At home. Quarantined. No school. No going to work. Life has changed.

It has been a few weeks since my last post. I had started several posts but never finished them. Much has changed since my last post.

Sadly, we are coming up on day 14 of the 15 days to slow the spread. They call it “flatten the curve”. As it is, I am starting my second week of working from home. Only so much of my job that I can do at home. Lots to do but working on things, trying to access my work computer from home has been difficult.

For the kids, the school year has been cancelled. In New Mexico, we have 208 positive cases out of 10,977 total test as of the latest information on the New Mexico health website. I am sure that the numbers will only increase. At present, no one in Los Alamos County has tested positive, but several people in every county surrounding us has tested positive. It’s just a matter of time I am afraid. But I fear that there will be a rush to return and that will only make things worse. We have been instructed to work from home in order to limit the number of people at work. Well if you cram four to five to ten people per office, the outcome will not be good. Some people have been designated as essential to the national security mission. So for them, work continues. I don’t like to be considered “non essential”!

Yes we will pay in terms of our economy in the short term, but the longer term and many unnecessary lives is not worth it.

Even if you are young, or otherwise healthy, you are at risk and your activities can increase the risk for others. It is crucial that you do your part to slow the spread of the Coronavirus.

The only times we head outside is either out for food, to the grocery store, to walk the dog, or to the stables to feed the horse. Have plenty of supplies in terms of food. Dreary Sunday morning. Ruby is fine.

Ruby at feeding Sunday morning, March 29, 2020.

Spend lots of time reading things on Facebook. Whether it is posts from friends who are similarly locked up inside, or the news spinets that are for or against the President, we all have to pull together to beat this illness.

I find this interesting in a scientific way. Several times a day, I venture to see the updates on the Johns Hopkins website ( https://coronavirus.jhu.edu/map.html ). It saddens me that it is a scoreboard,

From https://coronavirus.jhu.edu/map.html

much like when I turn to CNBC to catch the daily scoreboard of the stock market. Certainly have taken a hit as far as my retirement accounts, but that will recover over time, just like we will recover over time from this illness.

It’s times like these that make me ponder, make reflect, about what are the best things in my life. Family. My kids. This adventure of mine that will soon surpass 59 years on this planet.

I do not have the illness, not that I have been tested. I find myself checking my temperature several times a day. Wash my hands frequently. Drink lots of fluids. However, those damn seasonal allergies make people look at you if you are in the store and sneeze, cough, blow your nose, or look sullen around the eyes.

Soon, this too shall pass, and our lives will return to some semblance of normalcy. I am sure that the dog would like to have her days of peace and quite.

Jewel sitting still for a moment.

Don’t forget to fill out your Census 2020 forms. I did. Every ten years we count the number of Americans, well at least we try…Until then. Everyone stay safe, hug your family, and be careful.

Sunday Morning: horses, birds, poetry and history

Instead of sleeping in this Sunday, I found myself awake at 3 and out of bed before 5. Had this been a normal work day, I’d be up and showered, having my morning coffee, dog fed and planning our morning walk. But it is Sunday. Son is up and having breakfast. Daughter, who was still awake when I went to bed, is still sleeping. Debating about whether to wake her to go feed the horse.

Ruby greeting me…hoping that I have treats for her.

I went to feed the horse by myself and let daughter sleep in. She always comes to the fence to greet me, expecting me to reach into my coat pocket for some cookies. I do and she is happy.

Hay for the morning, and some beet pulp, grain and supplements. Twice a day.

The snow from earlier this week has been melting, and what it leaves behind is a muddy paddock and by the end of the day, an equally muddy horse. She loves to roll on the ground.

The mountains above Los Alamos are covered in snow, as is most of the Jemez and Sangre De Cristo Mountains this time of year.

The mountains vary from 11,000 to over 14,000 feet, depending on which mountain range tour are interested in. The peaks over 14,000 are part of the fourteeners that lie along the Sangre De Cristo mountains in southern Colorado. According to wikipedia, Colorado has over 50 mountains over fourteen thousand feet. Wheeler Peak, northeast of Taos and north of Los Alamos, is the tallest peak in New Mexico and lies along the Sangre De Cristo Mountains at 13,167 feet. Depending on where you are at the stables, you can see it on a clear day.

As it was a nice but lazy day with the kids, and snow on most of the trails, a hike was out of the question. None of us ski, so that was out as well. This day turned out to be just like any other day. Son played video games; daughter spent the day doing drawing and other things in her room. As for me, a restful afternoon of eating, reading and a movie or two.

While at the stables feeding Ruby, I heard many birds. The loudest were the black birds that can be seen and heard throughout most of the area. I spied these two in a tree along the canyon top behind the stables.

