You Can’t Judge A Book By Its Cover

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I’ve always heard that you can’t judge a book by its cover, but I’m not sure that is totally true.  First impressions are lasting impressions and when it comes to reading material, the design of a book’s cover is the first thing that garners one’s attention.  When I was working with publishers in the design and subsequent selection of a cover for both my books, it proved to be a tough process.

For my book BITTER OR BETTERA PERSONAL WALK THROUGH GRIEF, I ultimately decided to keep it simple and settled on an old photo of Ronnie and me with just the title of the book chronicling the storyline.  Actually, I’m giving myself too much credit. Truth be told, if I took any of the credit it would be a misrepresentation of the facts. 

I chose the black and white photo with the horizontal book title located across the top of the cover at the insistence of my wife and kids and every other person that looked at the options we were given.  No one apart from myself thought the cover I liked best was a viable option.  It included too much information. Everyone who was asked for their opinion opted for the simple and inviting picture of two little boys that looked alike without adding in a lot of extra stuff. They thought it represented the most appealing invitation to read the book.

Frankly, I would have opted to select the cover design that took the person responsible for creating the design the most thought and time to create. I never met the man, but when I saw his creation, I thought he was a genius.  I remember thinking: “Wow! Wow! Wow!”  I was absolutely amazed with the design.  Perhaps because I knew the story from the inside out, the cover design option with the EKG was my pick. From my perspective, a quick glance at the cover visually reflected an enormous amount of information.

Instead of the title, BITTER or BETTER being located horizontally across the top of the cover, the words “BITTER or” were printed horizontally on a white border near the right hand corner at the top of the book. It was immediately under a green border that framed the top and right outside edge of the book.  The vertical white border located inside the green border included the word BETTER written vertically under the word “or”.

Above the picture of Ronnie and I, there was an overlay of an EKG line. The line above Ronnie was a flat line. The line above me reflected some sharp variations for about half of the space and then it too was flat.  I shared in my book that when I first learned that Ronnie was Missing In Action, “I felt half dead”. Apparently, the designer picked up on that concept because the pictorial message with the EKG line couldn’t have been clearer. Of course, for someone who hadn’t yet read my reflection in the book, it might have been difficult to sort out the symbolism.

Perhaps because I had lived through the experience, when I saw the cover with the green wrap-around border and EKG line, my mind was immediately made up. The symbolism wasn’t limited to the EKG line. Think about it.  BITTER was on a horizontal line and BETTER was on a vertical line.  If you haven’t connected the dots, give it more thought. You’ll figure it out. It was a perfect illustration. At any rate, no one else other than me viewing the three options favored anything other than the simple title of the book at the top with the picture of the two young boys. 

One day this past week I stood just inside the door at H.E.B. waiting on the General to get groceries.  The General either wants me to stay right next to her like a three-year-old as she shops so she won’t have to look for me when she’ ready to go or for me to pick a location where she can be fairly certain to find me.  I opted for the latter.

Simply watching the shoppers and staff at H.E.B. was an eye opening experience for me.  It was an aha moment for sure.  I think I now know how Dorothy must have felt when she first realized she was no longer in Kansas. I looked around at the people shopping in Dripping Springs, America and they didn’t all look like me.  I wasn’t sure I was still in Dripping Springs. This was not the same place I moved to half a lifetime ago.

Of course, even I looked pretty unkempt.  I was wearing khaki cargo shorts, a blue pull over T-shirt, my blue Buck Naked Underwear and a pair of Keens.  That was it. Back in the day, I wouldn’t have been caught dead in public looking like that. I would have been embarrassed. Well, it’s a new day. I’m retired now and I don’t need the look of a workingman.  I’m still the same guy even if I dress differently. Don’t judge a book by its cover! In case you missed it, I said: “I’m still the same guy.”

Maybe I’ve watched too much HGTV and failed to get out in the real world often enough. Wow!  Like I said, “Walking into H.E.B. and looking around was an eye opening experience”. I thought at first that maybe I had wondered in BookPeople on North Lamar in Austin. The only time I was in that store I thought it was an interesting variety of people. How’s that for putting a positive spin on diversity?

Don’t judge a book by its cover.  I really didn’t want to overstep my boundaries, but I was tempted to start taking pictures of the shoppers.  Of course, that might get me arrested or punched in the face.  Had I managed to do so, it would have certainly made a good pictorial blog. I could have entitled it: “Would You Look At That”.

The guy with the long sleeve shirt (I mean tattoos that looked like a long sleeve shirt) caught my attention.  It was a nice shirt; I mean artwork.  I guess the nice thing about it is that you could wear it on the warmest of days and not feel like you were hot because of the sleeves.  Of course, you may have thought you were hot because you had the permanent look of wearing long sleeves. Hot is a term that can express any number of things.

The “long sleeve look” is what first caught my attention, but the guy was pushing two small boys in the grocery basket. I made the assumption that they were his sons. I watched the way he interacted with them and I was favorably impressed.  I intuitively liked the guy even though we were dressed differently.  I thought it was too hot outside to wear long sleeves. That’s why I was wearing cargo shorts.

