Saturday, October 31, 2009

Feeling Fallow Fall

This is the view toward the deer gate. I can almost see my driveway disappearing beneath the forest leaves. Will I be able to find my way out by next week? So much work!

Tonight, as I watched the sun go down from my living room, I prepared a lovely mushroom ravioli with homemade tomato/basil /green pepper sauce with the last of the vegetables harvested from the garden. I am home alone, so forcing myself to actually prepare a healthy and fresh meal was not easy. (I could have had microwaved popcorn.) I washed these healthy antioxidants down with a nice Sangiovese that I had purchased at my recent visit to the Biltmore estate. I am alone and so adjusting to enjoying good food by myself is taking some effort. I removed the small bag of frozen peach pie filling made months ago and after thawing added to a pie crust and sliced a fresh apple on top, added more cinnamon and sprinkled some granola cereal on top of it all. It turned out delicious with a scoop of vanilla ice cream.
Here is the back yard that I need to either rake or blow. It was clean just days ago, so I am being somewhat lazy and putting this off. It is a contest with the trees. They still have lots of leaves. They throw them down in the wind like yellow flakes of gold, as if they were gentlemen throwing down their yellow gloves as if in a challenge to duel. But then, when I look up, the trees still have more wealth to share. I will never win this duel.

The sex-crazed squirrels spend all their time chattering and laughing at my confusion.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Happy Halloween

I heard the screech of the famous pileated woodpecker and then he turned into a spook for Halloween. You may have to click on the image for the full effect. (One of these days I am going to get a decent photo of one of the pair that live here!)

Look here for some interesting Halloween Art. (WARNING: some of the other graphics aren't so PG.)

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

After Slowing Down

Well, here is the follow-up. It rained ceaselessly the whole evening. My son and I did get lost and he had a GPS on his phone...he is just a bad navigator telling you about a turn as you miss it! We also discovered that there are TWO places in the area with very similar names and we had headed to the wrong one. We still made it to the Keb Mo show on time. Food was awful as it always is at that theatre but it is intimate seating and so you feel close to the stage. On the way back to drop him off I did goof and turned onto a one-way street, but since the traffic was thin at 11:00 P.M., we survived that screw-up as well. AND as you can surmise from this post, I did make it back out of the city, but the drive was somewhat tense as pouring rain and glaring headlights meant I had to really concentrate the whole hour and a half on the way home. It was worth it to head bob with Keb Mo and to sit with my son.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Slow Down,

It is silliness, really. He wasn't her first choice. Well, actually, he was her first choice, but she knew he wouldn't get back to her with an answer until 24 hours before. If he decided he couldn't come, that would leave her too little time to fill his shoes. No, he ended up being her third choice. Her husband was the first. Hubby had several months notice, but blew her off for a free trip to exotic Bali and elsewhere just weeks before the date. She gave him a piece of her mind and was thankful that he had to leave before she could empty her entire brain.

Her second choice was her daughter. The loyal and faithful fallback. She had been the one to go with her to hear Chris Botti last spring when hubby once again had a conflict. The date tonight was set until yesterday when daughter called to explain she had an unavoidable business trip to either Georgia or Florida...didn't know until the judge cleared their access to the buildings. Anyway, she couldn't go, but she had found a fallback. Tabor asked if it was someone tall, handsome, and single! Of course, daughter smiled into the phone.

As you have probably guessed the fallback was her first choice. The son that she knew would enjoy the venue more than the other two. He seemed excited on FB to be going, but sometimes he was so unreliable.

Now she was standing in her closet with a pile of clothes on the floor. Everything made her look like a bag lady. Honest! She felt like a 16-year-old on a first date. She finally pulled out her reliable gray cords with the diamonds on the butt...that would fit with this crowd. She pulled on a cowl neck gray mohair and some silver beads. Monochromatic with her gray hair. Perfect, she grimaced. She would not fit, but she knew that no one would even see her in the crowded theater. But she didn't want to look to Mom-like with her son. More make-up...heavy on the eyes. It was a dark and informal place and she guessed the crowd might be a little noisier than she was used to. But she did so love this artist's music so very much.

