just throw a few kittens into the video for an overblown choral wash and say, “See? I’m still fun.” I was attracted to Devin’s music because he WAS fun and didn’t seem to take it all too seriously. It’s not like I’ve liked everything he’s done (which isn’t to say that it wasn’t good, it just didn’t appeal to me) but the ratio of Likes to Blah is way too low. He’s now officially on my “listen before I buy” list.

Tuesday, December 17, 2019

Quiet,eh?

I realized that I haven't written anything in a while. Since I use this here blog as therapy that must mean that things are going decently. Calm and quiet-like, except for the brewing holiday storm, which is usual.

I'm still going to the mens Bible study and still not connecting with anyone. If anything it's worse this year because they consolidated the Thursday early morning study into the Wednesday evening so there's a large influx of old men. I used to pine for a mentor, an older Christian who could help guide me and be the involved father I didn't have but for the most part I found these aged saints to have no more idea of what's going on then those of us in their thirties and forties. Sad but true. But I still go and every few weeks get determined to speak up and share instead of sit sullenly in a mid-row seat.

What I think has made a difference is the band. I've been posting and responding to Craigslist ads for at least three years, never really getting a good response. Then about a year ago I was able to connect a few responders so that we had a bass player, a drummer, and two guitarists. We got together three times and hobbled through some songs and then the host flaked out and said he was busy on house repairs, when actually he formed a duo and was performing in the spring. But the drummer and I kept in touch and practiced at his house, just the rhythm section. After a few mis-fires we found a guitarist who played well and sang well and was enjoyable to be around and was willing to be around us geezers and so we've have maybe four jams sessions. There are few things like two hours of wailing away at a fuzz-laden bass to lift one's spirits.

And that's about it. I haven't written any fiction this year... not even a haiku.

Monday, September 23, 2019

Walmart Tire Center

I guess it's a good thing if one's life is so uneventful that this about all you have to write about...

I went to the Maysville Road Walmart Tire center for two new front tires and to have a slow leak in a rear tire repaired ($10). My first warning was that the kid checking me in was hoping around from foot to foot and couldn't keep still. I wonder what he was on. He didn't seem to have a problem following what I wanted so I dismissed it. I also asked if the two new tires could be put on the back, the repaired tire on the front and just be charged to move the one rear tire to the front ($2.50 per tire rotation). He said sure. Then he went out and sat in my van for about three or four minutes before driving it into the bay. Odd. When he came back in I asked for an estimate and he said about an hour. Then he said that he was wrong about the tire rotation cost and that they would have to charge me for all four tires. I said to forget it. Then the tire tech came in and said that the tire size on his form was wrong, that it was R17, not R18. I had told the kid the correct size. I happened to overhear the tire tech say the name "Douglas" so I asked. It turns out that the kid also put the wrong tire on the form. I asked for a Goodyear and he entered Douglas. But the kid wasn't doing the work so I let it slide. About 90 minutes later the tech comes in with my to-be-repaired tire to show me the nail and to inform me that the tires are old, showing me where it connected to the rim and how it was broken away at one point. He could put it on but wasn't completeley comfortable with the safety. Sure, I say, put on a new tire. We've had the van about six months and even though there was lots of tread the van had likely sat in storage for some time so who knows how old they were. Well, from reading the informational posters in the waiting room I learned that there IS a way and I checked the remaining original tire when I got home. 2015. That doesn't seem too old... So now it's two hours and I have three new tires. Except that the tires were $91 each online and rang up at $102 each. Bring in the manager and ten more minutes to fix this, all while the kid is standing behind the manager, occasionally making a strange arm gesture that I only hope was drug or nerve related and not some kind of gang threat. Next time I'm going anywhere else.

Monday, June 10, 2019

A Two Talent Guy

As part of my plan to be around more Christian men (I guess I should call this “fellowship” but in the case of introverts there isn’t much fellowshipping, just being it the same room will suffice… but I digress) I had been going to a weekly men’s Bible study while my younger kids were in youth group. Overall it was quite good, which is sadly a lot more than I can say for most Bible studies I’ve been in. The culmination of the study, and the kick-off of the summer series, was held a month ago at a guys house close to the church. I don’t know how many acres he had but there was a decent-sized pond, a 4000 square foot house (give or take… probably give), a vehicle building about the size of my house, recreational vehicles, and wooded areas with trails for the aforementioned recreational vehicles. Before we began the guy spoke, admitting that he was a little self-conscious to have such property but that when he first started out he had nothing but his clothes, $20 and a chip on his shoulder toward God and how all he has now is from and for the glory of God. Unlike a lot of rich Christians I really do believe that his heart is true and that this wasn’t just some story he uses to justify his desires.

