Another Ground Hog’s Day Letter to the men of F3


Last year while finishing up my annual Ground Hog’s Day letter (and drinking) I decided to share it with my cultmates. This year I’m more sober so I should know better but a few of you asked for it so I decided to punish all of you.

Greetings friends, family, and fellow cult members,

As I sit in my basement lair to write this Christmas Groundhog’s Day letter, there is a dog leash tied firmly to the headboard of my bed. 

Ok, now that all those people are gone, I can tell you the perfectly normal (for us) reason for this.  It’s a long story and you’ll want a drink (or three), but I promise, by the end of this letter you’ll feel better about yourself.

We began the year by refinishing an antique toolbox for Chris’ birthday.  That meant we were outside with front row seats to the final season of Skank-O-Vision (refer to last year’s letter), and the show that was playing featured the grandson and the baby momma across the street packing up and moving out.  The skank sister didn’t exactly move out, but she did come by and pick her things out of the front yard while yelling incoherently.  We couldn’t figure out what had happened to some of the other people featured in the show, but later found out that the accomplice had managed to get thrown in jail so “moving out” wasn’t an option for him.  Several weeks later, we saw a sheriff’s car across the street and just a couple hours later, the stars of the show came back and hauled their three male pit bull mix puppies out to the car and left.  2021 was showing some promise and we declared it would be a “Summer of Fun”. 

Jack decided that online classes were a waste of time and came home to sit out spring semester.  Cathy took the opportunity to drag him into all her projects.  One such project involved moving our strawberry patch to an area by the front door and installing a stone pedestal with a bird bath in the middle of it.  As it turns out, attracting birds to your strawberry patch isn’t such a good idea.  The berries that weren’t eaten by the birds were covered in bird crap.

Jack and Cathy also attempted to plant 40 forsythia bushes, but I got drafted when they discovered a Shrek size bolder in the middle of the garden.  It only took a day to lever the boulder out of the ground and backfill the crater.  Jack managed to be unavailable for projects after that.

I decided to plant Squalor Holler in clover so I wouldn’t have to mow it and could keep bees up there.  “Beware of the murder hornets” seems friendlier than a no trespassing sign.  That meant I had to get rid of the pile of wet leaves, so I built a blast furnace with a vent pipe and the leaf blower.  It got so hot that we sintered the dirt on the leaves into bricks. (I also burned off my eyebrows and all the hair on my arms…Twice) This method proved to be so successful that I cleaned up all the leaves and brush on the river front the same way, with the same smell of burning hair.

Cathy decided that she is retired rather than just unemployed so with Skank-O-Vision off the air, she started a period of manic productivity.  Our new raised bed garden was overflowing with young vegetables. She started a blog with recipes, crafts and pictures of fancy table settings.  For weeks I came home to a spotless house, fabulous dinners and a new table setting (which I wasn’t allowed to sit at).  I cut and polished slices of logs for placemats and coasters for photo shoots.  She hung multi-colored pennants around the boat dock and festive yard flags appeared.  2021 was going great!   

THAT is how I knew we were getting a new dog. This dog was going to be different, not like all the used dogs we had in the past.  I insisted that Cathy read a dog training book and do some research prior to choosing our next fur lined money pit.  We settled on a Boykin Spaniel and Cathy’s research yielded a list of suitable dog names.  There was a lot of overlap between Cathy’s list and the one I proposed which surprised Jack and me since mine was a list of popular stripper names from the internet.  In the end Cathy selected Pippa (From the stripper list) but the dog’s full name is Hunters Rest Pippa Dee Doo Da.   Cathy found a breeder in Sewanee TN. who informed us that we would need to come for an interview to determine if we would be suitable parents for a dog of this pedigree.  I was delighted to find out that Boykins are routinely featured in Garden and Gun magazine and were so popular that there was a 2-year waiting list.   With that disaster averted we put our name on the waiting list, scheduled an interview and began getting ready for the “Summer of Fun”.  I knew that Cathy was serious about it when I came home to find enough beer (and beer water) and soft drinks for a moderately sized wedding.

All you past victims of this letter know we bought Jack a very ugly, very disposable Toyota Avalon (LuAnne) when he got his license, with the expectation that he would total it with in the first year.  Even though we had given him a 3-year extension, Jackson had still failed to meet expectations and LuAnne was getting dangerous to drive.  As a punishment for this disappointment, we bought him a Prius.  Because we do eventually want grandchildren we made it the Lexus version which actually looks pretty cool from the outside and has an interior like Italian leather underwear.   It’s in this fine chariot that we sent him forth to continue his higher education.  

By Memorial Day, we were childless again and the starting gun for the “summer of fun” cracked off like a fart in church.  Since we live on the river, we planned to hold court all summer with friends that we hadn’t seen in years coming to join us to celebrate the end of Covid.  Mother Nature is a bitch, and Memorial Day weekend was cold, but we were un-deterred and had some great friends out to spend the day on the river.  That is when Ben re-entered our lives.  Ben is the meth-head {1} son of the woman we bought the house from.  Last summer he tried to move into her cinder block garage on the property next to us.  Fortunately, it has no electricity, water or sewer so his stay was short lived, but there are still burned-out frames of recliners lying about where he left them.  On this particular {2} weekend Ben was feeling nostalgic and was staggering along the river front when I decided to intercept him.  He was nearly incoherent, but I was able to piece together some facts.

