A Bachelor Again

Last Saturday night Julie hastily packed a single suitcase. At 7:30 AM, the next morning, she headed out the door, and with her leaving, I was suddenly a bachelor again. 

Julie was not exiting our marriage; instead, she was traveling to visit friends and family on a 3-day excursion.  

Eight years spanned the gap between the dissolution of my first marriage and the consecration of my second. During that period, I sometimes dated, and at other times I was single. However, except for those times that my daughter Anne was with me, I lived alone. I am a person who is comfortable being by myself, but at times my house felt empty. My marriage to Julie filled the house with her presence, and eventually, the presence of my three additional children. 

My family of origin was routine and typical for its time. My mother didn’t work outside the home, and my father was usually sitting in his comfortable chair by 4:00 or 4:30 PM. We never went on vacation, and my parents seemed to do everything together.

Julie’s family was different from mine. Her father frequently traveled internationally, and her mother worked outside the home. Her family had a cabin two hours north of Buffalo, and it was common for her father to spend time there away from his wife. Being apart from each other was normal.

Early in our marriage, I was devastated when Julie would go away without me. I took it as a personal affront that she didn’t want to be with me. It was usual for her to travel to her hometown during “Buffalo Days,” a local celebration. Buffalo Days are scheduled on Father’s Day weekend, which meant that her dad got to celebrate Father’s Day with Julie and my kids while I spent the day alone. 

The first time that this happened, I filled my time by feeling sorry for myself, but by the second year, I was prepared. I realized that it wasn’t Julie who was making me unhappy, it was me. To resolve this issue, I came up with a “Plan B,” I would celebrate Father’s Day weekend in my own way; I would turn this disadvantage into an advantage.

When you are married, you compromise. You abandon some activities and adopt others. There are many benefits to such a transition, but if you aren’t careful, it is possible to lose yourself in the giving process. Father’s Day weekend didn’t have to be a period of imposed sadness, it could become a time of rediscovery.

During Father’s Day weekend, I would be responsible only to myself. I would not have to compromise. What were some of the things that I gave up when I married Julie? I gave up going to movies that she didn’t like, which were mostly of the action genre. I gave up frequenting certain food joints, like White Castle. I pulled back on socializing with others. I abandoned a past activity of spending a given day researching an esoteric topic or learning a new skill. I stopped cooking foods that I considered delicious, but Julie thought were unhealthy.

With the above awareness, I decided to face Father’s Day weekend head-on. That Friday’s dinner consisted of a trip to White Castles where I feasted on a bag of Sliders, a jumbo box of onion rings, and a large vanilla shake. I paid for that indiscretion, but it was worth it. On Saturday, I deliberately woke up late. I then pondered on an esoteric topic until I reached my intellectual saturation. I willfully stayed in my PJs until the evening, at which time I changed into street clothes and took myself to a bad, but wholly enjoyable action movie. On Sunday morning, I fried up a half-pound of bacon and cooked three over-easy eggs directly in the bacon’s pool of rendered fat. I accompanied my bacon and eggs with buttered toast using white bread instead of our standard whole wheat. I ate my eggs, drank strong coffee, and listened to straight-ahead jazz, all at 10 AM in the morning. 

In the early afternoon, I picked up my sister, Carol. Carol asked, “Where are we going?” I pointed vaguely westward, “There,” I said. Off we went with no particular destination in mind. Our goal was to visit small towns along the way and to find an exciting restaurant to celebrate Father’s Day dinner. We both love these discovery adventures, and to this day, we enjoy reminiscing about them.

My Father’s Day plan was a success. A dreaded weekend became a weekend to anticipate. With a few thoughtful steps, I went from being a victim to being victorious. 

Julie and the kids now spend Father’s Day at home with me, and I love the happiness that this brings, but these new memories don’t discount my Plan B adventures.

I have been married to Julie for over 25 years, and the days of being traumatized by her absences have long passed. Also, I no longer feel a need to fill every away minute with activity. However, I have learned that I can have a lot of fun during those times when I am responsible only to myself. 

And so it was with last Sunday. I drove Julie to Midway Airport to catch her flight to Minneapolis. Midway Airport is west of Gage Park, which is the Chicago neighborhood where I grew up. As you know from previous posts, I don’t have a lot of positive memories growing up. However, I still have a connection from that time and that place.

