Friday, December 31, 2021

Thank You, 2021 Edition

 Dear Friends:

In what has become a custom here, I would like to take this - the last day of the year - to thank you, my readers.

Blogs - for the 99.99% of us that write them - are ultimately a labor of love (or something we are driven to do) and while in theory would exist if there was no-one reading them, it is difficult to say that most would continue to write; in point of fact all writers wish to be be read.  Without readers, things eventually become an exercise in journaling or randomly throwing things against the wall to see what sticks.

So thank you.

- Thank you to everyone that takes the time to read - even if you never comment - as time is the currency of Life, and you are spending some of it with me.

- Thank you to everyone who has taken the time to comment, which are almost always thoughtful and thought provoking.  And almost inevitably kind.

- Thank you to everyone who has taken it upon themselves to link this blog in their own blogroll.  One takes a chance when one recommends something, and I am grateful you have given me that trust.

Were I the sort of fellow that actually thought about or worried about numbers (I do not), I would be extremely excited and grateful as the view numbers have gone up significantly this year (as in years past, one again hopes that this is not due to attracting the attention of the Russian GRU, based on locations seen from).  I am hopeful that the numbers reflect more people that, in some way or form, are deriving benefit from my writing.

What will 2022 look like?  A lot like 2021 of course, which is to say I simply have no idea.  Likely there will be one or two trips (Mt. Whitney for sure, and hopefully to Japan!), some level of introspection, more trips to The Ranch (and updates on TB The Elder and Mom), Iaijustu, rabbits/cat/dog/guinea pigs, gardening, and anything else randomly that catches my interest.

But that is in the future.  In the present, thank you, thank you, thank you from the bottom of my heart.  I have some of the best, most thoughtful readers on the planet.

Your (Most) Obedient Servant, Toirdhealbheach Beucail

Thursday, December 30, 2021

2021: The Year In Review

One of the things I try to do at the end of each year is review my progress on goals I identified at the beginning of the year to see what, if any, progress I made.

Let us just say that on the whole, this year was a drastic wash.

The thing that was not foreseen (or at least, not as much as it became) was having to work to settle my parents into a retirement home, followed by my father's strokes and the saga that became relocating both of them until we able to bring them back together in July 2021 (for those that are new, Moving TB The Elder and Mom has the details).  Fortunately for me, the Plague of 2020 worked in my favor and I was able to be out there more than I would have been able to be the previous year - but even with that, being gone one week out of every four (and in one case, an entire month) changes how one accomplishes their goals.

The Plague of 2020, while not unforeseen in the sense it was there, was unforeseen in that it impacted me for good and ill.  For good, it cemented the fact that my job has become a full time remote one (confirmed at Christmas by my boss, who said there is no discussion of any of our group coming in at all now).  This is a huge savings of time, money, and stress (Introverts of the world, unite!).  For ill, it meant that traveling to Japan for training in 2021 (or in 2022) did not happen, nor could a seminar for Iaijutsu take place here.  Here is to hoping 2023 will allow it.

That said, I would also say that 2021 was the Year of the Unexpected Adventure.

In January, I pretty much had nowhere I was planning to go.  By the end of the year - besides traveling back to Old Home and the Ranch 12 times (including effectively a one month visit in February) I had been to see my Weight Training coach The Beserker (a three state/12 hour drive), hiked the Grand Canyon(something I never anticipated trying to do), and been to Costa Rica (somewhere I never intended to go).  When I add all that time up, that is something like 30% of the time I was not here in Old Home.  That might explain why I got less done than I had intended.

So lots of things did not done - I did not quite find a different church or get my financial house in order to the extent I would have liked (but more than I thought I would) or testing for certification in Iaijutsu or take the JPLT N4 Japanese test or get stronger (well, maybe a little stronger) or anything else I had on the list.  My garden did okay and I did hit my "make 12 dairy products", although most of mine remain yogurt.

One really interesting - and unexpected note - was that after 50+ years, I finally stopped chewing my nails.  Yes, they sometimes got down (and occasionally do still get down) very low, but they were never to the point of being completely gone.  That is a win, hands down.

