Friday, January 29, 2016

Thursday, January 28, 2016

Quote And Context

"What would you attempt if you knew you would not fail?"
If you have read success literature at all, you have heard this quote.  If you know of Robert Schuller and the Crystal Cathedral, you have heard this quote.  This quote (in at least one reference) is attributed to Eleanor Roosevelt.

But this week I think I found where it came from.

"There was once a man who was very anxious, and wavered between fear and hope.  One day, overcome with sadness, he lay prostrate in prayer before the altar in church, and pondering these matters in his mind, said 'Oh, if only I knew that I should always persevere!'  then he heard within his heart an answer from God:  'If you knew this, what would you do?  Do now what you would
 do then, and all will be well.'"

Originator?  Thomas A Kempis (1380-1471), The Imitation of Christ

Changes the context of the who quote, does it not?  Imagine if this was actually quoted in the context that it was delivered.  Would we still engage in our smug satisfaction of being the complete and utter masters of our own fate?  Or would we perhaps consider it the context of an Authority to who we are accountable?

Be told we are to have confidence versus convincing ourselves that we should have confidence are two entirely different things.

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Test Results - JPLT

As you may remember, last December I took the Japanese Language Proficiency Test Level 5 .  This is a measure of a level of knowledge of Japanese.  This was something I had originally thought of taking two years ago and finally worked me myself up to do last year.

Well, the test results posted last night:

Wow!  I passed!

My test scores were not necessarily that great, but got me through the door:

A lot like college, passing is passing.  It is the certificate that matters.

Honestly, I am grateful (and more than a little surprised).  This is the second time in the period of a year that I have taken a certification test and passed - after The Firm and my failure at the Broker test in 2005, I had all but given up that I could do such things.

Will I go to Level 4?  I am not sure at this point. It would be good, but there is so much I do not yet know (see above scorecard).  

Still, it is a goal.  And it was met.  That is, in the end, what truly matters.

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

On Relevant Writing And Cage Bottoms

As I have mentioned in the past, one of my regular weekly activities is working at the local rabbit shelter.  I find it to be enjoyable work: it is the sort of manual labor that I can lose myself in, the folks are especially appreciative of the assistance - being the resident Highland Athlete, guess whose job it is to throw all the bags into the dumpster? - and, of course, the rabbits need me.

Part of the job is the changing of the rabbit cages.

 Besides litter boxes which are changed weekly, every cage has a tray in it with newsprint.  Every week in a cycle, 100 or so cages have their newsprint removed, their bottoms swept out, wiped down with vinegar, and then restocked with newsprint.

For the most part we use a local "free" sort of news magazine, the sort that almost every large city seems to have, incorporating a listing of local art events, columns, newsworthy items, and the occasional raunchy ad.  I have no idea how many they print, but we sure seem to end up with a lot of them.

As I finish wiping out the pan bottom I put them in (lengthwise or vertical, depending on the cage size) and look at the covers or the insides where I have determined the halfway split to be.  All of these local issues, so passionately and zealously written about.  All these words about art and food and entertainment, all these pictures about things of local interest taken with just the right angle and just the right light for a cover.

All to end up underneath rabbit poop and hay and (in some cases) washed out by urine, to be disposed of weekly.

It is a humbling thing, one I sometimes wonder (as I heave another bag over the edge of the dumpster or collect a mass of paper and poop into the trash bag) if the authors think about, even as I contemplate the outputs of my own life.  Do they know the end result of so much of their work?  Or are the consumed by the next big thing, constantly moving towards a horizon of imagined relevance without asking if what they are doing is actually making a difference?

It is making a difference in at least one sense.  The rabbits are quite appreciative.

Monday, January 25, 2016

Weighting for Change

So one of Toirdhealbheach Beucail's stupid little secrets (after all we are among friends here):  I struggle with my body image.