I turned my car east on 55th street and headed to my old neighborhood. The roads seemed much narrower than what I remembered. Gage Park has become one of the most dangerous communities in Chicago However, the blocks were tidy and well maintained. Eventually, I turned right on Richmond Street, made a left on 56th Street, and then a quick left on Francisco Avenue, which was the street that I lived on. There on the east side of the block was my former home. Some siding had been added to the second floor, a bay window had been installed, bricks had been painted, and pavers filled the space that had been formally occupied by broken and cracked concrete. My old house looked better than it did when I lived there 45 years earlier! I took it all in, and I drove on.

My old house (far right). Bad composition, but I was driving at the time.

My old neighborhood has a little shopping area centered at 55th Street and California Avenue. In the day you could buy just about anything that you needed there. Grocery stores, clothing stores, a dimestore, a branch library, beauty shops, a bakery, and even a little movie theater lined the streets. On my return visit, many of the original buildings were still there, but their occupants had changed. Colorful signs now announced a plethora of Mexican restaurants. However, a few old businesses continued, including the corner gas station and the “Hong Kong” Chinese restaurant. I took it all in, and I drove on.

Next, I drove by Gage Park High School. When I attended Gage Park, it was so dangerous they brought the police in by school bus. Once, the home of several thousand students, it now has less than 400 due to its undesirability. I took it all in, and I drove on.

Gage Park, not a place of happy memories.

I finished my adventure by driving by my childhood friend John’s former home on 59th Street and California Avenue. He had told me that the house had a major fire several years earlier, but by my visual inspection, it looked intact and occupied. Lastly, I went past the old Colony movie theater, a childhood mainstay for Saturday afternoon adventures. Its worn facade and closed shutters saddened me as the movie theater was one place where I did have happy memories. I took it all in and headed home.

The old Colony Theater, now shuttered and closed.

Now back home, my goal was to understand the implementation and use of off-camera flash triggering via RF transmission. I was also very interested to see if I could get two flashes of different manufacturers to coordinate with one another. I know you are thinking BORNING, but I found the process utterly fascinating.  

It was then time for a break, and I got into my car to pick up an overdue prescription for Julie. On the way, I received a text from my friend, Tom inviting me to come over. Of course, I was more than happy to comply. 

With a prescription secured, I headed to Tom’s house spending a couple of delightful hours there. Tom is a great cook and invited me to dinner and a bonfire. He didn’t have to twist my arm. 

I love bonfires.

On Monday, I did some architectural photography work. That afternoon I discovered that my relatively new and expensive Nighthawk WiFi router had failed. I spent the next few hours retrofitting an old castoff router that I had stored in the nightmare that I refer to as my basement. The job made more complicated by the many Google Nest devices that I had to manually reconnect one at a time. 

Tuesday, it was more of the same. Some photo-taking, some errand running. I ordered a new router on Amazon. I spent some time with Tom. I returned to my camera flash study and made some more progress in getting my odd couple flashes to talk to each other. 

I decided to make myself some potato pancakes, a dish that I last made over 20 years ago. Hot and delicious, I topped each pancake with a dollop of sour cream. “Better than steak!” I thought to myself.

During dinner, my daughter Anne called. She was having a difficult time. There was little I could do except to extend my support and to let her know that I love her. I felt helpless.  

I got the mail and discovered a letter from my son, Will. I plopped into my study’s giant leather chair and started to read. Just as I finished the last line, I was startled by loud banging on the window, which caused me to jump out of my chair. It was Tom and his son Charlie. Tom was clearly delighted that he scared me. His printer was busted, and he needed to use mine. We chit chat a bit as the document prints, but he is quickly on his way.

Tuesday ended with a hot shower and the Democratic debate. Soon I’m out for the night. At some unknown point, Julie arrived via Uber and life in Kunaland returned to normal.

When I reflected on what I did this weekend, I discovered that it was remarkably similar to Plan B that I concocted on that fateful Father’s Day. However, what took significant effort has long become a natural and effortless action  

You may be a situation where you feel challenged. However, I encouraged you to think outside the box and discover if you can turn that scenario around and develop your own Plan B. Changing behavior requires effort, but with enough repetition, what seems novel or even awkward becomes routine and easy. Take control of your life.

