Saturday, January 31, 2015

Faith in Those Above You at Work

The period of the last 11 months has been an unsettling one.  Over this course of time my company underwent a round of layoffs (the second in its history) and I will have ended up reporting to four (almost five) different people during that time.

By way of background, I have held my current position or a version of it for twelve years - five different companies, same title.  As you might imagine, it can become a little frustrating to be at the same level for a very long time, especially when you find yourself (or at least you think you find yourself) undertaking greater levels of responsibility while you find yourself continuing at the same level (and peers from previous lives are moving on).  The prize, it seems, is always out of reach, an ill-defined promised land which is theory reachable but for which there are no maps or guides.

Certainly this has been my longest series of frustration due to my time here (almost six years) with no advancement.  Originally, of course, one believes that it is due to not trying hard enough so one tries harder and asks for direction.  Then, especially if one finds that they are stymied, they think (perhaps) this is due to their manager and so they look to others to help them.

And when their manager changes, they look to the new person as the savior of the situation.

Four times now in the past 11 months as I have revolved from person to person I have gone to them in faith and hope that this was the person that was going to rectify the situation.  This was the person that was going to see - indeed, had seen - what I had done and what I was doing and would (finally) be the one to make the change (because, of course, you cannot make such a change at your place of employment.  It has to come from above you).

Four times I have tried this.  And four times I have been disappointed.

I have been trying to digest this particular set of circumstances after my most recent incident, even as recently as yesterday when I thought I was doing what I needed to be doing only to see holes shot in my theory - things I did seemed to be glossed over while things I did not know I was working on apparently I had not thought of.  It can leave one drained and exhausted, chasing a goal that is always moving farther away and dependent on someone else.

And the thought occurred to me, "Where are you putting your faith?"

The instant, almost immediate reaction was "In others".  Which is true.  Ultimately this is where I have been dropping my confidence anchor in moving forward:  in those above me.  Time after time now I have made the trek to their offices and stated my cases, secretly (or perhaps not so secretly) with the hope that this would be the time that someone would intervene on my behalf.  But strangely, every time my confidence has been disappointed.

I cannot speculate on the reason for this.  I wish I could - would it not be nice to have a reason that did not revolve around my apparent failure to fulfill the conditions? - but that would be as fruitless as it would be useless.  We cannot control the decision and actions of others, no matter how much we attempt to hope they will assist us.

The answer that came back was that I was putting my trust in man rather than God.

I know to some this will seem to be one of two kinds of answers.  To one group of people this will simply be a cop-out:  "You are using your lack of ability and drive and deliberately pushing it somewhere else".  That could be true, and I have tried (and will continue to try) to review my actions on how I can be better.

To another group of people putting my trust in God is just a symbol of putting my trust in luck or the universe, anything outside of my control and hoping for the best.  To these I can only say if that is your belief, that is your belief.  If you do not believe in God anyway my struggles in this area would no more convince you than my being healed of something.

But for me, this was the answer that came back.  I am putting my trust, my faith, in these individuals to move my case forward for me.  And not just blind trust - active trust, looking to their every move and gesture in hopes that they would give a symbol of what going on or a sign that there was about to be a change.  Never my faith in God, that 1)  He was in control of the situation; and 2)  that I would be better working as if He was my manager and was in the position to move things forward (which, if you look in Scripture, He actually talks about.  See Colossians 3:23-24).

What does that look like?  I am not fully sure.  I think it involves not constantly looking to someone else to change my position and hoping that they will do it but working knowing that God is constantly watching it.  Certainly it involves putting the hope that someone will change it over towards God.

Does it mean that something will change?  I have absolutely no proof of that - and after 12 years, I have almost given up hope that it will.  I am conscious of the fact that I am entering the age range where it is cheaper to find someone younger to do my job than it is to retain me, and the potential reality is that I could go another 15-20 years without a change.  Which, to be honest, is a hard thought to bear.

But that does not change the underlying thought, that I am putting my hope and faith in the wrong place.

I have an opportunity to test this theory coming up:  I will have the next new boss arrive in two weeks.  My initial reaction would have been to take the hope and faith I had put somewhere else and put it onto this new person, to hope that this person will finally do something to change my situation.

But this time I will not do that.  I will, certainly, be professional and courteous and seek to perform as they ask.  But I will consciously not put a shred of faith or hope that they can or will change my position.

And we will see if a change in the placement of that hope and faith will make the difference.

Friday, January 30, 2015

Of Mead and Cheese

Last night after dinner I had an after dinner repast of mead and cheese.  It was somewhat similar, I suppose, to after dinner wine and cheese plates being had in scattered places across the globe.

The difference was that I made mine.

The mead was a four month old Lavender Rosemary blend that I have had in my refrigerator, a prize for a Highland Games event for which my attendance got delayed until this year.  The cheese is the remnant of a Castle Blue that never developed the blue veins which are characteristic of blue cheese but has been chopped down as other sorts of molds (not nearly as tasty) have tried to taken root.

There are much better meads of course, and there are blue cheeses that actually have blue in them, not just in the name.  But what made these remarkable is that they were mine.

I procured the raw materials.  I brewed or made them.  And now I get to enjoy them.

There is always more I could do, of course.  Mead comes from honey, which means if you really wanted to secure your supply line, I should get bees (this may be a next year project).  Cheese derives from milk, so one needs a milk supply along the same lines (alas, this will probably never happen).  Pickles come from vegetables and vinegar (vegetables I can sort of grow; vinegar -  I do not know - perhaps this is a project?).  And so on.a

But for one moment was nice to simply take what had been done and enjoy it, secure in the knowledge that for one moment, for these two items, I could make and enjoy them without having to procure them from somewhere else.

In fact, it was one of the greatest feelings in the world.

Thursday, January 29, 2015

The Worst and Most Exquisite Moment

I can recognize the signs.

I am tired.  I know that.  It is a combination of the fact that I am not sleeping through the night (never seem to anymore during the week) and the fact that I am not getting enough of the sleep that I should be getting (because my list of things to do is always there and I do not want to completely give up on doing them).

And then I am uncommunicative.  A great deal at home of course, but also at work.  There should be something to say but I really seem to have nothing to say - instead, I spend time brooding over issues that seem just beyond the horizon of the people I am around.

Finally - and this is the clincher, even if it is a somewhat new discovery - I wake up in the morning with no sense of anything other than emptiness and the realization that today is just another day with a long list of things to do.  Sometimes - like today - it is verging on tears as I consider the upcoming events.

No sleep, no communication, sense of emptiness, no real move towards the future, leaky eyes  - congratulations, I am either extremely discouraged - or depressed.

Why, one might ask.  Legitimate question, I suppose.  Larger task list growing at work plus the official notification of a new reporting structure with all of the uncertainty that such things bring.  Splendidly slow traffic coming to and from work.  And the sense that after doing all I need to do, there is very little time to do that which I want to do, which sends me back to my list of goals and makes me ask "Did I over set again?"

This is  usually the worst time, the onset of despair.  It is that time where I feel that there is simply no way out, that no matter what I do or how much effort I dedicate there is no way (that I can see) that things move forward or get better.  The thing that always seems to increase the feeling is that this is a state that I face largely on my own:  I cannot ask others to bear the burdens of largely my own making and responsibility - and they have burdens of their own to bear.

