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.

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.

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.

Blair Witch

I have a certain love for bad movies. I don’t know if started with watching Mystery Science Theater 3000 late night way back in the day, but there is a certain joy that comes from watching a bad movie. But every once in a while, I come across a movie so bad, I have to question its reason for existing. For a long time, the worst movie I had ever seen was called Time Chasers, a movie from 1994 that looks like it could’ve been made in 1979. Astonishingly terrible. However, some years down the road, that throne was vacated to make way for a horrible little film called Ultraviolet starring Mila Jovovich. Now, I know a lot of people seem to love that movie, but to this day, it’s still the worst movie I’ve ever seen, and I’ve seen Manos: The Hands of Fate. If you’ve never heard of Manos: The Hands of Fate, the fact that manos is Spanish for hands should tell you everything you need to know about the movie. I still remember the night I saw Ultraviolet. When it was done, my friend said he was going to chuck that DVD out his Jeep window on his way home. I quickly replied, “Don’t do that. Some little kid might find it.” I just couldn’t bear the thought of some poor kid sitting through that movie. My friend made sure to destroy that disc.

Now, it being October, I love to sit down and watch horror movies. Earlier this month, I sat down and watched both Curse of Chucky and Cult of Chucky much to my delight. Let me just say that if you want to watch a good horror flick this year, might I recommend Curse of Chucky. They took a step back from the comedy of the previous two and made a great horror movie with a legitimately creepy Chucky. Anyhow, back on topic. Last year, a new Blair Witch movie came out and judging from the trailers, it was going to be good. I saw the original The Blair Witch Project in theaters back when it first came out and found it to be a great movie. I know some people didn’t like it, but considering that it was in a way the first of its kind, I delighted in every bit of it. This movie was made extra creepy by the fact that me and my best friend watched on a dark and stormy night. My friend’s dad taking us back home took a wrong turn and accidentally drove us through a cemetery and into the woods where we were eventually stopped by a road closed barricade. Though we had our suspicions, his dad swears he wasn’t messing with us and he just turned too early because of the fog.

A few years later, Blair Witch 2: Book of Shadows came out staring Jeffrey Donovan who would later go on to star in Burn Notice; a show so much better than this movie that you honestly for get he starred in it. While people generally seemed to dislike Blair Witch 2, I rather enjoyed it despite the acting. It had a great premise in which it basically pretended the first film didn’t happen. Yes, that’s right. Instead, the first movie was a movie and the plot of this movie is there are a group of people who are studying the mythology of the movie. Crazy stuff happens and it turns out that the Blair Witch is real. I understand the criticisms of this movie, but I appreciate the path that they took for the sequel. I’m glad they decided to go the traditional horror movie route instead of another found footage movie because how much belief would you be able to suspend with a second found footage movie about the same thing. Yes it was cheesy. Yes the acting was bad. But at least it understood what it was trying to be, which is much more than I can say for the third one.

When I saw the trailers for a new Blair Witch movie last year that got back to the basics, it looked promising. The brother of one of the people from the original film now 24 years old looking for his sister was a very cool hook and a reasonable way to try to pull the found footage thing again. This movie also pretends like the second movie didn’t happen (or at least it doesn’t address it). Very early on in the movie, it seemed so promising. It wastes no time in showing you all the cool modern high-tech gadgetry it would be employing to capture the footage from camera headsets, to drones, to GPS tracking. There was so much potential in this movie and the people making it had no idea what to do with it. Unfortunately, all the cool tech that should’ve made the movie better, made the movie worse. In what should’ve re-enforced the horror, the gadgets only made it difficult to suspend disbelief.

I’m going to get this out of the way right now. The movie automatically assumes everyone watching it doesn’t understand technology. The movie came out in 2016, but claims to take place 20 years after the original, so that would but this setting in 2014. MicroSD cards would’ve commonly been at about 128GB max (there may have been some 256GB out there, but I shudder to think of how expensive they would’ve been), yet everything is clearly in high-definition. They must’ve been changing out memory cards constantly, to say nothing of charging those video headsets.

