Heaven Can Wait. I’ve Still Got Research To Do

Some of you have managed to make it through life as the members of the same church for your entire lives. If not the same building, the same denomination or sect. Me?  I’ve been around just a bit.

I started the journey as  a little boy in the Latin Church known as Roman Catholic to the rest of you. I don’t remember much of the pre Vatican II  church but I do remember the Latin a bit. Hey, that’s just because I’m a linguist and can’t help it.

My youth, until college, was spent in a variety of parishes around Saint Paul, Minnesota. It wasn’t that we were gadflies, because we did have a home parish, but because life intrudes and devout Catholics are obligated to attend mass each week. So, in the era before the internet (yes, I am that old) we had a collection of weekly bulletins/mass schedules from a dozen churches around the metro. If I remember correctly, some of the bigger churches had Yellow Pages ads with the schedule. So, if Sunday we were going to be on the road, or a big snow storm was coming, we’d hit Saturday night mass at another church if we were too late for our home parish. Same for Sunday: we missed church because of whatever, so we’d go somewhere that had an evening mass. (I have to confess, nothing is more depressing to a kid than Sunday night mass: you missed Disney and all the good stuff on Sunday night television. It is also when I learned to loathe “The Guitar Mass.”)

I walked away from God, and the church, at least part time when I went to college, and didn’t go back until I was in my forties. I guess I was too smart for all that nonsense. But I was wrong: it’s not nonsense. I discovered that God did love me and I needed to be there to talk to him.

So, where did I go?  I went back to God via a COGIC church. Man, about as far from Catholicism as you can get!  God really pulled me in to his arms there, we both got baptized again, and it was a big change being in a small predominantly black church after white city/suburban churches as a kid. Stayed there a few years until it just didn’t feel right anymore. It was a very small church, just 40 people on a busy Sunday.

Then we went shopping. 

After a year of bouncing around, we settled on Shiloh Missionary Baptist Church. For those of you who aren’t familiar with Missionary Baptists, think of the church scene in The Blues Brothers. Yeah, that kind of kinetic, Motown meets Jesus each week. (Warning: a bit of mild profanity in this clip.)

But, when we left Saint Paul to move to Florida, we left behind a big congregation of people we loved. It still hurts a bit, but we have great memories. (Yes, things do get that wild/good on occasion. That ecstatic form of worship is know as “Falling out” by the congregants. And, lest you think I’m making it up, I’d like you to watch a movie called “A Man Called Jon” – it happens to white guys as well!)

Thus the question: what kind of church now?

Well, this is what I wore for sunrise service on Easter:

Yes, I have a cowboy hat. I’ve had one for 40 years. I love them, and they keep my bald head from baking.

Here’s our choir on Easter:

There is a small, Independent Baptist church less than 2 miles from my house. As a matter of fact, when I roar past the church on the way home, I know it’s almost time to put on my blinkers for the turn.

Now, before I say the next bit, I want to emphasize that it is with love and great affection for the pastor and the congregation. I mean no disrespect in any way. 

This church is more like what you would see in a movie about a congregation in 1947 in the rural south than the big urban church we just left. One piano, one guitar, and occasionally a teenage girl learning the dulcimer. The choir is about 40% of the congregation, and the hymnal was printed before I was born. 

It is God’s house. And they loved us from the minute we walked in the door. I like the piano, but do miss the bass, drums, and 40 person choir in robes at Shiloh. I sing louder now, because they need my voice. Now that I’ve retired, I’m able to go to Bible study each week. We all had breakfast on Easter after the service in the school room next door. 

We will know everyone’s name very soon. 

The pastor preaches well. It’s a good message. I pray hard when we bow our heads for sick members of the congregation. 

Have I come full circle in worship? Nah. There’s probably an obscure chapter left for me. But for right now these folks are family and it’s a blessing to be 2 minutes away from the church.

What a road I’ve travelled. I hope it’s the Highway to Heaven. I liked that show.


One Month Later

Time for a few updates.

Update:  still have 4 boxes to unpack. But they are things that depend on putting up shelves in a few closets. I’m not counting those.

