Different World

1. Marcia and I made a brief return to the Grand Canyon this past weekend. We wanted to get some hikes and exploring in, but we weren’t quite ready to do a trek as heinously difficult as the one we did last October. So instead of carrying our tents, bedding, and food down into and back out of the Canyon, we elected to stay at the Under Canvas resort some 20 miles south of the Park Boundary, and it was a delightful experience. Yeah, we slept in a tent, but we didn’t have to carry it. And it had a wood stove, which was helpful when the temperatures dropped to 29°F on Friday night. We ate breakfast and dinner in Under Canvas’ main tent, twice each, and the food quality and ease of ordering and service were both outstanding. We also had live music out under the stars each night, while we made S’mores over the propane fire pits, and it was a nice place to just sit around when you didn’t feel like doing anything strenuous. We’ll do that sort of trip again, for sure. (They’ve got several other locations around the country, so we’re already scouting them out). For our Grand Canyon hike, we elected to take the South Kaibab Trail down to Skeleton Point, down some three miles horizontally and 2,100 feet vertically from the South Rim, just far enough to get a first peek at the Colorado River, waaaaayyyy further below us. (It made our minds boggle that we actually went all the way down there last fall, and then hiked back out, with 30-pound packs). This past weekend, we made it down to Skeleton Point in about 90 minutes, and back out in about two hours, the latter trip slower not only because of the vigorous climbing, but also because of the temperatures, which approached 100°F, with the sun’s position offering paltry shade as we hugged the cliff walls on the way up the various switchbacks. The next day, after a lazy morning, we headed back toward Flagstaff and hiked up to Red Mountain, a really distinctive and cool collapsed volcanic formation. I snapped some pics, as I do, and you can see them by clicking of the sample photo below, taken at Cedar Ridge, about halfway down to Skeleton Point. . .

2. For our final years in New York and our first couple of years in Des Moines, I used to go out golfing with Marcia fairly regularly. She’s good at it, I’m not. But during our first stint in Iowa, I just got really tired of not only doing something that I couldn’t excel at, but also of the truly obnoxious “golf bro” culture that was so prevalent on courses there, public and private alike. So I quit golfing at that point, for those and a variety of other reasons. Fast forward to this spring, when for a variety of other, other reasons, I’m going to take it up again. I played nine practice holes yesterday and another nine today. I’m still not good, but I was pleasantly surprised how much muscle memory I maintained from having done it all those years ago. We’ll see how it all plays out. I think the fact that we now live in a place where you can play year ’round, and the fact that there’s a course at the end of our road, and the fact that this is mostly a lower-key, bro-free, retiree-laden community, hopefully will mean it’s easier to go out and have a good experience without having to be rushed by or listen to a shouty gaggle of drunken, cigar-smoking, racist/sexist louts trying to channel their inner John Daly. And I’m always happy to have the extra time with Marcia, so that matters too, a lot.

3. Another back to the future note: when the first Roomba robot home vacuums came out, I had to have one. But we found that the size of our house, and the fact that we had three cats, and the buggy early versions of that particularly home technology meant that our first Roomba didn’t get much done before gagging on cat hair and then spending an hour desperately cleaning and re-cleaning one table-leg until its battery ran out. A few months back, though, Katelin and John told us they had gotten a new one, and that the newer technology version seemed to be working well for them. So we gave it another try with a second Roomba, and I have to say that it seems to be working well for us this time. I can send the helpful little robot out from my phone while we’re out of the house, and so far, it just does its thing, and then properly takes itself home to its little docking station once it’s finished being useful. When I set up the account for the new helpful beastie, I had to give the unit a name. It didn’t take me long to settle on Tarkus, and if you’ve been reading here for any amount of time, you’ll probably know why that is. I put a sticker of his eponymous armadillo-tank on Tarkus’ shell, so he’d know who is he, and when he does a particularly good job at his assignments, I’ve taken to giving him a little reward for his good work and service . . .

Clear the battlefields, and let me see . . .

