Friday, July 31, 2015

Thursday, July 30, 2015

When The Life Change Dost Not Come

And then the life change does not come.

The notification is innocuous enough, of course:  "Dear TB:  Thanks very much for our interest in our company.  We enjoyed our time together and wanted to let you know that everyone like you.  However, we have decided to go with a candidate which more completely matches the requirements of the position.  Kind Regards, X".  And there it sits, blinking on your screen.

You attempt to be somewhat philosophical about the whole thing, of course.  Had a feeling it would come nothing.  Knew that that the fit was not really there.  And, after all, you are still currently employed.  You were not really counting on this anyway.

And yet nagging thoughts appear at the back of your mind.

It has happened.  Finally.  You have been put into a slot that is neither in one side of your industry or the other, but rather a middle ground where everyone feels rightly that you do really do what they do and so, though your experience is "good", it is just not really right.  But the reality is that it will never really be right at this point.  You can only retool so much - the barriers that always seem permeable have suddenly, almost inexplicably, hardened.

For me at least, I try to take refuge in the fact that God is in control, that God promotes, and that for whatever reason He has determined that I need to remain here.  I would love to say that this is a totally comforting fact but if somehow it does not feel so.  It feels more as if I have been placed into a holding tank for some kind of opportunity that is never really going to materialize.

So what to do next?

I really have no idea.  For various reasons, relocation at this point is not really an option, which severely limits my opportunities.  Certainly there seem to be no real opportunities around here, or if so they are cleverly disguising themselves as something else.  Another industry?  The concern, of course, is the retooling comment above - and its corollaries time and money.

I would like to that somehow all of this is going to end well, that somehow this constant sense of "No" is because somewhere there is a greater "Yes".

I just wish I had the eyes to see it.

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Waiting for A Life Change

So the hoped for life change has not appeared yet.
I am a lot more philosophical about this that I have been in the past.  Before, I would have been constantly fluttering from e-mail to phone, looking for a sign, an update, anything that would indicate that something was about to change.  If I was really agitated, I would go and check the Internet to see if anything had changed.

I would start my calculations, trying to come up with everything that I did not have to do if I started on a certain date.  I would dream (yes, I dream about work I do not have to do) about the sense of relief that would flood my life when the change occurred.

But, the change has not materialized yet.

And so, I go in about my day.  Have I checked once or twice?  Sure.  Did I send a follow up communication? Yes, but it has been a while sense I checked in.  Other than that, I just go about my day doing my thing.

Where does this philosophical bent come from, you might ask.  Surely it cannot  be because everything in your life has gone extremely pleasantly (it has not changed) or that you have a list of other opportunities should this one evaporate (I do not).    It has come, simply enough, from the concept - brought back to my attention last week - that ultimately it is God who changes and promotes.

I can do what I consider to be my best at anything:  twist, shout, polish myself to a brilliant sheen, say everything with a golden tongue. I can work my behind off, bend over backwards to make things happen, and sacrifice valuable time from other parts of my life.  And nothing will necessarily happen.

If I am brutally honest about it, almost every major thing in my life has happened in God's timing - and,  I might add, without the extreme amount of agitation I can put myself through.  The only time it did not was an error of my own choice (The Firm - perhaps right choice, but very wrong timing).  Everything else has simply moved through the system to conclusion.

There is my part to play of course - yes, I have to be diligent and work hard and keep my nose to the grindstone.  But the constant posturing and posing to move something ahead is something I simply need not do - when the time is right, God will act.

And so I patiently live my life, trying to improve things where possible and be better.  And wait, because at the point I least expect, the call to change will come.

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Monday, July 27, 2015

Domiaiti Cheese

This is Domiati Cheese:


This is probably a cheese you have never heard of (prior to making it, neither had I).  It is a cheese of North African descent.  It is an unusual cheese in that it incorporates salt at the very beginning of the process and is stored in its own way (see below for more).

Simplified preparation process:  4 quarts (1 gallon) of milk, to which is add 2/3 cup Kosher Salt.  Bring to 100 F.  Add 1/4 TSP Thremophilic culture, wait 5 minutes.  Add 1/4 TSP Rennet.  Hold for 2 hours at 100 F.  Check for a clean break (indicating the curd has set), then cut into smaller sections.  Allow to settle for 5 minutes, then stir for 15 minutes.  Allow to settle.  Pour through cheese cloth and a colander and allow to drain, reserving the whey.  Placed the drain curd into a mold (I use a small Tomme mold) and turn several times for 12 hours.  Add another 1/3 cup Kosher salt to the whey and store at room temperature.

Why is this cheese interesting, both in general and in an emergency? Because it is designed to be stored at room temperature (which, apparently, is how it is done in North Africa).  The heavily salted (very heavily salted) whey preserves the cheese against mold and bacteria.  (Note that I have not yet tried this theory, but will have to put it to the test with a small test sample of a cheese.  No sense in wasting good cheese  unless I have to).  In the refrigerator as I store it, it will last a long time indeed (not, in point of fact, that it ever does).

Cheese - or any preservation of any food, really - is a Godsend.  It is a way to take a raw material and add value to the process and preserve it for the future.  Hopefully we will never reach the stage where things will become somewhat rationed (but, as we have seen with the avian flu, it can happen).  To be able to take something and turn it into a food for longer storage is a good thing.  To change that food into something that can quite possibly go without refrigeration for periods of time, even better.

Saturday, July 25, 2015

Psalm 37

Sometimes I get depressed about the state of the world.  Things seem to simply be careening off course with little chance of righting themselves before true disaster.  It saddens me that in so many ways, wrong seems to be advancing and right seems to either be retreating or simply collapsing.

And then, for my reading through the Bible in a year, today's reading was Psalm 37.

