Sunday, May 31, 2020

Fundraiser for Linda G

Hi Friends!  Posting this to the top of the feed again.  Again, if you can, give.  If not, prayers and thoughts are greatly appreciated.

All - If you have been here for any period of time, you know Linda G of Me.  She is inevitably a woman of kindness and grace (unlike some of the rest of us around here).

Last weekend she and her family had their 150 year old home completely destroyed in a tornado.  One of her friends has set up a fundraiser for which you can read the details here.  I would consider it a personal favor if you could stop by and at least read about it.  If you can give, give.  If you cannot give (and not everyone always can, I am sure she would appreciate your thoughts and prayers.)

I Am Not Afraid

(Administrative note:  Due to The Book of Face fast, I am not going have as many other of these, but I will have more Brainy Quotes represented.  Apologies and I hope you enjoy just the same.)

Saturday, May 30, 2020

A World Without News

I am coming to wonder what a world without news would be like.

It used to be that way, of course.  News was essentially local ("Yon deer is in my wheat again, Harold") or rumors of war ("Word is that Constantinople has fallen" - Somewhere in England, January 1454).  A lot was known about the immediate area, some about the local area, and the farther out you went, the less you established as "known".

We are quite the reverse of that now, of course.  We know everything about everything 24/7.  Goings on near and far are available for us in clear, riveting detail - and we can get it anywhere:  via TV, via radio, via the computer InterWeb, via our handheld mobile devices. 

All news, all the time.

But are we the better for it?

If I had to categorize my own life, I would say no.

Most news I see or hear about is 1)  Horrible; and 2) Completely outside of my control.  Does it impact me somehow?  Likely yes, given the interconnectedness of our world these days.  Can I somehow change my life and avoid the impact?  Possibly.  But most likely for most of those things, I should be anticipating and avoiding them anyway. 

Truly.  The last two days without The Book of Face have been almost magical - not that The Book of Face is a news provider per se, but rather that it transmits what people believe is news.

And then I got to thinking.  I hit four or five websites regularly for current events.  And then I strated to figure out that of those four or five, they really just reposted notes from each other.  So then I cut it down to two or three sites with a couple of add ons.  Suddenly, my life got a little less aggravated.

The reality is that while I need information - for example, how much money I have in the bank or what books are available on Half Price Books (okay, I do not "need" that but I want it) or what the weather will be or how to do things like gardening and livestock and building a water collection system (thanks, fellow bloggers!).  What I do not need is the constant agitation of society and its issues and angst.

In a perfect world - a world I am actively pursuing - the news will be local, little, and informative to my life. 

Does that change what is coming?  No, not at all.  But I am tired of borrowing tomorrow's issues today with neither the ability to change them or nor the strength to overcome them.

Friday, May 29, 2020

A Sustainability Milestone of Sorts

I have reached at least of my goals in sustainability, albeit a small and rather silly one:  effectively, I am now self sustaining in yogurt.

I eat yogurt - a lot of yogurt.  I can easily put away one of those larger containers a week (good source of protein, low fat, all the things).  The cost on those is about $4.00 here locally for the generic brand.

One of the activities The Plague has allowed me to do with greater frequency is make my own yogurt.  It is not terribly hard:  one gallon of milk in a Crock Pot heated to 176 F, cooled to 115 F, culture added, and then wrapped up to keep the heat (I wrap the outer container in a blanket and put a towel over the lid where the heat loss is greatest) and allow to sit for 12 hours.  After that, I drain through cheese cloth for 12 hours (I like thick Greek style yogurt, so I let it drain quite a while).  Ladle into a container and done.  The cost is that of the gallon of milk (about $3.00 hereabouts), the culture (maybe $0.25 over the life of the product), and the electricity (around 6 hours) to run the Crock Pot.

Yogurt is a versatile food.  I eat it for breakfast (I just put it in with my dry oatmeal and eat it, but occasionally exchange the oats for cereal or even more rarely fruit).  You can make any number of sauces out of it (dill dipping sauce, the Greek sauce tzatziki).  It also makes a great dessert with honey poured over it as well.

But here is the thing I have reached: I am now self sustaining in yogurt.

Not self sufficient:  I do not have anything that produces the raw ingredients (milk), nor do I think it likely that I ever will.  But give me a gallon milk and I can make yogurt. 

I just received (from the good folks over at The New England Cheesemaking Supply Company) a Bulgarian Yogurt Culture which (in theory) allows you to take from a previous yogurt, add to prepared milk, and then make a new batch of yogurt. I will try to ease into this (my confidence level for such things is low), but in theory it is possible.  If true (and successful!) this would extend my self sustainability further.

There is no great victory here; man cannot live on yogurt alone.  But, at least to me, it matters.  It is a chip - a very small chip, but a chip - in my requirements to be dependent on the system to provide me with finished products. And anything - any single thing - that reduces one's reliance on a rather creaky distribution system or on the ability and willingness of others is a victory worth having.

Onward to the path of dairy freedom!

Thursday, May 28, 2020

Social-Less Media

So it looks like I am about to take another long vacation from social media.

If you are reader of any length here, you know that I had an on again-off again relationship with The Book of Face.  In a way it is very hard as most all organizations I follow or belong to have gone to The Book of Face as their primary contact and distribution of information point - and also, my family (my parents especially) like pictures and updates of the girls. 

But the Book of Face can become littered with opinions and thoughts such that even if you are not directly involved in the discussion, you are flattened by the input.  Reading it can be enough to ruin your day, even if you had nothing to say.

As a compromise (and because apparently no-one under the age of 30 uses the Book of Face regularly) I went to Insta-tele-gram, which in theory is only pictures and videos.  Mistake.  The same thing happens there as well, just without the longer conversations.

