Sunday, October 31, 2021

Church: An Update

 I have not officially been "back to church" since March 2020.  Our church "shut down" due to The Plague, as many others did, and put themselves on line - again, as many others did.  I have to confess that that I have had little to no urge to "go back" once they reopened.  We have watched on the InterWeb of course, but it does not seem to be the same.

I also have to confess this bothers me less than I had anticipated.

In some ways, this strikes me as odd. I like many of the people there.  Last weekend I helped a bit at their Fall Festival and it was genuinely good to see them.  And of course, it was nice to be of service.

On the other hand, as I have alluded to in the past, I have issues as well.  The worship music has become a bland continuation of more or less the same song, time after time, with just as much emphasis on what we are doing for God as what He has done for us.  And strangely enough, singers that are emotionally in the throes of worship, eyes closed and fists clenched as their voices try to break through to Heaven, do not move me the way they seem to move others.

And, of course, the  messages.

One does not necessarily remember what mediocre preaching is unless one subjects one's self from time to time to the greats.  I am re-reading a mid twentieth Century Apologist, Cornelius Van Til, in his book The Defense of The Faith.  His distinct defense of the Reformed Faith position has more clear biblical teaching than I have heard in the last year.

The Ravishing Mrs. TB has asked me about what we are going to do - do we go back or look for another church?  On the one hand, she likes the people well enough and in terms of timing, it is likely a year and a half or two years before we will move.  On the other hand, we - the both of us - seem strangely unmotivated to go back.

That, I think, should be telling me something.

Saturday, October 30, 2021

The Hand You Get

 I am indebted to commenter "Suz" over at Chant du Depart for the following quote.  I do not know them, but hope my attribution makes it back to them.

"Follow your destiny.
You don't have a right to the cards you believe you should be dealt.
You have an obligation to play the hell out of the hand you get."

- (I have seen the quote attributed to a Marcia White and a Cheryl Strayed, and so note them both. Regardless, it is a brilliant quote.)

Thursday, October 28, 2021

The Collapse LXXXVI: Easter

13 April 20XX+1

My Dear Lucilius:

I am writing this to you on Easter Evening. Strangely enough, for the first time in almost a year, I can say my heart is full.

Easter morning was again spent at church. The weather, it seems, was willing to join in the for the event, evincing a truly Spring-like quality we may not regularly see for a bit more around here. There may or may not have even been birds singing as I walked the quarter mile or so to the service.

Like last week, the service was full again (Apparently, all it took to fill the proverbial pews again was a complete economic and societal collapse. Who knew.). People had even made an attempt to wear some sort of Easter finery, as was common in the days when I was growing up, before we had abandoned some level of formality for an almost constant sense of being “comfortable”. To be fair, it was not the same as it was once upon a time, but enough of an effort was made by enough people (perhaps even by your author) to make it noticeable.

The sermon, like Palm Sunday, is usually some version of a similar sermon one has heard all one’s life: after all, as the most important day in Christianity and concerning a Singular Event, this has been pretty well covered for 2000 years or so and little new or novel is probably ever said any more (or expected).

But it had a poignancy Lucilius, a poignancy I had not remembered in recent years. The reminder of the days leading up to this event – the darkness of Good Friday and a Saturday which we have never really named (perhaps because it was too depressing) followed by the glorious Resurrection – were a stark reminder for everyone in that service. In a way, we have lived through the “Good Friday” of a societal collapse and now find ourselves in that nameless Saturday, waiting for a Sunday Resurrection that we may never see.

Following the service, I found myself (again) at the house of Stateira for (another) brunch. I assure that this was not my suggestion or intention at all; I had a fine day of solitude and reading planned (like many of my other days of solitude and reading, which in some form or fashion is now every day). But Xerxes and Stateira insisted: it was a shame, they said, for anyone to spend Easter alone.

(The problem with young people, Lucilius, is that they are just so insistent and refuse to take “no” for an answer.)

And so I walked home, found (yet) more honey I could bring as a contribution, and walked the half mile back.

The meal was largely a repeat of the previous week, reflecting to a great extent what we can get anymore: steak, eggs, pickled vegetables, home baked bread, yet more coffee (reminding me how much I shall miss it when it is gone), and another sweet potato pie. Someone had brought in shoots of asparagus for consumption; it was nice to see that even with the year we have had, in some ways Nature continues on as if nothing had happened.

Conversation before and after was, as before, genial – with a twist: for one day, no-one seemed to mention anything that had happened or might happened. As if by common unspoken consent, all had agreed that for a single day we would speak of nothing but the here and now.

Stateira’s mother, as it turns out, used to have rabbits as pets once upon a time. We had a rather pleasant conversation on the foibles of our lapin friends as well as other areas which in some cases, we seem to share common interests (she, too, has an interest in 19th Century Russian authors).

It was a good day, a day that fills me with a warm glow as I write to you this evening. It is not that anything has changed – the power is still off and the reality of a great deal more work preparing for the food supply is in order and the course of events around us is still unknown – but given all of that, the fact that we can still enjoy a day of God and food and pleasant conversation makes things seems a little less concerning than they likely are.

19th Century Russian authors. As Humphrey Bogart’s character Rick says in Casablanca, “Of all the gin joints in all the towns in all the world…”

Your Obedient Servant, Seneca


Wednesday, October 27, 2021

The Dependence Of The Great Urban Centers

 As I mentioned yesterday, one thing that struck me as I made my meandering way across the continental US (or at least half of it) was the fact that outside of The Great Urban Centers, there is a lot of emptiness.  What also struck me is the fact that outside of The Great Urban Centers is where a great many things that supply them are located.

On my drive I passed orchards of fruit and nut trees (Are nut trees also orchards? I have no idea), fields of now picked over grain and cotton as well as some of vegetables still growing, cattle yards and acres of cattle on fields, refuse pits where the detritus (both organic and non-organic, although that is not precisely the meaning of the word) goes to rot, resource generators of forests and water reservoirs, and giant power stations in the middle of nowhere lighting up the night.

The market for these is, of course, not where any of them are located but are The Great Urban Centers and lesser towns.  In fact, one could go one step further and state that The Great Urban Centers are not just the market for such things, they are completely dependent on them.

Yes yes, I know.  It has more or less always been so:  as urban centers increase, so the agriculture and resources that support them get pushed to the periphery and then beyond sight (Even where I grew up, I still have memories of small farms almost within the city limit which have now become subdivisions).   And as these urban centers grow, they become less and less really able to "support" themselves, becoming incredibly reliant on the materials of civilization that are "out there beyond the horizon".

It is a weakness, of course, a very large one.