To paraphrase Gandalf in The Fellowship of the Ring, "There is only one God, and he does not share power."

Read and be comforted.


(Hat tip:  kingjamesonline.org

Friday, July 24, 2015

Context

Today we are going to review (in what is turning out to be a working idea for another book) the last concept in this idea in taking charge or changing or something (not really sure what the ultimate point is) that is sort of my ongoing epiphany for the week.  As you may recall, so far I have discussed Ownership (and the taking of it), Leveling Up, and Being The Authentic You.  Today we discuss the last point, context.

Context is meant to express the concept of where we do these first three things.  It is the situation that we find ourselves in - or more hopefully, the one that we place ourselves in.  It is the place that, in the best of worlds, allows us to be in a mental place where we can take ownership, level up, and truly be who we are.

I have placed context at the end of this chain because the first three things are more fundamental.  Without the first three things, context has less perceived value - I can be in a place where I have not taken ownership, leveled up, or am the authentic me, but the context of the situation makes these seem irrelevant to me - such as being in a job that is ultimately leading nowhere but I enjoy the people and situation so much that I do not look to the future, knowing that all jobs end.  What I am actually trying to achieve is instead a conscious choice of situations, brought together by where I am and where I am headed.

And Context can help in our daily lives.  The worst day can be made better when surrounded in a Context that includes friends and laughter.  The culture of achievement can be accelerated by a Context where everyone is working to do their best and move forward, where needs are understood and voices respected.


How do you find the correct Context?  Of all of the issues this is the one I have the least idea of how to accomplish, perhaps because I have been so poor at it in my own life.  I have made choices of where to be for all of the wrong reasons; on the flip side, I have occasionally found the best of contexts within situations that I did not expect would yield them.  It is a continuum, I think, one that we hopefully get better at as we become more experienced - as we Own our lives, as we are making conscious decisions and progress in Leveling Up, and as we are becoming more and more our Authentic Selves, the correct Contexts will (I believe) become more clear to us.

Without a good Context, our efforts will too often be in vain and our lives be frustrated; with the correct Context, our achievements will be accelerated and our pursuit of our goals and indeed our very usefulness to those around us will be enhanced.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Being The Authentic You

My reflection into Ownership and Leveling up seems to have turned itself into a proto-epiphany.  While I am a great fan of epiphanies, they seldom seem to come directly out of mid-air but work their way through a longer thought process.  We seem to be well into that process.

As I was going through my work today, I realized (halfway into the afternoon or so) that I was having what was, for me, a pretty good day:  I was in a good mood, I was making up song lyrics, I was cracking really bad puns, I was being able to give useful advice.  On the whole, this is not every workday I have.  And it got me thinking - thinking about how I act at work.

My behavior at work, oddly enough, is largely controlled by an incident that happened 15 years ago when a manager whom I respected a great deal told me, after he had noticed me jumping up and down and waving trying to get someone's attention inside a manufacturing facility, that although how one acted should not affect how one is perceived and thus promoted, the simple fact was that it did.  And so began a long period of acting at work the way I thought people in my profession should act, which would generally be "professionally" and (frankly)  boring.

I suppose I did not think about it for a long time until about two years ago, when I took a personality quiz by Sally Hogshead (www.howtofascinate.com) which related personality types to personal and personnel interactions. What did I get?


Bold.  Artistic.  Unorthodox.  This, supposedly, is my way of being.

And you know what?  It kind of is.  No, I do not actually have a rock band nor have I ever had one, but I am kind of this way.  My personality, especially for my industry, is unorthodox.  I am artistic - and, in my own way, bold.

And you know what?  I am happiest when I am that way.

Which brought me to the next level of this proto-epiphany:  Being The Authentic You.

I am happiest when I am authentic, when what I am and what I appear to be by my actions are as close as possible.  When I am being The Authentic Me, even a bad situation can be made better simply by the fact that I am living and acting as myself.  Likewise, a mediocre situation can be made much worse by having to act as other than I am.

As I pondered this thought, I came to realize that this is a key concept.  Being yourself authentically - making the inner you and outer you match as closely as possible - is one of the ways that things get done, because if we do not feel truly like ourselves we will never be totally invested in what we are doing.  Instead, we will be playing role of someone that other people want us to be, working to accomplish things not in the way we would do them but rather how others want them done.

The truly successful people I know - and money does not equal success in every circumstance, just as a reminder - are exactly this way.  They simply are themselves in the midst of the situations they find themselves in instead of conforming themselves to the situation.  And more often than not, it seems that they are able to bend the light around them such that they can be themselves without having to compromise while accomplishing all that they need to do.

Mark it:  Being The Authentic  You means the difference between success and failure in a great many situations.  The questions then are two:  Do you know the authentic you, and are you being that person?

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Leveling Up

Last night in class we worked a shoden level paired waza (or kumitachi), Nanahon mei no kata.  This particular kata consists of both blade work and open hand.  For me, sword work is generally easier.  Open hand (literally the translation is kara te, from which we get the word karate) is somewhat conceptually more difficult for me as I have not really done a great deal of martial arts and thus I am essentially learning this all for the first time.

Tonight was a night of corrections for me, mostly around my form and even my basic movements.  I do not mind the correction as I desperately need it.  About halfway through night sensei clarified that his intent was not to pick on me; rather, it was to help me level up for eventual attendance to a training in Japan.

Leveling up.  Oddly enough it is a concept that anyone who has played role playing games or even electronic games understands:  get enough points or enough items of value and you "level up", generally gaining more powers and become more hardy.   But a concept that we in real life do not seem to consider is even possible.

Part of the problem, I suppose, is that leveling up in real life is not as clear cut as leveling up in a game.  In a game, there is a known threshold to hit:  10,000 points, 50,000, 100,000 points.  In real life such a hard threshold does not exist: we perhaps simply seem to arrive at some point with a greater ability to do what we need to do than what we had before.