I hope you’ll believe me when I say that I wasn’t envious of this man’s house, property, or wealth. However it did make me wonder a bit as to why God isn’t blessing me with such an overabundance of material thingies. I don’t even have ONE recreational vehicle, let alone the two (or was it three) that this guy had released from his out building. But like I said, it didn’t really bother me and I didn’t spend a lot of time thinking about it that evening.

As soon as I woke up the next morning I thought about the story of the talents and it hit me that I’m not responsible enough to handle ten talents. Oh. Uh, thanks for that bit of info, God. No one wants to admit or realize that they aren’t the ten-talent guy in the story but hopefully I’m at least worthy of two or three. I’ve lately come to realize that I’m not a ten-talent guy when it comes to my work, my marriage, my parenting, my musical and artistic talents, and my writing so why not also admit it with my Christian walk? I’m not hitting it out of the park in any area of my life so why not just be whole-hog average and tepid? More likely, though, I’m the fearful guy in the story. I have lived most of my life in fear-mode but God’s been working lately to relive me of this burden. But that’s another story.

This past weekend while sitting outside on a porch swing doing my morning devotionals* another thought came to me (and again, I had not thought about this man in the between time) of “Just what is it you want and don’t have that is making you unsatisfied?” And so I sat and looked at the fifth-acre I have and the 2000 square foot house and thought about the two dependable Honda** vans out front of it and my amazing, creative, intelligent kids and (last but certainly not least) my amazing, creative, intelligent and (last but certainly not least) beautiful wife and I had to admit that there really wasn’t anything I was wanting. Not even a guitar. I would absolutely HATE having to mow and take care of all that man’s property and all that house. And it’s not like we would be inviting people over and using the space for (shudder) fellowship. If there’s anything I’m wanting it’s that I would like to be able to afford to take my family on vacations like I see other people, maybe a week at the Smokey Mountains or up in Michigan, some kind of experience.

While walking to work this morning another thought came to me*** “So why don’t you TAKE a vacation like that? You’ve got savings, though you don’t want to touch it FOR FEAR that you’ll need it later. But what good is it just sitting there when you can use it for a vacation?” Hmmm…. Maybe so, maybe so.

* And lest you think I’m Mr. Spiritual, which I wish I was but I ain’t, I only manage to read and pray regularly on weekends and days I have off. I know I should do more, like in the early days of my faith, but I’m thankful for the time I do take and I look forward to these quiet moments.

** I never thought I’d own a Honda vehicle and now I have two? Sure, they are older but still kick hiney!

*** Most likely these “thoughts” are promptings by the Spirit but I am hesitant to lay claim to such.

Friday, April 26, 2019

Ol' Razzle Tail

I dunno… maybe this whole thing is my fault. We have two pear trees in our back yard and ever year one of them makes a huge crop of pears… and we’re lucky if we get to eat ten. It’s because of the squirrels. Now I don’t begrudge a woodland creature in finding food but these varmints are wasteful and I can’t abide waste. Instead of eating an entire pear and being full they take a couple of bites and let it fall to the ground to rot and grab another one. WASTE!

Two summers ago I borrowed my dad’s pump BB gun and decided I’d just scare them a bit, run them off the ranch, so to speak. One afternoon I took a shot at one in the pear tree and it ran off toward a massively tall tree near our back fence. It perched on a branch and looked at me and I took another shot. It started to run up the tree but then fell down to the ground. I expected it get back up again and scurry away, it’s tail between its legs, ne’er to return again. But it didn’t. I didn’t see any blood but it was panting. I watched it, hoping it would recover but instead it died. So I buried it in a shallow grave. I had never before killed anything with fur on it (I’m strictly a bug killin’ man) and not only felt bad that I killed it but also that I let it suffer, albeit in ignorance. I didn’t think that a mere BB gun could be so fatal. It was just the one squirrel I killed but that fall we had more than the usual amount of pears for human consumption.

