Why I Left HooToo... and Why I'm Back
Posted Nov 15, 2020
Now a note of explanation:
There were quite a few Threads that I was active on, before my (ex)spouse insisted I give up HooToo. I was accused of quite a number of malefeasances, including having an "online affair." None of it was true, but I relented and gave up participating in H2G2. This is the reason I've been gone from the site for seven years (as of this writing). In January of 2019, we divorced.
My marriage to A--- was "interesting", at best, "a rollercoaster of emotions", at its worst. In our later years together, I could almost set my calendar to when the next major upheaval of emotional torrents would occur. There was enough of a dichotomy (read hypocrisy) between her expressed words of piety, versus her conversations and her actions toward family and friends, and it all grated on the nerves.
In 2017, our youngest daughter took her own life, choosing not to stay in this world because she perceived it as toxic and a place where good people were beat down. She was an "old soul", and losing her at the age of 20 years and 15 days was a hard blow to the whole family. If not for understanding God's scriptures, I would have been a broken man. Yet, despite the immediate loss in this world of my darling child, I know that the Reunion we will have later will be a balm to my own soul.
Over that next year, I witnessed even greater aberrations in my (ex)spouse's behavior. She didn't deal with the passing of our daughter at all well, despite the fact she'd known the scriptures far longer than me. No amount of my consolation made a difference to her. Her habits of vilifying those closest to her, making baseless accusations, and generally attempting to manipulate emotions and situations to suit her whims got to be too much. In the course of yet one more argument (about a situation concerning our middle daughter), I told her (the ex) to simply wait a bit and let our middle daughter work through it. The (ex), instead, tried to hold me accountable for the problem and wanted to escalate the argument. I had enough and told her I was going to "take some time to cool off." She told me that if I wasn't back in a certain amount of time, that she would leave. I didn't return promptly, and when I did, found she had packed a portion of her things and had truly "left."
At that moment, I realized where her thinking was at. She didn't want to be with me. Considering that, over the 25 years of our marriage, after ~all~ the times I'd taken to "cool off"... I always came back. For the one time she decided to walk out, her response was to tell me she would no longer live with me.
Again, I took time to assess the situation. Since I 'saw' the way our relationship had become toxic, I chose not to pursue her to "win her back." That would have been foolhardy. I helped her get established in a duplex, as a separate living arrangement. She filed for divorce. When I saw the extent to which she wanted to "clean me out" in the process, I hired a lawyer as well and fought back. It was a year-long ugly battle, and at this writing the status of the house we built (and I've paid for) is still pending resolution. After that, the only ties I have to her is a moderate stipend from my current employment, and "half of a third" of my military retirement (since we were married only 6 years of my 20 in service).
One major change for the good is that I ran into a wonderful lady along the way. It was about 6 months after the (ex) walked out. Willo and I met in an online "environment" called Second Life. I'd stumbled in there and liked it enough to stick with it, because there are venues that allow the avatars you fashion to "dance together." There was one place in particular that I liked, fashioned to resemble the Savoy Ballroom (a Big Band Swing era club). I actually spent 5 days in a row there, utilizing one of the AFK Dance Buddies to practice, getting familiar with the Dance HUD Menu, learning how to time and sequence the dance steps so it looked fluid and natural. It was good that I did. There was one evening I was there, and needed a dance partner. Willo happened to be visiting the club and offered to dance. We chatted up a storm, and I saw a kindred spirit. She was impressed with how well I could make our avatars dance together.
It wasn't long before we started hanging out regularly. We hit it off so well, we became "Partners" in SL, and got "married" on the same Parcel (local site) of the Savoy, where we'd met. We have had all manner of adventures throughout SL since then. We also found an opportunity to meet in Real Life. That cemented our relationship, and Willo and I are now living together… and we're considering marriage in the not-too-distant future. One interesting side-note about this new relationship. In the year that we have been together, we have not argued… not even ~once~! I didn't know that was possible (from my previous experience). Sure, we've had differences of opinion or didn't understand each other (initially) on certain topics, but we've never argued about any of it. Rather, we stop and discuss the situation, attempting to line up the solution as much as possible with Godly advice and a view to a Win-Win outcome, so both of us feel respected. It works. It honestly does…
So… that's the "mile-high" view with "broad brush strokes" to explain what has transpired since last I frequented HooToo. Why am I back? Same reasons I was here before. I listed all that on the my Personal Space. It still holds true today. The people here treat each other kindly and share of themselves. It enriches the lives of all who attend here and use that knowledge to improve their own lives and the lives of others.
