Archive for the ‘Ramblings Off Topic’ category

bits and pieces

September 10, 2018

I did that thing again. I went out on my bike and tackled the trails. We’d had a week of rain and overcast skies, and I knew the trail was wet and muddy, so it wasn’t going to be a pleasant trek on those days. But then Saturday came, starting with rain and drizzle, and when I looked at the weather maps, we were pretty much done with the rain for the next week. That meant that I could get on the trail and grab some peddling time while everyone else feared more rain was to come. I started out under massing gray clouds, but by the time I got to my turnaround point, seen above, the sky was clearing. The week of rain had brought cooler temperatures too, so the ride was pleasant (though I did have to ride through some big puddles and a couple of spots of deep mud), and there were very few riders and runners on the trail, fearing more rain I suspect.

What you see above is the shipping container that the trail passes through below the construction on the interstate highway. It’s the green thing with the black maw.


The words “jock” and “jock strap” and “jockstrap” appear six times in the current manuscript of One-Match Fire. I know this because I did a word search for them, having found in one story that I use “jock strap” and in another “jockstrap.” (It’s about four men, two of whom go from boys to men in the story and two of whom are runners.) Based on the dictionary on my phone (and the one in the app on my computer), the proper spelling is as a single word. Now you know the proper spelling, should it come up in conversation. You don’t have to thank me.


I think I mentioned before that I have a mild “case” of synesthesia. I know the “color” of each letter of the alphabet, for example, and I can picture the “shapes” of most sounds. (Classical music is especially “shapely” to me.) I thought for a long time that everyone was this way, but it turns out most are not. I also used to think that everyone dreamed in color, as I do, but apparently that’s not true either.


I had a runner friend who is also a handyman come by one afternoon last week — during the rain, which was handy for the man — to shuffle through the itchy insulation in my attic, stepping from joist to joist, to seal some leaks in the roof (that the roofers didn’t). The leaks are most common during driving rains, which led me to think the flashing wasn’t sealed properly. I reasoned this through without having gone into the attic myself. When my friend got up there, he confirmed it through observation. And then he sealed every bit he could find as well as replace both the bulbs and the pull chains in the two light fixtures up there.*

I’ve lived in this house 31 years, and I think I’ve been into the attic four times, three of those times getting no farther than poking my head in through the access panel.


I currently have 12 story submissions circulating. That’s comprised of five stories as multiples and the One-Match Fire novel (in an earlier form) at a contest. The oldest is from last December, and I’m pretty sure it’s not a contender (though I’ve heard stories of older submissions getting accepted). I know/suppose I should be more aggressive about submitting my stories, but I’ve never been a hustler, and with my withered self confidence I understand why I’m not. Still.



*All of his work getting things done around my house motivated me to do some things myself! Fortunately, the feeling passed.


before the rain ~ Skywatch Friday

September 7, 2018

A hot day turned cool early this week as a continuous string of rainy days arrived. We took the dogs to the park to walk around the lake and get their exercise. To the west dark clouds were massing, but the above is what we saw to the north during our walk.

Not long after we were in the truck and driving home, the sprinkles started, followed soon by heavy rain that’s only stopped intermittently all week. While this has interfered with my bike riding, it has gotten me in the proper frame of mind for traveling to Seattle in a couple of weeks.

so I did a thing

September 3, 2018

As you probably know, I haven’t run a step since last October. That was when I did the Kansas City Half Marathon (with essentially no training) and did so poorly that I asked myself why I was doing it at all. (I still haven’t found an answer to that, but I think I need to; I have a 5K coming up later this month.) I don’t know if I’ve walked away from the noble sport of running or if I’m merely taking a break. A break is not uncommon from what I understand, but the longer my break lasts, the harder it’s going to be to get back into running.

Perhaps to alleviate that or to find an indirect way back, I got myself a bike. This is the latest in an almost unbroken series of bikes I’ve had since my earliest memories, perhaps the most memorable being a gold Stingray bike with raised handlebars and a banana seat. I called it Tiger Paws. I went everywhere on that bike when I was a boy. My last bike was taken from me when my son moved out, as I recall. It had hung from the garage ceiling for several years, untouched because I was, well, running. When that stopped, I no longer had that bike, and with the nagging in my head to get back to running increasing, I knew I had to do something to find a way back, so I got the new bike.

