Archive for the ‘Ramblings Off Topic’ category

#Sunday Sentence

March 19, 2023

This is one of my occasional participations in David Abram’s Sunday Sentence project, sharing the best sentence I’ve read during the past week, “out of context and without commentary.”

“Of course all altruism was in some way selfish.”

Source: The Great Believers by Rebecca Makkai

#Sunday Sentence

March 5, 2023

This is one of my occasional participations in David Abrams’ Sunday Sentence project, sharing the best sentence I’ve read during the past week, “out of context and without commentary.”

“All my life, I have taken satisfaction in finishing things in order that I may experience a sense of achievement, regardless of whether the thing was really worth achieving.”

Source: Lillian Boxfish Takes a Walk by Kathleen Rooney

under the pines

March 2, 2023

Most of our trips to Roundrock are for fun and games and foolishness, but sometimes we have grimmer tasks.

On Monday my wife and I buried her dog, Queequeg, under the pines in our forest. Queequeg was nearly 15 years old, which put him in his golden years but wasn’t exceedingly old for a small dog. Queequeg was a Pomeranian. He’d been getting slower and would breathe heavily after he climbed the stairs and such, but he didn’t show any overt signs of infirmity. On the night he died, he had been chasing his ball and accepting treats and wagging his tail only an hour before. And then he laid down and went to sleep and didn’t wake. It seemed to be a painless death.

I’ve buried two other dogs (and a rabbit) out in my forest. The dirt under the pines is good, with no rocks, so that’s where we put Queequeg. I stopped at the hardware store in town and got a Beware of Dog sign that I placed over his head after I put him in the hole I dug. I can’t throw dirt on my dogs’ faces. We also put his two favorite toys and a dog biscuit with him. After that I partially filled the hole and then placed a large stone in it. My hope is that this will thwart any scavengers. Then I finished filling the hole and placed a flat sandstone rock atop it. I intend to return to etch his initial in the stone. My wife dug up some daffodils from our dog Max’s grave and planted them beside the new one.

Queequeg was named not for the tattooed harpooner in Moby-Dick but another Pomeranian that appeared in an episode of The X Files years ago. Although Flike is four times his size, Queequeg was always the alpha between them.

In the early mornings we had a routine. I would go downstairs to fetch my tea, and Queequeg would greet me. I would let him outside, and when he came in, he got a treat. He tried to modify this by skipping the going outside part, and sometimes he got his way. It’s odd going downstairs now in the early morning and not seeing him asleep by the door.

bits and pieces

March 1, 2023

The view above is just below the cabin at Roundrock. You can see a bit of the lake at the left. When we were there on Monday, it was up a few inches because of the recent rains. (I had hoped for more.) The beavers are clearing us a new view of the lake, though looking the direction this deforestation gives, we see mostly the dam and not the lake.


My St. Louis daughter-in-law, Celestine, took the oath of citizenship this week and is now a permanent U.S. citizen. She’s even registered to vote. When she came here, back in the fall of 2016, I apologized to her for the state of politics in the country. (You may remember that mayhem.) She told me that whatever we had was nothing compared to politics as usual in Kenya. I may have mentioned that my son and his wife are expecting their second child — another boy to be a brother to Small Paul — and I wonder if the swearing in ceremony included him or not.


The front of my house is suburbia has three porch lights on it. Two flank the front door and one is beside the garage door. In my tenure here, I have replaced those lights three times. The most recent, failed set were deluxe lamps with built-in LED lights and photocells so they’d turn on/off on their own. That set failed the most quickly of all we had. I researched repairing them but it was either this fix or that fix, and you couldn’t know which until you tried it to see if it worked. And then I found that there was a class-action lawsuit against the manufacturer for another model of their lights, so I threw my hands in the air. The set I put on this week are now the fourth that have graced the front of my house. I shopped around for something reasonable (that I could replace the bulbs in rather than the whole fixture) and bought the cheapest models I could find. Then I had to wait for decent weather (and decent weather this time of year means a trip to the cabin, not house maintenance). But it all came together on Tuesday, and after only three trips to the hardware store, I got them installed. I screwed in LED bulbs with photocells and waited for nightfall. When that happened, my hard work paid off. I don’t intend to do this again.