A pair of black birds sitting in a tree.

I call them blackbirds, ravens, or crows without really knowing much about the different species of birds. Fortunately I was able to search the internet. The Parajito Environmental Educational Center at the Los Alamos Nature Center (reproduced from https://peecnature.org/bird-of-the-week-the-american-crow/) was able to tell me that the American Crow is easily found all year in Los Alamos County. Because they are closely related to their larger cousin the Common Raven, it can be hard to distinguish Crows from Ravens with only a casual look at one. Crows fly with a steadier wingbeat, while Ravens spend more flying time gliding. If you get a good look at the bird’s beak, you’ll see the Crow’s beak is smaller in relation to its head. If the bird is flying, look at the shape of its tail feathers – Crows’ tails are squarer and Ravens’ are more wedge-shaped. As the pair in the tree did not fly while I was watching them, I could not distinguish the wing shape.

Of course, thinking that they are ravens’ I immediately began to think of the poem by Edgar Allan Poe, of which I can only remember the first line…(reproduced from https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems/48860/the-raven)

Once upon a midnight dreary, while I pondered, weak and weary,
Over many a quaint and curious volume of forgotten lore—
    While I nodded, nearly napping, suddenly there came a tapping,
As of some one gently rapping, rapping at my chamber door.
“’Tis some visitor,” I muttered, “tapping at my chamber door—
            Only this and nothing more.”

    Ah, distinctly I remember it was in the bleak December;
And each separate dying ember wrought its ghost upon the floor.
    Eagerly I wished the morrow;—vainly I had sought to borrow
    From my books surcease of sorrow—sorrow for the lost Lenore—
For the rare and radiant maiden whom the angels name Lenore—
            Nameless here for evermore.

    And the silken, sad, uncertain rustling of each purple curtain
Thrilled me—filled me with fantastic terrors never felt before;
    So that now, to still the beating of my heart, I stood repeating
    “’Tis some visitor entreating entrance at my chamber door—
Some late visitor entreating entrance at my chamber door;—
            This it is and nothing more.”

    Presently my soul grew stronger; hesitating then no longer,
“Sir,” said I, “or Madam, truly your forgiveness I implore;
    But the fact is I was napping, and so gently you came rapping,
    And so faintly you came tapping, tapping at my chamber door,
That I scarce was sure I heard you”—here I opened wide the door;—
            Darkness there and nothing more.

    Deep into that darkness peering, long I stood there wondering, fearing,
Doubting, dreaming dreams no mortal ever dared to dream before;
    But the silence was unbroken, and the stillness gave no token,
    And the only word there spoken was the whispered word, “Lenore?”
This I whispered, and an echo murmured back the word, “Lenore!”—
            Merely this and nothing more.

    Back into the chamber turning, all my soul within me burning,
Soon again I heard a tapping somewhat louder than before.
    “Surely,” said I, “surely that is something at my window lattice;
      Let me see, then, what thereat is, and this mystery explore—
Let my heart be still a moment and this mystery explore;—
            ’Tis the wind and nothing more!”

    Open here I flung the shutter, when, with many a flirt and flutter,
In there stepped a stately Raven of the saintly days of yore;
    Not the least obeisance made he; not a minute stopped or stayed he;
    But, with mien of lord or lady, perched above my chamber door—
Perched upon a bust of Pallas just above my chamber door—
            Perched, and sat, and nothing more.

Then this ebony bird beguiling my sad fancy into smiling,
By the grave and stern decorum of the countenance it wore,
“Though thy crest be shorn and shaven, thou,” I said, “art sure no craven,
Ghastly grim and ancient Raven wandering from the Nightly shore—
Tell me what thy lordly name is on the Night’s Plutonian shore!”
            Quoth the Raven “Nevermore.”

    Much I marvelled this ungainly fowl to hear discourse so plainly,
Though its answer little meaning—little relevancy bore;
    For we cannot help agreeing that no living human being
    Ever yet was blessed with seeing bird above his chamber door—
Bird or beast upon the sculptured bust above his chamber door,
            With such name as “Nevermore.”

    But the Raven, sitting lonely on the placid bust, spoke only
That one word, as if his soul in that one word he did outpour.
    Nothing farther then he uttered—not a feather then he fluttered—
    Till I scarcely more than muttered “Other friends have flown before—
On the morrow he will leave me, as my Hopes have flown before.”
            Then the bird said “Nevermore.”

