Hello, 2016

Photo credit: “The last sunset of 2015,” taken by the author, on Mt. Pony, Culpeper County, Virginia, December 31, 2015, around 5:15pm.

Everyone makes resolutions on New Year’s. It’s a long standing tradition! And this year, I’m no exception. It’s also an unfortunate truth that most people’s resolutions end up being abandoned by mid-February. Usually because life and/or the universe has other plans that trump anything that came before.

But still, it’s good to hope, and attempting to improve one’s self is a noble thing to do, even if it’s difficult to achieve or maintain. Anyway, I’ve arranged my resolutions into groups, in order of priority.

Group one: Home and Hearth. These are the ones that concern me the most.

  1. Get certain financial things under control. Last year I inherited some money and a stock portfolio from my mother. This year I want to get that fully squared away and working the way I want it to be. That is to say, shift the money into accounts that will help set up funds for Caitlin and Michael to go to college, and provide Lisa with a safety net should something tragic happen to me.
  2. Write up a will. To the best of my knowledge, I’m not staring death in the face. But my health isn’t in top form, and things can happen. So I intend to have a plan in place for just such an event.
  3. Clear the clutter from the house. This isn’t as serious as the first two, but it’s a tall order! Our house is a mess, and it has been for quite some time. The reasons for that are long and varied, but it’s time for some changes, because it’s been giving me considerable angst. We’re actually starting on this one already. One benchmark I want to use is to get at least 1000 pounds of stuff out of the house, either by donating it, selling it, or just tossing it. Earlier this week 13 pounds of stuff was donated to two charities in Culpeper. It’s a start.
  4. Several home and yard repairs. I have a laundry list of things that “need to be done” either to the house or to the land around it, and a few of them are pretty big projects. I hope to get at least some of these done. If I can’t, then I’ll try to find a service that can help.

Group two: my health. Everyone wants to improve their health in some way. This is my approach.

  1. I want to lose 20 pounds, and hope to keep off at least 10 of them. Everyone makes this resolution, so why should I be different? I tried to make a realistic and attainable goal, though. Ideally I should lose about 30 pounds, but I’ll try for this more modest step first. If I’m successful, I’ll re-visit this one later in the year.
  2. Keep my average blood sugar below 200. I’m diabetic, so my blood sugar can be a problem. I am prone to spikes, and rarely have lows. Therefore, my focus should be on keeping my sugar below a certain point. According to my doctor, someone of my body-mass-index should generally fall between 120 and 180, and the closer to the lower end the better. That being said, I should probably aim lower than keeping my average below 200, which is technically high. But if my readings from the post New Year’s week are anything to go by, I need to focus on something attainable. Here too, if successful, I will re-evaluate the situation at a later date.
  3. Deal with some of my personal demons. If you’re a regular reader of this site, then you know I have issues with depression. In recent months I’ve been compiling a list of specific issues that seem to be the source of my overall problems, and I’m going to bring these to the attention of my therapist. And unlike earlier years, I’m planning to get aggressive about it. I had a few wake-up calls this past year, so enough lollygagging.
  4. Visit the gym at least twice a week. In recent months I let myself get caught in a lot of proverbial briar patches, and it had a negative effect on my mood and health. Visiting the gym will alleviate a certain amount of that. I’ve long managed at least once a week, so I’m now shooting for two. My doctor says I should be shooting for five, so this is another one I can re-evaluate down the line, depending on how I do.

Group three: Would be nice. These are lower priority, but if the opportunity presents, these are some other things I would like to achieve this year. These may fall into the category of “self-improvement.”

  1. Keep expanding and working with the square foot vegetable garden. The 2015 garden was more successful than the 2014 one, but I still have a lot to learn. I’m hoping to expand to a maximum of four garden boxes this year. I suspect going larger would become hard to maintain.
  2. The Pugh Cookbook, second edition. Some years back, my late aunt Mary Pat composed a cookbook for the extended family, and many of us use and enjoy it. In the ten years since, the clan roster has changed, and some new recipes have surfaced at family gatherings. If I can, I’m hoping to compile a second edition of this book (the working title is “Second Helpings”). I suspect that other members of the family will be willing to help me on this one. The real issue is time.
  3. Digitize some vinyl albums. I have a whole mess of vinyl record albums, and some time back I acquired a USB turntable to record them into digital sound files. Why haven’t I done this yet? Good question. This year, I would like to transfer at least 50 of them to digital. If time and opportunity permits, I’ll do more. If I’m really lucky, I’ll move on to the audio cassettes and VHS videotapes!
  4. Get at least one of my Solar Council stories to a publisher. I’m an aspiring, and frustrated, science fiction writer. The “Solar Council” is the name I use for my futuristic science fiction setting. By most accounts my setting is a “hard” science fiction setting, so it’s not always easy to work with. (My characters rarely “talk to me.”) But this year I hope to get off my sagging laurel and get one story off to a publisher. Weather the story gets printed or digitally distributed is a totally different issue. For now, I just need to get back into that particular phase of the game.
  5. Learn a new computer language. I used to do a lot of programming, but that was with the old style procedural languages. The paradigm has changed, so perhaps I should change with it. Java and Perl are two potential candidates.
  6. Get back on stage. I used to do a lot of performing, both as a stage actor and as a coffeehouse musician. I haven’t done either one in years, and it’s time to try it again. I recently saw an excellent stage production of A Christmas Carol that featured a number of people I know from both work and church, and the bug is back. So my first step is to revive my coffeehouse act, or at least get back into practice, and find some open mic nights. If the regional theater starts putting together another play, then that will be another option.
  7. Finish the Elder Scrolls III (Morrowind) game. I’ve been playing this awesome game off and on for over a decade, but I have yet to actually get to the official game ending! Strange, no? Thing is, I enjoy the world editor as much if not more than the game itself, so I keep getting distracted. I don’t hold out much hope for this one. But since it’s low priority, I don’t have to.