The fence is in for Chewy. He has a nice, big yard to romp around in. I’ll save several of you some time: yes, alligators can climb the fence. Snakes can go under it. Poisonous toads can hop on in. Spiders (deadly ones) and scorpions are not fazed by it. Also, eagles can swoop down, A10 Warthogs can strafe the yard, and the Red Chinese can come up the canal and kill him with bayonets. The fence will keep him in unless he digs under it – sandy soil makes that very easy – and escapes. The goal is to make it his place to wander so I don’t have to stand in the yard and watch him while he poops. I also refuse to obsess over threats that may/may not take his life. (You can guess how I feel about masks…)

We love the new house. It has some issues: we’re working with the builder to get those fixed. Nothing big, but I am held up on hanging ceiling fans until they sort out a few wiring issues. Also, we’re going totally solar. Battery backup system to boot. Expensive?  Whooo doggies. It sure is. But you need backup power in Florida to take the power grid hits. I could do the propane thing, but solar in this area makes sense: it does pay for itself.

The water here stinks: literally. High Sulphur content. So a whole-house reverse osmosis system is going to be installed. Mo money, but if I can shower without smelling like eggs it is a plus.

I am not mowing my own lawn. I could handle the effort, but the 15 year old Lawnboy finally gave out. The nice young man doing the job is very reasonable and I’d rather spend the time writing and recording.

Which leads me to todays big update stuff. I have about 2 hours to go before I finish setting up my dream office. I have hidden wires and cables, cleaned pockets in the desk, made power available, and once the pile of cables and Arab rugs in the corner is sorted, I will be able to record my first audio books in the home. 

That is important, because my friends at Crossroad Press have decided to roll the dice and give me shot at a major author’s works. I’ll reveal the name when the first book is done. It is safe to say it’s a major literary figure and I’m honored that they’ve expressed their faith in me to do the work.

A little bit about the area where we live is in order. We are about 25 miles from the nearest big city. We are 10 miles from the nearest city. I like the little city a lot. It’s a farming community with the best Mexican food you’ll find outside of New Mexico. And not just one place, but a lot of places. 

There is a Cuban grocery store about 10 miles from my house. It is 1/2 mile from the Publix store (the regional powerhouse) nearest my home. I’m torn every time I head that way. Mainly because the Cuban place has so many things I LOVE to eat, and Publix has so many that are healthier. Sigh. 

We live in the everglades. It’s that simple. I had an airboat go by my back yard on the canal on Saturday. There are huge swamps nearby. I stopped at a produce stand on Sunday and got the nicest onions that I’ve seen in years from the guy who grew them. Needless to say, it’s way different than living in Saint Paul. I’m okay with it. The biggest difference out here is that when I hear gunfire I wonder what my neighbors are shooting and want to wander over, versus ducking below the window in Saint Paul. EVERYONE around here has guns, and being so rural you can shoot in your own yard. Most yards have a backstop/berm for the owners to use when they shoot. I love it. Even Chewy is learning to accept gunfire. 

That, boys and girls, is the nub of it: good guys with guns don’t bother me. Bad guys with guns are a threat. I have no doubt that criminals in this area have life spans measured in feet per second. 

Well, enough about this. I’m looking out the window in the office and it’s time to take a break and go out with Kip and the dog. I guess that microphone has got to wait a little longer.


How To Move Across The Country With Limited Homicides

Many of you have moved. If nothing else, you moved from your mother’s womb to a new place when you were born. Some of you never really did, but that’s the topic of another blog.

Your next big move probably came as a child. Another kid came along, or you were the other kid, and Mom and Pop decided that two bedrooms weren’t going to cut it. So you got a bigger house.

Odds are that you stayed there until you:

  1. Joined the military and Uncle Popcorn provided a nice new place for you.
  2. You went to college and practiced all the stuff your preacher told you not to do.
  3. Your parents announced that since you had finished high school, were of legal age, and had no special needs requiring you to stay home, you had two months to get a job and get gone.

Let us presume that you did the above. Your next move was likely a simple one. You didn’t have much stuff after college or the military, and if you got booted from the family home you most likely struggled to acquire stuff but mainly spent money on staying fed. This next move was probably in with a roomie, a new spouse, or just a place where the bill collectors couldn’t find you as easily. It was a four hour move, close to home and done in the back of your crappy Prius and your friend’s beater of a pickup. (Military members had their crap delivered by Uncle Sam as a farewell present for their service, so that one is a bit different.)

More likely than not, you settled into this next place for a long time. Decades perhaps. You may have moved early on, but probably not very far and with the help of your still vibrant and strong friends. I will, however, bet that most of you made “The Big Move” around age 30 and then stayed there for decades.