The Great Urban Centers become incredibly reliant on a supply chain system that 1)  Moves the materials from their originating location to a processing location (Be it oranges to packing plants or electricity to distribution stations); 2) Moves the now processed materials to further processing locations; 3) Moves the "finished products" to the distribution centers; and 4) Moves the "finished products" from the distribution centers to the final point of sale or delivery (your store, door-side delivery, or faucet or plug).   And for all of this intake of resources and materials and energy, the great urban centers only return two things:  waste (which is moved away), and currency which in theory makes it "worth" running the system.

Dependency and the (largely speaking) inability to provide for actual population and operation).  This is not a great combination.

Surely, you say, it has always been this way.  And it has:  the Athenian Empire relied on grain shipments from the Black Sea to feed its population; the Roman Empire did the same with grain from Egypt to feed the population of The Eternal City.  And undoubtedly there was someone just like me at that time, maundering around in his toga, muttering about how the great latifundia of Egypt and Syria and even Italia were putting the Roman civilization at risk.  

Cassandras and Doom Sayers.  We are in every era.

The difficulty, of course, is that once one becomes reliant on a thing, one's policies become dedicated to preserving that reliance.

Athenian policy was dictated by a need to keep the seas open, its coffers filled to support her navy, and above all, to keep the grain flowing.  And Rome's true "collapse" did not come until the great and complex commercial economy which she had brought into being (largely managed her complete domination of the Mediterranean basin and the countries around it) fell apart, and the grain (and taxes) no longer flowed.   Within my own life time it has been energy in the form of petroleum; it will likely become computer chips if things continue as they are.

So dependency, the inability to function long term, and now policy determined not necessarily by what is best but by what is going to sustain the flow of goods.  

As we are experiencing at the moment and almost everywhere, such things have consequences.  The experience of delays caused by waiting for things not yet available or the inability to get those things to us impact everything around us in large ways or small.  And this is still with energy to move the goods available and the resources largely in country.  Imagine if the ability to move items was even further reduced (in case no-one is clear, everything - everything - goes on a truck at some point.  And trucks burn fuel), or if the simple items and energy became unavailable.

The Great Urban Centers, unable to provide for themselves and dependent on the outside for so many things, would simply grind to a halt.

Perhaps the former me, clad in a toga and having overlooked the slow decay of Rome, would simply shake my head and lament that we have learned nothing in all this time.

Tuesday, October 26, 2021

A Long Drive From Home To Home

This past weekend, I made the long drive from Old Home to New Home.

It is practically halfway across the country by the time one is done, approximately 1800 miles (1802 miles, to be exact) and right at 30 hours.  The drive conveniently breaks itself into two equal mileage portions at about 900 miles.  One day took 16 hours, the next day took 14 hours.

Why would I drive so far when one can fly, you might ask?  My parents have a car they are no longer using, and Nighean Dhonn could use a car (instead of borrowing The Ravishing Mrs. TB's).  For the price of gasoline, both problems could be solved.

My time in driving - besides paying attention to the road - was well spent:  I finished out a podcast lecture of Classical Greek History by Donald Kagan of Yale (18 hours or so) and spent the rest of the time listening to audio dramas, a combination of H.P. Lovecraft and post-apocalyptic fiction.

Some general observations about the drive:

1) This country is big.  We, who have - for the most part - compressed our travel into short air burst of 3 to 5 hours - forget that.  It is big beyond our imagining, and one can understanding the disbelief of the Native Americans that anyone could "own" such a thing and the awe of the European immigrants as they just kept going and going and still found emptiness.

2)  Outside of cities, there seem to be almost as many big rigs on the road as there are cars.  That might be a slight exaggeration, but only slight.  For all of the problems of the supply chain, it is not because the big rigs are not out there.

3)  I really saw only two kinds of freight trains:  container car trains, empty and full, and (once) a car carrier train.  No tankers, no ore cars, no boxcars.  Yet another marker of my childhood, gone.

4)  I made a total of 8 fuel stops.  The difference between the highest and the lowest was $1.80 (really $1.50, but only after I had filled did I realize I was in the position of having a "credit card" surcharge applied).  I probably could have driven farther, but with an unfamiliar car and not fully knowing the mileage range, I tend to panic easily at less than half a tank.

5)  A matter I will write on tomorrow - but only mention now - is that most of the crops, refuse disposal, energy generation, and resource extraction I passed was nowhere near the urban centers which consume them.  

6)  The country is littered with historical sties, those funny brown or blue signs with national or state park notices.  One could spend an entire trip pleasantly just stopping at the places everyone else does not.

7)  The smaller towns beyond the urban core - the between towns - are to almost a full extent dependent not just on tourist traffic, but on the aforementioned big rig traffic.  Thus, anything impacting that network impacts not just the ability of urban areas to get their supplies (and thus, their economies) but these smaller places as well.

8)  As mentioned in item 1, this country is big - so big, the concept that 68 miles of square territory should being dictating to everyone else how to run their lives is ludicrous at best.

9)  Even with all of the issues going on, this country remains stunningly beautiful.

Monday, October 25, 2021

Rain-Cloud-Bow


Rainbow and rainfall
Pour from the same thunderous cloud
As the sunshine laughs.

Sunday, October 24, 2021

Rain (Finally)

We had a second full day of rain.


The turkeys were enjoying the rain.


It feels like forever since I have seen this.  We needed it badly.



Saturday, October 23, 2021

The Silent Voice Of Economics

One of things that I have found as I have continued to learn to be silent is that economics will often do the speaking for me.

Economics is a thing which impacts everyone to a greater or lesser extent.  It is very noticeable.  And the fact of the change or difference cannot be argued with.  Why the change happened is, of course, subject to discussion, but not the fact of it.

A simple example:  the price of fuel.

When I return or speak with folks in Old Home, the price of fuel comes up.  "What is the price of gas now?" the question will come.  I will give the response.  There is a moment of silence, as both I and the questioner know that they are paying more.  There are reasons they are paying more, reasons that they will typically not bring up into discussion.  But the impact on their pocket book is a reality that neither of us need to dwell on at any length.

It extends to a great many things these days.  The price of food.  The fact that your meal or your work may be delayed as businesses are having problems finding employees.  The fact that some things may be completely unavailable or take exceedingly long periods of time. 

The reality that, at least now, it seems almost everything is more expensive.

There are reasons for this of course.  Economics (and supply chains) do not happen in a void.  Decisions are made by governments in what they choose to tax or not tax (and thereby encourage or not encourage), what they choose to encourage or discourage.  And the market reacts accordingly.

I expect that as we continue to move into Winter and what appears to be increasingly unstable economic times, these sorts of things will become even more obvious and harder to not see.  And I say "not see" specifically:  At some point even children begin to put together simple logic chains like when it is cloudy, it is more likely to rain.  At some point, as shortages move on and prices increase (and quite likely never come down), even the most resistant will at least have to look at their far more dwindling resources that go faster and faster for less and less.