4. I was sorry to read that Scottish guitarist Ricky Gardiner passed away this week. He was a core member of the interestingly odd Beggars Opera in the early 1970s, before a brief, but high-impact stint with David Bowie and Iggy Pop, appearing on the landmark “Berlin Era” albums Low and Lust for Life. His most lasting contribution to the core rock canon was his amazing riff and music for “The Passenger,” a critical, crucial song in the twinned journeys of Iggy and David at their most enigmatic and experimental. Iggy’s touring band in support of Lust for Life featured Bowie, Gardiner, and the Sales Brothers (Hunt and Tony) rhythm section, and those shows are arguably among the all-time most legendary live rock events, ever. Ricky Gardiner continued to write and record in a variety of genres until his failing health rendered him finally silent. He was a player, for sure, in the true and best sense of that word. Here’s a nice video for “The Passenger,” if you want to hear why that was the case . . .

Your Turn to Remember

We’re back home in Northern Arizona this weekend after a visit to Marcia’s home city of Minneapolis. We rented a super nice AirBnB right across the street from the hill where Marcia and her friends would sled when she was a kid each winter. Which (because Minnesota) apparently ran from October to May. We had spent a couple of weeks in Minneapolis two summers ago just a bit north of this neighborhood, and it was an absolutely lovely trip. But that was summer, and this was not, and it was made plainly clear to us that 18 months in balmy Arizona has definitely undone 35 years worth of biological adaptation developed from living in frigid Northerly climes. I was cold the whole time, at bottom line.

But that was all okay, as the trip was worth the effort to spend time with Marcia’s extended family, gathered for a celebration of life for her sister Mary Ellen, who died in Phoenix last winter. The celebration was held at Next Chapter Winery in New Prague, Minnesota, owned and operated by members of Mary Ellen’s first husband’s family. It was a wonderful venue, highly worth a visit should you find yourself thereabouts.

Marcia is the youngest of 11 siblings, three of whom have flown away at this point. Seven of the surviving eight were together this weekend (two having traveled from Washington state, one from Texas, and us from Arizona), along with a lot of nieces and nephews, and it’s always lovely to spend time with them all. Here are photos of the five surviving Brom sisters, and seven of the eight surviving Brom siblings, at a great group dinner arranged by Marcia’s sister Carol at Axel’s in Mendota:

We drove several times by the house where Marcia and her siblings were raised, just a few blocks away from our AirBnB. I snapped this shot of their home one morning while out chorin’, and after having had to scrape ice off of the car’s windshield, brrr!

The Brom Family backyard was dominated and shadowed by the Church of the Incarnation, which is where Marcia and I were married in the summer of 1989. Sadly, the church experienced a devastating fire a few months back, but it was good to see construction crews busily working to restore and fully re-open this historic neighborhood hub. For the music nerds who hover about here: this was the hard-scrabble neighborhood that spawned The Replacements, and Marcia had various childhood relationships with the band’s members and their families; the cool “Raised in the City” map of the Mats’ formative years features “Inky” (as the Church and its school were known locally) as key site #17, along with a lot of other neighborhood landmarks.

Since it was too cold and windy and rainy for us to walk outside much (though the Minneapolitans seemed perfectly happy to ramble around in the brisk weather), we rode over to the Mall of America one afternoon to get an indoor walking session in, and also to catch the new Nicolas Cage film, The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent, which was quite the hoot, and highly recommended. I also took advantage of the chill to hunker down under a blanket at the house and get a good deal of reading done, including what I’d consider to be the leading contenders, at this point, for my best novel and best nonfiction books of 2022, thus far. Here are links to those, if you need a couple of good reads:

On our last night in Minneapolis, we had an utterly stellar dinner out at a restaurant just across Lake Harriet from Marcia’s native ‘hood. It was an Argentine-inspired joint called MARTINA, and, again, we highly commend it to you, should you need a fine culinary experience while visiting the Twin Cities. Earlier in the weekend, we’d also had some outstanding carry-out dinners from Boludo (again Argentine-inspired, but this time making pizzas) and Young Man (quirky pan-Asian with a decidedly Upper Midwestern twist), both of them located near the intersection of South 38th and Nicollet, right in the heart of Marcia’s childhood neighborhood.

