PUTTERING AROUND

“So what are your plans for the day,” my wife often asks.
I have to have plans. She does things, which normally consist of going to her friends to have coffee or talking to them on the phone. But I need to have something scheduled for the day or she’s afraid there’s a chance I’ll waste it on the computer or watching TV. Maybe my plans are being on the computer or watching TV, but she never thinks of that.
My wife wants me to get a hobby I can do in the winter. I actually have a hobby: I putter, as in “I’m going out in the backyard to putter around.” I’m not exactly sure what you are supposed to do when you putter. Usually I just stand on the patio staring at our fence, wondering why the heck I came out there. The problem is, I have two doors I have to open and close to get out in the backyard. At my age, the combination of having to turn the doorknobs and make sure the doors are pulled closed behind me taxes my ancient brain cells and doesn’t leave room for the reason I had come outside to begin with. So I don’t do much puttering, whatever that is. I just stand for a while looking stupid, before I walk over and check the birdfeeder—I figure if my neighbors are watching, it will dissuade them from calling the authorities on the poor old man in the neighborhood who wanders around aimlessly in his backyard—before I go back inside to get on the computer or watch TV. After a little bit, I’ll remember I have some serious puttering to do, and again I’ll head for the backyard. But of course there are those two complicated devil doors to go through … It’s a vicious, never-ending cycle.
I have hobbies I do in the summer. I garden, fish, and do things to the yard—most people would call it landscaping, but that has the connotation of some artistic talent of which I have none. I used to have winter hobbies. I snowmobiled and ice fished. I was fanatical about ice fishing. In my garage I have a power auger, two portable fish houses and countless containers of ice fishing lures and equipment, including tiny ice fishing rods that look as if they were made for Munchkins. I can remember sitting on a plastic bucket out on the lake ice in a blizzard. I sat there for hours in near zero temperatures with the wind blowing so hard I couldn’t see more than a few yards through the blowing snow. I didn’t have a clue in which direction the shore was or how I was going to find it, and I kept on fishing until darkness came and made everything even more difficult. And I didn’t do this just once, I did it numerous times. The comedian Stephen Wright once said, “There is a fine line between fishing and just standing on the shore looking like an idiot.” Sometimes in ice fishing that line is completely obliterated.
My wife has suggested we take up cross country skiing as a hobby. Sometimes when she watches the Olympics, the athletes make everything look so easy that she doesn’t realize the muscle pain the next day alone would put people our age in the hospital. Maybe I can talk her into waiting until this summer when it’s not so cold to try cross country skiing. Until then I guess I’ll just keep working on the computer and watching TV and puttering of course. Which reminds me, I need to go out in the backyard and do a little puttering.
All of my books are available at my author’s page on Amazon.
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FIGURE SKATING WITH A FINISH LINE

I’ve been watching some of the winter Olympics, and I’ve decided I don’t like them as well as the summer Olympics. I think it’s because they always have them in the cold weather when everything is covered with ice and snow. They should have them in maybe July or August when it’s warmer. I think I’d like them better then.
My wife likes watching the ice skating. I watch with her sometimes, but the only thing I know about figure skating is: falling down it’s bad. The main reason I watch is to see people fall down. It’s sort of like watching NASCAR for the crashes. The worse thing about figure skating is you have to wait until the judges figure out the scores to see who won. (Most of the time I think they just flip a coin. I mean, does anyone really think there’s a difference between a Double Toe loop, a Lutz and an Axel? It’s all the same thing! Haven’t you noticed how the announcers have all they can do to keep from laughing when they say Triple Salchow? Wake up people. They have been putting us on for decades.) Judging is always so subjective. I’m old enough to remember the Soviet Union and all the judging controversies. Some East German skater would fall, break his leg with blood shooting out of it like something Steven King would write, while the EMTs did CPR as they wheeled him out of the rink on a gurney. Later that night they would posthumously give the gold medal to his next of kin because there had been more eastern bloc judges than western judges.
I’ve never trusted sports with judges. A bona fide sport needs a finish line. That way you know instantly who won. They could put a finish line in figure skating. All the skaters could do the same moves and jumps, and whoever crosses the finish line in the shortest time wins. They could even put more than one skater on the ice at the same time … They could even put ALL the skaters on the ice at the same time. Sort of a skater free-for-all. Sure it would be confusing with lots of skaters running into each other and falling down, but wouldn’t it be fun? You might lose some of the highbrow artsy-fartsy crowd, but think of all the hockey fans you’d gain.
Snowboarding has a finish line, but it doesn’t mean much because it has judges, too. Go figure. I only know one thing about judging snowboarding: falling down is bad. It’s amazing the way they run the rails and do spins and rolls over the jumps. Personally, if you don’t fall down and cross the finish line without wetting yourself, I’d give you a medal. And yes, having more than one person go down the slope at the same time would improve the sport. I’m not sure where the sport of snowboarding came from, but I bet it started with the statement: “Hold my beer and watch this.”
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LESSONS FROM MY SISTERS