At some point, economics becomes rock upon which all societies, cultures, and peoples either break or restore themselves.

Friday, October 22, 2021

On Visits With The Forgetting

 One of the things I make a habit of making sure that happens when I am here at The Ranch is touching bases with The Cowboy, the gentleman who (with his son) keeps the cattle at here that you occasionally see pictures of.  He has been a lifelong resident of the area and has kept his cattle here - I have no idea, twenty years?  He is just one of those genuinely good people that loves being here as much as my father did and literally cares for the place as if it was his own.  He and his son have complete run of the property and barn and do a lot of things, especially in the last few years, that my father could not:  bring down trees, makes sure fences are repaired, and odds and ends sort of repairs that I suspect every property needs.

Every morning - especially before The Plague - he and a group of regulars used to meet with my father for coffee in the small local coffee shop (there is only one) and even after that, made sure that they had coffee once or twice a week down at the barn.  Mostly, I  suspect, for my father.

I always try to update him when we are speaking about how my father is doing.  He has generously over the past 6 months visited my father several times for which my sister and I are grateful.  It was easier, of course, in April before the second stroke happened, but he has still persevered over the last few months.

"I have not been done lately" he mentioned.  "It is hard."

I told him I completely understood.

I and my sister have both have no expectations about anyone else stopping by to see my parents.  We, more than anyone else, understand how difficult it will be - and that is for us as children.  For some of their friends, they have known them seventy or eighty years.  We have, in a sense, had a front row street to the past five years.  If you did not know, it would be very difficult indeed.

My parents managed it well, right up to the end in that regard.  They seldom went anywhere novel and when in familiar settings, one might not have known things were awry.  Certainly their friends knew my mother had memory issues, although I doubt any of them knew to what extent.  She had been getting quieter over the years, so it might not have seemed unusual - and my father was able to fill the gap.

There is  small group that we check in with on a periodic basis, just to let them know how my parents are doing.  They are always glad to hear, of course.  Some of them will say they should stop by and see them soon.  I nod silently, knowing their hearts are in the right place, even as I know most of them themselves are at a place and point where much travel is difficult at all.  Especially travel for a visit like this.

My Uncle - my mother's brother, now senior family member of both our small branch and the larger branch of this side of family, confessed to me that he simply did not have strength to see my mother - not the physical strength, but the metal strength.  He wondered how my sister and I do it.

I told him what I tell everyone - of course while I am sure at some level my parents are glad to see people, it will never be the same in that sense.  I can only imagine the levels of pain such a visit would invoke in people, levels of pain that I am sure neither of my parents would want inflicted on anyone.  For my sister and I and for our families, it is something we have managed and lived with for a while now.  I can visit my parents and take in the visit with the knowledge that they are glad to see me (they always are), but also with the knowledge that the visit is really more about our presence than an actual exchange of communication.  My father may remember we have come; my mother will never do so again.

At some meaningful point, these sorts of visits may become the equivalents of the visits to a gravesite, something that we find is ultimately more for ourselves than for the others.  We may find ourselves grounded or uplifted by the visits; they indeed uplifted by the visits as well, but not nearly in a way that has more than a passing impact.

Thursday, October 21, 2021

The Collapse LXXXV: The Last Analgesic

09 April 20XX + 1

My Dear Lucilius:

I seem to be writing you a great more frequently now – again, I say “writing” as if these missives will somehow make their way to you at some point, which of course is completely unknown and unknowable at this point. Still, it does keep my mind active and gives me one more outlet for conversation as I fear I may be monopolize young Xerxes’ time when he stops by. Old men and their penchant for dragging the young into conversations, it seems.

While he was here, Xerxes asked if by chance I had any analgesics that I could part with.

I had to tell him to give a minute to look – I so seldom take medication of any kind if I can help it and especially analgesics, that I had to go looking. Sure enough, I found one unopened bottle, a well known commercial brand that was even within expiration date.

He explained that it was for someone that Stateira’s mother knew that was having a go around with a condition and needed painkillers and that there was (seemingly) little that could be found. What, he asked, would I be willing to trade for it?

I looked at the bottle in my hand. The fact (as I now realized) that I did not have more was a little surprising to me as I try to keep a supply of such things on hand, but not that surprising – as mentioned, I tend to put off the unnecessary medications whenever I can (bearing in mind the mantra that was beaten into me when I started in my industry long ago, “All medications have side effects”). I suppose it would have value – almost anything that is of the old world and is within an expiration date will, of course – but it is not like I have been wanting for anything right now.

I told him to just take it.

He protested of course, tried to convince me that there must be something I would want in return. I told him there was nothing I could think of and besides, at the rate I used such things they were likely to go out of date long before I finished them.

He thanked me profusely of course, to which I muttered something about “Paying it somewhere” or some such thing that was a saying 30 years ago that was put in place instead of simply saying “you are welcome” to such a response.

Later that day a note, bag of cookies, and lettuce leaves mysteriously showed up on my doorstep after a quick rapping and the sound of an ATV driving away. The note was from Stateira and her mother, who was as profuse in their thanks as Xerxes had been. The cookies were for myself, and the lettuce was for the rabbits.

The rabbits are always happy for such kind generosity. And cookies have never, ever, not been a fine way to convey gratitude.

It strikes me as remarkable, Lucilius how we have had to find ways to disguise doing a deed of merit which should be done for no other reason than it is a deed of merit by making them sound like we are noble. Even in the midst of such straightened circumstances as we find ourselves – I here, you there – we should never reach the point where generosity is beyond us or must be more about us than about the good the action is doing.

When everything becomes a transaction, we all become poorer.

Your Obedient Servant, Seneca

Wednesday, October 20, 2021

God Walking In The Trees

 Wind.

One of the most amazing things about The Ranch is the Wind.


I have often commented to individuals that for me, I can hear God walking more clearly here through the wind in the trees that I can hear Him at any other time.  I think this may freak some people out - after all, if God is walking through the trees, what is He doing?  What is He saying?

I never really have an answer for them, of course.


I never really have an answer because I cannot really explain why I believe He is walking in the trees in the first place.

Were you to ask me, I would simply say that Genesis says that God walked in the cool of the Garden, so I certainly know that He does like walking around in His creation.  Why should it surprise me that He would still choose to do it?


I am reminded by some, of course, that the wind happens everywhere else; does that mean God does not walk other places?

I am not foolish enough to definitively comment that He does not; what I will say that wind filtered not through Nature but rather through civilization sounds a great deal different to me, like the muddled conversation of a restaurant or bar.  