We had new pets join our ranks (M and P the Guinea Pigs and P the Rabbit) and continued to enjoy the presence of Poppy the Brave, A the Cat, I-bun the Rabbit, and Joy the Rabbit.  I was also reminded - when I traveled - how much I have come to miss them when I am not around them.  Pets fill my life in a way nothing else does.

Our immediate family remained in good health:  The Ravishing Mrs. TB went hither and yon (she enjoys travel far more than I do), Nighean Gheal graduated from college and came home, Nighean Bhan continued in college, and Nighan Dhonn entered the latter half of high school.

On the whole then, although I accomplished not very much of what I intended, I accomplished a great deal.  Or as the poet has written, "I got nothing that I asked for, but everything that I needed".

Am I looking forward to 2022?  I will have a list of goals for that year as well, although tempered by my experiences this year.  Perhaps the safest thing to state is that all goals - and indeed, all life - will be subject to change without notice.

Wednesday, December 29, 2021

TB The Elder And Mom: A December Update

 I have been remiss in updating on my parents - partially because of travel and partially because of seeing them during the travel.

It is colder where they live now, cold enough that being outside would be a bit of a challenge and due to the timing of the Grand Canyon Hike and having to come back to New Home, I forewent seeing them in November.  However, December came soon enough and my sister was able to go with me.  Also for the second visit, my brother-in-law came so we had yet another voice.

For both visits that bookended my trip (typically I fly out on Saturday and return on Saturday), we were able to sit inside, which has not happened in the 6 months or so they have been there.  The second time, we had to wear masks, which was a bit of inconvenience but did not seem to impede our communication.

For both visits, we were able to speak little with TB The Elder.  Apparently he has been having rough bouts of insomnia at night and so has been sleeping during the day.  The first visit, they brought him out but within 5 minutes he was asleep in his chair; for the second, they suggested (and we agreed) that we just leave him sleeping in a recliner.

My mother, however, was awake and able to interact.  She did recognize me both times as someone she knew (although again, I quickly intersperse "your son" before she struggles too much).  We chatted a bit about my trip and I showed her some pictures of Costa Rica - mostly animals, since those are easy to relate to.  We talked about The Ravishing Mrs. TB and Na Clann and how they were almost all done with school.  

After that, conversation lagged a bit, so my sister and I (and my brother in law for the second one) just started talking.   This is something we have learned to do if there is too much of a lull; my mother does not seem to mind but just listens in.  I suppose in some ways we are not talking "to" her, but she is present for the conversation and, in some way, involved.  

This is how the visits have run for the last few times: a short conversation, then we just start talking about life.  I am not sure that my mother or my father really "understand", but perhaps at some level it is at least helpful in terms of another set of voices to listen to.

Before we left, we did speak with the owner and asked how my mother is doing.  Okay, she said - she needs more help and encouragement with eating (my father, apparently, eats everything without question).  Also, about two months ago they had asked my sister to start getting essentially adult "onesies" - they look like very fashionable sweat suits but zip up in the back to prevent them from taking them off.  Originally this was because my mom tended to take her clothes off in the middle of the night; now it seems it is also related to taking her clothes off wherever she is and "using the facilities". 

None of this is heartening of course, just as it is not surprising.  There are no happy endings at this point; the curtain will fall, we just do not know when.

But that is as it is.  For now - given these limitations - they seem to be doing well.  They are certainly well cared for (and we are incredibly blessed that they are together and that we found this location, so close to my sister's house).  And while I have every reason to believe that neither of them fully remember the last time that we visited, I take comfort in the fact that when we visit, we still seem to get a response.

Perhaps we cannot fend off the darkness, but we can still provide a candle.

Tuesday, December 28, 2021

Costa Rica: A Retrospective

 Thanks for taking the time to come along with us to Costa Rica.  I hope you enjoyed the trip.  We certainly did.

As it customary for my Iai training, it is expected at the end of every session that I provide an overview with what I learned during the experience.  This was a more difficult trip than most due to the fact for me at least, this seemed like  a much different "vacation" than what I have been used to.  None the less, an assignment is an assignment.  I was able to come up with three:

1)  There Are No Problems, Only Situations

(Monte Verde)

This was a saying that our guide gave as a typical "Costa Rican" attitude.  Problems, he said, are unsolvable and only allow people to sit around and complain.  Situations can be talked through until resolved.