  • After the summer heat (and the smell) forced him to move out of the garage, he joined his mother in her double wide.
  • Somewhere around November of 2020, he burned her double wide to the ground.
  • He, his mother and his mother’s first ex-husband were currently living in his sister’s double wide on the hill across the road.
  • His mother was suffering from dementia, but since she never made much sense, they were not sure if it was real.

We were thrilled!

Spring went by fast with various friends coming to join us and occasional “Ben” {3} sightings.  At one point, in broad daylight, Ben came by while we were outside building Jackson a kitchen table for his new apartment.  He was out of his head and carrying a giant jar full of pickles.  He proclaimed that they had been made by his mother {4} and offered to fish one out bare handed for Cathy.  Cathy declined the treat.

{1} Apparently, MS word knows that Methhead needs a dash

{2} MS word thinks that more concise language would help here.  MS word can bite me

{3} Similar to Big Foot sightings but less pixilated

{4} His mother has dementia, and it took us a year to kill all the cockroaches she left behind when we bought the house


Once the table was finished, we rented a U-haul and took it and some of Jack’s other things up to Louisville.  I called a dozen dealers to try to find a drop off point for the trailer before I talked to the owner of the Mr. Goodtech garage.  He was hard to understand, and I told Cathy when I got off the phone that he sounded stoned.  As it turned out Mr. Goodtech was stoned, and he crashed the trailer into several of his customer’s cars as he was helping me walk it across his parking lot.

For Father’s Day Chris brought a 2022 prototype Master Craft Pro-Star professional ski boat down for me to ski behind.  I had a great weekend skiing, and my physical therapy is going well.

In July, my mom turned 80 and we celebrated with a party in my sister’s back yard.  (Covid isn’t really over {5} after all) Rather than rent a tent Cathy and I bought a 20’ x 40’ pavilion which we thought we would use many times in the coming years.  It arrived in eight 50 lb. boxes and Chris came to help erect it.  About halfway through the process Chris pointed out that we had 400 lbs. of tent sitting on the ground and only the two of us to lift it and install 12 legs.  We ended up calling all rest of the Boettners over to get the job done and P.T. Barnum would have been proud.  The party went off without a hitch and afterward, our experienced crew of circus freaks were able to get the tent down minutes before a thunderstorm whipped through area.

The week after the party we attended a wedding in Nashville and stopped by the dog breeder for our interview.  The good news is that I made friends with all her dogs, and we aced the interview.  The bad news is that we got moved up the waiting list.  We also stopped by to see friends on the way back home, but they are normal and have no place in this letter.


As summer waned, things got busy.  Since we knew that all the tourist attractions (Dayton OH, Fort Wayne IN, and St. Croix Falls WI) would be packed, we planned a road trip to see friends and booked our reservations early.  Our friends in Fort Wayne arranged a huge party with a live band that the whole community turned out for.  We had no idea we had so many followers in Indiana.  In St. Croix, Cathy’s cousin hosted us for several days and I got to ski behind another professional level ski boat.  It was at 7:00am in an ice-cold lake but I brough my scuba suit so I was both warm and sexy.  (My physical therapy is going well).  We also stopped by Louisville to see Jack and his girlfriend Phoenix.  We really like her, and she seems like a good match for him. 

For my midlife crisis, I climbed the Grand Tetons in Wyoming with some friends.  It was a group of 4 50’something guys climbing a 14,000 Ft rock near Jackson Hole, WY.  The guide service had an extensive website with instructions and packing lists including the things you would expect like climbing shoes and harnesses as well as layers of various clothing including rain gear. We were all puzzled about the rain gear since it never rains in Wyoming.  We camped at Jenny Lake for two days while we completed some training climbs and the guides evaluated us to make sure they wouldn’t have to carry our carcasses down the mountain.  During these climbs the guides reviewed our gear for safety and made sure we had rain gear.  On the morning we left we were all given our final instructions and a “Wag Bag”.  

A Wag Bag is a double layer foil lined bag/toilet device including a strip of toilet paper, wet wipe and the following warning “Please do not ingest the contents of this bag.  If powder gets in contact with eyes flush with water immediately.  If ingested, administer large amounts of water as soon as possible”

The Restop 2 Disposable Toilet-To-Go is suitable for multiple uses and large enough to hold 8 pounds of Kielbasa. 

{5} Again, MS Word thinks more concise wording would be clearer to my reader, but I have total confidence in you. You can do it!

The first day we climbed to 10,000 ft with all our gear and set up camp on a cliff face with 50 MPH winds.  The climb was hard, and I carried way too much equipment (including some stupid rain gear). It was the most physically demanding day of my life.  The climb to the summit was to begin at 3:00am the next morning so we were all preparing our gear to be able to eat breakfast, poop and climb 4,000 feet of cliffs in the dark when we began to realize that the Wag Bag instructions didn’t include any methods for pooping in a bag in the dark on a cliff in a 50 MPH wind.  Fortunately, our guide Scott took us aside to explain the technique.  The Wag Bag was only for solid waste since we had to pack them back out with us and there was an outhouse for that.  Since our water supply was on the Wyoming side of the cliff, we were instructed to hike down the Idaho side of the cliff to urinate but to be careful that the wind didn’t carry it right back to our campsite.  THAT, is when we realized the reason we brought rain gear (and wished we brought safety goggles).