This will pass, of course.  It always does.  Something small will happen or something will turn in my favor or I will even get a good night's sleep and things will be much better with the world.  And that is how it should be:  in the course of human lives the problems I face are very minor indeed and hardly those of great suffering.

But this is always the worst and most exquisite moment of pain:  to know that the thing is coming and, for a short time, to feel its on-rush with the despair of feeling it cannot be resolved.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015


Since we are discussing the difference in concept,

- Permanence or duration;
- the ability to withstand hardship or adversity; especially ability to sustain a prolonged stressful effort or activity;
- the act or instance of enduing or suffering.

Looking at this definition it just sounds like a pretty grim thing, does it not?  Withstand, hardship, stressful effort, suffering.  Hardly the sort of thing that typically strikes one as "something I should be doing more of."

There are good ways that the term is used of course, especially in the pursuit of physical activities - I need to run farther so I can gain the ability to endure long periods of physical labor, for example.  And that is a fine use of the word and to some extent belies the concept of not enduring as a choice - as are the concept of enduring values or legacies (except when one puts it in the concept of withstanding hardship or adversity it becomes a bit more poignant).

Compare this to our discussion yesterday on Perseverance:

Perseverance: Continued effort to do or achieve something despite difficulties, failure, or opposition; the action or condition or an instance of persevering; steadfastness.

Note the difference:  trying to achieve something versus withstanding something.  Perseverance is directed towards a goal or objective while endurance is simply withstanding the current set of circumstances with no sense that there is an other side there.

After this review, three items come to mind:

1)  People use the words interchangeably but they are not interchangeable.  We persevere to a goal; we endure a circumstance.

2)   We may grow deeper in circumstances that call for endurance but may never accomplish anything more than survival or existing as the definition of endurance is to persist, not achieve.

3)  Endurance may move us no closer to any of the things we want.

We need to seek situations and relationships where we persevere, not endure.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015


Perseverance: Continued effort to do or achieve something despite difficulties, failure, or opposition; the action or condition or an instance of persevering; steadfastness.

As I had mentioned here I had come up with a word for the year, one which I was going to put various places and use to inspire me in my actions for the year.  A second word, perseverance, came up as something I needed to work on during my review process.

Perseverance.  I suppose not a word that we hear a great deal any more - in fact, as I write this I am trying to think of recent usages of the word that I have heard and am drawing a series of blanks.  That I can think of, it is only used of in two contexts.

The first is the context of the first person, where they have made a decision to persevere through circumstances to reach a particular goal.  This is self-imposed perseverance, the decision of the individual to move forward despite difficulties, failures, or opposition (to quote a definition).

The second is the context of the third person, where perseverance is being asked for or expected of us by others.  In this scenario it is not we ourselves that have made the internal decision to persevere but rather it is a condition that someone else is imposing on us.  "You must persevere"  comes the request or statement "because X needs to be accomplished."

My question is simply this:  can one true be expected to persevere under such circumstances?

Continued effort to do or achieve comes from within, a decision made to move forward no matter what because the end result is worth whatever intervening difficulties must be faced.  This means that we clearly understand what we are trying to accomplish before we are doing it or while we become involved in doing it.  But continued effort, especially when suggested or demanded by another party for a goal which we have truly had no engagement in, becomes less of an activity in moving forward despite obstacles and more of an effort of simply enduring a situation until we arrive.

The difference?  In the first circumstance there is a sense of accomplishment when the thing is achieved, in the second merely a sense of having made it - because quite often the thing which was being achieved that comes from someone else is not a thing that brings a sense of reward or arriving but one more activity that has to be done.

The trick, I suppose, is to find more things that one decides to persevere in that one can directly draw a relationship and benefit from.  If one is clever, one can find the direct linkage in most things we become involved in - somehow. It is teasing out that thing which is to be endured for that becomes the effort and constantly keeping that in the foresight of our activities.

Which causes me to close on a warning note to those who lead others:  be most careful when you ask others to persevere in causes or efforts not primarily their own.  You will find one of two results:  there will either be a grudging acceptance and endurance which brings no joy but only a constant struggle to stay enthused or a discovery of deep character reserves and the need to persevere in that which truly matters to them - which will often be followed by them following those things that matter.

Monday, January 26, 2015

Threading the Needle: On Management Styles

Trying to lead or manage under someone who leads or manages differently than you is a difficult thing.

My style - if I have a style - is that of "primus inter pares", or first among equals.  I make certain assumptions for the groups I lead:

1)  They are adults.
2)  At some level, they want to be there.
3)  They are capable to doing what they are asked to do.

Yes, I understand that this is a luxury to some extent - not everyone has educated people that they trust - but I am (usually) fortunate in this regard.

My way is simply to make sure they know what to do and let them go do it.  I will monitor from time to time and they are free to ask questions, but that is about all the oversight I typically give.  I have my own expectations to fulfill and tasks to do.

Unfortunately, this is not everyone's style.  In some cases their style is much more daily interactive and managed.  It is not wrong, but it is certainly different that how I usually go about things.  So my challenge is to meet it.

Well, to be fair, the challenge is really to meet the expectations that I have been given.  It is presumed or expected that this is the way to to this.

The problem?  That style works in some cases but not all - and when it does not, it goes wrong badly.  What seems like close oversight to some seems like micro-management to those who are under such a system:  every action is spelled out for them, every item to be done is carefully monitored and when not completed, a little more than "Oops, did not get done today" is expressed.

Where does it lead?  In my experience, it leads to people who become driven but not engaged, who learn to only do what is given to them lest they do the wrong thing out of turn.  It does not lead to individuals who think for themselves and take proactive actions - because those actions may be outside the realm of what they are supposed to do and it simply does not become worth it.

So here is my challenge:  to get the results that are expected of me while leading in such a way that I maintain the intellectual integrity and willpower of those who report to me - in other words, lead by example and gentle management while getting the results of someone that regulates tasks a great deal.

It will be hard - but when I think of managing the other way all I come up with with revulsion and anger and memories of my experience being managed that way, experiences that convince me that I can never do that to someone else.and effectively lead them the way I feel such things should be done.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Making Cheese: English Farmhouse

This weekend I made English Farmhouse Cheese.  It is a semi-firm fresh cheese, made to be eaten with a couple of weeks of manufacture:

Here are the ingredients and equipment:  1 gallon of whole milk, rennet, mesophilic bacteria, measuring cup, cutting knife, molds, calcium chloride, thermometer, measuring spoon, and large pot.

This is my cheese making bible.  I will probably never get through every cheese in here - although like everything else, I am always convinced I may need "one more book...

First the milk gets heated - in this case to 90 F and then the bacteria is added.  Temperature is very important in cheese making with some bacteria (mesophilic) are used at  less than 100 F and others (Thermophilic) at above 100 F.  It all depends on what you are making.

After five minutes of rehydration the bacteria is stirred in.

Next rennet and calcium chloride is added.  Rennet is an enzyme (traditionally from calves' stomachs but now also from plants) that coagulates the milk while calcium chloride helps with firming up the curd. They are dissolved in a 1/4 cup of water:.

Now we wait for 75 minutes.  At the end of this time the bacteria has been at work turning lactose into cheese while the rennet is making things firm.  I have tilted the pot so you can see that it is no longer liquid:

Meanwhile our cutting knife, molds, and draining container have been sitting in a sterilization solution.  We will use them now:

I now perform a cut to see if there is a "clean break"  i.e. if the curds are sufficiently firm to cut.  In this case they are, but I could wait longer if I have to.