    Startled at the stillness broken by reply so aptly spoken,
“Doubtless,” said I, “what it utters is its only stock and store
    Caught from some unhappy master whom unmerciful Disaster
    Followed fast and followed faster till his songs one burden bore—
Till the dirges of his Hope that melancholy burden bore
            Of ‘Never—nevermore’.”

    But the Raven still beguiling all my fancy into smiling,
Straight I wheeled a cushioned seat in front of bird, and bust and door;
    Then, upon the velvet sinking, I betook myself to linking
    Fancy unto fancy, thinking what this ominous bird of yore—
What this grim, ungainly, ghastly, gaunt, and ominous bird of yore
            Meant in croaking “Nevermore.”

    This I sat engaged in guessing, but no syllable expressing
To the fowl whose fiery eyes now burned into my bosom’s core;
    This and more I sat divining, with my head at ease reclining
    On the cushion’s velvet lining that the lamp-light gloated o’er,
But whose velvet-violet lining with the lamp-light gloating o’er,
She shall press, ah, nevermore!

    Then, methought, the air grew denser, perfumed from an unseen censer
Swung by Seraphim whose foot-falls tinkled on the tufted floor.
    “Wretch,” I cried, “thy God hath lent thee—by these angels he hath sent thee
    Respite—respite and nepenthe from thy memories of Lenore;
Quaff, oh quaff this kind nepenthe and forget this lost Lenore!”
            Quoth the Raven “Nevermore.”

    “Prophet!” said I, “thing of evil!—prophet still, if bird or devil!—
Whether Tempter sent, or whether tempest tossed thee here ashore,
    Desolate yet all undaunted, on this desert land enchanted—
    On this home by Horror haunted—tell me truly, I implore—
Is there—is there balm in Gilead?—tell me—tell me, I implore!”
            Quoth the Raven “Nevermore.”

    “Prophet!” said I, “thing of evil!—prophet still, if bird or devil!
By that Heaven that bends above us—by that God we both adore—
    Tell this soul with sorrow laden if, within the distant Aidenn,
    It shall clasp a sainted maiden whom the angels name Lenore—
Clasp a rare and radiant maiden whom the angels name Lenore.”
            Quoth the Raven “Nevermore.”

    “Be that word our sign of parting, bird or fiend!” I shrieked, upstarting—
“Get thee back into the tempest and the Night’s Plutonian shore!
    Leave no black plume as a token of that lie thy soul hath spoken!
    Leave my loneliness unbroken!—quit the bust above my door!
Take thy beak from out my heart, and take thy form from off my door!”
            Quoth the Raven “Nevermore.”

    And the Raven, never flitting, still is sitting, still is sitting
On the pallid bust of Pallas just above my chamber door;
    And his eyes have all the seeming of a demon’s that is dreaming,
    And the lamp-light o’er him streaming throws his shadow on the floor;
And my soul from out that shadow that lies floating on the floor
            Shall be lifted—nevermore!

As a kid, the family would go camping at Poe Valley and Poe Paddy State Parks beck in central Pennsylvania. The parks are named for Big Poe Creek, which runs through the area. There one would also hear the sounds of blackbirds, crows or ravens. Growing up, we were told that Edgar Allen Poe wrote the poem “The Raven” while visiting the area. This is not true by most literary accounts, but nonetheless, makes for an interesting tie between my early life in Pennsylvania to my present life in New Mexico. All of this, based on a bird, Indian tribes, history, and nature…

This folklore is associated with an old inn called the Eutaw House, located in Potters Mills at the intersection of Route 322 and Route 144. The Eutaw House has been in existence for over two centuries. General James Potter, who was notably an aide to George Washington during the American Revolution, originally owned the ground where the building sits today. After Gen. Potter’s death, his children built a log cabin on his property. Later the log cabin would become the Eutaw House and go through a few more renovations. During its early years, the house served as a major inn for early pioneers and travelers. The house was named after the local Eutaw Indian tribe.

As anyone could imagine with the Eutaw House being around for a few centuries, it has gathered some ghost stories through the years. Ghostly shapes have been seen in mirrors throughout the building. In the kitchen and restaurant, trays and plates have been known to flip over or fall off tables. Patrons and employees have seen apparitions and shadows move in the hallways and rooms. One story tells of a prisoner being shot or hung in the attic during the 1800s and a different story says that it was a tree at the corner of the property. During one of the early Indian raids on the Eutaw house, one Indian is said to have been hung on the large old tree. Hearing a rope “thud” or creaking noise has been reported near the tree to this day.

