Rough

It had been almost 20 days since I went out with my camera, for fun or profit.

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Dandelions gone to seed, Alms Park, Cincinnati, May 5, 2015

If it were December, or February, that would make sense; the cold and dark get to me every year. It’s May, though, and there have been a lot of beautiful days in that time. I didn’t even go out with my camera on my birthday, and that day was gorgeous! I was up and dressed; got my license renewed, had breakfast out, stopped in a bookstore, hours yet, before I had to be anywhere, and I came home instead, sitting inside, in front of my computer.

That tells me I’m unhappy.

Not just a little unhappy, either, but shading into depressed. I knew that, if I’m honest, but I haven’t had the energy to deal with it.

Even the weekends weren’t a reprieve. By the time Saturday rolled around, I had just enough energy to get out of bed and make breakfast. I only left the house when I absolutely had to. If my license and tags hadn’t expired last week, and I didn’t have friends who’d invited me to the symphony, I daresay I’d have spent my entire birthday in my house, not talking to anyone. Well, not no one, I’d have answered the phone when people called to wish me a happy birthday.

I’ve had days off here and there, but none of them were vacations; they were all sick days. There was a nasty cold, for instance; it started off like a particularly bad allergy attack, and took out my Easter weekend. Most recently, there was a sharp, sudden back (flank) pain with a slight fever that had me concerned about a possible kidney infection. I felt better by the end of the day, but I was still sore. I do have a real one coming up, a family vacation, and I still have to figure out how I’m getting there. Driving myself seems silly. Not to mention uncomfortable. Besides, I’d want to get my car into the shop to fix whatever makes my car squeal when I turn on the A/C or defroster. Without research, I assume it’s some sort of belt that needs replaced.

Of course, then I have to find someone to take me to work or home from the garage, and back to the garage when my car is ready. We have a concierge service through work that will do things like take your car to the garage, but I wouldn’t make anyone drive my car. No driver’s side mirror, so I’ve had to improvise. It broke off when the F350 hit me and caved in the driver’s-side door back in 2007. As I’m sure I’ve mentioned, I had to drive that from Tulsa to Colorado Springs. That was a bit nerve-wracking.

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Flowers reaching for the sun, Eden Park, Cincinnati, May 24, 2015

Where was I? Oh, right, sad, tired, depressed, affecting whole life, making things harder than they have to be, sapping all my energy and will. Typical for the winter, very atypical after about mid-March, the vernal equinox. Once again, I do have my suspicions for what is fueling this, and I am trying to figure out how to change, but there are entirely too many times when I feel completely alone. No one to really talk to. Not about this. So I continue to go through the motions of life, and try to recognize the bright spots when they come along.

Easier said than done.

Sunday morning, though, I woke up and felt pretty good. The sun had just risen, and I was alert. I left the house a little after 7, camera bag slung over my shoulder, and decided to look for an early morning vista to shoot. I hadn’t felt that drive to take pictures for a very long time. Even three weeks ago, when I last went out, it was forced. Glad I did, of course, but it shouldn’t have started out as a chore. This is what I do to relax, after all, a way for me to shake off the stress of the day. Instead, I drag myself home from work, maybe stop somewhere to get dinner, generally not particularly healthy, or find something at home that I can stick in the oven and remember before it burns, also generally not especially nutritious, stare at the computer, either hanging out on social media or, more commonly, play some solitary game where I don’t have to interact with other human beings, get to bed, and do it all again the next day.

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The Ohio River from the Eden Park Overlook, Cincinnati, May 2015

The “fake it ’til you make it” school of thought is a valid one, truly. You have to be committed to it, though, and have to be able to recognize when it’s time to do something more, when just pretending isn’t cutting it. The last several weeks – months, really – have been a complete blur. I wrote this during the sermon yesterday at church. I was listening, it was about Pentecost and the origins of the church, and it was interesting, but I had to get this out, and since we would be singing once the sermon ended, I needed to do it quickly. Kinda feels like open verse.