It's good to be back. Nudge me if you wanna chat…
Anniversary of Finishing my Fantasy Novel
Posted Nov 2, 2020
How would you like to have a chance at a FREE copy of “Chasing the Dragon” for your Kindle reading library?
I figured November is the perfect time for paying homage to how the story finally came to see the light of day. Therefore, I’m going to provide one (1) free copy of the book to ten (10) lucky randomly chosen folks on each of three (3) days—on the 13th, 14th, and 15th of November 2020. Here’s how it works:
--Submissions begin from 0001 CST (GMT = 0601) on 13 November 2020
--Log onto my Author website: https://authorsamwesthoek.com/
--Navigate to Blog || Contact
--Fill in Your Name, your Email address, and type “November Novel Giveaway” in the Comment section
--Use the Submit button BEFORE 6pm CST (GMT 2400)
--All submissions received AFTER 6pm CST (GMT 2400) will be rolled into the following day’s Giveaway opportunity, again with Cut-Off at the same time
--Any submissions received BEFORE 0001 CDT (GMT = 0601) on 13 November 2020 or AFTER 6pm CDT (GMT = 2400) on 15 November 2020 are EXCLUDED from the Giveaway
This process gives me a few hours before bedtime to collate all the Entries, run the Randomizer, and send a Kindle copy to the ten lucky souls whose names came up. Yes, it’s a bit of work, but it’ll be well worth it when You contact me afterwards to share what You thought of this Fantasy Novel. You will do that, won’t you?
If you happen to miss out on participating in the Giveaway, don’t get your knickers in a twist. You’ll still have opportunities to snag a Kindle copy of the novel for $0.99 on the three (3) days following my event. If you miss that, the price at Amazon will be $1.99 for the next three (3) days. After that, it goes back up to $2.99 for the eBook of “Chasing the Dragon.”
The reason I’ve chosen November for this event is because of National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo). It was because of my participation in this “no-holds-barred, fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants” online venue that I finally finished writing the rest of the content for the story I’d been toying with for 35 years. I was able to make it palatable for human consumption and then press GO with Amazon Kindle Direct Publishing, in order to get my story out into the World. To hold that first copy of the BOOK in my hands was absolutely mind-boggling…to think that in today’s technological environment, even a Schmoe like me could publish a book! So…in homage to this process, I’m doing a two-fold Promotion—for the story and for National Novel Writing Month.
Halloween Horror Story Book Giveaway and Discount Deals
Posted Oct 20, 2020
How would you like to have a chance at a FREE copy of “Dark Attic Manuscripts” for your Kindle reading library?
I figured Halloween is the perfect time for reading stories to creep you out. Therefore, I’m going to provide one (1) free copy of the book to ten (10) lucky randomly chosen folks on each of three (3) days—on the 20th, 21st, and 22nd of October 2020. Here’s how it works:
Submissions begin from 0001 CDT (GMT = 0501) on 20 October 2020
Log onto my Author website: https://authorsamwesthoek.com/
Navigate to Blog || Contact
Fill in Your Name, your Email address, and type “Halloween Book Giveaway” in the Comment section
Use the Submit button BEFORE 7pm CDT (GMT 2400)
All submissions received AFTER 7pm CDT (GMT 2400) will be rolled into the following day’s Giveaway opportunity, again with Cut-Off at the same time
Any submissions received BEFORE 0001 CDT (GMT = 0501) on 20 October 2020 or AFTER 7pm CDT (GMT = 2400) on 22 October 2020 are EXCLUDED from the Giveaway
This process gives me a few hours before bedtime to collate all the Entries, run the Randomizer, and send a Kindle copy to the ten lucky souls whose names came up. Yes, it’s a bit of work, but it’ll be well worth it when You contact me afterwards to share what You thought of each of the five stories. You will do that, won’t you?