Even with all the ghostly happenings at the Eutaw House, its most interesting story is the speculation that Edgar Allen Poe had once stayed the night at the Inn. Some early folklorists have written that Edgar Allen Poe had once visited the Centre County area and was even inspired to write a few stories such as the Raven during his travels through Central Pennsylvania. The only evidence that leads some credibility is the initial “EAP” that are carved into one of the oldest tables in the Eutaw House. Historians today doubt the legend of Poe’s journey to Centre County, but it makes for a good story nonetheless. ( reproduced from http://discoverypa.blogspot.com/2015/10/edgar-allen-poes-visit-to-central.html)

Well that is enough for today. Hope you enjoy the stories and how a simple thought can span decades, through nature, and have ties into history.

The Tree of Liberty

As I filter through my daily FaceBook feed, I often find articles or comments from readers about a famous quote of Thomas Jefferson. The quote is often associated with an article about gun control. The quote is “the tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots.“ I find it to be a great quote and clearly it is used by those who favor the 2nd amendment to comment about those who are against it. It is often suggestive of foreshadowing of a new American Civil War in some writings. Some people take their guns, and the rights guaranteed by the 2nd amendment, very seriously. Pretty sure that is not how Jefferson meant it, or that many of modern politicians who quote it, place it in the correct context.

Never really thought about the meaning behind the quote. I like it. It is adequate because I also think the 2nd amendment does not allow the government to infringe upon our rights to have guns, to bare arms. That said, I think that there can be some restrictions. I do not need to own an F15 with sidewinder missiles. That said, I understand that Joe Biden plans to send F15’s with bombs and missiles to take my guns away if elected. Not gonna happen! And to be honest, I wish all cars were equipped with sidewinder missiles to allow me to control my road rage by just simply removing bad drivers on the road.

Today’s post is my first in 2020. I have been very negligent about writing in the new year. Funk and frustration still abound me each and every day. Most of my writing and reading of late has been work related. Doubt they will ever get posted here. OK, maybe one, but we shall save that for another time. This first post of 2020 is not about guns, whether you are for or against. Yes, it probably is something about politics, but I’m not going to say “Go Trump” or “let’s burn Bernie”. I’ll save those for another time too.

Tonight, I came home from work, having experienced what was a bad day to a totally unproductive week. On my Facebook page, I posted the following:

It wasn’t the post that got me thinking about the Jefferson quote. It was what I did next…

Yes. After a long and stressful day at the end of a long and stressful week, I poured myself some bourbon. Just one. No more than two fingers. Over a little ice. Tasted great as I pondered the day and made dinner for myself and the kids. The bottle has Thomas Jefferson on the back. That is what got me thinking about the Jefferson quote. And not so much about the quote, but where did it come from? What did it mean?

I actually have a nice book collection and one of my books is a collection of Writings by Thomas Jefferson. It took awhile, but I was able to find that the quote is embedded in a letter written to William Smith in 1787 about the New Constitution and to “endeavor to shew civilities to all the Americans who come here…” Jefferson was in Paris in 1787, trying to negotiate new commerce treaties between European countries and our young republic. Smith we come to understand is the son-in-law of John Adams. The letter then goes on to talk about the “lies about our being in anarchy”. It then briefly covers Massachusetts and the rebellion, the forerunner of death to the public liberty and what country can preserve it’s liberties if their rulers are not warned from time to time that their people preserve the spirit or resistance?

Paris Nov. 13. 1787. Extract from Thomas Jefferson letter to William Stephens Smith
The New Constitution

…the people can not be all, & always, well informed. the part which is wrong [. . .] will be discontented in proportion to the importance of the facts they misconceive. if they remain quiet under such misconceptions it is a lethargy, the forerunner of death to the public liberty. we have had 13 states independant 11 years. there has been one rebellion. that comes to one rebellion in a century & a half for each state. what country before ever existed a century & half without a rebellion? & what country can preserve it’s liberties if their rulers are not warned from time to time that their people preserve the spirit of resistance? let them take arms. the remedy is to set them right as to facts, pardon & pacify them. what signify a few lives lost in a century or two? the tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots & tyrants. it is it’s natural manure…

It ends with a discussion of the new Constitution. That new constitution was the Articles of Confederation. Jefferson did not like the Articles, based upon other readings, his letter to Smith was to declare his opposition to the governmental structure that the Articles created. State’s power over the federal government. The Articles were drafted by James Madison. The rebellion that he speaks of is not the American Revolution. Rather it is the Shay’s Rebellion, an armed uprising in Western Massachusetts in opposition to a debt crisis among the citizenry and the state government’s increased efforts to collect taxes both on individuals and their trades; the fight took place mostly in and around Springfield during 1786 and 1787. We find out that the problems of a weak national government eventually led to the end of the Articles of Confederation and led to a Constitutional Convention.

