The kids have been home from college for the last few weeks on their holiday breaks. It has been wonderful having them home again, with lots of catching up, games, hikes, jokes, and just hanging out. I know how my parents felt when I returned home back in my college/military days. There’s a special comfort knowing they’re close by. I would walk by their doors in the morning (and sometimes the afternoon), smiling at the knowledge that they were home.
The past few days have been tougher, sending them back to their studies. Hallie packed and left on Friday, bound not for Chapel Hill but for a semester interning in DC. She’s excited to be starting a new adventure and Kelly and I are both excited for her and proud of her.
We had most of the rest of the weekend with Travis, though he also packed up this morning and I drove him at 10 AM to meet his carpool buddy for the trip back to Asheville. He is doing well in his studies and the interests he has picked up.
Now it’s just Kelly, me, and the dogs, and the quiet is settling in. I’ll miss the lights left on, the dishes strewn around the kitchen, the constant loads of laundry, and even the late night kitchen raids. Those things that once annoyed me now bring me comfort. It’s a reminder of the routine we’ve had for so long.
I know our jobs as parents are to get them out on their own, and we’re mighty damn close to having done that. Yet it’s still good to be remembered and to feel needed. I guess the beauty in the building of self-sufficiency is when they come back even when they don’t really have to. I’m already looking forward to our future visits.
This was the year that I put my money where my mouth is and actually got going with a band, DNR. I had first auditioned on December 30, 2021 but met the full band at my first rehearsal on January 15th. It was awkward for me at first because as the frontman / lead singer the band would often look to me for direction on what song to work on next. It was my first band and my first freaking rehearsal, so I really didn’t have a clue what I was doing. I just winged it, though, and figured it out as I went. I’m the noob in the band and the youngest, with the rest of the group having a decade or more of playing. They make it easy for me to fit in, though, and we’ve spent hundreds of hours of diligent rehearsing to perfect our sets. We played three private parties in 2022, which was great experience to be out in front of an audience, but I’ve always hungered for more! We have a dozen or so gigs lined up for 2023 at local bars and breweries and I can’t wait to get out there and entertain folks again!
Today marks one year since I decided to stop drinking alcohol. I can’t say I really planned to get here. It started out as an experiment to see how abstaining would affect my health. I figured that I would probably sleep better and feel batter about my health if I stopped drinking. I was not a heavy drinker. I usually stopped at one drink and can’t remember a recent time where it was ever more than two. Still, I had gotten into the habit of having one drink in the evening and that over time would add up.
One thing I asked myself is why I was drinking. I recognized that alcohol often gives one freedom to shift blame for one’s own behavior. “Blame it on the booze.” I was never one to act crazy, regardless, but I decided it is better to own my behavior at all times.
There are also some people who drink because they aren’t happy with their lives. While my life does have its challenges (just like everyone else’s), again I would own my behavior and accept my situation, whatever it may be. I want to always be clear-eyed.
So, an initial two week trial period soon became a month. A month became six months. Six months became a year. I attended many parties, social events, and company meals where drinks were consumed by others but not by me. Previous attempts to stop drinking always seemed awkward when I would be out somewhere and the only one not drinking. Not this time around! I have learned that I can still have fun, be myself, entertain, and not drink. I feel no compulsion now whatsoever to drink.
It’s been an investment in my health, both physical and mental. I have lost weight and gotten rid of my gut. I sleep better now and remember my dreams far better than I once did. My mood is better. Most of all, I take pride in who I am and don’t feel the need to cede my power to alcohol.
As my streak continued, I debated whether I would have a celebratory drink on my one-year anniversary. In light of the improvements that this choice has brought me, I don’t feel the need for any celebratory drink. This is a path that has proven worthy of following. I think I will see where it leads.
A side effect of my work on singing has been discovering what tools I need to sound decent. I started with a very good USB microphone a few years ago and then graduated to an inexpensive, 8-channel USB mixer board that I could use with some decent XLR mics I had lying around. When I got my current job, I went out and bought a top-of-the-line Shure SM7B microphone and paired it with my mixer, which got me even closer to the professional sound I wanted. Then I found a used digital sound card, an 8-channel Firewire-based M-Audio 2626 and bought it cheap.