In this case we are good, so we continue by cutting all the curd, first left and right and then at a slant to break up everything.  This allows the whey to drain more quickly.

Now the fun begins!  Using a skimmer, I begin ladling curd into the molds, allowing the whey to drain off. 

Filled to the top:

And now we wait.  The weight of the curds will slowly press the whey (mostly water, but some protein) out of the curds. This is a picture of the whey flowing off of the cutting board the molds are on.

After a while we need to drain the whey and refill the molds with the rest of the curd.

More waiting.  These is about 6 hours in.  You can see the curd slowly reducing as the whey drains out and the curds knit together:

This morning (approximately 20 hours later):

Now one has to remove the cheese from the mold.  I will be honest:  for me, this is a very difficult thing to accomplish with this cheese.  I have not yet (after 3 years) gotten the touch.  The cheese on the right is how things should look; the cheese on the left is how things actually look:

(Worry not, the flavor is not affected by appearance!)

Final step: Salt, both for preservation and flavor:

And here is the finished product, ready for storage in the refrigerator (no aging for this one; it typically keeps for 2-3 weeks).  It is delightful with crackers or just by itself.

This cheese is a favorite to make both because everyone loves it and it is not that extensive in terms of time: total time (outside of waiting) is about 2 hours to prepare, stir, ladle, process, and finish.  It can easily be started in the morning as I did and managed throughout the day with other activities.  Additionally, I get close to a gallon of whey.  In the old days whey was actually a drink of its own, now it is usually disposed of or fed to livestock or dried and powdered for nutritional supplements.  I just drink mine.

I enjoy making cheese.  It may not always come out precisely right, but I have never had one that was completely inedible.

Friday, January 23, 2015

A Breather

So how did the week end  up?

On the whole, okay.  In spite of the rather tumultuous week it has been personally (I do not know about you, but I am pretty much exhausted!)  I am feeling in a pretty okay place today.  I got some sleep last night, which is always helpful, and my cold/allergies seem to have calmed down to a dull roar.

One thing I made a point of doing last night (which I am not always good at) was making sure that I gave myself the maximum time to rest.  Other than dinner and a little iaijutsu (because one should practice iai every day)  my evening pretty much consisted of reading and petting rabbits, which is a fine was to spend any evening.

One piece of good news we found out yesterday is that we are getting a bonus, which is almost the full amount that we could get.  That is a welcome piece of news (and relief) in a week that otherwise sort of went sideways.  We will ferret away most of it but there a couple of things that need doing before then.  It certainly beats a poke in the eye with a sharp stick (or worse, no bonus or not having a job at all).

For those of you that are new, thanks for sticking with me.  I would like to say that this is not the norm, but sadly I think it more or less is:  long periods of angst occasionally (and hopefully) punctuated by small points of wisdom and useful knowledge.

It looks like rain and cold this weekend so I am a little at a loss what I will work on around here.  We have gotten over an inches of rain in the last 36 hours so the chances of doing much of anything is out of the question (you would think I would welcome the chance to stay indoors).  I see The Ravishing Mrs. TB bought me a gallon of whole milk so maybe there is some cheese in my future.

A Happy (and much deserved)  Friday everyone!

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Did I Ask You?

Last night was not an easy night.  I think I maxed out at two hours of sleep.

Post review, of course.  Wrestling with the outcomes - about what I expected, but still a disappointment.

But between my fits of cold anger and rage and muttering under my breath and tossing and turning - so much so that I eventually moved out to the couch so others could sleep - I came upon a fact I had not really anticipated finding:  maybe this is really what I meant to do.

Which made me all the angrier.

It simply cannot be, I argued to God.  This cannot be it.  I have so many other things I like to do, that I am interested in, that I am sure would be a great deal more useful - and useful to You - than what I do now.  Good heavens, I would much rather be a writer, as I would have much rather have been a pastor or even a farmer or sheepherder or maybe even a teacher of history.  I really much enjoy those things better than what I do now.  This cannot be the thing that serves You best.

But I am here, 16 years into an industry I never anticipated or trained for, 13 years into a career field, and 12 years into holding the same title with no progress.  Surely this is not it.

And then (I suspect somewhere around 0230 or so, between the writhing and the muttering) the answer popped into my head "Did I ever ask you to do any of that?"

Well, no, but...

"Did I ever ask you to do any of that? I mean, it is great that you enjoy so much of my Creation and I am appreciative, but I do not recall ever asking you to make a career of writing or pastoring or herding sheep or teaching history or any of the thirty things I know you are interested in.  That does not mean I might never ask you to do them as a career somewhere, it is just that I have not asked you to do them now."

But, I mean, this...You know I this is not my dream.  You know that I have little interest in this, that my ability to move forward is in practice quite limited, and that the idea of doing this for another 20 years depresses me beyond end, right?

"I know all that.  But you will have to trust Me that this is where You serve best right now - and by now it means until I need you somewhere else, which could mean the r est of your life.   I do not mean this to depress you but you are soldier in My army, not the other way around."

So everything else then?

"That certainly does not mean that you should do those things or even not do new things that interest you.  What you must not do is confuse these things  - call them hobbies or interests if you like - with the fact that I have put you in a certain place and I expect you to excel in that place as My witness until such time as I let you know that it is time to move on.  It is like Iaijustu."

Iai, Lord?

"You like Iaijutsu.  You have done it for almost six years and practice almost every day.  You like it so much that last year you got your Shoden Menkyo in it.  And I am glad you like it.  But you would never confuse your love and practice of Iai with the idea that you should suddenly become a samurai, would you?"


"The same logic applies.  I want you to be well rounded - but I do not want you to confuse trifles with the main things.  When you are done with what I need you to do there, I will let you know."

I certainly did not sleep any better after the conversation.  I writhed back and forth some more, swearing for different reasons now - "I do not want to give up X as a dream.  I need to believe that there is something beyond what I do now.  I need to believe in - or at least hope for - something I like" - but like many other things I have found that once God has said what He needs to say, He does not really like to continue in the argument.

Am I fully adjusted to this thought?  I do not believe so.  It is hard to simply look at all of this and accept "This is what I need to do now - and not grumbling or angrily or with clenched teeth but willingly, even cheerfully when one's heart hardly seems to be in it.

But then again, I do not know this was ever really my argument to make.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015


Today is review day.

I have come to hate reviews.  I do not know that I always did.  The concept of a review, for those of you that have not spent time recently in corporate America, has changed a great deal from when even I entered it.  Once upon a time they were primarily measures of how you had done in the previous year.  You would list how you think you did, your boss would list how you think you did, you would get one or two "Did great at" and one or two "Need to improve on", you would discuss what (if any) your increase was for the year, and you both carry on about your business.

No more.

Now reviews are a vehicle for a whole range of things.  Not just how you did, but how others perceive you did - where you friendly, co-operative, team oriented, goal meeting.  Did you meet the goals that management set for you last year.  And wait - here are the goals that management will set for you this year.  And gathering all the ratings together, this is how you did and this is what more we want from you next year.  And this is your increase for the year.  Sign here acknowledging that you have received the review (even if you do or do not agree with it) and carry on.

I will admit that the last five years have been a tough row to hoe for reviews - so much of the process listed above seems to depend not only on how you actually did but how your boss views you and myself and my former boss definitely had differences - but I have come to value the process a lot less than I used to. Oddly enough, I think the major reason this has changed for me is a combination of goal setting and "ratings".