Next I noticed several folks at different times that could have been part of the cast from Duck Dynasty.  You know the look I’m talking about. Wow!  I didn’t know that long beards were the order of the day. That look makes it really challenging to eat barbequed ribs without getting it in your beard.  Too bad for them.

Where did these people come from?  I momentarily even fantasized that the guys with long beards were part of a popular music group whose name I can’t remember and that on the count of three, the quartet would appear and start singing. I actually would have enjoyed that, but it didn’t happen. Had it happened, I might be more inclined to shop for groceries.

The lady with the trellis and red roses tattooed over her body must have really liked the concept of having a rose garden.  Both the back and front of her summer dress was low-cut and roses were not in short supply.  I had the thought that it would be funny if her name was Rose.

I’m not really a fan of pierced eyebrows, but what do I know?  Maybe I’m missing something. I looked at the crowded store in Dripping Springs and had the thought: “This isn’t the Dripping Springs I know”.

Regardless of which cover I selected for my book, the content inside the cover was already in place.  Even if you opted to wear a spiked dog collar around your neck and follow someone holding your leash through H.E.B., that doesn’t mean you don’t have value. It just means that you don’t mind letting someone else be in control.  I don’t like that feeling. That’s why I didn’t follow the General through the grocery store. 

I sensed that the guy with the tattooed long sleeves was a loving and capable father for his sons.  I made that assumption from watching them interact. They went past me several times.  The way we look and dress is just a façade to the stuff that really matters. It is who were are inside that determines our value. 

Could it be that the time I spent watching people at H.E.B. was a learning moment for me?  Times are a changin’.  Maybe I needed to remember not to be judgmental. After all you can’t judge a book by its cover.

All My Best!

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Don

Much Ado About Nothing

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“Much ado about nothing” is a comedy written by William Shakespeare long before I was born. Actually, I think Shakespeare first coined the expression in the late 1500s.  That really does predate me by a day or two.

 

After yesterday’s “Great American Eclipse” a lot of questions come to mind. Maybe it was because I didn’t have the glasses? They are still on backorder.  Maybe it was a false sense of expectation on my part? Maybe my thoughts associated to the upcoming event had been so craftily massaged by the media that nothing would have lived up to the expectation or the hype, but I was disappointed.  Disappointed is a good term. I was expecting more.

 

I’m not sure what I was expecting, but I was expecting something. How did Peggy Lee express the question in her song? I think the question asked in song was: “Is that all there is?”  The question came on the heels of some fairly significant life experiences. Think about it:

  • A burning house
  • A trip to the circus
  • The experience of having loved and lost

 

Isn’t it true that any of the experiences chronicled in Peggy Lee’s song would be enough to create a memory that wouldn’t easily be forgotten? But if you ask me, the Great American Eclipse (from the vantage point of my view in Texas) was in essence: “much ado about nothing”.  Seriously, my notion that anything transpired never reached the level to even ask the question, “Is that all there is?”

 

As far as I’m concerned, I’m still waiting. I’d have been better served to be sitting on the dock of the bay watching the tide roll away. At least I could have gotten my feet wet in the water and experientially built a memory. That experience wasn’t afforded me from my vantage point in Texas either.

 

Location, location, location isn’t just associated to real estate, it can relate to a multiple of different variables. I actually know a couple of people from Henly that flew to Nebraska to get a good view of the Great American Eclipse. The same is true of a long-time friend from Waco who took his son and two grandsons on a memory-building journey. They drove to Nebraska. Hopefully, for all of them their story will be: “Wow! Wow! Wow! That was amazing!”

 

I want more for them than I experienced for myself. “Much ado about nothing” is how I chronicle yesterday’s experience. Have you ever wondered how Shakespeare came up with that expression? He was a man of many words and he put them together in ways that are easily remembered, but difficult to craft.

 

For example, I find myself quoting Shakespeare all of the time. I know you’re probably thinking I’ve used his line, “Out damn spot. Out I say.” Another variation is “Out, Out damn spot”. I may drive a pick up truck, and yes, for the record, I do have a brother that lives in Oklahoma, but I don’t have a habit of talking like Lady Macbeth.

 

Lady Macbeth was referred to as such because in the play crafted by Shakespeare, she was married to Lord Macbeth. In reality she didn’t meet the standards that most would associate as a lady.

 

For starters: “A lady wouldn’t be guilty of co-conspiring with her husband to do whatever it took to retain power including murder. Apparently the memory of that experience was unforgettable. Lady Macbeth says of the victim, “Who would have thought he’d have had so much blood in him?” Obviously, it was not a “much ado about nothing” scenario.

 

I haven’t used the expression “damn spot” that I can recall and I’ve not been guilty of murder. However, I might have been dangerously close to both if the General had damaged the fabric seats in my truck while we were eating corndogs on Sunday. It was a reckless thing for us to do, but it was out of my hands so to speak. I’ll let you guess who was calling the shots.

