Monday, February 29, 2016

Basket From The Past: A Cautionary Tale

Longaberger is moving from their Big Basket Building.



Longaberger, in case you have never heard of them, was a company that made baskets.  It was started in 1973 by Dave Longaberger, whose father J.W. had made baskets in Dresden, OH in the 1920s and 1930s.  Dave began making baskets and then began having others make baskets; in 1978 he went with a direct home sales route.  The baskets were handmade, signed by the individual making them.  They branched out into iron working and ceramics.  By 1999-2000, the year of his death and the passing of his company to his daughters, the company had over 8000 employees and $1 Billion in sales.  They had numerous plants, a sort of retail shopping theme area (The Homestead), an annual gathering where the Columbus Convention Center was filled with screaming consultants and hangers on, and a regional business model built on the industry and the people that bought the products and came and visited.

In 2003, it began to fall apart.  I am not in the know why specifically, although (see below) my guess is in a tougher economic market handmade baskets (not cheap, by any stretch of the imagination) had less of an appeal.  The company was bought by an investment firm, CSVL, in 2013.  Currently (according to the news article) they have 340 full and part time employees now, only 70 of whom make baskets.

I have more than a tangential knowledge of these things.  Once upon a time, The Ravishing Mrs. TB sold Longaberger Baskets. In 2004, she and I went back to the convention (called the Bee).   We just looked - we had a basket we made when we were there.

The thing that strikes me most about the article as I read it was the memories I had of a thriving business and community.  It was not just the two or three plants that we visited, it was the regional economy that existed because of the baskets.  Restaurants, shops - all drew their life from the baskets that were made and the people that flocked like crazed groupies to buy and shop them.

I have not really thought about them in a long time other than the fact that we have their product in every room of our house (and several boxes in our garage) as well as the flatware that we use.  They are well made products and will probably last more than our lifetimes - but there are only so many that you can use.  The Ravishing Mrs. TB mentioned them going out of business and all of a sudden I had to go look.

The thing that makes me sad is that I can imagine the economic impact without even being there - one does not lay off 96% of their employees without it having a drastic impact on the regional economy.   Doing a quick Ixquick search reveals a series of news articles like mile markers on a descending path - Apparently with 3 years of our visit they were already down 65% of their employees.  The ripple effects of such a thing are staggering:  businesses and families are impacted at every level.

 I note (with a little investigation) that the Bee, their annual convention, has relocated back to Dresden, the town where the company started in the local high school - and they only expected about a 1000 attendees.

This story should serve as a grim reminder to all of the risks and costs of having economies based on single sources, especially single sources which are not really critical to any industry or any one's lifestyle.  And it should also serve as a sad warning to all about being willing to see over the horizon unflinchingly and preparing for it.


Sunday, February 28, 2016

Prayer of the Day - 28 February 2016

"Lord, make possible for me by grace what is impossible for me by nature.  You know how little I can bear and quickly I become discouraged by a little adversity. I pray You, make every trial lovely and desirable to me for Your Name's sake, since suffering and affliction for Your sake is so profitable to the health of my soul."

- Thomas A Kempis, The Imitation of Christ

Friday, February 26, 2016

If You Are Not Excited...


This resonates very deeply with me at the present time.  Everything I am excited about is on the fringes of my life and the main part of it merely fills me with a mediocre feeling of something I have to do.

That needs to change.

(Hat Tip: American Viking)

Thursday, February 25, 2016

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

A Discouraging Day

Yesterday was a discouraging day.
It was discouraging on two fronts.  The first was the realization that, in order to bring documents into compliance, I would have to go through 105 documents, figure out their status, and get them revised.  This involves, on a simple move, working through 5 different computer screens and three different folders.  To give you a scope of the time involved - because our system is really not all that efficient - it took me 3 hours to figure out the status of 8 documents and get them moving appropriately.  By that math, I only have 37 hours left of working with the system to get the documents moving - and that is just moving.  All of them will still have to be reviewed, formatted, and signed off on.

The second was the realization that a Key Performance Indicator, one that has trended within specification for well over a year, has suddenly fallen off during the last quarter.  This is not a good thing.  Not only will I have to conduct an investigation to figure out what it is up, it will mean additional meetings and follow up  (my guess - going to two meetings a week on this subject instead of one).  Yes, the system is processing more - which means we are catching more, which is a good thing -but it appears that the system is also failing.

These are not the droids I was looking for.