And there it is, my plans for 2016. How they play out remains to be seen. Looking back, I have a lot of stuff to cover, so it’s unrealistic to expect success on all of them. But I’ll do what I can. If I’m ambitious and attentive, I’ll post status reports here. So, who else has interesting resolutions for the New Year?

Ursus americanus

bear1

tardis_by_homemadezombieIt’s flashback time! This is something I shared on Facebook, back in May of 2012, about a strange visitor to our rural Virginia home.

On Friday, May 24, 2012, at about 10:25am, Lisa was rousted from her writing by the frantic activity of our border collie, Doctor Watson. Our front porch was being raided by an American black bear! Apparently the bear was searching for food, and found the contents of our bird feeders a tasty snack. Both bird feeders were totally destroyed by the determined ursoid. This is unfortunate, because one of the feeders had been one of Caitlin’s school projects! The bear wandered around the porch for a while, leaving a swath of destruction in his wake, until not a single sunflower seed remained. He then sauntered on his way.

bear3

Lisa took these pictures from the relative safety of the house. This animal had no interest in entering the house. Fortunately. Grizzlies will break into houses, but less so black bears. I suspect that had this bear entered the house, Doctor Watson would have put up quite a fight. And would have lost. That evening I removed any potential food sources from the porch, while Lisa called the neighbors and informed them about the visiting forager. The neighbors weren’t happy to hear about this, but they too removed or secured possible food sources from their porches.

bear2

The bear did come back the next day, which is when Caitlin and I got a chance to see it. He looked around again, but found nothing to hold his interest. We didn’t see him again after that second day. One of the neighbors saw him later that week, but only in passing.

bear4

He was actually a very handsome animal, all things considered. Caitlin told her classmates about the bear, but many of them didn’t believe her. At least not until she brought in some prints of these photos.

The first time I saw a wild bear was as a boy scout in the late 1970’s, and that bear was almost a quarter mile away. When dealing with bears, the Virginia department of game and fisheries advises residents to make sure that no food sources are out in the open. If a roving bear can’t find food, it will move on. And if a given area doesn’t have interesting food sources, a bear will move to another area. If a bear persists, then it’s time to call Fish & Wildlife. In Virginia, nuisance bears usually end up being tranquilized, tagged, and relocated to the Shenandoah National Forest. We suspect this particular animal eventually moved on to one of the nearby forests, because we haven’t seen him since.


The American black bear is the most common bear in North America. The Eurasian brown bear is it’s closest cousin.

Country Roads

WVa-07

On October 24, we attended the wedding of my cousin Derek in Charleston, West Virginia. The following day became a foliage trip, as we took the scenic route home.

WVa-01

WVa-03

WVa-02

These three photos were actually taken just before the wedding. Some interesting boats were traversing the river, so while waiting for the ceremony to begin, I took a few snapshots. The sailing ship is actually a replica of one of Christopher Columbus’ ships, the Niña.

We wanted to make a few stops on the way back. One was the New River Gorge Bridge. This bridge was built in the 1970’s, and for a time it was the highest span bridge in the world. It may still be the highest and longest in the western hemisphere. At one time, crossing this part of the New River could take up to three hours. The image at the top of the page is of the old bridge, down at the base. Today the gorge can be crossed in just under a minute.

WVa-06

WVa-09

WVa-08

We saw some amazing views of the regional topography. But as you can see, Michael wasn’t impressed.

Our second stop was for a late lunch in Hinton, West Virginia. You may find this hard to believe, but one of the best views of the New River, or at least this part of it, can be seen from the dining room of a Dairy Queen! Yes, it’s a bit out of the way, but the view is amazing.

WVa-10

WVa-12

WVa-11

These three photos were all taken from the dining room of this restaurant. The first time I visited this place was in 1995, when the family had a reunion at nearby Bluestone State Park. My brother, mom and I found this place sort of by accident, but never forgot it.

It’s a very popular place for bird watchers. At certain times of the year there are all types of bird feeders and bird houses attracting all manner of feathered visitor. The dining room has one way glass, so most of the visiting birds are unaware of the human spectators.