Oddly enough, one of the things (for me anyway) is that I also tend to take to heart what people post.  You learn some things about people and their opinions, sometimes things that disappoint or sadden you - much, I suppose as I disappoint and sadden some individuals as well.  I understand that we are supposed to separate the individual and their worth from their opinions, thoughts, and beliefs - but being someone who believes we should be integrated in our actions and beliefs I tend to see the individual along with their opinions, thoughts, and beliefs.

And so, in the midst of a busy week in the midst of a busy Spring, I suddenly find myself walking back from social media.  More and more.

I have a few groups I follow and one or two friends that I keep in contact with, and for them I will keep the account (and for the family, of course).  But social media continues, in the midst of its growing reach, to be less and less impactful for me.  I do not know if I would define it as I am less social, or social media is less social.  Either way, there is less and less of life improvements that it has to offer me.

At some point I am going to get very brave and do an entire week without it.  That will lead to two weeks, and that to four, and then before long I will wonder how I ever lived with it, as I used to wonder how I ever lived without it.

Wednesday, May 27, 2020

The Plague of 2020: Observational notes

So where we live, they have been going through a limited reopening - although oddly enough, both by state and county by county (we live in one county, and I work in another).  I was out and about a bit over the weekend - some general observations on the state of things.

1)  Traffic has definitely been increasing over the last two weeks from my limited trips out.  Still nowhere near pre-Plague traffic levels though.

2)  I visited my favorite local used book stores (three in my driving range).  All three are requiring masks and are laid out with flow arrows and other certain rules (such as one person in an alcove, etc.).  One of the three had a customer limit that once hit, asked for 30 minutes of shopping (they all had a limit).  People were generally well mannered and one of the store personnel recognized me from last week.  "It is weird" she said, "I am recognizing people with their masks on where before I was not."

Their stocks were definitely down.  Interestingly enough, almost all Role Playing Games were completely wiped out.

3)  Driving around the edge of commercial centers, some are open but there are still gaps where things (such as restaurants) are closed.  There was a 6 foot distancing line to get into Ross (discount clothing store).  I cannot imagine waiting in line just to get in there.

4)  My gym is in its second week of opening.  I went for the first time in almost two months on Monday.  No requirement for a mask (but I wore one, habit now I guess) and an hour limit on a workout.  As it was Memorial Day, there were more people than are normally there when I go.  It was the largest crowd I had been around in 9 weeks.  It was weird and a bit uncomfortable.

5)  Gasoline has become the climb back up the price chart.  It got as low as $1.19 a gallon but is back up near the $1.40 a gallon.  I still have not used a whole tank in the last two months.

6)  My work (anyway) had made no move to restore onsite operations - in fact, due to construction, they are decreasing onsite staff even more.  I am easily betting there is no return to work until the end of July at this point.

Tuesday, May 26, 2020

Book Review: A Sand County Almanac

As you may recall, one of my great (and rather unexpected) reading loves is that of the agricultural writer, an author that writes of farming and land use and using older ways and asking questions about our relationship with the land and (frankly) returning to a stable rural economy.  My great model for this, of course, is the late Gene Logsdon (his book A Contrary Farmer's) was what hooked me on the genre in the first place.  Ever since then I have looked and added to my collection.  Some authors - for example David Mas Matsumoto (Epitaph for a Peach:  Four Seasons on My Family Farm) - are lyrical but do not strike a chord with me.  Others - Wendell Berry and Joel Salatin - are enjoyable but sometimes too strident in their politics.  A few - Sepp Holzer (Permaculture), John Lewis-Stempel (The Running Hare), Masanobu Fukuoka (The One Straw Revolution) - I do not have enough of their other works to judge - or perhaps, having read the work I listed which was so good, I fear to read another lest I am disappointed (To date, only Logsdon is the author that reliably produces for me time after time).

So it was with interest that I received a recommendation from a friend of a similar sort of book A Sand County Almanac And Sketches Here And There by Aldo Leopold.  For my friend, it was the book that had finally convinced him to ditch the city life and move out to the country.  Obviously, a book to take note of.

From the back cover:  "Aldo Leopold was born in Iowa in 1887.  His professional career began in 1909, when he joined the U.S. Forest Service.  In 1924  he become Associate Director of the Forest Products Laboratory in Madison, Wisconsin; and in 1933 the University of Wisconsin created a chair of game management for him.  He died in 1948, fighting a grass fire on a neighbor's farm, shortly after he had become an advisor on conservation to the United Nations." 

The book is divided into three sections parts.  The first, A Sand County Almanac, is literally an almanac:  an observational diary of the land he lives on in Sand County, Wisconsin.  Interestingly, Leopold does not seem to be a farmer (although he lives on a farm) but is (a rarity these days) a writer that hunted and fished and so his descriptions are written with the observer's eye for detail and the hunter's eye for finding clues:

"No prudent man would risk a dollar's worth of fly and leader pulling a trout upstream through the giant tooth-brush of alder stems comprising the bend of that creek.  But as I said, no prudent man is a fisherman.  By and by, with much cautious unraveling, I got him up into open water, and finally aboard the creel."

"During every week from April to September there are, on average, ten wild plants coming into first bloom.  In June as many as a dozen species may burst their buds on a single day.  No man can heed all of these anniversaries; no man can ignore all of them.  He who steps unseeing on May dandelions may be hauled up short by August ragweed pollen; he ignores the ruddy haze of April elms may skid his car on the fallen corollas of June catalpas.  Tell me of what plant-birthday a man takes notice, and I shall tell you a good deal about his vocation, his hobbies, his fever, and the general level of his ecological education."

In the section his description of sawing down a 80 year old oak, counting the years as the cut the rings, may itself be cause to buy the book.