Bur really, leveling up is as critical in real life as it is in any game.

Leveling up means that we are getting better.  We are gaining more knowledge or skill.  We are no longer a rank amateur with no idea of what to do; instead, we have some level of skill and knowledge that we can apply to do things better and faster.

We could help ourselves, I suppose, sort of like the belt system in martial arts.  Within interests or fields or organizations there is often a sense (or such a sense could be drawn up) about what a particular body of knowledge or area should know, like the old system of apprentices and journeymen. Knowing that body of knowledge and demonstrating knowledge or practice of it would be enough to move one to the next level.

It gives one a goal. It gives one abilities and knowledge.  But most of all it gives us the ability to note the forward progress in our lives instead of leaving us flail about, always feeling like we should be moving forward but never able to give voice or representation to it in a meaningful way.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

On Ownership II

This thought of Ownership haunted my thoughts all day yesterday as I went through my daily work routine.  At each point, in each task, I asked myself "Do I own this?  Should I own this?"

The internal actions were interesting, to say the least.

On the one hand I had the experience of one of our many electronic systems which is not working all that well - and has not done so for almost 3 years.  The thought rolled through my mind "Do I own this?  Should I own this?"  The sudden sense of piling effort into something that simply seemed to be not repairable doomed any chance I would immediately pick up the torch.

On the other hand I sat through a training proposal on another system where my opinion for at least part of the process was solicited.  I looked at the proposals, thought about it for a minute, and then quietly deferred my decision.  I did not want ownership of this process or of the solutions, because looking at the options none of them seemed truly good.

Was there anything I really wanted to own today?  Honestly, I do not know that I could say that there was.  Possibly a training I did but that was about it.    The result?  I did not really feel like there was anything that was truly worth "owning" about what I do today, merely a set of tasks to be accomplished.

Ironically this proves the point of the aforementioned executive manager from yesterday, the one that started this whole thought process:  without ownership, effort becomes merely a task and true progress is not probably realized.  At the same time it proves the other side of the point: if the task is meaningless or imposed without purpose, ownership becomes either completely forced or not at all done for any reason than it has to be accomplished - perhaps done, but without passion or the zest that truly moves progress forward.

The solution?  Perhaps I am not closer to one than I was the day before - except that to realize that  ownership cannot be imposed by others and especially not when the thing to be owned is by default broken or pointless.  Ownership derives from within, based on both pride of work as well pride of purpose for the work.

The question is, where does this combination live?

Monday, July 20, 2015

On Ownership

Meeting with Executive Management anywhere is a bit of a dicey thing.  One never knows what to expect:  in some cases they are remarkably plugged in to what is going on, in some cases it is almost an ethereal exercise in possibilities and generalities.

My favorite question to ask in such situation is "If you could change one thing about where you work right now, what would it be?"  The interesting thing to me is that they always have an answer.  Sometimes they are quite specific and sometimes they are quite general but they always have one, suggesting that they have given the matter some thought.

I asked one such executive management this question recently.  His response?  "Ownership.  People need to take ownership. If something is critical they need to run it down and finish it. People need to view things as if they owned them.  When we were small and everyone felt they owned they company we accomplished great things.  I need people that own things, not just that work from 9-5."

This response stuck in my head as I went through the rest of my day and even beyond.  Ownership.  What does it mean?

I understand the way that the executive manager used the term.  He wanted ownership of the employees in the company's ongoing activities and goals, not just to view something as a task which they have been assigned to complete but their task to complete.  The thinking is sound:  once I own something, once I have taken responsibility for something, then I will see that thing done - in some cases, move heaven and earth to insure that it gets done.

But what if something is assigned to you, and you are not really empowered to do anything about it?  Is that ownership?  Or is that simply delegating a task which you have little interest in knowing how it is done or you cannot do?

In the same vein, ownership implies certain rights as well as responsibilities.  If I own something, then I should receive the benefits of it as well.  I own my cars - I have to care for them but I also receive the benefit of having them available when I need them or even want them. I have a certain control I exercise over them.  If ownership of something deprives me of the rewards of that thing, then it is not really ownership so much as it is assignment.

Many companies - indeed, perhaps many organizations - seem to suffer for this.  They proclaim and encourage their employees "owning" their projects and processes but do not give them the same level of enjoying the outcomes - a sort of employment serfdom in which I make you accountable for performance but I am not accountable to you for the direct outcomes of that performance.  Or perhaps you indirectly accountable in the form of something which is put off to one time and considers "the whole" of my performance, which very often mysteriously seems to forget ownership of the things assigned but diffuses it into a melange of general overall conduct for the time period.

And in my life?  Ah, here is where the true kernel is.  Do I take ownership of the things in my life?  Do I understand for everything I have or do what it is, what it is doing, what I need to do with it, and what the rewards are for doing it?  Am I doing everything by rote because I have always done it?  Am I working towards an end with no idea of what the reward is,  doing something which I have no understanding as to why I am doing it - which is no better than "owning" the things that sit in my garage, never to be used.

I have often felt that ownership in places of work were ways of distributing the responsibility without reward.  What I have come to understand is that I am no better about it in my own life.

Friday, July 17, 2015

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Waxing Cheese

So this weekend I made cheddar. And the final part of making cheddar, of course, is waxing the cheese.

Tools of the trade:

The wax is actually cheese wax, a special kind of wax (lower melting point, I believe) available from most brewing or cheese making companies (Insert shameless promotion of The New England Cheesemaking Company here. Good people, good products, good prices, amazing service) .  The brush is just a paint brush dedicated to the purpose (but natural bristles only - artificial bristles will melt!).  The coffee can (God Bless Cafe du Monde) is a standard steel coffee can (much harder to come by now than one might thing).  I have made a simple double boiler for the purposes of melting the wax.