At 3:00am we left the bulk of our gear at base camp, wedgied {6} ourselves into climbing harnesses and began climbing by the light of our headlamps.  Once the sun came up the views were spectacular, and we were feeling pretty good about ourselves when we found out that we were the only group who made the summit that day.  Reality set in down at base camp when we loaded up our Wag Bags for the trip down to the valley.  Even after all we had accomplished, we were just a bunch of Turd Sherpas.

While I was gone, Skank-O-Vision came back on the air when the woman at Salem’s Lot let her daughter and son in-law move in.  This season’s show is less Breaking Bad and more a weird mash-up of Hoarders and Ramshackle Renovators.  (Don’t bother looking for it on HGTV). In an effort to “Improve” the property they have been removing piles of garbage from inside the doublewide and the garden shed that they refer to as an “Un-finished Apartment” and putting it in the yard.

It was while watching this from our back deck on a Saturday when Rick’s Tree Service came by and offered to give me a tree, they were cutting down nearby.  They knew I might be interested since I had cut a pile of firewood in the spring and was stacking it on Squaller Holler.  After 5 years of waiting, I was finally going to get my wood stove and had secured some industrial pallet racking to build a massive woodshed.  While delivering what turned out to be an old growth forest, Rick discovered an abandoned septic tank on Squaller Holler with his truck, so we now have a “Water Feature”.  Fortunately, the wood rack is rated for 24,000 lbs. and I was able to stack most of the forest in it.  Unfortunately, the planet it was sitting on wasn’t up to the task, the concrete piers sank 6 inches and the whole thing had to be unloaded and dismantled.


In October, after a camping trip with friends during which we saw a bear, we packed up our gear and went to pick up Pippa.  She weighed just 5lbs (while some of her litter mates were 10+) but was the most confident of the litter.  House breaking went well and it wasn’t long before she would ring a bell by the front door to let us know she needed to go poop….in the strawberry garden {7}

{6} The New Oxford Dictionary does not contain the past tense verb form of the word wedgie

{7} If we offer you strawberry jam, you may want to inquire about just how local the fruit in it is.

Cathy subscribed tot he Boykin Spaniel Society which is how we found out that Boykins are the state dog of South Carolina and that we paid a lot of money for a breed that is referred to as “Swamp Poodles”.  

After three weeks of midnight walks and constant surveillance, we were thinking that old used dogs weren’t such a bad idea after all.  Puppies are like babies that can run and have fangs. Like any new parent we shared pictures with anyone willing to stand still long enough and we had conversations about the frequency, size, viscosity and the exact PMS color of dog poop. 

Throughout October we heard yelling coming from up on the hill and would see Ben shambling around the neighborhood shortly afterward.  Then one morning the yelling was louder than usual.  Since I took Peckerwood as my foreign language in high school, I was able to determine that Ben had stolen something, and the natives were restless.  After a couple of hours of this it was clear that Ben had been voted off the island and we haven’t seen him since.  Because we are horrible people, we stalk our neighbors in the jail dockets just to keep tabs on them.  That’s how we found out that Ben got arrested just in time for Thanksgiving.  We also learned that the grandson of the woman we bought the house from (whose son Ben burned down her double wide and now has dementia and is living with her daughter, 1st ex-husband, and Ben, before he got voted off the island), must have gotten out of prison sometime in the fall.  We knew that because he got arrested in October for trying to smuggle drugs into the Hamilton County jail.  He is now living on the hill in Ben’s old room.

Christmas was busy at work, so I had a lot of long days, but the boys came down and Jack’s girlfriend Phoenix was able to join us.  The entire Boettner family gathered at Mom and Dad’s to celebrate, and it was a truly enjoyable time.

We don’t typically do anything special for New Years, but Pippa jumped out of the back of our stationary 4 Runner and broke her rear drivers side leg on the 29th, so we celebrated the new year by making a house payment for an orthopedic veterinary surgeon.  Our swamp poodle tripled in value overnight and we were instructed to keep her calm (and stoned) for 6 weeks.  Even with a damaged leg Pippa is prone to jumping off things so when Cathy has her in bed she is hitched to the headboard with a leash.  (Now get your mind out of the gutter you bunch of perverts) The best part was when Chris came home for his birthday and saw the leash.  He refused to even let me explain.

So, to wrap things up Pippa is in the 4th week of recovery, is stoned and happily chewing on a bull penis as I finish this letter.

On this special day, we send you this blessing.

May you escape the gallows, avoid distress and be as healthy as a groundhog.

Cathy, Mike (9-Volt) and the Swamp Poodle

A Ground Hog’s Day Letter to the men of F3


Most of you think that my original ground hog workout was the first time that I had engaged in ground hog related events, but actually the tradition goes back much farther. Originally I wrote a Christmas letter each year because my wife made me, but I got even by being very honest. Occationally, they would be very late and I began sending them out as Ground Hog’s Day letters. Sometimes they wouldn’t get done at all and then I would have to catch up. I am pretty sure that my friends and family used the 10 plus page letters as fire starters and intentionally forgot to send us change of address notices. Any way, some people liked them and it has been four years since I wrote one so here it is. You don’t even get the benefit of the fire.

Friends, Family and Viruses,

It’s the time of year when loved ones gather together. It is a special time to be thankful for all of the wonderful blessings in our lives.  That’s right, it’s almost Groundhog Day. 