Perhaps I am too simplistic in thinking that God walks in the trees.  Then again - at least for me - I often hear Him the more clearly when He does.

Tuesday, October 19, 2021

An October Visit With TB The Elder And Mom

 One of the changes that has taken place as we have moved through this ongoing journey with TB the Elder and Mom is the fact that visitation times move, not derived by anything other than climate.  Earlier in the year, it is too hot beyond the morning to visit outside; in the Autumn, one now goes later to avoid it being too cool.

As it turned out, my sister had pulled up just before I got there and was already settling the chairs it.  It is always nice when someone else is there, as it helps to move the conversation along if it stalls.

My mother almost recognizes me when they escort her out - "That is my..." "Son", I helpfully interject before she lost the thought or confused me for someone else.  "And your daughter" my sister chimes in.  They bring my father out as well, wearing a stretch knit cap for the cold - this is the first time I can remember in 45 years I have seen him in one.

The conversation is the same as it always is.  I let them know how the family is doing, show them pictures of The Ravishing Mrs. TB and Nighean Gheal fresh off their latest adventures.  I have no idea if they actually grasp where they have been, but they always act like they know.  They ask after the other two as well, and I remind them they are still in school and so cannot get away as easily.

TB The Elder seems more engaged than he sometimes does, asking a couple of questions which I have to interpret to get the answer for:  In one, he seems to be asking about mileage for the car I drove in (their old car, but they do not recognize it as such) and in the other, asking about the change in weather.  If those are not his questions, the answers seem to satisfy him enough.

We talk about the weather and how it is getting colder.  They ask about work and we let them know it is Sunday and we are both off.  

At one point my father gets up and starts walking around the walkway towards the far end of the patio.  My sister and I look at each other - he is really not supposed to be walking on his own without help - and then I spring up to walk around or beside him.  He clearly does not want help, so I am nervously walking to one side, trying to keep my attention on where he stepping and my arms out in case I have to leap to catch him one direction or the other.  He, however, seems to have not such doubts and continues straight on to the end of the walkway, making the corner, and getting to the end where the gate is.  He pulls on the lock for a moment and and then asks me something.  Again, interpretation:  "No Dad, I do not have the key".  He pulls on it a few more times, rattles the gate, and then turns around and then starts the slow shuffle back to where we were sitting.  Again, I am trying to anticipate the fall I think will come but he makes his way back into his seat without incident.

He has never tried to "escape" before.  That is new.

He does seem more "there" than some of the other visits we have had.  The fact that the Dodgers beat the Giants brings out a laugh in him (he is a lifelong Dodger fan).  And his questions, while not completely understandable, are understandable enough that I can supply the answer.

Visits are usually about 30 minutes or so, and this one is no different.  My sister goes to get help to bring them back in:  first goes my mother, and then they come for my father.  They always seem to be able to get him inside with the promise of a snack:  ice cream, popcorn, something.  He jokes with them in a way like he used to joke with others; they seem fond of him for that.

This was a better visit than some; my sister and I keep trying to analyze when we come and their reaction to assess if there is some common denominator (time, post meal, something) that makes them more "conversational".  

It may be nothing but chance of course, but the more pleasant visits make the time go better.  And one leaves feeling more uplifted than saddened.

Monday, October 18, 2021

Winter Onset

Winter is coming to The Ranch.

The winds are blowing almost incessantly now, harbingers of the rain that is supposed to start later this week.   They rip through the trees, dappling the ground with moving shadows that dance back and forth in random patterns which almost appear to be in sync with some unheard music.


The oaks have started their annual shutdown, dropping acorns and preparing to shed leaves as the squirrels hurry about, trying to pack in the last little bit before it becomes too cold and wet to be out during the day.  Most of the birds have disappeared as well, fleeing to southern climes warmer more to their liking.

Everything is still painfully brown and dry here, as it always is at this time of year, as the rains have not been frequent enough to start the greening process.  If the forecasters are right, there may be enough to start the process by the time I leave for New Home.  Which would be a welcome and wonderful change from the last 4 months or so.

The non-natives my father planted - the walnut and apple and Japanese Maple - are shedding their leaves as well.  For the walnut and apple their fruits are long gone, taken off by the squirrels or birds on their way South and then finished off on the ground by whomever happened to be passing by.  Once again, the squirrels have beat me to the walnuts.

I hauled another load or two of wood to the porch, anticipating the coming rain and falling temperatures.  There is no meaningful reason for me to do this, of course:  the house has propane heat and it will not get so cold that I need a fire.  But a fire for me, at this stage, is a luxury:  something that I get to do, not something I have to do.  And five days of a fire will hardly put a dent in the wood that is here.  Frankly, it is not as if anyone else is using the wood at this stage.

There are a few more things to do before the house effectively goes into Winter mode.  I should probably disconnect the automatic waterers that have kept the roses, camellia, and lavender bushes alive during the summer, but I want to make sure it actually rains before I do it.  The hose bibs are all wrapped.  I will set the heat on low in the house to keep things from freezing, although that is not really a danger this late into Autumn/early into Winter.

It strikes me, as I look out the window and watch the dry grasses bend over in the rain-bearing wind which pummels them into the ground, that it captures my mood entirely:  feeling parched and dry, waiting for the life-giving rain to start the annual process of renewal.

The sunlight, sinking a little more quickly every day, nudges me that if I have anything else to do, I had best be about it before it too abandons the horizon, leaving us to the darkness of the night and rain. I go before the daylight completely escapes my grasp.

Sunday, October 17, 2021

A Purchase For A Dream

So The Ravishing Mrs. TB bought the first thing for moving to The Ranch.

She is recently returned from points abroad and bought herself an extravagance while she was away:  a hand knotted rug (agreeing with the rule, of course, that one should always buy at least one extravagance when one travels overseas).  It is lovely and colorful and being handmade, supporting a local industry (which I am all for).  

When displaying it to Nighean Gheal, she made the comment "I thought the color would go well with the carpet at The Ranch".

My heart jumped at this statement - not because it is not something that that we have not discussed, but because it has always been a theoretical thought for "some time" out there.

As I have alluded to earlier this week, I have found myself a bit disjointed and out of sorts, not feeling at all as if I belong anywhere - or really everywhere. Disjointed enough that I seem to have little if any focus or energy for anything.  But my wife saying this settled a thing in my mind, not just a "it will happen someday" but "it really is going to happen someday".  (The corollary, of course, being "so get started").

Maybe magic carpets, which convey us to far off destinations, really do exist.

Friday, October 15, 2021

Not Wanting Things

The moment comes when suddenly you find you do really want anything any more.  It is rather a shocking feeling, because due to the natural state of being a human or from an inherent sense of covetousness, there always seems to be (at least for me) something that I always want to have.