The day after we arrived home, Marcia went out in the blessedly warm weather for her bi-weekly golf outing, and I went out for my regular sunny-day hike. As often as I’ve scrambled up and around and through the red rocks in our neighborhood, I still spot and explore new “trails” (I use that term lightly, since I’ll follow animal tracks that most folks wouldn’t deign to risk), and that was the case yesterday as well, as I stumbled upon a new-to-me cave, and found a passable route up to the top of a prominent local rock structure with sublime and quiet views of one of the busiest tourist hiking zones in the region.

I end this post with three snaps from that hike. I’m happy that we got to spend time with Marcia’s family in the community that gives them their collective “sense of place,” even though it was a sad event that drew us all together this time. And then, I am just as happy to be back in our new-ish home town, feeling good that we’ve found our own great place at this juncture in our lives, beautiful, culturally-rich, and mostly snow and ice free . . .

Adventure Family Deployed!

In March 2020, I was supposed to visit my mother in Beaufort, South Carolina (where she lives, and where I was born), but COVID obviously had other plans for us all at that point, so the trip was scratched. Likewise in April 2020, when Marcia and Katelin were supposed to make their annual Girl Power Trip (they were both born on March 8th, which is International Women’s Day in most of the non-retogressive world)(e.g. not here) to Costa Rica, but that trip also bit the dust, along with several others in the months ahead.

While I know it’s too soon to declare that COVID is behind us, with the entire family as vaccinated as we can be, and with hospitalization rates down significantly, we decided that we’d finally re-schedule those trips this month. We drove to Las Vegas two weekends ago and spent some time with Katelin and John in their fab new house there, then last week, Katelin and Marcia flew off westward to the Big Island of Hawai’i, and I flew east to the land of my forefathers and foremothers. Marcia and I think this is the greatest distance we’ve ever been away from each other in our 35-ish years as a couple. Felt very weird, especially since we’d not spent a night apart since the dawn of the Anno Virum.

Our outbound trips from Las Vegas were both pretty heinous. Marcia and Katelin were supposed to go from Vegas to Los Angeles to Kona, but after tickets were secured, Delta Airlines decided that they needed a bonus stop in Seattle on the way out, as well, to turn a reasonable trip into a full-day-plus slog. My flights (Vegas to Dallas to Savannah) were both way late, and there was a truly horrific storm over the Mississippi Delta, so we were routed down to the Gulf of Mexico to try to get around it. After the fact, I pulled up the FlightAware trip report just to make sure I experienced what I thought I had experienced. I did:

I’ve flown a lot over the years, and I’d say that the turbulence and amazing high-altitude lightning were among the most intense that I’ve ever experienced. It was a relief to hit the tarmac in Savannah a few hours late, but then I discovered that my pre-paid rental car had long been given to someone else, that the taxis that service the airport were no longer running, and that the Uber/Lyft crowd seemed to mostly be asleep as well. I didn’t actually make it to my hotel room until well after 2am, and I only managed to avoid sleeping in the concourse or walking three-ish miles down a dark and narrow country road by convincing an Uber driver to let me pay him cash to jump in a car that someone else had secured.

But then I headed up to Beaufort the next morning, and all was good. I had a lovely visit with my mother, got to see my aunt and her husband for a superb Shrimp and Grits dinner, and hit most of the personally significant spots that I normally visit when I’m in the area. Highlights included the hospital where I was born (and where my Dad died), the house my parents lived in when I first came home from the hospital, a couple of urban shacks where my Mom has lived over the years, Beaufort National Cemetery (where my Dad is buried), Stoney Creek Cemetery (where most of my other ancestors on that side of the family are buried), the Village of McPhersonville (where said ancestors once all lived), Old Sheldon (a ruined stone church that would have served my family in the late 18th and early 19th Centuries), and Hunting Island, which I consider to be the finest beach on the American east coast. (Even though it sustained incredible damage from Hurricane Matthew a few years back). I also got to eat most all of the things I crave when I’m home, including the aforementioned Shrimp and Grits, a Shrimp Burger and hush puppies from the Shrimp Shack, a heaping helping of boiled peanuts, a good bowl of Brunswick Stew, and various and sundry other white trash specialties from the Low Country. Mmm, mmm, good . . . . even if I’m still feeling the salt and fat bloat from that tasty, tasty fare.

