Category: personal

In Memoriam: Stephen Coltrin

Hmm. This one’s going to be a hard one to write. I alluded to some tough times I was going through the last bit, and here’s the reason. My step-father, Steve Coltrin, passed away a few days ago. He’d been in and out of the hospital steadily for the past few months, and this past time (a few weeks ago) the decision was made to move him to hospice care. When that happened, I came down to Pennsylvania from Maine to see him and help take care of him as he passed. At the time, it seemed like it wouldn’t be long at all. In the end, I stayed for three weeks. Three very long weeks.

I’ve been in a house as a person lay dying before, but this time last much longer, and was very draining. A lot of that came from the uncertainty of just how the process would work and what sort of timetable we were on. There were many times I was just so frustrated that it couldn’t be over. But it wasn’t, and you have to deal with things as they are, not as you’d like them to be. And in any case, it’s over now.

My relationship to my step-father has always been a complicated one. My mom married him when I was . . . six? Seven? I can’t quite remember. In any case, I lived with him from then on, so he played a huge part of my upbringing. Losing him feels every bit like losing a “real” father, even though things weren’t always peachy keen for us growing up. As I’ve tended to do when loved ones pass, I wanted to jot down a few of the memories I had of him. Not sure how many I’m up to putting down right now, but here we go.

  • “Coltrins love to walk.” I heard that so so (so) many times growing up. To this day, Denisa is always frustrated with how fast I walk, but it’s something I have a very hard time changing. Dad was a fast walker, and he and Mom took us into New York many times, and we were expected to not just keep up, but to move out. My siblings and I walked out in front, and if we started walking slow, we’d hear “Move out.” And we had to walk faster. (NYC is already a city full of fast walkers. You have to go even faster when your legs are only so long.) If we ever complained about the walking, we’d be told “Coltrins love to walk.” It was just a fact of life. We’d go to Disneyworld and be at the park, walking the entire day. When it came time to go to our car, did we take the tram? No. Coltrins love to walk.
  • Connected to this, he took the slogan to heart so much that in his later years, he would pretty much always be walking. We would get to a restaurant, and he’d walk the perimeter of the parking lot while we were waiting to be seated. He’d walk up and down hallways in hotels. He would count steps religiously, though I don’t remember him every using a pedometer.
  • Up until the last year or so, the only time I could count on him reaching out to contact me was when he accidentally switched the menus on his television to Spanish. I was typically the resident tech help for the household, and so it fell to me to tackle the big problems of life. I have no idea how he managed to do it so often, and it would have made sense for me to make notes for how to switch it back to English, but I never did, so each time it usually ended up with me having to Facetime with him and then show me the screen and the remote. I’m proud to say I had a 100% track record of always getting it back to the right language.
  • He liked to sing, but he wasn’t always the best at knowing the words to the songs he’d sing. (Or perhaps he knew the words, but just didn’t choose to sing them?) In any case, he’d just sort of make them up as he went along, and he would do this often.
  • He liked war movies and westerns. The last few days as I was sitting next to him in hospice, we watched a number of both. No matter what movie he was watching, if there was a horse involved, he would always critique the horse for how good (or bad) it looked. Sometimes he would watch movies just to see the horses.
  • Going to a restaurant with him was always a nerve wracking experience. I’m the sort of customer that won’t even complain if they bring the literal wrong dish. (Well, as long as it tastes fine.) I really (really) don’t like confrontation over silly things like that. A big reason for that is because I had to sit at a table many many times while Dad chewed out a server for getting something wrong, whether it was not filling his drink enough, cooking the food wrong, not being polite enough, or anything else. That has never been my style, but it very much was his.
  • He was big on playing basketball. I was not. He and my brother would go outside and play basketball all the time, and they’d often try to rope me into playing with them. Every now and then I went along, but my typical approach to the situation was to pretend I was asleep until they gave up trying to wake me up and just went outside to play, at which point I could pick my book back up and resume reading. I assume they were on to me, looking back on it, but it seemed like a good life hack at the time.
  • I wore a baseball cap a lot of the time growing up. For a while there, I wasn’t to be seen without it. It had never been an issue at all, until one day it suddenly was. Dad got angry I was wearing it indoors, something I’d done all the time for probably the last few years. But from that point on, I would get in a lot of hot water if I wore a hat indoors. You didn’t want to get in hot water with Dad. He’d be away on business trips a lot of the time growing up, and I often breathed a little easier when he was gone, because I didn’t have to worry about stepping out of line as much. (Such as leaving my shoes in the entryway. That was another potential time bomb if he found them.)
