Doom and Gloom

For someone who had the most wonderful morning a couple days ago, you think I would be feeling on top of the world. Yet, I have this awful sense of impending doom, like my whole world is about to collapse around me. There seems to be no apparent reason for this. In fact, it had been a great week.

On Thursday, my wife Joanna’s band Drive By Todd opened for The Rustic Overtones. I’m so very proud of her. I’ve never been very good at showing my emotions and feelings, but her band has been practicing in my basement for a few years now. I heard their music practices for so long that it wouldn’t feel right if they ever stopped, even if I have to ask them to turn the volume down on occasion. So to see them on stage opening for a major band, that was a great accomplishment and at current, I can’t think of a time I’ve been more proud of her.

Sunday was such an incredible morning as well. We went out to breakfast to this little hole in the wall place in Camden. I’d never been there before. Rarely going out, Joanna has shown me so much about the area I grew up in that much of it is like a whole new experience. We each had eggs and brisket and it was amazing. We then stopped at a cute little bookstore and finally, Reny’s to browse. It was a really wonderful morning made all the more magical by the trees.

It had rained the previous day and the temperatures had dropped so quickly overnight that all of the tree branches were coated in ice making for an amazing drive. You’ve seen the movies where someone is making their way through a gorgeous winter wonderland? Well, this was more incredible. The way the sun twinkled through the hanging ice was nothing short of breathtaking. We even tried to stop in the road once or twice when it appeared that traffic wasn’t behind us to get a picture.

In the early afternoon, I went sledding with the kids. It was immense fun. I haven’t had that much fun sledding in quite a long time. The way my hat kept flying off into the air as I zoomed down the slopes. Or how I would lie on my belly and my kids would lie on my back so we could reduce wind resistance and achieve maximum speed and distance. It was simply a blast.

And then, that afternoon, I felt this awful sense of dread and doom looming over me. It just came on for no apparent reason at all. I spent probably an hour or two burning wood in the fire to clear my head, but it didn’t help. Probably because I wasn’t really thinking about anything in particular. Yesterday wasn’t bad. Joanna managed to put a wonderful smile on my face that lasted most of the day, but the feeling didn’t go away completely. I’m still feeling it this morning somewhat.

What’s particularly strange is an odd sense of peace with it. Like, I’m feeling this sense of dread, but if I were to pass away peacefully at this time, I would be okay with it. Maybe that’s not the best way to describe it. I don’t have any desire to die, whatsoever. There’s so much I want to see and do. I look forward to the day and Joanna and I are grandparents babysitting our grandchildren so their parents can get a night to themselves. I have been experiencing lots of new moments of joy that I never would’ve in the past. So I don’t know why I have this strange feeling. Perhaps things have been too good for me and I subconsciously fear it will all be swept away. Perhaps where I haven’t been drinking nearly as much, this is some withdrawal symptom. I’ve heard depression can hit hard when a longtime drinker cuts back or just quits altogether. Maybe, where I have opened up so much, I am simply struggling to deal with my feelings. Or maybe, this is just something normal people go through.

I’m sure it will pass and I’ll be back to my normal self again. Either way, I’ll come out a stronger and wiser person for it and that makes me better equipped for the hurdles that will come down the road. So at the very least, I can look at this as a good thing in that regard.

Closing no junk January

Today, no junk January comes to a close. I consider it a partial success. I didn’t make it every single day without junk, but overall, there was significant progress. There were a couple days that I gave in and had a sweet or some chips or crackers. However, I was able to get back on the horse each time and I believe I improved my habits. I don’t crave the bad foods as much as I did previously. I don’t have the desire to go out in the evening and buy a bag of chips, case of beer, or cheeseburger. Most nights when I feel snacky, I’ll make some popcorn on the stove now.

When I have a couple beers now, I do notice it a lot more, both in how I feel and on the scale. I’ve replaced much of my beer drinking with water and tea which I feel a lot better from. I’ve even managed to cut back on my coffee which I think is helping me sleep better. No more 24 to 48 ounces of coffee throughout the day with three to six beers in the evening. In fact, since I have cut back so much on alcohol since late November, I can see a drastic improvement in my sleep quality when compared to before. This is made very evident with my Fitbit’s sleep tracking.

Mentally and physically, I’m feeling much better. I still have my off days where I don’t feel so great, but for the most part, it’s an improvement. Exercise has helped with that, though I have missed my last two sessions. I need to make an effort to get back on the horse on Monday.

All in all, I hope to continue with this healthier lifestyle I’ve been working on and continuing to improve it. I believe that it has even helped me in my personal and family life. I still have a long way to go and many more changes to make, but the seeds have been planted and they have sprouted. With plenty of sunshine and water, it is my hope that they grow in majestic trees, standing tall over what once was so that I can be the best me that I can possibly be.