And then you’ve got the extra camera functions such as the deer cams, the drones, the headset cameras that capture everything. One of the great things about The Blair Witch Project is you never saw anything. You’re left to your own devices to imagine what’s going on. Not so much with this one. You see it all and it’s all bad. Gash on the foot? Gash spasms cartoonishly. Stick figures connected to people some way. Break stick and kill person on camera cartoonishly. Movie about a Blair Witch? Show the cartoonishly large Blair Witch. In fact, just about every single thing that was creepy in the original was cartoonish in this one. It shows too much and it shows it badly.

One of the things that made the original movie so great was the acting, or lack thereof. Much of the movie was ad-libbed, so things didn’t feel rehearsed. Also, the crew in the original movie legitimately harassed the people in the movie in ways to make them terrified, so the fear you’re seeing in that movie is real. Yet in this new one, you can feel the acting. Everything thing feels so rehearsed that it’s painful. Nothing feel genuine. Now, you can talk all you want about the bad acting in Blair Witch 2, but here’s the thing, it wasn’t a found footage film. Acting in a found footage films should never ever feel like acting. Ever. Bad acting can get a pass in a standard movie, but not in a film in which the entire premise is to purport to be real, stated or not.

When you pull everything together, it’s like it was trying to be a big budget Hollywood blockbuster with an identity crisis, as though it was under the impression it was a found footage film. Now, I realize movies like Cloverfield, Paranormal Activity, and The Blair Witch Project are all huge Hollywood successes using the found footage premise, but my problem with Blair Witch is that it feels like it was actually filmed like a Hollywood blockbuster. Most of it doesn’t feel remotely like found footage at all. Because of this, it rips you out of any immersion that was potentially there. Watching Blair Witch, I was bored the entire way through. While I wouldn’t call this the worst movie I’ve ever seen (no one can dethrone you, Ultraviolet), it is one of the stupidest. After this was over, I watched a sixteen minute foreign film called Banana Motherfucker about demon possessed bananas impaling people and honestly, it was a much better movie.

If Blair Witch 4 happens, I think it best that it make like the previous two sequels and pretend the most recent one didn’t happen.

Reverting back to VHS

For the most part, the switch from analog to digital for movies has been a success. In most cases, the superior picture and sound quality make for a far better experience. Sure, there are a few cases where the poor quality of VHS is better for the experience, usually in low budget horror movies where a cleaned up digital version can suck all the horror out of it. But one thingĀ  the switch to digital that was really fantastic was bonus features.

Remember when DVDs came out and there was a menu full of cool extras like a trailers, interviews, and etc. that you could jump to at anytime? It really made spending twenty dollars on a movie worth it. VHS rarely had extras and if it did, you had to fast forward to the end of the movie to watch them, perhaps further if you were looking for a very specific one. Because of this, more people built up huge collections of DVD and Blu-Ray movies than did those who did the same with VHS. So when digital streaming and download started becoming more prevalent in recent years, you’d think it would carry on the fine tradition of DVD and Blu-Ray. Except it didn’t.

For some strange reason, the switch to a purely digital format took step backwards to the days of the VHS cassette. Imagine my surprise when I bought my first fully digital movie with bonus features unable to find anyway to access them, only to discover that to watch them, I had to wait until the movie finished. This is not just once isolated incident, however, as it seems to be the common game for online movies. How is it in a day of instant access, the extras are hidden at the very end? And if you wish to view these extras without watching the movie, you are bound to fast forward and rewind to access it, as even the chapter skip that was standard in DVD and Blu-Ray is often not to be found. I can’t imagine how much a pain it would be if commentary was a bonus feature. This poor implementation is perhaps the thing that shall keep Blu-Ray alive (for me at least) just a little bit longer.