We also find through other readings that Madison and Jefferson were friends. Madison was the major architect of this new Constitution (influenced by Jefferson); Madison is the father of the Bill of Rights, and one of the strongest proponents of the rights of religious liberty in America; the co-author of The Federalist and a founder of the Democratic-Republican Party in the 1790s. This party later evolved into the modern Democratic Party, but more resembles today’s Republican Party. This is because both Jefferson and Madison favored a limited role for government.

The Constitution of the United States

Natural manure. It ties nicely with Ruby, our horse. From guns, to a crappy day, to drinking some good bourbon, to a history lesson. What a great way to start my new year with a new posting on TheMcKeeSpot. Many themes developed here, all worthy of more detail in a later posting.

End of the year 2019

Twice this week I had the intention of writing several posts since I have been off for about a week now. Historically, the lab closes between Christmas and New Year’s, so the week is one without work and vacation is taken to compensate my lack of salary. Aside from the normal days that I was required to take off (paid as in vacation or unpaid as in leave without pay), an additional day of vacation gets me two weeks off. Not a bad deal if one plans accordingly.

So here I sit New Years Eve 2019 (6am December 31 to be exact) and contemplate the good, the bad, and the ugly of 2019 and ponder what 2020 may have in store for me.

See the source image
Yes, I borrowed this image from the internet. Source: https://the2020deadline.twinsystems.com/
Adequate image of the road I am still taking.

Work was rather stressful for me this year. More so than in past years. Still doing the same thing, but management sucks. They don’t have a clue about what they need to do to get things done. Spend too much time planning, developing schedules, tracking costs and performance. I literally sit in several hour-long meetings each week tracking where we were, where we are going. Why did this take twice as long? Why was this not completed on Tuesday? We need more resources? We cannot process x until y and z is finished, but z will take new work procedures and set us back weeks. Team BLAH BLAH BLAH failed to do this task last month, they had 6 months to complete it. This list of excuses goes on and on. The accomplishments become fewer. Over the past 40 days of planned work, I think we actually managed to be productive for 8 of those days. More difficult these days to pull rabbits out of my hat…they usually are pulled from my ass! Requirements not met, equipment not available, resources pulled for higher priority tasks, so and so called in sick. I find myself enjoying it less and less. YES, I actually still enjoy my job and even though the bull shit has increased exponentially, I still get some satisfaction when even the smallest task is accomplished. More often than not, I now just put in my time, get stuff done and just collect the paycheck. That said, it is clear that the return from investment continues to decrease. One puts in more time and gets less and less done. THIS DOES NOT MEAN THAT I AM WORKING 60, 70, OR EVEN 80 HOURS A WEEK, like I did when I was younger. It means that it takes two, three, four times as long to get things done. In scheduling, I call that the pi factor. If the task duration is 1 day, I multiply the duration by pi (3.14159). Such a nerd I can be at times. And even that creates a “success-oriented schedule” that usually fails. Funk and frustration redux…

An anniversary of sorts happened before the holiday’s. I celebrated my 29th anniversary working at the lab. I guess that you can say that over my 58 years, I have lived in this area of the country (New Mexico) the most. Pennsylvania comes in second, living 18 years near Lewistown, PA. Happy Anniversary.

With that milestone comes the obvious. What are my plans for the future? Should I retire? Can I retire? When will I retire? Do I have enough money saved in order to retire? What does it mean to retire? Where do I see myself over the next 5 years? 10 years? 20 years? 50 years? Where will I live? Will I just make that change and go do something totally different.

By many analyses, I am expected to live at least another 20 years, which would mean that I would live until I am 78. Advances in medicine and such could tack on another 5 years. Of course all of this depends on how health I am currently. Have I taken care of myself? Are their things in my family history or how I currently live that could adjust that? Hell, I could die in a car crash tomorrow and never see my 59th birthday. I don’t exercise enough? I don’t drink enough red wine? I am considered obese yet managed to lose and keep off 15 pounds this year. My blood pressure is under control with medication, but my doctor thinks I need to look at my sleep habits. No thanks. I have survived 40 years sleeping on average 4 hours a night. And yes, I have read that 7 is the preferred number of hours of sleep required to be healthy. The whole concept of life expectancy, health and actuarial tables is interesting, yet at the same time somewhat morbid. Given all of that, I have planned to lived until I am 92. That is another 34 years, minimum.

Maybe I should write a “year in review” post. What did I accomplish in the past year? What did I write about during the course of this year but need to update? Did I ever finish reading “Atlas Shrugged”? Well that is an easy one to answer. My copy has 1168 pages and I am on page 90. So NO, I have not finished the book that I have started to read thrice before. I seem to stop reading at about 120 pages and so, the copy that I purchased in the summer of 2011 has some wear and tear, but remains unfinished. Should I make this a New Year’s resolution for 2020? I do need to spend more time reading.