Progress

Life is hard. Very much so. While the past couple months have treated me quite well, it’s had its downs. Being able to be much more open with my thoughts and feelings has been a tremendous blessing to me. It’s greatly improved many aspects of my life as well as helped me to make important changes. For example: I am have been working out three days a week now. To accomplish this, I get up at 4:30 in the morning and walk through the snow to an unheated garage at sub-freezing temperatures. Sometimes, I have to force myself to do it, but I do get up and do it. I also drink far less than I used to, only having two or three beers a week, if that. I am considerably less irritable because of it.

The downside to being more open with my emotions is after having them cut off for so long, I still struggle with how to deal with them. When bad news strikes, my brain seems jumps straight into the worst case scenario and fails to understand how to appropriately respond to it. This may result in an emotional break down whereas in the past, I may have been more likely to respond with, “Okay” and then move on. Neither of which is terribly helpful. One is uncontrolled and the other is overly controlled. I wish I could find some balance and middle ground with this, though I’m sure this will come with time.

I will say that overall this has been overall much better for me and my family, even if I can’t handle it correctly all the time. The times that I can’t I am embarrassed and ashamed. I need to remind myself that life is a struggle and can be painful, but it’s exactly that which forces us to grow stronger. It is my hope that as time progresses, this will help me to be the best husband and father that I can be. And when the time comes that I shall pass, I hope that my wife can back and is proud of who she chose to call husband and that my children were proud to call me father. Perhaps that is the highest goal of any man. Though I stumble, it is the one I strive most for.

I think I have a bright future ahead of me. Still I realize that there will be more pain ahead for nothing good ever comes easy, so I must be vigilant so that when it comes, I can deal with it in the best manner possible. It’s going to take a lot of work, but I believe that it will be worth it. So here’s to the future. Here’s to a better body, a better mind, and a wonderful family.

Changes for the New Year

Last year I resolved to read a book a month. I failed that resolution as is tradition. However, I did manage to read seven or eight books which is better than I normally do and that figure is not including audiobooks, so it’s definitely an improvement over attempts to keep resolutions in previous years.

The day after Thanksgiving, I resolved not to have anymore alcohol for the remainder of 2019 and I have succeeded at that. In fact, I still have not had a drink and don’t really have a desire to. Joanna has stated that she has seen a definite change in my personality for the better. Knowing and achieving this has given me confidence to making real change in 2020.

In November, I decided that my main goal for 2020 was to get down to 14% bodyfat. At the time I made that goal, I was sitting around 24-25%. Since then, I’ve managed to get it down to 22-23%. That’s with putting in little effort and no exercise. Now that the new year has begun, I’m going to get more aggressive with it. My wife and I are kicking it off with a No-Junk-January. That means no white bread, candy, chips, crackers, ice cream, etc. The only “cheat day” would be her birthday for obvious reasons. We just need to make sure we don’t gorge.

I also plan to give up tobacco completely with only the occasional cigar on special occasions. I had my last smoke on New Year’s Eve. Sorry, Black & Mild. It’s for my own good.

Another health focus goal is something I call GOWAD. It’s a play on GOMAD which stands for Gallon Of Milk A Day. It’s somethings some bodybuilders use build their bodies. In mine, the W stands for Water. I don’t expect to achieve this everyday, but by shooting for a GOWAD, I hope to have an overall healthier body. Better hydrated. Less hungry. Peeing a lot. Goodness there will be so much pee.

All of these combined I’m hoping will get me in a better mental state. The lack of alcohol has already shown improvement. With this better mental state, I expect to be more calm, less easily agitated, more focused. This in turn I hope will make me more productive as well as a better husband and father.

I see a lot of up for this new year and I’ve already shown I can accomplish my goals if I put my mind to it. Here’s to a new me.

Scammers are getting clever

Yesterday morning, I received an email that appeared to be from my pastor. I saw it come in and then disappear as my e-mail flagged it as delicious spam. I went to the spam folder, checked the name, email address, and message and it all appeared to be legit. I did censor my Pastor’s name and any locations and have not included any email addresses in these transcripts. Here’s what it said.

  Hello How are you doing?

I need a favor from you

message me as soon as you get this

God Bless

Rev. Xxxx Xxxxxxx

The grammar was a little bit off, but I didn’t think too much of it at the time. So I replied.

Good morning, Pastor.

I’m doing well. What can I do for you?

Within two minutes, I had this reply.

Thanks for  getting back to me Brad,Am in meeting right now , and can not make calls , and due to my busy schedule, I can not get things done myself , 

I just need to get Steam card  or eBay today for some women going through cancer at the hospital but I can’t do that right now because of my busy schedule.