That was us. When we got out of the Navy, we moved back to Minnesota and the Navy dropped our crap in Eagan at an apartment. We stayed there 3 years and moved to Saint Paul. That was where we were going to be at the end of time. The move was fairly easy, and we got it done in a few weeks: we overlapped mortgage and rent to allow us to paint and stuff.

Fast forward 30 years and we have the story for today. We had had enough of the People’s Republic of Minnesota, the lockdown, the terrible winters, and yearned for brighter days. (I am writing this from the Lanai (expensive back porch) of my new home, which makes for brighter days.)

Thus the move to Florida. We bought a house without ever seeing it, and contracted for movers and car shippers. We had, we thought, really done a good job whittling down the amount of junk we’d take with us. We knew there’d be no attic, and no basement. Those are ancient Mesopotamian words for “storage space without consequences.” For five months we ruthlessly combed the house and donated literal truckloads of stuff to the Salvation Army. We filled the trash and recycle cans each week (and those of our neighbors – with their consent) and smiled broadly with our amazing accomplishments.

Here we give a caution: you didn’t get even close to all of it. Start over. Eye every shirt, pair of pants, little figurine, coffee mug, decorative blanket, and ream of office paper. Throw ½ of it out before you move. Otherwise you pay someone to lug it across the country so you can throw it out somewhere else. We did that upon arrival (yes, I know, this is not chronological) and have so far donated 3 SUV loads of stuff to the Salvation Army in Florida. Seriously, be utterly ruthless. I had so much cold-weather gear left that I could have outfitted a Norwegian Special Forces team for work above the Artic Circle. I now have 2 full sets in the event I go back to snow shoe race down the road. I also have just 2 pairs of snow shoes – I managed to give all the others away before leaving. The point is, you have too much crap and if you haven’t worn it in the last year, you should donate it. Same with that coffee mug your employer gave out during the 4th name change 4 years ago: you don’t need it.

Once you have done that, hire movers to box all your stuff and move it. Trust me, at anything above age 50 you don’t need the hassle of packing. Do, however, pack the really important stuff like computers and printers (with the cables) so you can identify the boxes immediately upon arrival. Put all your important papers in a backpack and never let them out of your sight.

Before the movers arrive, remove all trash from your house and put it in the backyard where nobody can mistake it for anything vital. We had our trash make a special appearance in Florida. I should have planned that better.

Next, go around your house with that Crown Royal bag on your liquor shelf and remove all the knobs and handles from everything you own. Screw the screws into the knob or handle and deposit them in the bag. This will be going in the car with you to your new home. If you do not do this, the movers will move them for you. You will spend two weeks unpacking EVERY SINGLE THING YOU HAVE just to find the knobs to your computer desk.

In a larger bag, round up all your remote controls and wireless devices. You will need these when you arrive. You will be so sick of unpacking crap that you will want to watch those DVDs you put in the coffee maker box – which also went in your car – so you can sit down in your living room and watch old episodes of MONK, or a Sinatra movie. You will still be surrounded by junk and boxes, but you will be able to do something other than unpack at night when the lights are not yet installed in the ceiling.

Make up a box of small tools you will need. A wire cutter, electrical tape, zip ties, some screw drivers and a few wrenches (or a vice grip, which does many things including hammer.) You will need them all, and a couple you didn’t pack – so pack a Leatherman to be sure.

Now, put a sign up outside each room with a number. This number is the number of the room where you want the stuff to go when it arrives at your new home. So, room 3 and 1 might be adjacent in your current home, but set apart at the new place – the new place counts.

Clean everything somewhat. Not spotless, for it will pick up paper dust on the wrapping expedition. But get the dust bunnies off the rug – they will otherwise be rolled in for inspection upon arrival – and clean the dish drainer before it is packed. You will find that all of your stuff is disgusting when you arrive, but this will eliminate the need to spend 4 days just cleaning stuff as it comes out of the box.

Moving day have your go bags loaded in the car. If it isn’t in the car, you will not see it for 25 days. Just count on that. Yes, they promised to try, but if there’s a blizzard, strike, anything, the contract reads 21 days (working) in transit. That gives them a month. So throw some sheets in the back of the car you drive and a couple of blankets – plan on a Walmart air mattress the first week. They are $40 with the air pump. Sheets, on the other hand, are expensive.