Now, Firewire is essentially an abandoned technology now that Apple no longer ships systems with it, but it is still alive and well in Linux. I took one of my old desktop PCs out of storage, added a hard drive, installed Ubuntu Studio on it, and now have a digital audio workstation (DAW), for dirt cheap! Ubuntu Studio comes with a huge number of audio and video production tools and plugins. It works just fine with this very old M-Audio 2626, too.
My audio tool of choice for editing was once Audacity, but Ubuntu Studio comes with the open-source, ProTools-like DAW called Ardour. I’ve learned how to do some amazing things with manipulating audio using Ardour, simply by diving in and trying different things. I’m sure there is at last 200% more I can be doing with it when I fully understand its capabilities.
Over the past few days and nights, I’ve spent my free time using Ardour to recreate one of my favorite songs, R.E.M.’s These Days. I’ve often looked for old-school karaoke tracks for R.E.M. but there are few that aren’t the hits everyone’s heard a million times already. I did some Google searches to see if anyone’s done this themselves and hit pay dirt when I found a musician named Clive Butler. Clive posted several of his R.E.M. covers to Blogger from 2011-2018 and I thought I’d start with those. Then last week, I discovered he has fresh versions on his very own YouTube channel so I downloaded his version of These Days.
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As I mentioned previously, I’d taken my singing much more seriously over the last few years, practicing for hours each week to improve my technique. At the end of last year, I got good enough to post a few audio clips and videos on a bandmate-finding website called BandMix. It took about a week before a few bands reached out to me, interested to talk to me about fronting their bands. I said yes to one which was a new Creedence Clearwater Revival tribute band but we never rehearsed because of a surge in COVID at the time. I wound up leaving the band and it kind of broke up soon afterward. Then I got interest from a Beatles tribute band, too, but didn’t think the music was varied or interesting enough. Finally, a musician reached out who was interested in the same music I was – and it was across the gamut of styles. My interest was piqued!
In Beaufort, NC, tagging along on one of Kelly’s work trips at the end of December, I got a call from Chuck, the drummer, who proceeded to talk my ear off on all the stuff the band planned to play. A week later, I showed up at the practice space at Kit’s home and sang a few songs for him. He didn’t say much but his ear-to-ear grin told me all I needed to know. Thus, I became the frontman for DNR.
DNR is composed of veteran musicians, many with a decade or more experience playing in bands. As for me, this is my very first band. At our early rehearsals, held almost every Saturday morning, I found myself being stared at by my bandmates, waiting for me to take charge and get us playing. It took me a few beats (ha!) to learn how to actually lead a band, but basically I faked it until I figured out what I was doing. I never considered before how cool and powerful it feels to set this band (or any band) in motion. It’s not something I pondered when I was singing solo to karaoke tracks!
So we rehearsed and rehearsed, picked an interesting setlist, and missed various practices here and there due to vacations, COVID cases, and what have you. Finally, after months of hard work rehearsing, we held our first gig over the Memorial Day weekend: a surprise birthday party for Chuck’s wife, Claudia. There were about two dozen people in attendance and friendly faces at that, but re-watching the video I took I appreciate more and more how heartfelt the applause is that we earned.
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Over the two-year course of this COVID-19 pandemic, I have taken extra steps to keep myself and my family safe. I’ve kept abreast of the latest medical advice and research. I’ve invested in N95 and KN95 masks. I’ve hauled around my HEPA air filter to places where proper ventilation would be hard to come by. Most importantly, whenever I’ve had the slightest concern that any health symptoms I’d been experiencing might have been COVID, I have gotten tested with Wake County’s free PCR COVID tests. Six times I’ve done this, and six times I received a relieving result of negative. Most recently, we were shipped a set of four COVID antigen tests free from the government, and a test using one of those turned up negative, too.
I kept my precautions up, thinking I had succeeded in avoiding an COVID infection. It turns out I may have been wrong and didn’t even know it.
Last week, I noticed that one of my right toes was a little stingy and looked bruised. I didn’t recall injuring it so I wondered if it might be the “COVID toes” I’d heard about. See, COVID patients reported sores on their toes (mainly. Fingers may be involved, too), and my toe looked suspiciously like this. COVID attacks the vascular system in addition to everything else it hits, and red toes can be a symptom. Around that time, I had an attack of my Reynaud’s Syndrome, with some of my fingers turning numb and white for over an hour. This red toe effect could also be caused by Reynaud’s (which is also a vascular disease), so I couldn’t say for sure what was what. Thus, I popped open the antigen test and 15 minutes later it told me I was COVID negative. Sure, an antigen test is not as accurate as a PCR test but this was at the height of my symptoms so I assumed if I was going to pop positive on anything it would be right at that moment. But, no, it was negative!