The second part is called Sketches Here and There and are Leopold's observations on various areas of wilderness he has traveled:  Wisconsin, Illinois and Iowa, Arizona and New Mexico, Chihuahua and Sonora, Oregon and Utah, Manitoba.  These were interesting to me because of when he is writing, he describes these areas as one step away from the wilderness they were unlike the less wild and more developed places they have become.

Describing Lightning in Arizona:  "The explosions are fearful enough, but more so are the smoking slivers of stone that sing past your ear when the bolt crashes into a rimrock.  Still more so are the splinters that fly when a bolt explodes a pine.  I remember one gleaming white one, 15 feet long, that stabbed deep into the earth at my feet and stood there humming like a tuning fork.

It must be a poor life that achieves freedom from fear."

"Man always kills the thing he loves, and so we pioneers have killed our wilderness.  Some say we had to.  Be that as it may, I am glad I shall never be young without wild country to be young in.  Of what avail are forty freedoms without a blank spot on the map?"

The third part, The Upshot, is Leopold's synthesis of his experiences and his beliefs.  He calls for what he names "The Conservation Ethic", a sort of acknowledged agreement between people and the land that calls for management, not for over utilization.  He is dismissive of the increased (even in his day) "Mechanization" of outdoor activities which destroy the value of the outdoors themselves:

"If we regard outdoor sports as a field of conflict between an immensely vigorous process of mechanization and a wholly static tradition, then the outlook for cultural values is indeed dark.  But why cannot our concept of sport grow with the same vigor as our list of gadgets?  Perhaps the salvation of cultural value lies in seizing the offensive.  I, for one, believe the time is ripe.  Sportsman can determine for themselves the shape of things to come. 

The last decade, for example, has disclosed a totally new form of sport, which does not destroy wildlife, which uses gadgets without being used by them, which outflanks the problems of posted land, and which greatly increases the human carrying capacity of a unit area.  This sport knows no bag limit, no closed season. It needs teachers, but not wardens.  It calls for a new woodcraft of the highest value.  The sport I refer to is wildlife research."

His "land ethic" (he goes in to much greater detail) seems to be a bridge between environmentalism as it is practiced today and a social education and sense of what the land is and why it is valuable inherently as wild land.

I am ambivalent about this book.  His writings and observations are lyrical and some of them are indeed worth the purchase of the book.  The part that has me somewhat hesitant about fully recommending it is some of the implications of his idea of a "land ethic" - not that the idea is bad, but that I have seen his methodology work out in practical ways (he was writing in the early 1940's after a lifetime of working only in government and educational service).  He saw land from a management and use as a sportsman standpoint, not from the standpoint of someone like a farmer or husbandmen or forester who lives on the land and uses it for purpose and in many cases is more in tune with and caring of the land than a governmental authority could ever be.  Leopold sees only social approbation and government as the vehicle for making this happen (I have seen this worked out practically in my own home state, when the smelt overcame the farmers and the owl overcame the loggers).  Rather than arguing for sensible use, he argues for uses which preserve his concept of what is appropriate - to be fair, he is often discussing the preservation of wilderness as wilderness but does not make the distinction well between wilderness and land which is being used.

So I would recommend it for the descriptions.  Be ready to be thoughtfully challenged (he is never incendiary in language) and to at least give a greater consideration to what a sensible land use policy and preservation policy means to you.

Monday, May 25, 2020

Memorial Day 2020

As always, a simple thank you to those who sacrificed so the rest of us could enjoy our freedoms and way of life.

Sunday, May 24, 2020

Ghost In The (Office) Machine

Yesterday I had to go back to the office.

I had left my 24 ounce house metal blue thermal mug (the one that one of my groups had specifically held back for me from our "extra" safety supplies that they gave us with our orders because I drink vast quantities of water and coffee equally) when I went in earlier this month and, realizing that it was likely I would not be going back there again for some time, went ahead and grabbed it.  True to form and our social distancing requirements, I went on a Saturday as my intention was to just pop in and out.

Our office space - the original one we moved into in 2016 - is going through the last round of construction and remodeling, making space for precisely twice the number of people who currently work there.  As a result, the last week has been one of relocating people and office belongings as they have shrunk on-site staff again to accommodate all that we must do for The Plague.

I popped into the document room and got my mug using the Master Key which I got three and a half years ago when we moved into the facility (and likely no-one recalls I have, now).  I almost turned to leave but then, on a whim, started walking through the building.

The building itself is now packed, a combination of space crammed into hallways where there is no room and empty offices and rooms where items have been relocated prior to remodel.  As I walked through these rooms, I was overcome by a wave of nostalgia.

Empty offices with furniture that had existed from the previous inhabitant, that we had used or had painfully relocated (it was rather fragile) to expand our space now waiting for their trip to the dumpster.  The main conference room - soon to become the lunch room - is now filled with the flotsam and jetsam of those offices. Chairs, tables, desks, shelves, all waiting to be categorized and (mostly) abandoned.

I strolled by my former offices (four in this building alone), the current occupants now inhabiting them that cannot remember back a year, company time, because their corporate memory does not extend that far back.  The empty halls and offices rang to me with the voices of those not just that I saw even two weeks ago, but those that have gone, sometimes willingly and sometimes not.  Memories of laughter and chastening and fun conversations and hard conversations echoed through the back of my mind as I sat in a office chair in the main conference room, looking at the items that for the most part I predate and will postdate after they are gone.

The thought was intensified by the fact that it is likely that this might very well be the last time I came into the building.

Yes, I know - last time, you say?  Are you not being a little melodramatic, TB?  After all, you are not leaving the company.

It is true, of course - I am not leaving the company.  But looking at the tables and chairs that filled up the room, I realized it is the end of an era.

If you remember, I had moved out of this building in February over to our new space (window office, very fancy) because we were running out of space in this building.  I still had my reports over there, but I was now separated and only came over periodically.  This intensified, of course, with the arrival of The Plague:  in almost 9 weeks, I had been in three days to either facility.  Suddenly, there was no reason or call for me to see these people and be in this building.