I flew back to Las Vegas on Sunday, and Marcia and Katelin arrived back there early this morning after a red-eye from Kona. This time, all of our flights were smooth and on schedule, so that was a relief. I met Marcia at the airport and we motored on home, arriving just after lunch-time, happy to be back in our nest, and looking forward to sleeping in our own bed tonight. Marcia and Katelin took photos of their trip, and I’ll probably set up an album for that once they send them all to me. I was my usual photo-obsessed self, and have posted my usual album over at Flickr of the trip’s highlights. You can click on the image of Stoney Creek Cemetery below if you’d like to see what else is over there; most of the snaps are from the Low Country, with some bookends of our time in Las Vegas.

We’re traveling to Minnesota next weekend (Marcia’s homeland) to attend a memorial service for her sister, so I will probably have another post of this ilk when we get back from that. We’ve got a couple of other treks already on the books in the months ahead (California, North Carolina/Tennessee, Albuquerque, and a return to the Grand Canyon), so those will no doubt show up here too.

Got to make up for lost travel time while we can. It feels good to be be abroad again, as much as we love being here, and coming home.

Time of Revelation

1. After a couple of COVID-related fallow years in terms of live music-going, Marcia and I have slowly returned to attending concerts again in recent months, though living in relatively rural Northern Arizona, that generally implies trips to various other cities. We’ve recently acquired tickets to see The Who (in Las Vegas) and Paul McCartney (in Knoxville) in the months ahead, and I am eye-balling a few other shows that might rock our worlds around those. Should everything go forward as planned, 2022 will mark the year when I first see Roger Daltrey, Pete Townsend, and Sir Paul Himself in the flesh, after being a devoted fanboy of their work for most of my life. That’s exciting! Something to look forward to, if we’re able, collectively, to continue moving back closer to normalcy in a post-COVID world.

2. Since moving to Arizona, we’ve done trips to Northern California (plus Oregon and Washington), Southern California (L.A. to the Mexican Border), and Eastern California (Yosemite, Lake Tahoe, Death Valley, etc.), and have enjoyed those trips tremendously. So for our 2022 Summer Vacation (we’re still not feeling confident enough to travel abroad), we recently booked flights, cars, and houses for a trip that will take us from Los Angeles to Marin County, just north of San Francisco. One of the nice things about moving to different parts of the country every so often is the ability to explore other new parts of the country without too much effort or strain. We’re really enjoying our (relative) proximity to the West Coast, and are glad to fill a gap in our experience on that coast with this trip.

3. I was delighted to discover that long-time favorite band Napalm Death released a new mini-album recently, entitled Resentment is Always Seismic (A Final Throw of Throes). It’s tremendous on early listens, a fine appendix to 2020’s Throes of Joy in the Jaws of Defeatism. If you dig the heavy stuff, then I commend it to you highly. Here’s the lead single, if you want a taste up front:

4. When we visited Katelin and John in Las Vegas last month, we were most impressed with the “Media Room” in their new house; they have essentially created a movie theater experience in their own home, frankly better than most of the movie-going experiences I had had prior to theaters shutting down for COVID. Amazing big-screen views, incredible sound, comfy chairs, and no assholes sitting in front us talking, or playing with their cell phones. Perfect! We have a large (though not as large as theirs) screen TV in our own home, but we’ve just been using the TV speakers for sound since we installed it. Inspired by Katelin and John’s set-up, I acquired a fairly robust sound-bar and subwoofer system, and installed it all yesterday. We watched the final two episodes of The Tourist (amazing show, highly recommended!) on the new system last night, and it was incredible. We also set up Marcia’s Spotify account to play over the system and, well, it is also incredible. I’ve written at length on my website (here’s the best example, I think) about my strenuous reluctance to embrace streaming music technologies, but I’m sorry to report that this sound system might be the thing that drags me into that world, kicking and screaming, just because the music sounds so, so, so good, compared to the system I’ve been using with my various vintage iPods. Grumble, grumble, grumble. I hate it when I have to learn new tricks.