Books read in February:

Subtle Bodies by Norman Rush – I had read his novel Mating many years ago and remember liking it. So when I came upon this title at the library, I grabbed it. Maybe I’m not the same person I was many years ago, but I didn’t really like this. A sort of family story about a bunch of college friends who come together twenty years after graduation at the death of their group leader type. At turns comical and grim, I just didn’t connect with this one.

Strange Weather in Tokyo by Hirobi Kawakami – A forty-something woman crosses paths with one of her beloved teachers from high school, and they begin to do things together (mostly drinking sake but also going on trips to sample magic mushrooms). The woman recognizes her loneliness only because she is in the presence of someone who relieves it. Again, I didn’t connect with these characters.

All Adults Here by Emma Straub – Three adult siblings and their spouses (and children) gather at their mother’s house to assess their lives and secrets. It’s well written and easy to read, and the characters are well drawn, but it took me forever to finish this. (Also, when I was in New York a year ago, I visited Emma Straub’s bookstore Books Are Magic. I didn’t know it at the time, but I was sick with Covid and carried it around Brooklyn.)

Bear Necessity by James Gould-Bourn – A fun book about a widowed father and his 11-year-old son who has stopped speaking after the death of his mother. Except he does speak to the dancing panda in the park (who turns out to be his father, doing what he can to make the rent). This book flirts with violence — the landlord threatens to break the father’s legs if he doesn’t come up with the rent — but it is all over the top and not intended to be taken seriously. The happy ending is just as over the top, but it’s satisfying.

#Sunday Sentence

February 26, 2023

This is one of my occasional participations in David Abrams’ Sunday Sentence project, sharing the best sentence I’ve read during the past week, “out of context and without commentary.”

“When he was seventeen, he learned the hard way that all it took to become a father was a three-liter bottle of cheap cider, a girlfriend to share it with, an awkward fumble on the Hackney Downs, and a general disregard for the basic laws of nature; and when he was twenty-eight, he learned in the hardest way imaginable that all it took to dim the stars, stop the clocks, and bring the earth to a shuddering halt was one small, invisible sliver of ice on a country road.”

Source: Bear Necessity by James Gould-Bourn

bits and pieces

February 13, 2023

There is an area of Kansas City generally known as Red Bridge. It’s named after an old red bridge that crossed the Blue River back in settlement days. Subsequent replacement bridges were all painted red to honor that bit of history. The newest bridge (concrete and steel) is fitted with red granite to maintain the tradition.

What you see above is the prior red bridge. I believe I drove across the bridge at least once in my adult tenure here (and it’s not impossible that I had when I was a toddler before we moved to St. Louis, though it is unlikely that I would have been doing the driving). This bridge not only no longer takes traffic but it no longer leads anywhere either. (The area behind me when I took this photo is full of trees and rock piles and is impassible.)

But a new use has been found for the old bridge. It’s become the host of love locks. Couples affix a padlock to the bridge (or gates or fences and even monuments) as a sign of their love. Names, initials, and dates are generally inscribed on the locks, and tradition requires that the key to the lock be thrown away (generally into the river the bridge crosses) as a sign of the unbreakable love of the couple.

This is a global phenomenon, and while it is sweet and is even used in some places as a tourist attraction, it has become a problem. The weight of the combined locks has threatened the integrity of some bridges, for example, and the tossing of the key into the river can actually affect water quality and wildlife. At the bridge above there is a box in place where couples can deposit their key, which will eventually be recycled. (Often I’ve seen this box broken into, presumably for the metal.)

This bridge is about a mile from the end of the Blue River Trail, and I would pass it when I did my 26-mile rides back in the day.


I can sit at my desk during the day and hear the puttering mail truck pull up to the boxes across the street. (One of those boxes is for my address.) Then I know that I can venture out the front door with the dogs to “get the mail.” They sniff around the front yard while I cross the street and get the (mostly junk) mail from my box. This has been our routine for years. But I think it’s changing. The other day I happened to be looking out the window at the time the mail truck was filling the boxes. I hadn’t heard it drive up, and when it left, I didn’t hear it drive away. I suspect the route I am on is now going to be serviced by an electric mail truck. Thus, if I don’t happen to see it, my treks across the street will be almost random, having no auditory hint that the delivery is made. Such are my troubles in life.


I always wear red when I go to my cabin. I have a red Osceola Cheese tee shirt and a red plaid flannel shirt I generally wear. (The point is to be not mistaken for a deer by a hunter.) Yesterday, when I had gone to the cabin to sling some of the 15 tons of gravel I’d had delivered, I was dressed in red. When I came home mid-afternoon, I stopped in a convenience store and saw that everyone else was wearing red too. Apparently it was tied to some sporting event yesterday.