If you happen to miss out on participating in the Giveaway, don’t get your knickers in a twist. You’ll still have opportunities to snag a Kindle copy of the stories for $0.99 on the three (3) days following my event. If you miss that, the price at Amazon will be $1.99 for the next three (3) days. After that, it goes back up to $2.99 for the eBook of “Dark Attic Manuscripts.”
So… Enjoy this Halloween, with all its decorations and creepy atmosphere, and be sure to “keep things clean” so as not to spread CoViD-19. Check the interwebs for all manner of innovative ways to make this season fun, while still practicing Social Distancing. After all, this is one of the few social traditions in which “wearing masks” is the norm!
Oh… and while you’re reading my stories, be sure to keep the lights on. Muwahahahaha…!
Do NOT let the Hackers IN...!
Posted Oct 16, 2020
Last night, I fell prey to possible Hacker intrusion.
In a nutshell, the Help Tech convinced me to allow Remote Access to my laptop.
This flies in the face of everything I've been cautioned about concerning online scams... and I walked right into it!
This is how it went down:
I have for many years used Webroot antivirus software. It performs well, is intuitive, and has prevented numerous problems of intrusion to my fleet of laptops and PCs. (I've had up to 5 such using it at one time, when the household was full of family.) It has never let me down, and I frequently adjure others to use it.
Over the past several weeks, the app has been nudging me, with a pop-up window as a reminder, that my subscription was due to run out. I took it seriously, budgeted the money, and last night bought a 2-year subscription. I talked with my local Geek Squad rep at Best Buy, confirmed I was at the end of my license, and he coached me how to find a renewal on their website. I purchased via the secure BB website and received an email with a link to the Downloadable copy (vice using a disk).
I received a second email that provided a link to the Key Code that verifies my purchase and acts as a "license to use" the application. I tried to use the original on-board version of Webroot to update the Key Code, but there is no longer a button for that. I called the rep at BB back again, told him about the roadblock, and he gave me the web address of "www.webroot.com/safe" as the place to use to enter the license Key Code. I navigated to the Webroot loge site, typed in the Key Code, and got an Error Code stating it had failed to load. Frustration level went up!
I tried that several times, with the same result. Finally, I read the screen and noted the 1-800 numbers there to use if things went sideways. I used one and got hooked up to a guy with a foreign accent (named Alex), who said he was glad to help. All I needed to do was allow him Remote Access to my laptop so he could drill down and find the error. I agreed, since I was perturbed about round in circles with attempts to get the app to log the Key Code. I should have listened to my gut at that moment. Re-read the statement at the top about being cautioned for years NOT to let anyone do this, unless...and this is a BIG "unless"...it is a trusted source DIRECTLY from your IT Department.
Once I let load the GoToAssist app he sent me, he started accessing my folders, opened an iteration of what looked like the DOS prompt, called up the IP Address traffic info, pointed out how some of the IP Adresses were going to foreign locations from my laptop...all in a rush of technical jargon that seemed to bear out I had some malware present. He spent a few more moments scrolling back-and-forth thru the DOS info, and checking what programs / apps I had on-board my laptop. He told me he'd seen this before and pointed out what the search found: the asprobot (or asprogbot, or something like that) which messes with the Firewall protection of the system.
Here's where things took a turn for the strange. "Alex" suddenly turned on my laptop's camera so that I showed up. Embarrassing, as a start, because I'd just showered for the evening and only had on my PJ bottoms, so I was shirtless...and in the camera's eye, I could have been naked, for all intents. He chuckled about that, as I excused myself and fetched my shirt top. When I returned, he asked me if I was alone. I thought he'd heard Willo (my domestic partner) bringing our evening meal in, so we could nosh while I took care of business. I said yes, but what did that matter. He then made mention of the wall hanging behind me, a Mediterranean seascape as seen from a cozy porch on an overlook. Seemingly small talk, but not what I would think a trained Tech Assist would engage in. Nor, for that matter, why my camera was still on.