So, since she was driving, something she hated and hated even more so in the rain, she spent several hours googling maps to both the meeting place in the city and the venue from the meeting place. Misgivings about getting lost be damned, she was determined to have a good time. The other kink was that after dropping her son off, she had to find her way back home. Since daughter was gone the S.I.L. had invited his parents down for the evening to help with swim lessons, etc. So at 11:00 P.M. in the rain she will be heading the long way back out of the city, hoping that she will not end up in some desolate area after getting lost.

If I post no more blogs, you will know what happened...or perhaps you will just be left to wonder.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Salt Is in the Air

Hubby left over a week ago and the days are now starting to wear quietly thin knowing he will not return for several more weeks. Fortunately the angles of the sun against the leaves of the trees and the visit of an osprey have helped pass the time. Today I blew the leaves off the deck and patio and the small back lawn. I startled a little gray frog that had set up his winter housekeeping at the corner of one of the steps under the leaves.

I then planted my 20 alliums, maroon and white, into a nice curve beside the chaste plant. I look forward to their blooming this summer.

I also got motivated and vacuumed the floors, cleaned all bathrooms, and dusted and polished furniture. When bored, Tabor fills her time with tasks that make her fill less guilty.

Then I sat down and poured myself a glass of Biltmore chardonney while I pondered how to industriously fill the rest of the day. Oh, nuts, I conceded. and just grabbed my camera and walked barefoot across the pointy gravel to the dock and began to do what I love the most, snap pictures. Below are photos of the lovely saltbush that grows prolifically along the riverside. It smells so musty and earthy this time of year and mimics the snows to come by throwing off its feathery seeds in your face as your saunter by. Be sure to click on the photos to really see the beauty of this bush.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Not Mr. Roger's Neighborhood

I just had my wrapping paper order delivered by a multi-millionare...well her mom is one anyway. They came via kayak. Is this an unusual neighborhood or what?

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Missed Opportunity

Since I began blogging I realized that I had joined a family of writers and photographers and cooks (some anyway) with interesting ideas to share. I may not agree with everything they say, but all of them do express it so well and help me stretch my mind. The photo above is how close I came to Colleen's town and had we not been in such a rush to cross the mountains before dark, I just might have driven through the little town of Floyd and stopped in at the local cafe! I have been reading about this special town for several years and I am sure that I would have spotted Colleen right on playing a game of Scrabble. Missed opportunities are the story of my life.

What does amaze me is how many times I come close to where some blogger lives!

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Bridging the Gap

One of my bloggers, Maggie, was right! Here above is one of the Hudson River view paintings.

Perhaps you have been watching the intriguing and important television series on MSNBC by Ken Burns, "The National Parks: America's Best Idea." If not, you are missing a compelling series on how difficult it was to set aside these unique natural areas (58 parks) in our country for generations to come so that they could see untouched natural beauty. The series talks about the wealthy and not-so-wealthy visionaries and outliers that made this dream come true. If you think that our natural resources are important to use and exploit for the economic security of our country, this series will drive you nuts. If, on the other hand, you feel at one with nature and do not live in fear that you might have to live in a cave some day, this series will reignite that lust to see all of our great country.

On my recent trip through Southern Virginia, my husband and I decided once again to see the Natural Bridge area which is a PRIVATELY owned natural wonder. This is a solid rock bridge carved by nature that is 20 stories high. It is well worth seeing, but getting there takes some fortitude. Because it is privately owned, the first stop is the massive parking lot with it's ugly signs and other non-natural attractions. Behind these signs is the view of the massive hotel where people stay so that they can leave their room and walk across the street to see this wonder.

The grand entry (photo below) where you must go to purchase a ticket includes a huge souvenir shopping area that has nothing to do with the natural wonders of this great country but is willing to sell you a lot of crap that will end up in the land fills of your back yard. Note the convenient ATM in the left side of the photo below.

Finally you can walk or take a shuttle bus down into the valley to finally see the natural bridge. It sits along a lovely rushing river. If you can ignore the bench seating for the evening light show about the creation of the earth, avoid the view of the huge speakers that now sit on top of the bridge nestled against the shrubbery, and also ignore the wedding taking place on the far left, you might imagine what this wonder would have looked like when first seen by America's early pioneers.

It is worth visiting, even though you will feel a little fleeced by the time you leave. Baaaaa!