Here is something astonishing. For the first time in my life, I made a wager on a sporting event (last night’s big game). And here’s another astonishing thing. I won! I got involved because it was a fundraiser for a neighbor boy so he could go to a high adventure Scout camp this summer. I didn’t even understand the terms for winning, but his mother texted me saying I’d won $150.

Those of you who know me won’t be astonished to learn that I gave the winnings to the neighbor boy to use on his trip. Maybe he’ll send me a post card.

#Sunday Sentence

February 5, 2023

This is one of my occasional participations in David Abrams’ Sunday Sentence project, sharing the best sentence I’ve read during the past week, “out of context and without commentary.”

“Women who love us, he thought, do things for us in ways they think we’ll love.”

Source: Subtle Bodies by Norman Rush

bits and pieces

February 1, 2023

The trees in the photo above are on the south side of the lake, on the opposite shore from where my little cabin stands. It’s tempting to say that the beavers only want all of the trees on the cabin side of the lake, but that’s not true. The cabin-side oaks are younger, which perhaps is more appealing to the beavers since they require less work to bring down. But then they have to take all of their harvest across the lake to their lodge. In any case, here is evidence that they’re not discriminating in their deforestation plans.


I pre-recorded an interview for episode 324 of the Charlotte Readers Podcast about One-Match Fire. My portion begins around the 5:50 minute time. They had sent me questions, and I read my responses into their recording line, then I read a small selection from the novel’s prologue. The difference in the audio tone suggests I need to get a more professional microphone than what my earbuds have.

They say that no one likes the sound of their own recorded voice. I’m not going to disagree with that.


One-Match Fire was also reviewed at Lori’s Book Loft. Go to the January 26, 2023, entry if you care to read what she had to say about it.


I have a couple more podcast interviews recorded and several more in the works. I had no idea the extent of the hustle that being a novelist required. This is the “author” part of being a “writer.’


Books read in January:

Somehow I got a lot of reading done last month.

Lucy by the Sea by Elizabeth Strout – Finishing this book took up half of the month. I didn’t like the way it was presented. It was mostly short anecdotes — sometimes no more than a sentence or two long — that made it hard to find a continuous narrative to follow and bring me back. Nor could I make sense of the breaks between the clips. Some were just a few lines apart. Others had symbols between them, and the symbols varied. If they signified something, it escaped me. The story was mostly about Strout’s character Lucy Barton sequestering herself with her ex-husband in Maine during the early days of the Covid pandemic. Honestly, it felt to me as though Strout had a bunch of leftover notes that hadn’t made it into any of her other novels, and she just dumped them into here.

After Elias by Eddy Bouel Tan – A find from browsing the shelves at my local library. This was a good read. It follow a man in the days before and after his intended wedding (with some flashbacks) to a man who was a commercial airline pilot. Much of the plot centers around the pilot’s last words just before the plane crashes in the Arctic Ocean. Did he crash the plane deliberately, or did his words have some other meaning?

Three O’Clock in the Morning by Gianrico Carofiglio – A novel by one of Italy’s most famous authors, this one perplexed me. The plot, such as it is, involves a father and his college-age son wandering the tough streets and establishments of Marseille in an effort to keep the boy awake for 48 continuous hours as a treatment (?) for his epilepsy (or perhaps to confirm he is “cured” of it). Their conversations range from family to poetry to math to sex to gambling to philosophy and literature. It felt like the author wanted to visit these topics and needed plot contrivance to do so. The title comes from a quote by F. Scott Fitzgerald.

Rouse Up. O Young Men of the New Age by Kenzaburo Oe – The author is one of Japan’s Nobel laureates. This is a big, ambitious novel, centering around the protagonist’s relationship with his mentally handicapped son who happens to be a musical savant. This is a thinly disguised account of the life of Oe who also has a handicapped son who is a musical savant. The title comes from a poem by William Blake.

Department of Speculation by Jenny Offill – This one did not work for me. It is an account of a marriage, told by the wife, but much like the Strout novel above, it is told in snippets, many of which don’t contribute to the plot so much as give the mental state of the narrator. I believe that Offill is highly regarded, but I don’t see myself taking up another of her novels if it will be as disjointed as this was.