I like this.  The amount of "problems" in my life are much less than the amount of "situations".

2)  There Is Great Joy In Simplicity

(Sugar Cane)

As I had mentioned, the national dish of Costa Rica is cansado, rice and beans which are served at every meal.  I had this several times for all different meals - and it was delicious.  There was a lot that was not present in Costa Rica - but a simple life, surrounded by such a beautiful landscape, is not a bad thing.

3)  The Small Town World Still Exists

(Mt. Arenal)

Once outside of San Jose, most of the towns were drove through were much smaller regional centers.  Driving through them, I was reminded of small towns I knew when I was growing up:  completely functional small towns with all the stores one would expect in a small town - not just one or two grocery stores and an mega-super store, but small shops with all kinds of goods.  For me, it was a nice step back time - small town America still exists in the world, just not really in America anymore.

Monday, December 27, 2021

Costa Rica: Drive, Capitol

 Some views from our hotel room in Monte Verde before leaving:

On the drive back, we stopped to see both the area the cloud forest is in as well as where the land was cleared away for cattle:

This is as close to the Pacific Ocean or a beach as we got:

In the afternoon after arrival, we took a walking tour of San Jose:

The National Theater of San Jose is a building that would fit into any European Capitol:

We also toured the National Museum, which included both clay artifacts as well as gold artifacts:

Squid thing that reminded me of Cthulu:

Our last dinner.  The soup was pumpkin and incredibly good:

Tiramisu!  It was delicious!

Video:  The clouds blowing in over the mountains at morning.

Sunday, December 26, 2021

Costa Rica: Coffee

 As one of our outings in Costa Rica, we went to the Cafe Monteverde, a sustainably grown and managed coffee company.  Founded in 1989 by a group of coffee growing families with several generations of growing experience, they now operate the plantation as a sustainability model as well a coffee growing operation.

But first, of course, we start with lunch!  All of the items below for lunch and the dessert (cooked pumpkin with caramelized sugar cane sap) was all produced on site.

Corona, the coffee farm dog.  Because all coffee farms need a dog.

Coffee, as you likely know, consists of two varieties:  Coffea Arabica and Coffea "Robusta".  Arabica is often considered to be the more desirable plant.

These are coffee seedlings from coffee beans. They will grow here for about a year.

After which, they are transplanted to the ground where they will grow for up to five years before being moved.

Once mature, they can live and produce from 15 to 30 years.

Part of the operation is working on sustainable methodologies for growing.  Here are ongoing practices of "fermenting" fertilizer, along with the ingredients and their open air composting (next two pictures).

The actual bean itself grows directly on the plant, starting green and ending red.  The season in Costa Rica runs from the End of November to April/May.

Green bean and fully ripe bean:

Coffee here is handpicked into baskets as it has been done for 100 years or more.  Pickers are paid by the basket (interesting fact:  Pickers are mostly from Nicaragua, as are a great many other agricultural operations.  Pickers here are paid $2.00 a basket; they would make $0.70 a basked in Nicaragua).

The Supervisor.  Because you always need a supervisor:

After picking, the outer layer of bean is dehusked.  Below is a small scale unit that is hand operated; the farm has a much larger industrial version down the mountain.

Here at Cafe Monteverde, coffee is then dried three ways:  the first is with two layers of husk/skin removed, the second with one layer removed, and third with the beans unhusked.

The final step is, of course, roasting.

Two small roasters are on site (again, there are larger units in another location).  Fun fact:  The difference between a light and dark roast are within the last five minutes of the roasting process.  When asked how a master roaster knows when a batch is ready, the answer was a combination of experience, smell, and just "knowing".  (Another fun fact:  Starbucks tastes burnt for a reason.  To cover up substandard or mixed lots of beans, they will just give the darkest roast possible, which equalizes out the flavor).

We tasted a total of five coffees: all three drying processes, and two other roasts.  Sadly (much like my wine abilities), I could not taste the difference.

Some shots from around the farm:

This was a high point of our trip for me as I like coffee and I believe in the sort of sustainable agriculture being practiced here.  They ship world wide, so they are worth visiting on the InterWeb if you drink coffee:  Cafe Monteverde