I am never very good in the resolutions. Every year it is the same. Eat better, exercise more, spend less. Stop and smell the roses. Reduce the clutter in my house. Am I still in the rut that has plagued me and that I have written about in the past? Is my frustration and funk continuing into 2020? If I had my magic 8 ball, what would it say? “All signs point to yes”? There is another thing to contemplate. How is my mental health and how does that interact with life expectancy. Stress is not a good thing. What can I do to reduce or relieve my stress?

I am a single (divorced) white male with a dog. I have read that that divorce and male are bad in terms of life expectancy, but having a dog is good. I take dog for walk, and so I get some exercise. Jewel likes her walks and gets upset when we don’t go for a walk each and every day. That too is good, except for it being 6:30 in the morning and single digits outside like today. Snow on the ground. It is cold, there is some wind, and I have been stuck in the house for the past few days, screaming at the TV about bad officiating in several football games. OHIO STATE WAS ROBBED by bad officiating in their game.

Staying inside has other bad effects. I eat too much, don’t get enough exercise, and BAM! Put on a few pounds. Eat, drink and be merry. Get an exercise bike and set it in the living room. Read, watch TV and exercise at the same time. Unfortunately I eat too much because I try my hand at cooking. It is the only Chemistry that I perform these days. One of the posts that I had contemplated over the past week was on cooking, complete with before and after photo’s. Last night I made sausage, fennel and pasta. Over the years I have diverged

See the source image
Looks what I made last night, except I did not have any grated cheese to finish it off. Yes, I borrowed this picture as well, from https://www.finecooking.com/recipe/penne-with-sausage-fennel-and-pecorino. The recipe is close to what I use, except for the quantity of ingredients.

somewhat from the recipe. I add my own proportions of the ingredients. Equal amounts of fennel and onion. More than what is typically called for in the recipe, but not too much. Typically one fennel bulb (large) and one medium white onion. I love to cook with onions. Diced tomato instead of tomato paste. It was good, and with control, I have enough to last for several meals for myself. The kids don’t care for it. Even though it is made with love, it takes time. Processed food is easier to prepare. One can Kraft Mac and Cheese between commercials. But processed foods I read are not good for you. BTW, Mac and Cheese is good with Hatch Green Chile (and so are cheesy grits). Have not added green chile to this recipe yet. Red pepper works fine to add heat.

I could probably go on and on. But I will end it here. Let’s say good bye to 2019 and hello to 2020. No resolutions agreed upon, or posted, written down, placed on FaceBook. Just try and live every day to its fullest. Hoping that tomorrow is better than yesterday.

Without heat in the modern age

For the past few weeks, I have been troubleshooting a problem with my gas furnace. It was kicking on and off frequently. It was having difficulty reaching the thermostats set temperature. My three level house was cold on the inside. It was colder on the outside.

My daughter’s horse Ruby had gotten clipped about two weeks ago. The shaving of the thick coat of hair requires that she be blanketed when the weather becomes bad and when the temperature falls below 40F. As it often does in northern New Mexico for this time of year, we have rain, freezing rain, snow. The temperatures can fall into the teens at night. The wind chill can make it very, very cold.

This morning, as I write this post, it is cold and raining. Snow is in the forecast. It is a dreary day outside with no heat to speak of. It’s 33 as I grab my boots to get daughter up in order to go feed the horse. Inside is equally cold. It is only 62 and son is out of control playing with the dog.

Ruby has no problem with the cold weather. She gets plenty of hay, a warm and waterproof blanket, and a stall to keep her covered if the weather is bad. But she is a horse, so often we find her outside when the rain or snow is falling.

Now to the furnace. It was inspected when I bought the place a few years back. Worked fine. Of late, it hasn’t been very efficient in keeping the house warm. I figure it is about as old as the house, but not that elements have been upgraded based on the dates of various pieces of equipment. The furnace is a gas-fired water boiler that is the center of a hydronic heating system. The system heats water and circulates it through the various radiators on the three levels of the house.

The furnace appears to work fine in that it kicks on and heats gas. The problems appear to be (1) the zone valves are not working in all zones, and (2) the water lines that circulate during the heating cycle do not have water. This may be why the zone valves have stopped working. This explains why the heat wasn’t getting to the set thermostat setting. No water to circulate, no water to heat. Time to call in the repairman because I am not very good at things mechanical.

