The Time That is Given

Well, we made it through another year of SUCK. Not as much suck as the previous year but it was no walk in the park. We cancelled Christmas plans because we weren’t going to risk exposure to that new variant. In fact, we are back to conducting ourselves as if we are back under lockdown. We only go out when necessary and when we do, we are exceedingly careful. COVID isn’t done fucking around, especially in this godforsaken unvaccinated area.

The last lockdown we didn’t get much done. We were both consumed by the stress and anxiety of 2020: the virus and the Tangerine Tyrant were almost too much to bear. But the Floridian Fondler is out of power and I’m trying not to think about the ongoing threat his minions pose to democracy. I am more concerned about the virus and keeping my anxious spouse from being consumed by her own hypochondria. So this lockdown is different.

I’ve been hard at work on a few fronts. As someone mostly retired, my schedule is my own. As Gandalf said, “All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.” I decided this fall to do my best. So I am reading quite a bit more than I did in the last couple years and I cannot tell you what a satisfaction that it. The person in the bed nearest to me is not my wife. Nope, it’s a cat named Leonard and he hated my reading light. So at night I’d just waste time on social media from my phone. But now Leonard has learned to just turn his head away from the light (just like my wife). I can do 50 pages a night with ease. And I’m reading more in the day as well instead of wasting it on social media.

I have begun a large cleanup project on the basement and there’s a big thrill in tossing out that which does not give me any more joy. This week we’ve been boxing up all of our Christmas decorations and they’re all going in places that make sense, rather than what is convenient. I started doing the same in the garage before it got too cold and it looks a world better. Everything in its place and a place for every thing. When in doubt, I just have to look at the giant mess across the street in our goddamn hillbilly neighbor’s yard/house/garage. It’s like watching an episode of Hoarders and then furiously cleaning house.

The tendinitis in my hands was late this year in abating but it has and I am getting much more guitar practice in. My acoustic chops had really atrophied but yesterday I was strumming on my Hummingbird and she was finally sounding like she used to. And the electric is getting even better. I have also found a tone I like that has some bite but is not an overwhelming wall of sludge. Working outside won’t hit until May so I have four months to make solid advances.

My beloved and I have very different tastes in what constitutes quality television. I won’t dwell on what she watches but not much of it works for me. However we do have three series beginning this month that we are both excited about: The Righteous Gemstones on HBO, Resident Alien on SyFy, and All Creatures Great and Small on PBS. That’s three ridiculously different shows but the two of us are rather eclectic people. I’ve been diligently binging/streaming my own sort of programming on my own. I burned through Only Murders in the Building and found it very well written and acted. I went through the first season of Wheel of Time but it didn’t stick the landing and I won’t be back for season two. Marvel’s Hawkeye proved to be an extremely well done six episodes. And the Witcher on Netflix is filling me with impossible nerdish joy.

The last and most important goal/resolution/task is getting our health on track. This fall Carjo got a scare from her MD regarding her blood pressure and damn, she’s now laser focused on weight loss and exercise. I have made huge strides in exercise in the past year but portion control has been a lifelong fight. It has recently tilted in my favor. So the hope is that we will emerge from this quarantine cocoon both fitter and thinner, full of energy and stamina, ready to take on the world. And as of right now, it’s looking like that might be within our grasp.

The photo at the top is of me modelling a shirt my wife got me from the Joe Bonamassa store for Christmas. I’m down about a dozen pounds since the past spring, mostly from exercise and yard work. That shirt wouldn’t have fit the Christmas before. It’s going to hang even looser by nest year. And hopefully I’ll be justified in brandishing its message as well.

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A Whiter Shade of Christmas

This was taken a couple weeks ago when we got our first real snow. It took me about half an hour to clear the driveway and sidewalks. I was happy because it guaranteed there would be snow on the ground for the holidays. Call me sentimental but I grew up with snowy Christmas and it’s what I want when the day comes.