5. A month ago, exactly, I was driving 60+ miles to Prescott, Arizona daily for jury duty, and I posted a photo taken on the drive of the most cool full moon I was seeing in the morning on my way over; it’s item #3 here. This morning, while driving home after getting my coffee from a shop in our village, I got to enjoy a similar scene, but closer to home. As always, cell phone cameras do a terrible job of snapping the moon (or any other celestial objects), but I did stop to capture this image, just to share a sense of how cool it was to see this, in my own neighborhood . . .

Been Away Too Long

1. My three weeks as a juror at the Yavapai County Superior Court came to an end last week. We, the jury, found the defendant guilty of Second Degree Murder and 20+ related charges of property theft, forgery, credit card fraud, and identity theft. Here’s one of the many news articles I saw about the case once our deliberations concluded. I’d be lying if I said that the process was not onerous (especially given my 60+ mile drive one way to the Court House), but I will admit that it provided an interesting deep dig into a variety of subcultures resident here in Arizona. It also felt right and good to do my own small part as a contributing citizen in our State and Nation at a time when personal and institutional selfishness and anti-government sentiments and actions are running rampant, to our collective detriment. I’ve got a two-year “get out of jury duty free” pass now, and I certainly won’t be clamoring for my next jury stint when that time runs out. But if called, I will serve. Because that’s how I roll.

2. As soon as my jury service was done, Marcia and I headed over to Las Vegas to visit our daughter Katelin and son-in-law John in the new house they bought in January. It was a wonderful visit, including the celebration of Marcia and Katelin’s shared birthday on Tuesday. The house was spectacular, and the work that Katelin and John have done on it over their couple of months of ownership made it even more so. We brought some small decorative items with us in various storage baskets, which we left behind should Katelin and John need them. But then we soon realized that Katelin’s and John’s needs did not matter with regard to the baskets, because the proper owner of the baskets (Lily the Cat) had staked her claim, and would not yield same:

3. This was the first visit we’ve made since Katelin and John moved to Las Vegas where most of the stereotypical entertainment options of the Las Vegas Strip were open and available and (nominally) safe, due to the various COVID restrictions that have been (rightly, correctly) in place there for most of the past two years. So we took advantage of both the outdoor options (which we’ve always done when visiting) and the indoor options (which we’ve not experienced in quite some time) while we were there. Highlights included:

Simply walking the Strip and gawking at the usual nonsense there:

Eating at a variety of great restaurants, most especially our second visit to Sparrow + Wolf, where we had also done Katelin and John’s wedding dinner last year. I cannot speak highly enough about the quality of the dining experience there. Should you visit Las Vegas, it is well worth your while to leave the Strip to dine there. I recommend that you ask your server to curate a meal for your table, as we’ve done both times we were there. Plentiful food, arriving at a proper cadence, interesting varieties and tastes and flavors and aromas, all of the highest quality. It’s world class, at bottom line. We also had lunch on the Strip one day, at The Venetian, one of me and Marcia’s favorite Las Vegas casino areas to ramble and roam:

We then played the KISS Miniature Golf Course at the Rio Casino. It was big, dumb fun, just like the band:

For outdoors fun, we did an exceptional hike at Lovell Canyon, just to the west of Las Vegas in the Spring Mountains. Obviously the tacky Strip elements of Las Vegas are what draw the greatest percentage of tourism traffic, but I’d be remiss if I didn’t note just how amazing many of the natural regions around Sin City are, if you’re willing to strap on your boots and do a bit of mudding and scrambling and climbing and rambling:

And finally, we went to see the West Coast Conference Men’s Basketball Championship game, pitting National #1 Gonzaga against National #19 St. Mary’s. The Zags won by 13 points, but for most of the game, before a final scoring explosion, it was much closer than that, and a good example of college hoops played at the highest level. Of course, because we can’t have nice things, we ended up with an absolute idiot sitting and screaming (and drinking and drinking) behind us on behalf of her Gonzaga team, when she wasn’t coughing up various organs due to the smoker’s hack that made her voice even more finger-nails-on-blackboard than it would have been otherwise. The meanness of her spew was really dismaying, especially when directed toward a group of college-aged kids (big kids, yeah, some of them soon to be rich, big kids, but still). I totally get the student bodies at college basketball games engaging in various ritual chants and activities, but I’m always somewhat surprised and mostly appalled when adults, in this case even older than me, feel compelled to yell in a nasty fashion at kids at sporting events in ways that would get them locked up or punched if they did it on the street. She was an awful human being, at bottom line, and she marred what would have been quite a nice evening otherwise. That annoyance aside, we did have good seats, and we got a great view of a great game, even if we all ended up rooting for (losing) St. Mary’s just to spite the human garbage sitting behind us:

4. After the game, we walked over to the adjacent casino (everything in Las Vegas has an adjacent casino) and put bets down on the upcoming NCAA Tournament. Last summer, we had placed pre-season bets on Houston and Michigan State to win the Men’s Basketball Championship. We added new bets for Gonzaga and Southern California. I also turned $35 into $240 on a poker machine. Not a bad night, compared to most of my other casino experiences.

5. A few posts back, I enthused about a new EP from the brilliant Buggy Jive, one of my all-time favorite songwriters and musical artists. Buggy also makes incredibly brilliant videos, and I’m pleased to report that he’s recently added a new one to his catalog with this tune from I Don’t Understand How the World Works:

Back From the California Coast

Marcia and I made it home from our California Coastal trip last night, part one of which was described here. We drove the southerly route this time, from San Clemente to Sedona via San Diego and Phoenix, with hiking stops in Cleveland National Forest and Yuma, Arizona, on the way back. It’s something of an amazing smorgasbord of geology to make that drive: we started at sea level on the Pacific Ocean, climbed up to 6,000+ feet above sea level in the National Forest, then dropped back down below sea level into the Imperial Valley and El Centro, then steadily back up through various desert regions (including spectacular sand dunes right along the border of Mexico), then finally returning to our red rocks region at 4,500 feet above sea level. Lots to see, lots to do, most of it fabulous to look at. Katelin and John came out and joined us in San Clemente for a few days, so that made the trip even better.

We had done a trip last summer that covered the coast and inland regions from The Russian River Valley up to the northern California coast. This time, we covered Los Angeles down to the Mexican border. So with international travel still seeming iffy for us in the near-ish future, we’re already plotting a summer 2022 driving trip that will start in the Los Angeles region and end in the Bay Area, given us a full north-south path through the Golden State. Tacking on earlier trips to Death Valley, Yosemite, and the Lake Tahoe regions, and we’re finding California to be a fantastic vacation resource for us from our home state next door. As we look to our next adventure over that way, I share some snaps from our last trek below. As one does. When one is me. Click on the sunset view uphill from the San Clemente Pier to see the full collection.

Hello 2022: Live from the California Coast

Having bid adieu to 2021 last week, Marcia and I loaded up the family truckster and headed west for California. We spent two days in Palm Springs, and made a day trip over to Joshua Tree National Park (with a swing by the infamous motel where Gram Parsons died) while we were there. Then we drove down to San Clemente for a two-week stay in a lovely AirBnB condo right near that town’s North Beach. We greeted the new year with a quiet evening of Netflix and Chill, nothing notable or special, but that was okay.