Can you get it from any store around you?  and I will pay you back later in cash or check. 

Let me know if you can get the card for these patients.

God Bless

So, there are some things in here that should’ve tipped me off right away, but I didn’t immediately notice because I was also working on other things at the same time. The first thing was that the font was slightly larger than in the previous email. Also, the grammar, punctuation, spacing, and capitalization was worse. The Steam card and eBay card for women at the hospital should have tipped me off, but the email coming from a seemingly trusted source forced my brain to rationalize it.

Being in a meeting could lead to distracted typing causing the grammatical errors. The women in the hospital going through cancer could’ve been helping kids with cancer and that would explain the Steam card. I honestly don’t expect my Pastor to know about Steam or how it works, so I could totally understand why he would reach out to me for help with this. And the eBay mention, I figured he meant getting a Steam card on eBay. Again, I don’t really expect my Pastor to understand Steam so it made sense that he would be asking me for help getting this for the children with cancer that he didn’t mention.

Now, I’m willing to help the church out. But I’m also going to do my due diligence and be smart about it. So I asked some questions. One thing I did catch on in the previous email was he mentioned “today” in the email. My Pastor knows what kind of drive I have to get to church and that it’s one of the reasons I can’t make it every week. While I still hadn’t quite figured out it wasn’t him yet, I made sure to mention specific dates in my reply. Also please note how I offered to ship them. While I love modern convenience, I am still stubbornly old school about certain things and when it comes to gift cards, I’d rather have one put in somebody’s hand.

I think they have those at my local Wal-Mart. I could probably grab one tomorrow. If not, I imagine I could get one on Amazon. How much do you need? And do you need one Steam card or multiple. I’m in Xxxxxxx today and won’t be back to Xxxxxxxxx until late tonight.  If I go through Amazon, I can probably have it shipped to an address of your choosing. I imagine you would have it by Thursday or Friday if I went through Amazon.

I made a quick search on Amazon after sending that and found that surprisingly, Amazon was not a good place to get Steam cards.

Scratch Amazon. Steam cards seem to be all from third party sellers on there. I can probably pick some up at Walmart tomorrow.

Within two minutes, I received this.

Ok good I will be so glad if you can get the for me.There are 20 of the women 

but I’m thinking of $1000 worth of Steam Gift card or eBay gift Card only for 10 for now, ($100 or $50 denomination each. That’s 10 cards  of $100 each).

Steam Gift card or eBayCard can be get at Best Buy, Kroger, Walmart or Target Store , and get it activated at the point of buying 

Am out of the parish office for a pressing meeting. I only need you to scratch the cards,

then take a SNAP SHOT of the back each showing the PIN and have them sent to me here so I’ll just forward to them easily. 

Will you be able to get the card for the patients right away?

Please let me know if that’s okay with you. 

Also don’t forget to let me know if you would want me to pay you

back the $1000 in cash or check

And here is where the scammer drops his guard. The first thing you’ll notice is that the font is even larger this time. What purpose the ever-increasing font size serves is beyond me, but they scam thousands of people every year, so perhaps they know something I don’t. The next thing was asking for a thousand dollars worth of gift cards. My church is a small church. They’re very charitable, but I can’t see them fitting in their budget to drop $1,000 of Steam games for children that again were never mentioned.

And then came the next few major giveaways. It suddenly wasn’t just Steam. eBay was confirmed as well as having Best Buy, Kroger, Target, and Wal-Mart were added. The nearest Best Buy is at least an hour or more from our church and the nearest Kroger is over 250 miles away. There absolutely no way the church would be requesting any of them, especially not from me who is much farther away than they are from Target or Wal-Mart. And then they asked for me to just send the pin on the back of the cards. Again, that’s another dead giveaway.

At first, I was very tempted to reply with, “Pastor, are you trying to scam me?” It was so hard to resist sending that. Instead, I decided to reply as I would to my actual Pastor to get that final piece of proof. I just wanted that one last bit of information to confirm everything I suspected.

Oh, I don’t have that much in my account. I could maybe do $100 or $200. I’m sorry. We’ve been scraping by paycheck to paycheck this year. Having to replace the well and a car as well as other unexpected repairs put a big hurt on our finances. I’m really sorry, but I don’t have that kind of money.

My Pastor would’ve already known this and wouldn’t have asked me to drop a grand. If it was really him, he’d apologize for forgetting about that and thank me for my time. If it was a scammer (it clearly was), he’d still be excited about getting what little money I had. Within two minutes, he replied.

Okay good get the Ebay gift card of $200 in $100 denominations

And forward the pictures or the codes of the cards to me

God bless

The font was back to normal. He was no longer requesting a Steam card for children that were never mentioned. He just wanted to shop on eBay with what little money I could offer. I had my proof and I sent him one final reply.