Shen-02

Shen-01

These last two photos were taken on I-66, in Virginia, as we crossed the Shenandoah Valley. This highway traverses the region from Covington to Staunton, and finally Charlottesville. Our final stop for this foliage trip was a restaurant in Staunton, Mrs. Rowes restaurant and bakery. I was introduced to this restaurant several years ago by some friends, and I’ve stopped here several times since. Sometimes we stop for a meal, while other times we pick up some things from their freezer. This time we did both. The view isn’t as nice as the place in Hinton, but the food is amazing. Most tour books describe the food as “Americana.” That is to say, it’s not exotic, and most of the dishes are familiar. That doesn’t make it any less delicious. If you’re ever in the area, I highly recommend it. Check their web site for hours and exact directions.

By the time we reached Staunton the frequent changes in altitude were starting to cause us sinus problems. We arrived home around nine in the evening, and all went straight to sleep. We didn’t unpack our bags until the next day.

Thoughts of Eeyore

eeyore

I’m sure some of you have seen this meme image. I first saw it on Facebook, via Inspirational Quotes. I like the message of the quote, but I’ll confess that my first reaction was “If only that’s how it was in reality.” Eeyore is an extremely lucky donkey, because his experience is probably the exception.

Usually, the kid with Clinical Depression is ostracized, even shunned, because no one wants to be around a such a gloomy person! Such a child is also a frequent victim of bullying and other forms of abuse. These children are rarely (if ever) invited to adventures or shenanigans. They are always expected to be happy, and are always being left behind! Granted, they are never asked to change. Instead, they are asked to simply stay out of sight. This may sound cruel, but that’s how it often is. The problem is, when you’re talking about tweens and teenagers, that attitude makes some sense. Seriously, who would want to be around the kid who is depressed and grumpy all of the time? How many self-help experts advise staying away from people who make you feel bad?

Believe me, this is something I know about. I’ve been in treatment for clinical depression since my mid-20s, and I suspect I will continue to receive some kind of treatment for the rest of my life.

When someone with clinical depression attempts to socially connect, it’s usually because they are trying to get out of the deep pit they are trapped in. They hope that by latching on to other people, they can be pulled out of their melancholy and enjoy life for a time. Unfortunately, such people are just as likely to drag other people into the darkness with them, rather than be lifted out. A lot of people are unwilling or unable to take that risk, and stay clear of the depressed person. The one type of person who doesn’t avoid the depressed person is another depressed person, which is one of the reasons they tend to pack together. It’s the old adage of “misery enjoys company.” Unfortunately, this doesn’t do any of them any good, because they feed each others depression, and collectively make things worse. I found that for myself, the best thing to do was to isolate myself until the mood passed. Or at least until I had the strength to venture out again.

People sometimes ask me why I abhorred high school so much. Well, see above. Granted, some (but not all) of that isolation was of my own design, so this is not a black and white issue. It’s also much easier to see the patterns, and understand what was going on, when viewed through 30 years of life experience. If you had spoken with me about this topic back in 1985, I would have given you a totally different account.

Clinical depression is a very nasty condition that can hit from a variety of angles, and in ways that are hard to anticipate and impossible to control. Sadly, the first steps to recovery must be done alone, because the recovery has to come from within.

The patient has to decide that first they no longer want to live this way, and second, they need to seek guidance on how to change. This first phase of recovery is very lonely, and very difficult, because no one else can make that first decision. Others may suggest or advise, but the real decision must be made alone, in that dark, cold, featureless room.

It may sound simple, but it isn’t. There is no help at this stage. Help won’t be available until the patient consciously decides to seek it. For some this first step can be easy, especially if they have a few close friends or family available to support them, and a therapist or other type of mentor to help them find a method of treatment what works best for them. For others the first step can be very difficult, because self-esteem is usually in short supply, and the will to continue frequently ebbs. Such people need a good support network to keep going, and without one, they have trouble. Tragically, for some, that first step can be almost impossible, because they can’t see a way out and there is no one who will listen. Such people tend to suffer in silence until a stroke of luck sends someone to ask “what’s wrong.” Or, even more tragically, they opt for the permanent solution of ending their own lives.

Perhaps the most frustrating aspect of clinical depression is that it can’t really be cured. It can only be treated and managed. The black cloud can be kept at bay, but for most it never completely goes away. It’s always there, always waiting for a chance to plunge the patient into darkness again. Like any chronic disease, clinical depression can make even the simplest of days difficult to face.

Don’t let people tell you this disease isn’t real, because it is. If someone tells you that it’s “all in your head,” well, remember this quote from a famous fantasy novel:

“Of course it is happening inside your head, but why on earth should that mean that it is not real?”
J.K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows

And then tell them to do something anatomically impossible.

So Eeyore, you are very lucky, and you are awesome. You have a way to deal with your depression, and you’re using it. You have a group of friends and family to help and support you, even if all they do is keep the doors open, and the lights on. You’re working through it. There are a lot of us who are right there with you, slowly but surely moving forward, battling the monster that is clinical depression, one step at a time.

Keep it up, little guy. Your silent determination to steadily keep moving is an inspiration to many.