A tough past week

Hey, everyone.

This past week has been the pits. A busy period while I was sick with stupid COVID again. I must say I’ve become a connoisseur of strains of the disease, Omicron wasn’t as bad as Delta. But it still sucked.

In between bouts of fever and coughing fits I managed to do the final edit of my latest manuscript, The Storyteller’s Heaven. The book is a space opera with a twist, set in the late twenty-first century. It was a lot of fun to write, and I look forward to the official launch fairly soon. Of course, any of you can read the serialized rough draft version over on my other website, patreon.com/jasonlambright.

It must be said that if you are so kind as to drop three bucks a month, you will also get another book in serial form and the opening chapters of two more novels. That’s a fair bit for three bucks. There are tiers for five and ten dollars as well, with increasing levels of rewards.

OK, enough with the sales pitch.

In addition to the edits, I was finally strong enough yesterday to mow the grass. Yes, the disease laid me that low. Weak to the point that riding around on a lawn mower seemed too much to ask. It was a terrible week for physical fitness activities; my pedometer app on my phone had been nothing but solid red bars for a while. Red is bad.

Today I get to play catch-up. Clean the house some, recover. It’s been a rough patch; I felt like Mr. Moore’s sculpture, see above. Heavy as a darn rock and sprawled out on the couch.

Time to play catch-up.

Since when is this American?

Something has been bothering me as of late. It seems that many people can no longer associate or speak to those with whom they are not in complete political or religious agreement. This is America, a land built upon a culture of disparate opinions and beliefs. This system is enshrined in the US Constitution, the founding document that some of the most intolerant claims to hold as holy writ.

You cannot pick and choose amongst the twenty-seven ratified Amendments to the US Constitution. Each one is the law of the land. If people have heartburn with a given Amendment, a mechanism exists to change the Constitution via democracy. It is the Constitutional Convention, whereby the states come together and make or undo existing law.

An excellent example is the Eighteenth Amendment, which was undone by the Twenty-First. These Amendments concerned the manufacture and sale of alcohol. Prohibition, as it was known, was an experiment that took a disastrous turn. The failed Eighteenth Amendment was recognized as such, and via democracy, it was repealed by the Twenty-First Amendment.

This is how the American system works. If enough voters decide they need or don’t need a right, they put pressure on their local politicians via legal means. This can be escalated in time to the stage of the Constitutional Convention, where elected representatives can vote on a proposed Amendment.

For a further understanding of the US Constitution, look here.

This is how women gained the right to vote. This is how slavery was abolished. This is how we got term limits on the Presidency.

This is America, and this is how democracy is supposed to work.

Not with high explosives and violence.

To see where this leads, look below.

This was once where an ancient statue of Buddha stood in Bamian, Afghanistan. An intolerant regime decided there could be no symbols of opposing beliefs or cultures. Therefore, they blew it up with lots of TNT.

Do you want to see this in America? Are you cool with book burning and freezing out friends and family you don’t agree with? Can you find no middle ground where you can respectfully agree to disagree? Do you cheer when objects you find disagreeable are destroyed? Can you not leave people alone, to believe as they see fit?

I try to practice what I preach. My friends and family hold a wide range of views, some of which I strongly disagree with. However, I see them for what they and I are. Fallible humans. Imperfect. At times rambunctious or contrary, but still worth viewing as people. I try to extend this courtesy to everyone I know, and if they say something that I find unacceptable or disagreeable, I let them know.

There is a line, of course. It is when others try to force you to agree with some belief or opinion that is contrary to one’s firmly held beliefs. This is at best discourteous. At worst, it is rude and disrespectful. In some egregious cases, I can only conclude that their Mama didn’t raise them right, and maybe I should look elsewhere for companionship.

I don’t know who blew up the Georgia Guidestones or what their motivations were.

What I do know is that in America we are supposed to respect each other’s differences and resolve issues at the ballot box.

We don’t resolve problems with bombs in the middle of the night.

This is deeply contrary to the spirit of the US Constitution. There was NOTHING that prohibited the bombers from erecting their own monument close by, enshrining their opposing beliefs, whatever those may have been.

No, they chose TNT or C-4.

Therefore, they have deservedly opened themselves to prosecution and sanction under the law.