Oh, I also made some REAL popcorn, not the junk in a microwave bag… and I even had a glass of wine!

Peace

The (Almost) Free Secret To Happiness

We arrive at his college with anticipation. We had been talking to Will on the phone, but this would be the first time that we would see him in situ since we dropped him off at his dorm, which was over a month ago.  

We text Will as we approach, and he responds that he will meet us in the Domino’s Pizza parking lot. I’m grateful for this as parking would be difficult since Violet, the van is almost 9 feet tall. She doesn’t play well with parking garages.

Will is happy to see us and spends the day showing us his classrooms and sharing stories. I am proud of him and happy. I’m pleased that he is adjusting to college life, but I’m even more glad that he is a kind and gracious host. His mature actions turn Parents’ Weekend into a happy experience.  

Exploring Will’s college campus.

Julie had called about a hotel room, but the only rooms available were $300 per night. Instead, she booked a camping spot for $30, and we headed there after our day with Will. We arrived after 10 PM, but Violet, the van, is self-contained, and setting her up is easy.  

Violet, the van makes camping easy.

I pull into the campsite, and we get ready for bed. I have camped a lot in Violet, but this would be the first time that Julie will be spending the night, and we both wonder if two can comfortably sleep on Violet’s small and non-standardized bed.  

Will said that he would be happy to go to brunch with us on Sunday, with the stipulation that it would have to be after 11 AM. With the lack of a morning deadline, we sleep in. Upon awakening, I start my Gas One butane stove up. I place my $7 Walmart kettle on it and fill the kettle with a bottle of water. After a few minutes, the kettle’s whistling alerts me that it was time to make the coffee, which I do one cup at a time. Julie sips her coffee as she looks out of Violet’s large sliding door window at the green grass and trees of the campground. I ask her how she slept, “Fine,” was her reply. Her response signaling that we could take a more extended camping trip together.

Making coffee one cup at a time.

We decide to walk around the campground, which is quiet and serene. It abuts a calm lake dotted with small boats. The setting is idyllic. I feel the happiness that I always do when I’m camping. At peace, feeling the calm of nature.

The campground was idyllic.

It is 4:45 in the morning, and I drive 12 minutes to my friend Tom’s house. I pick up two cups of coffee at Dunkin Donuts on the way; one with cream for me, and the other black for Tom. He is already waiting for me, and we sit on his front porch and talk about everything from politics to the weather. Eventually, we pile into his pickup truck and run various errands. We continue our banter as we ponder an endless list of topics. We enjoy each other’s company. I am having a good time.

The main job of the day is to grind down the surface of a patio in preparation for a new coat of paint. This involves several machines, which are both expensive and very heavy. At one point, I operate one machine as Tom stands on it to add extra weight for higher grinding power. In between my labors, I grab my Canon 5D Mark IV and snap pictures of the process. These will be used for Tom’s website and blog. I enjoy learning things, and on that day I learned about cement refinishing. 

Learning how to refinish a patio.

That evening I return home and download the photos. My regular computer is in the shop, and so I can’t use my professional photo editing software. Instead, I have to make do with a consumer-level program on my backup travel computer. This is challenging as I need to extract every capability of the software to achieve an acceptable result. I find the process mildly stressful, but also exhilarating and fun. Another opportunity to learn and to be creative! Also, I know that I’m helping my friend Tom. Tom is always helping me, and it makes me happy when I can return the favor and help him.


It is Sunday, which is the day that I clean the house. I took this task over from Julie several years ago. I can’t say that I enjoy scrubbing toilets, but I do like having my living space clean and tidy. On completion, I pause and examine my efforts. My results give me a sense of calm, and I savor that feeling. 

During the afternoon, I get calls from my daughter Grace, and my daughter Kathryn, who is serving in the Peace Corps. It feels lovely to connect with them. I am so grateful that they want to talk and share with me.