Been in a fog, a coma, for several months, now.
Days passing unheeded, unrecognized, slowly, quickly.
Life continues apace while my oblivion persists.
Occasional flickers of life appear –
here, a smile, there, a tear, a touch of joy, mirth, grief and pain,
only to slither away just as the veil begins to lift.
I am not happy right now.
There are many things conspiring to keep me where I lay,
leave me to rot on my own,
life ever so close, and yet, just out of reach.

Bit dark. Dramatic, even. Like I said, verse.

I really did go out with my camera yesterday, though, before church. And it was therapeutic. For a moment, to use my own overblown words, the veil was lifted, and there was peace. Even though the park was trashed – there are grills there, and every weekend, especially when it’s warm, it’s packed – it was peaceful. There was one lone city employee attempting to make a dent in the garbage strewn about the place, poking his pointed stick at things and lifting them to the trash bag in his hands. He must be efficient, though, because that’s the worst I’ve ever seen it look, by a long shot. Usually it looks nice there. The city puts out extra trash cans for people to use, and they still leave garbage all over. Granted, the trash cans are also full, but still. Complete lack of respect.

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The smog dome – significantly less than even ten years ago – makes for some interesting colors. Eden Park, Cincinnati, May 24, 2015

Enough of that rant. Suffice it to say, I need a change, and it needs to be big. I have an idea of what that may be, I just haven’t yet figured out how to make it happen. Well, that’s not completely true, I have laid some groundwork, it just hasn’t paid off yet. I’m back in a holding pattern, with few viable options at hand. The trick is not letting that get to me. Today’s plan – it’s the final day of Taste of Cincinnati. I haven’t been, yet. The family members who would go have already gone, so it’s just me. Not as bad as it sounds, it’s usually just me. I almost prefer it that way.

Nine

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Lazy summer evening in Colorado. Memorial Park, Colorado Springs 2010

Busy, busy, busy! It’s been a busy week. Mostly taken up by work, but it was also a good busy. It was my birthday yesterday, and while I didn’t have something going on every night, I did have things to do. Tuesday it was dinner with the family, Thursday a friend took me out to a restaurant in the Over-the-Rhine neighborhood, Friday was my weekly wine tasting/happy hour, and yesterday, the day itself, was full of exciting things. I started off by renewing my license and car tags. They both expired. Still, I did it nice and early at a location that doesn’t seem to be too ridiculously busy. The person who helped me was working toward becoming the world’s fastest talker, but when she wasn’t being angry at working for the BMV, she was nice enough. There was laughter. Not even mean-spirited.

It did get better than that, I took myself out to breakfast, and then I stopped at a bookstore. I bought some much-needed reading material. Well, maybe “much needed” is a bit strong, since I already had two bags of books that don’t have homes and haven’t been opened, yet. Nah, that’s the right word. I have a few hundred books in my home, not all of them have been unpacked since I moved. I didn’t have the space for them. Then I bought a new shelf and had more space. Still not quite enough, though, I used one of the shelves from a 3-shelf case and moved it to a 5-shelf case. Paperbacks don’t take up as much room as hardcover. I could fit more. Still not enough. I do re-read my books, and I’ve been through I’d say 85% of them at least twice. I do also use the library if it’s a book I’m not sure I’d want. The ones I bought yesterday were either part of a series, or from an author I have a hard time putting down, so that’s how I justify those.

Last night, though, was a beautiful end to my birthday week. Friends from church, in the choir, a couple who keep me in mind for things like this, were going to the final CSO subscription concert, and they had two extra tickets. They invited me and another friend from our choir. The other person plays French Horn, so she’s also a musician. They were playing Scheherazade by Rimsky-Korsokov, and the Polovtsian Dances by Borodin. The latter is actually part of an opera, but the music stands well on its own. There was a guest musician due to perform a third piece in the first half, a percussionist, but he had to cancel due to illness. So, we were treated to a late substitution, another Scheherazade by Ravel, with a vocal soloist. It was lovely. Interesting translation in the program. Mostly accurate.*

This same couple brought me along for a tour of the Dead Sea Scrolls exhibit at the Cincinnati Museum Center a few years ago, a time when I didn’t have any extra money to spend. I hadn’t had a job in 4 years at that point, so no, there was no money. It was a church outing, and we had a Jewish scholar – can’t remember if he was a rabbi or just studied – leading us. Our tour picked up a few stragglers, since he had some seriously good information about the scrolls.