When I was young, maybe seven or eight, my  sister hit me in the head with a hammer. (Stop it. Stop giggling. It does NOT explain everything.) I don’t remember why she hit me—there are a lot of things I didn’t remember for a while after that, such as my name and most of the third grade. Another time I was playing cowboys and indigenous peoples with the same sister. She was the sheriff, and I was the bad Comanche horse thief. My sister, also judge and jury, decreed all horse thieves should be hung, so she threw a rope over the top of the clothesline to serve as a gallows.
When Mom finally cut me down, I was a half-inch taller and missing a few brain cells from oxygen deprivation. (I think they were the brain cells that had to do with geometry, because in high school I found I had a big blank spot in that area of my brain.)
Keep in mind it was my NICE sister who did this. My oldest sister was the mean one. She would have hit me with a hammer too. It just would have been a sledge hammer, and I wouldn’t have thought she needed a reason, a slow Wednesday would have been enough. (After getting hit with the hammer, I vaguely recall laying on the ground in a bed of soft clouds. Mom stood over me looking concerned that my younger brother might have to step in to fulfill the duties of the oldest son, when my mean sister picked up the hammer and asked Mom if, since I was already down there, she could have a whack at me, too—the memory might just have been from the blow, because I also remember various glowing blue ducks and a lavender elf named Peako.) When I played with my mean sister the only thing that was guaranteed was eventually a freak accident—wink, wink—would befall me.
Mean sister: I don’t know what happened, Mom. He was just walking along and fell into that pile of barbed-wire. You know how clumsy he is.
Me (screaming): She pushed me!
Mean sister: Don’t listen to him. Remember the hammer and the hanging? I think he has brain damage.
Mom (sighing): Go run and get the wire cutters, again. What is it? Three times this week?
Mean sister: Four, and once in the rose bushes.
My mean sister didn’t want to kill me. She just wanted me to suffer. We didn’t play French Revolution, and she never built a guillotine, but we often played chiropractor. I’m still amazed at what an efficient rack she could make from a couple pulleys and an old ironing board. Mom would eventually hear me hollering and release me, then she’d go find my younger brother to see if he was at least smart enough not to willingly get on a homemade torture device.
The point of this—yes, there is a point—is recently we have heard about all the men in Hollywood and politics who routinely have abused and disrespected women. What they needed when they were younger were older sisters. They teach you to respect the opposite sex at a young age. Sometimes they teach a raw fear of the opposite sex.
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SHOVELING SNOW

My entire life I have lived in the Snowbelt, and I’m not talking someplace where once a year a couple of snowflakes fall and everyone runs around like they’re Arctic explorers. I’m talking about places where anything less than a couple feet of snow is called a dusting. News networks try to make a snowstorm into the Snowpocolypse as if the end of the world is coming. But snow doesn’t have the character to cooperate. During a snowstorm you basically have snow falling. Even if it’s a blizzard it’s no more than wind-driven snow. There aren’t palm trees and corrugated sheet metal flying by like you see in a hurricane, or houses, various kinds of livestock and witches on bicycles and broomsticks whirling past like in a tornado, or even cars floating down a flooded river. Snow is white like soft clouds, downy cotton and sheep. It floats gently to earth and covers the land in a coat of clean white linen. Nobody has ever written a book about alien snow angels trying to take over the world or a maniacal killer snowman stalking a group of kids in a sewer.

Frosty the Snowman was a homicidal troll
With a really sharp axe and a big chainsaw
He’ll try to cut out your soul.

The aftermath of a snowstorm is as vicious as a fluffy bunny … until you have to shovel it.