Over the weekend, I got to thinking about how my body reacted to the primary, secondary, and booster COVID vaccines I had gotten. Basically, I didn’t react at all! There were no noticeable side-effects whatsoever. I was thinking about this and deciding that perhaps my reaction to the actual virus would be a similar non-event. I decided to contact the VA to schedule a COVID antibody test, knowing that this might show whether I’d been exposed and didn’t know it.
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OZ Division, USS ELLIOT DD-967, fall 1991.
Had a dust-up on social media the other day and, frankly, I am still mystified how it all took place.
I tend to follow online and amplify veterans who lean left because the perception of the military consisting of only right-wingers needs to change. A tweet from one of the more popular veterans I follow attracted several good comments. I liked one from a particular veteran (we’ll call her Karen), checked her profile, and followed her when I saw we had something in common: our Navy occupations were in cryptography.
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Durham VA COVID Clinic sign
I got the first of two COVID-19 vaccination shots on Saturday. For several years the Veterans Administration (VA) has been providing my healthcare. About two weeks ago I asked my doctor there if it was possible to get a shot. I stressed that I did not want to take one away from anyone else but if one were available I would love to get it. Thankfully, the VA has made it a priority that every veteran who wants a shot can get a shot. To my surprise, I got a call a day later! I was to be at the Durham VA on Saturday, 6 February at 9 AM to get my COVID-19 vaccination.
Our son Travis has been eager to get his vaccination, too, so in the offchance that he could pick up a shot, too, he accompanied me to the Durham VA. We hit the road shortly after 8 AM and drove through mostly-empty streets to Durham.
We arrived to a somewhat chaotic scene. One of the VA’s parking decks has been undergoing repairs for the past several months and parking has been tight even on a usual day. This day, there was a stream of veteran patients all arriving at the same time for their COVID shots. Though we got there at 8:35 for a 9 AM appointment, it took several minutes to find an open parking spot. Reaching the top level of the deck, we hopped out and headed to the walkway.
It was at the start of the walkway that I stopped to read the sign on the floor. No walk-in shots would be available. Regretfully, I turned to Travis and told him today would not be his day. With sadness, he turned back and waited for me in the car.
I joined a scrum of people waiting in line after line. First was the typical COVID risk screening at the entrance. A woman studied the masks worn by the visitors and switched out ones that didn’t meet her standards. I was amused when I was asked to trade the NIOSH-certified N95 mask that has protected me for months for an uncertified KN95 mask I was given. This was even more amusing when visitors with surgical masks that are not nearly as protective as my N95 were allowed to continue wearing them. Could it be that I know more about mask protection than healthcare workers?
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At a recent conference, an African American speaker told an inspiring story of an interaction with law enforcement, when he had expected the worst intentions from the officer but his worry proved unfounded. Our speaker had been walking to the local gym after an early-morning run. Soon he became aware that a police car was slowly following him. Immediately he assumed he was being profiled.
“Did you know you were being followed?” the officer asked. The speaker feigned ignorance.
“You were being followed by a rabid fox back there,” the officer replies. “I was just watching out for you.”
The happy moral of the speaker’s story is not to assume bad intentions, see?
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In the spring of 2020, Travis and I took a virtual ground school from a local flying club, the Wings of Carolina (WoC). It was the second time I’d gone through ground school, the first one being in the mid 1990s. That time I never got around to taking the FAA exam and I’d hoped to complete it all this time around.
Travis has expressed his interest in becoming a pilot. He has excellent vision and would spend lots of time using my flight simulator. I’d promised him long ago if he completed ground school I would be happy to pay for it, but still he was on the fence. When dates opened up for the virtual ground school, I prodded him multiple times about signing up but he was noncommittal. Finally, I signed myself up with the goal of finally finishing what I started. This was all it took to convince Travis to sign up, too, and we were off!
Twice a week, we would gather in front of our playroom TV to “attend” class. For three hours per night we’d be on Zoom as our instructor, John, filled out formulas and sketches on a whiteboard in WoC’s classroom. About 30 other classmates joined in, too. There were some technical glitches, fewer opportunities to interrupt with a question, and more of a distant feel to it than I would’ve hoped.
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