I have no idea why.  It is not like anyone has ever commented on it  And actually, I am reasonably good health.  But for some unknown reason, my weight - a simple number, for goodness sake - has always been a barrier for me. I have consistently 160-165 for almost 30 years.  But it still bothers me.

This month also represents the sixth month that I have been lifting as more than an activity.  How am I doing?  Here were my numbers in July, when I started:

Bench Press:  1 x 110 lbs
Push Press:     1 x 65 lbs
Deadlift:         1 x 130 lbs
Squat:             1 x 155 lbs

As of this last week, these were my numbers:

Bench Press:  8 x 130 lbs
Push Press:    8 x 75 lbs
Deadlift:        8 x 200 lbs
Squat:            8 x 220 lbs

Legitimate progress (which I assure you, is completely - and painfully - earned).

Here is the issue:  my weight has not changed at all.  Weighed myself this morning.  Right back at 165.

Immediately I ran back into my old scripts, all the old body things that I tell myself - including the fact that I do not look (or feel) a bit less fat (there, I've said it).

And then I looked at the numbers.

Iron does not lie. You cannot fake strong.  Your numbers are what your numbers are.

And I had trouble reconciling the two.  I should weigh less, right?  I am lifting a lot heavier than I used to.

And then the thought came to my mind:  It is not what you weight is, it is what your weight consists of.

I can lift a great deal more than I could before.   That means I have more muscle than I do before. It is replacing the other parts slowly.  So why do I need to worry about the number on the scale?  If it is lean muscle mass, it is eventually going to change anyway.

Change comes sometimes dropping slow and often in ways we cannot see.  But never doubt that it is coming.

Friday, January 22, 2016

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Feeling A Little Less Small

So how did it go yesterday?

Well, of course not at all like I expected.  I went to the meeting of course, trying to take Kymber's advice and surround myself with a suit of armor that none could penetrate.  Sure enough, the discussion was cut short - mostly because the chart that has the magical numbers on it is not ready.

Figures, right?  All keyed up and nowhere to go.

The second meeting happened later in the day - again, one involving individuals whom I often feel like make me  small.  Again, not like I had expected - someone had taken ill and so was not able to attend the meeting.  Was any decision made - no, once again things were deferred.  The sense of feeling small remained as I left the room.

But here is the funny thing:  as I drove home, I suddenly found that my heart was light.

Why?  Nothing had changed.  The people are still there.  The situation has not resolved itself.  My power has in no wise returned.  And if I deal with some of the individuals involved, I will still (more than likely) feel some level of small in my life.

But here is the difference: for the first time, I could simply accept that I had no further power in the matter.  I can change nothing.  I certainly cannot change them.  But almost contrary to what I might think, by admitting that I have no power to change them or the situation I felt myself freer than ever.  Why?  Because I had let go of any expectations.  I can simply move on to deal with things of greater important and people of greater import and let the situation grind to its inevitable conclusion.  In a sense I found myself rejoicing in my powerlessness - through it, I can demonstrate that whatever occurs or most likely goes wrong was beyond my power to control because it was beyond my power to influence.

We will see how things go next week, when we have round two.  But for the moment, I feel better than I have all week.

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Feeling Small

There are some people that make me feel small merely by speaking to them.

They just drain me of power and confidence every time I speak to them. I may be fired up or confident  or feeling organized and powerful when I walk if; I inevitably leave feeling powerless and cast adrift.

And small.  Always very small.

I do not know how to combat this.  It is not true of everyone.  It is not across every conversation that I have.  But when it happens, I find it devastating to my entire day and frame of mind.

Yesterday was obviously one of those days.  By the time I was done the with a simple 30 minute conversation about something I was left defeated.  That defeated feeling - that small feeling, of being powerless to do anything but what was essentially dictated to me - stuck with me all the way home.  The years of empty hopes, of Januaries that never resulted in anything but pats on the head and hollow words, came back to me.  My imagination - Defeatism?  Realism?  - drowned me throughout the evening, through class, and even to the end of the evening.  Cascading pictures of life moving on and myself stuck - or even falling behind - filled my head.