Monday, October 19, 2009

A Place to Rest Your Head at the End of the Day

Travel requires some planning prior to departure on where one can stay. Well, some people pack a bag and pull into anywhere along the road. I have had a few experiences where a soccer tournament or a convention have forced me to stay 30 miles outside the city, so I always make reservations and have a plan. On my most recent trip I stayed at a Budget Inn that cost about $65 for the night. The room was very small, only two thin towels, a comfortable bed, no coffee pot or hair dryer, but clean. If I wanted to eat something I had to get in my car and drive a small distance as the restaurant across the parking lot did not smell all that good, really.

The second place that I stayed was a Fairfield Inn. This is the low end of the Marriott chain of rental residences and cost us just under $100 for the night. We got a hair dryer, good coffee, a large room with a sitting area, and a free communal breakfast area with make-your-own waffles or heat-your-own pastries and cereal, fresh fruits, and yogurt. Distance to nearby tourist areas was short. We are Marriott members so we also got points and discounts.

Our final place to stay for three nights was a B&B (Bed and Breakfast) out near the mountains of North Carolina. This was a lovely old home that had 10 bedrooms on three levels and has been an operating B&B for over 15 years. The rooms had interesting themes and the one I reserved was called 'Light and Shadows' and was the photography room with antique cameras and a magazine or two on photography. The quilt and decor was very nice. It had a small sitting area and a lovely claw-footed bathtub in the bathroom that was a challenge for me (who is in pretty good physical shape) to enter and exit. The bathroom had super thick towels, fragrant shampoos and soaps and a hair dryer. There was even a small private deck outside our bedroom with two small chairs to sit and look over the beautifully landscaped gardens. B& B's provide full breakfast and this one would even cook a dinner if you requested. The breakfasts were delicious and filling if not outstanding. There were two sitting rooms in the common area, one with a free computer access and lots of books to read. Artificial fireplaces were everywhere adding to a very cozy atmosphere. A small area was set up for coffee, tea or cappuccino at any time of the day or night. There were fresh homemade cookies waiting for us at the end of every hiking and touring day. There was no television, thank goodness. The cost was $130 per night.

Bed and Breakfast establishments are usually more expensive than staying at more predictable chains. Some of my friends stay at higher end hotels that cost between $200 and $300 a night and think that is a reasonable price to pay for what they expect. To some extent you get what you pay for in this world of travel. Location is probably the most important feature if you plan on seeing anything in the area.

B&Bs are not everyone's cup of cappuccino. They usually attract garrulous Garys and chatty Cathys; people who want to talk at breakfast before you head out and who want to hear about your day and tell you about theirs before you head up to bed. The Innkeepers themselves are great for communicating important information about the area and they love to hear about your experiences, because they live there and run an Inn and don't get out much anymore! Therefore, if you are a private and quiet person you may want to clarify this before you make reservations at a B&B so that the innkeeper can put you in the most remote bedroom and keep a smaller table available for you and your buddy at breakfast. OR you may wish to check into the nearby hotel.

The fun part of B&Bs is the people you meet. I ate breakfast with a young couple that live only two miles from my brother's house in Colorado! I ate another breakfast with a minister and his wife on their anniversary vacation and a couple from San Francisco who had not ever traveled much, so we could be the experts. I chatted with a widow whose husband had planned the trip months ago and then had a massive heart attack on Father's Day while fishing. She and her sister took the trip anyway as it helped her deal with her grief.

Of course, the real serendipity experience was learning our waitress at the local Italian restaurant downtown came from Sulawesi, Indonesia where my husband was heading in just a few days! He got to practice his Bahasa which he has not used in decades.

Travel is great for the historic places and natural scenery, but also fruitful for all the people that you meet.

(The photo is the Biltmore Estate...and I did NOT stay there.)

Friday, October 16, 2009

Autumnal Reverie

I am back in my quiet and familiar home but still feeling a bit disoriented. Both of these recent trips, the one to Colorado and the one to North Carolina, sort of came about like a haphazard fall of dominoes being back to back. They were planned but somehow took place like rushing river falls...both of which I saw on each of my journeys. My visit with my family was sweetly sad as we gathered together one afternoon to distribute the ashes of both of my parents and part of the ashes of my sweet younger sister who passed away a number of years ago. There was both laughter and tears and not much formal ceremony. We are not a formally religious family and calmly accepting of the way our lives have gone. The ashes now rest on the side of a mountain with a view of the fall valley, facing a regal mountain in an area that we all love, and in the evening the ceremony was blessed over a couple of bottles of Malbec.