For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?
-Mark 8:36

Repent! Go, and from now on sin no more.
-John 8:11

I haven’t received another reply. He must have realized the jig was up and decided to not put any more effort into me. It was around this time my Pastor sent an email advising everyone to ignore emails from that Gmail account as it wasn’t him. I asked him if it was an account he had that was hacked or one created in his name. That was not an email address that was his, but it was well crafted to appear to be from him. Someone had hacked his actual email, got ahold of his contacts list and then set up a new account in an effort to scam.

The ruse was well crafted and took an approach I hadn’t really quite run into before; that is pretending to be someone you know and even taking careful planning to craft the email around something they do, in this case, helping people. I wonder if everyone got the same email or if the scammer had learned enough about each of us to ask us the right questions. Did everyone get requests for Steam cards or was it just me? I can’t see some of the people in my church really knowing anything about Steam. In this case, I could totally see Pastor asking me for assistance with Steam if it were for sick children. I really can’t think of anyone else in the church off the top of my head that would be an immediate go-to in regards to Steam. This, of course, begs the question, did anyone else get requests for Steam cards? I’d love to know how generic or specific this targeting was.

Another thing to take note of is how the brain seems to ignore certain flags if it appears to be coming from a trusted source. I’m glad that as I asked questions, the flags became more and more apparent. Still, this must be a method that works and I wonder how often people just fall for this without question. Clearly, enough for these scammers to do it.

I think there are some good key things to take away from this. When they are asking for something, is it something they would have trouble with? What I mean is, could they easily do this themselves or would the task, in particular, be something they may be confused with. In this case, it was. However, would you also have trouble with the task at hand and would it be reasonable for them to come to you about it?

Do they normally type like that or do they normally communicate via email? If you answered no to either of them, that’s a red flag. If it’s needed by a certain time, challenge it. Offer a time that works better for you. If they are insistent, it may be a scammer. Some situations work better over the phone or in person. If they are unwilling to meet in person or talk over the phone, that’s a huge red flag.

Look for variances in the story. Do things change over time? Do they ask for things that simply don’t exist in your area? Do they seem to not know things that the should simply just know? Do you say you are unable to help and they quickly urge for less than the initial amount?

Basically, look for any clue that seems out of the ordinary. If even one piece does not fit in line with their character and habits, no matter how minute, it may not be them.

Pain and Growth

I am a fuck up. Probably always have been, most likely always will be. But I’m trying. With every screwup comes a little improvement, or at least that’s what I hope is happening. I have messed up a lot in life. It’s led to an awful lot of insecurities and it’s caused me to ignore or shutout all of the wonderful people around me. It’s caused me to reject or miss a lot of great experiences. Experiences I was a part of, I often completely missed the wonderful and beautiful things about it. When faced with challenges, I would back away or lash out at them. All this, in turn, has caused me to mess up even more. You can see it’s a vicious circle that spirals downward until change or demise.

I used to have a big problem with empathy. I had a great difficulty feeling it. As such, my emotions and responses were very cold, unfeeling. Feeling sympathy for other’s misfortunes was difficult. I couldn’t relate to things that shouldn’t have taken a lot to relate to. I had difficulty picking up on simple social cues and I was stubborn to the point of blinding myself to the obvious. It was absurd how much I blinded myself to what was clearly around me. I was, to put it bluntly, a detriment to myself and those around me.

In recent months, I have woken up to that fact and it hit me like a truck full of bricks. Somewhere along the line, I had stopped growing. Perhaps it was living alone for so long with little to no outside social life. Perhaps it was a growing dependence on alcohol and tobacco. The fact is, somewhere along the line, I went stagnant. Even major life events didn’t change me as much as they should’ve. I’m growing now, but it is very difficult.

I think I have a lot more understanding and compassion than I used to, but I believe that I am having trouble regulating. Having lived so long without the basic social skills and emotions that a person needs to grow, I find it difficult to determine where the lines of too much and too little are. I try and I think I’m better at reading social cues than I once was, but I can’t be certain.

One thing I am certain of is that I’m a much better person than I once was. Everything is now exciting and new to me. Looking back, I don’t like the person I was and I’m pleased to say that I’m relatively sure he’s dead. Don’t get me wrong. There were a lot of great qualities the old me had, but there were also a lot of bad ones. A lot of things I’m ashamed of and embarrassed about. I like to think I’m keeping all the good qualities while carefully burying the bad ones.