I left feeling discouraged and defeated - discouraged because the work that people and systems are supposed to do has fallen upon me (and it may be assumed, is thought that it will be done by me), defeated because it feels as if any attempts at progress are ultimately futile; in the event of a failure, the work simples rolls back to me.

I will go in of course tomorrow and start over - I have blocked out large portions of the next three days to complete my tasks to ensure that the work will get done.  What bothers me, in my heart of hearts, is the simple and inescapable fact that even if this all gets done and moved forward, in the end it simple will be rolled up and disappear into the atmosphere as if it had never existed.

I long for more meaning from my employment.

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Cold Wind Over My Career

I had the cold touch of reality caress the back of my neck today.

It was a chance thing:  a conversation that got me thinking, and in thinking got me to realize that in some ways while I am incredibly blessed at the moment, this all could disappear much quicker than I could possibly envision.

That gets the mind working, of course:  How much are we paying now?  If we got rid of debt, how much would we owe then?  What do I have to have and what are really luxuries in my life?  (Hint:  Like most people, they are a lot less than I tend to think that they are.)

It was a needed reminder, of course.  I got sloppy and happy over the last couple of weeks - a bonus and a retroactive pay adjustment will do that to you.  Suddenly you feel flush and in control of things.  Your plans tend to change a bit, the purse strings get loosened up.

And then the wind hits.

And then you get back on track to what you intended to accomplish this year in the first place.  Because in this environment, banking on a career to carry you forward for the foreseeable future is a rather high stakes bet indeed. And one that I would rather face prepared than surprised.

Monday, February 22, 2016

The Relentless Pursuit of the Unattainable

This weekend was the Kickoff of the 2016 Highland Games Season.  In some ways it probably functions just as the old Games 700 years ago did:  coming out from the Winter, seeing friends you have not seen in four to five months, brushing the dust off and trying to throw again.

My game has not wholly failed me - I got two minor PRs, one in Heavy Weight for Distance and one in Heavy Hammer (both of which are super sweet because the heavy events are the most adverse to people with my weight) and came super close to 18' Sheaf above bar, smacking off the bottom of the bar three times (which will be mine next year).  Other throws were, for the most part, where they probably needed to be (except for Braemar Stone, which was a heavy nasty 24 lb lumpy mess that had no handle and did not fly so much as waddled through the air).  It was a rather satisfactory beginning to the season.

But that was not the important thing.

The thought struck me, as I was standing under the bar for Weight Above Bar preparing to swing the weight, that really Highland Games was no different from Iaijustsu or Weight Lifting:  a series of prescribed motions that we repeat over and over, attempt to get them better.  Progress is occasionally measured in large bumps but more often in the small forward motions of inches or slightly improved form:  the sword held at the correct height, the back that is where it should be on a deadlift, the drop after going down but before up on Weight Above Bar right after the weight becomes weightless (yes, it is a thing).

We are chasing the Unattainable.

We are chasing perfection of form and execution.  In a sense, there is never an ending place to where one can be with these things - or almost anything, actually.  There is only the continued to work to make one's self adhere closer to the standard, of seeing things become more and more elegant and beautiful and appear as if no effort is expended when in fact the effort has been channeled into perfect motions and movement.  We may never reach it, but we are always trying.

My Weight Above Bar only hit 9 feet.  My PR is 10 feet.  My goal is 12 feet.  But that is okay.

I have all season to pursue it.


Friday, February 19, 2016

40 Days of Positive: An Update

How do you return to the positive from the negative?

This is the greatest challenge I am finding as I go through my 40 day challenge of positive thinking.  I am very accomplished at bringing myself down - how can I be at bringing myself up?

I am not going to lie - for me, it is a lot harder than it originally sounded.  I all too easily get myself into a dark funk where one negative thought takes root and before you know it all that it bouncing around inside my head are thoughts that go nowhere but down.  I am sure it has always happened this way, just that I was not aware of it.

How am I combating it?  One is simply by becoming conscious that such a thing is happening.  It takes a certain stepping outside of one's self to get the perspective, an acknowledgement of what is going on - almost as if I am outside of my head looking in on it, an active watcher to my own thoughts.

The second is then to consciously redirect my thoughts to something else.  If I am driving, doing some sort of language learning seems excellent for this - it forces my brain to actively engage on learning instead of theorizing and hypothesizing.  Another thing that seems to work well is to focus not on my  current situation but on the goals that I have set for the year.  This gets my focus off of whatever is going on in my head and onto the future and the things that I can control to get there.