Part of it derives from the fact, I suppose, that from a young age we always seem to have things we want.  We have holidays that things come on - Christmas, birthdays - and especially when we are small children, that is pretty much when things come.  So we begin to associate those days with getting things and so we look forward to those days or months in advance (how many years did I spend pouring through the Sears catalogue right when it came, looking for Christmas ideas?).  

Then, when we first start earning money, we find out that we can buy our own things. And so begins the life long pursuit of things.  The economy runs on us purchasing things, and so we are actively encouraged (the fancy word for it is "marketing") to not only think getting more things is nice, but that it is an imperative.  This, we are told, is how we measure our success in life and show that we are "doing it right".  Happy people, so "marketing" tells us, have things - and so should we.  And if we cannot have those things, we should spend our time eagerly wanting them and spending time dream about them (and watching marketing, of course).

Until that moment comes when we find we really do not "want" anything anymore.

There will always be needs, of course:  no matter how many times I darn my socks I will eventually need new ones and sports shoes simply do not last forever.  Things at the house need to be replaced, as do parts on my car.  Maybe in another world these do not qualify as "needs"; in our modern world, they tend to.

But the rest?  There suddenly seems to be no desire.

Oh, if pushed to the wall I suppose I could find something.  But that is only if I am thinking about it a great deal or there is something which, although not a necessity, is something which would make life more pleasant or easier.  But now,  only if I am really thinking about it.  For the most part, I find I am not thinking about such things as all.

It would be a problem, of course, if thousands or even millions of people suddenly found they no longer wanted things with the same intensity.   Imagine the complete rewiring of our economic system if this were to be case. 

Or put another way, imagine if someone created a consumer goods based economic system, and over time no-one showed up.

Thursday, October 14, 2021

Snack Time With M and P

 

In lieu of the post I should have written, I present for your entertainment snack time with M and P:



Wednesday, October 13, 2021

The Coming Of Autumn And Centering

We have had rain twice in the last week.   Autumn seems to be upon us.

The temperatures are dropping into "normal" Autumnal variations, which here actually means pretty pleasant weather - before the cold starts migrating in and stays.

Autumn this year feels compressed to me.  It is practically already the middle of October - that is a mere 2.5 months left in the year. Halloween in three weeks, Thanksgiving in 1.5 months, and Christmas in 2.5 months In this time I have three 1 week trips to The Ranch, two short planned personal trips, Thanksgiving, and Christmas/Christmas Break.  And what is left of the work year to "complete" everything that is to be done.

If I get my Fall garden planted this year between now and the time it gets too cold, I will feel like I have made actually progress.

This year feels incomplete to me - or rather perhaps, I feel incomplete.

I am more and more taken by the fact that I feel strung out between places and lives.  I am here in New Home. I am in Old Home. We (The Ravishing Mrs. TB and I) are working to manage our own lives and plans here, while my sister and I are working to manage my parents situation and estate at The Ranch in Old Home. In both locations, I am working through a job which a some level seems always in flux, as much due to the nature of the business as it seems to be due to the fact things I am working on seem to keep going back "to development". 

I am everywhere - and strangely, I am nowhere.

In a way, perhaps, this is the essence of Autumn:  The point at which Nature just gives up and decides to pack it all in.  The season is done for the year, the growing and flying about and activity is done.  Leaves fall, rains come, season turns cold, and everything gets an enforced rest and readjustment.

Perhaps that is what I need right now, this shedding of leaves to remove externalities and the flush of cold chill the sap and snap me into where I actually am - or perhaps, where I should actually be.


Tuesday, October 12, 2021

Of Yogurt And Independent Thought

 One of the greatest things lessons I have learned over the years on independence and thinking independently is simply the practice of learning to do things for myself.

My biggest example for this is yogurt.

For the last two years (except when traveling), I have not purchased yogurt.  I have made my own.  Yogurt is just about the most easy dairy product to make and takes about two days:  one to heat the milk and inoculate and let it set, one day to drain off the whey.  Although my kitchen scale does not go high enough, my estimation is that a gallon of milk will get me about 1 to 1.5 lbs of yogurt.  That will last me for about a week, at which time I will get a new gallon of milk and heat it and introduce some of the culture from the previous yogurt into this one (such culture will acidify over time, so I do have to start with new starter culture every now and again).

To a lesser (much lesser extent) I can do this with other dairy products like cheese (but my friend, Rain, is an actual master.  Her, you should follow).  And one can make the argument that on the whole, I am probably not saving a great deal of money - for yogurt, I think I save a little.

But that is not really the point.

As one provides for one's self in any aspect - yogurt or vegetables or car repair or sewing - one is doing something much more valuable than just providing a product: one is training the mind.

The mind is being trained to think and act for itself in its own provision, rather than constantly having to go to an outside source to provide for it.  One realizes that one can do things:  I can make yogurt or cheese or darn socks or make something out of leather, something that is useful and productive.  Will I necessarily save money?  No.  It will at best be a wash and at worst cost me more.

But in doing these things, I realize a truth.  I can provide for myself.  And as I learn to provide for myself, I find that I am learning to think for myself.  My first reaction is not "Where will I find this?" or "Who will do this for me?"  It is "How do I do this?" or "How do I find out how to do this?"  I am looking to myself to do the thing or get the information, not relying on someone to provide it for me or tell me what to do.

In a way, I think this is why Our Political And Social Betters disparage the concepts of doing for ourselves and really only encourage those sorts of things that make us look to them as the fount of all supply and wisdom.  To do for ourselves is to remove their power, and to remove their power is to make them obsolete.

Want to start someone down the route to independent thought and self determination?  Teach them to make yogurt.

Monday, October 11, 2021

2021 Summer Garden: The Final Count

 This weekend I pulled out most of the Summer Garden.  This is the last view:


As you might remember from here, here, and here, a big difference this year was the use of ollas, stoppered clay pots in the ground that act as a slow release watering system (again, hat tip to Leigh at Five Acres and A Dream for introducing them to me).  Other notes to be included this year is we had an exceptionally wet Spring and somewhat wet Summer (for us, anyway).

So how did it go?

1)  The ollas actually worked very well overall. I would say especially in the early part of the growing season, the ollas helped to sustain the seedlings in a way that just watering did not.

2) There were some issues I found in inconsistent plugging of the holes in the bottom.  Some went days without needed a refill, some went less than a day.  From what Leigh said, she and Dan seal the bottom with a thin layer of concrete.  That might make a lot of sense and is something I will have to fix.

3) A lot of what you see there is sweet potato vines.  I need to find a better way to trellis/manage these as doing a later planting was impossible for anything.

