Wednesday, December 31, 2014

2014: That Was The Year That Was

So here it is:  the end of the year.  How did we stack up?

Okay.  Actually, perhaps better than expected.  I got a lot of what I wanted to do this year done:

- Published two books (including one I had been holding for 5 years, putting off).
- Got my Chudon Menkyo for Iaijustu
- Ended my Highland Athletic Year in the top 250, which was an improvment - and successfully beat all of my previous records.
- Attended all of the Tokai for Iaijutsu
- Got out to see our family this year.
- Had a reasonably good year at work, including passing a number of important audits.


Ichiryo Gusoku:  Here, I was not so successful.  Singular success (with Nighean Donn):  getting quail.  Even though they are not producing eggs yet (hopefully they will), they are here and we have a local supplier.  Everything else (with the exception of some cheese production and a surprisingly fine yield of peppers) remains the same.

What did not get done?  New job - but that deserves perhaps a little more thought anyway.  Greater financial progress - but again, that seems like it will pick up speed this year.

So on the whole, not a terribly unsuccessful year.

What is on the agenda for next year?  I already have a listing of things I want to work on.  I need to give more careful consideration to them, hone them more over the next two days to put some meat and objectives on them.  I made successful progress on some of my goals.  I need to understand more completely why.

But that is for later.  For now, I am simply grateful that it was a good year.  We end it healthy.  We end it employed.  We end it together.

And one cannot ask for a great deal more than that.

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Out for the Day

So today we are doing something we have not done in a long time:  taking a family day out!  We are off to a local ice cream factory (I know - in December, go figure) for a tour and a scoop of ice cream (which is only available in our state).  I will catch up tomorrow, slightly fattened up but happy!

Update:  Our quail seems to be doing better:  up and and around, eating and drinking.  He is located in our fabulous quail hospital (a large tub inside the house) until the healing process is complete.

Monday, December 29, 2014

Rats Again

Warning: Today's post is not a happy one.  If you are offended by blood or the way nature works, this might not be the post for you.

This morning as I went out to feed the quail I noticed one of them - the big one I assume is the male - just siting on the floor of the cage.  It is quite unusual behavior for him - especially as all other quail were doing their usual hop dance as I put my hand in.  I reached in to grab him and turned him over, only to find his entire great plucked clean of feathers.

Rats.

It is the only explanation.  There is not a single feather left on his breast (fortunately, there appears to be no other punctures than that).  I had thought I had cleared them out and had not seen any sign of them (I thought).  Apparently I was just fooling myself.

The quail is now in our homemade hospital suite, a large converted tub with sawdust and some food and water and a friend (who, I now suspect, also had a run-in with the rat).  He has food and water and will be (hopefully) spending an extended time there healing (I have no idea how long it takes feather to regrow).

I feel awful.  I feel like I should have seen this, should have done more to protect them.  I should have been more suspicious.  They count on my for their survival and protection - and I let them down.

Off to the store, of course, to get ready.  I am delving into an area I do not typically dwell in in my world - the conscious preparation of killing an animal.  It unsettles me greatly.  But then I remember the words of Gene Logsdon, that wise sage of country living, who says that "Mother Nature could just as easily be called Old B**** Nature."

And I am angry - angry perhaps without cause, but angry none the less.  Angry at this animal that has attacked a harmless bird - no, a harmless bird under my protection.  Yes, someone can make the argument that it is merely doing what rats do in the wild.

Fine.  Go do it somewhere else.

It is at these moments I think sometimes the entertainment industry does a great dis-service to us all by anthropomorphizing animals.  People think of things like rats and they thing of The Rats of Nimh or The Tale of Despardeux or The Great Mouse Detective:  animals that speak and have feelings - maybe a little evil perhaps, but none the less that are conscious, sentient beings that act rationally.

The sad reality - the one I find myself painfully reminded of this morning - is that this is not the case at all.  The rat is acting as it is wont to act in nature: find and secure a food source.  Not sing, not find a way to co-exist - find a food source.

As the Ents said in The Two Towers "We go, we go, we go to war to hew the stone and break the door."

But I am none to happy about it.