Last week we got hit again. I took out the snow blower again and it took about an hour because it was a little thicker. That was a substantial workout. My legs were stiff yesterday, my back was a little sore, and the tendinitis in my hands was all aflame from gripping the handle/controls of the blower.

The long term forecast for this area is the winter will be colder and experience more snow. At this point we have double the snow we had last winter and there’s more coming this week. If this is a pattern, so be it. If I had to shovel it by hand I’d be bitching a little more. This is substantial exercise, even if the step counter on my phone doesn’t admit it. I pace myself because I’m a fat little man and I don’t want a heart attack. But anything is better than the ice that has plagued my driveway and sidewalks during these last couple of drought years.

I don’t have to be this diligent. We have an all-wheel drive vehicle and these snows aren’t thick . The hillbilly across the street doesn’t get the drifts that I do but he never clears his driveway. Then again, he barely mows his fucking lawn and you know how I feel about that.

We are hunkered down for the holidays and the rest of the winter. This new variant will sweep through this state like a Lakota war party and scalps will be taken. We are somewhat stocked up and we’ll practice our now established safeguards as we go out. We turned down an invitation for Christmas and that bothers us. But it’s better to be safe than test positive. My wife will cook wonderful meals, we’ll watch old black & white Christmas movies, and she’ll plague me the rest of the time with her vast collection of Christmas music. And if it snows, we can bear it.

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Changing of the Guard – RIP, Daniel

To the left is Sheldon and that’s Daniel on the left. This was taken a few years ago. Sheldon had achieved his full growth and Daniel did not contend Sheldon’s assumption of the throne. It was a gentle passage rather than a contested one.

Daniel came to us in early 2005. We had just lost a large Maine Coon named Sasha to heart problems and Carjo found a six-month old cat at a shelter in Coon Rapids MN to placate her broken heart. He was a mess. He had an upper respiratory inflection and dental issues. The shelter warned us he’d need dental work his entire life. Snot was clinging to his nose and he wasn’t too strong. I had my doubts that he had any Maine Coon in him but my wife insisted it was there. So we rolled the dice on his health and brought him home.

Maine Coons communicate with this trilling sound. Daniel’s first night in the house was pretty much him chirping and trilling to the four giant cats that he now shared the house with. In the morning, I found the kitten up on one of our cat posts getting licked by our alpha cat and purring. The little bastard was home. He beat the respiratory infection and the dental issues. He was never as big as the pure breeds that roamed our house but it was clear he had some of their traits: the short muzzle, foot furnishings, the various behaviors. He fit in like the proverbial glove.

My wife’s BFF had gotten a kitten shortly after this for her daughter. It stayed at our place for a few days until the daughter’s birthday. Daniel and the kitten (Moe) went at it, well, like two kittens. Just nonstop play for hours until their sides were heaving and they’d collapse in deep naps. And then Moe went home. This is an important part of our tale.

Daniel did OK in apartment living but he really thrived when he got to North Dakota and got a yard of his own. Gods, he loved roaming our yard and the neighbors. He staked out a perimeter against neighborhood tom cats and enforced it with brutal efficiency. A few years later, when the massive Sneakers joined us, Daniel had someone watching his back and it was comical watching the two of them confront interlopers with raised backs.

At some point, Daniel also decided he hated grackles. We’d get a colony of them in a massive pine next door and they were terrible, terrorizing other birds and crapping on my neighbor’s vehicles. Daniel would wait a couple weeks until they got settled in and then it was war. My neighbor told me, “that little buff-colored bastard, he’s worth his wait in gold. My pickup used to be covered in bird shit. Not with that cat around.”

He got to know the neighbors and our small circle of friends/family. Once, when the Son of a Preacher Man was working on the house across the street, Daniel paid him a visit. He brought him a freshly killed bird. And I got a text reading “I think Daniel just tried to bring me lunch.”