Patrimony by Philip Roth – Taken from my own shelves, this is a nonfiction account of Roth dealing with his father’s late-in-life battle with brain cancer. It is unsparing, and the portraits Roth gives are rich and satisfying — the word “obdurate” comes up more than once in describing his father. I re-read this to glean insights about the relationship between fathers and sons since I’m working on a sequel to One-Match Fire.

Odd Ducks by Patricia Lawson – A collection of short stories (and one novella), which I don’t normally read, set in and around Kansas City. This won a regional award, and I was intrigued. The characters are odd ducks, on the fringe of societal acceptance, muddling along as well as they can. Well written.

#Sunday Sentence

January 22, 2023

This is one of my occasional participations in David Abrams’ Sunday Sentence project, sharing the best sentence I’ve read during the past week, “out of context and without commentary.”

“Be spontaneous” is the most paradoxical and impracticable of injunctions, whether coming from other people, or ourselves.

Source: Three O’Clock in the Morning by Gianrico Carofiglio

Miles and me

January 12, 2023

Miles in the name I’ve given my treadmill. We’ve been in a relationship for nearly two years. Miles waits in my basement for my semi-regular visits, and together we pound out some distance. I mostly do brisk walking on my treadmill, which I’ve heard is the most ideal form of exercise, though in those two years, as I rebuilt the strength and stamina of my running days, I did occasionally speed up to a trot at the end of my sessions. My time with Miles has been a great opportunity to listen to podcasts, and now I wonder if I could endure the time without them. In any case, I could see the benefit my four or five times a week on the machine was having. Hiking the hills at my cabin was effortless, and even climbing the stairs at the end of the day was done without a thought.

I lost some ground in my fitness, however, when I visited Seattle for Thanksgiving. I may have mentioned that the room I stayed in at my son’s house had a treadmill (and a piano) in it, and I even used it once. But then I caught the respiratory bug that was going around, and despite having the chance to see many of my grands, I spent two whole days there sleeping. When I got home, I fought the bug and got medicine to treat it, but since it affected my lungs, I stayed away from Miles. In late December, when I was over the visible symptoms of the bug, I tried getting on Miles again, but I could only go about fifteen minutes before my lungs felt like they were on fire. So I backed off again and waited a couple more weeks.

I am now tentatively back to my regular sessions on the treadmill, though the time I spend there is reduced as I rebuild to the fitness I had in November before Seattle. (This has resulted in me looking for new, shorter podcasts to listen to.) It’s happening; I can feel the difference when I climb the stairs and such, and this kind of tangible evidence keeps me motivated.

However, if you follow me on social media, you’ll know that I fell off of my treadmill last week. This has never happened before and it only happened this time because I was careless. The shorts I wear when I’m with Miles have pockets, which I don’t normally like in running shorts since I don’t want to carry an ounce of extra weight, and I certainly don’t want it bouncing against my legs with each stride. But I can put my phone in one of the pockets, still within range of the Bluetooth so my podcast is not interrupted, and it will record my footsteps so I have another tangible bit of evidence. Unfortunately, these shorts are a size too big for me. As I walk, they tend to slip down from my waist, and I have to tug them up. One solution has been to tuck my shirt into the shorts. This fabric-on-fabric connection seems to keep the shorts from sliding down (much). The problem is that I don’t usually remember to do this until I am already underway. This was the case on the day I fell off. I made the mistake of trying to tuck in my shirt as I was walking (and listening to the podcast). This was enuf distraction to let me drift farther down the belt, and suddenly I realized I was about to go off the back of it. Keep in mind this was brisk walking, not running, so the speed was not great, but even so, it happened fast enuf that I couldn’t trot farther up the belt in time. My feet went off the back of the belt and the rest of me went off the side.

From what I can tell, I hit the frame of the treadmill with my ribs on the right side. My forearm also rubbed against the moving belt, and though no skin was broken or blood drawn, it burned for the rest of the day. I knelt on the floor for a minute, running a system diagnostic, and realized that nothing was broken or even hurt that badly. So I got back on and finished my session.

It was only later in the day that I began to feel the pain in my ribs, but then it hurt with every breath and most movement. This lasted for about three days. I have been back with Miles twice since then, and the pain in my ribs has mostly subsided. I’m going to return to Miles tomorrow (today is a rest day) and continue to work on rebuilding, but I’ll be certain to tuck in my shirt before I step on.