Friday, December 26, 2014

A New Writing Utensil

So yesterday for Christmas The Ravishing Mrs. TB got me a new computer.
This was unexpected.  But very welcome.

Currently the laptop I have been using was one we purchased as an original refurbished model in 2011 (I think) after my first laptop - the remaining item I owned from The Firm - died on us.  The laptop served in good stead but seems (like most older technology) to be chugging along after a while - it literally took the thing 30 minutes to start up to the point that I could make use of it.  Apparently I had been making enough complaints about the thing and apparently someone had a deal that could not be ignored - and thus, the computer under the tree appeared.

The single biggest significant difference?  My old laptop had approximately 20 GB of memory.  My new unit has 450 GB.

There are other differences as well:  no CD drive (but then again, when was the last time I loaded a CD ), no installed Office style program (apparently Microsoft wants you to buy their on-line things now; I may try that or just see if I can outright purchase what I need - after all, beyond Word and Excel, what do I truly use?) and the whole general set up  of the start and opening page (which, regrettably, is exactly what I am having to deal with at work as well.  I do not like it one bit).  It even has all four arrows in place of the three plus the missing down key I currently use.

But those are probably things that can be worked out.  The screen is huge.  The speed at which the thing starts up is amazing (to me, anyway).  The unit itself is remarkably light - no Airbook to be sure, but certainly a huge difference from my current unit.

What a pleasant and geniuine surprise - and what a joy to know that I can go into the new year armed with a new tool to write with.  I had better make sure my writing is equally up to snuff.

Thursday, December 25, 2014

Merry Christmas 2014

"Do not be afraid, for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which will be to all people. For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.  And this will be a sign to you:  You will find a Babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manager.
      And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying:  "Glory to God in the highest, And on earth peace, goodwill towards men!"  - Luke 2:  10-14

Nollick ghennal erriu! (Merry Christmas!)

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Speed and Void

Swept along by speed of time, I suddenly find myself at Christmas.

How did this happen?  Surely the year cannot be so far spent already?  It hardly seems like any time has passed at all - and certainly not enough to legitimize the end of the year being here.  There was so much I had left to do this year that did not get accomplished.  Instead, so much got buried and lost by tasks that mean little more than paying to exist.

This is one of the parts of life that saddens me the most, I suppose:  the realization that I have spent so much of my time laboring (almost seventeen years by my count) for something that I have nothing to show for except a collection of things and the house that I live in.  Most of that labor has not resulting in anything of lasting value or in the sorts of changes that one can look back and point to: documents and signatures are hardly the sorts of things that pass the test of time - or matter.

This is the most depressing part of days like today, where the speed of life catches up with one and end of the year makes one realize how quickly it flies:  the fact that little of it truly seems to have mattered.  And this is where staring down the road of the future makes things even less exciting: can I imagine doing another twenty years of this for the privilege of "retirement"?

I crave - oh, how I crave - to do something with meaning, something of lasting value.  Something that one can say with pride "I did that - and look at the difference it made".  Something that matters.

Something that will not leave me at the end of the year looking back and saying "Is that it?  I was hoping for something more."

Monday, December 22, 2014

Points of Despair

Occasionally I reach the point when I despair of parts of my life.  Not all parts, mind you - in lots of ways a lot of things seem to be going as well as they ever have right now.  Some of the semi-important ones actually, which is always a good thing.

But somehow there always seem to be the outliers.  And sometimes they are very important.

What does one do in such situations?  Especially when they are some of the critical things of life?

I have tried various approaches:  pretending that I could just work around those particular areas.  Wandering off into my imagination to find worlds where such problems did not exist.  Gritting my teeth and attempting to just work through it.  Trying to be optimistic that things were going to change and get better.

The reality, of course, is that none of these approaches will actually work.  Why?  Because the fail to deal with the underlying problem (the "root cause", as we so often call them at work).  So the solution would seem fairly easy, right?  Just deal with the root cause.

So why can I not do that?

Some of them, of course, are circumstances outside of my control where I can only partially address causes but perhaps not the main cause - for example, I can be the best worker in the world and do what I can, but my ability to get promoted or get another job ultimately rest on factors that I cannot control.

But some of them remain fully within my control.  Yet I fail to address them.  Why?