Yesterday morning, before heading out to the BMV, I tried to come up with some topic or other to write about. I thought perhaps I’d try something serious. There’s been a lot of discussion about poverty and what appears to be an attack of the poor, at least, from a certain perspective. It made me think.

There are those who like to discount poverty in this country by saying it’s worse in India or Bangladesh or somewhere else considered to be part of the developing world. That’s true. It’s also true that this isn’t a developing country, this one is supposed to be a first-world country. That attitude shows a complete lack of respect for other human beings, telling them it could be worse. Yes, they could be so much poorer economically, spiritually (not speaking religiously), mentally, if they lived in one of those countries. Guess what? This isn’t one of those countries.

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Andre Flanagan near Findlay Market in Over-the-Rhine. Stop for a listen and leave some folding money, for he’s earned it. Cincinnati, OH 2014

I could go on about that, about how it’s not just money but environment that makes a difference. When your life is second-hand and almost – almost good clothes, almost decent housing, almost nutritious food, almost good education – there’s more to overcome than just not having money. There’s an attitude to overcome, a behavior. There has to be a willingness to believe there’s a way out, and there has to be a hand somewhere, extended to help. Maybe it’s a tutor who believes, or parents who want more for their children. Maybe it’s a life where you don’t have to worry about your next meal, or where you sleep. Maybe it’s someone who tells you you can’t. Not everyone is motivated by the same thing, not everyone succeeds the same way.

There are those who are convinced this is a Christian nation, that we’re a theocracy. Many of these same people talk about the Constitution like it’s a sacred text written by God. They forget the bit in the First Amendment about the government being prohibited from establishing a state religion.† They also forget Matthew 25:34-40 –

34 Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. 35 For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, 36 I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’ 37 Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? 38 When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? 39 When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’ 40 The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’

There’s a bit about sheep and goats◊ in there too, which provides a great way to shock someone who believes the Bible is the actual word of God, as opposed to an interpretation by man. Especially when you point out defunding programs that aid the poor make them goats and not sheep in this story. In the old testament, there are a number of exhortations for people and the poor as well, some listed here.

Pope Francis summed it up nicely, I think. He was speaking of the economic impact of large families, but it’s applicable in many situations.

“…I can say that the main cause of poverty is an economic system that has removed the person from the centre and replaced him with the god of money; an economic system that excludes and creates the throwaway culture in which we live. …” – Pope Francis

That got a bit rambly. I was watching CBS Sunday Morning while writing. I should know better than that. I leave you with this: Be kind; you don’t know what someone else has been through.

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The calm before the storm. Colorado Springs, Colorado 2010

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*It was in French. I may no longer be able to carry on an intelligible conversation, but I can still piece together meaning. Yay, Latin.

†Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.‡

‡Further elaborated on in a 1947 case that went to the Supreme Court, where a statute about student transportation to schools both public and parochial was under fire:

The “establishment of religion” clause of the First Amendment means at least this: Neither a state nor the federal government can set up a church. Neither can pass laws which aid one religion, aid all religions, or prefer one religion over another. Neither can force nor influence a person to go to or to remain away from church against his will or force him to profess a belief or disbelief in any religion. No person can be punished for entertaining or professing religious beliefs or disbeliefs, for church attendance or non-attendance. No tax in any amount, large or small, can be levied to support any religious activities or institutions, whatever they may be called, or whatever form they may adopt to teach or practice religion. Neither a state nor the Federal Government can, openly or secretly, participate in the affairs of any religious organizations or groups and vice versa. In the words of Jefferson, the clause against establishment of religion by law was intended to erect “a wall of separation between church and State.” – Justice Hugo Black, 1947

Justice Clarence Thomas has been working to say otherwise.

