greatbear: (me and mom)
I know not everyone has the best of relationships with their mothers, I was fortunate enough to have the greatest mom ever, in so many words. It's pushing nine years since I lost her to cancer, and I still get upset at times, as though it just happened. I miss her so much.

I was fortunate enough fifteen years ago to be accepted into Jeff's family, with his mom and dad treating me like one of their own from the get-go. Jeff and I make it a point to head north and visit for both Mother's and Father's Days. Last year, in the legal sense, Jeff's family became mine when we got married (here's another take on "for better and for worse" being that some of the extended family are, to say it nicely, not easy to live with). Mother's Day is a somber sort of affair, since she's now deep in the grip of Alzheimer's disease and is pretty much off in her own tiny world. Every now and then we will be treated to a little ray of light from that tiny world.

I've been fortunate enough to have two moms, but having lost one and now having one so far out of reach, this day gets harder and harder to take.
greatbear: (static)
Well, at least I had a pretty decent run since around the time of our wedding til a couple days ago. Once again, my lower back decided to crumble from beneath me and I am again a hunched-over invalid in lots of pain, needing a cane to get around and no longer leaving the house. While it is not nearly as bad as my situation last year at about this time, it's similar to my original symptoms that eventually needed surgery to fix, and after that first surgery I was left permanently affected with nerve troubles. At least I can sleep mostly normally this time, unlike last year where laying down was impossible in any form. I am hoping this is a temporary setback that won't require trips to the doctors or worse. This all flared up late last week while I was doing the last bit of electrical work on the house. I was installing an electrical outlet in the entryway in order to plug in an illuminated console cabinet, a task I've been wanting to get to for over twenty years (I definitely put the "pro" in procrastination). This involved walking back and forth from one room to another, squatting or sitting on the floor, making holes in walls and fishing cable, among other involved tasks. Perhaps it wouldn't have been so bad if I had noticed before that the wiring in the wall was 12gauge instead of the 14guage I had assumed, and needed to start over. Halfway through the work and with live wires sticking out from the wall and many of the remaining outlets in the living room dead, I couldn't stop, so I finished everything and cleaned up despite the increasing, excruciating pain. If there's a bright spot in any of this, I had gotten most of my numerous current projects and tasks completed, save for taping/spackling/sanding the reconfigured wall between the entryway and living room, and the paint and trim work. Jeff's excitement of me also finally finishing the skylight project I began 4 years ago will be dashed once again. As usual, I feel like I let him down, which I feel is often the case. I just can't catch a break anymore.

We were set to go watch Penn State play Maryland up in PA, but I sent him up along with Snickles, with Kodi and I staying behind to rest. Snickles likes to take the long walks at least twice a day in order to do his doggie business, and those walks were a big part of my exercise routine, many times 5 miles or more. Those are definitely out, and while I can simply let Kodi out of the house by himself to do his thing, Snickles needs to be leashed and walked lest he take off to points unknown, his only issue remaining since we've had him in training. We have also some shows/concerts in the works, and I'm afraid I will lose out on those too. If there is a silver lining in the cloud this weekend, there was more family drama that erupted during my absence, and this is one thing I want no parts of. I am no longer technically an outsider and will hold not one damn thing when it comes to the intra-family drama, feuding and attitude problems. Seriously, there are Jerry Springer levels of lying, thieving, homophobia, bigotry, closet cases, mental illness, addiction and more in the extended family, and both of us are glad to be far enough from it not to deal with it on a daily basis. Still, it creeps in over the phone, emails and text messages, and it makes stress levels go up. If it weren't for his mom and dad, we both would remove ourselves from any further contact. It's nearly always some stupid issue whenever the siblings call. This is why I 1) am so glad I am an only child with no other family and 2) I refuse to be dragged into this nonsense. I have no problem telling them where to go, nor with the amount of broken noses I might leave in my wake.

As my dear readers can probably imagine, I am going stir crazy already, I hate laying about doing nothing. I was like a smiling pig in a big puddle of slop doing all these projects and more, and setting up ideas and supplies for the next thing on the evolving list. Lots of momentum was brought to a complete halt now, and while I might not be literally climbing the walls, I am bracing myself against them as I move about. I just gotta focus my energies on things that don't require much movement. The one thing I have managed to avoid so far in all of this is a return to taking the narcotic pain killers I had needed the last time. The side effects are something I just don't want to deal with unless the pain becomes totally unbearable, and I definitely don't want to go through the detox process again either.