Easier said then done. I called on five different outfits. Left messages with three. No return call. Talked to a nice lady on Thursday who could not fit me in until Friday. On the fifth attempt, I was able to get a technician out late in the day. He spent an hour looking at the system. Didn’t fix anything. Couldn’t understand where the circulating water went or why it wasn’t filling. Clogged valve? He took many pictures and said he would call on Friday. Friday came. He called and said that I needed some new parts that would take time to order and receive. So there I was. This weekend and into next week without any heat. Was suppose to have a follow up call to authorize the parts. Nothing. Called Friday. Email and called Saturday. Nothing. Finally, a woman called me to acknowledge the email but had no information. No knowledge about parts, or when then could work on the system. Would call me first thing Monday.

In the mean time, I found the replacement parts on the internet. Some can be purchased at Home Depot and Lowe’s. Wanted to gauge the price of the parts because I am sure they will be marked up significantly. I get skeptical when they say that they need to bring it up to code! Cha-Ching! Wanted to see about ordering the parts if the repair company decides not to call me back. Caution…Based on experience.

So what are The kids and I doing for heat? The house has a fireplace so we have wood. Will probably do that today as it is cold and raining outside. We also have a space heater that has been working nonstop since Friday. Sleep has been great with a couple of blankets and a warm dog to curl up with me.

The question is will they call back? When. When will they order the parts and how long before they arrive? Will they even call me back? I leave for business travel next week. My house will have no heat for a couple of days but it looks like the weather will cooperate. The aquarium has a water heater so the fish will be ok. Jonny the hamster has lots of bedding so he should be fine.

Will it be fixed for Christmas? May be that is what I’ll ask Santa as my present?

More importantly, when will I learn that things don’t last forever. They do require maintenance. Things, and animals, and people, do require proper care if they are to last for a long time.

Divorce, debt, and diatribe

It’s that time of the month where I sit down to pay the bills and track my budget and figure out financially where I am going in the coming year. Before my divorce, I was very frugal. No credit card balances to speak of. No outstanding debts except a mortgage. It was save, save, save. Emergency fund. Savings for college for the kids. Check. Savings for a beach house. Yep, it’s what the family wanted. Savings for retirement. Planned to work to age 52. Everything was on track.

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Then it came all crashing down. I managed to keep my retirement account untouched in our amicable, negotiated settlement. But I managed to pick up massive debt. Rent became a new mortgage. Child support became half of my paycheck and yet I had the kids half of the time. A personal loan to cover expenses incurred during my divorce. Lost significant savings. My doldrums that I encountered during the divorce were handled by some extravagant spending on trips, on stuff, on junk. No control. No problem, just charge it. New furniture for a house. Buy whatever the kids wanted. LEGO’s and horse things, fish and birds and guinea pigs. Exercise equipment to better myself. Books to read, learn to play the guitar, eat better food, drink better wine. Bourbon and scotch. Hobbies. I literally found myself in debt.

Now, as I stand on the precipice of retirement, I find myself still digging myself our of that debt. Granted, I am probably better off than most Americans. A good paying job. A 401k and pension for retirement. A roof over my head. Not living paycheck to paycheck. Yet there it is. DEBT.

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So here I am this Sunday morning after Thanksgiving, paying my bills. No, I am not thankful for that debt. I am thankful that I can manage it. Started looking at the interest rates that are charged for monthly balances. My Chase Freedom Card carries an interest rate of 13.99%. They calculate it by taking the prime rate and then add their costs on top. The Wall Street Journal carries the prime rate, which is currently listed at 5.25%. From the internet, I learned that the prime interest rate, or prime lending rate, is largely determined by the federal funds rate, which is the overnight rate that banks use to lend to one another. Also, it is stated that the FOMC (Federal Open Market Committee, which is comprised of the 12 Federal Reserve Banks) has voted to lower the. target range for the fed funds rate to 2.00% – 2.25%.

So JP Morgan Chase charges me 8.74% to use their money when I charge something to my credit card and then carry a balance. Wow! My local bank pays me 0.10% for what I save in my savings account, and less for my checking account. It’s much worse when I look at my American Express Delta SkyMiles card. There the rate is 21.99%. A whopping 16.74% to use their money. It was my Amex card that just started me on this rant this morning. My annual fee was being increased to $99 a year. That’s $99 just to carry the card, get some frequent flyer miles if I use it. All of this for the luxury to not pay to travel with one bag on an airline. Not really sure if it is worth. I think that I can leave home without it.