As most of you know I have been writing some form of annual’ish letter since 2001.  Originally it was done prior to Christmas as a punishment because;

  • I don’t like Christmas
  • Cathy had done all the Christmas shopping, wrapped the packaged, etc. Blah, Blah, Blah
  • Cathy had made enough fudge and cookies to make us social pariahs at any Holiday gathering
  • I don’t like Christmas
  • Mostly, because I don’t like Christmas and should be punished for it

After the first few years the letters began getting later and less regular and have often been Kwanza or Groundhog’s day letters.  That is just my passive aggressive way of saying “I don’t like Christmas”.  Anyway, since there are several new readers this year I thought I should give you some background so you understand why you are receiving a small book of ramblings by a man who doesn’t like Christmas but does have a deep respect for groundhogs. 

I’m sure you have received Christmas letters from people with exceptional children and well trained pets who have fabulous vacations and win the Nobel Prize on an annual basis.  This is not that letter.  My goal is simply to make you feel better about your own situation by telling you about mine.  Oh, and my memory is utter crap so I make up most of this stuff.

The last Kwanza letter was mailed well after Kwanza 2016 and covered 2014 to the end of 2016 because of course it was late and had not been done in 3 years.  Now, with that behind us and the beer finally soaking in, let me proceed to describe the highly improbable events that make up my life.

In January of 2017 we were living at the river house full time but the farm was not sold yet.  The property up the hill from us (Herefore to be known as Peckerwood Estates)[1] was unoccupied since the grandson of the woman (Louise) we bought our house from had been arrested and she towed the camper he was living in away. The property next to it (Squalor Holler) still had the burned down shack on it but the people whose meth lab was responsible for burning it down had stopped trying to rebuild it with scraps of an abandoned mobile home.  Since this constitutes a stable situation in Mr. Boettner’s neighborhood, we decided to go snow skiing in Utah.  Chris skied some more difficult slopes with me but Jack would only join us once we were back on safer terrain.  Jack may have shown better judgement since at one point Chris and I were completely lost at the edge of the world and had to pick our way down through the woods to find the resort again.

After the holidays Jack continued his sophomore year at Notre Dame high school and Chris went back to his dorm in Auburn to finish his freshman year. 

After the engine nearly fell off of the 1973 Glasstron boat while skiing Chris right in front of what would later be our house on the river, Cathy lost her sense of humor and declared that she would never step foot in the boat again.  I completely rebuilt the transom and assured her it was good to go but, STILL, no humor.  I finally ended up giving the boat away just to keep the peace and by January Cathy was on a mission to find us her a new boat.  After pestering me relentlessly with emails about every boat for sale in the South East she finally found her boat and began to pester the owner of it.  It was a 10 year old boat with only 150 hours that had been kept in dry dock unless it was actually being used.  The owner was an anally retentive airline pilot who had a set of pre-flight checklists and a box of Q-tips for polishing it after use.  Determined not to let it get away Cathy arranged to take it for a test drive as soon as TVA raised the water levels enough.  That is how we found ourselves freezing to death on Chickamauga lake in late February test driving a boat with one of Jack’s friends who was unfortunate enough to get mixed up in our dysfunction.  We bought the boat and immediately had to put it into dry storage for six weeks because we don’t get water at our dock until the beginning of April. 

Spring was busy. 

  • Charlotte vomited a baby rabbit onto the carpet for Easter[2]
  • I set up the boat lift for the new boat and got to do a bit of diving for all the tools I dropped into the water.
  • We launched the boat and it started the first time. (Never in my life has that happened with any water craft)
  • We Cathy redecorated the small bedroom and we moved her office out of the laundry room which she shared with two dogs and a number of sentient tumble weeds made entirely of lint and dog hair.
  • Louise bough another very used camper and installed her drug addict son in it
  • Moved my shop and sold the farm on Memorial day
  • Cathy continued to run a booth at an “Antique” mall with her friend Debbie
  • Delilah grew a butt hole tumor the size of an eyeball and we got to donate to our vet’s kids college fund  yet again[3]

Chris came home for the summer and scored a job at M&M Mars in Cleveland working in the training department for his old Scout leader.  He immediately recruited his friend and ex-rowing partner.  Chris is 6’3” and Dylan is 6’5” and they were paired up with Tommy who is 5’ tall and could easily be a midget wrestler.  They made sure to stand on either side of him as they walked around the office and posed as his hired muscle.

Jack went to rowing practice in the mornings and mowed yards very badly in the afternoons.  For his 16th birthday he and Cathy found him a disposable car at the local Toyota dealer.  We tortured him for weeks by sending him pictures of minivans for sale but in the end it came down to one of two Toyota Avalons.  A gold one which was in better condition and a really ugly black one.  The Avalon is notorious for being an old person car and both specimens came complete with the large print dash boards, prostate support seat cushions and the turn signal permanently in the Left position.  For some reason, the thing that sent Jack over the edge was the gold color.  He begged Cathy not to get the gold one and even volunteered to make up the difference in price if it meant avoiding the stigma of a gold car.  We really didn’t care since we knew he would destroy it within the first year so we got Black Beauty. 

Cathy and I spend the summer floating in the river with friends, which at one point included a giant fish that floated ashore and was picked clean by vultures in under an hour and a dead bloated opossum with an enormous erection (For an opossum) that got stuck under the dock.  It drifted under the dock for two days before I finally had to do something.  It was so bloated that I knew it was a veritable time bomb so I ended up scooping it into a 5 gallon bucket from the seat of a wave runner and depositing it in the main channel of the river where it was probably detonated by a passing boat.