The following year in the fall a dummy light came on for the van we keep outside (the garage is still packed with things from moving, an issue I’m perpetually intending to remedy). I opened the hood and saw that the oil and transmission dipsticks were inside the engine compartment and somehow, in rattling around, they had broken the wires for the traction control. I was able to fix the wires with a bit of solder and extra wire but couldn’t find anything online about what would cause the dipsticks to blow out of their holders like that. A month or two later I opened the hood again and it was full of leaves. That’s right, some squirrel had made a nest inside the engine compartment and this time chewed through the cruise control wires. Also the dipsticks were out. Bugger! I cleaned out the leaves and tried a couple of home remedies, like soaking a rag in ammonia, but still every now and then I’d find a dipstick out. We had lived the squirrels for years and never had this problem so it had to be just one rascally varmint that had “discovered” a great hiding place. Or maybe it was payback for taking down one of their ilk.

Then one day in late winter my daughter came into the house and said her are wouldn’t start. She had a brand new battery but I figured she had left some light on so I grabbed the jumper cables and headed out. The surprise under her hood was a nest made of the fireproof material under the hood, two chewed out spark plug wires and a bunch of throttle something-or-other wires chewed right up to the plastic connector. This was all fixed with a trip to the junk yard but I had taken the rare luxury of a sick day (now spoiled) which made the damage seem even more personal.

I started watching the squirrels in my yard, and there were a lot of them, sometimes as many as five just in one tree. And then there was the day that I went outside and there was a squirrel standing stock-still on the ground by the front passenger side tire of the fan, kind of hunkered down with a look of “Crap! I’m busted” on its face. It had a frayed tail, more of a crop that then usual taper. And he looked ornery. I opened the hood and the dipsticks were in place and there was no sign of damage but when I started up the van the traction control lights came on again. I checked the wires under the hood and they were fine. However by the wheel, where the cantankerous squirrel had been, I found a two inch piece of wire. That city rat had gone into the wheel well and chewed out a piece of wire OUT OF SPITE! This certainly was a declaration of war.

I had my own pump BB gun within 24 hours.

Now I wasn’t one hundred percent sure that it was this razzle-tailed varmint that was doing the chewing and it’s not always easy to see the tail when they’re on a branch twenty or thirty feet away from you so I began to hunt indiscriminately. The first one was saddening, though not as much as the “accidental” shooting. I took out two more over the course of a week, all of them with one shot to get them from the tree and one more so they didn’t suffer. I decided to stop and see if perhaps the dipstick shenanigans would stop. I mean, there are dozens of squirrels just on my street. I would feel like a serial killer if I started taking them all out. Still, once you have the taste of the hunt I would see a squirrel on my lawn and feel the impulse to go get the gun. Still I held off and for two weeks, although there were still plenty of critters in our yard there wasn’t any changed in our vehicles. Maybe, just maybe, I got the right one.

Except I probably didn’t. One afternoon the kids came running inside. “Daaaaad! There’s a squirrel inside the van!” They were outside and watched a squirrel go up inside the van. They eventually banged on the vehicle enough that he came out and went up a tree, which is where I found him. It was old razzle tail! I got a couple of shots at him but he bounded to another tree and seemingly disappeared into nowhere. Now I knew my enemy. In way I had an arch nemesis and it gave meaning to my life.

A day or two later I was inside and saw razzle tail just outside the back door. I grabbed my BB gun and slowly opened the door. The first shot missed and since his back was to me he barely moved. The second shot got him in the hind legs. And then I winced. He was army crawling toward the big tree where I got my first kill. It was both admirable and pitying. However I knew it would be cruel to let him live and so didn’t. He received an honorable burial spot near the compost pile. And that was that.

Except it wasn’t. A few days later the kids were back. “That squirrel is under the van again!” What? Two squirrels with the same razzle tail? HOW MUCH BLOOD DO I HAVE TO SHED?!?!?! HOW MANY MORE INNOCENTS MUST LOSE THEIR LIVES BEFORE OUR VEHICLES ARE SAFE?!?!

I found him on a branch of a tree in our front yard, looking down at me. I could see his tail and yes, it was him. I wonder if earlier I had killed Son O’ Razzle Tail. Amazingly my first shot took and he fell out of the tree, out of sight behind the trunk of the ancient oak. As I went around the tree I was startled to see that he too was only injured and was army crawling. Army crawling TOWARD MY DAUGHTERS CAR! I carefully took a shot so as not to hit her car and I missed. Then he was gone, climbing up in the undercarriage. I opened the hood to be safe and he wasn’t there. I couldn’t find him anywhere so I borrowed her keys and took the car around the block, watching for him to fall out in the rear view mirror. Surely he was at death’s door! But no, wherever he was, he clung on like the fighter that he is. An admirable opponent, indeed. I parked the car and went onto the front porch. Ten minutes later I saw him on the road, flat against the pavement. Ah, the ol’ bugger crawled out of his hiding spot and died. I went to the side of the house and got a shovel and a five gallon bucket. When I came around the corner of the car he lifted his head and clambered into the wheel well. The galoot wasn’t dead after all! I could see his tail sticking out but what could I do? I wasn’t about to grab the tail of a wounded animal and I couldn’t really get any kind of shot, even at point blank range. And I wasn’t about to jack the car up and take off the wheel, though maybe that wouldn’t have been a bad idea.