Fear?  Fear of what?  Certainly nothing I am going to confront is anything close to causing my death.  Fear of discomfort then?  Yes, perhaps that - but is discomfort any worse than the un-comfort I feel now?

The fact remains that something needs to be done.  The clarity and flowing water that is moving through some parts of my life is only exposing the remaining stones more clearly.

Friday, December 19, 2014

Winter's Roar

Hail and lightning pound
the roof, as a cold front stalks
around my warm bed.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

A Request

Not a deep post today.  I'd ask that you do me a favor.

My friend G of GPS Music (he has posted here from time to time) had an actual tragedy in his life this week:  his wife of 4 years M, his high school sweetheart, passed away in her sleep last night.  She had been suffering from fibomyalgia and a number of other health conditions but this still was apparently a surprise as she was my age - far too young to pass.  She leaves behind her own three sons as well as her five step children and her husband, himself suffering from a rare disease that impacts his mobility.  Her position in heaven is assured; her family will still grieve.

I never know what to say in these situations.  "I'm sorry" or "I'll pray" sometimes seem as contrite as they do the thing you need to say.  Often there is little you can actually do for the people involved.  So I would ask that you do something in the name of the people involved.

My favor?  Today just go do one unmerited, unasked for, generous deed.  Could be something you always do but just were not going to today.  Could be something you might never do.  Could be something you have never thought of doing before.  That is okay - it does not matter what, it just matters that it gets done.

Thank you in advance for honoring M and G.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Review Time

Time for the annual reviews.

Never a pleasant process and one that I always dread to some extent.  Our form is certainly more user friendly this year and far less difficult to complete, but there is still is the inevitable sense of slight dread that comes over one when completing the review of an entire year in a relatively small amount of pages.

As part of the process I referred back to my 2013 review to see my objectives for last year.  And found that I could not look at it.

Seeing that review - seeing those words - sent me back to last year, really the last five years.  All the old feelings came up again:  the lack of empowerment, the constant sense of being unsupported,   The words echo back from the paper:  "TB is not this.  TB did not do this.  TB did everything but  it was simply not enough to move ahead.  Ultimately, TB failed to show the proper deference to me"

TB, shut up and accept your lot.

I could not look at it again.  I started to, got about two sentences in, and then put it aside.  That represents such a blot on my life, such an aberration of what I have come to experience from all my other managers, that I chose to put it down and away.

In a nutshell, the review represents everything that I feel like I fight against sometimes.  Expectations without directions.  Targets without definition.  Vague promises about will happen with belief that they will be backed up or acted upon. The proclamation that we are a merit based system but the reality that we are system too often based on how you make me feel as a superior.  And the reality that all the effort in the world will not move the needle for many people.

In other words, it represents an unhealthy work situation.

Perhaps, just perhaps, it is time to seriously reconsider my options.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Going to Katsuura

So I have set at least one goal for 2016:  going to Katsuura.

Katsuura is a both a place (I think) in Japan as well as the annual training lead by the headmaster of my order. It is held for two to three weeks in Japan.  And I want to go.

Perhaps need to go is a little more accurate.  The reality is this:  no matter how hard I train, the chances I will ever travel to throw worldwide are, well, minimal.  Katsuura is something that is within my power to do.

Training all day.  For two weeks.  Who is not going to get better and more focused doing that?

But it requires a fair amount of planning.  These things just do not happen overnight, of course.  Plane fare alone will be close to $1000.  And then there is the actual training (from what I understand it is very reasonable, but it still has to be paid for).  And the time off from work, of course - 3 weeks at one time is a bit more than most people do.  

It can all be done, of course - but it starts with a commitment, a commitment that I am going to Katsuura in 2016. Once I say it - once I say it to others and believe it - then there is not reason that it cannot be so.  It merely becomes a game of numbers.

Ikimashoo!  Let's Go!

Monday, December 15, 2014

On Finishing

So I finished the manuscript of my latest book tonight.

It has been languishing since September, when I stopped work on it because it did not feel "right".  But it did not feel as not right as what I tried to type in November - it was not so much a painful experience as writing as it was I seemed to have reached a block.

But on Saturday I decided that it needed to be done.  So I sat down and did it.