  • He was a verified Diet Coke addict, if such a thing exists. He branched out a bit into Coke Zero toward the end, but he pretty much was never found without Diet Coke within arms reach. He preferred it in fountain drink form, with plenty of ice, and he would even drink it when it was completely flat. He also was known to mix in other things, like orange juice. This is not something that has transferred to me. Then again, he could go through an entire large bag of peanut M&Ms, and that’s something that I’d have to admit to having the same penchant for.
  • He was a fantastic source for advice. If I ever needed someone to think through a problem from all angles and give a solid read on what I should do, Dad’s input was always fantastic. I remember calling him when I was thinking about marrying Denisa. At the time, I’d always sworn to myself I would wait to know someone for at least a year before I even though about marrying them, but Denisa and I clicked so easily, I was seriously reevaluating that decision. I called him thinking he would do a great job of reminding me why rushing into marriage was a bad idea. (He had always harped on that when I was growing up.) To my surprise, he said if I felt like I should marry Denisa, I should do it right away. “When you know, you know.” I’m still shocked that he gave that advice, but as it was so often, it was the right decision.
  • We went to Disney World a lot when I was growing up. Sometimes multiple times a year. He loved going on the rides and buying the photos they would hawk to people at the end of the ride. We bought so many of those over the years that I imagine if you flip through the collection fast enough, you can see me age from 8 to 18 in stop motion.
  • He owned a PR firm, and it was his pride and joy. He was totally devoted to it, often gone for long stretches of time as he worked around the globe. He started it from nothing and grew it until it had offices in New York, Houston, Salt Lake, San Francisco, Singapore, and London. He represented Burger King, the Salt Lake Olympics, Popeye’s, eHarmony, and more. He did a ton of work for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints as well, helping line up the Larry King interview with President Hinckley and the Mike Wallace interview as well. Before my mission, I worked for him for about a half year. We’d commute into the city a lot of the time together, which involved a half hour drive to Trenton, an hour plus train ride to Penn Station, and then a fifteen minute walk to the office. Growing up with a PR executive has really helped me throughout my life, as I feel like I’m much better at knowing how to handle a crisis and how to respond to difficulties. I also got a ton of IT tech support experience there, which later helped get me my first job as an IT Librarian in Maine.
  • Many of my views of how to live the Gospel stem from watching his pragmatic example. He always would emphasize the human nature of the whole endeavor, and I’ve never viewed church leadership through rose colored glasses. I know they’re human just like the rest of us, and it was interesting to talk to him and hear about some of the back room discussions that would sometimes go on at the top of the church. (President Faust was my grandfather’s mission companion, Elder Christofferson was a close friend of Dad’s, and Dad personally knew many of the Prophets and Apostles over the years.) Before I left on my mission, he gave me some of the best advice I got for the two years: “Remember that anything you can think of, a missionary has done, and he’s probably doing it right now.” It helps not to idolize anyone and to see things with a clear view.
  • He was almost always on the phone. He had a cell phone before there were many cell phones (back when they were the size of a football), and he would be talking nonstop. Business, usually. On vacation. In restaurants. In church parking lots. In his office. Always talking.
  • He was an ardent supporter of McDonald’s for the first long while I knew him. Not only did he use it as his primary Diet Coke source, but he loved their ice cream cones, as well. We’d go to McDonald’s pretty much anywhere, often multiple times in a day. (Probably a reason I ended up working at McD’s as my first job.) That said, when he added Burger King as a PR client, he made the switch to Burger King. (A switch he made multiple times thereafter. He did PR for Quizno’s for a while, and suddenly all the food we had for parties was catered by Quizno’s.)
  • We were driving across the country once, and we passed some animals on the road. “I think those were beefalo,” he said. All of us thought he was making that animal up. Beefalo sounded like the sort of name a kindergartner would give their imaginary pet. He doubled down on the claim, though, coming up with this elaborate back story about how they were cattle crossed with bison. The more he talked the more skeptical we all became, but he also grew up on a farm, and so he’d have a much greater chance of knowing the truth of this than we did. We still didn’t really believe him. Of course, back then you couldn’t just google the answer. Today, I’d have known right away that he was right.
  • “Plow the ground all the way to the fence.” Dad wasn’t always one to do the chores around the house. In fact, I can only remember a few times when he really worked with us to get something done. (He might have when I was younger; my memory doesn’t go that far. But by the time I was in prime Chore territory, he was a director, not a co-worker.) So when we had a job we’d been tasked doing, he would wait until we said we were done, and then he’d come give an inspection. Raking the yard? Every single leaf had to be off that yard. Shoveling the driveway? All snow had better be gone. Because if it wasn’t, we’d get the “plow the ground all the way to the fence” talk, referring to how good farmers wouldn’t cut corners, but get the most out of their field.