I feel the closeness of the impermanence of time which hangs like a damp cloth about my shoulders when I return from unfamiliar territory. This bittersweet feeling is stronger because my husband left today for Indonesia and will be gone for many weeks. It is a small project from which he will make no money, but a project that he believes will help their government move into networking ecological projects. I love him enough to let him fly far away when he needs that. We put our heads together before he left to see what house errands could be completed before his departure.

I now move alone through the rooms unpacking and making piles of laundry and sorting piles of unread mail, which will help fill the coming days. The weather is sublimely misty and cold and seems in sync with my feelings.

House plants in pots, just a few this year, have been moved inside and back to their space by the breakfast corner windows and if the weather clears I will load some of the split wood into the wheelbarrow and move it to a rack by the porch. Then I will pull out the zinnias and other vines that need to be cleared. While I was gone I received a box of 50 new narcissus bulbs and a few allium bulbs that need to find homes in the yard and that will take another afternoon.

For the cool evenings that are to come I will fill by sorting and working with my many photos of the fall colors in the Blue Ridge and Great Smokies that filled me with joy as I took them. I also will smile as I review the photos of the animals, large and small, that let us visit their neck of the woods. I also have a grandchildren sitting job next week and that will make the week seem much less lonely and briefly crazy full.

My life is rich and made richer by the thoughtful comments on my blog while I was away.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

She Is Never Home Anymore

I am off on another 5-day trip to a pear farm and the Biltmore and some leaf peeping! I know, I know. But, I am an old bag and I deserve a little fun before I head on out of this world. I promise I will take you along when I return vicariously. (I think I meant to write I will take you along vicariously when I return!!!)

In the meantime check out Jarielyn (cool name huh?) as she took up the five words meme baton from me a few days ago. She is a most creative writer, photographer and also is cuter than a ...well cute! Also, if you get bored, drop by my other blog for more posts on hiking in the beautiful Rocky Mountains.

Keep a place by fire, I'll be back.

Friday, October 09, 2009

Authentic Ski Town---Not

The historic town of Breckinridge? I found it has changed so much. I remember it as a small town where I could get a decent bowl of chile or a plate of hot enchiladas after a cold day of skiing. Back during my youth the few restaurants that were open were small and crowded with skiers in bulky jackets and ice crusted hats. Muddy snow covered the floors and the places were always noisy with energetic talk of great runs at the end of the day. People hurried through their meals as many of us had the long trip down the mountain and back home in the evening. Only a few stayed at the ski lodge.

The town has now morphed into a cutsey Yuppieville of boutiques and high-end souvenir shops complete with one of the best French bakeries in the state. The owners are very much French and the American waitress told me she had learned all the bad words of the language from the couple when they argued with each other during the day. Passionate couple I guess. The crepes are wonderful and the beignets are like sugar and air as they melt in your mouth. Forget the diets all ye who enter here. There are plenty of uncrowded restaurants in mid-September offering a wide variety of food.

We ate lunch on this patio at a Thai restaurant that was not run by Thai but served reasonably authentic food. I could have been eating anywhere including my city with the choices. The only genuine experience left was the dramatic view of the mountains on either side of the town. There were HUGE parking lots just outside of town where they shuttled people to the lift or into town. It must be a nightmare here during the ski season. (For all the hiking fun that I had on this trip you have to check out my other blog.)

Interestingly, everyone walking around this place looks young, healthy and like they have a trust fund!

Thursday, October 08, 2009

Five Words That Changed My Life

I somehow knew that Kenju would be most interesting in sending me my five words for the blog meme that she recently completed. I do not complete memes in most cases, but my posting creativity has been dwindling and I thought this meme might be a motivator. "For this meme, you write about five words as they apply to your life." I could be nice and put the definitions...but I think most readers can look them up in the online dictionaries. I must admit that I found this meme more uncomfortable than I thought as I progressed and the title of this blog is a lie!

brave: I have learned bravery by allowing/making myself to live in other cultures in other countries with people who do not speak my language. To be removed from all that you know and to have your ideas and beliefs challenged on a daily basis and to be forced to really think about communication as a means of solving problems, is a brave way of living. To survive this challenge and allow yourself to change is also brave and I think I have successfully traveled through that fire.