It’s nothing fantastic; it’s a cross bike, halfway between a mountain bike and a racing bike, meant for pavement and casual, noncompetitive cycling. It suits me perfectly. I’ve had it for a month, and in that time the heat has traded places with rain storms frequently. The times I was free for an hour or two ride didn’t often coincide with tolerable weather, so I was only able to get out on the bike (which I haven’t named yet) three times. Twice were rides of more than ten miles, and once was a rain-interrupted jaunt that had me sheltering under a park pavilion with about forty female high school tennis players doing various stretching and jumping exercises.* (I looked at my phone.)

But yesterday, before the heat got too intense and the forecasted rain came (but after bagels) I jumped on my bike and took off. I road on the Indian Creek Trail, a place where I have logged literally thousands of miles on foot (and may again). My vague idea was to ride it to the east, beyond where I ever ran. That meant going at least ten miles on familiar trail first, which was fine. I enjoyed revisiting the old places, zipping around walkers and runners (“On your left!” — I should probably get a bell) and bouncing over walnuts. This took me into Missouri (after mile 8), which made me feel like I had gone a respectable distance. And I kept going. Soon I was riding on parts of the ICT** I had never seen before. It appeared that the trail had very recently been repaved, and not cheaply either. The trail was paved with concrete rather than asphalt, which is certainly more permanent, and less prone to cracking and heaving as asphalt will do, and I suppose that’s better for cyclists, but among runners the conventional wisdom is that concrete is harder on the lower joints than asphalt. It’s a commonly held assertion that I’ve always been skeptical of, though I like to think I could feel a difference betwixt the two when I ran on them.

The ICT runs under the interstate three times, and the extension I took when I reached its end passed under the interstate a fourth time. The trail also passes under two railroad bridges, which I don’t think I’d ever run or ridden under before. The approach (from each side) to the railroad bridges was covered with metal canopies going out fifty feet. Does a lot of debris fly from railroad tracks when a train passes? When I passed under the interstate for the fourth time, the trail I was on was diverted through a shipping container (those metal boxes you see on the back of semi trailers or stacked perilously high on cargo ships). The highway bridge is under construction, and I suppose there was a risk of falling debris here as well. Thus the short passage through the cargo container. Odd, but effective.

I kept going, telling myself that at the next landmark I could see ahead (a bridge, a soccer field filled with grown men shouting plays to each other in a language I did not know, a certain rise or dip) I would stop and turn around. But I kept going. Finally, when I paused in some shade (the heat was rising) and checked my phone, I found I had dinner plans with my son. There was more trail ahead, but I knew I had to cover all of the distance I already had just to get home, so I thought best not to add any more to it. I turned around and tried to find my way back, which wasn’t easy since I wasn’t familiar with this part of the trail and there were many spurs leading from it. Plus I was going the opposite direction, so many things that ought to have looked familiar didn’t from this opposite direction. I managed to get back to the part of the trail I knew from my running days without mishap and the rest of the way home.

I did not wear my running watch to log my distance and time. If I had, I could have plugged it into my computer and gotten a map of my journey, including mileage. Instead, I visited one of the sites that distance athletes use to record their runs and mapped my ride. It turns out that my morning adventure was 28 miles. (It would have been longer, but my house is at the top of a hill. I think you can figure out what I mean.)

So, pretty good ride. The other conventional wisdom is that the ratio of cycling to running is three to one. Three miles of cycling is equivalent (in energy used? in wear on the joints? in conditioning?) to one mile of running. Thus my little ride was a bit more than nine miles of running. If I truly am building back my heart and lung capacity (and my quads), then maybe I’ll be (somewhat) ready for that 5K later this month.


*I’ve had a number of interesting, even spooky happenings at this shelter.

**I’ve found that there are some subtle but compelling differences between running and cycling. Hills for one. I’ve found that if I haven’t built up enuf momentum and I’m not in the right gear (and even if I have and am sometimes) I can’t always ride up a steep hill. I had to stop and walk rather than try to crank the gears into a hopeless fight against gravity a few times. With running, a steep hill ain’t pleasant, but it is manageable enuf to keep moving afoot without stopping even at a walking pace. Turns are another. At cycling speeds (even my speeds), there is less room for error. And with the luxurious growth of the trees and scrub that line most of this trail, there are some more or less blind turns. Were I running, they wouldn’t be a problem; I would simply hug the right side of the trail and come upon whatever was beyond the turn with a complete ability to deal with it (usually slowing or side stepping). On a bike, there is less time to react (stop quickly!) coming around a blind turn. I didn’t have any mishaps, but had there been a young parent pushing a stroller suddenly coming into view, I might have had to steer myself into the trees rather than something worse. So my point is that rather than call it the Indian Creek Trail, I think they should call it Insufficiently Clear Turns.