Have beverages and lunch for the packing crew. Your small act of kindness is repaid in their handling of your stuff. A case of bottled water and a dozen Big Mac’s goes a long way toward your collection of questionable household cleaners making the trip intact.

Hire Got Junk to come and do your house when you leave. Leave behind the crap that isn’t moving (that doesn’t get boxed up by accident) and pay them to make it go away.

We did that, and scheduled professional cleaners to come in and scrub the house, including the attic and the carpets. Now, you might think that’s excessive, but the 700 bucks got the rugs cleaned and the wood polished, in addition to all surfaces cleaned. I don’t even kid myself that I would do that good a job. The goal was to make it shine for prospective buyers. The pictures of the cleaned house were amazing. We got ten times the value of that expenditure out of the increased appeal of the house. Money well spent.

The drive. Plan your stops out ahead. Make sure you have a hotel for every night you are in transit. Reserve them. Make sure they take pets – check the location against local crime maps. Seriously. Nothing is worse than pulling into the hotel lot and having to wait for the crackheads to finish before you can park your car and your family. Also, and most importantly, you may be able to drive to Arizona/Florida/Connecticut in 2 days if you take turns, but it’s a mistake. Drive time for us was 8 hours a day. We got to our destination, let Chewy wander and poop, and had a shower and dinner before 8 each evening – and we never left before 10 in the morning. Just wake up when you wake up and don’t drive past 8 hours. Your body will thank you. I did the long-haul stuff as a young man, but it isn’t in the cards anymore. I’m very glad we took our time driving down here and didn’t have to sweat delays.

Unload the car every night. If you don’t, it will be stolen. Just plan on it. If they can see it through the windows, it’s theirs. A couple of trips in and out of the motel is well worth not losing your stuff.

Snacks:  you must have snacks in the car. Including beverages. Don’t argue, just get a four day supply of your favorites. You will eat them all in 2 days and resupply at a gas station.

Meals. Zounds. Chewy will survive on kibble and some McDonald’s French fries. Kip, on the other hand, is a tougher problem. I am a breakfast person. She is not. We compromised on a meal each day around 1400 at the drive through. Same meal each time. The COVID restrictions meant we ate in the car, most dining rooms were closed. Plan on driving and dining. It saves time. But get out and walk around every two hours for gas and water. Otherwise, at the end of the day, everything hurts even worse.

Arrival. Well, our stuff showed up sooner than we expected. We camped out in the house for 4 nights, and the stuff showed up day 5. There was a 3 day period of non-stop unpacking and Aleve. That is hard work. We hadn’t cleaned going out, so we had to clean it all coming in. But in a week, we had over 50% of the stuff unpacked and in it’s final storage place.

Now, 3 weeks later, we’re down to the last 5 boxes. We know what’s in them, and until we get some lights up and shelves assembled they stay as is. I think that unpacking and sorting a whole house in 3 weeks is really good. We actually had 95% of it done in two weeks exactly. If we hadn’t been so exhausted and muscle sore from the work we would have been done. But we started taking days off to recover. Wise move. I met my goal in spirit. Besides, I’m retired and who cares how long it takes.

Now to the homicide part. You will want to kill everyone in sight at least once in any major move. If your spouse is worth a hoot, they are their own person. They will disagree with you about where stuff goes, or when to hang towel racks, or something. You cannot kill them. They cannot kill you. The contractor who helps with whatever is also not a candidate for homicide. That means you have to hold your tongue, let them have their way, and hope they return the favor. We managed that. It is very stressful to move. It is physically hard work. Doing jail time on top of it is a real downer. Just be nice.

Well, Chewy and I are about done with our breakfast of grapes. It is almost noon, and I have a ceiling fan to hang before I can do other things. I hope this has helped you with your impending move plans.

Oh, another thing: hire competent people to wire/plumb/grade/fence. You may be good at all that stuff, but if you do it all yourself you will learn to hate the end result and resent the time. I’ve been hiring it out, and I honestly think it will cost less in the end than my doing, and redoing, some of these things badly. Straight lines are worth a lot of money.

Be well, and I’ll be back soon with some other observations on a new life in a new place.

Yes, I Am A Blockhead

Today I was upbraided, rightly, for leaving someone out of a conversation. 

This happened not a few days before with another person. 

I also fail, regularly, to include other halves of married couples in correspondence – including my own wife.