Finally, I consider this the "third strike." Since I initially was beset with these back problems and the lingering damage and disability afterward, I could not bring myself to file for permanent disability. I figured I would be able to pull myself out of it all eventually and head back to the workforce until my official retirement date (or even after), but I am beginning to face the fact that that day does not appear to be coming anymore. This is the biggest hit to my pride that I can think of besides the disability itself, as I have always, always been proud of my independent nature, my ability to literally lift myself from poverty to living in what is currently the second-richest county in the US, and to be able to handle whatever might come my way. My ego didn't want to face this day, and it's looming larger than ever. I feel I am giving up. I have run out of options by all measures, and it kills me t think about it.

greatbear: (jeff and me)
My how time flies when you are having fun. And it flies even faster it seems when one is very busy and there seems not enough time in a day to get everything done. My apologies for not updating everyone since our big day. It's almost two weeks ago, and yet it seems like just yesterday. We've had some time for things to "soak in" and to get a feel for any "changes." Well, in so many ways the days after don't appear any different. But for the two of us, there's a new feeling of belonging, of protecting, of being closer. Hard to describe, but it's definitely something. The days just after the wedding seem to be a blur. The cleaning up, the opening of gifts, the catching up on work set aside while we were tying the knot. The following weekend was July 4th/Independence Day. To beat the holiday traffic, we headed up to PA at zero dark-thirty Friday morning for our monthly visit with family there, despite many of them coming down the week before. Jeff really wanted to visit with his mom at the nursing home. We got there early to find her in good spirits. Since we got there earlier than we usually do, we spent our time with her before lunch, and we hung around as she had her meal. With Jeff's help, she ate heartily. He and I along with Dad concluded our visit as mom began to fall asleep, looking quite contented. Some of our visits in the past were quite depressing. This one was different. We hung out longer than we usually do. Everything seemed more upbeat, especially after Jeff told her that we had gotten married. Somehow, I have a feeling she understood.

Later that day we had a chance to meet the newest addition to my family. There, I said it. My family. With the loss of my mother, I had no more family I could truly call my own. No longer cast adrift, I now am part of a growing family. I guess that is one of those "different" feelings I have now that me and Jeff are married. No family is perfect, and mine (I said it again! Wow...) has some fraying at the fringes, but the core is solid, and I have more relatives than I ever had in my life. Anyway, sorry for the aside, but, well, something hit me as I was putting these words down. I also needed a couple tissues. Where was I... Ah, the new addition. Jeff's oldest niece, her husband and their adorable daughter (who was to be our flower girl) had been slated to join us for the wedding, but had to bow out, as she had just given birth to a beautiful little girl. The many pictures being sent and shared through Facebook can only go so far. We finally got to set eyes on the little gal, and she stole our hearts in an instant.

Meet Brooke:

Once again, Jeff and I are grand-uncles. Only a bit off from being grandpas. I have the perfect bald head and white beard for the role too, I suppose. But here we now have another focus for our love and attention. I couldn't be happier. Brooke is a delight and full of facial expressions. She's so tiny, barely more than a handful for me. But she snuggled in my arms and fell asleep, a contented look on her face not unlike we had seen earlier in the day. Our spirits lifted high, we headed back to dad's with smiles on our faces that I don't think have worn off completely even now.

We scooted home on Saturday afternoon, traffic-free and started bringing things back to normal at La Casa Mayhem. I've been sorting through pictures, wrestling with a new VPN/firewall/router as well as the (hopefully) final work on the LAN and PC upgrades for a while. Vehicles needed tending to, as well as some of the outdoor/garden equipment and the trailer. We finally got new cell phones, and Jeff finally meets the '10s head on as the proud owner of a smartphone. The rush begins anew as we get things done and ready for vacation. Yeah, PTown again, during Bear Week, but due to work constraints with Jeff, we won't get there until Thursday. We'll be saying through the week after, and we'll be running into quite a few of the folks who were down here with us on our big day. I keep saying we do PTown "in spite of" Bear Week, instead enjoying running across our extended friends and "family" during the days. I have a feeling we'll be enjoying ourself like we usually do, but with a little something extra. I won't know it until I sense it, and I'll try my best to share. It might be a bit late, but, well, that's me I guess. ;)
greatbear: (picture start)
I guess it's time for me to bid Ye Olde Yeare farewell. 2013 kicked our asses here, but with the setbacks came rebuilding and healing. We started on our way with a good outlook, lots of plans and energy and it went well until April, when we got the call that Jeff's parents' house was on fire. His mom was not in danger, being in a nursing home. Luckily, we happened to have dad with us at the time. While the house burned completely, the most important contents were safe. Rebuilding went well and was pretty painless, all of us having varying degrees of input and effort in the process, now dad has a nice, safe, comfortable new place. A lot seemed lost as well, but even that held some surprises. While the family lamented the loss of beloved family portraits and pictures, I realized a bit later that I had scanned most of them several years back as part of a little project to fill a digital photo frame with those prints as a gift for mom. I looked through backups and found the scans, which were adequate for reprinting. I had printed two of the most treasured ones to give to dad on his birthday, while he was still living in our camper. I think it was that particular moment in time he realized that all wasn't lost, and things will turn out for the better once everything was mostly finished. I'm happy to say that has mostly been the case. His only regret is that mom is completely unable to share in the rebuilding and good fortune. And I agree. But I have no doubt that she would've really liked how it has all turned out.

Jeff has had a decent run so far with his new job at the hospital. It's not entirely frustration free, but it is a far cry from the last gig. He's still called on to work some holidays and weekends, this time it includes New Year's day, and he did have to work today as well. This does change, someone else will have to be manager on duty for this time next year. It is also far more predictable and fairly flexible, we can plan our things around working weekends and holidays, and, if needed, some things can be changed. Gone is the total unpredictability and downright frustration of working in government services and for/with people who are completely inept and with political bents.