 

Okay, getting back to Shakespeare, What about you? Do you quote expressions that he coined? Let me share a few:

  • He used the term “wild goose chase” in Romeo and Juliet.
  • He referenced “forever and a day” in As You Like It
  • A dish fit for the gods” is a line from Julius Ceasar
  • Again from Macbeth, “Knock, knock! Whose There?” – The same is true for “One fell swoop”.
  • From The Merchant of Venice: “Love is blind

 

After the non-event (my perception) of the Great American Eclipse, I asked the General if she wanted to ride with me to the Post Office? Of course she did, but with the General I sometimes get more than I anticipate. She asked: “Since we’re going that direction, why don’t we go ahead and take the rug on the sun porch to Goodwill?? There were lots of reasons not to do so. I mentioned a few. She cleverly reminded me: “There is no time like the present”. That isn’t a quote from Shakespeare, but it is from Georgia Byng who wrote:

 

There’s no time like the present,

No present like time.

And life can be over in the space of a rhyme.

There’s no gift like friendship

And no love like mine.

Give me your love to treasure through time.”

 

In one fell swoop, the General also asked if we could take fifteen minutes and go to the grocery store? Love must be blind because I said: “Sure”. I knew we were on a wild goose chase and that it would take forever and a day to get out of the grocery store. I was right.  However, the General actually cooked an incredible meal last night for dinner. It was indeed a dish fit for the gods.  Where would I be without the communication skills I’ve learned from Shakespeare?

 

All My Best!

Don

A Late Start

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So how long does it really take to throw things together for a quick overnight trip? Honestly, give me five minutes and I can be ready to go. The General on the other hand is another story. She actually packed her small suitcase on Saturday night. In addition, we had clutter (I mean stuff) from our de-cluttering of closets that we were taking to Craig’s. The General couldn’t bring herself to dispose of his “letter jackets” from high school and that was only the beginning. From my perspective, passing on my parent’s card table and four matching chairs was a big win for me. It has been in our garage for the past ten years and we’ve never used it. We loaded all of that stuff into the truck on Saturday night with the exception of the General’s suitcase.

 

For whatever reason we got detained in conversation after church yesterday. Somehow that seems a little surprising because it proved to be low attendance Sunday at church. Of course, I guess if your driving to Nebraska to look at today’s All American Eclipse, you had to get an early start. Of course, I only knew of one couple from Henly that were headed to Nebraska and I’d bet you dollars-to-donuts they opted to fly. Even then, it seem like a justifiable reason not to be in church. Regardless of the whereabouts of others, most folks who regularly attend church in Henly didn’t opt to do that yesterday. Even another portion that were at Sunday School opted to unobtrusively make the great escape before church started.

 

Have you ever done that? I mean after all, if you’ve got plans for after church, why not get an early start and unobtrusively make a quick getaway in your car after Sunday School while no one else at church is watching? I’m sure the General and I have done it, but I don’t remember when. Of course, it would be a little awkward for the preacher to mysteriously be gone just because Cat Spring, the grandkids, the Reichardt Annual Fishing Event and a fish fry were scheduled to begin at 4:00 p.m.

 

Trust me, we’ve looked forward to the event ever sense being invited about a month ago. The General and I don’t fish and technically we weren’t invited to fish. That’s a good thing because fishing is a good reason to skip church. Had we done that, we would have been contributors to the low-attendance at church on Sunday. We actually had three visitors at church. Hopefully, they’ll brave the odds and come back, but only time will tell. I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking I sound like my mother attempting to mix a little guilt in for folks who could have been in attendance chose to sleep in, play golf, read the funny papers, etc.

 

The first year Craig and crew participated in the Riechardt Annual Fishing event, they came up really short because they went to church first. In an effort to equalize the odds they attempted to add some frozen fish out of their deep-freeze into the mix, but were disqualified in the process. Nothing tastes better than freshly caught fried fish.

 

Okay, so what were the General and I going to do for lunch before getting on the road to Cat Spring? When the General gets hungry, she complains. Nothing can make a two-and-a-half hour road trip seem like a week long like a complaining passenger. Weigh-in was scheduled for 4:00 p.m. and the General didn’t want to miss anything. The evening before she mentioned salads at Schlotzsky’s. That all seemed doable.

 

Okay, so I quickly threw my stuff together. By the time we should have been out the door, I was sitting at my computer. I’d have been better served to have been discovered getting frozen fish out of our freezer to add to the mix. The General impatiently wanted to know why I was on the computer? Okay, so I needed to send an important email before we got on the road. Give me a break!

 

By this time, the General is fearful we are not going to arrive in Cat Spring on time. Call it anyway you want, but it was too late for us to skip church in order to get an early start. It didn’t help my standing with the General that once we were in the truck and backing out the driveway, I abruptly stopped the truck and went back inside the house. I needed to get my sunglasses.