4)  While the ollas were useful as a sustaining water source, things really did do better with a 10-12 minute daily soaking.  As you can see from the picture above, I "engineered" a solution, but will need to think about something a little more elegant.

5)  Yield?  Six Tomatoes (I never have gotten that many tomatoes in 12 years of living here), three corn ears (again, a victory of sorts - although this was before I started daily watering.  I think I could have done better with it), a reasonably good yield of Black Eyed peas (and miserable yields of all other beans - I do not know why I bother anymore.  And the sweet potatoes below, of course:



Next year one thing I will need to change is to just go to warm weather vegetables all the way in.  Also, trellising and shading would delightful pluses.

One of the reasons the garden was pulled out this weekend was a suggestion by Leigh to back calculate 10 hours of sun to determine planting.  Although we do get a lot of sun here all year, this was the most reasonable time.  So I will start replanting this week for Autumn.

Overall I was quite pleased with this Summer's outcome.  This is in a lot of ways the most successful garden I have grown.  I think with some tweaks I can do even better.

Sunday, October 10, 2021

A Primary Calling

 


I respect MacArthur's biblical scholarship - it really is first class, and arguably he would (along with the late R.C. Sproul) would be my standard against which I would measure late 20th Century pastoral teaching (his knowledge of New Testament Greek sets him far above most others) - even as I sometimes deplore his lack of tact.  

But that said, this statement struck me as powerful, especially given yesterday's post and frame of mind.

To be clear (and I have followed MacArthur for over 20 years), he is very consistent on this point.  He has not been one to discuss or monitor national or international trends of social or political import.  He has always brought the conversation around to the Church as witness in a dead and dying world.

It seems such a different message now from some much of what passes for church, does it not?  But I think MacArthur would say (of course, I am not speaking for him) that all of that can come from a people that are redeemed.  Otherwise, one is merely continuing to make repairs on a structure that is continuing to fall apart - and people can do all the "right" things in life and still be condemned in the afterlife.

The other thing that strikes me is the phrase "the lost and condemned world in which you live".  Not a phrase one hears at all any more.  The world systems are just flawed and can be repaired, not lost and condemned.

Believing that a society is flawed and can be repaired is a hallmark of utopianism.  Believing that a society is lost and condemned would completely change the focus for the larger Church in how the interacted with it.

Be the light that cannot be hidden under the basket, understanding that as a light our primary job is not to  make the house better or cleaner but rather to show the fact that it is falling apart, and that there is a ultimately a way to make it better.  But it will require something more than minor fixes.


Saturday, October 09, 2021

A Bit Overcome

That moment when you realize you do not care.

Oh, I have not given up on the life itself, or the things that are important to me.  But more and more, I find I am giving up on things outside of me.

Perhaps this is not a surprise - after all, it so many ways it seems like we have passed peak insanity and any mooring we had to what we used to call "Reality" has long ago passed us by.  In a way rather terrible and yet glorious way, it almost feels like we are living on the thinnest crust of Crème brûlée, ready to slide down into the interior with the slightest rupture of the caramelized sugar topping

Crème brûlée is delicious.  All of this, not so much.

I have to confess that I have almost completely given up on any idea that following events or news will make me any more ready for what seems to be inevitably coming.  I feel like the Coyote from Looney Tunes that has completely over-run the cliff by 100 feet and am still cycling my hands and legs, only to look back and see the Road Runner standing back on the edge.  

One knows - in one's heart, one knows - that all of this ends very badly and that no matter what is being down in the real world, it is all sound and fury, signifying nothing.  Because disunity, economic insanity, tattered supply chains, and a world that is effectively looking for a reason to rumble really only ends one way.

I suppose that some of my sense of being overwhelmed simply derives from the fact that I see no way back to sanity any more.  How, given the current state of the world, does one walk back disunity with unity, economic insanity with sounds economic policies, tattered supply chains with resilient supply chains, and a world that steps a way from the brink - or really multiple brinks?

The correct answer is, of course, that you do not.  

So I go quietly about my business, trying to do what good I can in the small circle of my life and do what I can to prepare for what is coming - acknowledging at the same time that in the larger scope of things, preparing for what I intuitively feel is coming feels like a lost cause. 

At least, I suppose, I have no illusions.

Thursday, October 07, 2021

The Collapse LXXXV: Supply Chains

09 April 20XX+1

My Dear Lucilius:

It appears that I have a “line” (as they say) on some quail.

Well, technically I do not, but Xerxes does – or rather Stateira, Xerxes’ girlfriend. A friend of a friend, as it turns out – or really, what we would call a quail lover and hobbyist. I have no idea if they are my “sort” of quail, and frankly do not care. The ongoing survival of the colony has been a worry of mine since last year (quail’s life spans are rather short – two years or so – so this was definitely going to become an issue soon).

Quail – like many things once upon a time – used to be something that (literally) could be done online and far away. One ordered the fertilized eggs and they shipped them overnight. Into the incubator they went until a few weeks later, one was in the quail business. There was always an effort on my part to find a way to make a sustaining colony, but it was never a huge concern because – after all – one could always get more.

Supply Chain, my dear Luculius. We had almost godlike supply chains that made anything possible.

I remember seeing lamb from New Zealand that was cheaper than lamb grown locally – thanks to supply chains. I bought strawberries and tomatoes out of season – again, supply chains. And who could forget the ubiquitous large online retailer that made everything available anywhere with 7 days?

Supply Chains.

My personal supply chains shrunk over time, of course. Part of the matter was simply the realization that needed less unnecessary things – and certainly, simplifying one’s life will simplify one’s supply chains. Part of it was some kind of attempt – feeble on my own part, I suppose – to attempt to source things more “locally” (if by local we can include the continent instead of overseas). And part of it was simply that at time went on, some things became quite unavailable and thus, there was no need for those supply chains.

That was probably a sign, looking back – not the event itself per se (although hindsight is always so clear) as it was an indicator of risk. Our supply chains were at risk because we had built an economy on the concept that a supply chain would always function, and would always function perfectly. After all, why would that not be true? Supply chains were based on economic wellness, and everyone wanted economic wellness, did they not?

My supply chain, now, is at best a five mile radius.

I have no idea I am going to need to exchange for the quail – my standard offer of “honey” was not of interest this time. Interestingly enough, Xerxes had asked if I had seed so I will go through the packets, looking to see what I can spare.

Those, too, are in short supply – the packets more than the seeds. Some supply chains failed long ago.

Your Obedient Servant, Seneca

Tuesday, October 05, 2021

Learning Humility

 One of the greatest struggles of my life - especially in the last 10 years - is learning humility.

There are two kinds of proud people in life.  The first variety are those whom are proud and know and act like it.  The second kind are those who are proud but do not act like it, veiling their pride behind a veneer of quiet and self-retirement.  