Please note the plate is covered with foil.  Critical if you do not want to spend time trying to peel wax off your everyday china.

The point of waxing cheese is to seal the cheese away from the air (and more importantly, bacteria) allowing it to ripen.  Importantly, it is necessary to allow the cheese to become air dry to touch before attempting to ripen it and that the cheese be at room temperature - if not, moisture will leak out the cheese when waxing it, making it messy and difficult to wax (do not ask me how I know this).

I first do a coat across the larger surface area, trying to make sure that the wax drives down into the nooks and crannies:


After the initial coat, I will allow it to dry and then re-coat the surface, again paying attention to any spot I may have missed:


I then flip it over and do the other side.

This leaves us with the sides:


Same process as the large flat areas including making sure that the uneven surfaces are covered.  Equally important is to overlay the wax on the already waxed areas to ensure a full even coat.



Some people actually just have a large pot filled with wax that that use to directly dip the cheese into. I tried this once with a pie pan.  Having learned my lesson, I just take more time to paint the wax on (hot wax all over except on the cheese will do this for you).


The finished result:  A round of sealed cheese, ready to go into the aging chamber (otherwise known as the garage refrigerator) to age a minimum of 3 months:


It is not a particularly time intensive process - about 10 minutes to heat the wax, another 15 - 20 to apply the wax, and then about another 10 minutes for clean up, so less than an hour total.  Interestingly, wax gives some protection to even room temperature stored cheeses (think cheese caves) and can be used for the same purposes of sealing (preserving) the cheese even for purchased cheese (so I hear - I have only ever used it on home made cheese here). And, the wax is recyclable, so even as I preserve this cheese I can look forward to cleaning it and reusing it again.

And it is a remarkably soothing process.  I get to concentrate on nothing but the cheese, making sure that it is completely covered, looking for flaws in the covering and then covering them.  Over time, the wax takes on striations as the wax bunches up and then runs over. When complete, I hold in my hand both a handmade item I can enjoy visually and that I can look forward to feasting on in the future.

Think of it as painting, except I get to eat the end result.

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Done Fighting For My Way

I am done fighting for my way.

Another reorganization at work, along with a reassignment from a project that my group has been working on for some time from an active role to an advisory role.  Suddenly, it is clear that someone is in charge and it is not in my direct line of reporting.

Is it the end of the world for my work life?  No.  I am still employed and my employer has suddenly not gone under.   But what is does mean is that practically speaking, my horse in this race is finished.  My role - reconfirmed yesterday - is that of the silent (perhaps even more silent now) engine quietly working in the background.

Suddenly my years of fighting and positioning and scheming and effort show themselves to be all for nothing.

And so, I surrender.

No more fighting or pushing for my way.  In anything.  Do what needs to be done in the spirit of doing the task at hand to the best of my ability and simply releasing the results.  No expectations.  No assumptions.

Part of me rebels at this, of course.  Without expectations or assumptions how will I move forward in life?  How will I succeed?  How will I achieve?  I simply do not know.

But I do know this:  my years of trying to force my ways upon events through planning and pushing and fighting have brought me here, in so many ways a seeming cul-de-sac.  One I cannot see my way out of after many years of time and energy expended.

Can it truly be any worse to try it the other way?

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Happy Birthday To The Ravishing Mrs. TB

Today is The Ravishing Mrs. TB's birthday.

I first met her almost 23.5 years ago.  It was love at first cookie (yes, it is true.  I was completely captured by a miniature chocolate chip cookie.  I, an essentially penniless graduate student ("Trust me, I am going to change the world!"), she an independent student taking a break from college before she decided what the next step is.  Here we find ourselves so very much later, pretty far from everyone and everything both of us grew up with..

She has been far more than I deserved.

She has born three daughters and raised them resulting in fine young adjusted women.  She has made a go of making anywhere we lived (9 places by my count) a home.  She has tirelessly worked as a volunteer any and all of the girls' activities and at their school and our church.

She has done jobs I could never do (talking to people all day) with nary a complaint.  She consistently puts meals on the table for everyone and make sure everyone eats nutritiously even through complaints (broccoli has a constant place at our table).  She manages a home with not only herself and her daughters and me but varying levels of animal visitors, including the ones that have just randomly shown up with me.

Most of all, she has tolerated me.

She has tolerated me through my various phases of interests, through my depressions and my highs, through my really bad decisions (The Firm) and the decisions we did not want to have to make (moving halfway across the country).  She has managed to keep her composure through harps, swords, bees, quail, rabbits, cheese, mead, gardens that produced almost nothing at all or things that she really did not care for.

All with grace and aplomb, making sure somehow (through methods I am not sure of) that we somehow managed to stay between the guardrails of our lives.

She is on her way home today from The Great Midwest, have driven almost one whole day and almost all of another.  She will arrive home to a giddy dog who has missed here and a husband who, although he darn well should well know the answer, will look at her blankly when she asks  "What is for dinner?"

I do not suppose I thought a lot about being married when I was younger and certainly had no idea of the actual sort of mate I would need, not the one I thought I need.  Fortunately, God had the matter well in hand when I was still staring off into space.

Love you.

Monday, July 13, 2015

Of Rabbits And Stressed Systems

One of the activities I do - and have done since November - is volunteer weekly at a local animal shelter, specifically a rabbit shelter.  It is not nearly as noble as it may sound:  I clean litter boxes and trays, move hay, throw trash, and any other sort of things that need doing.  It only works out to a couple of hours a week and they are always extraordinarily grateful for the help.