Our little man-man was a defiant sonovabitch. In his heart he craved attention but it had to be on his terms. Only I could pick him up and he liked to be walked around the house while laying on his back in my arms. But he did not cuddle at all, preferring to lay in his own space. But pick him up when he wasn’t in the mood and he’d resist. If you did pet him unsolicited he would stare daggers at you, glaring with the heat of a thousand suns as the purring began. Even in his old age, when he’d ask me to put him up on the laundry room counter to eat (otherwise the chihuahua would eat his food), he resented it every single time. And yet loved me for taking care of him.

Last week, my wife’s BFF texted with word that Moe had died quietly at home. The next day, my wife’s sister had to say goodbye to her beloved Rory. And the day after that Daniel let us know he was too weak to go on, though he did give a little struggle as the vet administered his injection. I held his little head in my hand and he stared at me with a gentle acknowledgment as he faded off. It was not the heat of a thousand suns, just a warm goodbye.

Life goes on. I buried Daniel behind the garage, in the row with the Maine Coons, Pippin, and Daniel’s friend Sneakers. My sister-in-law got a new cat to fill the void. Sheldon rules this house with absolute confidence and Leonard assists him in patrolling the perimeter. Jack will have to do as Daniel’s replacement, he is napping near my feet right now. Rest in peace, rest in power Daniel. We will always remember you with the heat of a thousand suns.

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Caturday – The Two Towers

We had to move these two cat posts to make room for Christmas trees and two of the cats have discovered the joy of remote snuggling. Joffrey (left) resides in Barad-dûr and Jack (right) is Orthanc. Yes, Joff’s tower is a little shorter and on the whole, he’s a mellower cat than Jack. So why is his tower Barad-dûr? Because when stirred up, say by a young grey kitten, Joffrey can and will play so fierce and hard that the kitten squeals for mercy and kindness. Joffrey takes no prisoners, offers no quarter. Joffrey is the Lord of the Rings.

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Beer Fridge – ready for the Holidays

Early last week I was down to my last four cans of beer. As you can see, I have corrected that situation. This is the haul from our trip to Bismarck. But I have to say, it was still a disappointing haul. Oh, I got a case of the Sierra Nevada Celebration Ale, which is always a cause for celebration. But the amount of brands available in western North Dakota is getting really disappointing.

Take a closer look. Other than Bismarck’s own Laughing Sun down in the lower left, these are all big national brands. Oh, it’s quality beer but damn, the selection is only that and that’s from the biggest liquor store in the western half of the state. Even the selection of North Dakota beers frankly sucked. I’ll certainly get by. I always do. But it vexes me because a few years ago it was much better.

There’s a few factors to blame here. There’s a can and bottle shortage because like everything in this pandemic, everything is in short supply. Plus the distributors in this half of the state have gotten lazy. They’d rather sell cases of Bud Light with a wider profit margin than fussing with microbrews. And in the microbrew world, the biggies are squeezing out their smaller kin in the battle for the shrinking space on the shelves.

This spring we will be travelling to the Twin Cities for a wedding celebration. A cousin of mine was going to get married in May of 2020. You can imagine how that plan went. She and her fiancé decided to postpone. This past summer every venue in the Twin Cities was overrun by desperate bridezillas and they got tired of the fight. So the gals did a quick Justice of Peace ceremony this fall in Chicago (the fiancé’s hometown) and the big blowout is going to be this spring. Cousin Jerol and his wife Carjo will be there. And Cousin Jerol will take that opportunity to buy enough beer to last him six months. You can count on it.

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Back-breaking Labor (Hands too!)

For the last three years, every autumn I have severely screwed up my back. It usually started with my lower back getting sprung from some strain, which triggers the spasms under my shoulder blades and then the cycle just repeats until January. I can’t get anything physical done without pain and it drives me insane.

This year I have been quite careful, watching every lift and stretch, calculating the cost of any strain. And it has worked. Just now I was downstairs assembling a bed frame. I felt a slight twinge under my left shoulder blade and I quickly applied a lidocaine patch. That should be the end of that. I hope.