He said there was a way to combat the malware, but he needed a couple more pieces of info. He asked to see the original email with the confirmation of the purchase, so I showed him, plus the Key Code. He had sent the correct Key Code to me in the Chat window, and I pasted my version of it in, as well. They both matched, so early on I had a level trust built up. Alex then opened another text window and typed in "Zip Code - ", waiting on me to provide it for the area I live. The nagging feeling and the itch of something not being right got even more pronounced. This had been some very specific information he had me divulge. This final piece would be one more link to tie me to--
No my Warning Klaxon blared in my internal ears! WAIT! This sounds like a Phishing expedition!!! What had I been thinking???
I asked why he needed that info, and he asked me why I was being belligerent / hostile... and all I'd done was ask a question. I didn't even wait for him to finish his spiel about my "attitude," but hung up, closed all the open windows he'd generated on my screen, and shut off the laptop. No service rep in their right mind is going to treat a customer that way.
In short order, I called my local bank's after-hours service line and talked with a trusted source about what had happened. I explained that I feared being hacked, and I wanted to have the bank keep an eye open for any unauthorized purchases. We also agreed that "turning off" both my debit cards was a proper precaution, until I called the bank again to use them. We also tossed around the idea of generating a fresh new set of accounts, so any residual info they may have gleaned would be out-of-date.
I've had to do the same thing for a military bank account, explaining what happened, and going over options to protect my assets there. The biggest hassle is now going to every one of my online presences -- all the websites, all the social media, all the quasi-money handling apps -- and changing Passwords RIGHT NOW! I figure this will nip in the bud the majority of any backlash, yet, if they are going to be persistent then I have to stay vigilant for quite some time to come. Basically, I'll be looking over my shoulder for months, or years, to come.
My adjuration to any of you who have read this whole thing is: DO NOT let anyone have Remote Access to your computer system. It can ugly really fast, and your money and your data won't be safe.
One more thing that's encouraging... When I called Best Buy about the situation, and talked over how it got this point, they were apologetic and let me know a few other customers had run into the same thing. They asked me to come by with my laptop today to have it "deep scanned" for malware, and they would not charge me for the service, since I'd followed the guidance of their Geek Squad rep. It's not that he told me the wrong thing, it's just that there is evidently a mock website, or a cookie / app that has been lodged in my system that caused me to divert to the scam site. Very nice of them to take the responsibility to help fix this.
I'll report back with any further info about this whole debacle tomorrow... Meanwhile, Stay Safe!
B4 - Where Were You Just Now? - 1 Jan 2012
Posted Jan 18, 2012
It’s winter in Columbia, Missouri, right in the very heart of the USA. The folks here celebrate the out-going year / in-coming year with a big to-do called “First Night.” It entails a myriad of artists--whether musical, visual, dance, or otherwise--showcasing their specialties in the downtown area known as The District. The shops stay open later, some of them hosting the artists. Other wannabes and also-rans try to draw attention by performing on the sidewalks or in the open plazas. The culmination of the whole affair is the massive fireworks display at midnight.
Four couples from our church fellowship have come “into town” for the event and we’ve just finished dining at a fabulous Italian restaurant called The Rome, at 114 South 9th Street, halfway down the block south of Cherry Street. We step out into the gathering evening atmosphere, held at bay by the abundance of city lights from lampposts and from the corridors of shops. The temperature is still unseasonably warm, slowly tapering off from the near mid-60s high of the daytime. Knowing it wouldn’t be bitterly cold as in past years was our impetus to come out to enjoy the festivities. The other couples decide to grab a cup of coffee first, so my wife and I part company from them for the interim. Everyone else heads to Lakota Coffee, about a block north up the street; A--- and I proceed to our intended goal: the Columbia Art League Gallery at 207 South 9th Street, on the other side of the street past Locust Street. She wants to contact a harpist she met when she home-schooled our middle daughter, B---, and the lady is performing at the gallery.