 

So where were they? I didn’t find them in the house so I went back to the truck. We both looked carefully while the General was giving me Lecture #@4214 related to my need to keep up with my stuff. We had driven the General’s car the evening before. Obviously if I looked in her car, I’d find my sunglasses. I subsequently looked in her car and the sunglasses were nowhere to be found. By this time the General and I are both back in he house looking for my sunglasses. We didn’t find themm.

 

Did I mention she was not a happy camper? So by now she is both a little frustrated and hungry. Neither of those variables work in my favor. Okay, so let’s go. I don’t need the sunglasses. So off we went.  Next I’m hearing, “We’re going to be late. We’ve got to hurry. Let’s just stop at Sonic and get corndogs.” Though she didn’t say it, the implicit message was that we’d eat corndogs as we traveled.

 

Okay, sometime you have to pick your battles. The General knows that we don’t eat in my truck. Was that reason enough to begin WWIII? Did I mention that wars for been started over less? I opted to let it go. I’ve never done that before.  While I didn’t want anything to stain the interior of my truck, I it is hard to mess up with a corndog especially since I told the server that we didn’t need mustard or ketchup. After all, I can only bend so far. I’ve actually never had a corndog without mustard, but I wasn’t going to take the chance and neither was my passenger if I had anything to do with it and obvioulsy I did.

 

Okay, in regards to timing, it was going to be close, but I thought we’d make it. Actually, that’s not totally true. There was no way we were going to make it, but we wouldn’t be too late. As it turned out, I was wrong. We turned in Craig’s driveway at exactly 4:00 p.m.

 

It proved to be a most delightful experience. Wow! I’ve never seen so many fish or so many people who made the process seem effortless. It was a 5-star experience for sure.  The only downside to the day other than the vacancy rate at church was my discovery that I forgot to bring my BiPAP (Bilevel Postive Airway Pressure) device with me. It is a traveling companion I never leave home without.

 

Well until yesterday, that was true. Guess what? We didn’t spend the night in Cat Spring as we planned. We didn’t awaken this morning for more shared time with our grandchildren. We came back home. Okay, so I’m a risk-taker. Do you have any idea how long of a lecture I was potentially opening myself up to? As it turned out, the General practiced grace and opted not to make a big deal out of an abbreviated trip to Cat Spring.

 

All My Best!

Don

Quaker State Motor Oil

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There are many things that motivate people. There are many things that motivate me.  So what was the driving force for my making my way back into Austin early yesterday morning to get the oil changed in my car?  Seriously, I probably passed half a dozen quick lube type places to get the oil changed between my home and my destination.  So why did I pass them by?

I passed them by because I had stopped at those places before and they didn’t have what I wanted or had subsequently discontinued carrying what I needed by the last time I stopped.  Of course, my wants may be without warrant, but I was brought up with the notion that whatever brand of oil you initially put in your car was required going forward. Maybe that’s where the concept of “ride for the brand” comes from but I doubt it.

The General would probably tell you that all of that makes no sense to her. Consequently, she’d shrug it off by saying: “Oil is oil. The important thing is to change it at regular intervals”. I suspect she’s probably right, but my dad’s influence lingers. He wasn’t the kind of guy that played around with brands.  Start with one and stick with it was his motto.

At face value, that really doesn’t make a lot of sense because how would you determine what brand of oil the car came with from the factory? So I guess, first rattle out of the box, you select your brand and ride it for all it’s worth going forward.  At least that was my dad’s approach.  He also carried a quart of oil in the trunk of every car he ever owned “just in case”.  To my knowledge, he never had a need for it, but better safe than sorry was his approach.

I’m not sure how I happened on to Quaker State Motor Oil, but that’s the brand I’ve used in every truck I’ve ever owned. The last couple of trucks, I’ve carefully maintained and attempted to refrain from making them high mileage vehicles.  For both trucks, my average has been 4,000 miles a year.   I kept the last truck for ten years and have had my present truck for five.  Maybe I’m halfway finished with it.  As a rule of thumb, I sense it is time for a change at 40,000 miles.

I was shocked when I arrived at the automotive section of Walmart yesterday morning at 8:00 a.m. to find four cars already waiting in line ahead of me. After all, it was only 8:00 a.m.  Some of you are surprised that I went to Walmart for an oil change. Others of you think it was absolutely predictable.  Of course, that’s because there are two types of people in the world. Some folks think Walmart has everything you need.  Other people think they don’t need anything from Walmart.  I’ll not share which category I fall in, but I needed Quaker State Oil and the only place I knew where I could get it and also get the oil in my truck changed at the same time was Walmart. Bottom line, it was going to be a long morning.

Why not make the best of circumstances and be interactive and engaging with the other folks in the waiting lounge?  I tried my best at initiating conversation the two other people in the waiting room when I first walked in and didn’t get to first base.  They obviously were not morning people and shut me down quickly with their non-responsiveness.  A short time later someone joined us who was a lot more open to conversation.  “Great way to start a Saturday morning”, I said. That primed the pump so to speak.  First of all, he was surprised by the wait. Tnis guy was a talker.  Secondly, he had a “To Do List” provided him by his wife and this was the first of several stops on her list. At the top of the list was getting the leaking tire patch on her tire repaired.  He said, “She’s had it. No more flat tires or she will start taking it out on me.”  I smiled and made no comment.