It took surprisingly little time - a little over two hours.  The words that would not come for months suddenly flowed through my fingers like electricity.

In a way, I have to finish.  I have other ideas that I want to move on to, but I find that I cannot move on to the next.  It is as if the idea gets lodged in my head and it will not allow me to go forward unless I complete what I am working on.  Not a bad habit, really - it just sometimes seems annoying at the time, when you are ready to move on and cannot (which, actually, is one of my biggest issues:  not sticking with things long enough to truly succeed).

Just because I am finished does not mean that I am done, of course:  there is still a lot of editing to be done (a great deal probably, since this essentially written in two different time frames) with the catching of spelling errors and rough words - and then the fun part of course:  cover design.

But today I will be glad in the fact that finished is finished.  I can still hold to - and finish - things I start.

Friday, December 12, 2014

The Moment of Commitment

The moment of confusion when you throw yourself into something fully, not knowing precisely where it will lead.

It is an odd thing, commitment:  that moment before which the thing was not as and important and the moment after when the the thing is the most important thing in the world.  It can be a conscious deciding, a deliberative move of the mind which comes about after hours of agonizing thought.  It can also be a seemingly innocuous move, something which seems to almost be done on the spur of the moment.

Either way, the world looks completely different after the fact.  Events, people, even time - the stuff of life itself - takes on a new meaning.  No longer are there seemingly random events or things that just happen:  everything needs to be put into the matrix of the thing which has been committed to.  The world focuses down to doing anything which moves you one step closer.

The odd thing is that for most of us, I suspect the moment of commitment is kept as a vague event for something which we cannot fully imagine - because if we truly comprehended all that we would have to do, all that would be required of us, everything that would happen in the pursuit the thing, we would turn away in fright and terror.  Because the realization at that time - the commitment, the choices, the pain, the agony - become far too real while the end of the commitment - the achievement - becomes far too ethereal.

But make no mistake: the choice once made, whether planned or not fully thought out, will result in the same thing if stuck to and carried out:  achievement.  Achievement because the choice, the commitment, was made.


Thursday, December 11, 2014

The Pull System

At work we are trying to convert to a pull system.

A pull system, for those who do not know, is a principle of organizational management where a product or service is pulled through the system by the next step in the process until it reaches the final destination.  The push system, its opposite, is a principle whereby the current step pushes the product or service through its system to the next step.  The product or service keeps moving; it is just who does the movement that is the difference.

A push system - what I am typically used to - to me has the advantage of making sure the current step completes their actions before moving on.  This disadvantage, I suppose, is that one is kept waiting until the step is complete before moving on.

The pull system - which we are trying to convert to - seems to have some advantages:  the process can move more successfully as the next step needs the previous step to continue processing and rate limiting factors may be more easily identified.  However there is one issue that seems to be of concern to me, something I hate:  the loss of responsibility.

In the push system, the current process holder is 100% responsible for ensuring that everything is complete before moving it to the next step.  If something is not ready to go, it is the responsibility of the current holder to complete it. In the pull system, the next or even ultimate step is theoretically responsible for moving things to the next step. The current process holder will complete their task and simply wait for the next process holder to come and take it off of their plate.  Maybe they transfer it.  Maybe not.  And any failure to move things along becomes the fault of the "puller", who failed to ask the question.

It bothers me (and I find it to be inefficient in its current incarnation) because the view of everyone except the ultimate stopping point (my group, in this case) is that "I did my part.  I do not have to do anything more.  In fact, I may not even have to make the effort to bring it to you or correct errors.  It is your job to ask the questions and fix the gaps."

It seems, well, counter intuitive to the maintenance of a functional system.  People get separated even farther in silos of what I do and what somebody else does.  There is no longer any sense of process overall; instead, my world has organized itself into the slot I have to do.  In fact, I may not care if the whole thing gets done - after all, that's not my part or even my responsibility.

Which is okay, I suppose.  Just understand that instead of training individuals who work things to completion you are training individuals to work through there part and be done.  Good training for drones, not so good training for building independent and completion oriented leaders.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

A Hint of Despair

A hint of despair
haunts my dreams, a faint tremor
of darkest day's night

Tuesday, December 09, 2014

On Picking Up Where One Left Off

I picked up at a writing place I have not visited in 3 months.