The goal setting is has become a concern because it becomes the point in the sand that your performance is tied to, regardless of actual events. Even if things change, even if there is a sudden departure from the schedule and you end up doing five other things, it often seems that such efforts have become expected now - and you still did not accomplish your original goals and so you did not do what you should have.

The other part, ratings, is a part that can break you in two ways.  There are various rating systems - three category, five category, numeric, letter, work based - but they all seem to have one problem: the reality of the reward is less than the rating.  If the rating is "high" but the reward is average is takes away from the urge to continue to push - after all, average reward for extra effort becomes difficult to sell after some period.

The other reason is the reward ratings are almost never tied to how to accomplish them - for examples, if I want move from "mediocre" to "extremely competent" the road for what this looks like is never spelled out on the form - and even then, it is subject to the vagaries of corporate politics that can make the efforts of one ordinary and the efforts of another extraordinary, based on how they are viewed.

Sigh.  But this is the world I work in.  So I will screw on my courage and my thick skin suit and hope, perhaps this year, that a meaningful review emerges instead of the seeming exercises in futility of so many years past.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Pausing for a Breath

The concept of rushing overtook me at work yesterday.

It does not  help that I have been feeling a little bit out of things - a sinus infection that is hanging on longer than it should.  That tends to make me not quite move at full speed.

But a thought has been nagging at me, a thought that has come to fruition  both in terms of doing too much and rushing through what I do, one of those types that are life changing if you will simply allow yourself to sit and think about them.

What am I doing? And why am I doing it?

I have commented before that I always seem to be in a rush, going from here to there doing this activity and that, driven by the sense that I have a great deal to do and only a limited time to do in.  So fair question:  where did  that concept come from?

If I am honest, it is an old one, driven both the fact that I feel like I have certain gifts and talents that I am not using to my fullest (and should be, I am accountable for them) and the fact that I although I have to do something now that I do not particularly care for I also have the activities that I want to do and that if I do not do these, I will simply lose my soul and become one of "them", an automaton that simply goes through life working with little expectations of anything else.

Fair enough.  Question One;  where does this sense of having to use your abilities - of, if we could put a phrase in my mouth, "being destined", come from?

I am not sure.  It is not something that anyone else put there for me, some sense of "you are great and gifted and should be doing great things".  That is just an assumption on my part, an assumption that the things I was given were not to be wasted.  I have tried, in the past, to exercise said gifts but they have never led to anything like that:  three times trying to register for the pastorate went nowhere as did an attempt to become a teacher/elder; teaching at a college level was fun but financial unsustainable; writing has made me no money (although I impact people's lives, to be fair); and my one "big risk", the Firm, the thing that was going to break me into the ranks of the wealthy and allow me to do real good and what I wanted, ended up an abysmal failure (for myself, at least).  In other words, trying to live out this believed "calling" of greatness has not been, on the whole, successful.  But maybe it was never meant to be.

Question Two:  If you do not do these activities you speak of and only focus on a few things, you will lose your soul.

This one is hard for me to combat. If I do not do something, I feel myself becoming an automaton with a fixed and tepid life: get up, consume my day in work, drive home, do a couple things, and then go to sleep.  Forever.  The work is beige, my life is beige, a sort of pale color that is bland and does nothing.

But (as Jambaloney pointed out) does setting many things out to do only to have most of them not done make your life better or worse (my words, not his)?  Or do you simply create more stress by setting up these goals which you will simply never attain.

In a way, it made me very sad when I considered all of this last night, quietly sad.  In a sense it felt like surrendering to the inevitability of the fact that life, in all of its tedious dreariness, would win and I would lose.  That I truly was on the verge of becoming the cog in the machine.

But are you happy with things as they are?  This was the response that I had to myself.  Always rushing, always trying to do things  yet never really doing any of them because you are too exhausted or too mentally stretched to do any of them and never really enjoying the things that you are doing because you always have to move on to the next thing?

There is no margin in my life, no ability to move from a task to another task slowly or even to stop and dwell on a particular thing.  It is always rushing here and there, doing this and doing that because I should be doing more because I am responsible to be doing more.

But am I?

Monday, January 19, 2015

On Holidays and Rushing

Today is a not a rush day.
It is a holiday for some, at least for schools and government offices.  Not for us, so off to work I will have to go.  But since school and government are not there, the commute will be a lot less difficult.

I suppose I could have rushed in early this morning - after all, with no school there is no requirement for me to drop off Nighean Bhean and Nighean Dhonn and I could have got to work very early indeed, ready to catch up on all kinds of things.

But why, really?

The reality is that the work will be there regardless of when I show.  And I am being reminded again - painfully - that it is not the volume of things that you do but what you do that people perceive is important that makes the difference.  Which sets up a sort of marvelous comparison on a day such as today, do you not think?  Here on a day when a lot of people are not working the idea of putting in a significant effort when I can is not a matter of particular importance to me.

Rushing - that is a word that seems to be coming up for me a great deal these days, whether from a chance comment which lead to a thought process or realizing that rushing denies me the very joy of the activities that I like to do to even looking at the list of things I compiled for the year and seeing that the only way to accomplish all of them is to rush through everything.  That does not really seem to be the quite right way to live.

True at work too, oddly enough - the concept of multi-tasking (look, you will find it on most any job description these days) has taken root to the point that finding the time and concentration to move from one task to another, even if done completely, is seen more often as a liability than a skill.

Where does this all lead?  I am not sure.  Certainly I cannot just slow down in my life at work.  I can more effectively do this in my personal life - but with that comes the acceptance of the fact that I will seem (perhaps initially) to accomplish less.

But I have to believe that accomplishing less but accomplishing more deeply is more to be desired than rushing to do the surface of too many things.

Sunday, January 18, 2015

On Being Silent

I am not, by nature an apologist in the ancient and early sense of the word, a defender of a viewpoint or subject.  This has bothered me from time to time as I feel like I should be a better one than I am for any of the ideas or philosophies I hold, whether, religious, political, or even why I do what I do.  It is not as if I am smart enough (I think I am) nor that I cannot learn enough about something in order to make a cogent argument (I have picked up any number of things from scratch and learned a great deal about them).  So why is it?

One, I think, is that I am simply an introvert and on the whole do not enjoy that amount of exposure to people.  A second is I do not necessarily have that competitive drive to win - I do have a competitive drive to not be wrong and will go to great extents to prove my points, but only if I think I have not been quoted correctly or have been misconstrued.

A third - and perhaps most telling - is that most of what passes for apologetics in any field is not so much cogent arguments and responses but anger and yelling, often with a large dollop of sneering or criticism if not belittling and intimidation.  I really do not like conflict between people, especially if it involves yelling and treatment of the other party and their opinion as having lesser or no value.  It makes me uncomfortable, uncomfortable to the point that I will leave the situation if I have a chance or just mentally and physically shut down if I cannot get away.

Why am I writing this today?  I do not have a definitive answer for that, except (I suppose) to voice my own reasoning for why I often do not seem to have an opinion on a lot of things.  It may not be that I do not have an opinion but rather that expressing that opinion will not do what it is supposed to do, either defend a point or engage in a conversation.  Instead, it will unleash a torrent which I am neither mentally nor spiritually willing or able to discuss or handle.  It is one reason that this blog is what it is, where I discuss neither politics nor philosophy nor religion (except my own personal struggles) but rather issues in my life and what I am trying (often brokenly and haphazardly)  to build:  when you are discussing yourself as the subject of the issues, I have found nothing but support.