And now, with the imminent arrival of my replacement, there will be no reason for me to return.  These will no longer be my people; this will no longer be my function.  I am being quietly moved out of the warp and weave of the building and its departments and business.  And with the final conversion of the site, there will no longer be any cause for me to be there (as with any manufacturing facility, only those that are needed will be allowed).

The sense of an end of a phase hit me strongly.

I will move my office again if and when we ever go back, moving (most likely) from that window office with the view of the tops of oak trees to a cubicle with carpeted walls.  I will exchange 90% of my interactions with a much smaller group of people I may or may not know. Over time, the grass of corporate memory will grow and I will be a faded thought, embedded in certain signatures and the memories of those that remain and the occasional "We do it that way because...".  The company and department will likely thrive; I will quietly fade into the background, a historical marker and a recognition at some point of time served.

I sighed, looking one more time at everything piled akimbo in the room.  Detritus to be categorized and removed or repurposed, much like me.  Then I got up, got not one but two sparkling waters out of the refrigerator (I am, I think, owed that much), and made my way out the back exit.

The door - the one we almost never use - scraped a bit as it cut back across the concrete but did not slam with the normal sound.  I tried not to but looked back anyway to see that it had closed, seeing only a blank sheet of plate glass reflecting back at me without sympathy.

The wind in the oaks suggested to me that I was really just drawing this out and it was time to move on.  And the oaks, having seen more than one person and one company leave out those same doors, most likely know what they are talking about.

Friday, May 22, 2020

A Sort of Hammerfall Update VI

My Continuing Job Transition Saga:

A Sort of Hammerfall

A Sort of Hammerfall I

A Sort of Hammerfall II

A Sort of Hammerfall III

A Sort of Hammerfall IV

A Sort of Hammerfall V

An update of sorts:  today in my call with my current manager, I was informed that 1)  they have decided upon a candidate; 2)  they made the candidate an offer; and 3) the candidate has verbally accepted.

Anticipated start date is 01 June.  I cannot tell you what a relief it was to hear that.

The transition period is to be determined.  The individual is an experienced industry veteran so it is anticipated that it will not take a great deal of time but one never knows - my estimate is four weeks to make sure that everything has transitioned over and there is no longer any need for them to regularly ask me questions (I am sure that there will always be something for the purposes of historical information of course). 

The other two pieces of information that were interesting is that this individual will be a level higher than myself and that they will be reporting directly to the CEO (frankly, they are welcome to both.  I am very much ready to be done).

The next round of information, of course, begins with my new position:  when is the transfer, what will I actually be doing, and will there be any impact on my current salary and other compensation structure (currently I do not know any of that, of course).  None is currently anticipated is my understanding, but it is always nicer to get it in writing.

But for all of that, the main point stands:  my replacement is coming and the holding pattern I have been in for the last three months (four by the time everything is done) can finally resolve itself.

For the first time in a while, I can begin to actually plan what the next phase actually looks like.

Thursday, May 21, 2020

Profit And Loss

Yesterday I exercised some stock options

What has been at the back of my mind for weeks now is that I would rather have a chunk of money in my account "just in case".  Life is uncertain enough - more so now than ever - and having more of a cash reserve seemed like a prudent thing to do..

Exercising options is always a hard thing for me, mostly because I have bought into the concept of "leaving money on the table".  To be far, you always leave some money on the table if you want to be ultimately successful (otherwise you run the risk of losing all the money on the table).

The other thing that is potentially issue - or it was last year - is the amount of taxes that potentially comes from such a sale - there is no point getting money and then having to pay even more of it to the government!  So sometimes the highest price is not the best price.

The thing that always plays at your mind, of course, is the first point:  I could have made a little bit more.  I am better with this than I used to be, most of all from a story by the founder of Itto Shoden Muto Ryu, Yamaoka Tesshu:

"One day it happened that a certain wealthy merchant (Hiranuma Sanzo, founder, Hiranuma bank) came by and requested some of my brushwork.  He spoke at length about his own personal history, and his story was remarkable.

He said:

'The world is a strange place.  I feel heistant to talk about myself, but I do think this rather a mystery.  I was born into an extremely poor family, but now, quite contrary to expectation, have amassed great wealth.  This is truly surprising.

Among the experiences of my youth, I think about one in particular.  I had put together four or five hundred yen, and laid up a stock of merchandise when, out of the blue, a rumor went around that prices were going to fall precipitously.  Then, when I got nervous and thought that I should sell everything, my acquaintances took advantage of my weakened state and came running to buy up all my goods cheaply.  In the end, I had my heart in my mouth, found my feelings wavering, and was unable to understand the true value of my goods at all.  I became confused about everything and was completely demoralized.

At that point, I gave up and, regardless of the circumstances, let the matter take its own course.

But as the days passed, a number of merchants approached me and said that they would buy all my goods at ten percent higher than the original cost.  This time, however, I remained firm and replied that I would not sell at a low ten percent profit, thinking that I might be able to get another five percent.

Now, it would have been all right for me to have sold out at the price they offered, but greed blinded me and, while I was thinking, "I'll sell higher, and maybe even higher yet", in the end, the goods finally sold for less than twenty percent of the original value.

At that moment, I understood the true temper of business for the first time.  I now think that if you're going to step in and engage in some large enterprise, and become nervous about winning and losing, or gains and losses, the [simple] laws of commerce will not suffice.  After all, if you're dead set on making a profit,  you'll become quite nervous and if you're afraid of taking a loss, you'll be unmanned altogether.