Next on his list was the need to go to “Bed, Bath and Beyond”.  Are you kidding me?  Why would anyone be that transparent?  I’d never admit to that.  I can’t remember what was third, but his morning was gone and it really hadn’t begun. Before day’s end, he was expected to do yard work.  Poor guy.  He was still wet behind the ears and locked into a routine that would forever determine his destiny.

Okay, so the guy was open to conversation. I had met my match.  He responded to a Bank of America commercial that came on the television in the waiting area by asking me if I knew the Bank of America was birthed out of a fire that destroyed San Francisco and that the Bank of Italy bailed them out?  The money survived the fire because it was protected in the bank of Italy’s safe.  The only immediate problem was that following the fire it took a long time for anyone to figure out how to get the money out of the safe? 

So was this man doing drugs or was he just making this up? I had no idea what he was talking about. Instead of telling him I didn’t know what he was talking about, I asked him where he learned the information.  He said with a smile on his face, “I’ve been watching the history channel and it is really interesting.”  So was his story true?  I made a mental note to find out.

I asked if he was a banker. He said, “Not in the traditional sense. However, I handle home loans and I’ve been really busy. A lot of people are moving to Austin.”  Okay, that part I knew was factual. Maybe he was being factual about the Bank of Italy. I didn’t know. All I watch on television is HGTV.  Maybe I should try the History Channel?

By this point, he was carrying the conversation. We moved from home mortgages to the Great American Eclipse.  He said he wished he had of had the presence of mind to buy up all of the special glasses months ago. He would be sitting pretty to make a fortune.

He then said, “After all, there won’t be another solar eclipse in our lifetime”.  Excuse me, I don’t even half read the news, but I knew that wasn’t correct.  However, I decided to give him partial benefit of the doubt.  I said, “That may be true of me in my lifetime, but you are a very young man. I think you’ll still be here.  The next one is coming directly over Texas and it is expected in 2024? Of course, I’m planning to be here for that one as well.  Even time is on my side, but I could be wrong.

“Are you sure?”, he asked. I responded: “The only thing I’m sure of is that being at Walmart all morning is not how I planned to spend my entire Saturday morning, but I’m pretty sure I’m right about the next eclipse.  He immediately searched the Internet by using his phone for information and said: “You’re right. Why didn’t I know that? 

I had the some thought about the Bank of Italy.  As it turns out, it was one-for-one.  The Bank of Italy was founded in San Francisco in 1904.  The bank was established to serve working class citizens of the area, especially Italian Americas living in San Francisco’s North Beach neighborhood.  Here’s the real deal: “The bank survived the San Francisco earthquake and fire of 1906 and became one of the first to offer loans to businesses to help rebuild the city.  They merged with the Bank of America and had the cash on hand to bail them out.

The next two hours becomes ones of thoughtful conversation.  The only downside was that the conversation was interrupted after two hours of waiting with the notification that Walmart was out of Quaker State oil.  Did I want to use Castrol?  If not, they’d have Quaker State the next day.  I said “Yes” to the Castrol.  I’m hoping the General is right: “Oil is oil.”   As I was paying by bill, I noticed 3 quarts of Quaker State oil sitting on the counter.  I asked the clerk about the oil. He said, “That’s the only three quarts we had left. It wasn’t enough for your oil change, but you can come back tomorrow.  I thanked him for his assistance without making a commitment to return.  Like I said, there are two types of people in the world.  Some folks think Walmart has everything you need. Other people think they don’t need anything from Walmart.

All My Best!

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Don

Take A Minute To Breathe

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Was it a message from above? I’m not sure, but it came via my iWatch. The time was after 6:00 p.m. yesterday evening and we had just returned from an afternoon jaunt into Austin. The message on my iWatch stated simply: “Live a better day by taking a minute to Breathe”.

 

Even my watch knew that traffic was enough to create the kind of stress that could orchestrate your neck to hurt and your heart to race. Actually, I may have even been having chest pains by the time we got through Dripping Springs and that was on the west side of Austin heading into the city. By the time we got back home; well you can only imagine.

 

Some may call it progress, but Houstonians and folks from California have discovered “The Gateway To The Hill Country”. No one is surprised that they are finding it an ideal venue to call home. The place is running over with folks who know a good thing when they see it. How many people does it take moving into a small place before it becomes something other than a small place?

 

I’d say based on the traffic congestion that we’re getting close to making that discovery. Yet, on the other hand, the new folks who’ve shown up in our neighborhood are precious people who want the same kinds of things that we wanted when we first moved here over three and a half decades ago.   Last week we visited with a couple that moved here from Houston. They were on the threshold of buying a house in a Houston suburb located a stone’s throw from what was scheduled to subsequently become a freeway. They both awakened in the middle of the night in a cold sweat with the thought: “We are crazy! What are we doing?”   Consequently, they exited stage right and headed to the Austin area subsequently to ultimately discover the edge of heaven (aka- The Gateway To The Hill Country – or perhaps even one step closer – Henly, America).