(It probably goes without saying that Iai and Exercise will drive the thoughts out of my head as well - focus on form leaves room for little else).

Is this what I imagined it would be?  Not entirely, no.  But am I making progress?

Undoubtedly, yes.

Thursday, February 18, 2016

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

A Simple Decision

Yesterday was a good day.

I cannot fully tell you why it was a good day.  Certainly my outer circumstances did not significantly modify themselves from the day before:  my house was the same, my job was the same, even the drive home was the same.  Nothing changed outwardly.

But something changed inwardly.

The moment it changed, I think, was the moment that I made a decision to act independently.

It was certainly not some kind of great action or sudden revelation that caused me to perform some great and noble deed.  It was the simple action of getting up and away to get something done, work that needed to get accomplished and I was unable to focus on accomplishing it.

But it was the decision to do it that made the breakthrough.  Rather than get angry or frustrated or not get anything done, I simply went somewhere to get it done.  And everything changed - because I had made a decision.  Beyond just getting the immediate work done - I started making and doing all kinds of things for the rest of the day, things that actually would move me forward in my life instead of just staying in the same place.

It gives credence to what Gary Ryan Blair, The Goals Guy (http://www.100daychallenge.com) says:  Everything Counts.

Even the simple decision to get up and move.

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Morning Naginata

Every Tuesday and Thursday I practice Naginata in the morning.

The original purpose of doing this was both to break up my running a bit (5 days a week is somewhat hard on my body) and to practice Naginata on a more regular basis.  The practical application of this has become practicing a polearm in the dawn.

The sidewalk in front of my neighbor's house (our Oak trees still hang too low) has become the track over which I practice.  Back and forth practicing cuts - the overhead takane and the side cutting tomoe and forward thrusting tsuki - in the pre-dawn darkness.  I finish with kata, connecting the cuts together with movements to make one continuous flow of spinning and cutting across the gray concrete.

The splendid part of doing this early in the morning, of course, is that you get the early morning encounters:  the neighbor across the street coming out for a cigarette, the commuters driving by on their way to work, Crazy Running Guy who moves off of the sidewalk onto the street as he runs past and then gets back onto the sidewalk to continue on.

I always wonder what they think as they come by and see me out there.  No one has ever slowed down or stopped to look and so perhaps I am merely another fleeting wisp in the morning, the deer that is just out of sight or the cat tail disappearing behind the tire.  Perhaps I am not any more worthy of attention than any other athlete out in the morning doing their athletic thing.

Which is fine, of course.  I do not perform for themselves but for me, the (somewhat ungraceful) dance of the naginata done largely to the audience of oak trees and night birds and starts.  If the birds and trees have comments, they carefully keep them to themselves.

The stars, of course, just silently shine on.

Monday, February 15, 2016

What If?

What if we all simply tried to mind our business?

What if, instead of continually looking at what others can do for me or give to me, we simply just started asking "What can I do for myself?"

What if we exercised the fiscal responsibility to fix our own finances rather than hoping someone else would do it for us?

What if we agreed that sometimes our differences are just to big to be bridged and parting amicably is infinitely better than arguing incessantly?

What if we valued personal responsibility higher than we valued anything else?

What if we sought to live to the edges of our personal possibilities instead of living far beneath them?

What if we simply tried more?

What if?

Friday, February 12, 2016

Thursday, February 11, 2016

Positive in a Negative Environment

One of the great challenges of trying to be positive is the environment that surrounds you.

Yes, I know, be a thermostat, not a thermometer.  Intellectually I understand that but practically it becomes somewhat challenging.  Even if I can manage my own thoughts about myself (which requires an iron grip on my consciousness and the willingness to drag the least little excursis back from the brink) it is multiplied by an environment which does not encourage positive energy.

It came from two places: the first was the world in large (and that "I am going to have to avoid current events" is going to have to become a real thing.  The primaries on both sides are going to completely destroy my composure) and the second was the world in which I work.

The world in which I work was not so much a single thing that encouraged me to be negative but a series of small and annoying events which slowly settled my mood to the floor.  Mediocre systems that resulted in repetitive tasks to be completed.  The ever growing list of things that must be done, buried beneath the list of things that I should be doing.  And the frustration that while there are things I can do to impact my own direct world, there is little I can do to impact the way that world impacts on me (except leave, I suppose, of course).