As for me, well, I did start off the year on a high note of sorts. I had planned on making good use of my "unplanned retirement" to fix up the house and yard, taking care of long-term repairs to make my elder years better off for both of us. The fire did sidetrack some of our vacation plans, but we did manage our major PTown trip with complete success. I was on my way toward major house repairs and upgrades, as well as taking care of vehicles with things such as new tires and other longform maintenance so I wouldn't have to worry about such things for at least several years. I had started on some garage and workshop upgrades, new tools and machinery to end just about any reliance I might've had on outside sources for repairs and upkeep of vehicles, electronics, house and yard stuff and whatnot. Our garden was beginning to produce produce, and things were going well. Then I injured my back, far worse pain that I had experienced before with similar troubles, and it knocked me back big time. Te pain, near complete immobility for months put a lot of progress to a halt. The subsequent surgery didn't immediately result in relief, in fact, things got far worse for several weeks before any improvements began to show. In the last month now I've become more mobile and active, but still needing a lot of physical therapy. Around the house I can get around without the cane, walker or other assistance, and I've even begun venturing away from the house leaving the cane behind if I know I won't be walking far. I've even begun to tackle some of the simpler tasks, projects and goodies I had been forced away from since early September. I'm still not without difficulties, I overexerted myself the day before yesterday working on vehicles and am feeling it today, but it is important I keep on moving, walking and standing. I still walk with a very pronounced hunching over, and standing upright is a monumental task at times. But, I can say each week has been bringing about more relief and returns to normalcy.

2013 might have been a year less of setbacks as it has become more a prospect of gaining some traction. I hope 2014 continues this trend. Jeff and I have some pretty mean plans for the new year. Getting married, some cool trips, sharing our successes and good times with friends and family, and hopefully increasing our circle of friends along the way. More fun outings like concerts, shows and more. I'm looking forward to improving quality of life here a Mayhem Acres so life down the road is less hassling and more fun. Wish us all luck.

Happy New Year to my LJ family and friends. You're a hardscrabble bunch, hanging in here. You deserve a great 2014.
greatbear: (seasons greetings)
Jeff and I hustled up to his hometown on Saturday, it was our last chance to be with his family before Christmas, being that the holiday falls in the middle of the week this year and Jeff couldn't get time off for the real thing. He was also determined to visit his mom in the nursing home as well. The last few visits we found her pretty much not sure of who we were. Earlier in the week I was daydreaming as I am wont to do a lot these days. I was hoping his mom would be a bit more "herself", unlikely as that would ever be, for just this time as a Christmas present to Jeff. When we arrived at the home, mom was just finishing up having lunch. We watched her from the big windows around the cafeteria as the nurse went in to bring her out. When the nurse pointed to us outside the window to tell her she had visitors, we saw her say, plain as day, "that's my son." I could barely contain my glee, and Jeff was ecstatic. We sat with her in a side room, presented her with the xmas gift we brought, which was a lap blanket to help keep her comfy. She held the box tight as we helped her open it up, she looked at and touched the blanket and seemed, at least to me, like she was trying to process what was going on. We all sat and talked for a while, then me, dad, and Jeff's sister left to go and get a little something for the nursing home staff, for all their work and care, while Jeff and mom had a chance to sit quietly together by themselves. At the shopping center across the highway from the home, we found a gigantic box of Whitman's chocolates. The trek in and out of the home plus to and from the store as well as the shopping took a toll on me, and I sat in the truck with the pooches as dad and sis took the gift in for the staff. Jeff returned with everyone soon after, with an undeniably happy look on his face. While we were out, Jeff had turned on the little stereo in the activity room we had been in, and Jeff and his mom quietly listened to Christmas music together. He had given the staff the chocolates, which they were thrilled to receive. It seems not a lot of people consider all the work that staff does, and visitors probably don't bring much to them as far as gifts or tokens of appreciation. I have a feeling more than a few of the residents are forgotten this time of year, as unfortunate as that truly is. We could never be like that.

Later that day, Jeff's niece, her hubby and their adorable little one came up for an early Christmas with all of us. We had picked up a little Disney Princess powered three-wheel scooter for our little grand-niece, and she was thrilled to get it. Once assembled, she rode it around the basement and was having a blast. It was also the chance for Jeff's niece to break the news to dad that she is pregnant once again (we already knew). To do this, she got a jar of Prego tomato sauce, stuck a post-it with the word "I'm" above the Prego name and a copy of the sonogram below. Once dad figured it out, it appeared he already knew, which is not surprising given the gossipy nature of small towns like theirs. If all goes well, we will have a new addition to the family in or around early June. Dad was happy to get some tomato sauce too.