 

How did I phrase the question? Oh, I remember: “How many people does it take moving into a small place before it becomes something other than a small place?” There is more to that question than most people really ponder? What was once regarded as “family land” that had been in the family for generations when folks in the area were “dirt poor” has become the gateway to the fast track of wealth and prosperity. Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying there is anything wrong with that.

 

Some adults who grew up in the area yearned for the day they could leave and make their mark on the world. They envisioned a level of opportunity and excitement that represented a contrast to what they had known in earlier years. Many found it. Some found it and immediately recognized it as fool’s gold and returned to their roots in the nick of time. Others simply moved on and forged their way through life with mostly memories of days gone by. Others desired to return but the time constraints related to commuting into Austin for work and the exaggerated housing costs placed the area outside their reach.

 

No one is to be faulted. It is simply that the demographics of life in the greater Dripping Springs area differ substantially from what they were like two-to-three decades ago. I miss the days when there was one blinking traffic light at the intersection of Hwy 290 and RR 12. Now you can’t count the number of traffic lights getting through Dripping Springs on one hand.

 

Okay, so I’m talking out of my head, but I was aware last night that the trip into Austin and back yesterday wasn’t a relaxing experience. So how did I make a 102 mile a day trek back and forth to work for the past sixteen consecutive years? Was traffic always as stressful as it was today? The answer is “No”. However, the last two-to-three years were identical or worse than conditions were yesterday. Hey, school hasn’t even started yet. Of course traffic conditions were much worse than they were yesterday, but how I can’t imagine. Throw that into the increasing population and no wonder it took me 2 to 2 1/ 2 hours to get home from work everyday?

 

“In 2016, the Austin area added 159 people per day on average. That’s the net gain. After taking into account 40,273 migrants, 27,375 births and 10,304 deaths, plus some statistical adjustments, the regional population climbed by 58,301 to an estimated 2,056,405, according to county and metro-area population estimates the U.S. Census Bureau”.

 

Yesterday morning the General said to me: “It seems like you are really enjoying retirement. I’m glad.” What did she expect?  Actually, I didn’t know what to expect. I had preconceived thoughts and to be totally transparent, a few fears.  Mostly, my perception was all wrong. For one thing, I anticipated that I would have nothing but time on my hands. I thought in short order I’d be bored to death. I also suspected the General would think her new role resembled that of a “drill sergeant” providing me structure and a daily “To Do List”.  That wasn’t going to work!

 

To my great relief, the General really hasn’t been that way at all.  Besides that, after 49-years of married bliss, I’m fairly skilled at managing life with the General. As Glen Campbell would melodiously sing: “You’ve got to know when to hold ‘em – Know when to fold ‘em – Know when to walk away…” Trust me, I’ve got that part figured out. Besides that, I have a hearing impairment.  Why not let that work to my advantage? Truth be told, I mostly hear what I want to hear and do what I want to do.  In that regard, nothing’s changed.

 

The most surprising thing about retirement is that I’m as busier now than when I was working. Let me say, there is a hint of disappointment in that. I thought I’d have a lot more time for reading, but it becomes a trade-off. I have to let something else slide to find the time to read. Thankfully, I’m not burning four hours of my day each day in traffic. Consequently, the quality of my life has risen significantly.

 

Maybe it was because I didn’t have a good option other than to commute through the quagmire of traffic, but how did I do that for past sixteen years?  I loved my job and I loved my home and I wanted it all. But having it all, represented more stress than I realized. I am significantly more rested and more relaxed now than when I spent twenty hours a week in the car.

 

The message on my iWatch came at a good time. I needed the reminder: “Live a better day by taking a minute to Breathe. How about you? I’d highly recommend it.

All My Best!

Don

The Messy Business of Fire Restoration

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As many of you know, my niece and granddaughter (I’m the surrogate look-alike grandfather in my brother’s absence) unexpectedly had to move into temporary housing because of a fire in their home. While their house is still standing, the damage is significant. Consequently it has not been habitable since March. If you do the math in your head correctly, that is five months. Fortunately, no one was at home when the fire started and no one was injured. Thus began a journey that potentially has no end. That is a strong statement don’t you think? Did I really mean “a journey that potentially has no end?” If tomorrow looks like yesterday, then the answer is, “Yes”.

 

I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking there are construction professionals that specialize in fire restoration and the rebuilding of one’s home in an expeditious and exemplary fashion. If that is your sense of reality or expectation, you might check with my niece.

 

She’ll probably tell you that if “expeditious and exemplary” is your expectation there are a couple of things you need to avoid. You need to carefully avoid being tested for drugs and you should also refrain from submitting to a mental health screening. After all, once you have a mental health diagnosis, it is hard to overcome the branding.

