Monday, December 26, 2016

A Transcendent Christmas Experience

I hope that everyone has been enjoying a peaceful holiday season. All of my celebratory gatherings took place before the actual holiday, so I spent the weekend enjoying quiet time - mostly cooking, and eating, and watching silly Christmas movies into oblivion.

I wonder... exactly how many times can a person watch White Christmas before they'd have to admit that they had a problem? 😉

I can't help myself. I just melt when Bing sings the "Blessings" song to Rosemary.
And you know, somewhere between the mashed potatoes, the Brussels sprouts and Danny Kaye's antics, I had a realization. This is the first Christmas in 7 years that I haven't been either grieving a recent loss (family, friend or feline) or anticipating one in the very near future.

Just writing those words down is like heaving an enormous sigh of relief. I dunno... it almost feels like years of tension melting away or something.

Of course, it's not like everything is nice and rosy. I mean American democracy is hovering on the brink, the climate situation in the Arctic is getting really alarming, and honestly, the renewed talk of nuclear tensions has me reliving fears that I haven't felt since childhood, when I was quite convinced that nuclear Armageddon would arrive long before I ever got the chance to grow up.

But somehow, I seem to have turned a corner, and I'm feeling much more at peace with it all.

In a funny way it started at the solstice dinner with my parents.

We had a quiet celebration this year - and at one point the conversation got quite introspective. We're all very concerned about the political situation, but my dad has made a decision to disengage from the news and stop filling his psyche with a daily dose of doom when there's nothing he can do about it.

Instead, he's immersed himself in a book about the Permian extinction - that's Dad's version of light reading. Anyhow, he's found great comfort in the fact that even though the majority of species died out, some survived, including a few "proto-mammals" which eventually evolved into humans. Apparently they survived by living largely underground... hunkered down as it were, and that seems to be Dad's plan for surviving the next four years.

That got my stepmom to talking about her childhood in Nazi Germany. She was quite young during the war, but the memories of both her own experiences and her family stories seem very fresh. She basically said that even when your country gets taken over by a fascist, and horrors are unfolding all around you, life still goes on.

Even when they had to run to the basement several times a day because of the bombings, and when you had to be extremely careful because expressing the "wrong" political opinion could end up being a death sentence... they still had to get up every morning, wash the dishes, do the laundry, put dinner on the table and basically go on with life.

She talked about how a lot of people found solace through gardening. I think it was partly a survival thing since food shortages were common, but she said there was also something very life-affirming about it. Even when the world is falling apart around you, spring still comes, seeds still sprout, and life continues.

Maybe it was the wine, but somewhere between the proto-mammals and the gardens of Nazi Germany, I had an amazing experience. I was suddenly overcome by the sense that all of these problems are temporary, and that we (meaning we as spiritual beings, not necessarily human beings) have existed long before all of this, and that we will continue to exist long after it's all been forgotten.

Honestly, I'm not really sure how to explain it, it was almost an out of body sort of a feeling - like I was floating through the cosmos or something.

It was incredibly comforting - like a sudden insight that even if the worst happens, I mean even if human beings were to completely destroy themselves and/or the planet, everything will be still be OK.

I know this sounds corny, especially coming from a person who isn't a Christian, but maybe that's what Christmas celebrations (or solstice celebrations in general) are really all about. It's not necessarily a celebration of today, but a promise of light and life to come.

Anyhow, that's my little transcendent Christmas experience... and boy, did I need it! I have to say that I'm feeling much better than I have in a very long time.

I hope you all had a wonderful holiday, and may the returning of the light fill each and every one of you with love, peace, and joy for the year to come.

Saturday, December 17, 2016

Cold Turkey

Well folks, it's been an interesting past week or so.

First of all, it's been crazy weather. Thursday was gorgeous with temperatures in the mid-60s (around 18C). So CatMan and I went for a nice long bike ride.

Usually, in these parts, warm days in the winter are caused by a down-slope wind off of the mountains, which generally means a big storm is a brewin'. Here's a photo from that ride showing the cool "mountain wave clouds" that typically form under such circumstances.

I did my best to soak up the warmth and enjoy every minute on the bike because I knew that this was coming...

And don't let that blue sky and sunshine fool you, it's only about 7 degrees (-14C) out there!

Anyhow, at least I got some exercise shoveling, because since we got more like 8 inches, rather than the 1-2 that were predicted, I'm thinkin' it might be a while before I'm back on the bike again.

But... when I do, I hope to be prepared. I finally bit the bullet and bought something called Bar Mitts. They're basically these neoprene sleeves that go over your handlebars creating a "pocket" for your hands where you can work the breaks and shifters without having to expose your hands to the cold temps.