August 28, 2018

So I wrote a post here about my correspondents, and among them was the childhood friend whose wife had tracked me down because he had wanted to reconnect with me after a two-decade hiatus. That old friend and his wife came to visit us last weekend and we had a great time, we saw some sights, drank some whiskey (!), ate some food, and now I am exhausted.

I am not used to being a host, much less a gracious one! I don’t think I have the emotional or social wherewithal to be so interactive for so long. I’m so worn out!

My friend insisted that he and his wife were perfectly fine just sitting around and talking, catching up on the last, lost twenty years, and having no touristy agenda for the weekend. In a way, that simplified things. I had suggested mounting a day trip to the cabin, or a tour at a not-so-nearby distillery (they are huge Jack Daniel’s* aficionados), or a bus tour of Kansas City Barbecue, or other such physical activity, and not needing to do so after all relieved me of some management headaches. But this also complicated things because it meant I had to sustain conversation and general social interaction for nearly all of the time I was awake! I had to be interactive and charming and witty and thoughtful of others’ needs and responsive to questions and even pose questions of my own. I had to crawl out of my shell for an entire weekend.

I am exhausted.

The only planned activity for the weekend was dinner at an upscale restaurant that is newish in town where my friend knows the chef. He had called me weeks before the visit to tell me that they would treat us to dinner there and that we were not to look at the prices on the menu. (So of course we did, and ACK!) Since the restaurant was in a part of town that is not easy to get to (far from any highway access) I had suggested that we take ourselves into the city at mid day and just hang around there so that we were in the general area when dinner time came. We parked at an urban mall and poked around. We rode the trolley into the downtown and looped around the huge farmers’ market by the riverfront. We stopped for coffee (hot chocolate for me) and then got on the trolley again and returned to the urban mall. We wandered through the area as the clock ticked and finally got ourselves back to the car and on our way to dinner.

Dinner was well beyond the abilities of my philistine palate. It was a ten-course feast of small plates with interesting pairings of tastes, and while it was all good and nicely presented, I was out of my league. The restaurant was smallish, and we sat tightly at a table next to another table and across from a larger table, both filled with loud and happy parties. The place was noisy, the crowd was hip, the waiters were rushed, and I was a fish out of water. I enjoyed the food and the experience, but I would have been fine with a salad anywhere.

Sunday was much more laid back. We had found our groove and just rambled in conversation, destroying a couple of bags of chips and dip (also donuts) as we sat around the kitchen table all day in our pajamas. We all only got showered and dressed in the mid afternoon when it was time for them to leave.

I need a rest now. All of this human interaction has worn me down. (And remember, two weekends before we hosted my son’s Kenyan mother-in-law. And before that we visiting family in Kentucky.)

Introverts aren’t made for this.


*This I learned: the man who gave his name to the famous whiskey had a last name of Daniel, not Daniels. In fact, the bottle uses an apostrophe before the “s” on the label. I don’t think most people know that. You’re welcome.

heralds ~ Skywatch Friday

August 17, 2018

I took this photo (through a double-paned window) on Tuesday of this week, about mid-morning, looking west. These massing clouds were heralds of an afternoon rain that we sorely needed. And they seemed to be the first wave of rain storms or overcast days that came to us daily through the rest of the week (including during my bike ride, forcing me to shelter under a park pavilion along with forty or so female high school tennis players) and are forecasted into the weekend.

my correspondents

August 13, 2018

Considering the fact that I have no friends, I have an unlikely number of people I correspond with regularly. Pen pals, if you want to call them that.

Chief among these is a fellow writer who lives in a nearby, Midwestern state and who invited people reading his blog to send him an actual letter (on paper, in an envelope, with a stamp) and he would respond in kind. I was up for the challenge, and I think the first letter I sent him was nine handwritten pages. (The paper being the leftover sections of my grad school notebooks. You can see one of them — depleted — here. Scroll down.) He sent a multi-page letter back to me, and we’ve been exchanging long and short letters for years since. We also descend into mere postcards sometimes, generally when either of us is traveling.