If someone asked me what I wanted out of life a year ago, asked me what were my goals, the old me would have said that he didn’t know, that he already had everything he wanted and to an extent, that was true. I had married the woman of my dreams, had two wonderful children and bought a home. However, that would’ve been my own stagnation speaking. Yes, I had achieved what I wanted and they were absolutely wonderful, but I didn’t see a need for goals from there. If you asked me today, I would tell you that I want to have a loving, long-lasting marriage. I want to make sure my children grow up into wonderful adults. I want to try new experiences, including those things that I outright rejected in the past. I want to go to another country for my 10 year anniversary. I want to go on exciting new journeys in life. And I want to write.

That’s one of the things that has been something of a blessing to me; a renewed interest in writing. I used to write all the time, but somewhere along the line, I stagnated and stopped. Every once in awhile, I’d start typing and write whatever came to mind, but lately, I’ve had more focus. I’ve been able to work on short stories and develop them a bit before posting. Writing has always been something of a passion and now that this passion has been re-kindled, I’m hoping I can keep this flame burning long. I’m not looking to become a big author or anything like that. I just want to get my stories out and know that people have read it and said, “Yeah, that was a good story.”

For the past few months, I’ve been looking at the world through new eyes. It’s a wonderful and beautiful world. It’s also got a lot of pain, but with pain comes growth. It should’ve happened much sooner, but I think I’m finally growing into the man I need to be.

Shameless plug…

If you’d like to read any of my stories, head on over to Taradiddlesoup.

There you will find an ever-growing collection of tales that I have written. I have two more short stories that I am currently working on that I hope to post soon with hopefully many more to come after that. I’ve recently posted a delightful story about photography and why you should never attempt it.

Trying new things

Yesterday, my wife took me out to have Thai food for my birthday. She had been trying to get me to go for years, but I always turned it down out of fear that I would not enjoy it.

Back in the 1980’s, the building used to be a photography studio/video rental store. Entering the restaurant, it was clear they had done some remodeling since then. So imagine my surprise when we were seated at our booth and the wall was still the slot wall from back in the day when I used rent movies off it as a child. It was such a laugh and delight. As amusing as that was, I could not be prepared for what was to happen next.

As previously stated, I had never tried Thai food, so I was quite nervous. I ended up ordering the crispy pad Thai. It appeared to be one of the safer options. But when I took a bite of it, something happened that had never happened to me before with food. I cried a little. It was so good. I couldn’t believe it. All these years I had not only been denying myself this delicious food, but also denying myself a wonderful experience with my wife. How many other wonderful experiences had I denied?

Many, I presume.

I am so grateful that I moved past my own stubbornness and had my amazing wife choose where to eat. I just wish I’d been smart enough to do this before.

Books of January

I was never one for New Year’s Resolutions, mostly because I know full well that I won’t keep them. But this year, I decided to do one I thought I could keep. See, when I was a kid, I used to read all the time. Around six or seven years old, I was reading thick epic stories like Mossflower which were well over four-hundred pages. Considering it’s been thirty years since I’ve last read it, perhaps I should read it again. I still have my book from nineteen-eighty-whenever. Anyhow, somewhere along the line, I stopped reading so much; I think it must have been somewhere in high school. With the exception of a story here or there, I almost never read anything.

So the resolution that I made was to read one book a month for the year of 2019. This resolution was actually inspired by a PewDiePie video. I don’t even watch his videos, but for some reason, that was one caught my eye. After watching, I was inspired to get back into my own reading ways and with the month of January now over, I can say I have completed four books.

Fargo Rock City: A Heavy Metal Odyssey in Rural North Dakota by Chuck Klosterman

A friend from church gave me a copy of this book. Having read it himself and know that I love ’80s metal, gave me a copy. The book was hilarious, insightful, and constantly entertaining.

Naked by David Sedaris

This hilarious memoir from David Sedaris is laid out like a collection of essays, each detailing what I can only describe as a messed up chapter of his life. I’m not saying he’s messed up, just that messed up stuff seems to happen to him. He covers strange topics such as that time he was hiding in his parents closet and watching his mom come in, put on a wig, and go to sleep. Or the time he lived in a nudist camp. Or his misadventures in hitchhiking.

In Broad Daylight by Henry N. MacLean

So, this one I listened to the audiobook instead of reading the actual book, but it’s still a book nonetheless. In Broad Daylight tells the true story of Ken McElroy, the town bully of Skidmore, Missouri and his murder right in the middle of the day with nearly fifty witnesses. And none was prosecuted. To this day, the case remains unsolved. The narrator did a fantastic job and I would listen to this book on my way to and from work, many times not wanting to exit my car upon arrival so I could hear what happened next. Not a wasted word anywhere, this book was fantastic front to back.