CatMan has been teasing me incessantly about my "Bar Mitts Fa" and I have to admit that they do sorta look ridiculous, but it's made a world of difference for my freezing fingers. The best part is that you can toss one of those little hand warmers into each one and the whole thing warms up nicely. You still have to wear gloves under them because air comes in from the top, but they do keep your hands out of the wind and infinitely warmer than they would be otherwise.

But aside from the weather, there's been another little challenge in my life lately.

I think my tendency to take things to heart a tad bit too much has gotten to me since the election. Seriously, I can't escape the feeling that doom is upon us and life as we know it is about to cease.

Anyhow, on election night I got a terrible headache, and while it waxed and waned a bit, I just couldn't shake the thing.

Normally, a bit of caffeine and some ibuprofen will take care of it in a few days, but it seems I got myself into a cycle of rebound headaches and my misery factor was getting quite high. To top it off, I was suffering from horrible heartburn pretty much every day which made it almost impossible to sleep at night, and the cycle was sorta spinning out of control.

Anyhow, a bit of web research indicated that both ibuprofen and caffeine are bad for heartburn, and while both can ease a headache in the short term, they also leave one vulnerable to the dreaded rebound headache. So about a week ago I decided to go cold turkey on both.
Let me tell you, the first few days were complete misery. I seriously worried that my head might explode or something.

But it's been steadily getting better, and while neither the headaches nor the heartburn are completely gone, I am feeling much better. Hopefully I can keep this up without succumbing to the siren song of morning coffee. I do miss it, but I'm thinking that au naturale is probably better in the long run.

Anyhow, that's the news from chez kitty. Anybody out there ever gone cold turkey on caffeine? I'd love to hear how you did it. Hope you're all stayin' warm out there!

Thursday, December 8, 2016

Meanwhile at the Ends of the Earth...

I know we've all been captivated by elections, and pipelines, and holidays, and whatnot - but just in case you've missed it, there are some very, um.... interesting things happening at our earth's poles right now.

Basically, both the Arctic and the Antarctic hit new record lows for sea ice extent in November. This is pretty much unheard of and it has scientists a tad bit panicked concerned.

Here's the picture in the Arctic:

And while that graph might look disheartening... it's not quite as alarming as this one:

Yes... it's true that it's just one month, and even if the trend were to continue throughout the season it's possible that it's just an anomaly.

What's the old saying? Oh I know: One month of historically low sea ice doth not a global emergency OMG we've hit the tipping point and now the feedback loops are all kicking in and WE'RE ALL GONNA DIE!!! disaster make. But it is quite interesting.

Anyhow, there are lots of articles on the topic, but this one in the Washington Post is a good summary of the situation in case you're curious.

Somehow I am oddly comforted by the idea that we might be on the cusp of something really bad environmentally speaking. It's not that I want anyone to suffer, but somehow the prospect of a species-threatening environmental catastrophe sorta puts things like my mother's estate or paying for health insurance into perspective.

I dunno... It just seems like everywhere I turn I see powerful people trying to grab more power, and conflicts over resources and control.

But honestly, I just can't escape the sensation that we're all fighting over... errr, I mean rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic.

Anyhow, I have no what to do with this information, but I thought you should know. At the moment this is the best advice I can come up with:

You've been warned!!

Saturday, December 3, 2016

An Update, and a Santa Story

Hello there world!

OK... this post will be much less whiny than the last few have been... I promise!

So first of all, an update. My geeking has been coming along nicely.

Long story short, I've been re-writing websites and setting up new servers. The learning curve is steep, but I think I'm turning the corner. All of my sites are now mobile-compatible, the one that was crashing all the time has finally stopped misbehaving, and once I get things transferred to the new server I'll be able to cut nearly $100/month off of my expenses. Plus, having a better understanding of what's going on "under the hood" can only be good, right? So, a big woo hoo on that front!

I've also stepped up my game in terms of making new content for my sites - which is actually the part that I really enjoy. My latest accomplishment is falling snow gifs... Waddya think?

That brings me to my little Santa story. For some reason, I woke up this morning thinking about this, and thought it might give you all a little chuckle. So here's a little holiday humor for you.

One year, I decided to leave out some cookies and milk for Santa.

When I got up on Christmas morning, I was delighted to see that a few of the cookies were gone, and half of the milk had been drunk. BUT, on closer inspection, I was horrified to see that the rim of the glass had lipstick on it!!! WHAT?!?!