 

In case you miss the drift, you’d have to be out of your mind or totally wasted to realistically think “expeditious and exemplary” are two words that could ever be used of fire restoration and the rebuilding of one’s home. “Expeditious and exemplary” describe what my niece thought she was purchasing, but at this point she’s waiting for “another vowel” so to speak.

 

In an effort to be proactive and timely at the beginning of her journey, she immediately looked for a construction company that specialized in the fire remediation. She is a tough battler and would never in a million years acknowledge that she didn’t exercise “do-diligence” before she selected a contractor and signed a contract. After all, despite the urgency, it took well over a month before she signed the contract. However, she is a busy person with places to go and things to do.

 

On the upside, as March turned into May it was time for “Run For The Wall” followed by the National League of POW/MIA Families Annual Meeting. How’s that for great timing? Her change of venue provided an immediate respite from having to think about cherished family photos that were turned into toast or furniture for which there had been sentimental value reduced to only a memory.

 

The first professional she talked with at the organization she selected had the professional skill of colleagues my niece is accustomed to working with at Apple. The lady was a seasoned professional, knowledgeable about construction or reconstruction as it might be and had an intuitive empathy for my niece’s circumstances. Where did she learn it? Who knows, but she seemed to intuitively know the range of emotions tied to one’s earthly treasures being fit only for the dump. Under the auspices of: “When life gives you lemons make Lemonade”, my niece mostly left town for several weeks thinking the seasoned professional who had beautifully offered encouraging words was busily making good on her commitment to make things better.

 

Long story short, when my niece returned from her travels, the “seasoned professional” had moved on to another venue and was no longer present to fulfill her promises. All was not lost, immediately my niece met the head of the company who seemed equally competent and filled with promises that subsequently have proven too good to keep. They say a man is as good as his word. At this point, only time will tell. To date, all he represents is potential. Like the house, there isn’t much to show for his work.

 

Maybe it had to do with the summer time heat, but the next project manager didn’t complete much of the task. Actually, he had barely begun before he was gone. They say talk is cheap. It must be because the fire renovation efforts toward restoring my niece’s home haven’t materialized as promised. In fact, the promises are all but a distant memory with nothing but the faded smell of soot and open studs where walls once stood. On the upside, the place has potential. Will it ever be different? Whos to say? Talk is cheap. The proof is in what comes next.

 

Did I mention the next project manager who seemed on task, is also now gone? He had a plan, but only God knows what it included. The “big cheese” or the head of the company doesn’t know. He now needs three or four days to think about it and come up with a workable schedule.

 

In addition, four-to-six weeks ago a plumber inadvertently severed one of the tension cables that runs through the slab. I don’t know anything about engineering or concrete slabs, but I would think that could potentially compromise the stability of the home. Who really knows? The head of the company who is an engineer can’t really say. That kind of knowledge is outside his level of expertise and he’s “been asking around”, but still doesn’t know. On the bright side, it’s been four to six weeks and the house is still standing so, “probably everything is okay.” Somehow that seems like a pretty weak response (pardon the pun).

 

So how do I know all of this? I know this because I asked my niece on Tuesday night if she’d like for me to accompany her to talk with the head of the company the next day? If you know my niece, you’d never describe her as a damsel in distress, but she’s in denial. I could hear it in her voice when I talked with her on Tuesday and I could see it in her eyes yesterday morning. She is highly stressed.  Who could blame her? Five months is a long time not to see appreciable progress. I think she was glad I volunteered to go. Sometimes you need what only a dad or granddad can do and I am fairly skilled at both or at least I like to think so.

 

So what were the ground rules for me? She started by telling me to play nice; at least at first. She didn’t have to tell me that! I always play nice. She thought we should start by hearing what the head of the company had to say. I was doing a really good job of keeping my mouth shut while he credited the revolving number of people in his company who had come and gone. He’d now need a few days to figure out what to do next. He verbalized that he was responsible, but he was fairly adapt at playing the “poor me card”. After all nobody had kept him in the loop on what was going on or in this case “not going on.”

 

Okay, so he made a strategic error. He attempted to evoke sympathy by sharing the knowledge that one of the previous project managers has now been off work for weeks because of health problems related to high blood pressure. My nice said she could understand because she, too, is experiencing high blood pressure.

 

Okay so the door was now so wide open that I couldn’t help myself. I simply made the observation that high blood pressure seemed to be the order of the day and that the common denominator for both appeared to be him. The startled look on his face spoke volumes. Of course, I immediately and laughed and apologized. What was I thinking? I couldn’t help myself. I was looking for a laugh. I countered, “Next time it is your turn. I can dish it out and I can also take it”.

 

Before the meeting was over, we were all smiles and back in the land of promises. However, I think the head of the company now has the sense that Granddad has shown up to advocate for his granddaughter getting back to her home. Only time will tell, but I promise you the guy will either have me on his Christmas card list or hate list before we’re done.

 

All My Best!