The ballad of Jed Clampett got a few more verses. 

  • Louise’s son got arrested and she moved her ex-husband into the camper and then proceeded to have arguments loud enough for us to hear on the back deck.
  • Bradley Code Enforcement took the owners of Squalor Holler to court over the mess and the wife was arrested at the courthouse metal detectors for trying to bring a crack pipe into court.
  • The owner of the house across the street died and his idiot wife let his two daughters and their two families move into two campers in the back yard. At the same time a grandson, his wife and infant moved into a garden shed.  For simplicity, we’ll call this place Salem’s Lot.

As the summer waned the Boy Scouts at Salem’s lot roasted hot dogs over piles of burning garbage, screamed at each other and the ex-husband in the camper at Peckerwood Estates and kept the kind hours that make you think they were up to no good.  Eventually, the ex-husband got tired of being yelled at by Louise and the tribe of Salem’s lot and moved out and Louis sold the camper.

In the Fall Jack began his junior year at Notre Dame.  He was rowing in a “Four” and driving Black Beauty to school, rowing and occasionally to Signal Mountain to see a certain lady friend.  His best friend’s mother backed into Black Beauty in their driveway and someone failed to stop at a traffic light and hit him in the rear, but you just couldn’t make that car any uglier.  He also had the poor sense be speeding in a POS in the ultra-exclusive village of Signal Mountain late at night where he stuck out like Gandhi in a Trump parade.   The signal mountain courthouse is very nice and because Jack dressed well and waited on the bench without playing with his phone the judge was impressed and he only had to go to a driver’s education class.

In August moved Chris into his first apartment with a roommate that Cathy described as a bipedal puppy.  We (Cathy) decorated the kitchen wall with a large cardboard moose head that Chris insisted he didn’t want but proceeded to buy seasonal outfits for and still has in his apartment to this day.  Cathy and Debbie continued to run their “Antique Mall” booth, and the crap smiths spent their weekends buying things they didn’t need, painting them white and selling them to people they wouldn’t like.

Mars/Wrigley reorganized and I was moved to the Cleveland plant.  I is much larger than the Chattanooga Wrigley plant and I had to get to know a lot of new people.  The “Antique” booth yielded treasures in time for Christmas.  Cathy’s sister Hanna received an Ass Clown liquor bottle commemorating the 1968 presidential campaign and I had something very special for a White Elephant gift for the Christmas gathering with a bunch of engineers who didn’t know me very well.

[1] Technically, Estate means there is a mobile home on the property and this was only a small camper

[2] Cathy rescued Charlotte some years ago.  She is of the “Common brown dog” breed and does not like to swim

[3] Delilah is a used Treeing Walker Hound who’s hobbies include getting her ass kicked by the local wild life, being sprayed by skunks and tumor farming

Needless to say I have subsequently been ostracized by the entire engineering team.  We also had one of Cathy’s friends who is an art appraiser take a look at the artifact but she declined to give an opinion.

Once the holidays were over Cathy’s attention turned to her evil plans for renovating the house.  We evicted the dogs and tumbleweeds from the laundry room and began to transform it into a butler’s pantry / laundry suite.  We also used the bunk beds that had been in the room we made into Cathy’s office to make the worst guest room ever in the storm shelter under the front porch.  The butler’s pantry turned out so well that people wouldn’t get out of it when our “Drinks on the Dock” party got rained on.  To this date the visitor’s list for the guest room is blank.

In February we helped celebrate the completion of the Knoxville Cathedral and got to see some of the New Orleans crew.  Cathy’s friend Amber (No, that’s not a “stage” name) had surgery and she went to New Orleans to help.  Since I was unsupervised and may have been drinking, I found a very loud shirt with pictures of wrestling legend Rick Flare all over it.  I wear it proudly, Cathy hates it.

When we were at the farm we had purchased a small mountain of rocks which we built a number of garden walls out of.  Most of these walls fell down and were eventually converted back into a small mountain of rocks piled in the barn yard.  Then prior to selling the farm we transported all these rocks to the river where we built a rock wall along the river bank, which also fell down.  So, in February, we moved all of the stones out from the river edge and had someone come install some Rip Rap to hold the bank in place.  Then we spent several days in March carefully placing the mountain rocks on top of the Rip Rap so it would look pretty. 

  • We ran out of mountain stone
  • We broke the small wagon that I pull behind the lawn mower
  • Thankfully, the water came up before we could buy more stone

Jack had a strong spring 2018 rowing season and we went to Sarasota for regionals in May.  We stayed in a LaQuinta hotel where I learned;

  • “No Moleste” is Spanish for do not disturb
  • People look at you strange if you continue to repeat No moleste to your wife in the elevator
  • Saying “No Moleste” will not keep your wife from hitting you

Chris came home in June and we both worked at M&M Mars in Cleveland.  Jack continued to mow yards very badly and Cathy kept doing business consulting with a side of crap smithing on the weekends.  In

My niece Hope’s wedding was at the end of June in Knoxville and we all went up for it.  People in Knoxville hotels don’t know what “No Moleste” means but they still look at you strange if you repeat it to your wife in the elevator.  “No Moleste” is still no deterrent to battered husband syndrome.

Delilah got in a fight with the redneck dog from Salem’s lot and came home with one canine tooth sticking out of her head at the wrong angle.  Rather than just pulling it the vet assured us that he could save the tooth by wiring it in place.  Since his kids were doing well in college we felt they deserved our continued contributions to their tuition so Delilah got a new grill. 