Another one of my jobs is to make Sunday supper. I generally like to cook from scratch. I have a rough idea of what I want to make and research a recipe on the internet. With print-out in hand, I head to “Fresh Thyme,” a small grocery store near my house. For such purchases, I prefer going to a little store as I tend to get confused and agitated in larger and noisier establishments. “Fresh Thyme” is not only small, but it also has limited choices making decisions simple. I buy what I need and head home.

Going to a small grocer makes shopping easy.

That evening my dinner includes a salad, grapes, roasted carrots, steamed rice, and lemon chicken. I enjoy researching a recipe, creating dishes, and using a gadget (in this case, the Instant Pot). Julie said that the dinner was excellent…a bonus!

Sunday supper.

On Monday we watch a movie on my computer. I problem solve and figure out how to project the video from the laptop to the TV. I explain the process to Julie so she will have the ability to do the same in the future. Teaching and sharing information gives me joy.


Dear reader, you may wonder how all of these mundane examples relate to finding happiness. For me, they resonate with the core things that make me happy. The above scenarios have examples of me connecting with people who I care about. They demonstrate learning new things and the use of technology to expand my abilities. They illustrate different ways to be creative. They allow me to share my knowledge with others by teaching. They identify that I am most at peace in a tidy and organized space. They illustrate how I thrive in the serenity of nature.

These are the things that give me satisfaction in life. All of them are nearly free.

You may have a different set of things that make you happy. Explore your feelings and examine the common elements of those things that satisfy you. Look for the essence of these common elements. Perhaps you like to go dancing, but why? Is it the exercise, or the music, or the social interaction? A core essence is generic and can be found in many other activities and situations. Those other activities and situations will probably make you happy too.

Also, explore things that stress you and make you unhappy. Distill the essence of these activities and situations. Use this knowledge to avoid negative people and situations.

You may notice in my examples that I didn’t mention the many things that we are TOLD makes us happy. I didn’t say a big house, a fancy car, or other material things. I didn’t discuss popularity or celebrity. I didn’t cite designer clothing or elaborate beauty regimes. I feel that in some cases, these things can make us unhappy. Getting in debt over possession purchases is stressful. Trying to find happiness by seeking external approval can be a never-ending struggle. Attempting to feel better about ourselves by the clothing that we put on our backs or creams that we smear on our face is folly.  

Dear reader, I’m not saying that you shouldn’t have a beautiful house if you can afford it. I’m not saying that you shouldn’t make an effort to be liked, and I’m not saying that you should not have flattering clothes. What I am saying is that for most people, these things do not add to their happiness quotient, and when they try to substitute them for your core happiness elements, it can be dangerous. Happiness can not be found by running a credit card to its limit, and that package from Amazon will at best have a temporary, mood-elevating effect.

Discover the real core things that make you happy and pursue them. Listen to your soul instead of worshiping advertisers and influencers. Transcend commercialism to find your inner peace.

When Things Fall Apart

October 1st, 2019 was a day that will go down in infamy. OK, that is a bit dramatic, but it was a challenging day.

I had to be at Tom’s house at 5 AM as I was going to a job site to do a photoshoot. I had prepared the night before by getting out gear, charging batteries, and resetting my camera to its standard settings. After some coffee and conversation, we headed to the job location in nearby Warrenville.

I was shooting outside in a shaded area, and I knew that additional light would make a difference. Before I got out of the car, I attached the flash to my Canon 5 D Mark IV. I headed to the customer’s backyard and took some test shots without the flash, confirming that a flash would enhance the pictures and so I powered on my old but very reliable Canon 430 EX speedlite. I took a picture and did a quick look at the back of the camera to chimp the results. The photo was hopelessly over-exposed. I checked the camera settings to discover that it was not communicating with the flash; my flash was fried. The day was not starting well.

I returned home, and decided to tackle the hedges in front of my house. I am not a yard work kind of guy, and so I try to simplify these tasks as much as I can. Along these lines, I have a battery-operated hedge trimmer. I have a bunch of other battery-operated lawn gadgets that use the same battery packs which I had charged a week earlier. I slid in a battery and started to clip a large, and out of control bush. After about 30 seconds, the clipper stopped cold. I put in the second battery, and the same thing happened. The final battery acted similarly, crap.