One Sunday, we, along with Jeff's sister, hubby, and two boys, had our early Christmas dinner together. It was also nice because the oldest was home from college for the holidays, so we got a chance to catch up. Even our pooches had some fun, especially when sis and company brought their little ankle-biter over and Snickles and her chased each other around the house having a blast. After all the fun, food and frolic, we headed back home to the land of Mayhem where Jeff watched his Dallas Cowboys squeak out a win while he yelled obscenities and cheered touchdowns on the teevee. Our dinner at home was more sandwiches and snacks rather than anything official, given we already had a big meal mid-day. The evening is quiet now, as I sit in the Mayhem Bunker writing this while a new PC for the lab bench gets set up, filled with updates and more updates, and gets my standard loadset of software. A little bit of music rounds it all out.

Indeed, sometimes life is good.
greatbear: (fucking painting trees)
Jeff and I had a really nice little T-Day together once he got home. The turkey had already been in the oven for a while, so when he came through the door there was that takes-you-back aroma of the holidays in the air. I insisted on helping out with more kitchen duties, using my rollabout tool cart as a mobile mashed potato making station. Dinner was wonderful, the turkey so amazingly good, the simple accompaniments (the aforementioned mashed potatoes that no one makes like I do, a bit of sweet potatoes, fresh asparagus and, of course, homemade stuffing) absolutely perfect for the two of us. This was also the first time in many years that Jeff and I had an actual whole turkey for ourselves. We usually head up to Jeff's parental HQ and have diner with them and varying numbers of auxiliary familial units. We usually bring a whole turkey with us, and if we (more often than not) have a dinner here at home as well, we pick up a turkey breast. When having turkey up north, tradition dictates the bird is fully disassembled into slices before bringing it to table in order to let people grab what they want. Jeff was practically giddy to be able to carve the turkey for us at the dinner table. I honestly can't remember the last time we did this aside from the days when Mom was with us. Though I tend to eat very little these days since the injuries and surgeries, I ate more than I have in one sitting for ages. It was That. Good.

Of course, once dinner was cleared away, the football games came on and Jeff was in his glory. I joined in, naturally. It's almost more fun watching Jeff watch the games than watching them directly. We relaxed and had dessert. More teevee was watched until Jeff started to get tired and headed off to bed for his short work day tomorrow. I was going to have a nice shower and climb into bed with the heady feeling of a nice big meal spent at home with family. As my contemporary luck would have it, a big old spanner was thrown into the machinery as my stitches suddenly let go when I was in the bathroom. That resulted in at least a half pint of blood going all over me but thankfully mostly into the toilet. I called Jeff out of his recently begun slumber to help me out. I bled profusely for a couple minutes at most, then stopped. Once cleaned up I asked Jeff what he saw back there. I could feel the surgi-strips still in place (these look like short pieces of tape criss-crossing the incision, put there to help hold the immediate area together against the normal stress) which Jeff confirmed. The doc had use absorb-able sutures rather than staples or permanent sutures that required later removal for this procedure, and I think they gave out before their time was no longer needed. We put some heavy gauze and stretchy wide rubber tape to hold my insides in, and as of this morning, things seem high and dry. I had stopped taking some of my usual pain killers earlier in the day, and since some of these were either acetaminophen or ibuprofens, I lucked out and didn't have lots of blood thinners running around. I try not to constantly drown myself in pain killers or any other "optional" meds just so I know what it truly feels like, although the anti-inflammatory aspects of those meds are part of the healing process especially early on. Right now I am just achy and sore, but I'll take that over leaking at every gasket for now. A bit of oxycodone sans NSAID took care of the nerve pain I am still beset with.

All I can think right now is I don't know what I did to deserve all this medical hell. At one time I was healthy as a horse and strong as an ox. Those days seem long gone. I have a followup visit with the surgeon on Tuesday. He's getting an earful.

As for those who say "that which doesn't kill us, makes us stronger"...

greatbear: (forearms)
I know, I'm being a bad blogger, no real content for some time. I've been mostly busy, but not a whole lot of that busy-ness I figured would be post worthy. Let me try and fish up some highlights.

Jeff's college-bound nephew has been staying with us a couple days. In true Awesome Gay Uncleâ„¢ fashion, we've been taking him back-to-school shopping. Between the Columbia Mall and Costco, the trunk of the Strat is packed tight with everything from a printer to clothing with a bit of everything else in between. He's excited about his future, I'm happy to play a part in that as, of course, is Jeff.

When I take our proud freshman back to Pennsylvania, I have to pack the car with several big coolers, because dad bought an entire pig (well, the parts of said pig, actually) and is giving us half. Last year around this time while we were on vacation, we lost two freezers full of meat and other foodstuffs when the power was out for about a week. Part of that was meat we had shared similarly in the past. This offering was a gift from dad simply because he has now reached a point in time where he has settled down in his new place since the fire and feels this was maybe some sort of repayment for our efforts during his rough time. Well, no repayment was ever necessary, but this will be appreciated. Mmmm... porkchops...