In speaking with shelter manager yesterday they mentioned that they had eight bunnies come in over the course of the week, with an additional two yesterday.  One of the ones that came in this week was pregnant so count on a few more.  We had 3-4 come in the following week.  Some of them do get adopted out, but not so many as seem to be coming in.

Most of the rabbits that come in are listed as "strays" - that is, people "found" them during the course of their day.  It happens - in fact one of our rabbits was a legitimate stray I found wandering around - but I suspect not all the rabbits that come to us are that.  I suspect a great deal of them are simply pets that, for one reason or another, have no longer come viable.

We could have a discussion about adopted an animal and then abandoning it because it is no longer convenient (warning:  it will be a short discussion mostly discussing your inability to understand the word "responsibility") but the point I would like to consider is a bit a larger and more alarming.

For those that have never kept a rabbit, they are actually pretty pleasant pets.  They are not loud.  Their poop is non-smelly pellets that can be immediately dumped onto your garden.  They can be litter box trained.  They eat have and pellets and vegetable and fruit snacks.  Most of them are low shedding animals.  They react to happiness by grinding their teeth (purring in cats) and give rabbit kisses like dogs and cats do to show affection.  And other than a nail trim and combing, they are low maintenance.

So why are we seeing more abandoned?

I wonder if (in my heart of hearts) if this is just another sign of how stressed the system is becoming.

Rabbits, like most pets, are a luxury.  They require a certain amount of money and time to care for (although not much).  When things get tight or people get stressed, pets are one of the first things to go.

It saddens me sometimes when I walk in the Shelter and see the bunnies (there are probably over 100 there now) all with a back story. They all came from somewhere.  For most of them, they were probably loved by someone.  And then, for one reason or another, it became expedient for them to leave.

I will do the little bit I can, cleaning and giving the occasional pets to those who want them and putting one very small finger in a very large hole in the dam.  But it concerns me more than a little that we already find ourselves in this place - and like an ecosystem, disturbances in the lower parts of the chain have ominous implications for the structure as a whole.

Friday, July 10, 2015

Thursday, July 09, 2015

Home Alone

So this week I am home alone.

Nighean Gheal, the oldest, is in South Korea for approximately 3 weeks.  The Ravishing Mrs. TB and the two younger ones, Nighean Bhan and Nighean Dhonn, are off to the Midwest to visit family.  Leaving me home alone.

Surely this would be a boon of time and energy, correct?  Not so much, it seems.  By the time I get home, get everybody fed and cared for as needed, water, shuffle around whatever housework really needs to be done, and eat, there always seems to be very little time at all to do.

This frustrates me to no little extent.  After all, I can remember once upon a time - and it does not seem all that long ago - that I would view this sort of event as an opportunity to get all kinds of things accomplished - in fact, they would come to serve as one of the great catch up opportunities of the year.  Now, if I manage to get three things done other than living it will be an accomplishment.

Is there a lesson here?  I am not really sure - obviously little and steady over the long haul rather than big catch-ups is the obvious one, but that almost seems to be a throwaway lesson. There is a slightly deeper issue here, something about how I am investing my total time (and let us be honest - 10+ hours a day on work by the time I am done with the commute helps precisely nothing) - versus what I am investing it in.  But there is a lesson here, something that is just beyond the range of what I can see at the moment.

Still, a little time is a little time.  And if I can find one thing to accomplish that I would not have otherwise done, we shall declare victory and have three "huzzahs" all around.

Wednesday, July 08, 2015

Tuesday, July 07, 2015

Lemons and Limes and Labs Oh My!

During a visit to the nursery last week to find a plant (eventually a Lavens Lavendula Grosso) to place over Snowball's grave I found that Lemon and Lime trees were 25% off. This was kind of exciting, as some level of citrus independence was listed on my goals and citrus is something that is within my ability to do here.  And so, one day later, off to the nursery I went...


(Labrador Retriever not included  with citrus trees in all states.  Consult your local regulations for details.)

The upshot was that I acquired two Mexican Limes and two Meyer Lemon trees for under $100 out the door (In cash.  Thank you very much).  The Mexican Limes are dwarfs naturally and will theoretically top out at 6 to 10 feet; the Meyer Lemons can grow taller but (as I discovered) are controlled by the size of the container.

These are not trees for year round outdoors.  Not at all.  We run the risk of getting pretty cold here - we have dipped to 19 F and seen 25-30 F regularly at nights in winter - which these trees will not tolerate.  However, with large pots the idea of an orangerie becomes possible, where the trees are migrated into a greenhouse or house (or in my case, my garage with my spiffy new insulated garage door that has windows) for the winter.

Is this going to completely resolve my citrus needs?  Not at all - even with fantastic production, lemons and limes will only carry me so far.  I need more - a Satsuma orange (mandarin) or two would be ideal (they are apparently much more cold tolerant but were not on sale) and even a graperfuit tree would help.  Still, every little bit is an advance - and lemon/lime juice can easy be frozen for use later on or (potentially) preserved for later use (I've read about this - never tried them though).

But I have to remind myself in such moments that every little advance makes a difference.  Even if I just get enough to not buy lemon or lime juice, that is money in my pocket and a little more independence in my life - and, let us be honest, citrus blooms are both peculiarly fragrant and attract bees....

Monday, July 06, 2015

DeFace(book)ing My Life

Part of the outcome of Input Deprivation and Quietly Disappearing has been the slow fact that my life is becoming deFacebooked.

It happened almost by accident:  I woke up one morning and suddenly felt no urge to stop by there. The  incessant need to make a daily post - even if was an inspirational one - went away as well.

It is an odd thing, to suddenly stop doing something that has been part of your life for a long time (7 years, in my case).  At first it feels very odd indeed:  one has to fight the constant urge to go back and check in and see what is going on or post the latest thing that has occurred.  And then, over time, one finds that the "need" is there less and less, that time previously dedicated to Facebook has become swallowed up in other things (some might argue, the actual fact of living).