All of this is compounded with texting and email. I am horrible and hate texts, so never tag other names onto the texts to include others in the response. Color me voice circuit enabled.

You see, I am insensitive to the needs of others in terms of communicating clearly. It is a thing I work on, but in the wake of my boorish (although benign) behavior, I leave hurt feelings. 

I am working on it. So I would like to take this opportunity to tell each of you that if I fail to respond properly, say thank you promptly, or include you in a group response it is unintentional. I quit wishing people happy birthday on social media a few years ago because I missed too many people and they felt excluded. I thought it, but forgot to type it. Not doing it at all makes everyone happy.

Most of us travel through life like that, leaving wreckage in our wake. I truly mean no harm. But I have a really thick hide and don’t worry when I’m excluded from such things. Not that it wouldn’t be nice, but it is not a game-changer if I’m left out. I forget that others don’t view it the same way.

For that, I am truly sorry. If I wanted to hurt your feelings, I would flame you out big-time, and not a death by a thousand cuts. I don’t even do that much anymore, but I hate the thought that I have hurt someone that I love by being careless.

I will work on it. I hope you just remind me (and not with a warning shot) if I do it to you again. I will continue to listen and try. I’m so far from perfect that I’m a poster child in many places. The “Don’t be like that.” kind of poster. 

But, dang, I look good in the photo.

It’s A Florida Thing

Tonight we were sitting on the lanai (back patio) eating our first real meal in the new house. (The previous meals didn’t count,  because hamburgers.)  

I looked out at the setting sun, the plate of pasta and meatballs in front of me and remarked: “It isn’t really dinner until the sheepdog empties his tanks while you are eating.”  Chewy had wandered to the end of his leash about 20 feet away and let it go. Such is the outdoor life.

I now fully realize just how out of shape I’ve gotten during the lockdown. We’re on day 9 since the boxes arrived and have easily 2/3 unloaded and properly stored. The remaining ones are going to be easy, since they contain my office/recording stuff.  But given the 5-8 hour days we’ve spent unpacking, sorting, cleaning, and shelving the various stuff it’s clear it’s hard work. I’ve never taken so much industrial strength acetaminophen in my life. 

After the first 4 days it was clear we’d die if we kept up the pace. So now we work like serfs one day, and the next run around getting licenses, fire extinguishers, donating stuff we should have left in Minnesota and eating at Waffle House

This morning I had to set my alarm – which I now hate since I’m retired – and get up to make a call at 0730. I hurt so bad from yesterday’s scrub-a-thon that I could barely make it to the kitchen. Once the call was over I went back to bed for 2 hours. Chewy protested and came into the bedroom to grumble. I love him in spite of this.

Now, the real reason I’m writing this blog today: the stuff you find when you unpack.

During the course of our lives together, my wife and I have moved several times. Each time we did a pretty good job opening each box and seeing what was inside. Sometimes they were put in the attic “until” and forgotten. But always opened.

One such box was full of belt buckles and Zippo lighters from the ships I was on. My rule was that I had to actually set foot on the ship, then I’d get a cap, a coffee cup, a belt buckle, and a Zippo. Patches were a bonus, but rare. In the 80’s military world, people would trade Zippo’s with locals for drinks and food on occasion – or a spiffy Carabinieri hat. 

Thus the profusion of those items. I also found letters from home. I am saving those to savor – they arrived while I was deployed. Special moments.

You also, when you scrub every flat surface that comes into the house, find some cool things:

That sticker, found on the underside of a shelving unit that has followed us in our moves from Spain, was from the U.S.S. Pargo. The Pargo has a special place in my heart, as I made two trips on her and got a couple of great sea stories due to her horrendous food. The only sub I ever rode that had bad food. But hey, she’s been razor blades since 1996. As have all my ships.

As I emptied each box and evaluated how important the contents really were, I had some serious time for reflection. The things that seemed very important in 1998 were now trivial. The life events of 1988 were bigger than life after all of these years, and none of those memories got thrown out. Things wear out, are unimportant. Events, memories, people are what sustain you in life. 

My wife and I are taking the day off today, but tomorrow we finish the garage and tackle the great room boxes. Just a few more days and we’ll be done. The exception is the incredible volume of yarn: we have to build some more shelving racks for that stuff.

I hope your memories are not kept in a box for years and lost when you die. Get them out and cherish them today. If you send me a comment on the blog, there might even be a cherished Zippo for you. I have a few extras.