Don

 

 

 

Cracked Windshield Repair

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Sometimes little things that defy my understanding puzzle me. For example, the other morning I noticed that the windshield in my truck was cracked. Since I’m the guy who normally has task of keeping the truck between the fence posts as I make my way down the highway, I would have noticed if something hit the windshield. Trust me, I pamper my truck and the thud of something hitting the windshield would have startled me even if I was figuratively speaking, “asleep at the wheel”. Nothing of that nature had occurred.

 

I’m not talking about a small crack. Even Mr. McGoo with his faulty eyesight would have instantly noticed this one. The crack was at least eight inches long and would have escaped no one’s view. The folks at State Farm couldn’t have been more helpful. For one thing, the lady who answered the phone indicated that my portion of the replacement cost would only be $50. Wow!
For years my deductible for comprehension has been $50, but I recently received written notification from the State Farm agent that State Farm was dropping the $50 deductible option. Going forward, the lowest deductible is twice that amount. Incidentally, stating that the amount was being dropped was an oxymoron. It was actually being raised. Don’t try to fool me with smooth talk. I can read between the lines.
In talking to the lady at State Farm, I instantly assumed that we hadn’t gotten to the “going forward” phase. I didn’t make any effort to convince her that I should pay twice the amount. She thoughtfully asked if I had time for her to transfer me to someone who could set up an appointment time for me to get the windshield replaced? At my age, I’m not big into delayed gratification. No one wants to drive a truck with a cracked windshield. “The sooner the better” is my motto.
The next lady I talked with wanted to know where I wanted to take the truck for the windshield replacement. Hey, this is not something I do everyday. How would I know? I asked her for suggestions. She threw out the names of two places I had never heard of before. For all I know, they could have been fly-by-night entrepreneurs who take advantage of old people. I wanted a reputable glass dealer.
In my mind, I could see the hand-painted “Cracked Windshield Repair” sign of someone sitting up shop on the side of the road. You know what I’m talking about, don’t you? Street vendors have three products that you can randomly find on Hwy 290/71. They randomly include: bonsai trees, puppies, cracked windshield repair and rugs. Okay, so I gave you four options to choose from. I wouldn’t purchase any of those things from a side-of-the-road vendor.
Okay, so maybe I was lost in thought when the lady was giving me options, but I didn’t clearly understand the two names of places she was throwing out. I had never heard of either of them even if I was only half hearing what she was saying. It wasn’t just me. I had her on the hands-free Bluetooth feature in my truck. The General also couldn’t clearly hear her either and trust me, the General hears everything!
So with the persistency of an eye doctor asking, “which is better ‘option one’ or ‘option two’, the lady on the phone wanted to know which of the two glass vendors I wanted. I replied, “Even though I am not clearly hearing what you’re saying, I don’t want either of the places you’ve mentioned. I’ve never heard of either of them. Give me Binswanger Glass. Don’t they replace windshields?” Wow! Where did that come from? Why didn’t I think of Binswanger glass earlier? It was the place where I got my last windshield replaced.
In case you haven’t noticed, folks with experience (old people) opt to use name brands they recognize instead of ones they don’t. I was instantly relieved that I remembered Binswanger glass. However, they have changed locations. They are now on South Congress instead of being on South Lamar Street.
Consequently, I got the windshield in my truck replaced yesterday. I even took my laptop and cellphone with me so I could do some work while I waited. However, the inconvenience associated with getting a new windshield was troublesome. For one thing, I had just registered my truck and put the new sticker on my windshield. By the way, I had placed it professionally on the windshield. It was perfectly horizontal and looked perfectly placed. The lingering question was: “Where was I going to get another one?” I remembered asking the General if I needed to keep the paperwork associated to the last registration? She was in a de-cluttering mode and said she didn’t think so. Consequently, I tossed it. How was I going to get another sticker for the windshield?
In addition, South Austin is a long way away from Tex Dot. The inconvenience of getting another Toll Tag was also going to be bothersome. Coming up with the $50 for the windshield replacement paled in contrast to either of those two issues. I immediately put the thought out of my mind. First things first, once I had the windshield, I would figure out how to get a new registration sticker and I know the road to Tex Dot like the back of my hand.
Once Audie had replaced the windshield, I still had to wait another 30-to-45 minutes before I could drive the truck. I also had to be careful when shutting the doors and I needed to leave both front door windows down an inch or so when shutting the doors so the pressure wouldn’t dislodge the windshield until the glue dried. I could take the tape off the windows in a couple of hours.
By the way, I knew Audie’s name because it pays to meet the people working on your vehicle. Even though Binswanger was a reputable name, I wanted to meet the folks who worked there. It just makes the customer service experience so much better. Trust me, Audie was exceptionally skilled. In fact, I had never seen anything like it.
The first thing I noticed about the new windshield is that my registration sticker was right where I had left it on the old windshield. How did he do that? Seriously, “How did he do that?” The same was true for the toll tag. Hey, I’ve been around the block twice and I have removed a number of toll tags when I was trading in my vehicle. They don’t come off easily. The same is true for registration stickers. How did he do that? When I asked Audie the question, he smiled and said: “Even a blind squirrel finds a nut once in a while.”
All My Best!
Don