We pass the Missouri Theatre Center for the Arts, come to the glass-front art gallery, and step through the double doors. M--- is seated against a south wall, supporting her harp, head down, tuning a series of strings. My wife waits patiently until she’s done, then engages M--- in a short conversation. I catch snippets of it as I make an arc around the room. It’s a litany A--- shared with me before we came: she wants to learn to play one instrument in her life; our youngest daughter (Y---) isn’t using the expensive investment we made; even if it’s just “Twinkle, Twinkle” she wants to be able to play ~something~ for our fellowship next holiday. I see she’s finishing up and seems to have gotten some agreement for M--- to teach her to play, so I make my way back to her. We sit on a wide deep-brown wooden bench overlooking the venue and M--- begins to play.
To my surprise, it’s Celtic music. M--- plucks the strings in a jaunty rhythm and the tune swells from simple bouncing individual notes to flowing chords with a melancholy background. We applaud several times before I let my wife know I have to take a short break; I squeeze her shoulders and kiss her cheek before I go. More people are wandering into the gallery and several folks find space on the wide bench I just vacated. Some of the patrons are meandering between the gallery and the theater because there’s a pass-through connecting the two establishments. I make my way into an alcove and find the bathroom locked.
There’s plenty to look at while I wait. Local artists have their work on display on multiple partition walls, providing ample viewing and elbowroom. Many of the paintings are still-life studies, some are impressionistic, a few are character studies, some simply play with color and contrast. Most are clearly works of intricacy and detail designed to intrigue the viewer, while a handful are obviously haphazard concoctions churned out to make a buck. I notice a sign stating: “Ask about CAL's art-purchase payment plan and take home the artwork today!” It intrigues me one could market paintings and sculptures that way. I make my way along the waist-high L-shaped display case where local artisans have jewelry on display. A--- is so enthralled by the music, she doesn’t even notice me perusing the baubles on the shelves behind the display case. And there--right there--is something to bless her. She wants pink this year; she told me this quite plainly not even a whole 24 hours ago. The set of dangling, multiple stone, pink earrings on silver J-hooks are just the thing to bless her. And the price is reasonable for our budget. I make the decision to buy them, but don’t want to tip her off.
I walk back to her, whisper to her the bathroom was occupied, but that I’m going to try again. She smiles her gorgeous smile and adjures me to hurry back. I wink, and walk past the broad square column beside the bench. I notice it hides her from my view. Perfect! I do go to the bathroom, but before returning, I flag down the attendant behind the display case. In hushed tones, I let her know I’d like to purchase the pink earrings, the ones beside the large pink circle that looks like a buckle, and she goes to fetch it. Where I’m standing, the column completely hides my doings from A---’s view. The attendant verifies she’s brought me the correct item and we conclude the purchase. She places the earrings into a small red gift pouch, and I thank her. The gift goes into my right shirt pocket; I’ll give it to A--- in the morning, as the first gift of the New Year.
More and more people have come into the gallery, including the other couples who’d gone out for coffee. The bench is full, with six people lounging upon it while listening to the lilting tunes from the Celtic harp or glancing around the room at the various objets d’art. There’s only room enough for me to put one knee up beside my wife and balance against her. Finally, I let the music wash over me and I sway with the ebb and flow of the melody.
That’s when I notice it. Or rather, it’s when I notice them. People in the crowd are experiencing something similar to me--they’re being swept along by the song. I look around and two people in particular catch my eye. There’s a white-haired lady--thin, older--tapping her toes and gently swinging side-to-side; there’s a middle-aged gentleman in a green fedora whose vision is focused somewhere far away. Their response to the music draws me out of my reverie and I watch them for a while. I observe the white-hair lady for a bit longer and a question begins to surface in my mind. It niggles at me and at first defies articulation. I coax it and cajole it, but it’s sly and slips through my grasp like the ephemeral tune M--- is producing on her harp. Suddenly, she stops. There’s applause, and she lets us know she’s taking a pause in her set. The question is taken by surprise, laid bare without the cover of the melody, so I pounce upon it. Yes! That’s what I need to ask these folks.
The man in the fedora is navigating the crowd and it won’t take me but two or three steps to intercept him. The revelation scant moments ago emboldens me and I make a bee-line toward him. I place myself just on the edge of his intended path.
“Excuse me. May I ask you something?” His gaze comes up and he’s mildly startled to be accosted in this fashion. I see his expression change to quizzical interest and assent, though he hasn’t said a word yet. “Where were you just now?”