In the Fall Chris went back to Auburn and Jack started his senior year at Notre Dame.  Our nephew Sam came from Germany to stay in Chattanooga with a much nicer family than his sister did when she was an exchange student at Notre Dame.   I must have had some kind of head trauma because I can’t remember much of the fall and winter but some of the things I made up are;

  • We taught Sam to water ski
  • The owners of Squalor Holler showed up with a boat trailer full of garbage and set fire to it
  • The Bradley County Fire Chief educated the Squalor Holler crew on Tennessee state fire codes
  • The Boy Scouts at Salem’s lot disappeared suddenly just a few days before the fugitive apprehension task force knocked on our door asking questions about them.
  • Black Beauty was hit again by some member of Jack’s best friend’s family
  • I lost my mind and agreed to be in charge of the food for the rowing regattas
  • Jack quit rowing after the Fall Season
  • I was STILL in charge of food for the rowing regattas
  • I went to a lot of rowing regattas
  • Jack chose the University of Alabama in Huntsville as his intended college
  • Jack toured the University of Alabama at Huntsville and left after less than 2 hours because “It’s like a giant home school convention and everyone’s eyes are set directly over their ears”
  • Jack chose the University of Louisville after his brother forced him to research schools while riding back from Auburn.
  • Jack toured Louisville and discovered;
    • I was serious when I told him he was responsible for planning the trip
    • I was right when I told him to bring a coat (he didn’t)
    • The JB Speed school of Engineering has no connection to auto racing
    • In spite of everything it was a good program
  • Some dog tried to adopt us but I wouldn’t let anyone give it a name before I could take it and a donation to the ASPCA.  They called her Doglett, but that’s not a real name so it doesn’t count.
  • One of Cathy’s consulting clients sold their company and the new owner hired her as the CEO
  • Jack took a job at Food City bagging groceries
    • He didn’t like the job
    • He did like their sheet cakes
    • He ate a large quantities of sheet cakes
    • He quit the job
    • He still has a sheet cake monkey on his back
  • I joined a cult that claims to be a network of peer led men’s workouts, but it’s really a cult

Christmas 2018

We had a normal (For us) Christmas with various dog costumes, socks and Christmas underwear for everyone.  Cathy even got a new vacuum.  The boys were horrified until they realized that it was a joke and we just happened to need a new vacuum since Jack would be taking one with him to school before long. 

We had several floods and I rescued several of our neighbor’s boats in February.  Fortunately I am an expert trout fisher so I own an insulated pair of waders.  Unfortunately the insulation is useless if you fall off the dock and fill them with ice cold water. Then all you can do is crawl to shore and lay on your back with your feet up hill so the water will run out of the waders…..and into your armpits.


By Spring Jack had a terminal case of senioritis and got into some trouble for forging a very convincing form letter to all the freshmen telling them their lockers were being renovated and they should go to the office to get their new assignment.  Afterward one of his teachers confided that it was very good work and showed him a better way to lift the Notre Dame seal off of the website.  Cathy was super busy working at Hasco and I was still making a lot of food at regattas.

Chris stayed at Auburn and had a miserable time taking all the hardest engineering classes in one summer.  Jack on the other hand

  • Went to Florida with friends
  • Began working at a local party and equipment rental store setting up tents
  • Got on everyone’s last nerve
  • Attended orientation at Louisville
  • Played guitar on the street in Chattanooga to support his sheet cake habit
  • Bought an entire wardrobe of shirts too ugly for a Japanese tourist (In spite of my fatherly advice)
  • Had the door of Black Beauty caved in by his best friend, because at this point Paul was the only one in his family who hadn’t hit Jack’s car.
    • Fortunately it was just the driver’s door
    • Chris helped him beat the dent out
    • I intentionally ordered him a new handle in the wrong color

Cathy spent a lot of her summer going to visit wood flooring plants and attending wood flooring trade shows.  I spent my time not killing Jackson and searching the internet for a 12 step program for sheet cake addiction. 

In June I rented the house up the river for a guy’s weekend.  My brother David and I spent Friday morning at a tax auction where I bought Squalor Holler before we joined the gang.  There was actually someone bidding against me.  Now we had to give the owners a year to see if they redeemed it.

When August rolled around we packed up all of Jack’s things and put his bike on the back of the 4 runner and headed off to Louisville.  We had just arrived in Louisville and were sitting on the off ramp when some guy slammed into us damaging the 4 runner, the bike rack and Jack’s bike.  The next day we dropped Jackson at the dorm with his new roommate Jackson (Because campus housing was messing with them) and spent the entire day getting a new bike rack and having his bike repaired.  In the end the bike was as good as new and Cathy didn’t spend the entire day crying.

The bike was stolen from in front of  Jack’s dorm a week later and on the way out of town Jack e-mailed Cathy a very sweet letter that was specifically designed to make her cry the rest of the way home.

 She did.