We’ve been walking and hiking every day, and have also made some road trips up to Los Angeles (where I, of course, had to visit a list of prominent music-history sites) and San Juan Capistrano, where the swallows are not resident at this time of year. Katelin and John will be flying over from Las Vegas this weekend to join us for a few days, and we’ll be driving back to Sedona after they head home. (Speaking of home, and in exciting family news, they are closing on a new house this morning!) Weather has been lovely for most of our trip, and we’re safely enjoying the change of scenery, actively conscious and mindful of the latest eruptions in the seemingly-endless Anno Virum.

As I always do, I’ve been snapping sites and scenes, and have posted a gallery of our adventures thus far. You can click on the image of me sitting at the highest point in San Clemente to see the full gallery. I’ll likely add a second one when we get home next week. Until then, be safe, be smart, and here’s hoping that 2022 doesn’t bring us anything close to the litany of horrors that 2021 perpetuated upon us all!

2021: Year in Review

With Christmas behind us and a road-trip to California on the horizon this week, it seems like a good day to sit and settle up the scores for 2021 here at my website, as I normally do at this time each year, plus or minus a few days. Unless I get ambitious, or someone I care about deeply passes away soon, this will likely be the final post of the year, for better and/or for worse.

ON THE BLOG:

In 2020, I surprised myself by publishing 147 posts, the most I’d done since the Poem-A-Day Project in 2004. Retiring from full-time work certainly gave me more time to write, as did COVID-driven cancellations of planned travel, and the need to fill socially isolated time in some satisfying and/or productive fashions. Traffic was robust in 2020, too, with other similarly isolated folks seeking to fill their own suddenly-surplus time online, a trend which I explored more fully (and made future forecasts regarding) in my Coronablogus post last month. For 2021, this post is Number 120, marking about a 20% decrease over last year’s rate of production, in terms of actual new entries on the site. But even with that smaller number of entries, the overall site readership trend was positive, as shown below. (Actual numbers are  edited out, as it’s tacky to share them, and the trend line is what matters; the light-blue pipes are total unique page visits, the dark-blue pipes are total unique visitors, so both grew in 2021):

I’ve owned this domain since the mid-1990s, but prior to 2015, I split my writing between a variety of sites with a variety of hosts, so there’s no easily meaningful visual comparison to make from those times. But at bottom line, the last two years have been quite good ones here, from both audience-engagement and writer-productivity standpoints, things that I most certainly would not have predicted in 2019. Of the 120 original posts this year, 57 were part of the second Favorite Songs By Favorite Artists series, which seems to be popular. I was originally thinking I’d carry it on into 2022, but after a few weeks off, I think it has run its course, and I’m going to put it to bed, for now.

As I report each year, here are the baker’s dozen most-read articles among the 120 new posts here over the past twelve months. It’s probably indicative of the fact that both my readers and I are (mostly) folks of a certain age that obituary-type posts fill such a sizable portion of the most-read roster. Our long-time heroes are leaving us, even as we contemplate our own collective mortality, especially during this, our Anno Virum. On the flip-side, I would note that two of the most life-affirming events for Marcia and I this year (our daughter’s wedding and our adventure in Grand Canyon) also made the Top 13, so it’s good that nice news appeals sometimes as well. Then there’s the odd dichotomy of having had a bit of life-affirmation by returning to our first in-person musical performance since COVID hit us, then seeing one of the artists who sang for us passing away mere weeks later. Both of those reports make the Top 13 below, as do four of the “Favorite Songs” entries. So there’s a bit of everything, tone-wise, which I suppose is just fine and dandy:

And then here are the baker’s dozen posts written in prior years that received the most reads in 2021. It always fascinates me which of the 1,000+ articles on my website interest people (or search engines) the most, all these years on since the first 1995 post on the earliest version of this website. (Note that I exclude things like the “About Me” page or the generic front page from the list, even though they generate a lot of my traffic). Once again, here’s hoping that people realize that the perennially-popular “Iowa Pick-Up Lines” post is a joke, and also, once again, it continues to befuddle me, as always, why my 1999 interview with relatively-obscure guitarist Dave Boquist appears on this “most-read” chart almost every year, receiving far more hits, continually, than my many other interviews with many other far more famous artists. Go figger . . .