The bed frame pisses me off to no end. My beloved suffers from clinical depression and her outlook on life can get pretty dystopian. She has long entertained this fantasy that at some point we are going to end up living in the basement due to some disaster/apocalypse. There’s already one unused bed down there. When we got a new bed frame for the queen size bed upstairs, she insisted that the old frame go downstairs. Because…you never know. Now we’re getting a new queen size mattress so I have to assemble that old frame because then the old mattress, which should be thrown out, gets moved to the old frame downstairs. In the words of my grandmother, aye yi yi.

The tendinitis that plagues my hands and inhibits my guitar playing from April through September is flaring up now. We went to Bismarck for an overnight stay last week. So I spent two days holding a steering wheel and that’s enough to make gripping a guitar neck or a pick a real pain. To compound that I had to twist and turn nuts and screws assembling that old bed frame. I am now laying ice packs on the backs of my hands hoping to turn the tide.

And next week she’s going to insist of getting started with assembling the Christmas trees and stringing lights. Aye yi yi.

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Meet General Jack O’Neill

About half a year ago, we had to put our beloved Pippin to his eternal rest. It was rough on me but even more torturous for my beloved Carjo. She needed a new warm body. I refused to get another small dog. The last several choices of pets have been up to Carjo and I have yet to get the dog I want. So she settled for a new kitten. Out of a shelter in Minot ND came this bundle of fire and fury. Because we are geeks and we already have an ancient cat named Daniel Jackson, it felt right to mine the Stargate lore again. The kitten the shelter called Sprite became Jack. Or, Lieutenant General Jack O’Neill, ret.

Jack came to us with some health problems. He had a case of distemper that took a lot of shots and treatments to keep it at bay. He still has it lingering in his lungs and always will, but his immune system can keep it at bay now. A few weeks ago he got conjunctivitis in both eyes which meant eye drops. Cats do not like eye drops. Then he got bit by the tail by one of our small females (Jack can be an ass sometimes – he deserved the bite) and it developed an abscess. So we had to use a dropper to put antibiotics in his mouth for a week. Jack wasn’t a fan of that treatment either. And finally, last Friday he got neutered. That’s a long week for a half-grown kitten.

We got the usual warning from the vet: keep him quiet, it might take him a while to recover, etc. Hell, that night he was sprinting hell-bent across the backyard, his long tail cutting the air like a sail. Now that he’s no longer getting other treatments and the bite doesn’t hurt, he’ back to trusting us. He purrs, he snuggles, he demands attentions, he follows the older males around like an annoying little brother, and he farts like a full-grown Labrador Retriever.

Last week I posted a photo of Tricia Helfer sans clothes. I’ve had some fun with these images and the traffic one old post with one still gets a ridiculous amount of traffic. But I don’t want to be thought of as an objectifying old man, I should at least offer something to counter that. Or at least, give some eye candy to any gay males or straight females (you nonbinary folks pick whatever you want). Thus, here is Minot’s own Josh Duhamel. Josh is also the spokeperson for the North Dakota Tourism campaign and in general is thought of in the state as a good egg (we won’t hold being married to Fergie against him – we all make mistakes). Plus, Carjo has this photo posted up in our house. Please accept my humble amends. Josh, if you have issues, talk to Tricia.

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Once Again I Walk Amongst You

So, a couple days ago I caused this. Briefly, this is a small window in the basement with glass that is 60+ years old. I leave this window open April through October for ventilation downstairs. It’s always an adventure getting it open and getting it closed. This time it shattered, causing small cuts in my left hand. But the worst part is I now have to figure out how to get the window frame out and take it to a local glass/screen repair shop to get fixed. And in the meantime I need to seal it all up because it’s 42 degrees and the wind is howling. Not exactly summer weather.