It was a book I was working on, a book that seemed to be going not quite as well as I had hoped - the narrative did not seem to flow correctly or well and the characters seemed, well, wooden.  So I set it aside, thinking that I would get back to it in a little while.  And then a little while got longer

I tried to work on something else for Nanowrimo, but found that the genera of the book was not working out.  The simple reality is this:  I like to write - and believe I am good at writing - a certain kind of book, the parable.  That is how I think and how I seem to write.  Other forms just seem less fluid and more forced.

So last night I went back to the manuscript I had.  Re-reading it, I suddenly thought "This is not nearly as bad as I remember".  Sure, the characters were a little rough and the plot not nearly as well developed as I would of liked, but I did stop in the middle of writing it, after all.

Ironically it was Nighean Dhonn that decided me fully last night.  She sat at the table last night writing a starter story on what she would do if she was an eraser.  Her dedication to sitting at the table and writing in pencil made me question my own - after all, if she can write for half an hour surely I can.

Because I forgot the most basic rule of writing:  write.  Always.  Even if it seems terrible and even if you do not like the way that it sounds.  Just keep writing your way through it.  Because if you do not write, you simply will never get through the part that you do not like to a place where you do.

Monday, December 08, 2014

Goals and Change

"Goals allow you to control the direction of change in your favor." - Brian Tracy

After I read this yesterday, I buried it in the back of my mind, the place I keep quotes which pique my interest a bit but do not really seem like something I would write down or post.  It sat there all yesterday as I walked through the day, quietly percolating its way through my consciousness.  And then, when I needed a quote, it reappeared.

And made me think all the more.

I have written - perhaps more extensively than I had intended -  about goals, in general and specifically my own.  As I have said in times past, goals are somewhat difficult for me:  I either set too many or set them too high or I fail to set them at all.  And even when I do, it often feels as if they are in a sort of isolation from both other goals and the rest of my life.

But this quote puts them in a slightly different context.

Goals, at least per this quote, are not just things to set and do.  Goals are something which are addressing a need which is already present, a need to grapple with life - and specifically the changes of it.  Life is changing -sometimes it seems it is changing faster than ever.  But goals, suggests Tracy, allow us to channel that change somewhat, to move the needle in a direction where we are heading instead of being driven like a ship before the storm.

Goals can anchor us - they place us solidly in the things which we think are important and have merit in our lives, the things we believe we should be spending our lives on.  At the same time goals allow us to direct that change that we see around us:  if we are placed in a stream which is moving and flowing (which we all are), goals help us to move towards one channel or another.

I do not know that goals will instantly become easier for me to set for this coming year, as I always tend to struggle with them.  But thinking of them as controlling direction instead of mere endpoints will certainly change how I look at them.

Friday, December 05, 2014

A Mouse

A mouse was in the trap this morning.

We have had problems with mice in the garage for some weeks now.  The evidence of them started showing up:  gnawed items, droppings.  I initially sort of hoped they would go away but they did not so last week during Thanksgiving I cleaned everything out in the garage.  We saw one and  chased him out.

Then everything started appearing again.

I  had procured a rat trap initially.  I really was hoping that I did not have to use it because I would just rather that the mouse be happy and free - somewhere else.  I even tried an alternate sort of trap to no avail.

Last night I was at it again, going through and trying to pull things out from shelves.  I saw the mouse - even chased it from the comfortable nest it has made in the base of the refrigerator.  After 90 minutes of chasing The Ravishing Mrs. TB saw it run outside and away.  Hurray, hopefully.  I swept up and, as a bit of an afterthought, baited and left the trap out again.

This morning, it was used.

I am not sure if it was the same mouse.  I thought I had blocked the access points.  It saddens me - I hate the seemingly senseless death of animals -yet at the same time it was something that had to be done.  It was being destructive and with the quail and rabbits in their winter quarters, competition for food might have erupted - or worse.

I disposed of it, saddened.  Sometimes this is life and the things we have to do are not always the things we want to do.

Thursday, December 04, 2014

Feeling Holiness?

If I were holy,
would I think the thoughts I do?
Would it feel different than I feel now?