I sometimes wonder if in fact more people are like me than what most people realize - individuals that have opinions (perhaps strong ones) but simply do not engage in arguments or even defense because the conversation becomes to uncomfortable, not by reason of the subject or the challenge but rather but rather by the treatment and the conflict. I long ago learned that just because someone does not speak on a matter does not mean that they do not have an opinion and that the stillest waters sometimes hide the deepest, most profound pools of wisdom and opinion.

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Changing the Animals

Saturday is changing the animals day.

Currently our lives are enriched by a guinea pig, three rabbits, the quail, a slightly psychotic parakeet, and The Mighty Syrah.  Every one of these, with the exception of The Mighty Syrah (behind whom I must pick up weekly as well) lives in some kind of dwelling which requires them to have their bedding changed out.  So every day, for the last 8 years, I have manned the litter changing barricades.

The mechanics of the change are not that difficult:  relocate the animal to a different location.  Pull out the trays/break down the living quarters.  Take the excess hay and scat (for the rabbits) and put it on the garden.  Dump the litter into the garbage.  Rinse off everything.  Reassemble and replace the litter.  Relocate the animals.  On average this activity takes me a little over an hour.

Sometimes this activity feels like a chore - but only if I let it.  The reality is that I really find that I enjoy this kind of activity.

It is working with animals, for one.  Even in our urban dwelling environment this is one of the few touchstones I have with the sort of life I would actually like to life.

It is rewarding.  It is an activity that has a beginning, middle and end.  I get to take the output from the rabbits and turn it over to my garden.  When I am done I can actually point to something that was accomplished and that improves the lives of something.

And it is the sort of work that, in an odd way, I like to do - the sort of work that engages the hands and yet allows the mind to wander and think even as it is a certain level of activity.  I remember this feeling from the days when I first entered my industry where I was in manufacturing:  I had to think of nothing but what I was doing and getting that right.  No concerns about anything political or social or financial.  Just honest work.  It is the sort of thing I imagine that craftsmen enjoy.

The only time I do not enjoy changing the litter is when I am in a hurry or rushed.  Then it becomes a chore, something I have to do, something that is keeping me from doing something else.  It is at moments like that I need to stop, remember what I really doing, and then readjust.

In so many ways I wish my life could reflect this simple pattern of working on the simple things that have useful outputs that I can see and feel.

Friday, January 16, 2015

Thursday, January 15, 2015

No, I Do Not Want To Talk About My Day

One of the interesting side effects of working my current line of work is that it makes me almost completely uncommunicative when I get home at night.

I am by nature an introvert.  I do not reveal in or particularly enjoy large groups of people (not really if I have to and certainly not for entertainment or recreational purposes).  I would be just as happy to spend large parts of my life alone or with small groups of people whom I truly enjoy spending my time with.  But the reality is that we all have to work and for most of us, that means working in groups of people.

And so I am forced to be an extrovert.  It is not so much of a stretch as it might initially appear - after all, I am also a latent exhibitionist who loves attention -and so my days are filled with a steady stream of people coming and going and me, responding to questions and having opinions and occasionally giving advice and doing my best to bear the load by entertaining wherever I can (as a side note, you can make a song out of almost anything as long as you sing it to the tune of "O Canada").

But by the time I get home I am done. I have spent up to 9 hours in this environment where I am hardly at my most desirable place followed by the commute home and I am essentially done with communicating.  With anybody.  Including my family.

It is not supposed to be that way, of course.  Your family is the place that are supposed to be communicating the most - and with a house full of women, there is a lot of talking that goes on here!  But I will have none of it.  I sit there trying to drink in the thought that I do not have to say anything, perhaps occasionally interjecting a comment but  seldom trying to manage a conversation beyond (perhaps) what happened in some else's day.

My excuse is that it is hard. I am - in a way I think it is hard to communicate to others - used up.  For me, while I have come to find some enjoy in interacting with others a great deal of the time (on my terms - see the comment about song above) it is none the less draining in the sense that it takes something out of me to do this.  The time I am not there is the time for me to recharge my energy to be able to go do it the next day.  The unfortunate part is that this recharge time takes place precisely at the time when I should be putting as much time and energy into conversation as I do at work.

Of course I do not have a solution to this.  I cannot just drop what I do, neither can I enter a recharge pod when I walk in from work and just hide for the rest of the day.  Nor is working and then having to recharge from work so I can work a precisely desirable outcome either.  There has to be another way.

But I do know this:  if I could find a job that allowed me to work long periods of time by myself interjected with short periods of time spent with the people I like and love I would be the happiest man in the world.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Dreams of Work

For the second night now I have awoken at 3 AM.  Both times they pulled me out of dreams of work related incidents - related to Monday somewhat, people of old stalking my dreams.

Why are they there?  In this case it was someone I have not seen for almost 15 years whose picture I happened to see on LinkedIn at a business not where I currently work but one in the same industry, harassing and being short with people for items for a review.  I do not remember this individual ever acting this way.  What gives?

My subconscious is, I think, trying to tell me something.  Something profound I think, something about work and what I am doing with it and my life.   Which I suppose is helpful and needed.

What can I consciously think about work right now?

1)  I am bored.  Plenty to do, of course, but a great deal of it is exactly the sort of work I was doing last year or the year before that.  The challenge is not necessarily to do better or different but to simply do more.  

How does this manifest itself?  For me, I eat - or at least snack a lot.  I tend to have problems concentrating on the task at hand.  I mentally wander.

2)  I am trivialized. A great deal of what I have to work on now feels very much like wandering off into the tall weeds doing work that is essentially invisible - and at some level, excruciating trivial.  Like tracking down workflows of individual documents to see if they need to be restarted or fixed or preparing meeting notes and meetings for items which will be slightly different but largely the same next month.

3) I do not feel like I am making progress.  Perhaps this is the most frustrating as all.  I am now entering my 13th year with the same jog title.  Seemingly my ability to advance has stalled.  And even if things change this year (hope springs eternal) does that practically mean anything?  It feels as if items 1 and 2 will still be true.

I am not even sure that that the dreams and what I am feeling about work are consciously related right now.  All I do know is that something is seemingly not right in either of them - and they seem to be crossing over.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

On Being Jambaloney's Fault and Rethinking

This is mostly Jambaloney's fault.

I do not think that he intended it to be his fault.  But it seems to be.

Last Saturday under "Word for the Year" he left the following comment:

"progress is a great word... but man, i read your goals - you are gonna KILL yourself with that list..

well, not really - but they won't get all get done tomorrow... i hate to offer unsolicited advice, but if i have learned anything at the manor, it is pick a skill/project and then kill it before you move on.. it will become a "second nature" as you get to the next chapter.. pick ONE of those goals a year and finish it off.  multitasking is modern bs - cut yourself some slack and enjoy !!!
I did what I usually do - read it, gave it a some thought, thanked him, and then moved on.

But I could not shake the thought.  Which is usually a sign that something within the statement resonated with me and I have to give it serious consideration.  In fact, it has been dogging me ever since, especially as I work on things like goals and time.