I could go on, but there’s only so much time, and everything has to come to a close eventually. I’m sure there are tons of things I’m forgetting, and it feels like I should just keep on adding memories, but I’m calling it quits for now. He definitely had a huge impact on me. As with most parent/child relationships, some of what I do is because he did it, and some of what I don’t do is because he did that too. I’ve had a lot of time to think over many things the past few weeks. They’ve been very hard in many ways, but I think I’m a better person because of them, just as I’m a better person because of the interactions I had with Dad over the years. He’ll definitely be very missed.

And They’re Off!

Denisa and the kids headed off to Slovakia yesterday. (Actually a day late. Lufthansa emailed us Saturday to let us know they canceled both her flights Sunday, and rebooked her on Delta and KLM for Monday. The good news is that they upgraded her long flight to Delta+, which meant more legroom for the gang, and she got into Prague an hour earlier, which meant she had an easier connection to the train.) I’ve heard from them already, and they all arrived safe and sound.

This means I’m at home alone for the next while. One of the first orders of business was making a trip to the store to get the necessities. All I bought was high end root beer, marshmallow matey’s, three packs of Annie’s mac and cheese, and two things of Ben & Jerry’s. That ought to hold me over for a few days at least. (Denisa did leave instructions about this thing called a “cauliflower” in the fridge, and how someone’s supposed to eat it. Ferris might help me with that. He’s a sucker for cauliflower.)

Speaking of Ferris, he is Not Happy. Apparently I’m fun in small amounts, but not nearly as much fun as people 18 and younger, or people who feed him vegetables. (Hence the cauliflower bribe consideration.) So far he’s basically just sat around the house looking as sad and lonely as possible. He takes breaks now and then to go stare longingly out the window. I’ve tried to tell him they’re not coming back any time soon, but apparently he thinks I’m an inveterate liar.

What all am I going to get done while they’re gone? We’ll see. I already have a fair bit that I do as a baseline each week, but I remember from the last time I was alone for a while that I usually end up feeling like I have a lot more time on my hands. (It’s also a big plus that anything I tidy up actually stays tidy until I personally mess it up again.) I have some projects in mind, but we’ll see if I get around to them. Really, if I can just get the house in a bit better order, I’ll feel like I’ve accomplished something.

I’ve also had some friends invite me over for a couple of the days, so I won’t be entirely alone. Between that and running back and forth to the house to make sure Ferris hasn’t exploded (or exploded the house), I’m sure I’ll be plenty occupied.