Why?  Because every time this happens it reminds me that the world does not work the way I believe it does.  Accomplishment is not rewarded.  People say they want leaders, but really what most want are followers who will be two steps ahead of their requests, who will take all of the responsibility and quietly follow orders, easing their passage through the day and working like automatic transmissions, quietly functioning so effectively that no-one thinks of them or realizes they are there.

Part of me hates this but says "This is simply what  you are called to do in life:  Be quiet.  Be humble.  Anticipate needs.  Do whatever they say even if you believe it to be against your own best interest - and trust now matter how it you feel all will come out well in the end."

Perhaps that is wise.  Perhaps fighting the battles that do not really matter is better in the longer run.

But this feeling - the feeling of disempowerment, of being regarded as merely a tool to execute policy while preserving the illusion of autonomy - pulls on my spirit like a spent balloon falling to the earth.

And feeling small.  Always, so small.

Cheese and Honey

This is cheese and honey:

It is a very simple dessert to make:

1)  Place a slice of cheese in a bowl.
2)  Drizzle honey over it.
3)  Eat.

In this case, made with some homemade cheese (English Farmhouse).

I love this dessert and everything that it promises.  It is simple.  It is something that can be made partially - or completely by one's self (my chances of getting a dairy producer are pretty low, but my chances of getting a bee hive are much higher). And being in the power to make, it is completely with my power to generate.

This is the sort of thing that warms my heart the most and makes me feel the most proud of doing things for myself:  small things that I can do and then benefit from.  It is the core of gardening or homesteading or indeed simply preparing for a disaster and then finding that one has prepared wisely.  Can there be any better feeling?

Monday, January 18, 2016

A Sadder Turn of Mind

It occurs to me that my writing may seem a bit different than usual.  I am less optimistic, more generally concerned or even "apocalyptic".

To be fair, I often have this bent of mind even if I do not always present it here.  I tend to believe the worst about most things instead of the best.  I learned long ago (the one thing I remember from Macroeconomics) how tenuous the modern economy is, and how easy it would be for a small event to rupture what we have come to expect as normal.  And I have lived through a failed business and a corporate layoff with the uncertainty that comes when suddenly what you expect as normal ends and where your next paycheck comes from is the sort of silence that does not provide comfort.

For some reason, this time feels different.

Maybe it is because I live smack dab in Oil Central and while I am not directly impacted I have heard the stories of the last crashes and the stories that are coming now as the industry is seemingly headed to the bottom.  Perhaps it is because I read of what seems to be a slow motion crash of markets everywhere and I understand that even a consumer society can reach the point of saturation, where there is no longer  need to buy anymore.

Perhaps it is because voices I value - rational voices, not the type to cry wolf - are saying the same thing and in some cases have gone silent.

I cannot see into the future.  I can only look through the lens of the past to see what has happened in the past and how it matches up with what is occurring.

Why is it that what I see alarms me?

Friday, January 15, 2016

A Proper Use of Anger

Sometimes there is a right use of anger.

Anger can be used to spur us to action.  Anger at a situation, anger at the treatment of another, anger at injustice or dishonesty properly channeled can lead to useful change.

To be clear:  I am talking about the anger of the individual, not the anger of the movement or the group.  The anger of these rapidly becomes the anger of the mob with usually destructive results and seldom results in something that is better.

Anger that spurs us to action drives us to accomplish things.  Angry at your situation?  Do not lash out at others, use it to change yourself.  Use it to drive to take that actions you need to make the changes you need or complete the things you need to complete.  Perhaps the situation will change, perhaps it will not.  Often we cannot control this.  But what we can do is change ourselves.

And sometimes the greatest forward momentum to change comes at the moment when we are so angry and fed up that we decide we will not longer take it but rather do what needs to be done to change it.