Since our trailer sustained some minor damage from the radiant heat from the fire, we had coverage from the insurance company to have it repaired. We had hoped to do this before our trip to PTown, but it seemed the outfit doing the work had problems getting all the necessary parts. Wisely, I put off the repairs until we returned from the trip just in case the time in the shop took longer than the week we were initially quoted. I shlepped the trailer up to the shop the day after returning from vacation in mid-July. It is still not finished. Various excuses from wrong parts to health issues. While I was disappointed to cancel our other planned camping trips involving the trailer for the year, I'm now glad I did. This ordeal would've been far more frustrating otherwise. I'm hoping the thing will be done in another week. I'm tired of crashing my knees and shins on the hitch/ball mount still sticking from the back of the truck. I know once I removed it a call would come to pick up the trailer. #firstworldproblems

Years ago (omg 70s!) I used to have a Univox Super Fuzz distortion pedal, back in the days when I was pretty serious about playing guitar. This was a basic stompbox from the mid-late 60s with a limited repertoire of sounds (two filter settings, an overdrive and gain control) and, frankly, sounded like crap by comparison to newer tech in the early 80s. So, I gave it away to a friend who was getting into guitar. He had it for a while and got rid of it too, I think he sold it or gave it away. It's long gone. The other day I came across a database of various effects along with links to ones currently for sale. I looked up some of my past gear, some of which is going for more than I paid for them new. The Univox? People want 700-800 dollars for ones in worst shape than mine was! I think I paid a princely sum of about five dollars for it back in '76. Sadly, I am considering selling off some or all of my axes, amps, effects and other music gear, I haven't played in years. I get frustrated when I try, injuries, age and total lack of practice have a tendency to do that. I was never really that good to begin with, but I had fun while it lasted. Then there is that unbelievable convergence of circumstances that ended up with a brush with some of progressive rock's greatest artists and an inclusion of my random guitar noodling on an actual released album. If nothing else, I can play Six Degrees of Separation between me and most of my rock/fusion/jazz heroes using only a finger or two at most to keep track. I still love music over my other pursuits, but I'm content being a listener these days.

Speaking of luck, I've been working on the fleet of vehicles here at Mayhem HQ, it seems all of them have, in one way or another, needed or are needing rather expensive maintenance and/or upgrades. The truck needed tires before our big trip, plus some PM and upgrades. The Stratus, being a 2000 model, needs some attention too, I have a small pile of wear items that I've been putting off installing, plus it too needs new tires. Even the Mini Cooper is needing attention; though it still seems to me like I recently bought the car, it's over ten years old already and starting to show its age. It hadn't been driven in some time, so I decided to finally give it some TLC and needed repairs. I had it idling in the driveway with the hood open as I fixed the rear wiper and window washer. I turned off the engine and began heading to the house, and I hear hissing sounds. I turn around to see smoke billowing out from behind the engine and then flames. I run and get the fire extinguisher and put out the fire. Seems an oil line from an aftermarket oil catch can had broken, once I shut off the engine the oil leaked into the hot exhaust header and ignited. There was very little damage, luckily, and it took all of five dollars to repair the damage and cause of the problem as well as some time to remove some heat shields and other parts to clean up the remaining mess. This could have been a lot worse. Later that day I was going to take the car to run errands, if the hood were shut and I walked away from the car, the flames would most likely have reached a nearby fuel line and the car would've been toast. So, despite the relatively minor setback, it actually did more to get me thinking about things.

I look at life from both sides now (what, more music? =D). My health isn't the greatest, but I'm still getting on with life as I can. Jeff's parents lost their house, but I am glad his dad was with us and his mom safely in a nursing home at the time of the fire. Dad has a new place he can be proud of, and even though he lost a lot, we are finding some goodies in the salvaged stuff still to this day that might not be much, but mean a lot. I lost my job last year, but I'm in a position where I can go on hiatus and take care of things here while I decide what steps to take. I don't know if I want to get back into the same type of mind- and skill-heavy work I am accustomed to, or something less challenging for my older years. I stay pretty busy here at All That Is Mayhem, Jeff has a good job now that does keep him on his toes, but we manage to get out now and then for fun, friends and culture when we can. We have some cool things coming up to look forward to. I remain very independent and have abilities, skills and the means to give us a good life and not worry too much when something unexpected comes up. As long as I have my health, my home and my Jeff, I think I'll be alright for a long time to come.

Well, damn

Apr. 2nd, 2013 11:56 pm
greatbear: (static)
This was supposed to be a post detailing how Jeff and I, along with his dad and nephew plus his nephew's friend I had all picked up from Pennsylvania Wednesday afternoon, spent the last several days in a truly kick-ass cleanup and beautification project here in Mayhem Acres. Trees were cut, brush removed, dumptruck loads of mulch spread, debris chipped and shredded, you name it. Not only was a lot of work to be done, but time off to get good food, play video games, watch movies and go shopping and sightseeing in the downtime hours. It was something we had planned months ago to coincide with the arrival of spring as well as spring break from school. We were finally to attend to yard damage and general neglect going way back before the blizzard of 2010 that brought down big trees, spoiled landscaping and an accumulation of tasks that had been put on hold because of health issues and injuries and all manner of problems we'd been beset with. Lemme tell ya, we definitely got to a great start. We tromped outside after a hearty breakfast on Thursday morning and fell into a cooperation of work duties with an almost military-like efficiency. By that afternoon, the northeastern quadrant of Mayhem Acres was entirely different. We began Friday in much the same way, albeit a bit sore from the previous day's exertions. Cleanup began to turn to tune-up, as debris was hauled away and chipped, areas brush-cut and hit with the flamethrower to sterilize the grounds against weeds and a nice thick layer of mulch put down. We ended the day a bit early seeing we were way ahead of our informal schedule, and another load of mulch was ordered and brought in for Saturday morning's festivities. We were all collectively surprised what two well-fed teenagers, two old guys with health issues and one old man with a sense of effort even he was surprised with having could accomplish. We headed into the house that evening thinking we could get the work done early enough on Saturday that the rest of that day would likely be spent going out on the town for fun, frolic, shopping, eating and sightseeing. Everyone slept like logs. Then on Saturday morning, around 8am, the phone rang.