In my life I have shoveled a lot of snow—and that’s a conservative estimate. I wanted to find out the exact amount I’ve shoveled, so I dug out my calculator and ran the numbers. I was amazed to find that I have shoveled a total of 7,200,000 tons of snow. That is more than the weight of the Great Pyramid of Giza! I know it’s hard to believe, but it’s a scientific fact. I looked it up, and the pyramid weighs 6,500,000 tons. My figures on the weight of the snow, on the other hand, may be a little off one way or the other since I averaged the weight of each shovel of snow, and I’ve used different shovels over the years, so the weight of each one would be slightly different. Also the zero key on my calculator sometimes sticks down, so there might be too many zeroes, and I’m not absolutely certain that I didn’t hit the multiplication key a couple times more than I should have. But other than that, it should be a fairly accurate number.

When I was a kid I loved the snow. I couldn’t wait for it to stop snowing so I could go out and build snowmen and snow forts and snow angels and have snowball fights. Snow was amazing. That’s because I had the brains of a powdered sugar doughnut, and I didn’t have to shovel snow. When I got older and I had to shovel snow, it lost a lot of its fascination.

I learned to shovel snow from my father. I also learned a lot of colorful adjectives for snow from my father, none of which I can use in this blog post. Since growing older I have come to a profound, mature acceptance of snow. I’ve learned if you’re going to live in the north, it is going to snow. I have a different attitude about it, a more refined intellect and a snow blower.
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My New Year’s resolution is to post more on this blog this year, however, it’s almost the end of January and this is my first post, so we’ll see how it goes. Also a little housekeeping, Wings epress is starting to put their books on Kindle Unlimited where you can read pages for free if you belong to it. I already have my book, County Ops: The Vengeance of Gable Fitzgerald on it, soon you will be able to get my other Wings books there also.

Visit my author’s page for all my books.

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CLASS REUNION

I recently attended my forty-fifth high school reunion. It was good to catch up with what people had been doing for all these years, but two things struck me immediately.
First, I do not remember going to school with so many old farts. I admit I was ultra-shy and self-conscious in school, but you would have thought I would have noticed it. The bald heads and gray hair should have been dead giveaways. I guess I paid too much attention to me to notice everyone else, but it embarrasses me to think I couldn’t beat some of these potbellied old geezers in wrestling. And I won’t even get into how amazing it is that they made weight to wrestle in the weight classes they did.
Second, I am convinced there is something in our hometown water. All the men were bald, balding or at least had copious amounts of gray hair, but all the women’s hair were perfect. Hardly a gray hair in sight. I’m thinking there is something in the water—or it’s because they haven’t been living with women all these years.
I’m joking, of course. Ha-ha. If there’s one thing everyone says about the Class of ‘72 is they can take a joke. Ha-ha. Especially those guys who used to hold me down and give me wedgies and swirlies in gym class. And even if they are offended, I won’t see most of them until the fiftieth reunion. I’m sure they’ll have forgotten all about it in five years—I’m counting on dementia kicking in for most of them by then. Ha-ha, I’m joking again. We are all a loooooong ways away from dementia.
(A funny story. In the same building we had our reunion, the Class of ’67 was having their fiftieth reunion. One of my classmates mistakenly went into that room. He said he didn’t recognize anyone, and even the names didn’t seem familiar, but he was thinking, “Man, I’ve aged well.”)
So if you have a chance to go to your class reunion, go. Although we didn’t think about it at the time, it was the last thing we did before our lives began. You’ll be amazed at how people turned out who you were sure would be shepherds or on death row. I’m looking forward to my fiftieth reunion. By then we’ll be discussing hip replacements, brands of adult diapers and what flavor of Ensure is the best. Ha-ha. I’m joking again, of course, but I hear the strawberry Ensure is amazing.