◊Not a fan of that particular comparison. Sheep tend to blindly follow; goats have to be led.

The One Who Knocks

No, I’m not a desperate chemistry teacher. I’m talking about opportunity. The opportunity I took advantage of at the end of March may well be bearing fruit. Another opportunity – an opportunity to do something that would make me much happier – is coming. And it scares me silly. I’ve never done something so hard. I know I can, that’s not the concern. It’s just that I’m intentionally challenging myself, and I am a bit afraid of success. What if I succeed accidentally? How will I repeat what I did? I could be discovered as a fraud, barely capable of doing what I said I could do, much less of accomplishing even more? No, success is more frightening than failure. I can fail with aplomb. Failure is my bread and butter. I learn from my failures, as everyone should. I learn what not to do, what I should have done, what I could have done, and where to go for answers.

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Where does it go? Won’t know until you walk it. Alms Park, Cincinnati May 2015

Still, I’m tired of thinking “what if.” Moving to Colorado was a spectacular failure. No, really, it was pretty sweet. It didn’t end the way I would have preferred – a triumphant return with great stories and a wealth of experiences, and enough money to hold my own until I could settle into a job that would make my heart sing, but it was worth it. If I had the chance to do it all again, with the exact same result, I would. There was a lot of growth with that move, and I got to meet people who didn’t automatically ask what school I went to. I got to learn my own limitations, and what I could truly accomplish with the tools at hand. Yes, it was a failure, and yes, it was spectacular.

I daresay that helped me to get where I am now, on the precipice of opportunity and change, anxiously awaiting the result, instead of shying away, cowering in terror. If I don’t take the chance I’ll never know what could have been, and I’ll regret. I’d rather not have regrets; not for something I could have avoided. Reservations, sure, but not regrets.

This one seems to be taking quite a bit longer to write. I’ve distracted myself several times over the past few hours. Perhaps what it really is is thinking about the future – my future – and what it means.* Would it have been nice to experience this twenty years ago? To have an idea of what I really like to do? My life would be completely different if I had.  I’d have experience and maybe able to call my own shots, name my own price. Would my life be better? Ah, now there’s the rub. I don’t know. On paper, it looks like it should be, but I don’t know. Maybe I burn out before I’m 40. Maybe I start to half-ass my job, and maybe I get fired. Maybe I can’t get rehired anywhere. Maybe I’m homeless, because I’m too ashamed to ask my family for help. I don’t know. That’s the biggest reason I try to stay away from “if only.” That way lies madness.

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Memorial compass, with a touch of sun in the west. Alms Park, Cincinnati, May 2015

Much continues to go on in the world. People die, some by their own hand or the hands of others, some from disasters both natural and man-made, and for some, it’s just their time. Recently, I learned of a death that hit a little closer to home. A long time ago, near the end of the last century, I was redefining myself. I didn’t realize this was something that was going to happen every few years or so, but that’s neither here nor there. Two years prior, I’d attended a church event for the first time in several years. The Presbyterian (PCUSA) General Assembly was meeting at Riverfront Coliseum (different name now, but that doesn’t matter; it’s always Riverfront Coliseum to me), and because of the structure of the Presbytery, there were sessions open to all. Pretty democratic, Presbyterians. I sat in a room with thousands of others, all sharing a moment of just being, being a part of something so big. I’d realized I missed that. I wanted it back in my life.

For the next two years, there were some pretty significant changes in my life. In that time, I looked for a new church home. I had to get over my initial terror and discomfort, of course, but I managed. I’d found one that I was comfortable with, but the congregation was small. Someone had mentioned a fairly active church in town, in a very nice neighborhood. I was nervous about going, thinking I’d stick out like a sore thumb. One Sunday, I worked up the nerve to go. Within five minutes, I’d felt I’d found it, my new church home. The congregants were kind and welcoming, interested only in seeing my interest. There was no awkwardness, no discomfort. It fit.