Jeff's parents' house was on fire.

We were out of the house and on the road in only a few minutes, and I drove at (quite) extra-legal speeds in the big truck to get back to PA as fast as we could. A trip that normally takes over two and a half hours on a good day of traffic (and nearly 4 hours Wednesday due to accidents and such) was done in slightly under two. While on the way back, Jeff and his dad were on the phones, and we were coordinating with the fire departments, calling insurance agents, notifying people and all manner of of tasks while traveling 95+mph at times. Speed was limited by traffic and the built-in speed limiter in the truck. Despite all the talking to the people on scene, we still couldn't be prepared for seeing smoke in the air 20 miles or more away and the smoldering shell of the burned out house. We had been spared from seeing the actual blaze, but I obtained the full set of photos from the fire department photographer (always carry a thumb drive!). This is what they saw when they rolled up:

The house is a total loss, and practically all the contents were incinerated. Because Jeff's parents live practically in the middle of nowhere, with the closest fire department being at least 10 miles away, the need for water to fight a fire having to be trucked in by tankers and the general time delays from witness to calling to dispatch to arrival and setup, the majority of the house was consumed before the first water hit the fire. The focus also moved to preventing fire and heat damage to Dad's truck as well as our travel trailer which was being stored in the driveway for the winter. Despite being about fifty feet from the house, both the truck and trailer sustained damage just from the radiated heat, which melted plastic parts on both vehicles as well as buckling the aluminum siding on the trailer. By the time we arrived at the scene the fires were mostly out and the firefighters were removing charred furniture and other objects from the house as they doused hotspots.

Once the danger of fire subsided, we were able to look at the damage up close. The living room and one bedroom had collapsed into the basement, and nothing the firefighters brought out from any area of the house wasn't burnt, charred, melted or coated black by acrid smoke. Surprisingly, the firemen allowed me and others into the more stable parts of the structure to search for belongings ("Watch out for that hole in the floor"). Two of the local newspapers were on site, gathering information to spin into stories fit for their readership. We began to find bits and pieces of jewelry, trinkets, objects of daily life, etc. Firefighters managed to extract the cabinet containing Dad's cabinet containing antique rifles and shotguns while fighting the blaze. The heavy wooden desk, chest and dresser, despite being badly charred, protected some treasures from incineration. A tightly closed jewelry box held a few bits of his mom's necklaces and such but the smoke managed to get inside even there. As the day wore on and the firefighters left, I kept digging for more. I did manage to find a box containing wills, deeds and other important documents that were in practically perfect condition despite the nasty smell. Jeff, Dad, Jeff's brother-in-law and sister also managed to pluck more items from the wreckage, easing the feeling of total loss and giving a bit of hope to Dad, still shocked at all that happened that day.

The firefighters and subsequent investigating personnel were unable to pin down a cause of the fire. Even myself, having had a bit of fire prevention, fighting and investigation training through work in the past couldn't make sense of the wreckage. The house was a double-wide mobile home on a block foundation basement and such structures always burn quickly with intense heat. The roof was two layers of metal which acted as a "lid" keeping the fire from burning through the roof and ventilating the rest of the rooms, instead bottling the flames up and making them spread from end-to end in no time. There wasn't anything left of the entire structure to determine where it had started. "Unknown origin."

I am always amazed at how people manage to operate during times of stress despite not having prior experience in it. We managed to call in all the utilities to have them turned off. Insurance companies were called in, More family and friends were notified. We cooperated in gathering retrieved belongings together and made lists of contents of each room as we remembered. Fire personnel, police, and many other people on scene in a professional capacity were helpful and courteous. But I was not prepared for the outpouring of help, kind words and assistance that was coming throughout the day from friends, neighbors and acquaintances. The Amish of the area, with whom Dad has a tight relationship due to his "job" acting as transportation, and whom always had a lot of respect from myself, were ready to step in and begin the cleanup and rebuilding that very same day. While a process of assessment has to be done by the insurance companies, this should be done in the next day or two and by Saturday, the wreckage should be packed into big roll-off dumpsters. The agents and specialists from Erie Insurance were on site Sunday morning, and in a couple hours time not only assuaged Dad's fears and concerns, but had him pointed in a direction of reestablishing a home and life with a check for immediate accommodation, clothing and food. Enough money should be on hand soon to pay the outstanding loan (this is done automatically and foremost) put up a new building and furnish with all the basic items needed. I'm sure that between all the amazing offers of help and assistance coming from individuals, groups and churches, Dad should be able to resume a somewhat normal life in several months' time.