Why?

Facebook has become a great tool in the ebbing of discourse and human relationships.

(Well, that seems pretty expansive.  Care to explain?)

Facebook's great appeal is that you can become connected with almost anyone anywhere - a sort of mini-Star Trek United Federation of Planets where everyone interacts on a sort of giant spacestation. And initially, it is quite a heady thing:  one can find friends long disappeared or make new friends half a globe away.  The promise of technology, I suppose.

But what one comes to realize is that beyond social applications ("Look at this amusing Internet print!  My child's tooth has fallen out!") very little of actual import gets done there.  As with the Internet in general, it shares the fact that it is not a forum where intellectual debate happens or the important issues of life get resolved - in fact, it sort of functions as a sort of agora where the demos rules by volume, not by well thought out arguments.

The second - and perhaps more pernicious - item is the fact that is has pretty much completely debased the word "Friend".  A friend, at one time, was someone with whom one shared a relationship or interest, something that grew over time into a thing of joy and preciousness.  Now, that word has been reduced to "Send Friend Request" and then one ends up with hundreds and hundreds of "Friends".  It is as if we have completely short-circuited the process of relationship in the need to make connections as quickly as possibly.

A third point - perhaps the most alarming - is that, like all other private entities, it controls the environment in which it operates.  It makes the rules.  Again, following my cardinal rule of no politics or religion, I will simply say that Facebook does not operate as the free marketplace of ideas.  It is, rather, a connection site where certain ideas or concepts are discussed and others are not.  That is their right after all:  it's a business and they control it and I (when I was there more frequently) was using their Terms of Service just as I would not start singing "O Canada" in the midst of a fine restaurant.

It does mean, though, that I might choose not to dine there in the first place.  Because mistaking a restaurant for a place where one can express one's musical talent is a foolish thing.

I am not sure where this all ends up.  The reality is that I have made friends through the site (true friends by shared common interests) and it is a handy way to update pictures for family and friends far away - so it has a certain utility.  And certainly there are ways to control the flow of information (although my Luddite tendencies may prevent me from making the effort to learn).

Perhaps my mistake in the first place was grabbing the idea of Facebook as if it were a pair of wire cutters and believing that I could do much more with it than simply cut wires.

Saturday, July 04, 2015

The Declaration of Independence

This strikes me as more meaningful this year than many past:

When, in the course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the laws of nature and of nature's God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.

 We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. That to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed. That whenever any form of government becomes destructive to these ends, it is the right of the people to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their safety and happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shown that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such government, and to provide new guards for their future security. --Such has been the patient sufferance of these colonies; and such is now the necessity which constrains them to alter their former systems of government. The history of the present King of Great Britain is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute tyranny over these states. To prove this, let facts be submitted to a candid world.

He has refused his assent to laws, the most wholesome and necessary for the public good.

He has forbidden his governors to pass laws of immediate and pressing importance, unless suspended in their operation till his assent should be obtained, and when so suspended, he has utterly neglected to attend to them.

He has refused to pass other laws for the accommodation of large districts of people, unless those people would relinquish the right of representation in the legislature, a right inestimable to them and formidable to tyrants only.

He has called together legislative bodies at places unusual, uncomfortable, and distant from the depository of their public records, for the sole purpose of fatiguing them into compliance with his measures.

He has dissolved representative houses repeatedly, for opposing with manly firmness his invasions on the rights of the people.

He has refused for a long time, after such dissolutions, to cause others to be elected; whereby the legislative powers, incapable of annihilation, have returned to the people at large for their exercise; the state remaining in the meantime exposed to all the dangers of invasion from without, and convulsions within.

He has endeavored to prevent the population of these states; for that purpose obstructing the laws for naturalization of foreigners; refusing to pass others to encourage their migration hither, and raising the  conditions of new appropriations of lands.

He has obstructed the administration of justice, by refusing his assent to laws for establishing judiciary powers.

He has made judges dependent on his will alone, for the tenure of their offices, and the amount and payment of their salaries.

He has erected a multitude of new offices, and sent hither swarms of officers to harass our people, and eat out their substance.

He has kept among us, in times of peace, standing armies without the consent of our legislature.

He has affected to render the military independent of and superior to civil power.

He has combined with others to subject us to a jurisdiction foreign to our constitution, and unacknowledged by our laws; giving his assent to their acts of pretended legislation:

For quartering large bodies of armed troops among us:

For protecting them, by mock trial, from punishment for any murders which they should commit on the inhabitants of these states:

For cutting off our trade with all parts of the world:

For imposing taxes on us without our consent:

For depriving us in many cases, of the benefits of trial by jury:

For transporting us beyond seas to be tried for pretended offenses:

For abolishing the free system of English laws in a neighboring province, establishing therein an arbitrary government, and enlarging its boundaries so as to render it at once an example and fit instrument for introducing the same absolute rule in these colonies:

For taking away our charters, abolishing our most valuable laws, and altering fundamentally the forms of our governments:

For suspending our own legislatures, and declaring themselves invested with power to legislate for us in all cases whatsoever.

He has abdicated government here, by declaring us out of his protection and waging war against us.

He has plundered our seas, ravaged our coasts, burned our towns, and destroyed the lives of our people.

He is at this time transporting large armies of foreign mercenaries to complete the works of death, desolation and tyranny, already begun with circumstances of cruelty and perfidy scarcely paralleled in the most barbarous ages, and totally unworthy the head of a civilized nation.

He has constrained our fellow citizens taken captive on the high seas to bear arms against their country, to become the executioners of their friends and brethren, or to fall themselves by their hands.