Thursday, January 14, 2016

How To Watch The Dissolution of Things?

How does one correctly watch the slow dissolution of things?
I would not say that I am connoisseur of economic and preparation blogs but I do frequent a number of sites, some that I find useful and some that are not all that useful but are good for getting a sense of how others think.  As you can imagine they are (on the whole) fairly lit up right now with the state of the world.  You pick it - economic, political, international - there are a lot of people theorizing and watching and making predictions.

And on the whole, I am not sure how much off the mark they are.  While I am to some sense a sensationalist - I get easily excited and more often than not see the end the world everywhere.  That said, it is hard to look at the last two months and see anything but a slow slide into something, somewhere I suspect not many folks would want to be.

So how does one correctly watch this?

Do I fret?  Do I panic?  Do I sigh long sighs?  Do I say "I Told You So"?  None of these seem precisely the correct response (although they are representatives of all such views).

I feel sadness - on the one hand a sort of sighing resignation as the best laid hopes of mice and men are (once again) thrown by the waves of "How The World Works" onto the Rocks of Reality, on the other hand a genuine sense of loss as the world I knew and have lived in seems to be dwindling away on every front, replaced by a sort of dysfunctional national and international society that seems held together by threads too fragile to long bear the weight placed on them.    Or (to be trendy) it is like watching someone die, knowing that they will be returning soon as the Undead, an unthinking unreasoning thing seeking only to destroy us.

We scarcely do a good job of discussing and preparing ourselves for death.  How much less do we prepare and discuss the death of civilizations - or prepare ourselves to properly watch them.

Monday, January 11, 2016

On A Quiet Evening

I sit here in my chair in our bedroom typing.  It is the chair we got from my parents before we moved - a little worn, but a fine soft recliner with faded spots on the arms from so much use.  It has hit below 40 F outside but the house is warm and quiet, the outside world passed away and the inside world quiet with reading and homework.

I sit here with iBun on my lap, quietly watching me type with his one good eye, ears back, relaxed.  Occasionally he will grind his teeth, a sign of contentment in rabbits - then with a flash he hops over the chair arm and behind the chair, seeking new worlds to conquer.

My tea, in the chipped blue cup with the flared top, has gone somewhat cold on me.  It is a lemon concoction, a type I am not usually fond of, but it serves the purpose for the evening of a hot non-caffeinated beverage.

I have spent the evening as they have typically come to be spent:  a walk with Syrah the Mighty, dinner with the Ravishing Mrs. TB and Na Clann, languages (Japanese, Korean and Old English this year), a little reading, iai practice, and now writing this blog post.

It strikes me, as I sit here in my quiet little spot of the universe - a spot which I am perfectly content with, surrounded by my things and simple pleasures, how truly fragile this all really is.  We are so highly connected and dependent on civilization - and civilization is so fragile in so many ways - that simple pleasures like these, which once upon a time were luxuries, may come to be seen as luxuries again.  Simple things like light and warmth and shelter, let alone books and comfortable chairs to sit in, bespeak utilities and houses and reliable food supply chains and manufacturing capacities and safe neighborhoods where one can read instead of worrying about one's safety.

All an intricate chain.  And all so fragile.

Unseasonal Peppers

Three Jalapeños:
Last peppers of the Winter
or first of the Spring?

Thursday, January 07, 2016

Meet iBun

Meet iBun:

He came to live with us about three weeks ago from the Rabbit Shelter I volunteer at.  He is a Dutch (sort of similar to Belted Galloways or Dutch Belted).

Why is he called iBun?  Because he only has one eye (his left one).  The right one is gone - from what the veterinarian said, it happened because of a trauma when he was young.  He certainly gets around well enough without it.

In a lot of ways he seems more like a cat: he is quite content to sit on your lap and get attention or even sit above you on the top of the chair to get a bird's eye view of the situation.

We were sorry to have Bella leave; we are grateful that iBun was able to come live with us.