Since then, I have changed my thinking and have understood that if I worry over things like this, I will be unable to complete great enterprises at all.  Now, no matter what my intentions, I first clear my mind, settle my thoughts, and get a grip on myself.  Then, when I set about my work, I do not get caught up with this and that, but do the job rapidly and constantly.  After ,that, regardless of any gain or loss, I feel that I have done the job of a proper businessman.  Thus I have arrived at the place you see me today.'" (The Swordsman's Handbook, William Scott Wilson)

I may not always get it precisely right - but I do have a better sense of doing the work and then being done.

Wednesday, May 20, 2020

2020 Garden Update

So finally - three weeks later - I actually have a garden update!

Tomato plant is doing well (with a potato volunteer in the foreground):

Jalapeno Pepper. Such a reliable producer year after year:

Another potato volunteer:

Collection of young peppers, beans, and black eyed peas:

Bolting Lettuce (for Seeds) and onions and garlic:

Trying Corn and two times of Sorghum:

Asparagus is 6' or more:

My limes continue to grow.  My greatest victory of the season:

Tuesday, May 19, 2020

Of Eggs And Rice

Growing up amidst three square meals a day, we had a multitude of different meals.  Breakfasts were always eggs (scrambled except the days they were softboiled) and Fridays, which were cereal.  Lunches - at least into high school, were almost inevitably a sandwich of some kind (in the time before lunch tupperware, this was the way of the world), chips or crackers, apple, and a cookie.  Dinner ran the gauntlet but mostly (that I recall) consisted of pasta, beef, or chicken.

But from this melange of 18 + years of meals, there are a few that stick with me even now.  Meatloaf and baked red potatoes (both which were from my maternal grandmother and which we still make at the Toridhealbheach Beucail household to this day), spaghetti, waffles off a real waffle maker, and fried rice cakes.

I am sure that fried rice cakes are not really what they were (or are) called.  It consisted of white rice which was left over from previous dinners, combined with egg (as a binder) and fried for breakfast.  We had them with syrup (not the maple kind, which we never had growing up but rather the sugar syrup with maple flavoring, which we {again} still have to this day).

I cannot tell you what made these so memorable to me.  Maybe it was the fact that they were rare (seldom do I recall us having leftover rice).  Maybe it was because it was one of the few non pancake and waffle meals where loading something up with syrup was allowed.  Maybe it was the texture (they are very different from anything else that I have eaten).  But they continue to stand out my memory as a delicious memory.

The pictures you see above are my attempts from this weekend to make them.  My recipe is not that original:  add leftover rice (about three cups) and eggs (I eyeballed it and adding two), and mix together.  As you can see, my sizing is all that good and my ability to judge how long to fry them got better as I cooked.

Having them this weekend, with my non-maple syrup maple syrup, I had a double helping of satisfaction.  The first was that rather than having rice that ended up not being used, I was re-use it.  The second was a reasonable approximation of a food I enjoyed growing up.

Good use of resources, good memories, good practices.  All cleverly disguised in eggs and rice.

Monday, May 18, 2020

Cheese Press In Action

This weekend was the first outing of my cheese press.  I tried a stirred curd cheddar (basically, a regular cheddar cheese with a couple of short cuts:

I obviously have some work to do on setting it up (need a much smaller section of cheese cloth for example for this small tomme mold.  I also found out that keep the press level does not allow the whey to drain; I need to tilt it as seen here).  But the result look amazing:

This will air dry for two or three days and then be waxed for aging.  The curds were extremely well knit together, far better than I could have done with my previous arrangement (weights balanced on the top of the mold).

Now, I need a cheese cave...

Sunday, May 17, 2020

Annual Books

I read a great many books.

I originally started tracking my reading in 2008 (from what I can see of my annual documentation). I think this was at the suggestion of a self improvement book I read, where the recommendation was to divide books into categories are read one out of each category.    That works, if you have the ability to multi-task.  I do not have that ability.

What it turned into (over time) is an annual record of the books that I have read in a year (the range for the last 13 years seems to be between 70 and 96 per year).  This has turned it less into a guided reading program (although occasionally I do set areas of study) and more into a historical record of "what's been read".

The readings consist of already owned books (I believe I have over 800 volumes in house and we are at somewhere around 1200 total) as well as certain amount that I acquire over the year (typically between 20 and 25), so the reading is both things I have read and things are new.  However, there are certain books that I return to year after year, almost as guideposts along my reading journey.

1.  The Bible

I have read through the Revised Standard Version (RSV) and currently use the New King James Version (NKJV).  I follow the "Read The Bible In A Year" program (various versions out there), which gets one through the Old Testament and the New Testament in a year (New Testament in the morning, Old Testament in the evening).  In terms of structured practice, this has been the standard for 15 years or more.

2.  Dark Piper (Andre Norton)

Andre Norton remains the Science Fiction and Fantasy author I own the most volumes of (42) and the one that will regularly seek out in used book stores (to be clear, her older science fiction items.  The later co-authoring works and revisiting of previous worlds were never quite as good).  Of these, my favorite is Dark Piper.

The plot is somewhat novel:  post galactic war, a veteran returns to a planetary colony and connects with a group of young people.  A refugee ship (former pirate or mercenary) appears, asking to land.  The veteran (Griss Lugard, the Dark Piper), plots to save the children.  What follows is what goes wrong when you misjudge people and a struggle to survive in a quickly post civilized world.

The cover you see was the 1980 version which I own.  The cover itself is tattered on the edges from being read so much and has been re-taped to the spine.  The book itself has broad scribble marks from where someone when they were young wrote in it (I do not recall who now).

I remember precisely where we bought this book, in the small bookstore (the only one at that time) in my hometown when I was still in middle school.  I remember the aisle it was on.

When younger, I enjoyed the book because the protagonist was a young man (17-ish or so) in a wilderness and leading.  Now that I am older, I appreciate the book both for the struggle to survive and making one's way in a world which has rapidly collapsed.  I now find myself much more aligned with the veteran and his worry about the collapse of civilization and the preserving what he can.