April had marked our 25th anniversary and we celebrated by continuing a family tradition.  We put Jack in college and left the country.  We chose Canada because Cathy is fluent in French and we wanted to go somewhere that speaks French and isn’t France. It was the longest vacation I have ever taken and started by flying to Montreal and then driving along the St Laurence river stopping in Quebec and a number of famous resort towns along the way.  We ended up in Tadoussac and intended to take the ferry across to New Brunswick.  I signed up for the email updates for the ferry so we would know what its schedule was but after reading the reviews it turns out the ferry breaks down a lot.  Instead we decided to just head north into the very remote areas of Canada while working our way back to Montreal.  Highlights of the trip include;

  • We saw a  porcupine
  • Visited several very bad museums
  • Drank beer with samplings in it
  • We harassed the boys with texts, photos and my insightful observations (See exhibit A)
  • Went whale watching with captain Mary and had an exceptional day
  • Discovered that Spotify has a 70’s porn music playlist
  • Discovered that people stare at you if you play porn music in public
  • Proved my language skills by translating the term “Carrot foot” for Cathy
  • I received several e-mails informing me that the St. Laurence ferry was broken

We had great time but were glad to get home.  Our dogs were not so happy to have us back since they had gotten used to all the attention at the dog spa.  I had to chase Delilah around and pounce on her to get her into the car.

For the last 17 years I have tried to teach Jackson the life skills he would need.  These ran the gamut from dance moves and foolproof pickup lines to how to study and be a responsible human, but mostly the responsible human stuff.  None of it ever sank in, so when we sent him off to college without the necessary life skills, we prepared ourselves for the possibility that he may be back by January.  What we were not prepared for was Jackson turning into a completely different person than the cake addict that I didn’t kill the previous summer.  It began with text photos of beautifully written class notes and carefully planned study schedules and before long he was calling his mother once a week and getting great grades.  Apparently, he was listening all those years and suddenly it all came together, except the dance moves and pickup lines.  He still hasn’t mastered either of them.

Both boys came home for Christmas and we spent a lot of time cooking and playing cards.  Cathy and I stopped getting each other Christmas presents years ago but this year I broke the rules.  Since the cart we used behind the lawn mower was destroyed moving river rock I surprised her by getting one designed to be pulled by an ATV.  The box was so large that it wouldn’t fit in the 4 runner and I had to go back to the store to pick it up with the flatbed trailer.  It is very handy and we eventually completed decorating the river bank using it to haul the rocks but Cathy keeps forgetting she owns it.  For some reason she always seems shocked when I tell her that she had a huge wagon. 
For valentine’s day Cathy signed us up for a “Pints & Paints” class which was an art class held in a brewery.  We arrived before class for extra credit and as people arrived it became obvious that some people were taking the art seriously.  I persuaded one such couple not to sit next to us by telling them that the paints taste bad.  The beer was to our liking.  The example art we were to copy, not so much.  Instead we created our own original work of art.  It was hilarious watching the other couples try and keep a straight face when they told us how much they liked it.  Staggering back to the hotel we decided that we would make a gift of our art to the city of Chattanooga so we “Installed” it in front of a lesser sculpture along the way.  We were sure that someone who was more drunk than us would steal it but by the time we ventured out for breakfast it was still there and we had fallen from benefactors to common litter bugs.  There was nothing to be done but to take our creation home.  We did send a picture of it to Cathy’s art appraiser friend but she didn’t have anything nice to say about it.  I’m really not sure why we use her for our antiquities.

As the winter dragged on there were a few notable happenings;

  • Jackson continued to prove that shaken baby syndrome eventually wears off
  • Chris put the worst of his engineering classes behind him and began to have a bit of a life
  • The grandson, toddler and baby momma of the woman at Salem’s lot moved in and were quickly joined by;
    • Baby momma’s skank sister
    • Skank sister’s meth head boyfriend
    • Meth head boyfriend’s accomplice
  • No body redeemed Squalor Haller
  • I continued to go to my early morning workout cult meetings
  • Jack got mono and ended up in a hospital just as Covid was getting started

By March we were feeling like a spring break.  Chris already had his planned with friends so we invited Jackson and his roomates Jackson and River to meet us in Florida where we had found a great deal on a condo on the beach above a coffee shop.  

Cathy and I arrived several hours ahead of the boys so we picked up the mini-van and made a grocery run before picking up the boys at the airport.  That is why every cup holder in the van had a horrible flavor of White Claw in it when the boys climbed in.  They refused our generous offer of refreshment but we know that they would eventually lose their resolve.  It only took about 15 minutes after we dropped them (and the White Claws) at the condo and went to pick up our bicycles. 

That night we discovered that a coffee shop that stays open until 11:00pm, has a live band and serves alcohol is a LOT like a bar.   The next day we all went sailing with Captain Dan and Diane above the Star of Orion.  We had a great time and it was very educational;

  • We were considered “Normal” by Captain Dan’s yard stick
  • Bringing monkeys in dresses aboard without asking is considered NOT normal
  • Trying to hold a funeral/burial at sea is also not normal
  • Cougars are older women on the prowl for younger men. 
  • Snow leopards are REALLY older women on the prowl for younger men.
  • Jackson and roommates are horrified by the concept of snow leopards
  • The Blue Martini is the best place to pick up/get picked up by a snow leopard

We spent the week staying up late to the sound of a pulsing bass line, cooking big meals and buying the boys ever increasingly bad forms of alcohol.  (It is hard to ride a bike with a case of PBR in the basket)

 We hadn’t been paying a lot of attention to the news until we got to Florida but after a few days we realized there was this virus thing going around and flying home might not be the best idea, but bad decisions are sort of a family tradition so we persevered.

Shortly after we returned home Louisville shut down their dorms and went to online classes so Jackson came home and lurked in our basement until the summer term started.  I returned to not killing him and getting prepared for Chris to graduate at the end of the summer.  Jack moved into his new apartment in June so I could quit not killing him and he could be around other engineering students even though classes were all online.