epitaph: This word is the scariest for me, but not because I fear dying. I just think that there is not much I have done that is memorable in this life. I have tried to live a good and honest life but that in itself is not worthy of a memorable epitaph. To me an important epitaph means you have changed the lives of others for the better in a significant way. I hope I still am granted a few more decades to work this out!

imagination: Having an imagination that is active and fertile is important in any life. I imagined that I would travel, I imagined that I would raise a beautiful (if not perfect) family and I imagined that I would be reasonably happy. When you believe in what you imagine you work out the issues and you change your approach and adjust your goals so that this can all come true. I think I have not allowed my imagination to run away with me, but I have allowed it to soar so that I can always have a long-term vision of the goals ahead. Imagination is a very important tool in life.

salute: The image that this word brought instantly to my mind was when some of the Republicans made fun of how Clinton saluted his marine staff, clearly showing he was not part of the military. When I see this word I remember when I allowed the conservatives to take my patriotism away from me. I allowed myself to question how I was showing my real feelings for our soldiers and I regret that. Now I know that I have always supported our troops and that all of our brave troops are both conservative and liberal in their philosophies. Being true to my beliefs does not make me unpatriotic any more than wearing a flag on my lapel makes me a patriot.

tempest: Over the years I have learned that I hate tempests and now I always avoid them. Tempests created by crazy relatives with bad habits or self-centered and insecure co-workers are the worst! Ninety-nine percent tempests are false and artificially created to distract and dismay. The only real tempests are those that have to do with the weather. My philosophy these days is to listen to and to share my time with those who can remain calm in the eye of the storm. The storm will pass and you will notice that things will be much the same if the tempest is not real.

(Want me to send you five words?)

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

Working for the Soul

I have posted elsewhere (FB and emails) about my days of work recently. The cool fall weather, the dormancy of ticks, and the necessity of the size of weeds at summers end have motivated us to clear parts of the forest on either side of the long drive to the house. The wooded view as we drove in was no longer enticing and welcoming, but more like spooky and scary, and while appropriate for the Halloween season, it seems out of place when welcoming guests at other times of the year.

We have now cleared the leaning and/or dead trees that rested against each other and formed a sheltered structure for the wild roses that in turn learned to climb to the tops of the lovely and healthy maples, dogwood, and holly trees and shaded them from sun. I pruned limbs and prickly vines and then piled them beside the road in the clearing. We had piles of dead wood and piles of scratchy brush all of which was later gathered in our arms and placed in the old wooden trailer we use for hauling large amounts of 'stuff'. Hubby bravely climbed on top and did the elephant dance to smash it all down so that we could grab more armfuls and put on top once again.

Frequently the angry roses would grab our butts and legs refusing to be dumped. I still have a tiny thorn in my arm that will have to fester its way to the surface.

Hubby and I argued about what wood to take to the dump and what to cut into firewood. We have enough firewood to last through the winter of 2012, so I was inclined to get rid of much of the wood. (This will ensure that global climate cha
nge really will be global warming.) This photo is just one of the long piles we have waiting for the first cold weather. The problem is that some of this wood is old and some still too new for burning and in our dedicated rhythm we were not as careful in stacking as we should have been.

The wrens and the flickers were not happy that we took away so much dead wood, but eventually forgave us when they saw how may broken tree stumps we left behind for them to poke through. They will have a rich larder of wood insects through the coming snows. We also left enough small bush areas for the mice and other small animals to find shelter.

The free crepe myrtle that was planted at the end of my flower bed two years ago got moved with the help of Pedro. He works for a landscape company and knows exactly how to dig and move small trees. The shape of the crepe was not long and lean but more like an umbrella-shaped weeping willow, and therefore, taking up too much flower bed space. We (actually Pedro and hubby did the work) also joined the two flower beds and I now have a good sunny place to transplant my scattered roses this fall. (More work!)

This is the crepe myrtle shape I had hoped for!

My new rose bed.

After these past three days, the old joints ache with fatigue and overuse and my arms are scratched as if I had wrestled with a mountain cat, but soaking in my jacuzzi in the late afternoon before starting dinner was a reward enjoyed so much more because of my hard work. I am thankful that I do not hate hard work. I am thankful that the goal is its own reward for me. Besides, now I don't have to do any exercises this week!

Monday, October 05, 2009

The Wireless Web

This is my old Belkin wireless. I was on travel and when I returned, retrieved my PC and plugged everything back in, I noticed the state of this router. Do you think the spiders are clogging the network and the reason for the slowness of my PC? (HA!)