When I am in the middle of the day,
overwhelmed and scatterbrained,
what does holiness seem like then?

When I am at my low point,
energy deflated and tired and easily angered,
what does holiness seem like then?

Is holiness really something that we can feel?
And if it is not really a feeling,
what is it actual like?

Wednesday, December 03, 2014

Holiness

When did Christians stop taking holiness seriously?  Or more appropriately, when did I stop taking holiness seriously?

What does holiness look like?  I was reminded of this again in my reading of 2 John Chapter 2 today, where John talks about the holiness of God (and His righteousness, a similar term for the purposes of my musing).  Or perhaps a better question is what should holiness look like in us?

Holiness in God is fairly clear in Scripture - it is the utter lack of sin and the complete presence of righteousness in God, a thing which is likened to a blindingly pure light that no-one can look at.  But what does holiness look like for us humans, mucking around in the world that we live in?

Is it manifested in a stiff upper lip which will not engage in any way in the culture?  Is it manifested in living in a way that looks like a thousand years ago, eschewing any technology or anything that is modern?  Is it being so soft and yielding and a non-entity of which people say "That X, he's a pretty nice guy - pretty irrelevant for doing anything of substance, but a pretty nice guy."

Possibly - maybe - one can come up with a group of men and women of whom one could say are "holy" - but they are all religious folks:  John Paul II, Mother Theresa, John MacArthur to name a few.  But holiness in these cases always seems to be connected with a religious way of life (e.g. religion is your life) which is far removed from the way that most of us actually live.

So what does holiness look like in the life of the rest of us, the ones that have to live in the regular world?  And more importantly, where are the role models for those who are coming up in the faith?

Tuesday, December 02, 2014

The Body - Quote

Today's passage is taken from Chuck Colson's and Ellen Santilli Vaughn's 1991 book The Body:  Being Light in Darkness. The passage, when I read it this weekend, spoke to me:

"    What would it take to free today's church from its own Babylonian captivity - the twentieth-century enculturation we described earlier?  Some of the very same things that characterized the Reformers.
     First of all, it would require a commitment to the truth  - the One who says He is the ultimate reality - and from this a renewed passion for what God has propositionally revealed, His inerrant Word, and the orthodox confession of faith by which the truth has been preserved and pass through the centuries.
     It would mean an awakening to the fact that the church is the people of God and the church must be the church.  Away with consumer religion, the edifice complex, slick marketing plans, and syrupy sermons.  Equip the people of God with spiritual weapons so they may serve the living God of the world.
     It would mean a healthy fear of God.    No trivializing of the sacred, but a sense of living in the day-to-day, hour-to-hour, minute-to-minute presence of the holy, majestic God.
     It would mean the realization that God is sovereign over all and we must, therefore, have a biblically informed view of all life.
     It would demand a passion for the blazing scarlet ribbon running through the whole of Scripture:  A commitment to be agents of God's justice in society at large and to see His whole world from the perspective of His truth.
     It would require us to have Luther's courage, to declare our independence from the culture and to take our stand.  To let truth infiltrate every area of life, to let God's righteousness roll down on societal structures and the people who live within them.
    And what if we did all this?.....The world would once again be turned upside down." (pages 266-267, italics author's)

Monday, December 01, 2014

The Last Big Old Year Push

The last great press into the New Year.

A goal of sorts for myself:  I would like to take the last two weeks of the month off.  In order to do this, I will have to compress all of my work into 15 days.  It is a lot - I already made the list before I left for Thanksgiving, and of that time I have two days which will be consumed with an outside visitor.

15 days.   Can I do it?

I am not alone, of course.  I have a ready team of associates that are more than able to assist me (we all win if we get this done now) so it should certainly not be impossible.  And there is even a sense across my place of business that this thing can get done - because again, we all benefit if it does.

It is interesting to me because it is the first time in a while I have the sense of saying that, at least for work, there is a fixed time point after which I can officially say "I am done for the year".   My projects should be taken care, work put into the background for a two week period where I do not have to worry about what might happen while I am away or what will be waiting for me when I return.  In other words, I have the potential to come back into the New Year with a complete sense of closure from the previous year.

And how awesome would that be?