Apparent Danger: The Pastor of America’s First Megachurch and the Texas Murder Trial of the Decade in the 1920s by David Stokes

Goodness, I haven’t seen a title that was such a mouthful since The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford. That said, this was quite a fascinating book. I could give you run down, but the title really says it all. Literally. One of the incredible things about this book is that all the dialogue was taken from actual court transcripts, newspapers, magazines, etc., so you know everything that was said in this book was actually said. I read the Kindle version which doesn’t appear to be available anymore, so it appears you may be stuck with hardcover. That said, it’s definitely a great read and a very interesting piece of Church/Court history.

That’s all I have for January, but I’ve already started another audiobook and plan to start reading another tonight or tomorrow. I’ve left links to the four books I read this month in my brief descriptions of them if you are interested in any of them.

Loss and Sorrow

October 31st, 2018: Wednesday

It was Halloween and we took our kids trick-or-treating as we always do. Before hitting the streets, we made the usual rounds at my aunt and uncles, my grandparents, and my parents. We kept the visits very brief this year as the previous year, we stayed too long talking and catching up. As a result, most of the houses had stopped giving out candy for the night. Wanting to make sure our kids had a good experience, we limited each visit to only a few minutes.

November 20th, 2018: Tuesday

My grandfather had called to let me know my grandmother was in the intensive care unit at the hospital I work in. I went to see her that morning, but she was tired, only being able to talk briefly. She fell asleep three times in the five minutes I was there. Though my grandmother slept a lot normally, this seemed unusual to me. I presumed it was whatever drugs they must have had her on. I left and came back later that afternoon.

When I did, my parents were there and my grandmother seemed to be in good spirits, very lively and awake. We talked for probably a good fifteen to twenty minutes, and everything seemed well. I figured she’d be going home within a few days. That night she was taken to Maine Medical Center in Portland. She wasn’t expected to make it through the night. I found all this out the next day.

My parents went down to visit her on Thursday. On Friday, I called them up because I heard they were going to see her on Sunday.

November 25th, 2018: Sunday

My parents picked me up early that morning. They had my cousin’s daughter with them and we drove down to Maine Med. My grandfather was there sitting in her room. He’d been there all day and night since that she was brought down that Tuesday night. We all talked and laughed. There was worry, but we were getting through it. And then the doctor came. And he explained to us the situation. I’m not going to go into the details, but the basic gist of it was if they didn’t operate, she would die. If they did operate, she might die. If they operated and she didn’t die, then the odds were she’d never have the same quality of life she had before and the odds of her ever being able to go home were slim.

In my thirty-seven years alive, I had never seen my grandfather cry until that day.

Everything was explained to my grandmother. My grandfather continued to ask questions. There was one more test they could run that they hadn’t done yet. I guess, if they found fluid in a certain part, they could drain it easily and it would greatly increase chances of recovery. If it was found in another part, well, it would be extremely difficult. They took my grandmother to get the test. And when she came back, she called us each one by one into her room and gave us the death talk.

That afternoon we went home. When I got home, I drove an hour away to my friend’s house for the WWE Survivor Series PPV. We had been planning on this for like two months. It may seem strange that I didn’t stay home with family, but I had had a long rough day with far too many tears. I knew harder days were coming and what I needed was to have a normal night with friends. We had beers, an unnecessarily large pizza, wrestling on tv, and lots of laughs as we had done most months for nearly 20 years. It was just what I needed.

20181118_190017

Seriously, look at the size of this thing in relation to the table and everything around it. My friends say they had to tilt it sideways just to get it through the door. I think they said it was 32 inches or something absurd like that.

November 26th, 2018: Monday

They found fluid in the place they didn’t want to find it. My grandmother opted for hospice. She came to the hospice in our area as she knew people who had used it an knew it would be comforting for her. After work, I went up with my wife and kids. Most of the family was there. It was a good time. My daughter had drawn a picture of her and my grandfather in their chairs at home for her. My grandmother was more alert than I had seen her in a long time. Somehow, it was a very happy event. So many smiles, despite knowing what was to come.

November 27th, 2018: Tuesday

I swung by after work to see my grandmother. It was snowing. Because of the weather, I was a little later than I intended. When I arrived, family from out-of-state was there. They almost didn’t recognize me. I don’t think I had long hair and a beard when they saw me last. My grandmother was awake, but I could tell she was getting ready to go to sleep, so I didn’t stay long. Near her bed was a large glass door. A light was on outside and you could see the snow gently falling in the calm winter night. I said to my grandmother that I was glad she could see the snow falling. She was too. I told her I loved her and wished her a happy birthday. She said, “See you tomorrow.”