The thought has been every more powerful as I have gone through the last few days, which seem to be an oscillation of trying to be as busy as possible and use all my time and then doing things which seemingly have no direct contribution to anything worth accomplishing but I enjoy - or in other words, trying to pack every single thing I want to do into a 24 hour day.

What this has managed to do is two things:  one is that it makes me feel like I should always be rushing around doing something useful and productive, leaving no time for things like just sitting and reading or interacting with my family.  The second is that when I do those things (and let's be honest - we all do just take some time) I feel like I am not doing everything I should be doing.  Which makes me feel guilty.  And makes me question what I am doing in the first place, because some of the things that I find I enjoy doing - or really have rediscovered that I love to do - are not really on the list of things I think I should be doing.

Which, in turn, is making me re-examine the whole list.  Yes, I know there is a lot on there and yes, I know that most of the things I like to do are not things that I have to do, but that nagging thought is that something is just wrong if I cannot take some time to enjoy something without feeling like I am missing out on the list of things I set for myself.  And the thought continues to hang in there, so it means that I need to go with it.

I still think it's Jambaloney's fault.

Monday, January 12, 2015

Old Friends Stalking Dreams

Those we no longer see continue to haunt our dreams.

This is problematic for me.  It is probably also indicative of the way that the world has changed.

Many years ago - heavens, even within my parents' generation - one would largely stay in the place where one was born or raised.  One would see the same people - one's friends - for long periods of time, indeed perhaps for their entire lives.  For better or worse, these were the people that inhabited one's landscape.

We are a much more mobile society now, both practically and personally.  Not only do we move more frequently and more often, we have the ability to keep in contact with people literally all over the world.  Like anything else, in some ways this is a wonderful thing - I've made acquaintances throughout the world now - but in some ways it is bad as well.

One problem is we lose a sense of permanence and perhaps even of true friendship.  People tend to move and so friendships break up and dissolve or become simply something that we have until one side simply moves on due to distance or business.  Commitment - the commitment of a friend - becomes very much about vicinity.  We say that true friends are people that we can call in the dead of night in an emergency, but is that really true?  The space creates distance and before long calling becomes something we would only do in an extreme emergency.

Another problem is that the nature of friendship changes.  It becomes largely a matter of convenience, of people being around.  Cross-pollination between yourself and people unlike you becomes difficult unless one seeks it out as our lives become rooted in the things that are directly happening at us.  At one time we had shared experiences between people we perhaps did not share that much with (we thought, until they became our friends); now we struggle to find even one person that is not someone we by default share a great deal with.

Finally, the expectations of friendship change.  We build friendships - perhaps even intimate ones - only to find that time and distance and life erode them to an occasional phone call or visit.  We all believe - or say we do - that we continue to maintain heart-cord attachments but too often this only sounds like a platitude rather than a real thing.  And then something happenings:  we come to expect less of our friendships.  People come only to go away.  Relationships exist only so long as we share that particular experience.  The expectation of what friendships means has become minimized to what is going on - right now - in my life.  When those circumstances change so will the relationships - often it seems without some sort of formal notification, just a realization after the fact that people have moved on and are not coming back.

But our heart and mind try to know better.  They still see them, stalking the edges of our dreams and our hearts when we are not looking.

Sunday, January 11, 2015

New Blog: God, Jesus Christ, The Holy Spirit

My very good friend GPSMusic has a new blog (or at least a blog he is sharing with us now):  God, Jesus, The Holy Spirit.  Based on who he is and how he thinks I am sure it is going to worth following.  I have marked it over in the "Skilled Bloggers" section but you can always take a look for yourself:

Stop on by and give him a try!

Saturday, January 10, 2015

On The Garden

I like Gardening.  I am also fairly bad at it.

The good thing about gardening is that it is a seasonal exercise in hope.  Every season I look through my catalog from Bountiful Gardens.  Every season I pick what I think will be something new and exciting to plant.  Every season I plant - and most seasons I get blown out.

It is not ever a total wash.  I somehow manage to have some notable successes - at least one - every year.  Part of the issue is where we live - when I really started back in 2004 I had our house in Old Home with the moved in top soil and the 12 hour sun exposure.  Since moving in 2009 I have had to fight a bad location (it was what was available in the rental) and a complete change in climates.  Relearning how to plant and when and what has been a learning experience.

Currently this is my gardening space:

The area on the top is approximately 10' x 4', the area on the bottom is 16' x 4' .  We are looking North..

The area just around the edge of the pad (no idea why the pad is there; although bearing Jambaloney's warning in mind about doing too much at once, I still admire the area as a potential forge) and between the fence is soil.  I had no luck with corn here but pretty decent luck with onions and volunteer sunflowers.

The part the runs along the side of the house has sort of evolved into the herb garden/place we plant pets and flowers.  I have planted thyme and rosemary; the green you see on the right is a volunteer oregano plant which has been there since we move in and has done fantastic (even though I have never watered it.  The  area to the left of a path is a bricked in area which could become another garden area if I pull the grass out.

These last two picture represent the areas I have for relatively immediate future expansion.  The one on top is directly to the left of the garden area in the first picture (again, I would need to uproot the grass.  The bottom picture is looking off our (cracked) back pad towards the corner.  My thought would be potential beds (the slope is just enough and our downpours are just regular enough that I just cannot rip the soil off - it will degrade pretty rapidly.

My thought is that I have enough room now for whatever garden I might to have, although I really think I will have to use it all to do what I would like to do in terms of food production - which will require some amount of expenditure.

Water is the other issue, of course.  Right now it is all manual.  There is a way (I think)  that I could pipe it along the fence line and hit the whole garden area (which would be great and money saving - water is a bit of a problem where I live).  

I think my goal for this year is to dig out the bricked in area and move to the edge of the tree line (I visions of needed some grass area for the quail, who love to run in the garden and hay:

As always, that is the plan - but there is always next season...

Friday, January 09, 2015

Word for the Year

So a suggestion I saw listed somewhere - actually it was credited to Jeffery Gitomer - is to select one word for the upcoming year as a sort of theme for your entire year.  I had never tried this activity before but it sort of makes sense to me - a single word that one can look to every day to remind one's self what one is to be about.

My word this year is "Progress".

Progress. That is what I need to make in every area of my life.  Not the constant sort of circling around things that I seem to do so often without any forward motion but something which will move towards my goals.  Yes, that is purpose of goals but I often get caught up in the fact of the doing rather than the fact that the doing is supposed to go forward.

As soon as I selected this word the next thing that jumped into my mind was from the the Disney film Meet the Robinsons:  "Keep Moving Forward".  Which is also another way to say it (but it is three words instead of one).  The intent (as explained in the movie)  is slightly different:  that in the face of defeats and accidents and the sense of going nowhere, one needs to keep moving forward towards the goal.

My goals, I think, are pretty well established at this point.  I want to take the weekend to review them just one last time and make sure that I have put them in a state that they are measurable (my biggest problem) and then I will be ready to write them up and be off and running.

And make Progress.

Thursday, January 08, 2015


It is cold this morning.  Wretchedly cold - maybe not cold like lots of people farther North are used to, but it is low twenties with wind chill down to the teens.

It is cold.

All plans yesterday evening pretty much focused on doing what I had to do outside and then staying inside, which was a lot more than I had intended to be outside - mostly changing the quail out.  And then coming inside to make sure I could do what I could to keep things warm.