Needless to say, this was a very disturbing development. And there were only a few possible explanations.

Option one: My mother had stolen the cookies and milk left for Santa.

She, of course denied this, and really, it didn't make logical sense. I mean, there were plenty more cookies, and gallons of milk in the kitchen, if she'd wanted some, she could have just gotten them there.

Soooo... option two: There really was no Santa and my mother had been impersonating him by eating the cookies and drinking the milk.

But, I was not quite ready to believe that, sooo....

That left only one more plausible explanation: Santa was a cross dresser!
Don't ask me why, but that's where my seven year old little brain went, and for a few hours I was thoroughly convinced that my transvestite Santa was real. But as the day wore on, I just couldn't quite come to terms with the lipstick and the beard, and finally had to accept the sad reality that there was, in fact, no Santa Clause.

True story.

Anyhow, that's the news from the funny farm.

I'm sure everyone can remember that first moment when they realized that there really was no Santa Clause... I'd love to hear yours!

Sunday, November 20, 2016

Coming Out of the Fog

Well, where to begin....

First of all, I want to thank all of you for your kind, supportive and helpful comments in regards to my situation with my brother.

I was finally able to speak with him, and I feel much better at least in the sense of not being so angry with him anymore. I'm still not sure that he'll be able to get it together to actually close out the estate, but I tried to help him craft a plan with concrete steps for moving forward and he did actually follow through with step one. So we'll see how it goes.

So, I sorta feel like it's been an entire lifetime since I last posted. I've been really sick - caught a bad case of bronchitis about a week an a half ago, and then I did something to my neck and have been dealing with muscle spasms, so I feel a bit as though I've been in a stupor of sorts.

On top of that, the weather has been downright schizophrenic. Over the course of 24 hours we went from 80 degree (27C) summer-like heat, to this:

It got down into the teens the night after the snowfall (-9C) - holy moly!  Truth be told, we were long overdue for some winter weather - this was the third latest first snowfall in Denver history, but still - a temperature swing of 65 degrees over 36 hours felt a tad bit extreme and otherworldly.

Then, of course, there's the election. I was as shocked as everyone by the outcome, and while I have plenty of political opinions on the whole thing, there doesn't seem to be much point in focusing on that stuff. Instead, I'm trying to craft a plan to deal with the very real fallout that the change of political climate will have in my own life.

As a self-employed person, I get my health insurance through the exchange, and no matter what happens, I think it's a safe bet that the ACA (Obamacare) will be going away. Trump has promised that they will replace it with something "better," but if house Republicans have their way, they'll be repealing the ACA immediately. Either way, I think it's prudent for me to be prepared.

Of course, that begs the question... prepared for what? I think it's sort of hard to say, but since all of the proposals I've heard involve doing away with both the subsidies and the restrictions on how much insurance companies can bump up prices for older people, I'm pretty sure my insurance costs will skyrocket - that is, assuming I can still get insurance.

The only thing I really have to go on is what things looked like for the self-employed before the ACA, and well... it's sort of grim. Back then, most self-employed people I knew who were over 50 were lucky to get a catastrophic care policy for under $1000/month. Many were paying in the neighborhood of $1200-$1500 per month, and often that was for a policy that excluded pre-existing conditions. Gulp.

So, I'm sort of figuring that I'm gonna need somewhere in the neighborhood of $15-$20K annually for health care costs. And since they're also talking about dismantling Medicare, I think it's safe to assume that even after age 65, I'll be paying a lot more for health care than I thought.

As you may have guessed, that amount of money is simply not in my budget at the moment. All of this means that I'm gonna have to make some big changes in my life strategy, and focus all of my energies on making money for a while.

To that end, for the past week and a half I've spent pretty much every waking moment (or at least those when I wasn't coughing up a lung or swacked out on muscle relaxants) working on my business.

Whether I'll be able to continue to support myself being self-employed remains to be seen, but I've put my geek hat back on, and so far I've taught myself to write Wordpress themes, I'm learning how to write apps, and I'm researching cloud hosting and other strategies to cut my business costs to the bone.

What this all means for the future of this blog... well, I'm not sure. I hope to continue blogging, though it will certainly have to take a back seat for a while, and I may end up reworking some of the material I've written into a eBook or two.

I'm not really happy about that prospect, but desperate times call for desperate measures, and if that move allows me to continue to be self-employed rather than becoming an employee again, it will be well worth it.

So there you have it. Heavy sighs all around.

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Guys, I Need Some Advice

OK, first of all - I'm sorry for a downer post, that has nothing to do with cats, or simple living, or minimalism, or anything else having to do with this blog - and that is admittedly a bit of a rant. But I really feel like I need some input from people who are completely removed from this situation.