I fall into the second category.  I know I fall into the second category because proud people really annoy me and, to quote some wise person, "What we most despise in others is what we recognize in ourselves".

Timidity is the step-sister of humility, often disguising pride under an appearance of not being proud.  But it is not so - too often my own timidity is just my own fear of those who are involved in the conversation or situation and, upon their departure, my own pride will immediately re-assert itself.

Humility - true humility - is something which our society values in others, but not in ourselves.  Our society has so structured itself that those who are leaders expect those under them to be humble in their acceptance of their words, opinions, and actions without any expectation or acceptance that they themselves should demonstrate the same qualities.  Not surprising I suppose, in a society which above all glorifies the self in terms of how much attention one can draw.

Humility, it seems, is the opposite of the narcissist as well as prideful. 

My own pride seems to have known no bounds in that it pretty much encompassed every portion of my life - in some way I was as smart, as educated, as attractive (insert large "guffaw" here), as relevant, as funny - if not more so - than everyone I encountered.  Even if I was too timid to put myself forward as such.  

The great thing about God is that He loves to work with such people.  And by "work", I mean let them fall on their face again and again (and again) until they finally start to pay attention.

I have said things in ignorance -and been intellectual destroyed for them, as I should have been.  I have made decision and had them go completely wrong because I knew better than those that would have done the research prior to making them. I have presented myself as the obvious choice for a role or position when in point of fact I not (and might never be).  I have acted boldly when tact would have suggested otherwise because people act boldly - and boldly failed.

If pride is the emotional equivalent of self-immolation, I have set myself on fire a thousand thousand times.

At some point, of course, we are forced to take stock of precisely where we are in the state of our lives.  Some people double down, believing that they have simply "done it wrong" up to that point.  The others of us perhaps begin to question if our belief in ourselves were justified in the way we believed them to be.

It is then, perhaps, that we begin to address humility.

In my experience, perhaps what has helped me more than anything else in this regard is the practice of Iaijutsu.  Performing something time after time, feeling like one has "got" it only to find that there are a plethora of other things to address, will wear down that sense of infallibility and "personal greatness" over time.  Accepting that something is a lifetime challenge - and something that you ultimately never master although you can get closer - will change a person, given long enough.

For those that are believers, First Peter 5:5-7  says "Yes, all of you be submissive to one another, and be clothed with humility, for as it says 'God resists the proud, but give grace to the humble.'  Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God, that he may exalt you in due time, casting all your care upon Him, for He cares for you." I used to separate those two concepts in my mind - Humble myself, casting all my cares upon God - as separate and unconnected events.  But I have realized that they are in fact connected:  How much of our pride derives from the fact that we believe that we must take care of everything ourselves, and that even if we do believe in God, we do not believe we can do as well as He can?  

For those that are not believers, I think the question, slightly altered, still stands:  How much of our pride derives from the fact that we are so certain that we know better than anyone else and cannot accept or believe that in some way or shape, we are not the measure of all things?

In writing this, of course, I leave myself open to all the examples of people who have acted humbly and been mistreated horribly, or undergone experiences with others who expressed false humility, or those that thought that being humble means being a doormat for everyone.  The first two are failures of human interaction and not what humility is meant to be experienced as; the last is simply another misinterpretation of humility by ourselves or others to either serve some internal need in us or others.

C.S. Lewis, in Mere Christianity, gives what I have always considered to be the best and most meaningful definition of practical humility:

Do not imagine that if you meet a really humble man he will be what most people call ‘humble’ nowadays: he will not be a sort of greasy, smarmy person, who is always telling you that, of course, he is nobody. Probably all you will think about him is that he seemed a cheerful, intelligent chap who took a real interest in what you said to him. If you do dislike him it will be because you feel a little envious of anyone who seems to enjoy life so easily. He will not be thinking about humility: he will not be thinking about himself at all.

If anyone would like to acquire humility, I can, I think, tell him the first step. The first step is to realize that one is proud. And a biggish step, too. At least, nothing whatever can be done before it. If you think you are not conceited, it means you are very conceited indeed.”


Monday, October 04, 2021

Learning To Keep Silent

One of the things that I have learned over the past 24 months is the practice of remaining silent.

More and more, I remain silent not because I do not have opinions on the matters- indeed, I often do.  And often my opinions are in the minority.  But that is not why I have learned to become silent. 

I have learned silence because I have come to accept the twin facts that I have no power to change a person's mind and that events are much farther along the path than what people believe them to be.

1)  Once upon a time, I was rather a fierce and vocal defender of many things.  On the whole, I did not win many arguments.  

There are probably a great many reasons for this - for example, my ability as a forensic speaker was non-extant when I was young and is only slightly better now, and in the past when I got passionate I tended to escalate my volume - but perhaps the biggest reason is that I overestimated the practice of the casual chain of logic in the minds of most.  Things happen for a reason - it has been said (credited to Andrew Breitbart) that culture is upstream of politics.  In point of fact, this is merely a restating of a very basic principle, that effects derive from causes.  Find the causes, and you will find the effects.

The difficulty, of course, is that almost everyone - often including myself - is discussing and arguing effects rather than causes.  And effects are often highly subjective:  my view of a place like a large city and its ills are entirely different than another person's view of a large city with all of its benefits.  In both cases, the effects derive from the causes (policies in this case) that are put in place. 

Subjective arguments end nowhere except yelling, a great deal of swearing, and many bad feelings.  It does not accomplish what its users intend.  It almost never actually changes someone's mind.  Only a long discussion presenting actual facts - causes - can do that, followed by long periods of people thinking about such things, followed by realization.  And to a large extent, we have lost this ability - both to present facts and to be able to listen and evaluate instead of reacting.

There is a reason that enlightenment in any endeavor seems to take a great deal of time in thinking, pondering, and listening - and most grow old in the practice of this process.  And our modern society is simply no longer given to such practices.

2)  If one is a student of history - be it almost kind of history I suspect - one can clearly see that we are in the midst of a period of a great upheaval, not just here but throughout the world.  What I do not think that many people see as clearly is that at some moment, one passes the point of no return of the current stream of events.

As I have argued for many years - 30 at least, since I took my macro-economics class - economies are now very complicated and fragile things.  They are very interconnected and a breakdown in one part leads to problems in other places ("What are computer chips, Alex?").  And economies, to be successful on more than a subsistence or local level, require other factors to be in place:  reliable governments that have policies that do not change on a dime (or an administration), a work force that can be educated (if not already so) and wants to work, tax policies that are not so burdensome as to make business financially not worth performing,  or simple outright instability that causes seizures or destruction.  Helpful, too, is an economic system in which the medium of exchange does not lose value and taxes may not be driven higher from a need to pay for a debt which is dreadfully out of control.