I still have my original corded electric hedge trimmer, which I then pulled out. My long extension cord was nowhere to be found. I had lent it out to a friend, and it had not come back to me. I pieced together three smaller extensions, plugged in the old trimmer and pressed its power button. The gadget sprung to life, but after about a minute it slowed and stopped. Checking everything from the AC outlet to the extension cords proved that the problem was in the clipper, it was busted. With a sigh of remorse, I dug out my manual clippers and went to work on the bush, creating a massive pile of branches and leaves. I then went back into the garage to get a rake, so I could gather the mess that I had created. Within seconds the head of the rake fell off. Back in the garage, I found its spring-loaded retaining clip, which was so stiff that I couldn’t reattach it. How in the world did it fall off? Into the garbage the rake went.

I grabbed another rake and built a huge pile of leaves and branches. I returned to the garage to retrieve a paper grass bag that already had a small amount of chopped grass. I double-checked to make sure that the bottom of the bag was intact before I started to shove my newly cut shoots into it. I then carefully lifted the bag and carried it back to the garage at which point the entire bottom ripped open dumping dirt, leaves, stems, and partially decomposed and fermented grass everywhere.

Naturally, my hedge trimming took longer than expected. Now in a rush, I grabbed my computer bag and drove to the Apple store. This was my second visit to Apple this week as I have two computers that have keyboard recalls. As usual, it was a “hurry up and wait,” experience. Eventually, a young man named Jordan appeared. I explained to him that the keyboard on my MacBook was malfunctioning and that I was aware that Apple had a recall on this particular model. Jordan scanned my serial number into his iPad and shook his head. My MacBook had been bought as an overstock item, and because of this, it was sold “as-is.” If I wanted to fix it it would cost over $350. Apple produced a defective product but wouldn’t fix my computer due to a loophole; typical Apple.

I got back into my car and decided to go to Menards to buy a replacement electric hedge trimmer, some contractor bags, and a long extension cord. I always wander through Menards as I can never find what I’m looking for in that store. I meander to their food section where I buy a can of Progresso Cream of Mushroom soup. I am not sure why I buy groceries at a hardware store, but I often do. Now in the checkout line, I hand my items one by one to the cashier. The store’s checkout counters are tiny. Finally, I hold up the large box for the trimmer which she scans. I then place the box back in the cart. The clerk looks at me with a raised eyebrow and in an exaggerated movement cranes her head towards my cart. She queries, “I suppose you also want that can of mushroom soup?” There it was stuck behind the hedge trimmer box. Yes, I say sheepishly as I imagine being hauled away for soup thievery. I simultaneously wonder how I missed the can and why I was buying it in the first place. I leave the store with my head hanging low.

On my way back home, I remember that we had some Lou Malnati’s deep dish pizza leftovers. A vestige from entertaining our friends John and Barb over the weekend. Easy to reheat and tasty; finally a little break in my day of fails! Unfortunately, under the foil, I find a piece of crust and a tiny trimming from a larger piece. I sigh and heat my subpar dinner in the microwave.

Over the last few months, I have episodically gone down to my basement with a black contractor bag; my goal being to remove at least one bag of junk for the garbage, or for a Goodwill donation. I feel that every bag removed is one bag closer to a clean space. On such an adventure earlier in the week, I had noticed that the dehumidifier wasn’t working. I cleaned the unit’s filter and readjusted its dials in a hopeful effort.

With a black contractor bag in hand, I went down to my basement; its mustiness confirmed that my dehumidifier repair efforts were in vain. It appears that I’ll be spending another $250 bucks at Menards this week. I make a mental note, “Avoid the soup aisle.”

I did a review of my day and decided it was time to call it quits. I took a long shower, put on my PJs, and went to bed. Time 8:30 PM.

Dear reader, I think we all have had days like this. Nothing truly terrible happened; no lives were lost. However, when I’m having such a day, it feels like I’m being attacked by a swarm of mosquitos —irritating, annoying, joy sapping.

I don’t believe that there is any particular significance to these days. I feel that they are just the product of random occurrences. However, they are still troubling and tiresome. In my mind, the best thing to do when faced with such a situation is to accept and surrender. That is exactly what I did.

I write this post on October 2, 2019 at 6 AM. A day for a new beginning. A day to buy a new dehumidifier