My secret for getting through the day?  I wish I had a profound one - instead, I muscled my way through clinging to the thought "No negativity today.  No negativity today."  And was it successful?  I did not go completely negative when I left but there was a high level of anxiety when I got home, as if my frustrations were seeking a way to vent themselves as they could not do it in the usual fashion (I fought them of course - we took ourselves for a walk tonight).

So completely positive today?  No.  But did I manage to stave off the bottom?  Absolutely.  And that is a form of victory in itself.

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

40 Days of Positive

Yesterday this came as part of a message from The Viking:

"I say this with love, you need to change your inner monologue to focus on positivity.  You're a smart, talented and kind hearted man.  I place a high value on you, we all do."


It came from completely out of nowhere.  It was something that was neither mentioned in conversation nor prompted by anything I am aware of.

But there it is "You need to change your inner monologue to focus on positivity."

I know that I have issues with, I guess, negativity?  Not quite depression, but never quite happiness either.

Tomorrow, as you might know, is the beginning of the season of Lent.  We are counseled to deny ourselves things as a outward sign of denial and mourning.  I will do the one or two things I typically do for denial, such as giving up sugar (a standby) or fasting from internet news (a necessity).  But this year I think I will add one more thing, an adding to rather than denial of:  for 40 days I will not allow (or will try to not allow) myself to fall into negativity.  If I find myself falling there, I will simply have to come up with to think about instead - a list of 10 things to be positive for, or simply a self pep talk.  But for 40 days, I will try to not allow anything negative into my thought life.

It will be hard - far more challenging than simply giving up chocolate.  But if The Viking says something like that, it is something I need to pay attention to.

Tuesday, February 09, 2016

Taking Myself For A Walk

Tonight was another journey around the block, this time with Syrah in hand.

As I wandered around the neighborhood - again as last night, sheathed in darkness although not nearly so many groups of cars and flickering ghostly lights - I laughed to myself as Syrah was sniffing yet another spot where obviously someone had stopped visit.  "Taking myself for a walk" I said and chuckled.

And then thought about the statement for a little while.

Taking myself for a walk.  Implies a few things, does it not?  Like I need to be taken for a walk - or rather, I need to allow that I should be taken for a walk.

And to be taken for a walk is not a one time thing.  It is a daily thing, something I have let slip to the side in the last few months as other things came up.  Justifiable things in my mind, but nothing so justifiable that it should prevent me from doing this.

The investment?  Time of course, that most precious of commodities.  But just like walking Syrah, the benefits of a walk - 30 minutes out of a day - far outweighs the simple use of the time.  It is not just the practice of exercising - indeed, it is the practice of getting away from all and being able to be alone with one's self with purpose and yet relaxing.

I certainly have not been taking myself for a walk as I should have been.  But there is no reason to believe that it carries no less criticality for myself than for Syrah.

Besides, only one of us has to wear a leash.

Monday, February 08, 2016

On A Super Bowl Night's Walk

Realizing that I have let my aerobic activity drop off during the winter months (I use the excuse of the cold when it is just a much lazy) I decided to take a walk tonight.
Tonight is an unusual night.  This night, or rather whatever night this falls on, is the night of the Super Bowl.  There is no other U.S. sporting event that has a single focal point (all the other big ones are the best of 7).  For one night, even I can make a predication about where millions of Americans will be:  at home, watching the Super Bowl.

So I went for a walk (we do not have cable and have not actually watched the Super Bowl since perhaps 2008, so there is no sense that I am missing anything).

The odd thing was how quiet the neighborhood was.

Our weather has lurched back towards unseasonably warm so I would not have been surprised even at 2000 to find people walking their dogs or even just enjoying the respite from winter.  Instead, nothing.  Literally just myself walking along (except for one group of rogue children with Nerf guns, either bored with the game or conveniently moved outside by the adults) amidst darkened houses with the ghostly flickering of lights denoting a TV set in so many of them, small clusters of cars around some indicating a party.

It actually saddened me as I walked between the pools of light formed by the streetlights.  I cannot fully tell you why, although the thought of millions of people being excited by a game had something to do with it, I suspect.  It is one of the sad parts of this society and (perhaps) this civilization, that we have raised passively watching games to a level of almost worship.

No, I think the thing that saddened me the most as I walked is that we have come to be this:  cocooned in our little homes, bands of light from entertainment devices bouncing off the walls as the silent world goes on around us.  Someday the end may come but most will scarcely be aware of it, unless it happens to enter the screen they happen to be watching.

We have become a civilization of the passive.  And passive civilizations are never the ones that endure.