Now if you’ll excuse me, there’s some Ben & Jerry’s calling my name . . .

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Like what you’ve read? Please consider supporting me on Patreon. Thanks to all my Patrons who support me! It only takes a minute or two, and then it’s automatic from there on out. I’ve posted the entirety of my book ICHABOD in installments, and I’m now putting up chapters from PAWN OF THE DEAD, another of my unreleased books. Where else are you going to get the undead and muppets all in the same YA package? Check it out.

If you’d rather not sign up for Patreon, you can also support the site by clicking this PERFECT PLACE TO DIE Amazon link. It will take you to Amazon, where you can buy my books or anything else. During that visit, a portion of your purchase will go to me. It won’t cost you anything extra.

On the Value of Long(ish) Car Rides

When the pandemic hit, one of the big changes I went through was that suddenly I stopped driving around the state. Up until then, I had a number of meetings I’d drive to on a regular basis, and since I live in a fairly remote spot in the state, those drives were typically an hour or more, one way. For church, I had a 1.5 hour drive 2-3 times each month. There was another one of the same for the university library system, a 45 minute one for MLA, and then multiple one off meetings that would be scattered here and there. All told, I was in the car for around 8-10 hours a month, I’d guess. Almost always by myself.

Big deal, right? The pandemic just meant I was in my home office for looooooong stretches by myself every day, so that shouldn’t have made a real difference. Except now that I’m getting back into the groove of having some work-related driving again, I really do notice it.

There’s something for me about sitting in a car, driving, that’s almost meditative. I have all that time when my brain is occupied, but not to the point that I can’t sit and think about other things. What do I think about? All sorts of stuff. From what’s going to happen next in my latest novel to how to handle tricky work situations to what I can do help my kids. I think up blog post topics, or think back on different experiences I’ve had in life.

It’s different than sitting alone in my office or at home, mainly because any time at just around the house or at work, there are other things that I should be doing. Simply thinking feels somehow far less efficient, and I typically feel guilty for not being more effective. But when I’m in the car, that’s time that I can’t be doing anything else. No guilt involved!

And really, just thinking shouldn’t be looked at as a waste of time. Don’t get me wrong: there comes a time for thinking to end and action to begin, but taking the time to properly think through a problem can save so much time and effort compared to rushing in with your gut instinct. I have acted differently and changed my mind because of some of the thoughts I’ve had in those car rides over time. They were a time to clear my head and make sure I had a handle on everything going on around me. Losing out on that time made it easier for me to feel harried and out of sorts.

But didn’t I have that same time when I was stuck in my home office? No. It didn’t feel the same, probably because I felt like I should be doing something other than think. Again, it’s the difference between feeling like I’m spinning my wheels (see what I did there?) and actually doing something worthwhile.

No doubt the same could be said for other ways to pass the time. I’ve talked to knitters who say the same thing. Hobbies like painting likely scratch the same itch, too. Anything that puts your mind into a relatively restful state, allowing your thoughts to go where they want.

Anyway. Just a thought that occurred to me this morning that I thought I’d share.

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Like what you’ve read? Please consider supporting me on Patreon. Thanks to all my Patrons who support me! It only takes a minute or two, and then it’s automatic from there on out. I’ve posted the entirety of my book ICHABOD in installments, and I’m now putting up chapters from PAWN OF THE DEAD, another of my unreleased books. Where else are you going to get the undead and muppets all in the same YA package? Check it out.

If you’d rather not sign up for Patreon, you can also support the site by clicking this PERFECT PLACE TO DIE Amazon link. It will take you to Amazon, where you can buy my books or anything else. During that visit, a portion of your purchase will go to me. It won’t cost you anything extra.