3.  A Book of Five Rings (Miyamoto Musashi)

Musashi was a late 16th century - early to mid 17th century samurai  (circa 1585-1645) whose life bridged the end of the Sengoku Jidai (The Warring States Period) and into the establishment of the Tokugawa Shogunate (1600-1868).  He is the founder of the Nito (Two Sword Style) but was also accomplished as a painter, sculptor, garden designer, and blackmith.  A Book Of Five Rings (Go Rin No Sho) was written within the last year of his life and represents his 60 years of training and combat.

Of all the Japanese strategic and sword texts (and I own and have read a great many of them), Musashi's is by far the most accessible.  Like most Japanese texts, discussion about techniques are such a way that it is not clear (without personal instruction) to understand them.  But the principles that he explains are put in such a way that anyone can understand.  I have been reading this book for 30 years (having worn out my first copy as pages fell out of the binding I procured a second one) and still discover new aspects of it (last year as an exercise I read it once a week all year.  It was a valuable event).

My favorite quote (and there are many):  "Step by step by step walk the thousand mile road.  Study strategy over the years and achieve the spirit of a warrior.  Today is victory over yourself of yesterday.  Tomorrow is your victory over lesser men."

4)  John Carter Series (Edgar Rice Burroughs)

(Cover from Thuvia, Maid of Mars)

I remember exactly where I was when I first discovered Barsoom (Burroughs' name for Mars).  It was 1980 and we were traveling across the US.  We were in Colorado and I was sleeping in a tent outside of the camper my parents and sister were in.  The sky, when I would look up, was black and full of stars.

Into this world John Carter appeared.

Well, really not him directly (the book I had were 4, 5, and 6 in the series) but his world of Red Men, Green Men (the Tharks), a dying planet with almost no water and miles and miles of ochre moss covered sea bottoms with the remains of cities that once dotted the oceans, where every hand was quick to sword and radium gun.  The women were beautiful, the men honorable, and there was (literally) a world to explore with all sorts of unknown items.

I loved it.

Eventually I acquired all 11 volumes (the illustration above is by Michael Whelan; if you find them I recommend those just for the covers alone).  John Carter is larger than life (as every hero should be) but everything I wanted (and perhaps want) to be:  skilled in arms, heroic in strength, quick in decisions, a leader and explorer.  

The series in quality went down over time (understandable, perhaps:  the first one was published in 1909 and last story written in the early 1940's), but they all still quite enchanting to me - it takes no effort all to picture where I was when I started reading and to see the ochre moss and charging green hordes in my mind.

I have read the other series of Burroughs (His Venus series and his Hollow Earth (Pellucidar) and enjoyed them, but they did not enchant like John Carter did. (Also, I have read one book of Tarzan series.  I think it is close enough to reality that I am not really that interested.  I prefer my fantasies to be much farther removed from real life).

5)  Conan (Robert E. Howard)

Conan the Barbarian of the Hyborian age is the root of a great deal of fantasy writing even to this day (I think one can safely argue that only J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis in post 1940's era spring from a different tree).   Howard's barbarian was skilled warrior, a surprisingly clever thinker, and a master adventurer who crossed and crossed again the known world of his time.

Howard's writings themselves were not in any particular order of Conan's life but were written as series of short stories and serials (with only one novel).  Later, L. Sprague De Camp and Lin Carter (themselves fantasy authors of the 60's and 70's) were commissioned to bring the Conan series into a sort of order.  What evolved was a series of 11 books incorporating the actual or edited text of Howard along with stories written by either Camp or Carter which are based on ideas or texts of Howard that never made it into a full story to cover the full extent of his life from a young runaway slave at 15 to a King who renounces his crown in his 60's (of course, to go adventuring).

I love Conan.  He is unduly strong, a doughty warrior, chivalric in his own barbarian way, and an adventurer across many lands.  I think in some ways my greater love of languages and ancient cultures stems from his adventures doing the same thing.

Fair warning:  Howard was a writer without equal and his stories, where largely left alone or lightly touched, are without equal.  The stories written by others are not nearly as strong, but still enjoyable.

So a question:  Do you have books that you re-read year after year, and what are they?

Saturday, May 16, 2020


Blotting out starlight
Thunderheads roil the night:
Brilliant full moon light!

Thursday, May 14, 2020

Cheese Press

So thanks to the good folks at The New England Cheesemaking Supply Company, I am about to level up in my cheesemaking.  I purchased a cheese press.

The benefit of a cheese press is that it allows you to apply varying levels of pressure (up to 80 lbs) for extended periods of time to knit the curds together.  Most all hard cheeses undergo this process.

Fancy stainless steel pan and plastic follower.  The other parts are sturdy wood and steel.

I am very excited!

Wednesday, May 13, 2020

Staying In Versus Going Out

I was having a discussion with a friend the other day about the world in The Midst of The Plague and made the comment that I truly felt like I had little interest in venturing out much at all, even after this is all "over" (whatever that ends up really meaning).

She pressed me a little on it, especially on the question of things like vacations.  My response was not really all that different:  even if we get back "to traveling", I do not know how likely I am to want to do that either.

Is it concern about The Plague?  Possibly, although really more a commentary on the general state of physical health.:  people are on the whole a sort of bacterial factory waiting to happen.  Just because The Plague is reduced does not mean that those more mundane diseases, from the flu to Hepatitis, are not out there waiting to find us.  People were not really good about that before; it is not likely that they will be better about it now.

That general concern extends to almost everywhere people are:  movies, sporting events, and concerts (not that I really went to many of these anyway) become even less appealing (imagine the joy at a sporting event of being the one person, at the moment of silence during The Star Spangled Banner, that breaks into a cough).  Stores, which may have things I actually want, have the questionable benefit of having people's hands all over the items I am looking at. Restaurants run the same risk, (food handling - I try not to think of it too often, but yeah, there is that). 