Interlude:

Up until this point, there had only been two deaths in my life that I can say had any major impact on my life. The first was my father. He was murdered shortly after I turned four. I’ve heard all sorts of stories. I’ve heard it was a crooked cop. I’ve heard that it was a drug deal gone bad. I don’t know what happened exactly other than he was shot in his home and he dragged himself to the front porch where he died. The murder has never been solved.

The next was a friend from high school. She got into a bad car accident in my early twenties. The power flickered and then went out as the car crashed. The fog was heavy that night. As I drove a friend home, I was going less than 10 miles an hour and could only see a couple of feet in front of the car, even with the lights on. We took what side roads we could to avoid getting into accidents with regular traffic or pedestrians.

November 28th, 2018: Wednesday

I stopped by the hospice at seven am to see my grandmother. The door was closed. I reasoned she was still sleeping. Not wanting to wake her, I went to work with the intent to return that night. As I pulled away in my car, I saw my grandfather driving past. I called him on his cell but he didn’t answer, so I left him a message telling him I just saw him on the road.

A couple of hours later I was at work trying to fix an account in the Sports Therapy department when my phone rang. My mother was calling to let me know that my grandmother died this morning at about seven am. While I was right outside her door. I left work and headed to my grandfather’s house. On the way there, I picked up a six-pack of Boston Lager and a cigar. The cigar to keep my steady as I drove and the lager loosen my up when I got home.

I tried to keep my composure, but the first thing I did when I got to see my grandfather was basically burst out into tears apologizing for not being there. I should’ve gone in the room to be with her she took her last breaths. I should’ve waited for my grandfather so he wasn’t there a lone when it happened. I felt absolutely horrible.

He hugged me and cried with me. He didn’t blame me. He wasn’t mad with me. Nobody was. They all understood. But I still felt horrible about it. The fact that I didn’t go in, the fact that I didn’t knock, the fact that I didn’t wait around five damn minutes so my grandfather didn’t have to find out alone, that ate me up inside.

And it still does.

Tickmageddon!

I spent much of my youth running around like a little idiot. You could often find me running through a field of tall grass, climbing trees, or recklessly wandering through the woods. Being one who could not stand the feel of lotions and sprays, my only protection from the sun and various bugs looking to use me as a buffet were my hands and clothes. Despite all my years playing in the exact areas ticks love to call home, I never once saw or even got a tick on me. All of that changed for me this year.

In this year alone, my wife and I have pulled so many ticks off of me and our children that we can scarcely believe it. Despite living away from the center of town, I do my part to keep my yard tidy to keep the little bastards at bay, and yet they still come. Just today my daughter was outside for not terribly long while I was doing yard maintenance and somehow managed to get a tick on her leg under her tights. After doing a thorough tick check on her, I had my wife do one on me. Thankfully, I was in the clear. Earlier in the year there was one embedded behind my ear, so we’ve been cautious to do regular tick checks. Considering that I haven’t had a haircut in over two years, tick checks aren’t the easiest for my wife to perform on me. After taking my shower, I decided to check over my jeans before putting them back on. I’m glad I did as I found a tick on the inside of one of the pant legs. Suffice to say, the tick met a watery demise as it was whisked away to my septic tank. The jeans went straight into the washing machine.

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Believe it or not, when we moved in, you couldn’t even see this stone wall. To someone who didn’t know better, you’d never know it was there.

If you take a look at the photograph above, you’ll see my recently uncovered stone property line. That wall is a veritable tick breeding ground. I’ve gotten more ticks on that wall than I have anywhere else on the property. That’s why I’ve been doing my damnedest to clean it up. That picture was taken today and if you think it looks like a mess, you should’ve seen it before. In the next picture down below, you’ll see a huge pile of brush. Most of that brush was what I had cut away and cleared from the wall. It was so thick there, you couldn’t even see the wall when we moved in almost two years ago. Since then, the vegetation around that wall has been met with branch cutters, a chainsaw, a machete, and good old-fashioned pulling. I have tried to mow and weed whack as best I can along that wall every week. I’ve been making progress, but the basic stuff comes back quickly. I would love to just coat that entire area with industrial plant killers, but my wife is against the idea.

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The area that you see before you looks absolutely nothing like it did when we moved in.

In this next picture in left corner between the wall and the trees, you can see branches and plant growth. Though it’s difficult to tell, that pile of branches and brush goes up above my head in places and much further back, just to give you an idea of how much I have cleared from the wall. If you go back to that first picture, you’ll see I’ve got a lot to go. Well, that’s not really that much compared to how much I’ve already removed. However, before I can get the wall fully cleaned up, I need to take some time to talk to my new neighbors about cleaning up their half of the wall. Cleaning up my side will only do so much if the other side is still a breeding ground.