Cathy resigned from her job at Hasco in April after trying for over a year to get the new owner to adapt to the declining wood floor market.  We’re still not sure if she is retired or just out of work, but I’ll be happy to pimp her out as long as her new job suits me.

Since it had been a year since the auction of Squalor Holler we moved into action with our scorched earth policy.  We burned things, we buried things, we gave away tons of cinder blocks and bricks and paid by the pound to haul away two 30 yard dumpsters of burned down meth lab and poison ivy.  We even used Cathy’s HUGE wagon to haul a few tons of rocks down to the river to add to the rip rap and bring some of the bricks down to the river side to build a patio for a fire pit.  The entire neighborhood stopped by at some point to thank us.  I teased one of the river front neighbors that we would be installing 5 single wide trailers on the property.  Karma hates me and decide to use that against me.

At the beginning of July I got up to go work out and noticed an old broke down camper sitting in the middle of Squalor Haller.   At first we thought someone had dumped it there and called the sheriff.  Then we noticed that they had taken the time to set up the awning and use some of the remaining bricks to level it.  That is when we discovered;

  • The original owner has 1 year from the day the slacker government workers at the court clerk’s office actually file the court order from the tax auction (Not 1 year from the date of the auction) to pay their taxes and redeem the property
  • The original owners had paid the back taxes at the last minute
  • The original owners didn’t have valid driver’s licenses or tags on their truck so they only delivered campers late at night.
  • The original owners had two old broke down campers
  • The St Laurence ferry still breaks down a lot.  (This is unrelated but I still get texts)

Cathy had been sued more than anyone I know so after we were unable to contact the owners of Squalor Holler to work out a deal, Cathy put all her knowledge of the legal system to work.  It took until August to get in front of a judge but by October we were the proud owners of Squalor Haller.  Curiously, both of the old broke down campers disappeared one night shortly after we filed the motion with the court. 

For Jackson’s birthday, we went to Louisville and stayed in a VRBO house near campus.  We celebrated Jackson’s 19th birthday by cooking dinner for he and his roommates and presenting him with the Valentine’s Day artwork for his apartment.  He also didn’t have anything nice to say about it.

Chris graduated in August and we had made plans to go for the ceremony but the school cancelled two weeks prior.  Luckily, I have been trying to get Cathy to rent an RV and go camping (If you can call it camping), and had finally been successful.  We had a small motor home and a camp site in Auburn scheduled, but with no graduation, we decided to go to a campground outside of Atlanta which is next to the Cathy’s friend Debbie’s neighborhood.   We made Chris bring his cap and gown and littered the site with Auburn graduate flags.  We took his graduation picture stepping out of the RV in his cap and gown with all the auburn flags in the background. 

Our friends Debbie and Bill are much more up to date with popular culture and they are the ones who alerted us to the fact that the pineapple is a universal calling card for swingers.  Coincidentally, we weren’t the only camp site who had decorated with flags because three doors down was proudly flying a pineapple.  Bill and I had a corn hole match to decide who would have to go introduce themselves to the neighbors.  They weren’t home.

After the graduation weekend Jackson went back to Louisville and Chris accepted a job offer to build boats with Master Craft in Vonore TN (Near Knoxville).   He was an unemployed college graduate for just over two weeks.  We found him an apartment in Maryville but it wasn’t open for 6 weeks so he stayed at home and commuted an hour each way.  During that time one of our favorite neighbors had a heart attack and Chris and I performed CPR for half an hour before the EMT’s called it.  We still miss Herman and it just doesn’t seem right to look out the window and not see him mowing his yard.

Our non-river side neighbors had been busy throughout the spring and summer as well.  Louise’s son got out of jail and decided to live in the cinder block garage on peckerwood estates.  There wasn’t electricity, water or sewer so I was pretty sure that the summer heat would fix that problem, but for several weeks he would show up with friends after dark, set some furniture on fire and then disappear in the morning when the sun got hot.  He eventually got arrested again and has not been seen since.  Meanwhile the grandson, baby momma, skank sister etc. spent their days screaming at each other and working on their cars.  They never had any tools or spare parts, they just removed and replaced the door and trunk panels disappeared all night long and then did it all over again the next day.  It was this point that we decided to install the security cameras and we now have Skank-O-Vision.  It is kind of a perverse reality TV show and it would be much more interesting if it weren’t across the street.

Delilah died at the end of the summer and both boys were out of the house. By Fall Cathy and I were mostly empty nesters except for Charlotte who refused to let us leave her behind.  Things were pretty quiet.  That is when Jackson sent us a letter explaining why he needed to move to Southampton England to enroll in the university there.  He wants to work in Formula 1 racing and since it is European it is unlikely they will come to Louisville to recruit.  He has a well thought out plan for achieving his goals and at this point he is a couple of weeks from finding out if he has been accepted.  It should make for a good letter next Christmas/Qwanza/Groun hog’s day letter.

Charlotte died just before Christmas and with the election in progress we didn’t feel the need to add to the huge amount of stupid things going on so we have been keeping below the radar so you are completely caught up with the last 4 years. 

I hope the magic of Groundhog’s Day fills every corner of your heart and home with joy — now and always

Cathy, Mike, Chris, Jackson and all the neighborhood meth heads, skanks, accomplices and used camper salesmen.