In other words I pretty much just want to stay here.

But I am caught in the mental trap of knowing that in point of fact, those things do need to happen.  People need to be out at entertainment venues and stores and restaurants or else the economy does not truly restart:  Like it or not, we are a service economy:  if we are not buying and selling things, the economy will not expand.  Millions will remain without jobs.

So I find myself caught in the trap of seeing everything from both sides, the personal concern and the financial concern (the worst place to be, by the way). 

Maybe there is a paradigm shift I am missing here - maybe somehow, somewhere, bright people are figuring out ways to meaningfully get people out there and buying while protecting health.  Disruptions can produce great advances.

....That said, I am still probably staying inside....

Tuesday, May 12, 2020

A Sort of Hammerfall: Update V

My Continuing Job Transition Saga:

A Sort of Hammerfall

A Sort of Hammerfall I

A Sort of Hammerfall II

A Sort of Hammerfall III

A Sort of Hammerfall IV

We are now into Week 11 of Post-Hammefall.  In theory, at least, my replacement would be here and I would be transitioning out (also, in theory, to my vacation in Italy which also does not seem to be happening now).

In point of fact, we seem to be in limbo.

Two candidates were interviewed.  If I could characterize the interviews, I think they would be found to be typical of this situation:  a younger, "hungry" builder with less experience and an older, "experienced" veteran who comes suggested from above.  I had thought, after discussion, that the decision would have been made, and would have been an easy one.

I, apparently, was wrong.

In the meantime, we continue much as before:  I theoretically act in place of my job description (which is not my real job title), managing things in a holding pattern until the new management show up.  In a way, it is becoming a bit of a concern:  we are starting to put initiatives on hold pending the arrival of the new "person", which means at some point these things are not moving forward the way they probably should be.  It is unfortunate, but it seems to be the only thing to do in this situation, given the fact that this has been the suggested strategy from above my pay grade.

In discussing this with The Ravishing Mrs. TB yesterday afternoon, she asked if I was checking in with HR about the progress on this.  I am - softly - checking for updates but as I pointed out to her, not in a very visible manner.  Currently my pay remains in place. I worry that if I actually make them think about it - especially given the current environment - they may begin to ask questions that I do not like the answers to.  Better to quietly go about one's business and hope that they forget you are there - if for no other reason, to delay the inevitable.

Monday, May 11, 2020


Patiently sitting,
the sparrows muster courage
in hopes I depart.

Friday, May 08, 2020

Not Coming Back

I find myself wistfully watching an Old World blowing away with the cold front that blows the oak trees across my lawn.

I know the arguments, of course:  this is only a temporary situation, we will be up and running before you know it, we can do it, etc.  And at least superficially I would agree that these are likely to happen:  eventually things will reopen, businesses will have people in them, traffic will be on the road.

But it will be different.

Crowded spaces will - at least to me - no longer reflect people out or having a good time but possible vectors of infection.  Spending money will now always - always - have to measured against the very real possibility that more than ever, it may be needed for somewhere else. Our entertainment - shopping, sporting events, restaurants, movies - will now always potentially be at the risk of your life.  Tourism, that life blood of so many economies and communities, will be curtailed at best and far less far reaching - at most, air travel will be the rare treat that it used to be, not the common mode of transport it has become.  We will reflect on the great places we have been or the places we would like to go, knowing in heart of hearts that we will likely not longer get there.

And hanging over all of this will be the specter of another shutdown, out of the blue, that can destroy your economy and your life again. 

This is a significant change to me - as significant as the changes to air travel after 9/11.  We went from happily greeting travelers as they came off the plane to standing at the bottom of escalators or in dingy lobbies waiting for our travelers to arrive - or just meeting them quickly on the side of the arrival drop off for a quick hug and throwing luggage in the back to the honk of other motorists. 

Something has changed, at least for me - something I cannot fully define in a way that makes sense to describe to anyone, and something I can scarcely write about coherently.  It is not precisely a depression or a sense that The End has come.  An end, perhaps.  More a sense that an era is passing away before our eyes and for most, they will only realize it when it is truly in the rear view mirror of their lives.

It is not a loss of hope, at least not yet.  Perhaps it is a quiet acceptance that things really are going to be different, no matter how much "the same" that they will seem - or that we will be told that they are.  Perhaps a sadness that a new generation will grow up not knowing the world which we have known for 20 to 70 years (depending on how one considers such things).

The wind continues to blow, thrashing the trees.  It is not the season for the leaves to fall though; they remain attached to the branches they emerged from only two months ago.  It is not their time.

Perhaps we are simply the leaves that are too stubborn to let go, clinging to the tree beyond our time until we, too, are cast to the wind.

Thursday, May 07, 2020

Unexpected Spring

Unexpected Spring
keeps me indoors and away:
Limes grow without care.

Wednesday, May 06, 2020

Loveliest of Trees

Loveliest of trees, the cherry now
Is hung with bloom along the bough,
And stands about the woodland ride
Wearing white for Eastertide.

Now, of my threescore years and ten,
Twenty will not come again,
And take from seventy springs a score,
It only leaves me fifty more.

And since to look at things in bloom
Fifty springs are little room,
About the woodlands I will go
To see the cherry hung with snow.

- A.E. Housman (1859-1936)

Tuesday, May 05, 2020

Pictures And Yesterday People

Over at Borepatch's Blog, Borepatch posted a video (about 10 minutes) of pictures from the 1960's set to a simple guitar background:

Watching this videos - of a time just outside of my memory but one I know the echos of - I suddenly realized just how out of the times I really am.