Then the choir sang.

If I’d heard them first, I probably would have ignored anything that seemed negative, at least for a while. I have been in a choir off and on for probably 25 of the last 35 years. I wasn’t while I was in Colorado, although in my last months, I did audition for one. My audition wasn’t great, but they did something they usually don’t – asked me to try again at the next audition in January.  By the time January had rolled around, I knew I would have to leave, so I didn’t, but, like going to the General Assembly, I understood that I was missing a piece of me. Hearing this choir was the final decider. This is where I would stay.

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The Ohio River peeks through the greenery, highlighted by the sun. Alms Park, Cincinnati, May 2015

The following January, I managed to make myself go to the first rehearsal of the new year. I was terrified. Here were all these people who knew each other, had known each other for upwards of 30 or even 40 years, and this director who, though not particularly tall, is very imposing. That was one of the best decisions of my life.

There’s a point, I promise.

After some event or other, we had a choir party. There were beverages of an adult nature. I’d brought a bottle of White Zinfandel. I wasn’t much into wine, and hadn’t really tried any. One of the choir members, Tom Mooney, objected. He lectured me, in the nicest way possible†, on the flaws of my wine choice, and directed me to other options. His sharp wit and kindness endeared him to me almost immediately. I looked forward to seeing him every week, and was happy to call him friend. His advice was always sound – and not always about wine – and his charm infallible. When I left for Colorado in 2001, I knew he would be one I would definitely miss.

I was gone for 10 years. In my head, of course, nothing had changed here, but time doesn’t work that way. Quite a bit had changed. For one thing, everyone was older. Minds weren’t as sharp, hands less steady. Changes in the way the services were handled affected everything. Overall for the better,  but the traditional service saw fewer of the younger members. People who were in the choir when I’d left were no longer singing. Including Tom. He’d been fading recently, was in hospice care last week, and Thursday, he was gone.

If I could stomach it, I’d have gladly raised a toast of White Zin in his honor. Except that thanks to Tom, that stuff tastes like Kool-Aid to me, entirely too sweet. So, at Friday’s tasting, I toasted him with a fruity, floral white blend.

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*Hi, how’s it goin’? No reason, I’d just noticed there weren’t any footnotes yet. Felt weird.

†Make no mistake, though, it was a lecture.

Number 112

It’s May. Finally, suddenly, it’s May. I realized this past Thursday or so that for the last several weeks, I’d been spending my time in a fog, and I haven’t figured out quite why. I have a guess or two, but I don’t like either one, since I can’t do much about them. I’ve been slowly cutting things in my personal life, things to do that are either ill-timed for me, or just too draining, so that perhaps I can be less exhausted, and have more energy to do things like go out with my camera. Yesterday, for instance, would have been a perfect day to do just that. I didn’t. I’d thought about going around and shooting the route for the Flying Pig, which just started maybe 10 minutes ago (50 minutes? I can’t remember what time it started). If I can get it together in time, I may do that this morning, since the route lies on my way to church. And if I wanted to go to my grocery store, I couldn’t. Not the way I’d normally go, anyway, since a fair chunk of the route is also in the race. As is one of my alternate routes. Actually, the other one I’d go to, which is only slightly farther, is also blocked off. I suppose there are some benefits to living on the west side.*

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Magnolias in the rain from April. Ault Park, Cincinnati

Apparently a couple of big things happened yesterday while I was avoiding the world.† There was a fight last night between Manny Pacquiao and Floyd Mayweather. Apparently, Mayweather won, and pay-per-view went out.

Oh, and the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge have a new daughter. Won’t lie, kinda excited about that. I was hoping for a girl. Thank goodness for the generation before, with Princess Diana and Sarah Ferguson. Brought up the TV readiness of the royal family. Okay, that wasn’t nice. The Queen was an attractive young woman, one, and two, that’s not what’s important. The Queen is also a very strong woman, and has a great deal of love for the people she rules. Anyone who thinks otherwise is not paying attention. Anyway, her middle name is to be Diana if I’ve heard correctly. I don’t care so much about the name, just so long as part of it *is* Diana.