On Giblets

Tonight, as I walked in to the house to the smell of Carolina style BBQ chicken in the oven, The Ravishing Mrs. TB asks me "What should I do with the parts?"

This is typically not a question I get coming home.

Looking at the sink, I see the pad on which the chicken had come - sure enough, there was the neck, heart, liver, and gizzard.  Where did this come from?  Apparently when she got the chicken, which was cut up, they gave us the whole chicken.

What the heck were we going to do with giblets?  Indeed, when was the last time I even saw giblets?

I hate to waste food (especially now with the general malaise of economic uncertainty I always feel just over my neck) but had no idea what to do with them.  Literally.  Not a clue, except for use in making gravy (which was not going to happen - not a gravy fan and what would I put it on anyway).  What to do? Go Internet, Young Man.

Turns out there are several things you can do.  After a little research, I am saving mine (via freezing) for this weekend where I am going to try a little experiment based on something I saw:  fry them in a little butter and eat them warm.

I write all of that to think of this:  I am lucky in that I have actually eaten giblets in the past and know there is something you can do with them and I am willing not to waste.  It saddens me - perhaps frightens is a better word - that there is probably a large part of the population that has no idea what to do with such things and even if they do, would rather throw them away than figure out a way to use them.

Someday we may very well be in a place where optional is really need to.  How we will fare as a civilization then?

Wednesday, January 06, 2016

We Are Not Serious About Succeeding

Most of us are not that serious about succeeding most of the time.

Oh, we say we are.  We put effort into it, forgetting that effort spent in the wrong direction is just like making no effort at all.  We put emotion into it, forgetting that emotion seldom accomplishes anything more than making us feel a certain way.  We put it to purity of thought and belief, forgetting that these things alone may make us feel intellectually superior but often will not accomplish the goals that we seek.

Success is not an accident.  It is not a mysterious thing that lies veiled on the other side of a mystic curtain that only a few can interpret for the rest of us.  It is, in most things, a series of facts and numbers which - when combined with effort in the right direction and emotion that empowers and purity of thought and belief that inspires - will get us where we need to go.  But it is always based on those facts and numbers.

If we were truly interested in succeeding - at anything - we would not start from the other things but we would start with three things:

1)  What do we want to succeed in doing?
2)  What are the steps to accomplish this thing?
3)  What do I have to do to do those steps?

We usual get the first one correct.  And once we know what to do, we can usual get the third item right as well (that is the one fueled by self-discipline and hard work and effort, emotion, and purity of thought and belief).  It is the second that we usually fail to grasp (which means, of course, we typically do not get the third item correct either).

Why?  Because we have our view of how that success should be achieved rather than looking at the actual facts and numbers and tracks of those that have gone on before.  By now in the history of the world there is very little that has not already been accomplished by someone, somewhere.  But somehow we believe that we can do it differently because our effort/emotion/purity of belief is stronger than the facts and numbers.  We are wrong most of the time, of course, but only realize this on the other side of the issue, when we are left with the defeat or failure and trying to analyze what went wrong (usually incorrectly analyzed as well, as we do not like to look at the thing right in front of our face).

Do we want to succeed at anything?  Then we need to to the things that lead to success, not the things we think lead to success.  Otherwise, we are simply pandering to ourselves and our feelings or intellect in the worst way.

Glorious defeats may be remembered, but they are not the thing that successful changes are made of.

Tuesday, January 05, 2016

2016 Garden Catalog Is Here

My Bountiful Gardens catalog showed up today (  Just like that, planting is back in season.

Not that  I can run right out and do it. We are still in the "Depths" of Winter here in New Home, which we will be for another two months or so.  I cannot really start much before then because the weather is too variable and the sun is not going to warm up the soil the way it needs to.

This is the best part of the year for me, the part before I actually start planting (and things start dying), when I can just look through the catalog of names and pictures and think "Oh, that looks nice" and "Would that not be a wonderful thing to grow?"   It is the realm of possibility removed from the reality of the experience.