So I decided to wait him out. He came out a couple of times and laid on the road but as soon as a car drove past he would climb back into the wheel well. Before long it was closing in on five o’clock and there was enough constant traffic that I didn’t see him come out again.

And I haven’t seen him since. I half expected to find his carcass under her car in the morning but there was nothing. Again I took the car around the block, expecting his body to fall out of whatever he was hiding but it was obvious by this time that he was gone. Gone. I’d like to believe that he’s dead but like as terminator-like as he was I won’t be surprised if he’s somewhere healing and plotting and one day we will have another confrontation, a worthy adversary indeed. Until we meet again, Razzle Tail… until we meet again.

Tuesday, April 16, 2019

I Am Surely A Basket Case

Let’s see if I can piece this all together… it was clear as a bell two days ago when I was doing the dishes…

During my morning devotions (which unfortunately only happen on weekends or days I don’t work) I was struck with the thought of being peeled down to nothing. Earlier I had been reminded that a bad investment was worth about a quarter of what it would be if I had left it alone. From buying houses in the country to moving things in my 401k, I have a history of making bad financial decisions because I, Mr. Smart Guy, am going to outsmart the system instead of investing like all the experts say. After all, this other expert is saying contrarian things and well, I’m a contrarian. Anyway, so I’m wondering how stressed I’m going to be when all our savings are depleted by regular living expenses and I’ll have to start racking up debt on a credit card or stop paying certain bills* and I was reminded of a bit in the biography of Mr. Edward Fudge where they would often need a certain amount to meet their expenses for that month and a check would arrive for just that amount. No more. No less. That just stresses me out… I need some cushion. I mean NEED. Right now we have that cushion but it’s being chipped away at and will be gone in about 18 months, at the current rate. And it’s not like we’re all using iPhones or eating steak for dinner or even going out to eat on a regular basis. For me a treat is some Edy’s ice cream (instead of store brand) that I got on sale for $2.99.

So I’m wondering if that’s what God is up to, taking away my cushion so I’ll rely on Him more. Then in Sunday School the leader talks about when he and his wife were starting their business how sometimes they would need thirty-two dollars and five cents to pay their bills for the month and they would get a check for $32.05. Uh oh. I don’t like the sound of this.

It’s not like God and I have been super close lately. Truth be told, I’m kinda tired of the whole “Christians” thing. I’m burned out and I’ve been burned. I mean, you ask for good Christian friends for your kids and get nada. That’s not a selfish thing to ask. Or how about someone for my wife and myself? I mean, a coal set apart from other coals will soon go out. You need other coals to feed on each other. I’m here to tell you that I’m all but out. I don’t even think there’s much smoldering going on. So yeah, I’m kinda ticked. At God for not providing other coal in my life? Yeah, a bit. At “the church” for not providing support? Yeah, a bit more. At myself because I’m the common denominator so I either must suck, be a jerk no one wants to be around, or don’t know how to be friends? Yeah, a lot more. So with my near future involving having even less money/security than I do now and no other coals in sight it’s pretty easy to just want to give up. Gee…. What’s it like to feel like giving up and having a group of men rally around you for encouragement?

And I say this knowing that there are at least two guys who would reach out to me. Two isn’t bad, right? I mean, surely I’m just having a pity party. So while doing dishes that afternoon and listening to an old Rich Mullins album on headphones the idea came to me that I should go back and listen to all my Phil Keaggy albums and all my Rich Mullins albums. These are ones I consider foundational when my faith was new. And there's just something honest and refreshing about their music. So I think I’ll do that and see if some hope sparks up in me.

There is a bit more. That night one daughter had a two your choir practice and the other two had one hour. So I’m there for the first pickup and there’s a guy in the hallway that sometimes shows up for the Wednesday night Bible study. I’ve talked with him once, maybe twice. He doesn’t acknowledge me in the hallway and so, feeling even more down, I just move to the end of the hallway, away from people, and wait. Then another guy comes around the corner. I’ve talked to him a few times while waiting for kids to come out of choir. But I’m just going to keep to myself. Amazingly enough, he greets me and we talk a bit. Okay God, whatever. And then at the second pickup a different guy, also an occasional attendee at the Bible study, comes up and talks. WHY WON’T YOU LET ME HAVE THIS PITY PARTY?!? It wasn’t even a deep, full-fledged one, just a little bit of gloom. Well, at least I’m back to a 5 out of 10, emotion-wise. Not happy, not sad. I just am and I guess that’s okay.