Anyhow, back to the second picture. If you look between the left tree and the brush pile, you’ll see an empty space. Until very recently, that space was occupied by ancient and rusty farm equipment. It was also full of waist high plants, large dead sticks, and rocks which made it very difficult to clean up. Once the farm equipment was gone, it was much easier to go in there and clear the area out.

The space between the trees had a very large shed in it and was extremely wet. Throw in there very large rocks, boards with nails, and very high plants, and it wasn’t even worth the effort to clean it up until the shed was gone. Thankfully, that went the same day as the farm equipment. Within hours of that shed moving, the wetness began drying up very quickly. This allowed me to go through and cut down the high plants as well as remove the large rocks and boards with nails.

The are around the right tree was full of tall plants. Once I actually got in there, I discovered that most of those plants were not actually grass and the such, but lots of little trees that had sprung up over the years. So many skinny trees, most of them half an inch to an inch thick. We used (and I don’t know what you would call it) what I can only describe as a weed whacker with a saw blade. It took quite a while, but it got the job done, though I lost much of the feeling in my arms that day from the sheer vibrations of it. Then I used the branch cutters to remove the stumps. It wasn’t fun work, but I’m proud of what I did. The yard looks so much nicer now and I’m not nearly as worried about ticks in the part of the yard as I once was.

In the back, you can see what appears to be more bushes. These are more of those thin trees that have cropped up over the years that need to be cut down and removed, just as were around the right most tree in the picture. In time, I will remove these too, however, they are not priority right now and will have to wait for a future date. I am considering having a go at these during the winter when there aren’t any leaves to obscure what I am doing. Winter will also allow me to cut the wood into better piles. Without all the summer growth, I should be able to take care of a lot. Hey, maybe I should consider doing some heavy work on that wall during the winter as well.

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Please excuse the unfinished mowing job. I’m waiting on a new mower blade.

In this third picture, you can see a portion of the back yard. It’s difficult to tell, but right after that patchy part of the yard ends is where my yard used to end. From there back, it used to be all field. This year, however, I decided to mow all the way to the property line which you can see in the right corner by that tuft of grass and the line where it goes from short to tall. Now, that taller area is usually much, much taller. Once a year, however, that field is cut down and this picture was taken about a week or two after that had happened. So I decided to mow all the way to the property line for two reasons. The first was that I wanted my children to have a larger area to play in. The second was to keep the ticks further at bay. Ticks enjoy taller grass as it puts them at a better level to grab on to their prey. This is also why I keep my lawn mower on one of the lowest settings. Unfortunately, this is also why you see in this picture that there’s still a chunk of lawn that needs to be mowed.

My mower has hit enough stumps, rocks, and what-have-you hidden by the tall grass and bush that it’s not worth the effort of continuously bending the blade back into place. I found a replacement blade specifically for my lawnmower on Amazon.com for only $12.97 that many of the reviews say is better than the one that came with it. At this point, I think I have removed every obstacle that will damage my blade so if I can get a better one for under thirteen dollars, then I’ll wait the two days for it to come in the mail.

In this picture, you can also see my recently dug firepit. So for those of you about to say that the pile in the second picture is a breeding ground for mice which are a breeding ground for ticks, I’ve already planned for that. As time permits, I go out and cut the branches up, making neat stacks based on thickness. These piles are in turn expended in the firepit in which beer is drank in front of in the darkness of night. Yes, there is still quite a ways to go in cutting down the branch piles into neat stacks, but Rome wasn’t built in a day as they say.

Over the next few years, I hope to eventually line the perimeter of my property with a couple of feet (wide, not thick) of mulch or gravel. It is my understanding that these things are not things ticks like to cross, mostly because it’s difficult to grab on to passing prey. I suppose if there was an area that I would be more likely to be stepped on as opposed to being in a place where I could freely hitch a ride and get free drive through, then I too would try to avoid that area.

So now you’ve read some of what I’ve been doing to keep the ticks at bay. It’s not foolproof, but every little bit helps. Still, the ticks find ways to get in. A few weeks ago my son dropped his hat on the ground. It was only there for a moment before he put it back on his head. When we went in the house later, I found a tick crawling through his hair. Also, turkeys are crawling with ticks and those damn birds just love roosting on my lawn for some reason. It’s not uncommon for me too look out the window in the morning and seeing twenty or thirty of them in my back yard. In addition to ticks, they like to leave other surprises, namely digging holes in my yard. I’ve seen them do it.

I would love to hear your comments on what has worked for you at keeping the ticks at bay. Before you say chickens, at the moment, chickens are not feasible to me, though they are delicious. We have too much wildlife and they would most likely be eaten by a fox in no time. On the plus side, we have lots of robins. As soon as I found out that robins are natural predators of ticks, I installed a bird feeder. I want to encourage the robins to stick around for as long as possible.