Which revealed a number of potential issues:

1)  Heat:  Heat here (like most of our neck of the woods) is primarily provided by gas.  Great when it works, not so great when it does not.  We also have a gas insert in the fireplace which is well nigh useless - but wood stoves are not necessarily an option here, especially with fuel (as we have no trees locally).

2)  Insulation:  We are insulated up top, although it is a little older and we could probably benefit from putting some more on top.  That is sort of a longer term project.  Of shorter term interest in the garage, which is sealed okay but the door needs insulation (this is a project which I can do pretty readily).

3)  Windows:  This is the big one which I realized is an oversight - other than a couple of curtains that we have for decorative curtains we have not curtains for 90% of our windows.  Perfect place for heat to leak out of the house (or heat in during summer, I suppose).  This is something that should be dealt with.

The house never fell beyond 62 F at night, which is a pretty good thing.  That said, there is always room for improvement.

Wednesday, January 07, 2015

Thousand Cut Drill

Last night was the thousand cut drill.

The thousand cut drill is something we started doing in my Iaijustu class three years ago.  I am not sure if this is a Japanese tradition per se or simply something that my sensei has adopted, but at the first class of every year we do a minimum of 1000 cuts.

In one sense it sounds a little more daunting than it is.  We do not worry so much about form as we do about completion.  We break up the monotony bu doing different sorts of exercises:  200 kirioroshi, 100 one-handed kirioroshi (right and hand left hand), and portions of some katas (tatsumaki, happogiri).  We are not on a particular speed as well (other than trying to get the thousand cuts in) so in one sense there is relaxation.

On the other hand it can be a little hard.  I started out feeling pretty good for the first 600 or so.  The one-handed ones are the worst, most interestingly the right hand (almost every cut we do involves either right and left or just right so there is little rest).  The katas are not quite as bad although by that point you are pretty tired just in general - although I have to admit that today I am feeling pretty good, certainly better than I felt last year at this time.

Our final count was 1170 - and that should have been enough for me.  But when sensei announced the number my very first reaction was "What?  Can we not do another 30 and hit 1200?" even though we were 150 beyond last year (which is probably the right attitude to have).

But done is done.

The other thing that occurred is that sensei asked us to make an effort to practice iaijustu every single day for the year, even if it is just a single kata before bed.  It is something of challenged - I have to admit that I am not always the best student of iai  and have been known to skip a day because I am tired - which is really saying I am lazy.  Fair enough - every day it is.

And thus, the New Year has truly arrived.

Tuesday, January 06, 2015

On the Rushing and Spending of Time

Yesterday as I rushed about try to pack everything into one day I (once again) failed to get everything done that I intended to do.  One actual work day in and I already seemed like I was behind schedule.

This somehow has to change.  Or perhaps more accurately, I somehow have to change.

If you read my blogs of past years right after New Years - maybe not so early as this, but certainly within this time frame - you will find that I always reach the point where I am scrambling around to accomplish everything that I intended to do - and get some level of sleep as well.  Then I get tired, and right after the tired comes the frustration. This simply cannot be how life was meant to be lived, always feeling as if we were running behind the eight-ball to accomplish everything that we would like to accomplish.

It comes back to goals, of course - but not just goals that we want to accomplish. It also comes back to the life that we want to live and should live.

The reality is at this point in my life I will spend between 10.5 and 11 hours a day going, coming, and being at work.  Certainly this is not something I particularly care to do right at this moment but it does fill a purpose.  And in filling that purpose, that means that - like it or not- that time is removed from my ability to use it in other ways.  Sure, I can pack in the commute to and from home with things other than just background noise (and I try to, but concentrating on something else while driving has never been a strong suite of mine) but the reality is that at best it is supplementary to what is going on, not primary.  Which, if I am being honest, leaves me somewhere between 4-6 hours to conduct rest of my life (less sleep, of course, which cannot be avoided).

This is where the issue comes: do I want to constantly be rushing in and through the house and lives of my family, spending 15 minutes on this and 30 minutes on that?  Or do I want to enjoy my time and use it productively?  Productively and goal-oriented are not necessarily opposed to each other, but sometimes they do seem at odds.  One flows and is not rushed while the other often seems like it is chopped into little pieces and thrown to the wind.

Ultimately all the time we have is all the time we are given.  I cannot generate time or create it or save it:  I can only spend it, and in fact should spend it as wisely as I can.  So perhaps this becomes the more relevant question:  am I spending each minute of time in the very best way possible, whatever that way seems to be?  And keep in mind that this may not be "goal oriented" time:  the time spent around a family dinner table may not accomplish a single goal that I set for myself but will ultimately do something far more productive, even though I go far beyond the "time" I have allowed for myself to spend on this.

And if that is the case - that the productive truly outweighs the goal-oriented - have I once again managed to set myself up for failure by defining a thing that I cannot reach?

Monday, January 05, 2015

Quail Relocation Facilities

With recent onset of potential rat attacks, I have had to change the quail's living quarters.  This is where they currently are:

It is a 50 gallon storage tub from my one of my local Big Box Home stores.  (In case you were wondering, they do have water.  I had just pulled it out for the purposes of moving them prior to this picture).

Originally this was my intent for where they were going to live (I had seen quail being maintained in such a tub inside), prior to securing a rabbit cage for them to live in outside.  However, as I think the attack came from a rat getting between the cage and the bed pan and then biting up, into the tub the went until I could bring the rodent issue under control.

I think one of the big advantages in doing it this way is that the quail are not constantly running around on the wire flooring of the cage but instead on the shavings.  It also allows them to burrow into the shavings - and quail love to burrow in, as we have found out!  It also makes them super easy to cover up for the night with little or no concern about attack (yes, I am sure a rat could chew their way in there, but I have put things around to otherwise engage their attention).  This is also a fairly portable set-up - for this picture, I merely put the lid on and moved them from the garage workbench to outside.

The disadvantages, so far as I can see, is that you have to change them more often than I did, both because of their own "business" as well as the fact that they tend to spill the water, which makes it damp - and as a result the smell builds quicker (as you can see, there are holes in the side of the handle, which helps when I button them up for the night.  Also, right now I only have the cover so light is a bit of an issue - I crack the cover during the day but cannot do this too much as they have a tendency to fly out.  Perhaps a screen during the day could solve this issue and would be a fairly cheap solution.

How long will this go on?  I am not sure.  I will be honest in that I sort of like this set up better on the whole as the quail seem to be happier if for no other reason that their feet are not on the hardwire all the time and they can burrow.  I will continue to monitor see how they are doing.  

I have to say on the whole, having quail to this point has been a pleasant experience (with the unfortunate exception that we have not gotten any eggs yet!).  They are small, they are quiet, they are easy to handle, they are fairly cheap to maintain (a bag of feed goes a long way - besides that, I am just paying for wood shavings now).  From what I read, they are easy to skin and eat were you to do that (which these will never have to face - they are pets of Nighean Dhonn and will enjoy privileged status all their lives).  In a great many ways, they see very apt indeed for not only small holdings in general but small urban holdings in particular.

Saturday, January 03, 2015

Ichiryo Gusoku: The New Year

So as part of my keeping a separate set of goals and managing them for Ichiryo Gusoku, I have decided to start at least dedicating one post a week to this.  As Saturday is typically not a day I have written in the past, it makes as good a day as any.