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GARDENING AGAIN

 
I’m gardening again, because I love it so much, or at least that what my wife says. She says I don’t like it as much as cooking, cleaning the house or doing laundry, but it’s certainly one of my favorite hobbies—sadly, she tells me fishing and watching sports on TV didn’t even make the list. I would have thought they would at least be in the top ten, but you can’t argue with the facts.
I garden, of course, for the unfathomable joy of knowing I’m keeping millions of helpless little bugs from starving to death. Every night I go to sleep secure with the knowledge that no tomato hornworm, potato beetle or squash vine borer will go to bed hungry if I have anything to say about it.
My first attempt at growing something was back in South Dakota when I was young. My mother let me plant some seeds in our small garden. During the night an older neighbor boy dug a marigold out of his mother’s flower garden and planted it where I had planted the seeds. The next day I was amazed and proud of my gardening prowess. It didn’t occur to me that a seed doesn’t just become full grown overnight … or that I had planted radish seeds. I’m not always the sharpest tack in the box. Sometimes I’m not even a tack, and often I can’t find the darn box. If ignorance is bliss, than blatant stupidity is euphoria. I don’t think I was ever more depressed than when they finally revealed the trick to me.
I think my gardening ability is inherited. It’s in my genes. My grandmother had an amazing green thumb—I think it was the result of an untreated infection—and she was also good at growing things, even with the thumb. I tend to exaggerate in this blog at times, but I swear I can remember my grandmother growing tomatoes so big that I couldn’t hold them in one hand, beets so large they were bigger than both my fists put together, pumpkins that came up to my waist and watermelons so heavy I couldn’t lift them by myself. No joke, that is the absolute truth—although now that I think about it, I was only about three or four years-old at the time … so maybe it isn’t as impressive as I originally thought.
With gardening it’s like Roseanne Roseannadanna used to say, “It’s always something.” If it isn’t the bugs eating everything, it’s not enough rain or the weeds taking over. My grandmother always said weeds were good things because they shaded the plants from the hot sun. I guess there is some deep meaning to that, but I’ve never been able to figure it out.

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THE LUCKY ONE

When I was in high school I had a plan to be a multimillionaire before I retired. Over the years I have worked hard, saved, refined and altered the plan until I am on the verge of fulfilling my dream. If just the last few things fall into place, I’ll have it made. Most important of those: the Powerball has to be five.
I’m joking of course. I don’t have the luck to stake my future on winning anything. When I go to a casino, I hand a hundred bucks to the nearest cashier and head for the buffet. It saves a lot of time pulling down that stupid handle on the slot machines and the results are the same. I can’t win anything. I once went to a convention with my friend Lucky. They had a raffle with lots of great prizes. I bought a couple handfuls of raffle tickets and didn’t win a thing. Meanwhile, Lucky has his winnings piled chest-high around him.
Lucky: We should have taken your pickup instead of my car. I don’t know how I’m going to get all this stuff home.
Prize Announcer: And the winner of the grand prize of the new Chevy Silverado pickup is … Lucky!
Me: Holy cow. How many tickets did you buy?
Lucky: Tickets?
It extends over to fishing. I have a friend, Franny, who can catch fish in a bathtub—why he fishes from a bathtub instead of a boat is beyond me. Every time we go fishing he out fishes me two to one. Three to one when he puts his line in the water. We can use the same bait and lures, and it doesn’t make any difference. He’ll be pulling in fish so fast he’ll start complaining about his arms being sore, or he’ll stop and take a break because he needs to rest to let his breathing return to normal from the constant exertion. (Quick tip: When you tell your fishing partner who has caught nothing but a half a clam shell in the last two hours that you’re going to take a break because you’re tired from pulling in so many fish, make sure you have a good hold on the boat to make it harder for him to throw you overboard.) We can switch sides of the boat and exchange rods and it doesn’t make a difference. He catches the fish and I don’t. He once asked me to dig a sandwich out of the cooler for him. I handed him my rod to hold while I got him a sandwich.
“Hey, I’ve got a fish on your rod,” he said with his legs wrapped tightly around the seat’s pedestal as I tried to throw him out of the boat.
I can’t say I have all bad luck. I have a beautiful, bright understanding wife who lets me put her in this blog as long as I mention that she’s a beautiful, bright understanding wife. I also have three good kids. I’ve known parents with teenage kids who counted it as a good weekend when they didn’t get a call from law enforcement. When my kids were teenagers they were smart enough to know how not to get caught. I count myself lucky for that.
Speaking of family, this weekend I went to a family reunion. I saw cousins I hadn’t seen for decades. What struck me more than anything else after all these years is how much alike we looked, and by that I mean we’re all old. It was a good time. Everybody got along and caught up on what had been happening in each other’s lives. I know that doesn’t sound like much of an accomplishment, but when I was a deputy sheriff we would get calls from funeral directors requesting a deputy stand by at a funeral because they were afraid there might be a fist fight between family members. We also got calls from attorneys requesting a deputy in the room when the family settled Grandpa’s estate, because some of the family members really didn’t get along. Everything went off without a hitch at our reunion without one single police officer—I did see a couple members of the National Guard, but I think it was just a coincidence.
So I guess all and all I can count myself lucky to have the family I do, and especially my beautiful, bright, understanding wife. Sometimes a guy can be the lucky one even if the Powerball isn’t five … but I’d still like to catch a fish.
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