His questioning smile turns to disbelief, as if the answer was blatantly evident. “I was standing just over there, by the wall.” He points to the place he’d been, with the far-away look in his eyes.
“No, no. I mean, while you were listening to the music, where were you in here?” I tap my temples with two fingers. “What was going through your mind? What did you envision? Were you thinking of some other time or some other place in particular?”
He looks down, chuckles, then looks up. “Oh, I see what you mean now. Let me think about it for a second. Where was I?” I take the short pause to look him up-and-down. The lime-green fedora has a tan band with thin red piping atop and below. There’s a small feather canted low (not high) on the right side. His blazer is taupe, with a striped shirt beneath; his trousers are dark charcoal, and he’s wearing cream & brown spats. His angular face is framed beneath a salt-and-pepper mustache and beard, neatly trimmed. “Where was I? On a coastline.”
“Yes, bright waves, water. A coastline.”
“Anything more specific than that? Rolling breakers against rocks? Tall cliffs in the background?”
“Ah, well, no. Nothing more specific, I’m afraid. Why do you ask?”
“I was watching different people in the crowd respond to the music, and it seemed to me you were transported to some place far away from here--that you were imagining a place you’ve seen before.”
“A coastline.” He says it with emphasis and finality.
“Thanks for sharing that with me. If you’ll excuse me, I want to ask this other lady over here the same question.” He nods and smiles, shaking his head. I wade through the throng and step up beside the small frail woman with the white hair, biding my time. She’s just finishing a conversation with someone else, and turns at my presence.
“May I help you?” she asks.
“Would you answer a quick question for me? Where were you just now?”
“Listening to the music. Is that what you mean?” She tilts her head the slightest bit and the straight fringe of her bangs covers one of her dark bird-like eyes. Her black leather jacket’s straight lines cover a plain white shirt. Her black close-fitting pants end in gold-tone pointy shoes.
“Well, sort of. Where were you inside…in here?” I do the same tap-my-temple routine as before.
“Nowhere in particular. Why do you ask?” She tilts her head the other way, uncovering the other eye, but veiling the one she’d used to look up at me initially.
“I was observing the crowd, watching the people respond to the music, and it seemed to me you were remembering a different time and place. Perhaps long ago, dancing with someone special, swirling in a beautiful gown?” I raise my eyebrows, hopeful I’ve guessed her imaginings.
“No, that’s not it at all. I was only copying what I saw someone else doing, tapping his toes, so I did it, too.” She looks directly at me, both eyes peeking from under her straight white mane, and lets me know, “But if ~you~ want to imagine that’s what I’m thinking about, it’s okay with me.” She graces me with a kind yet condescending smile.
“Um...well, okay. Thank you for clearing that up. I appreciate you indulging me for a few moments, but I’ve got to get back to my wife.” I point across the room to where A--- is now standing beside the wide bench. “Thank you.” Her eyes completely disappear beneath her white bangs as she nods, then I make my way back to my darling.
“Where were you just now?” she looks up at me with her large hazel eyes and I smile.
“Funny you should ask…” I tell her what happened with the music and the nagging question. Then I recount what each of the people shared with me. She laughs about the whole thing and puts her hand on my arm. “How about you,” I prompt her. “Where were you just now, while the music played?”
“Mmm… I was floating,” she says.
“Floating? In water?”
“No, in the air. The music made me think of floating up in the sky, among the clouds, in a sunny blue sky. Silly, huh?” She dips her head, but I lift her chin gently to gaze into her eyes.
“No, honey, that’s beautiful. ‘Floating in the sky.’ I like that.” I look over my shoulder toward the harp and the musician. “The way M--- was playing the tunes, it conjured up a lot of different images for different people. I guess it affects each of us individually.” I turn back to her, place her hand in the crook of my arm, and lead her toward the door. “Let’s go home. How about I turn on the CD player in the car and we can ‘float’ home?” She giggles and nudges me as we step out into the city’s version of nighttime.
Okay, now it’s your turn.
What genre of music truly stirs your soul?
Are there any particular songs that always bring certain things to mind?
Have you ever let a tune transport you to a place in your imagination you’ve never been before?