I hope these felons and anti-patriots fry.

Grammarly

The fellow seen above, an editor, will have his or her work simplified the next time I submit a manuscript to them because of a software program called Grammarly.

Grammarly seems to be a powerful tool to clean up an author’s writing; or anyone’s. As I type, the program is editing my scratches in real-time.

Let me tell you, this is amazing to me. You download the software, and suddenly a little bubble next to your text appears. When you offend your new referee, the drop changes colors, and a little number appears, telling you all the offenses against the English language you just committed. It works on Word docs, webpages, and email. Everywhere.

This is the best thing since sliced bread, let me tell you. Grammarly takes the rough edges off of any document you write, and it is best when you click the corrections bubble it suggests; it doesn’t dictate changes. Sometimes this is handy for stylistic reasons. An example: two characters in a novel are having a conversation. Of course, it doesn’t happen in the King’s English; their conversations are full of flaws. If you mean to keep it this way, Grammarly allows you to save the conversation as is. However, your narration will be flawless. Simply amazing.

Now that I’ve used the program a little, I wonder where it’s been all my life. How it would have made a significant difference in my many manuscripts and web posts. This thing is awesome! No more combing through my posts, and when I publish them, I STILL see mistakes that I have to go back and correct! Frustrating and time-consuming, to say the least.

Grammarly saves you from that.

This software has the potential to speed up my work and deliver an almost clean copy to any editor that I hire in the future. Once again, simply amazing!

Grammarly. Highly recommend.

The Two Mavericks

On a bright and sunny day, an old friend decided to take a road trip with his family and drop in on us here in hilly Appalachia.

He was the satisfied new owner of a Ford Maverick, and the long drive was a test run to check the suitability of his new 2022 Ford Maverick for road trips with his fam. This article is therefore a sort of follow-up on my earlier Maverick review, which you can find by clicking on the link or scrolling down through my older posts.

First, a compare and contrast. Both of our trucks are base model XL’s, which are easily distinguished by the painted steel rims. They are obviously different colors, selected from Ford’s basic palette. The bodies are identical, because all Maverick bodies are the same, regardless of trim level selected.

However, there are important differences between the two. Mine is a gasoline EcoBoost because I wanted AWD. Unfortunately, Ford does not offer AWD in a hybrid. His is a true hybrid with FWD. So, even though the trucks look the same their drivetrains are entirely different. Also, we selected different build options.

Both of us got a tow hitch. At one hundred dollars, you would be crazy not to select the hitch. Then we diverged, as we have different needs for a truck. He selected a snazzy tonneau cover, which in retrospect I wish I would have done; very handy when the snow falls. Me? I went for the HD stuff, the 4k tow package, bed liner, 110v inverter, etc.

They are the same truck, but then again, they are not.

I’ve written at length about my own truck, so I won’t rehash old stuff. I want to talk about his, which really is a different experience.

Second, let’s talk efficiency. My truck is great, at 31.5 mpg averaged across almost nine thousand miles. If you have any experience with small trucks, you know that this is phenomenal. My truck easily beats the rated EPA mileage, and I am very satisfied.

However, my friend’s truck blows my 31.5 mpg average out of the water. On the entire return trip from his home (he lives on the other side of Ohio) he averaged 43(!) mpg in honest mileage with two passengers and their stuff, his average speed was between 70-75 mph.

Holy cow. The hybrid is supposed to get LESS mileage on the highway, because of how it works (mostly electric propulsion in town, gas engine on freeway). So, in a low efficiency setting his truck blew my mileage away by a full twelve mpg. This is astounding.

He has reported trip mileage in the fifties in city driving, and I believe it.

The hybrid Maverick is a clear winner in terms of gasoline usage.

Third, let’s talk capability and utility. We have both used our Mavericks for a whole range of activities. His are more urban, while my usages are generally rural. I’ve talked at length about what my truck has done in my other article, I’d like to talk a little about his.

First, let me point out once more that his truck and mine have different drive trains and tow ratings. His is a 2.5L hybrid with a CVT transmission rated at 2k tow. Mine is a 2.1L turbo with and 8spd tranny and 4k tow. Both have identical cargo capacities at about 1500 lbs.

However, we have both done the thing with these vehicles, and they are more than capable.