Friday, February 05, 2016

Otsuchi

Today my Otsuchi came in the mail.


An Otsuchi, in case you have not been keeping track of your traditional Japanese weapons, is a wooden maul or mallet used by Japanese warriors, primarily for bursting through doors or gates or even walls.


Mine is a 10 lb head mounted on a 3 foot shaft (apparently they could go up to 6' shaft, which would be handy for breaking into things.  Not so much as a weapon).  I have taken some practice swings with it and it is amazing how heavy 10 lbs can be when you are moving it through the air.



In a way, the Otsuchi describes my life:  an obscure weapon with no practical purpose to be trained with simply because it can be done and I want to do it.  Really true of so many of the interests and activities that I pursue.

Which is okay.  Because in the end, Thor does not really exist - but I and my Otsuchi do...

Thursday, February 04, 2016

Frustration in Weightlifting

Today was a back to back lifting day:  bench press and deadlifts.
My bench press has proven to be the most disappointing part of my weight routine.  I simply feel like I am making no progress in it - or if I am, it is very slow progress indeed.  It frustrates me because progress in my other lifts - deadlifts, squats, push press - has been steady and demonstrable.  But bench has been almost impreceptible - my best single was 1 x 160 lb in November; I just managed 2 x 160 lb last week.  That is close to my body weight but hardly the sort of the thing I was hoping.

My deadlift was frustrating today as well. Deadlifts have shown a much steadier improvement over time but today was not as good as I would have liked - max of 5 x 220 lb and a downgrade of 3 x 175 lb.  My form was terrible - my stance is (I think) too narrow and my knees are going askew in ways that are not all that grand for me.  I have gotten 5 x 240 lb in the past, but today was not the day - the  5 x 220 lb barely recognizable as a finished set.

This whole thing is something which I have not yet fully come to grips with yet in lifting:  the fact that it does not seem to be that linear of a process.

I want Personal Records.  Everyone, I think, does.  But as sometimes these get knocked down almost week by week, in other cases they linger for weeks at a time.  And other cases (like today) things take a backwards step in ways that I do not fully understand.  I would think that the ability to lift would increase in a linear fashion:  more weight over time would equal heavier lifts.

Apparently I think wrong.

I will be back in the gym on Friday for another back to back - Push Press and Squats - and will probably hit some of the same frustrations.  But it is at moments like these that I have to go back to my workout book (yes, I have become enough of a meathead to keep one of those now) that I can look and see that while I may not feel like I am making process, I have in fact made a great deal of progress since I started in July.

Eyes to the sunrise, keeping them on the prize.

Wednesday, February 03, 2016

The Review

So like it or not, today was review day.  How did it go?

Surprisingly well.  In fact, the best review I have ever had here.

A promotion (for the first time to a new level in 14 years).  And a pretty decent raise.  And 101% of the possible bonus.

Only negative in the review?  Not really a negative, but it is desired that I take more of a leadership role (which has already been added to my list of goals for myself anyway). Other than that, well done, good job, keep it up.

As I said, best review I have had in seven years.  Strangely gratifying after all these years.  14 years is a long drought, a very long drought indeed.

Sure, the bar is set high.  Sure, I will have to really push if I want to get close to this next year.  But for one moment, there was a brief sense that after a really long while, someone finally noticed.

And that is the best feeling in the world.

Tuesday, February 02, 2016

Just Sad

Last night I was inexplicably sad when I got home.

I do not know that I have a formal reason why.  Yes, the day was not the best it could have been and yes, I little sarcasm (meant in fun, no doubt) was directed my way later, but it certainly did not explain the fact for the feelings I had.

I am not sure.  There was just no energy at all for doing anything when I got home at night except for the bare minimum of what was required.  And underlying it all,  a great sadness.  Not depression - depression, I know all too well.  Just sadness.

And I do not know what to do with sadness. Not really.  Depression I know what steps to take, as I have had to take them many times.  But sadness I have no idea what to do with.

I just want to hide - shut myself off from the greater Internet and interpersonal world and just hide among my rabbits and books, my iai and the very small kingdom of Ichiryo Gusoku.   Cut off communication.  Just go silent and emerge for interaction when I have to.

It is silly, of course, and I eventually will find my way through it.  But I am struck by the fact that something can still affect me deeply, an emotion which I have no meaningful way to combat.  It makes me fearful and hopeful at the same time - fearful that it will come again, hopeful that there remain emotions that I still have the privilege of working through.

Monday, February 01, 2016