Why so much for using their money? Well, the are a business. They need to make a profit. They have millions of credit cards in use. They get paid every time I use their card. And if I carry a balance, they get paid again by charging me interest. By my math, that is between 8 and 16%. Sweet if you can get it for your savings account. Some people pay them off every month. Some do not. Some incur large debts and then just don’t pay them. Guess that means that those of us who honor our debts are also paying for theirs. Why should I pay for someone else? I have my family to keep.

As a business, they have shareholders, including myself. I like my stock price to go up, my dividends to increase. After all, I need my 401k to cover me when I retire. They have employees who have families just like me. They have CEO’s who make ridiculously large salaries. I am not picking on Jamie Dimon; he certainly works hard for his money and has added value to his company. JP Morgan made $31,500,000,000 profit in 2018. Jamie Dimon got a 5% raise in 2018, and made a salary of $31,000,000. Now if you were like me, my raise was less than 2%. No bonus, no stocks, no performance-based variable incentive compensation. Jamie’s salary was a base salary of $1.5 million and a “performance-based variable incentive compensation” of $29.5 million, split as $5 million of that in cash, and $24.5 million in the form of “performance share units”, a fancy word for extra shares of stock. I could not find how much Jamie personally donated to charity in 2018, but I know JP Morgan Chase donated millions.

I don’t necessarily begrudge Mr Dimon for his money. There are others who do, like Elizabeth Warren. She is running for President. She has a plan, and as near as I can tell, a tax for everything. She wants to expand government into everything. In 2018, Warren made about $325,000 from book sales in addition to her $175,000 salary from the Senate. Her husband was paid about $400,000 from Harvard. Explains why it is so expensive to go to college. The couple paid about $46,000 last year for a solar energy installation on their home in Massachusetts, and received about $15,000 in tax credits, and they donated more than $50,000 to charity. All told, the Warren’s paid more than $200,000 in taxes on about $900,000 in income last year, based on their tax returns. By my math, they made about $100,000 on investment income. Don’t worry, Joe Biden did better. Can’t say that about Donald Trump. Yet we know that he took no salary and did not release his tax returns.

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So as it is now 24 shopping days before Christmas, it’s time to go shopping. No iPhone 11 for me or the kids, the iPhone 6 works just fine. No trip to someplace warm for the holidays. It’s currently 22 and with snow on the ground. No Black Friday. No Cyber Monday for me. Just gather up my kids lists and then off we go. Soon we will have another Star Wars movie in the theaters. Then it will be tax time and another election.

It has been over a month

It has been about six weeks since my last post. I started writing several posts but never finished them. They are drafted and sit. Unfinished, they will probably get wrapped up in future writings. The last one that I drafted was about taking the kids out for trick or treat on Halloween night. Daughter went dressed as a squirrel, son as Michael Meyers. We did the usual route which is around their mothers neighborhood. They took their usual haul of candy. If previous years our any gauge, eating candy will grow old after a few days and it will sit, get hard and then be thrown away. I get all of the Almond Joy’s because it’s my favorite. This year, as in years past, two houses had treats for the adults. Scotch at one place and rye whiskey at the other. That was the most alcohol that I consumed in weeks.

Weather is getting chilly here in New Mexico. This year I finally bought a new winter coat after a few years. My previous coat was a ski jacket that I bought about 25 years ago. This was for the very cold days, when it gets in the teens or lower. I had a couple other coats for most of my winter years. The ski jacket wore quite well, but the zipper would break after a few years. Send it back to the company (Columbia) and they would fix it. After about four returns, they didn’t fix it. They just sent me a new coat. Cool. Then the zipper breakage would continue. I would send it back and they would fix it. I point out the zipper because I have quite a collection of fairly new coats that the only problem is a broken zipper. Two coats from Patagonia, a North Face jacket, and a few others.

I considered it a conspiracy: one of planned obsolescence. The zippers would break and I would be forced to get a new coat. Need to find a place to get the zippers fixed, or learn myself. As it is, some of the coats probably no longer fit. It’s always the zipper. Never a tear, or hole, or ripped seam. It’s always the zipper.

Now I have observed that my pants have a planned obsolescence in another way. All my Lee jeans would rip in the same place…the crotch would rip at the seam. For Wrangler jeans, I first loose a belt loop. It is typically the one on the back left above the pocket. I guess from trying to pull my pants up. In all cases, all of my jeans would shrink and be too tight to fit.

Work has been hectic of late. Nothing positive to note there. Just going through the motions. Another day in paradise. Management is a joke. Thinking of late about retirement. Some of my coworkers have cut the cord, others are like me. Thinking about it. Some have dates in mind. I do not. Still trying to define a post retirement plan. Clearly still in a funk.

Well I will try to get back on track and post more often. Enough rambling for the night. Thanks to all of the folks who serve.