Looking at these pictures of stores and brands that existed into my own time, of cars I remember still seeing on the road occasionally or in a friend's relatives' garage, I am struck of how long ago and far away all of this really seems.

I compare this to the any urban center or even large town - or small town anymore - and the comparison is simply not there.  Everywhere looks and seems the same:  same brands, same cars, same crowds.  Everywhere you go that is different, the more the same you realize that it is.  

The modern era continues to bring a certain crassness and depression to every sort of interaction it seems to carry.  We are always in a rush to get things done, to pack more in.  We have turned our every waking moment into an information overload, to the point that if we are disconnected we somehow worry that the world or our work or our children/friends/spouse will fall apart.

The modern era bears with it as well an "In Your Face" attitude that has destroyed any sense of graciousness or long suffering that used to exist.  I need to be embraced - celebrated - for who I am - not in the sense of my preciousness as a creation of God but because I am damn well sure that I am completely right about what I believe and who I am. My God given right, you see (from a God that most do not believe in or if they do, only as a pale image of His actual self).

I am tired.  Tired of fighting such things, tired of arguing such things, tired of watching the world around me - the world that I knew - slowly crumble into  piles of dust to be blown about by the next great social wind.  

We are the People of Yesterday, rapidly turning our sights from the outer world of the now and the overwhelming presence of technology in every aspect of our lives and the overweening presence of the New Order of Things.  You may believe us to be old fashioned or behind the times or prudish or unenlightened, but you dismiss us at your peril. The world without us has no perspective for you, becoming an endless echo chamber of the present with no anchor to the past. 

And echo chambers, if you stay in them long enough, will cause you to die looking for a way out.

Monday, May 04, 2020

Impatience And Planning

I am not a patient man.

I am not sure where "patience" really originates from.  Surely there is a genetic element - there are people that are patient just by nature - and there is a taught element as well - the "delayed gratification" training that all of us undergo at some point in our lives, some of us more successfully than others.

Sadly, I seem not to be one of the patient people.

Part of patience is having a course of action and sticking to it - a plan, as it were.  Here again, I seem to have fallen on my faces more times than not.  This is less of a genetic issue - I think - and more of an issue stemming from the few times I had a plan and it completely did not work out, thereby reinforcing the rule (at least in my head) that plans fail as often as they succeed.  The issue is, of course, is that plans can be carried out for years at a time and to have them fail, sometimes at the last second, is as painful as it is apparently instructive.  You learn not to plan, at least not long or far, because you have learned that failure is more likely than success.

At the same time, you reach a point in your life - maybe it is different for all people, mine seems to be pretty much now - where you simply have to select a plan and stick to it.  In my case, it is likely because my options to get where I actually want to be are fairly limited and the only way for them to succeed is for to me pick a plan and set aside the other options.

But a plan means patience.  And I am not very good at patience.

I easily become bored.  I become discouraged, especially when I feel that I am alone in trying to implement the plan.  And the next thing you know, I have fallen off the Plan Wagon and am back to sitting in the mud, watching the wagon roll on without me.

So I will draw up The Plan again, and prepare to stick within its guidelines.  If it fails - well, at least I know I gave it all the time and effort it I could.

Sunday, May 03, 2020

Free Online Agricultural Course: Penn State Extenstion

So (and I am not sure where I found this) Penn State Agricultural Extension courses are offering a number (55) courses online for free through 10 May 2020.  As most of them are agricultural, livestock, forest, or food related, I found some things that might be interesting for those that peruse this page (and did I mention that they are free?).

The conditions are this:

1)  You cannot sign up for more than three courses.
2)  You have to take them within the prescribed period of time.
3)  You will not have access to the videos after the prescribed period.

I signed up for Beekeeping, Forest Management, and Pruning Trees and Shrubs.

You can click here for more details.

Saturday, May 02, 2020

Sitting And Changing Clothes

We are entering week 6 of Plague Lockdown here.  In one sense it is hard to believe it has been that long because the new rhythm of being here almost 24 hours a day has gone on long enough to take hold; in the other it is very hard to believe that 8 weeks ago my employer would have even contemplated sending most of home to work remotely for 6 weeks - after all, work is only done from the plant, correct?

One of the great discoveries that I have made during this period is simply time, and how I am spending it - in other words, my time bank is probably more full than it has ever been in that I am here 24 hours a day.  I am not losing time to commuting or having to run errands or driving in between activities.  The same could be said for a great many other things in my life - my eating habits, or my exercise habits.  I have nothing but time and attention to manage them.

Overall, I have to make some improvements.

During my first counseling session, we talked about my work a great deal.  What came out of that discussion is that I need to find a way to clearly separate when I am done with work - something that I struggle with all the more working "from home", when the computer is on and literally a heartbeat away from my fingertips.  And this is one thing that has been pointed out to me by The Ravishing Mrs. TB:  I do tend to carry my work around all the time, not just when I am at work.

So my Friend (sounds less threatening than counselor, right?) had two simple suggestions for me:  The first is that when I done with work, just sit for a minute.  The second is to change into non-work attire as soon as I am done with that.

The thought (I think) is to clearly draw the line between when I am work and when I am not.  The sitting is to draw the mental line, the change of clothes is to remove the uniform of work.

(The third - next step - is to monitor how many hours I am spending on work).

I tried it - and like any other habit, it is harder than one thinks to break.  There is always something that grabs your attention right at the end of the day or something that needs to get out.  So I will have to continue to try it.

But the underlying point - that I have to reach the stage where there is a clear distinction between me as worker and me as individual - is well taken. And something I need to achieve - because at some point, this company will disappear into the rear view mirror of life as well.  I need have a greater definition of self by then.

Friday, May 01, 2020

Not To Brag...

And The Ravishing Mrs. TB would tell you this is completely true for many years...

(Hat Tip: Reverend Paul, Way Up North)