He has excited domestic insurrections amongst us, and has endeavored to bring on the inhabitants of our frontiers, the merciless Indian savages, whose known rule of warfare, is undistinguished destruction of all ages, sexes and conditions.

In every stage of these oppressions we have petitioned for redress in the most humble terms: our repeated petitions have been answered only by repeated injury. A prince, whose character is thus marked by every act which may define a tyrant, is unfit to be the ruler of a free people.

Nor have we been wanting in attention to our British brethren. We have warned them from time to time of attempts by their legislature to extend an unwarrantable jurisdiction over us. We have reminded them of the circumstances of our emigration and settlement here. We have appealed to their native justice and magnanimity, and we have conjured them by the ties of our common kindred to disavow these usurpations, which, would inevitably interrupt our connections and correspondence. They too have been deaf to the voice of justice and of consanguinity. We must, therefore, acquiesce in the necessity, which denounces our separation, and hold them, as we hold the rest of mankind, enemies in war, in peace friends.

We, therefore, the representatives of the United States of America, in General Congress, assembled, appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions, do, in the name, and by the authority of the good people of these colonies, solemnly publish and declare, that these united colonies are, and of right ought to be free and independent states; that they are absolved from all allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political connection between them and the state of Great Britain, is and ought to be totally dissolved; and that as free and independent states, they have full power to levy war, conclude peace, contract alliances, establish commerce, and to do all other acts and things which independent states may of right do. And for the support of this declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of Divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our lives, our fortunes and our sacred honor.

New Hampshire: Josiah Bartlett, William Whipple, Matthew Thornton
Massachusetts: John Hancock, Samuel Adams, John Adams, Robert Treat Paine, Elbridge Gerry
Rhode Island: Stephen Hopkins, William Ellery
Connecticut: Roger Sherman, Samuel Huntington, William Williams, Oliver Wolcott
New York: William Floyd, Philip Livingston, Francis Lewis, Lewis Morris
New Jersey: Richard Stockton, John Witherspoon, Francis Hopkinson, John Hart, Abraham Clark
Pennsylvania: Robert Morris, Benjamin Rush, Benjamin Franklin, John Morton, George Clymer, James Smith, George Taylor, James Wilson, George Ross
Delaware: Caesar Rodney, George Read, Thomas McKean
Maryland: Samuel Chase, William Paca, Thomas Stone, Charles Carroll of Carrollton
Virginia: George Wythe, Richard Henry Lee, Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Harrison, Thomas Nelson, Jr., Francis Lightfoot Lee, Carter Braxton
North Carolina: William Hooper, Joseph Hewes, John Penn
South Carolina: Edward Rutledge, Thomas Heyward, Jr., Thomas Lynch, Jr., Arthur Middleton
Georgia: Button Gwinnett, Lyman Hall, George Walton
Source: The Pennsylvania Packet, July 8, 1776

Friday, July 03, 2015

Grave Digging




Digging a grave is a sobering and holy experience.

I have never actually had to dig a person's grave but I have had to dig a number of pet graves -but the mechanics and surrounding sense are undoubtedly the same.

One patiently scrapes away the upper level of soil or grass or mulch and begins to dig into the soil.  If the soil is undisturbed or had not been disturbed in a long time one can see the banding of earth as one digs down.  You try to get straight strikes down into the soil to make the grave more square (important tip:  a square edged shovel is your friend here).  You work back and forth from side to side and top to bottom, trying to create a rectangular pit.  Thrust, apply pressure with the foot and leverage, lift up and onto the shovel and move it to the side with a soft "plop" as it hits.  Scrape across the bottom to get the loose dirt, then eyeball the grave to see where the next shovel set will be.
Repeat.

Sizing and depth are always in your mind as you dig:  the last thing you want to have to do is go to bury a beloved pet and discover that the grave is too small.  The only human example I have been involved in when the grave was too small was my grandmother, whose coffin was a bit longer that the grave.  It was the mountain ghost town where she had grown up, a fairly rural setting:  someone got a shovel and my father dug out another foot or so while we all waited.  Unexpected and yet seemingly appropriate.

My thoughts when I dig the graves are always the same, usually reflecting on the pet friend I am burying:  the good times we had, how I miss them, and the hope that I will see them sometime again.  The surroundings usual seem to help:  for some reason the universe seems to dull the intense roar of life and wind and weather, leaving a sort of silent bubble of myself and the grave I am digging.

It is shame, I think, that we no longer dig graves as part of the burial ceremony.  It is quite sterile now - we drive to the grave site (if we go at all anymore) and there is the grave, all nicely dug and the edges neatly covered.  The dirt may be in sight or it may be removed somewhere else.

In failing to dig the graves of those we love - perhaps even the digging of our own graves - we lose a potentially vital connection with ourself and our place in God's cosmos.  Grave digging brings us face to face with the reality of our own mortality:  as we dig the graves for others, so someday someone will dig a grave for  us.

How much more sobering, how much more valuable, if we dug the graves of all those we buried as part of the burial service.  It need not be fancy:  those suits and ties and somber dresses would be replaced by the boots and workclothes of outdoor work, the solemn graveside words enhanced by the fact that it is we who are digging the place to bury our friends and loved ones, not some impersonal third party who is doing simply because they are paid to.  It would bring a sense of peace and closure, one that often seems missing as we pull away from the grave site.  And the post-funeral meeting, usually involving food, would be enhanced by the smell of honest sweat and labor, a sort of fitting tribute to all of us whose life is surrounded by such labor in some form.

I know - I am extrapolating all sorts of things from the mere act of digging a grave.  But so many they say they want to be closer to nature and the natural world and there is nothing more natural than digging a grave to make sure the one we loved is probably placed and laid to rest in the bosom of the earth.