As a reminder, this is the ultimate goals I have:

-         80% self sufficiency in vegetables
-         50% self sufficiency in citrus fruits
-         50% self sufficiency in grains
-         80% self sufficiency in compost/soil additives.
-         100% self sufficiency in honey
-         50% sufficiency in eggs
-         80% sufficiency in energy (Solar, wind)
-         50% sufficiency in stored water for irrigation
-         Debt freedom
-         Develop a second career sufficient to fund 100% of our living expenses.

This are pretty expansive goals if you look at them.  A bit overwhelming, even.  Which means I need to start with where we are and where I would like us to be.

Where we are:  Urban area.  We are unlikely to be able to move for another 8 years or so to let Nighean Dhonn finish her schooling.  That would put us 10 years into our 30 year mortgage (with luck and a little effort, maybe we could pay it off.

What that means:  This is not the ultimate place I want to be, so my management and expectations of what I have needs to be tempered  i.e. no heavy investments or lots of things I cannot take with us when we leave.

What that limits us to:  Although it grieves me at this point, this rules out most livestock.  We have rabbits but they are kept as pets (and frankly, compost/manure generators).  We have quail as well, which is probably as much "livestock" as I can get away with here.  

We do have an area which is suitable for a garden (and more could be developed) but I have to balance this against how much of an investment I want to make to stay here.

With all of that said, what do I think I can do this year?

- Cheese:  I like making cheese.  I am okay at it.  I would like to improve in it.  That said, we eat a lot of cheese.  I cannot figure out how much I would have to make to supply us with all the cheese we do it but it would undoubtedly be more than the one day a month I set aside to make cheese.  Due to some limitations (mostly the size of my pot) I get smaller quantities as well.  While I need to keep my eyes open for a new pot (start making the Goodwill rounds), perhaps a more likely goals would be to try for self sufficiency this year in one or two cheeses that we eat a lot of.  Cream Cheese is on the list.  Mozzarella is there as well, although I have had bad luck to date with it.  Cheddar would be another candidate, but I need to make a lot of cheddar for it to work (did I mention we like cheese?).

- Fruits and vegetables:  I can reasonable try to acquire a dwarf citrus plant this year (limes or lemons would be best).  My gardening skills are not great so my luck is spotty - part of the problem is adapting to the heat and humidity of where we live and figuring out what does well there (note:  okra and peppers and black eyed peas do very well indeed).  My hope at this point would be to get 10% of what we need.

- Grain:  Also somewhat difficult due to the environment.  I am still experimenting with what does best.  Barley has been a good producer, wheat is okay.  But I need a lot more.

 - Compost/Soil Additives:  I need to up my compost game.  My current system of a trash can with a hole cut out, set in the ground, has not worked out all that well.  This is something that I should be able to fix this year.

- Honey:  This is a stretch goal for the year.  I would love to have bees again.  I just love watching them work, let alone the honey they produce.  That said, bees are about a $300 - $400 investment (you really should use old bee boxes - chance of nasty things transferring is high).

- Eggs:  This may be doable - if I can convince the quail to lay!  I need to figure out a better longer term housing situation for them (although this issue with rats merits further consideration).  At $4-$5 a bird, they are relatively cheap to try with - and a joy to watch.

- Energy: Solar is probably out this year (cost).  I might try for battery self-sufficiency, as I think we could realize some savings there (and it would be a good place to start).

- Stored water for Irrigation:  Possible, both by finding some other water storage units and changing how we water.  Maybe 20%?

- Debt Freedom:  This is something I really want to make an effort on this year.  I need to talk to The Ravishing Mrs. TB for her buy in.  I  have no idea why this could not be accomplished in one year if a couple of things go our way.

-Develop a Second Career:  This is something I have to start on - but I have no idea what that would look like.  Yes, we could look at reducing expenses and changing career fields.  But the reality is that ultimately we are still dependent on the good graces of someone else.  That worries - and bothers me.  I have a couple of minor things tagged for income generation (maybe harp, maybe cheese). What I would really love, of course, is to make a living as a writer.  Need to figure out a way to make that happen though.

So where does this leave us?  Well, at least an assessment of what we could do reasonably.  An assessment that short term sustainability will have to be a combination of what we can do and potential items which can be sold or bartered.  A greater move into this area will have to wait until some things change.

One other thing that is not on here is "What's next?"  If I am saying we have to stay here for a certain period of time, that implies that there is somewhere else after that - or at least somewhere that such a larger scope of the work could be developed.  I have no idea where that is right now, although our drive through East State this week gave me some ideas of places to start looking - and at least a tacit buy-in from The Ravishing Mrs. TB that this was a nice looking area.

So I at least start this year conscious of what I can and cannot do - and have some idea of where to best spend my efforts.

Friday, January 02, 2015


"The challenge, it turns out, isn't in perfecting your ability to know when to start and when to stand by.  The challenge is getting into the habit of starting." - Seth Godin
I have been thinking  a lot about starting over the last two weeks.  Being away from the constant grind can give a man a great deal of clarity, if it is used correctly.

I guess what started me down this road was the rather simple thought of deciding that I was going to train in Japan in 2016.  Pretty unlike me.  What flowed from that rather simple mental decision was a series of things that would need to be in place in order for me to do it:  funding (a big part, of course), time off, ensuring that everything I usually would do will be taken care of, etc.  In other words, I had to start planning for the future.

That simple act got me started on thinking about the overall state of my life at the moment- not that it is bad - far from it - but rather that it is a sort of "here and now" existence.  I have ongoing projects and know the things I want to do, but looking out to where I eventually would like to be - even in the short term - is not something I am terribly good at by any stretch of the imagination.  I am not sure why - it is almost as if I treated it as something which was this terribly complex process that needed to be dealt with when in fact the thing simply starts with a decision.  And then the work begins.

That simple little exercise has started my mind running down lines I had not expected.  Things like what I really want to be doing in five years.  Where I want to be or not be in ten years.  How much effort I put into where I am now versus putting it towards where I want to be in the future.

Everything almost has the cast of being new again.  Lots of things suddenly have the cast of being in my control.  All from the simple act of making a mental decision to start.

It is great to discover that such things are still out there for me waiting to be found.

Thursday, January 01, 2015

Happy 2015

So a very happy 2015 to you all.

This was perhaps the quietest New Year we have had in some number of years:  it was us and a couple friends and two of three Na Clann.  No games, no videos, no "Count Down from New York":  just food and good conversation.  Add to that a cold front and heavy rain that prevented the usual post New Year's recreation of a battlefield and it was a very quiet New Year's indeed.

Which was quite alright.  Over the years we have done all kinds of great things:  had numerous mystery parties, had game nights, watched various children shout and scream, set off fireworks ourselves.  Actually, the sort of event we had last night was possibly the first we have had like that in years.

A theme of this holiday season, I suppose.  The whole period I have had off - from the 24th to the 5th when all is said and done - has been one of low key events and doings.  Things have gotten done, but not with the seeming hustle and bustle that have come in years past.

That will change soon enough.  My goals need to be ready by Monday - and from what I see, they are aggressive (last year's were as well).  I think I am going to break them out into two sets this year to help me:  one for the standard things I usually do (personal, professional, financial, spiritual, etc.)  and one for Ichiryo Gusoku related things (I need to track this differently and more appropriately).

But that is for this weekend.  For now, I think I simply spend the rest of the day as I started this year:  low key, armed with my toast and tea and reading material,

And dreams.  Always the dreams of what is to come this year.