So here's my conundrum. You might remember that my mother died suddenly back in 2013. She and I were pretty much estranged - which is a whole different topic, but somewhat relevant to the current situation.

Long story short - my parents divorced when I was 4 and my brother was 6. I'm not entirely sure how to describe the psychology of what happened next, other than to say that it was somewhat Freudian. Dad moved out, and my mother and brother became increasingly close, while my relationship with both my mother and brother became increasingly distant, hostile, and competitive. By the time I was in Jr. High school, I had basically moved into the basement of our house, and was, to a great extent, treated more like a roommate than a member of the family - or at least, that's how it felt from my end. And the distance and hostility between my mother and I only got worse from there.

By the time of her death, she and I would communicate a few times a year via email and that was about it. The distance was mostly my doing, because I simply couldn't take the hostility and other "stuff" (too complicated to go into) that was part and parcel of dealing with her.  Meanwhile, she and my brother had weekly phone conversations, spent all their holidays and vacations together, etc., and. well, that's basically the only significant relationship my brother has ever had - at least as far as I can tell. He's never had a close friend, or even a non-close friend, just work related acquaintances. He's always had a distant and adversarial relationship with my father, and he's never dated anyone or really had much of any social interactions outside of those with my mother - at least that I know of.

So when she died suddenly, I felt like it was only proper for me to take a backseat to my brother in terms of settling the estate etc. I did end up planning the funeral (which was a little weird) but my brother honestly didn't seem capable of making the necessary decisions, and was actually quite grateful that I offered to do it.

But, dealing with the estate has been a whole different matter. My mother didn't have a will, and my brother wanted to administer the estate, so I said that was fine, and agreed that I would do whatever he needed or wanted me to do to help him.

Now, I don't know how these sorts of things "normally" go, but honestly, it's just been really, really strange from day one. He's been bizarrely possessive of her belongings - all with the guise that he's following some sort of legal framework. But it's all been quite nonsensical.

Here are a few examples: Mom was into crafts, especially basket making. So I thought it would be nice if we brought some of her baskets to the funeral to display, and then let people take one as a memento if they wanted. He refused - stating that we didn't own the baskets, the estate did, and that we didn't have the legal authority to give them away or even display them at the funeral. In the end they all got taken to a thrift store.

Similarly, my mother had one fairly close friend - the two of them used to enjoy going to crafts fairs together. Anyhow, this friend asked if she could have a few things that my mother had bought during one of those outings - just a few trinkets - a letter opener and something else that I can't remember. My brother started insisting that she pay us for them. I couldn't take it on that one, and told the friend that she could have the items, and then told my brother that I would pay for them. Finally that one ended when I contacted the paralegal helping with the estate to enlist her help in gathering the items, and I got her to call my brother and convince him that it was OK to give Mom's friend the items.

Then there are the letters. My mother had apparently written a number of letters addressed to me which she never mailed. I have no idea what's in these letters, or when they were written, or really anything else about them, because my brother gathered them up and has refused to let me see them or have them - once again stating that they belong to the estate, not to me. This one really burned me, but I decided to just let it go. Maybe some day I'll get to read the letters, maybe I won't. And depending on what they say, that could be a good or bad thing.

So anyhow, that's how things went with the estate. Every step has been like pulling teeth. And finally about 2 years ago, I just gave up and stopped making offers of help, or nudging him, or even asking how it was going. At that point, the only thing that was still hanging fire was a time share condo that she owned (where the two of them used to vacation). He said he didn't want the thing, and I surely don't, but you can't really sell those things, so he's just been sitting on it paying out the $1000 maintenance fee each year. I had tried and tried and tried to help him by doing research on how to get rid or it, and I tried to get him to call them and see if we could simply deed it back to the company - but nothing. I thought about going behind his back and calling the company, but decided against it. That's where it all got left 2 years ago. Then, about 6 months ago out of the blue, I got an email from my brother saying that he'd finally called the timeshare company (I'm wondering if maybe they contacted him) and discovered that we could actually deed it back to them for a $200 fee - imagine that. Anyhow, I replied that we should do that, and that's the last I ever heard of it.

So that brings us to today (well mostly - I left out a lot of gory details). I received a legal notice from the lawyer handling the estate saying that he's withdrawing effective mid-November. Basically he's going to be retiring soon and is clearing out cases that haven't, ahem, had any activity in over a year.