For when the grave is finished and the body laid down and the earth shoveled back over and the grass or mulch put back over there is little -save a stone - to mark where they lay.  What a comfort to know even if we cannot see where they now lay that we actively helped to put them there - perhaps the last gift we can directly give the departed.

Thursday, July 02, 2015

The New Path of Christian Growth

One of the trends of the West - and arguably one can say that it is a trend - is the slow rise of the disregard if not smoldering hostility for Christianity.  Christianity is by and large no longer welcome in the public square (somewhere interestingly to me, other religions such as Buddhism or Islam have a sort of "cool" or "novelty" factor that goes along with them).  We have not yet reached the point of active hostile persecution but are certainly entering a time of soft persecution.

Where do we go in such times?

Again, I do not discuss politics or religious apologetics on this site.  There are people that do and are quite good at it. My thoughts try to run to the more practical.  What are Christians to do?

I suggest we go back in our history, back to the early days of the church.  Where was the growth?

With the poor.  With the needy.  With those that the Christians served.

Read the words of Dionysius, Bishop of Alexandria:

  "Many of our brother-Christians showed unbounded love and loyalty, never sparing themselves and thinking only of one another.  Heedless of the danger, they took charge of the sick, attending to their every need and ministering to them in Christ, and with them departed this life serenely happy, for they were infected by others with the disease, drawing on themselves the sickness of their neighbors and cheerfully accepting their pains.  Many, in nursing and curing others, transferred their death to themselves and died in their stead, turning the common formula that is normally an empty courtesy into a reality:  "Your humble servant bids you goodbye.".  The best of our brothers lost their lives in this manner, a number of presbyters, deacons, and laymen winning high condemnation, so that death in this form, the result of great piety and strong faith, seems in every way the equal of martyrdom.  With willing hands they raised the bodies of the saints to their bosoms; they closed their eyes and mouths, carried them on their shoulders, and laid them out; they clung to them, embraced them, washed them, and wrapped them in grave clothes.  Very soon the same services were done for them, since those left behind were constantly following those gone before.
     The heathens behaved in the very opposite way.  At the first onset of the disease, they pushed the sufferers away and fled from their dearest, throwing them into the roads before they were dead and treating unburied corpses as dirt, hoping thereby to avert the spread and contagion of the disease; but do what they might, they found it difficult to escape." - Eusebius, The History of the Church (Penguin, 1989, p. 237).

I do not know that my thoughts are fully developed on this - but I will say this:  the world likes to practice the sort of charity that is seen by others and is too often related to special causes that occur occasionally.  The real work of need goes on day in and day out, in the hidden spaces that most cannot or will not do.

Here are the holes that Christianity can plug.  Here are the places where we can make God real.  Here are the places that we can impact lives.  Here are the places that perceptions or beliefs about how Christians "are" run smack into the deeds that they do.

The world is consumed with itself. Christianity commands us to first be consumed with God\, then with others, self last of all.

Our influence may be temporarily - or permanently - waning.  The soft persecution of words and laughter may pass into the hard persecution of abuse or imprisonment or even death.   But we have a chance to really take a part of the world by storm, a part that society too often pays lip service to or is passively served by Government.

As I stated earlier, the path of success to anything is laid out.  We need only to follow the footprints of those who have gone before.

Wednesday, July 01, 2015

The Mighty Snowball is Fallen


The Mighty Snowball is gone.

He had been losing weight for a bit but still seemed to have an appetite, still energetic and playful and interactive.  And then today, when I got home, a threshold had been passed, a threshold that animal owners probably know all too well.

He had some of his favorite carrots and a little electrolytes and then we just sat in the chair and rocked waiting for the time to come.  He was a family member to the end:  he waited until The Ravishing Mrs. TB and Nighean Gheal got home and started to enter the door before he slipped off to hurl his spirit through space.

He was with us about 5.5 years, a school rabbit baby (the size of my hand originally) that came home with Nighean Bhan and eventually ended up a ward of my own (which they most all seem to).  He was a fine companion, most tolerant and loving.  He loved to race around the back yard and would play tag with you, waiting for you to run to one end of the yard before he then raced after you.

He was the only rabbit I know that made noises as he moved, little sorts of grunts as he hopped back and forth.  He loved to be held and be pet and was always one that was happy to see you.

And now, he is gone.

In Richard Adams' classic Watership Down El-Arairah, the rabbit folk hero of the rabbit's tales, has a sort of personal guard - the Owsla - which is a sort of wild hunt of great rabbit heroes, joined by invitation only:

    " "You've been feeling tired"  said the stranger, "but I can do something about that.  I've come to ask whether you'd care to join my Owsla.  We shall be glad to have you and you'll enjoy it.  If you're ready, we might go along now."
      They went out past the young sentry, who paid the visitor no attention.  The sun was shining and in spite of the cold there were a few bucks and does at silfay, keeping out of the wind as they nibbled the shoots of spring grass.  It seemed to Hazel that he would not be needing his body any more, so he left it lying on the edge of the ditch, but stopped for a moment to watch his rabbits and to try to get used to extraordinary feeling that strength and speed were flowing inexhaustibly out of him into their sleek young bodies and healthy senses.
     "You needn't worry about them," said his companion.  "They'll be all right - and thousands like them.  If you come along, I'll show you what I mean."
     He reached the top of the bank in a single powerful leap.  Hazel followed, and together they skipped away, running easily through the wood, where the first primroses were beginning to bloom."

In my understanding, or maybe my belief of Scripture, animals are part of Heaven (God created them after all and He seems to love them a great deal because He made so many different kinds.  I think C.S. Lewis believed the same.).  And so I hope, albeit with a few tears in my eyes, that Snowball now runs fast and gloriously across Heaven's green field.

Run hard dear friend.  Run free.