It should be noted that Jeff's mom is currently in a nursing home. While this is sadly due to the ongoing care for Alzheimer's, and she is no longer in the frame of mind to comprehend what had happened, she was away and safe from the ordeal. The biggest silver lining in this is the fact that we had Dad safe with us at the time. The obviously fast and unpredictable fire could have caused a lot more damage to more than a replaceable house.

More to come as I can manage...
greatbear: (me and mom)
Happy Birthday, Mom.
greatbear: (half awake)
My best friend had been working along with his siblings (and a bit of help from me) to get his parent's house ready for sale. Today, it went on the market. I got a text message from him tonight saying that the sign is out front and everything. His parents bought the house new in 1960 or so, and it's been very well maintained throughout the years. It never had much of anything in the way of upgrades either, most of the appliances and interior features are original. However, everything looked practically new. His parents treated me like family, I spent countless hours wrenching on cars, playing guitar and in general hanging out with John and his parents even after he had moved out after getting married. They were like a second family to me.

Hearing that the sign went up today made me think back on those 36+ years I have known them, and the house which was always the same, a kind of memory reference point and place of constant comfort. It's soon to be gone, taken over hopefully by a family that will enjoy the house as the first and only other owners had. And hopefully they keep it mostly as is.

I can't help but feel sad. Here is another piece of my youth that is going away. Another constant that is no longer. My childhood homes are completely gone. I've lost lots of friends and loved ones over the years. And, of course, I no longer have Mom. I can't help but feel 'shoved' further and further into the future, an unknown, while my past slowly disintegrates. Such is life, I guess, and not necessarily a bad thing. But, it still hurts, with every piece of the past being essentially chopped away, in varying sizes.

Today, I learned the Farrah Fawcett is gravely ill as well. I had that famous poster as a teen, and loved watching Charlie's Angels. I cried a bit when I read the story. And, I felt one more presence of my past is soon to disappear.

Life is not always fair.

Happy T

Nov. 27th, 2008 11:02 pm
greatbear: (face)
Well, I do this every year at this time, as do many of you in LJ-Land. Despite all the bad things going on in society these days, I still have a lot to be thankful for. I am still mostly healthy. I have my wonderful Jeff, without whom I don't know what I'd be doing these days. He mostly puts up with me, my strange hobbies, the tools all over the place, all the electronic, computer and car parts that dot (or completely obliterate) the furniture. He lives with the cranked up music not always to his liking. And he mostly puts up with my snoring and my grouchiness in the morning.

I am lucky to have Kodi around the house, who, despite the occasional yapping and chewing spells, the chundering in the car, and his totally crazy infatuation for our dirty underwear (seriously, he'll do anything to get at them and haul them back to his crate), he's a lot of fun to have. Like dogs are known for, his unconditional love and unabashed excitement makes us smile.

I'm thankful for my extended family, whom we will be spending quality time with for the next couple days. I have no more direct relatives, my family will end with me. But at least I have Jeff's parents, who treat me like one of their own.

I'm happy to be living within my means, and able to weather some of the economic nastiness that will hopefully find some solutions. I know some people not doing too well in this respect, and I wish the best for them to get back to comfortable living and peace of mind.

I am very thankful for my various abilities. This more than anything has allowed me to live comfortably knowing that if something needs to be built, fixed or otherwise dealt with, I can just do it. The money saved alone probably can't be measured by normal means. Car needs brakes? I just call up for the parts, and get to work. My only issue of late has been my lack of motivation in getting things done. The past several years of tragedies did a lot to take the wind out of my sails. I think I am finally getting a handle on things and making progress.

Of course, I am very thankful for my friends. Real-life or cyber friends, chat buddies, and my incredible LJ friends, I can't thank you guys 'n' gals enough. You make me laugh, lift my spirits, and keep my faith that humanity is not as doomed as I might at times think it is. I read all your posts though I might not always comment back. Rest assured that you have me as a satisfied audience with each entry. And though I know I might bore some of you with my ramblings and geekiness, but that's never my intention. I write what I know, and I want you to know me. And if I make you smile, think, laugh or even just shake your head, I know I've made a connection. And that's one of the things that truly makes me happy.

Oh, and Happy T!
greatbear: (face)
Four day weekend! Yay!

Jeff has to work tomorrow and Friday (who didnt see that coming?), but I dont. Tomorrow I have to shoot some pictures to go with an article I have written for an online magazine directed to Mini Cooper enthusiasts. I kept putting it off, forgetting and falling ill, so just like anyone else who writes copy, I ran it up to the deadline. This should be interesting.

In about 15 minutes I will take my domain server offline to stuff it's guts into a new case. I got my multi-bay drive racks in today that actually fit the case. Now no more computer stuff except for a gigabit switch. This crap will put me in the poor house.

After the photo session I have some car/truck maintenance to do as well as installing the new garage door opener. That's one less box sitting in the living room that should be in the garage to start with.