I called my brother to talk about it, but he didn't pick up the phone, so I left a message expressing my concern. I was out today when he called back and left a very curt and angry message saying that it wasn't anything to worry about, that he was working on locating another lawyer, and that he didn't think there was anything to discuss.

I honestly don't think there is anything left to "settle" where the estate is concerned. Most of her money (such as it was) was in a retirement account, and since she had named us both as beneficiaries, that money was simply divided between the two of us without going through probate. The rest is pretty inconsequential in terms of the amount. Her house (trailer, actually) was sold, and most of her belongings liquidated within the first 6 months or so after she died, so I just don't understand why the estate is still not settled. I'm sure there's some sort of document to be filed or something official that has to be done in order to declare the thing finished, but my brother seems either unwilling or unable to take that step.

So here's my conundrum. I gave up years ago, and had pretty much assumed that the estate would just never be settled. But now this has re-opened the whole ugly topic, so I'm trying to decide if I should do anything (meaning call my brother back and ask him what the hold up is, and/or suggest that we just settle it now rather than getting a new lawyer) or if I should just stay out of it and let him do what he's gonna do.

It's pretty clear to me that my brother is much more of an emotional mess than I ever realized, and that on some level he's just not capable of bringing this to closure - either that, or he's just really angry with me and is being passive aggressive. I don't really want to push him or upset him, but it has been over three years, and I really don't like the idea of having an unsettled legal matter hanging over my head.

So what would you do? Both CatMan and my father think that I should push it, at least to a point. CatMan thinks I should go so far as to petition the court to take over the estate, but both Dad and I are pretty dead set against that one. Honestly, I just don't know what to do. Part of me is concerned that pushing it might actually cause my brother to do something crazy - not exactly sure what sort of crazy, but it just seems like he's not exactly functioning normally, and I wouldn't want to be responsible for pushing him over some sort of emotional edge.

I'm really sorry to write such a long, ranting and negative post, but I'm just feeling like I need some outside thoughts on this one. I'd be totally grateful for any ideas y'all might have. Sigh.

Saturday, October 15, 2016

Indian Summer

Well, I thought I'd take a break from the organizing posts to share some photos from my recent bike rides. We're enjoying a fabulously beautiful "Indian Summer" here in the Mile High City, and I have to say that I'm feeling totally spoiled.

Usually by this time of year we've already had at least one snowstorm, but this year it's just been absolutely gorgeous. I mean, it's really hard to complain about temps in the mid-80's in mid-October (that's around 29C for those who don't speak Fahrenheit.)

Anyhow, here are some photos from recent bike trips:

This is Bear Creek - it's one of the creeks that comes in from the mountains and feeds the South Platte River. This photo was shot about a month ago in a little park just west of the town of Morrison, at the foothills of the Rocky Mountains.

This next photo is Chatfield Reservoir. It's one of three flood control reservoirs built to protect the city of Denver. It's built at the confluence of the South Platte and Plum Creek. This picture was taken a few weeks ago before the leaves started to turn.

Another photo of Chatfield - actually taken at the same spot looking the other direction. There's been a lot of erosion lately because we've had several major flood events in recent years, so at the left side of this photo you can see where the bike path just disappears into nothing. I love how the erosion exposed the roots of that tree too.

OK, this photo is back at Morrison Park along Bear Creek - shot yesterday, It was a picture perfect day for a bike ride!

This picture isn't perfectly in focus, but it's better than most of my attempts to capture an image of the "meepers" as I call the prairie dogs. Can you see the little guy peeking out from his hole in the center near the top of the picture? There are colonies all along the greenbelt - this picture was taken up north of the city where Clear Creek (which runs through Golden, CO) enters the South Platte. Don't know what those yellow flowers are, but apparently they don't taste good because the prairie dogs seem to leave them alone.

OK, now we're back along the Bear Creek trail again. This picture is shot from near the top of the Bear Creek Dam looking down over the Metro area. This photo was taken yesterday - what an amazing day!

Now we're a few miles further west - just outside of the town of Morrison, up above the park where the creek runs. This is just a generic view of the foothills taken a few weeks ago.

Another shot taken up above Morrison, only facing the other direction. You can see the iconic Red Rocks park (and amphitheater) in the background, with some beautiful rabbitbrush in full bloom in the foreground.

And finally, about a mile from home, as I'm racing to get back before dark! There have been some wonderful sunsets this fall.

I really do feel spoiled with this beautiful weather, but I'm hoping we get some moisture soon because the fire danger is getting to be extreme.

So what's the weather been like in your neck of the woods? Sending good thoughts to all of my friends in the southeast and northwest - I'm hoping you've all weathered the recent storms without incident.