* Although currently we have no existing debt and pay off our credit cards in full each month even if it means cashing in savings, which I don’t like.

April Financial Post

It’s been a bit so I thought I’d regurgitate my financial life at the moment. Feel free to not read this… it’s more for me than for rest of the universe.

Right now I’m waiting for a massive check from a 401k loan to clear so that I can pay for adult things. Apparently if you deposit a check over $200 they only give you $200 and hold the rest for a couple of business days. If it’s over $5000 you have to wait SEVEN BUSINESS DAYS before you get anything over the five grand. This is 2019, mind you, and it wasn’t this way even a few years ago. So even though it is my money and came from my 401k I am not allowed to instantly buy my wife a new(er) van until next Wednesday. And then, lucky me, I get her 2004 Odyssey with 204,000 miles on it so that I can trickle 3,000 miles a year on it going to and from work and little else. But also lucky me because I get to sell the bloated 2002 Chevy Express 3500 15 passenger van that I’ve been driving for the past year. I don’t care for the big white whale, but it has been a blessing. It was offered to us by the Living Faith country church we used to attend back when we lived in the country. They once had a very active youth ministry and used the van to bring kids in from Ossian, about six miles away. When it was offered to us this aged beast only had 50,000 miles on it and had been meticulously cared for. And the price they wanted for it was in the “very good” range. In the homeschool community it’s a badge of honor to own one of these massive vehicles so the intent was that my wife would drive it. However it’s horrible to park, you can’t hear the kids if they’re too far back, and once, while I was driving it to work, I went around the corner on a snow-covered road in our neighborhood and this rear-wheel vehicle did a 180. It was terrifying and a little bit fun. I’m still thankful that there were no cars coming the other way or parked on the side of the street. Like I said, it’s been a tank and has had no problems and I’m very hopeful that we’ll be able to sell it for what we paid for it. But first, a few words to my future self as a reminder of this guzzler. Yes, guzzler. It has a thirty gallon gas tank, which means I only have to fill it up once a month. It gets eleven miles to the gallon and the “low gas” light doesn’t work so I have to reset the counter with every fill-up and when I get to around 288 miles I know I need to find a gas station soon. And I also need to bring a book. It takes a good long time to pump thirty gallons of gas. One of the reasons my wife wanted the van was because our Honda was plum full of our own kids so if they wanted to have any friends over, well, the law just doesn’t allow kids to lay on the floor of the van. Plus it’s rare that people are allowed over at our house because it needs to be excruciatingly clean or else my wife is nervous about even kids being there. So we needed the van maybe twice? Wait, there was a week when she watched some ladies kids and had to take them to school in the morning. I think driving the white whale for that week cemented how much she didn’t like driving it, even though initially she liked that it reminded her of driving her dad’s truck. So soon it will be gone… fingers crossed.

In order to take out that super-huge 401k loan I had to use our federal tax refund to pay off one of the two existing 401k loans because you can only have two loans out at a time. The rest of the super-huge 401k loan will be used to pay for a new roof, something I knew would be happening when we bought the house. In fact, the underwriter made me get something in writing from a roofer stating that the existing roof would last for five years. Riiiiight. Because one of the two 401k loans were taken because of having to buy a house so soon after buying a house (the pig issue) I knew I wouldn’t have the money right away for a roof so I nursed it along with roofing tar/patching stuff for the past few years.

Here’s the financial juggling I’m currently in the middle of:
1) Take federal tax refund to pay off 401k loan #1
2) Take out super-huge 401k loan a.k.a #3
3) Buy a new roof (putting 50% down today)
4) Buy a newer van (in the next week)
5) Sell the big white van (mid-April)
6) Use the money from the sale of the big white van to pay off 401k loan #2 so that our monthly repayment amounts are still the same

Did I miss anything? Well, this latest 401k loan will be paid off in five years when I’m the ripe old age of 53. At least Tessa won’t be driving by then but there’s a good chance either Brooke or Lyndi will be married and I’ll be a grandparent.

Note: It's April 26 and I'm mailing out the check for step #6. It is finished.