What am I growing this year?  I am no 100% sure.  I am going to expand my grain growing efforts this year to the entire back fence as the areas has proved relatively nonproductive as a garden per se (due to neighbor's overhanging tree).  I will need to get quick growing grains as we go to "hot" within two months of winter breaking.

The perennial pursuit of a tomato plant that will grow will be there, as will undoubtedly peppers (they grow so well here) and the onions that in theory should grow as we get so much sunlight but never really seem to.  Other than that?  Not sure at this point; I have a number of seeds billed as "hot weather and drought resistant" greens I will probably try.

Mandarins for sure (the citrus plant most resistant to cold) will be there as well as working more with my potted lemons and limes, which are not doing so well as I would have liked in my garage (although they are blooming and have not died yet).  A last plan, hopefully in preparation for bees, is a planting of lavender in my crab grass that needs to die.  It will not do anything now, but my hope is that in 4 years I will see progress.

I love this time of the year - when dreams are real and the pictures in the catalog make me remember why I love the possibility of gardening so much.  It is promise of tomorrow wrapped up in green leaves and something I can eat.

Monday, January 04, 2016

A Break From Social Media

One of the unlooked for advantages of taking a long vacation is that it bleeds over into your social life - and online social life as well.  My use of social media has fallen to an all time low, at least in the 6 years since I started using it.   And I have to be honest, it seems to be the greatest thing ever.

It is not just the time sink of the activity - no, it remains the fact that all of sudden I do not have the ongoing lives of others pressing into my own.  There is a certain amount of stress and care that simply falls away when others no longer play such a significant role.

The odd thing is that for a couple of years I was a consistent poster; every day, I would seek to post quotes to inspire every one.  People seemed to appreciate it of course, but it reached the point in my life that I was freaking out over finding quotes to post every day (2 in most cases).  It got to the point that I could not longer keep up.  So I stopped.

And found out that it was hardly missed at all.  Not one person - one - asked about why the quotes no longer appeared.  My great gift to the online social world, it seemed, was little more than something else to fill up the feeds of others and to occasionally be responded to.

The same thing happened this time around.  Suddenly my day became less and less controlled by what was going on in the lives others.  I filled the time, to be sure - I read.  I followed up on actual events in the actual world.  I wrote.  I planned.  I held rabbits.

And felt the weight of that world slip away.

Will I abandon social media?  Not at all - like an automobile, it has its uses and pitfalls.  I have found a new level for the uses.  I understand more fully the pitfalls.

And I need to remember - I have actual people here in my life, far more close than the feeds of others crawling across my day.  My attention should also be appropriately focused.

Friday, January 01, 2016

2016: The Year of Toirdhealbheach Beucail

So I decided that I was going to make this year my year when I woke up this morning.

2015 was good.  Did I do everything that I intended to do in the year?  Not hardly.  Did I do a lot to move me forward?  Absolutely.

- Got professional certification
- Participated in Highland Athletics, including my first out of state game (which I performed credibly at).
- Took the Japanese Language Proficiency Test
- Opened up a new garden plot
- Continued to engage in Iai, including buying a nagniata
- Competed in an endurance race and successfully completed it
- Made the decision to change churches
- Published one book, wrote and published another (that makes seven total)
- Found a fantastic sensei for weight training
- For perhaps the first time in a long time, came up with a clear vision of what needs to happen for me to move to the next level
- And, as almost the last thing I did this year, found my old mission statement for my life which, upon looking at it, continues to be the mission.

So Huzzah indeed and well done.  But I see this only as a launching pad for this year.  I know what I have to do, I merely have to do it.  I have a plan.  I have the qualities I want to develop.  I have the skills I need to prepare myself to move the next level or job or career.

And so as the final act of commitment - the proverbial "burning of the ships" - I claim this year for me.  No turning back now.

The way is only forward.