I have been veering away from the blog habit. Readership has plummeted as social media use skyrocketed. But social media isn’t really great a delivering long meditations and spinning lengthy tales. And I’ve invested YEARS in this blog. Hell, a couple decades. So I’m going to try to post regularly again and hopefully with some substance, some hard won insight. Or I’ll just type “fuck” a lot, whine about my guitar playing, and talk about Tricia Helfer’s rear end.

Speaking of which, posts about that particular bottom still get traffic. I guess at this point Google Image Search thinks this is one of the prime motherlodes of Helfer’s heinie. In truth, I’ve written at length about it once and how it was the sole highlight of a bad SyFy mini-series. Yet Tricia still generates traffic. That’s a butt that won’t quit.

Anyway, like Tricia, I’m back. Talk at ya later.

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Did I Mention Beer in that Last Post?

Here’s the haul from the Twin Cities

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Last Ride of the Mercury Land Yacht

The Mercury Land Yacht has blessed us for ten years with rather reliable transportation. However…

The CD player skips like a little kid when school is let out, the passenger seat belt binds up with out warning, the cruise control is likely to give out every 40 miles, and goddamn, this thing has about as much traction on snow and ice as the 85-year-old who once drove it. The giant deep trunk could hold as much a three adult corpses but was a back strain when you bent over to pull anything weighing as much as a twelve pack of beer. It was clear that Carjo and I were over our love affair with the Land Yacht experience.

The market for used/new vehicles, like everything else, has been warped beyond all recognition by the pandemic. A semi-conductor shortage crimped the production of new cars and high demand drove the prices of used cars to the stratosphere while reducing their supply. In addition, the lots in North Dakota had used domestic SUVs but they wanted far too much for their lemons. I wanted either a Japanese or Korean make with impeccable reliability and features that were more 21st Century. There was little to be found in this state and what there were had prices thousands above Blue Book.

I started shopping online using my brother’s Minneapolis zip code and the market abruptly changed. There was a lot more inventory but most three-row SUVs were still overpriced. But then my brother and I found a niche in the market. Luxury mid-size SUVs of 5-8 years old were plentiful and many were priced to sell. So on a Sunday in June the Mercury Land Yacht made its final journey to the Twin Cities. The old girl had no idea of her fate.

I spent the next Monday morning sprinting between car lots, test driving Acura RDXs and Lexus RXs while they tried to determine how much a Mercury Land Yacht in VERY good shape and low mileage is worth. Driving a modern and compact SUV was a culture shock after years in our beat up Family Truckster and the Mercury Land Yacht. In addition to the various luxuries and amenities these vehicles just felt solid and well-built. Everything not only worked, it worked really well given their respective mileage.

The winner in the sweepstakes was an obsidian black Lexus RX on an Audi lot in Minneapolis. They offered a very fair price for the Land Yacht and being they had a few used RX on the lot to move, they were ready to deal. By that evening I was driving towards ND in the vehicle below, playing CDs on what was apparently Lexus’ premiere audio system. Three cases of MN beer were in the back compartment. I spent the night in Fargo, went drinking with the Fargo Boys, and the next day drove home.

I do note that this vehicle burns gas more readily than the Mercury but that’s the price you pay for all wheel drive. I won’t be bitching about the gas mileage when I drive over snow and ice without the slightest wobble or slide. The chihuahua has a fleece blanket between the console though she likes to climb on the cooler in the back compartment, just like Pippin taught her. Carjo likes to ride once again though this passenger seat belt doesn’t like her either. She refuses to think it is her fault. Once again we have heated seats, which is a must in a land were is doesn’t get above O Fahrenheit for a month. Our small town has a few “foreign” vehicles, there’s a Honda dealer in Williston and Toyota is in Minot. But this is still a Ford/GM/Chrysler town. I’m getting a lot of looks. Ask me if I care.

I still have to sell the 1997 Land Yacht my mother-in-law drove. But a deal is in the works because our heating/AC guy thinks it’s practically an antique. Whatever gets it off the lot works for me. I’ll be driving out to the farm or to Bismarck in a slightly higher (and comfortable) profile.

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