I’ll cite kayaks as an example. We have both hauled kayaks in the back of our trucks, but my friend decided his stuck out too far in the bed (his are longer than mine), so he bought a nice little trailer from Harbor Freight.

Observe.

A very nice set-up, wouldn’t you agree? This falls well within his tow rating, and it emphasizes the point that you really want to get a hitch for this vehicle, even if you think you’ll never use it. Because you will. A 2k tow rating doesn’t seem like much, but you’d be surprised with what this little beast can haul. Log splitters, lawn mowers, a four-wheeler, a big couch, you name it.

Finally, I’d like to speak to overall comfort and value. In this regard, both trucks are identical. Yes, at need you can fit five adults in these vehicles. I have personally rode in the middle seat in the back with my adult kids, and it was tolerable. With three adult passengers? No problems at all, with plenty of space for peoples…stuff.

It seems that my friend and I are still discovering capabilities with these trucks, even after months of ownership. They are engineered that well. Seriously. So many thoughtful nooks and crannies, even the oddly shaped cubby by the multimedia screen has a legit use- I’ve filled it with travel sized Kleenex. It is perfectly shaped for them.

We both love the Apple CarPlay interface, it is seamless and extremely useful.

For an economy truck, Ford has blown up the field. Absolutely destroyed it. No other manufacturer has anything that compares! Not even close.

The 2022 Ford Maverick. After six months and 9000 miles, still thrilled.

The order books for the 2023 models opens August 15th. I’d suggest you go to your local Ford dealer and order one then, because that is your only chance to get one of these fuel-efficient and eminently practical vehicles at MSRP.

You will wait. I waited nearly seven months, and my friend waited ten.

We will both tell you that it’s worth it, and there is close to zero chance that you will find one on the lot.

The Ford Maverick. An awesome little truck! Between my friend and I we have owned a dozen at least, probably more, and we agree hands down the little Mav smokes all of them. In fact, he will tell you that the Mav is the best VEHICLE he has ever owned!

August fifteenth, 2022. Keep that date in mind. Something tells me the 23s will sell out fast- the word of mouth has been strong. Have you seen a single Maverick ad or commercial? I know I haven’t. There has been no need.

I recommend that you act and place an order. Five flippin’ stars.

The Mountain Fiddle

Well friends, I am pleased to report that the surgery upon the old mountain fiddle I bought for forty dollars has been successful.
“Good Old Mountain Dew,” as played by my instructor, Ryan.

Now, I can play this version of the tune as well, but Ryan is the better man on the fiddle. So, I gladly recorded him as he played the old girl. Personally, I thought the mystery Civil War era fiddle turned out great. It’s sound reminds me of one’s grandma singing an old sweet tune out on the porch, with a voice that was once beautiful.

For the full background, see the post about a month back called “The Coffin Case.”

I must say I have eagerly awaited this moment, and I did have some level of fear the old violin would simply fly apart when tuned.

Nope. It acted as it should have, albeit with a few grumpy creaks as the strings went tight.

He’s keeping it for another week for fine tuning, but at this point I am well satisfied.

This relic of our agrarian past will play again.

A lot.

Comfortable work environment

Friends, it is difficult to stress enough how important a comfortable work environment is.

The above chair simply doesn’t fit that description. After last night, I’m putting that POS on the curb.

So, there I was…

You know, the line that clues you in that you are about to hear bullshit. Except this is not bullshit. It is a tale of woe and pain.

So, there I was, trying to make things happen in my latest novel. I chose the room in my house where I can close the doors and get some stuff done without a million and six distractions. It’s pretty good. Well lit, a good desk, pleasing mellow colors, etc. There is one problem, however, and last night was the straw that broke the camel’s back.

The desk chair is atrocious. I’m pretty sure it’s a thirty dollar special purchased from a large retailer. It looks OK. Trust me, it is not. My back still aches this morning, in fact.

As I typed away last night, an awful pain started to build between my shoulder blades and it began to move downwards, eventually claiming my entire spine. My hands began to tingle, and I had to force the words onto the page. My goal was eight hundred, and the conclusion of the chapter I was working on.

I felt like a marathon runner when I slammed the last words onto the page. My back was screaming at me; it was all I could do to finish up my admin work and wrap up my writing.