Doing More with What You Have

I’ve had a surround sound system for a good long while now. I upgraded the speakers a couple of years ago, and I was debating upgrading the receiver as well. (For those of you who don’t speak Home Theater, with a surround sound system, you plug all of the things you’re going to play (Apple TV, Playstation, Switch, or whatever) into a central box, called a receiver. You also hook up whatever you’re going to use to watch the content, such a projector. The speakers hook into the receiver, and it takes care of all the work, taking in the signals from the players and divvying them out to the projector and speakers.) However, the receiver I have right now seemed fine enough. (It’s a 7.1 set up, which means a center speaker for voice, a left and right speaker at the front of the room, a left and right at the back, a left and right on the sides, and a subwoofer for the bass.) Sure, there are newer ones out there. There are now some that handle speakers above you, and mine only handles up to 1080p resolution, while there are some that now handle 4k and in extreme cases 8k. (I’m going to stop explaining things at this point, because I assume those of you who really want to know have already headed over to Google to find an actual guide, and the rest of you are just bored.)

In any case.

I decided to stick with what I have for a receiver mainly because I think prices will come down in the next few years as more capabilities open up. But knowing I was going to stick with what I had, I decided to see if I could set up the receiver to get the most out of it that I could. It turns out that with a fair bit of research and some tweaking on the receiver end and on the Apple TV and other players’ ends, I really was able to up my game. The surround sound system works much better, and all it took was knowing which settings to change.

This actually reminds me of one of my favorite IT support stories. Back in the day, I ran the IT “department” for a small-sized business that had offices across the globe. (I was the only IT guy, so it’s not like it was really a department.) I would regularly have to troubleshoot with people who were across the country, and many of them had varying degrees of familiarity with technology.

One time, I was helping a man in the Texas office, and he was complaining about how he never got good technology. Case in point? He was still working on a black and white computer screen when everyone else had color. (This was back in 1996.) I agreed with him that was something we should try and fix, and I went to the higher ups with the request. They looked at what they’d ordered him, and they confusedly told me that they’d ordered a color monitor for him more than two years ago.

I got back on the phone, and I explained the situation. He was incensed. He ought to know if he had a color screen or not, since he was the one sitting in front of the computer all this time. This wasn’t my first IT rodeo, so I told him to do some basic steps, just to humor me.

“Go to the settings menu, and select ‘Monitors,'” I told him.

“Settings? Let’s see . . . okay. I’m there.”

“Great. You should see something on there that says ‘Color.'”

“Yup. It’s right here, and it says ‘black and white,’ just like I’ve been saying.”

“Okay,” I said. “Click it, and tell me what you see.”

“It says ‘Black and white,’ ‘Sixteen colors,’ ‘Thousands of colors,’ and ‘Millions of colors.'”

“Good. Click on ‘Millions of colors.'”

There was complete silence on the other end of the line, followed a few seconds later by, “Thanks.” He hung up.

For two years, he’d been using a color monitor as a black and white monitor, simply because he didn’t know how to make that simple change. This is a concept I’ve returned to multiple times over the course of my life, so I suppose it’s not as if his mistake was made in vain. There are so many times when I realize I can do more or be better at something just by changing the way I’m doing it. Too often, I see people ingrained in The Way Things Have Been Done. They don’t like to consider other options, and they can even get irritated if anyone makes a suggestion to help them.

I try not to be like that. If someone knows a better way to do something, I’m all for hearing them out. True, sometimes it won’t work for me, but I try to at least fully consider the possibility that it might. It’s too easy to just decide to dismiss something, because change is difficult. Making the tweak to my surround sound system took three or four hours of research and then a fair bit of fiddling. It would have been easier to just leave it alone, but now that I’ve spent that time, I get to enjoy my home theater system that much more.

And that’s your food for thought for today. Happy Wednesday, everybody!

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Like what you’ve read? Please consider supporting me on Patreon. Thanks to all my Patrons who support me! It only takes a minute or two, and then it’s automatic from there on out. I’ve posted the entirety of my book ICHABOD in installments, and I’m now putting up chapters from PAWN OF THE DEAD, another of my unreleased books. Where else are you going to get the undead and muppets all in the same YA package? Check it out.