Sunday, October 04, 2009

Looking Back Through the Looking Glass

When I was about fourteen I read "The Dairy of Anne Frank" and it captured me totally. As an adult I re-read the diary and was even more impressed by the beauty of her writing and the terrible tragedy that she could not live to realize her full potential.

I found this on the Internet: "Ha'aretz, the Israeli newspaper, is showing remarkable footage today. The Frank House, in Amsterdam, has realeased this short 20-second video snippet from the life of Anne Frank. The video was shot approximately a year before Frank and her family went into hiding. "

The context of this video is compelling and this has certainly made me pensive for the rest of this day.

Saturday, October 03, 2009

Happy Harvest

I spent the better part of today 'cleaning' the forest. This meant cutting back nasty wild roses, removing dead limbs from trees, and trying to drag stubborn vines from around trees. I even cut one poison ivy vine that was about 2 inches across and covered with those tell-tale spidery roots that cling to the tree trunk.

Hubby spent time cutting the large pieces of wood into manageable size for our small wood-burning fireplace. We now have enough cut wood (some even split) for at least three winters. That is good, because much of this needs drying and aging time. I loaded each log into the wheelbarrow and pushed to the wood pile where I spent careful time stacking. The process is something like building a rock wall in that wood pieces must be selected according to shape and size before placing on the pyramid of wood. Once it is all stacked it makes an interesting wall.

This afternoon I am harvesting the last of the garden. We do not have too many more days of growing weather with the cool nights. I have made enough pesto, roasted tomato sauce, and frozen enough beans to make me feel very full of food already.

Our fridge is now full of salsa and pickled hot peppers to warm us in the coming cold nights.

My project this evening is shredding the 30 or so carrots that, while not very pretty, do have a reasonably sweet flavor and will make delicious carrot cake. (I have admitted defeat on the large box of spaghetti squash which is stored in our basement and will accept that the mice may get to much of it before us.)

Tomorrow I am going to try "Butternut Squash au Gratin" from a recipe sent by my daughter. Add enough butter and cheese to any squash and it becomes quite delicious if no longer healthy.

I think this is going to defeat the small weight loss from my Colorado mountain hiking.

Friday, October 02, 2009

Too Much Information or Not Enough?

Most bloggers do not write about their family. It is personal stuff and you have to be very honest and out front with your life once you begin. I am anonymous just so that I can write about people who, I hope, will also remain anonymous while I try to sort out their lives.

You will realize from this post that my family, while loving and generous of spirit, are terrible communicators. They tend to avoid the painful reality of life. It might be because they know that we cannot do anything about the painful decisions of others or it might be that sharing doesn't really ease their concerns, or perhaps they are embarrassed by the "perfect" lives that they think all the rest of us have. All of these people I have learned about below, are not blood relatives...not that that makes any difference.

I learned on this past family trip the following news. Some of it was explained only after embarrassing comments on my part because I did not know what the H*** was going on!.

My step-niece (who has no health insurance and no husband) thought she was pregnant, thought she miscarried three months later, then gave birth to a baby in her mother's house, all alone one afternoon early this summer. She had been raised on a horse farm and actually explained to me all the precautions she took, including adjusting for the fact that the water heater pilot light had broken that morning, in order to deliver this baby all by herself! The child was born safely for the mother (28 years old). After a helicopter flight to the hospital when the child had trouble breathing they discovered that the child has an incomplete brain and is missing part of the back lobes. This appears to be a genetic disorder that will mean my step-niece should not have any other children. There are those who know only too well all the terrible issues with this situation. All I know is that currently the child is off of oxygen and is eating and growing and is very precious. This mother's life has changed forever. The father of this child has four children in a current marriage and an illegitimate child from another relationship. TMI.

My step-niece's brother, a marine just back from Iraq, was goofing around with other marines this past spring and appears to have ruptured a disk and now requires spinal fusion. Thus his life is now also changed forever, probably ending his hope to enter the police force when he is released from service.

My other step-nephew from another family came with his 7-year-old daughter to a family BBQ and it wasn't until later in the evening that someone bothered to mention he has been divorced for over a year. That was when I stopped asking him if his wife was working late!

All of the rest of the gang seems to be living reasonably normal lives with normal challenges.