A few minutes later I lay in bed, it took a good hour to stretch out and find some level of comfort.

This morning, I sat in our comfy IKEA chairs in the living room and typed out this web post without a problem. The thought dawned on me; perhaps the issue was that cheap chair. Yes, to a certain extent my back always hurts, and my left hand suffers some degree of numbness. This is nothing new; it’s the result of combat operations a long time ago.

However, the cheap chair in the study takes the pain to a whole new level.

Friends, that chair is going on the trash pile.

It shouldn’t feel like you just shoveled up a whole heap of manure while writing. As of this moment, I’m switching work locations and that chair simply must GO.

Comfortable work environment= a must.

Hit time

BLUF: The buddy system works.

Hey, readers.

Today’s subject is the importance of accountability when committing to any long-term goal. Such as writing a novel. You need to have hit times, Army slang for deadlines. Without clear and hard guidelines you will go astray. I’ve re-learned this recently. Very recently.

You see, I’ve been a tad adrift as of late. So many distractions and bad stuff going on. It’s been very difficult to concentrate. To see the mission clearly. To write.

Had a conversation with a friend and mentor, we both needed a hand. He suggested setting aside a block of time in our mutual time zones where we could meet briefly and get work done. A two hour block, where we would do nothing but writer stuff. Period. We agreed to meet Sunday my time through Thursday, 1900-2100 local.

We planned a brief check in, then an immediate progression to work. This Thursday past was our first work session, and I’d like to report success.

It went mostly as planned for both of us. He had a medical commitment, so he rang me up while driving and we talked things over. When we hung up, I reviewed my past work, and then I started to type. On his end, he did his appointment, returned home, and produced.

Friends, I kicked out 1200 words in just under two hours. This, after months of very slow activity. It really helped to have a clear, unambiguous block of time reserved to write, as well as a reporting obligation to my friend and partner. As I should have known from my Army years, the buddy system works for a reason.

Basically, we pushed each other. He got stuff done, and so did I. For the first time in months, really. We plan to continue this approach for the time being, until the both of us climb out of the hole.

In short, if you are struggling to meet some goal, it really does help to have a partner who will hold your feet to the fire.

This can be unpleasant, but so is missing a deadline.

To anyone who has emailed me

What a cock-up.

I recently discovered that my email account has gone haywire and started to automatically delete almost anything sent to my account. I have an idea that this has been going on for quite some time, including messages from this account.

The stupid server marks stuff as “spam” and then immediately deletes it.

So, to people who may have contacted me and been pissed off that I did not reply, this is the reason. If so, give it another shot.

I changed the settings, so now I should receive stuff.

Aargh.

The hero’s holocaust

I dunno, guys.

Memorial Day weekend always leaves me feeling a little weird. Although for many it has lost its function, a remembrance for our 1.2 million war dead, I remember.

I reflect upon the real sacrifices made by fallen soldiers and their families. I remember growing up in a Gold Star family, torn by the loss of my uncle in Korea. It was a wound that never healed, vividly and painfully remembered by my grandmother. So what, really, that he won the Distinguished Service Cross on the last day of his seventeen year long life. He left behind a family that grieved for decades.

I think about Robert Leckie’s stunning poem, “The Battle of the Tenaru.” Such power in his words, written while his ears were still numbed by shot and shell. Verses such as this:

Speak to the Lord for our comrades,
Killed when the battle seemed lost.
They went to meet a bright defeat-
The hero’s holocaust.

Unbelievable, the coursing, draining power of close combat. Seeing the wounded, hearing men’s hoarse cries. Beholding the dead. Greeting the new dawn with thanks that it’s not you, lying in a heap.

False is the vaunt of the victor,
Empty our living pride.
For those who fell there is no hell-
Not for the brave who died.

The tombstone illustrated above is a simple veteran’s stone, typical of the late nineteenth to early twentieth century. It belongs to my grandpa’s grandpa, a survivor of a vicious and mostly forgotten mini-civil war in Minnesota. I ask myself what his life was like. Was he happy. Or did he die bitter and mostly forgotten, to lay in St. Peter’s cemetery in the tiny town of Mendota, Minnesota.

I’ll never know.