If any of this sounds familiar, that may be because it is.

The odd thing to me is that this is not recognized by more people - not just people that for one reason or another have fallen out of favor with whomever their flavor of party is (and it cuts both ways) but educated and intelligent people who will often decry the results of such events but not reasons for it.

Economics is is just one aspect.  I would argue that it could be applied to many others.

The thing that suggests to me more than anything that this pervasive unawareness is true is the fact that I often find myself about a week to a week and half ahead of the structural bad news cycle of those around me.  Partially, I suppose, you could make the argument I frequent such places that have such information (to be fair, I do).  But part of it as well is just being aware of events as they are actually occurring, looking at the upstream events (those darn causes again), and calculating appropriately.

3) (Bonus round):  The third reason I have learned to practice silence is for relationships, which preserve my own piece of mind.

Given my current social circle (which is quite small) most people that I encounter I will see for a very short time - for example, I see my family now more than in the last 10 years and even that is maybe 30 minutes for five people per month.  There is hardly enough time to catch up, let alone to argue.  And arguing destroys their peace and my own.  Far better, in my mind, to exchange the information we need to, laugh at non-descript sorts of things, and go about our business.

I will say that for all of this learning to keep silent, I have not found that I have become a seething kettle of repressed emotions.  Instead, I found that most things now simply roll of my back like water off the proverbial duck we hear about so often.  It simply does not bother me, because I do not let it bother me.

Life is short.  Disagreements and arguments do not seem to be the way to fill it.

Sunday, October 03, 2021

Saturday Morning 06XX



It still strikes me as completely remarkable how much silence is a part of whenever I come to The Ranch.

As I am sit writing this before 0700, there is virtually no sound inside.  Neither the heater nor the air conditioner are pressed into service, the temperature at this time of year being that of announcing that yes, Autumn has indeed arrived..  The refrigerator is silent, the relative moderation of the internal home temperature preserving the need for the compressor to operate and the ice machine, being off, having no impetus to drop in ice cubes over time.  Only the ticking of clock on the wall - battery powered, radio controlled - fills the room, competing at the moment with hum of my hard drive, and the quiet tip-tap of my fingers on the keyboard.

Occasionally the coffee pot, full of the hot canned coffee that is one of my treats when I am up here, pops.  I have no idea why it does this.

Daybreak has no sound of course, unless the lightening of the sky and the commentary of the birds and squirrels and the crunch crunch of deer heading back into the forest can be said to be its voice - but at best it is derivative only.  It is not as if the Sun actually sings on its way into sky, although our lives might be much more full if it did - for a moment I wish the old stories were true, and one could see the Chariot of The Sun and hear the horses as they drove across the sky.

The silence is deafening in at least one sense, of course; a year ago it would not have been this way.

From where I write on the couch, my mother would have been perched, either re-reading one of her cat anthologies for what might have been the fifteenth time (if it was, the plot always remained a surprise to her) or napping with her hands crossed on her lap while my father watched the flickering light of the television with whatever sporting event could be found at this time of the morning (soccer, usually) or perhaps sat in his chair next to the fire, playing solitaire or looking at pictures on the tablet (or, perhaps, reading this very blog).  Undoubtedly, even in early October, the fireplace would have a fire in it (my father was forever cold).  I would float by, wave good morning, and go to start the coffee pot (my father would take a cup, but never made it when I was not there; my mother was always a tea drinker).

The refrigerator clicks on, its hum drowning out everything else but the clock keeping its patient schedule.

The silence is not oppressive, nor does it seem to be laden with the sorts of things that would make for regret or sadness.  It simply seems to exist, an entity unto itself.  Every day I am not here, the silence will be the same at this point, except that the coffee pot will not pop and my computer will not add to the quiet symphony of what has become the daily routine of a house that has nothing but the quiet sounds of modernity and memory living in it.

The rains will be here soon enough, and the sound of the birds and squirrels will be replaced with the sound of the rain falling.  The crunch of brush and grasses will change to slithering noises and the leaves and blades green up and become fat for the deer, who never seem to make noise when the eat.

The silence, it seems, always wins. 

Saturday, October 02, 2021

A Christmas Door Closes

On a recent trip back to Old Home and The Ranch, my sister and I were carrying on what has become our normal series of various conversational topics to catch up on events since my last visit back.  This time, as we were chatting about this and that - our standard conversation always starts, of course, with "How are TB The Elder and Mom?" followed by "What escapades has the insurance company tried this time?" - when she mentioned in passing that she and her family would be spending Christmas abroad this year.

Ah, I thought to myself. That was the end.

Certainly we have not always spent Christmas together once we relocated and so this is not the first time this would have happened - we were back (overall) more often than not, but not always, flight costs being what they were and spending two long days (or three reasonable days) driving out each way essentially consumed a week of whatever break we had.  And even last Christmas was not like it had been in years past:  looming over everything was the downtick in my Father's health that was leading where I think we all knew it what leading and due to The Plague, there was no larger family gathering for Christmas brunch (honestly, it was the reason that I insisted we come out here, even though it was not for long and not at all like Christmas' past.  Even I sensed it was going to be the last one of its kind).

Still, the words of my sister put a certain finality on things - not that I blame them of course:  there is not real reason to not go out and do something with her family.  My parents will literally not know the difference.  And we were already effectively planning to stay at New Home this Christmas for effectively the same reason (and, frankly, the fact that boarding animals becomes its own form of airline ticket itself).  

Still, it was door closing to the past, a door that I will not see opened in that fashion in my lifetime.

If I really wanted to look at it, Christmas 2019 was the last time we were all together as a larger family unit.  Aunt J was still alive and we had Christmas Brunch at my Aunt and Uncle's (who currently live in the original Ranch house) in the morning as we had done for years after opening presents at my parents and waiting for my sister's family to come up.  My father was still of sound mind and my mother's memory was better than what it had become.   All of us were together except for one of my cousins who live in The Very Big City and who never comes out to visit.  That I recall, it was a very ordinary Christmas brunch, the kind we had enjoyed for years.

How surprising - and in a meaningful way, how full of pathos - to realize that it was the last one of its kind.

I will be out for my once a month visit in December as I have been for over a year now and I am sure I will see my parents.  Their living space will probably be decorated for Christmas.  And I will stop by and see my Aunt and Uncle and certainly see my sister and brother in law, and perhaps exchange gifts to be ported back. And come Christmas Day, we will all text each other seasonal greetings and such as this is the way things are done now.

Even with all of the realization that time does indeed move on, I must confess I am a little bereft.  Reality comes at us more quickly than we can imagine.