At least, that’s what I heard on the news just now. I should know better than that – it’s far less distracting for me to listen to music than watch news, and I’ve decided I do want to get some shots of the race before church. It’ll be too late after. I’ll charge up my battery to make sure I don’t miss anything. Nah, I didn’t use my flash last weekend, should be fine, right? Sure.

Friday was a celebration day at work, a play on the name of my employer. It’s an annual thing that usually means a day of not getting much done at all. You work while you can, but there are limits. After all, there was cornhole‡ to be played. Lost. By a lot. Oh, and Pictionary, which we almost won. Good that we didn’t, since my partner wouldn’t have been able to continue anyway. I had things to do, too. That one was a bit closer. I was almost relaxed yesterday. Didn’t know what to do with myself. I have a theory about my high level of fatigue on Saturdays – spent the rest of the week so tense, when I don’t have anything causing tension, I’m lost and don’t know what to do with myself. My body is confused, if you will, so accustomed to the pressure, that when it’s missing, there’s exhaustion. I know it’s not my health – recently had my quarterly checkup, and it’s all pretty much the same as it was three months ago. It’s been so stable that we’re going to every four months instead of every three. Hopefully it stays that way through all of next year, or at least through next June. Choir’s going to Florence, Italy, and I’d like to be there. Have to start saving now, of course.

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View of the Ohio from Eden in the rain last weekend. Eden Park, Cincinnati

Well. I did wash my dishes, and I wrangled the air conditioner into the window yesterday, which is a bit of an ordeal. I even managed to do it without hurting myself, which I always think is a good thing. The long and the short of that is I’d like to have energy on Saturdays to do things I want to do, not just things I have to do. I have to be careful, though, not to isolate myself. Entirely too easy to do, and not helpful. I am still a little sad that I missed yesterday. It looked like it was gorgeous, and we’re in the time of year where those are going to get fewer and farther between. This week will be 80 and above, and I don’t know if you’re aware, but we have a little humidity here in our Ohio River Valley (and Great Miami, and Little Miami, and Mill Creek, and Duck Creek – it’s a bit damp), and it can get unpleasant. I’ve been in Florida in the summer without AC, and I wasn’t impressed.

Now I need to get ready to leave. I have to make breakfast – the places where I’d normally stop if I were in a rush are also along the Flying Pig route. Mile 22 has been marked out in honor of Lauren Hill, fittingly enough. She might have been from Indiana, but it’s still part of the Tri-State, and she’s still ours. I know the story went national, but no way it was anywhere as important as it was here. It still surprises me when I see something so local go national. Devon Still and his little girl, Leah, were a local story that went national as well. The Republic of Cincinnati is a big bigger than I realize, sometimes.

It’s been about an hour; the runners – at least, the ones who intend to win – should be near here soon. I need to go meet them. And find an alternate route to church. And a place to park. That’s in the middle of the route, too. Yay, detours. Maybe next week, I’ll have some photos to share. I still have to eat, though, and bathe, all the things that make it easier to be around me. Plus, we’re going to be crammed in the loft today with some instrumentalists. Doing a Bach piece that will keep us there through the entire service, and it’s going to be warm.

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*The East Side/West Side thing isn’t anywhere near as big a deal as it was up through a fair chunk of my life, but it still comes up. and yes, I also still get lost once I’m west of Vine street. Some East Side mental block, because it’s not that difficult. Except Delhi. Delhi is insane.

†Not quite fair, I was also doing things in the house that needed to be done.

The American Cornhole Association is based just to the east of here, in a suburb of the city. I don’t remember ever seeing this much when I was a kid, and certainly not called cornhole, but apparently it snuck up somewhere while I was in Colorado. Now it’s EVERYWHERE!