So, this Memorial Day I think of the long line of those who have gone before me, who fought for all sides, for centuries.

The blue-painted Scot, who faced the Romans. The Swiss mercenary. The Dakota man who counted coup. The English peasant who stretched his bow at Agincourt. The French peasant who received his arrow. A German who marched with the Teutonic Knights. A citizen of the Crown, who marched with Washington. A man taken prisoner in Winchester, Virginia. A Dutch officer who sweltered in Indonesia. A kid who died on a hill in Korea.

They are all there, in the long, sorrowful line.

Readers worldwide: Memorial Day belongs to you, as well. We are your cousins, near and distant.

Many from the Han have fought beneath the Stars and Stripes. Descendants of the proud Zulu have worn the American Combat V. Suleiman’s children have bled out and died beneath the starry flag. Many a Spanish speaker has received the hateful, flying steel and worn the Purple Heart to their grave. Red Army veterans who fought in both Afghanistan wars. There isn’t an ethnicity on the planet that hasn’t marched with Uncle Sam, many to die while doing so.

You get the idea.

So as I ponder Memorial Day this year, I’d like for you all to give it some thought as well. Spare some thought as well to our brothers in the Ukraine, who fight and die as millions have a cheerful barbecue.

For some, Memorial Day is every day.

The Electric Future

Hello, everyone. As all of you know, the world is experiencing record energy prices, and we are by no means immune here in the ‘States.

Of course, in relative terms we are still paying low prices for gasoline where I live, we have some of the lowest prices for energy in the US. But still, 4.49 is pretty high. However, it is nearly half what friends are paying elsewhere. An Australian friend reports 2.49 AUD/liter (6.78 USD/gal) and a European friend reports local prices at 2.10 EUR/liter (8.49 USD/gal), so things could definitely be worse. Also, prices vary wildly here in the US, with rates ranging from California around 6 USD/gal to here in the Ohio Valley, at 4.49/gal.

The sticker price at the pump has me thinking that it might not be a bad idea for the next family car to be electric.

Now, our small fleet doesn’t have a single vehicle that gets less than 30 mpg, so we’re doing OK at the moment. However, economies of scale are finally happening within the EV world and I think the next couple of years will be the time to finally consider an electric car.

I’m kinda thinking the new Subaru Solterra, but my mind is far from made up. A problem is that all electric vehicles are still expensive, and at 45k the Solterra is a bit out of my reach. Of course, the Ford Maverick hybrid is quite affordable, but for reasons that I stated in my February Maverick review, we need AWD and right now the AWD Maverick doesn’t come in a hybrid.

Besides, why not make a clean break from gasoline altogether? With an electric you just plug it in at night- this is fine unless you are making road trips. I guess until the infrastructure is there we would just use the electric as a daily driver and we’d do long trips with either a gas car or a hybrid. I do anticipate that within the next few years Ford will make a hybrid AWD Maverick, and at that time I’ll trade in my gas burner for one of those- I have been pleased in all respects with my little Mav, an AWD hybrid would make the deal sweeter.

So, this seems doable. An electric as our runaround car, and a hybrid for off road and long trips. This seems to be a good compromise that should be attainable within this decade. I’m not seeing a drop in energy prices anytime soon, so now is the time to plan this out.

Now, if the car companies would just start to make more electrics and hybrids to drop the price down into the feasible range. Ford made a great decision with the hybrid economy Maverick- at base MSRP of 19,995 for the sold-out 2022 model this is affordable for most people. They simply need to expand their hybrid and electric lines out to other types of vehicles.

GM? Lol, they are the worst. I won’t consider one until they get their act together, and at the moment I am pleased with Ford’s offerings.

I see more and more electric vehicles on the road, the formerly niche market is going mainstream. Good. Gas burners are fine as hobby vehicles or in parades, but for daily drivers you need fuel efficiency. Better yet, you need no fuel at all.

This is where I’d like to be, and I think that this is where we are all headed.

My take is that by the time I reach Social Security age there will be few pure gas vehicles on the road. I’m really looking forward to the day when I’m not tethered to the pump station anymore. Promise you I won’t miss it all all; the grimy pumps, the hassle. Filling the tank in the freezing cold or the pouring rain.

Yeah, not so much.

I’d rather just plug in at night.