My second long-term correspondent is a person I met when I was in a running club a few years ago. She was talking (around the rehydration table at a post-run establishment) about her upcoming trip to Belize. I asked her to send me a postcard while she was there. She didn’t, and we joke about it to this day — that the card must be lost in the mail and will still arrive. But after that, whenever she would travel, she would send me a card or two. And I would do the same. I get postcards from places like the Galapagos Islands; she gets them from places like Paducah, Kentucky.

A third correspondent is another writer who had a story published in the same magazine/issue as one of my stories. He looked me up on Facebook and we connected there. He invited people to send him postcards from museums they visited and he would do the same. We’ve been sending cards back and forth for about a year now, though I understand he has moved, and I don’t yet have his new address. (I don’t think he reads this humble blog either.)

A fourth correspondent is a surprising newcomer. One day I received a Facebook message from a name I didn’t recognize, asking if I was the same person as someone with my name who grew up in St. Louis. It turned out she was writing on behalf of her husband (who disdains Facebook) who was searching for his childhood buddy, who was me. I had lost touch with him not long after I moved to Kansas City (thirty-one years ago), and when I tried to find him in the phone book to get an address, I had no luck. (No phone books anymore either.) His parents went to the same church that my mother went to (before she moved to Paducah, Kentucky), so I got occasional updates from her about the parents but not about my lost friend. But then his wife found me. He and I exchanged email and snail mail addresses, and now he is sending me postcards like crazy. I received five from him last week, and it appears he was in Metropolis, Illinois the same weekend that I was literally just across the Ohio River in Paducah, Kentucky. I met up with him last winter when I was in St. Louis (overnight, delivering a couch to my son’s bare apartment). I would not have recognized him if I saw him on the street, but his voice was the same. And his handwriting in his postcards is the same as when he was a boy. (Mine, happily, is much improved, which I attribute to keeping a hand-written journal for nearly forty years.)

I’ve thought about signing up on one of those pen pal sites to begin corresponding with some random person somewhere in the world, but I don’t think I have the commitment for that kind of responsibility.

But the art of letter writing creeps along. I imagine us as coelacanths, living fossils. But I don’t mind. I like the mini adventure of visiting the mailbox each day with the hope of a personal card or letter waiting for me.

when in the South

August 8, 2018

I was chided once after a visit to Kentucky (to see my mother!) for claiming I was in “the South” when I hadn’t actually eaten that most Southern of dishes: biscuits and gravy. (“Biscuits and gravy or it didn’t happen!” was how the chiding was phrased.) Over the last weekend, when I made yet another visit to Kentucky (to see my mother!) I made a point to enjoy a plate (plate and bowl?) of biscuits and sausage gravy. (I understand there is a white variety of the gravy as well.)

While it wasn’t the most amazing moment of my four-day weekend there, I can see how people could like/love the (salty) stuff as well as how I should probably limit myself to having it only on my twice- or thrice-yearly visits to “the South.”

There were other amazing moments. The intent of the visit (aside from seeing my mother!) was to meet my son’s new mother-in-law. She is in the States for several months to meet her daughter’s family and see how her new life here is going. They are from Kenya, and my son met the woman who would become his wife when he served there with the Peace Corps.

Gifts were exchanged between families, including two new shirts for me in the African style. But simply giving these shirts was not culturally appropriate. My son’s mother-in-law, Mechtilda, had to dress me in the shirts. She had to pull them over my head and direct my arms through the sleeves, tugging them down and fixing the neck/collar. This was the proper way for her to present such a gift. (I’m glad it was limited to shirts.) My wife got a matching dress.

A second, unexpected amazing moment happened in the parking lot of the hotel where we stayed while in “the South.” As we were heading out on Saturday evening, I saw a van unloading a bunch of children, a haggard mother, and a grandmother who I saw only from behind. Yet she looked familiar. When I looked at the plates (tags?) on the van, I saw it was from my part of the Midwest, so I spoke to the grandmother, using the name of the woman I thought it might be. And it was she! There we both were, far from home, and yet our paths crossed in the parking lot of a random hotel. I work with this woman; her cubicle is just down the hall from mine. And since she got back to town sooner than I did, our random encounter was the talk of the office before I returned.

Also, I started work on a new story.