ELSEWHERE ON THE WEB:

See this earlier post: Best of My Web 2021

TRAVEL:

We will see 2021 off, God willing and the creek don’t rise, from a condo in San Clemente, California, where we’re headed this week for a winter getaway. After years of somewhat absurd levels of travel, 2021 was quite benign for us: we only spent time in six states, as opposed to the 20+ I’ve experienced for much of the past decade. As I looked at my annual travel map, below, (I’ve pre-filled in our trip to San Clemente, with a planned stop at Joshua Tree National Park), it occurred to me (initially) that this was the first year in my entire life where I never spent any time east of the Mississippi River. But then, as I looked closer, I realized that, yeesh, I never even made it east of the Continental Divide in 2021. That’s a pretty profound paradigm shift, given my deep roots in the Carolinas, and our long stints in New York and the Midwest. If I can do so safely, I do intend to visit my mother in South Carolina in early 2022, and Marcia and I are cautiously hopeful that we may be able to consider international travel again later in the year, if we can do so with undue fear for our personal health and safety. I guess if we had to have a limited travel year, we couldn’t have picked a better place to do it from than our new home in Sedona, Arizona, as there’s plenty of stuff to do and see hereabouts, without having to fly or drive far to achieve the full experience.

RECORDINGS:

See these three earlier posts:

BOOKS:

See this earlier post: Best Books of 2021

FILM AND TELEVISION:

See these two earlier posts:

AND  THEN . . . .

. . . onward into 2022, with a very deep sense of unease about the ways in which our Nation seems to be careening toward institutional racism and fascism and theocracy. It’s truly frightening to see how the will of a determined minority, intent on using every lever of power available to them (legal or otherwise), seemingly takes priority over the desires and wishes and votes of the remaining majority of the population, among which I count myself. Which is so sad, on so many planes, particularly for someone who once proudly served the Nation as a Federal employee and an active duty service member. Here’s hoping that a year from now, I’ll feel better about these things. But I doubt that’s going to be the case, alas, even if I don’t regularly write about such things here, because I don’t feel like I have a lot to add to the narrative, and it’s intellectually depressing to continually wallow in it.

On a brighter note, I’ve mentioned in passing a few times here over the past year that I’ve been hard at work on a book with long-time friend and Naval Academy classmate Rear Admiral Jim McNeal, co-author of The Herndon Climb: A History of the United States Naval Academy’s Greatest Tradition, which I reviewed here. Jim and I have a contract with McFarland, a publishing house based in North Carolina, to deliver a complete manuscript by the end of January 2022, with publication hopefully targeted before year’s end. If you’ve ever mucked around with the publishing industry, then you know that “instant gratification” is not in cards on projects like this one.

We finished the main-line text (about 75,000+ words) last week, and I then had the pleasure of taking the digital version of it to a local print shop, producing the first physical version of the text for compilation and copy-editing purposes. Our skilled editor is hard at work on the manuscript, per the photo below. And here’s hoping that when I do next year’s version of this annual report, I’ll be able to point you toward a purchase site to acquire our book, should you be interested, and that we’ll be (a) past the worst of the pandemic, and (b) not living in a political place that would make the most dystopian fantasist shudder with revulsion.

I don’t know whether I’ll continue in 2022 to churn out the piffle and tripe at recent levels, or whether your collective engagement with the site will continue to grow and expand. (One of the nice things about doing this as a labor of love, and not a labor of commerce, is that the thought of less traffic in the year ahead does not cause me any agita). But regardless of how all of those things turn out, I will forever be grateful to those of you who care enough to continue supporting my creative endeavors, right here and right now, and I wish all of you and all of yours the very best over the days and months and years to come!

So, did you mean “Let’s eat, Grandma” or “Let’s eat Grandma” here?