If you’d rather not sign up for Patreon, you can also support the site by clicking this PERFECT PLACE TO DIE Amazon link. It will take you to Amazon, where you can buy my books or anything else. During that visit, a portion of your purchase will go to me. It won’t cost you anything extra.

Picking Yourself Up and Moving On

I remember there was a time, back in the days of yore, when I felt like things were going pretty smoothly, all told, and I wondered when they all might go pear-shaped. Because they always do, don’t they? Sooner or later, something always comes up that knocks you off balance, and it takes some time to pick yourself up, dust yourself off, and continue onward.

But man, the past two years have felt like one long series of blows from any and every angle, and I’m sure it’s the same for all of you. Regardless of your political leanings, between the 2020 election, COVID, vaccination debates, masking debates, racial protests, inflation, war in Europe, and now mass shootings, it feels like I’m getting way too much practice at resilience. We’re all affected by all of those, and anyone who says they aren’t is so deep in denial they need a flashlight and pickaxe to find their way out.

So there are times when I sit here in front of my blank computer screen, wondering what in the world I can write about now. How do I go from yesterday’s post about how upsetting the Uvalde shootings were, to some fluff piece about my top ten breakfast cereals? Things like that make so much of what I do, think about, and enjoy just feel like sawdust in my mouth. How should I be sitting around watching movies and playing video games when so many people are going through such hell?

There are a few ways I’ve learned to respond to it. First off, I take my responsibility as a parent seriously, and I try my hardest to create a home environment where my kids can be happy and feel loved. And that doesn’t happen by brooding non-stop about the injustices in the world. Not that they don’t know those exist, and not that they won’t experience some of those as they grow up, but I’d like them to be able to look back on their childhood and have as positive of memories as I can give them.

The other day, I was cleaning up my bedroom, and I came across a letter MC had written me toward the end of 2020. In it, she talked about how frustrated she was with COVID and all the mess that caused, but she also talked about how much she loved 2020. She got a dog. She had time to play games with me and her family. She played with her friends. We went on some family vacations. She had a great Christmas. There were so many things she could have focused on to say just how awful a year she’d lived through, but she didn’t do that. She acknowledged the bad, but focused on the good, and I think that’s a wonderful pattern to follow.

I’m not saying we should ignore everything that’s happening, and that we’re not all on the line to one extent or the other to try and fix things, but while we do that, we can also focus on the positive. Tomas was named Student of the Month today. A month or so ago, Daniela got that award at her school. Denisa took dandelion pictures with the girls a few days ago. We’re planning our trip to Europe. And yes, I’m watching movies and television.

I can’t live my life at a 10/10 anxiety level all the time. I will be worthless at the end of it all if I do that. So if there’s one thing 2020+ has taught me, it’s how to move forward in spite of everything that’s going on around me. How to take pleasure in the moment and plan for the future as best I can. How to build in time for myself, my family, and my friends. Being miserable doesn’t cure anything. Dwelling on depression only makes me more depressed.

So sure, I’ll take today to not write about my favorite Bill Murray movies, or the latest show I’m watching, but tomorrow, I’m going to get right back at it. Thanks for hanging around.

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Like what you’ve read? Please consider supporting me on Patreon. Thanks to all my Patrons who support me! It only takes a minute or two, and then it’s automatic from there on out. I’ve posted the entirety of my book ICHABOD in installments, and I’m now putting up chapters from PAWN OF THE DEAD, another of my unreleased books. Where else are you going to get the undead and muppets all in the same YA package? Check it out.

If you’d rather not sign up for Patreon, you can also support the site by clicking this PERFECT PLACE TO DIE Amazon link. It will take you to Amazon, where you can buy my books or anything else. During that visit, a portion of your purchase will go to me. It won’t cost you anything extra.

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