Jeff and I will have our own little T-Day dinner tomorrow night. Yesterday afternoon I picked up a turkey breast from the farm across the way. At nine and a half pounds for the breast alone, this must have been the Dolly Parton of turkeys. We are making just one half of it, and it still looks huge.

If all goes as planned, we will be up in PA for the weekend to celebrate Thanksgiving with Jeff's folks. We are taking up two huge pies, and three cases of soda. I gotta bring back my carpet shampooer, the shower door that didnt fit and Jeff's sister. The truck gets a nice workout once again. Let's hope Kodi doesnt toss his doggie biscuits in it.

I hope you and yours have a great Thanksgiving holiday!
greatbear: (blackness)
Got some bad news yesterday. A fire in Jeff's hometown of Trevorton, PA took five lives. And in what is typical in small towns (Trevorton has about 1500 townsfolk) the people who lost their lives were friends of Jeff as well as his nieces. Yeah, everyone knows everyone in these small, old-fashioned towns, unlike the cold interchangeability of people in modern suburbia. And with these old towns come old houses that can go up in flames so easily. Jeff tells me that this house was basically only blocks away from the fire department. Things can change so horrifically, so fast.

Article at The Daily Item. Pictures here.

Please be careful.
greatbear: (seasons greetings)
If I were the selfish type, I'd be rather pissed right now. But, for the most part I am not selfish in these respects, so I simply remain a bit bummed out right now. Besides, I know when I am doing something for the greater good. That has always been part of my nature.

"Okay, what's he yapping on about now?", I hear from the blogosphere.

As it was at Thanksgiving, Jeff finds himself not having to work on the holiday for the first time in years, and with that, having an opportunity to spend Christmas with his entire family in PA, together, rather than delaying it a day or two, losing the 'effect' in the process. So, rather than doing our usual dinner-here-then-dinner-there, we decided to spend the Holiday weekend with our respective families. Jeff gathered up Bear (the Pomeranian) and took him up to meet the family for the first time. He was an instant hit. Of course, his father, who usually plays the occasional grouch, had an immediate friend in Bear, as the two became inseparable. The kids had a ball, and Jeff and Bear had a wonderful time. Tomorrow for the big day, everyone (14 people) will sit down to one of the first times together in a while.

Now, who am I to stand in the way of that?

While I might be bummed at spending a holiday apart from him, it would be selfish to keep him from all the good stuff that's been going on and has yet to happen. In the meantime, I will be spending a nice, quiet time with Mom, having a nice dinner together and rel;axing. This I need a lot of, considering all I have been through lately.

"The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few, or the one" in this case.

This time of year is all about giving and self-sacrifice, regardless of religious affiliation. It's just what good people do, and have done throughout the centuries. Hearing Jeff and everyone else having such a good time when he called earlier in the day was all worth it to me. It made my day.

I got my gift. I'm not giving him up.

greatbear: (fuzzy)
SPent the weekend in PA with my 'extended family' once again. Saturday at the PA state fair was fun (I always have a good time at these things). I saw people from my neck of the woods there, and also spotted a coupla musclebears from a while ago from the weekend at The Woods. Eyeballed a truck that had my lustometer pegged ('06 Dodge Cummins 4wd 4-door) but came away pouting with a bad case of sticker shock ($42.8k! WTF?!?!!). At too much greasy fair food and had my heart stolen by a few puppies at the dog exhibit there. I so miss having a dog calling this it's home. In the meantime I am making do with 4 orange stray cats that called an old wrecked Dodge Shadow their home. The cats are too timid to make contact, yet they hang around the deck and yard all day and night (getting fed table scraps doesnt help matters much) Said Shadow is now downtown waiting for me to tear out everything useable and junk the rest. The thing sat around to over 5 years and all I needed to do to get rid of it was pull the mangled bodywork from around the one tire, add a battery and drive it off as if nothing was wrong. It did get some stares though, as this wreck was quietly tottering down the road with the left read side and back demolished.

Sunday me, Jeff and the entire PA family unit went towatch Jeff's nephew Cole play football. Even though this is elementary school, these kids are serious about their game. This was a critical game, as these were two undefeated teams playing together. It was rough. So rough that one kid had his arm broken, and Cole had to be sent to the hospital by ambulance after taking a huge hit to the head. Jeff rode with him in the ambo along with his mom, and I chased the ambulance to the hospital. This may not be my 'legal' extended family, but I still care about them as if they were (and they for me as well). Seeing Cole out cold on that field made my heart sink, and honestly, made me feel a bit helpless. Luckily, Cole is a tough kid, he's back home now, going to have some time off from playing until he sees his own pediatrician, and by the looks of things, will be back in the saddle in a week. Yep, only a week. That's cool.

Came home to more minor PC issues, so it's settled; construction of the next ridiculous monster PC starts this week. Specs so far:

Athlon64 Dual Core >3800
ABIT Fatal1ty AN8-SLI mobo
2 GeForce 7800-series vid cards in SLI
Koolance water cooling
Bigass HDs in RAID0, plus two bigass solo drives for 'data'
Creative X-Fi Platinum sound, plus something else for the studio stuff
other stuff for sure.

Since I cant afford the truck, of course.


greatbear: (Default)

December 2016



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