Monday, January 31, 2022

Writing The Exhausting

One of the things that you may have noticed if you have followed me for some period of time is that the nature of my writing has changed.

To a large extent this is a conscious choice on my part.  There are types of writing that I find I enhance the thoughts I am trying to present and conversations and exchanges that I am hoping to enable, and types of writing that do not; generally, it tends to be the thoughts around current events or social issues that fail me the worst - not that those are not worthy of being written about, just that I do not write of the well nor manage the conversation well.  In a way this strikes me as incredibly odd, as originally when I started this blog a long time ago, that was what I thought would consume my writing.  Of course, I also once believed that success in blogging was literally waiting right around the corner if I just threw up my shingle, wrote a few posts, and sat back and waited for the world to recognize my brilliance - so my judgement on such matters is highly suspect to start with.

Instead, as I have worked to replace the things I thought I would write on, I find myself writing on the more mundane things that are happening in my life, and the more internal.  The mundane things - vacations, hobbies, animals, The Ranch - are good practice in descriptions for me and, I hope, give you a bit of insight into what sometimes feels like the slow moving schizophrenic collections of activities and beliefs I call a life.

The internal writing is harder.

I have always been more comfortable writing about the my internal life than speaking of it, so much so that it can drive those close to their wit's end trying to find out what I am thinking. It is nothing personal that I  am aware of - in point of fact I often simply do not have opinions on lots of things (trying to get me to choose a place for dinner is a hopeless endeavor; I just like food); if that is the case for something relatively simple, the deeper things seem to come with much more effort if at all.  Writing is much easier - as the saying goes, talking is hard.

But even as I push into the internal, I find it exhausting.

In the change of pace and focus, I am advancing into things I had not anticipated would be problems or cause me this level of almost shying away.  Rather tragically for my ego, it is not the sort of interesting items that make for good reality shows or anguished biographies:  my issues are largely pedestrian and hardly the sort of thing that makes for riveting movies about misspent youths and failed lives.   And yet, as I continue to write and begin to force the paths I go down more insistently, I find the resistance grows.

The point of course is not to name names or make those involved uncomfortable about such tings: I made an agreement with myself years ago that I would not write anything personal about someone else that, were they to read it, they would feel uncomfortable reading  or I would feel uncomfortable explaining.   I, of course, am fair game for my own words and postings:  if I desire honesty and believe it enables good relationships and exchanges (which I do, and believe that such things are necessary if we want to have an actual future), I need to be able to bear the slings and arrows of my own words and discoveries.

The point of this missive, I suppose, is to both beg your indulgence as well as apologize in advance if you find or will find that the tone of the writing has changed - but not entirely of course:  I still intend to post on the mundane as well.  This is not meant as an insult or slight to you and hopefully will not feel as if you were lured in under false pretenses, especially if you have read me for a while.  I am driving towards something I cannot fully see or explain at this point, a level of clarity about myself and perhaps about the world that I have not asked of either before.  There is, I think, nothing wrong in the asking; what is interesting to me now is that the writing feels more "honest" even as it feels more challenging.

The flak, as they say, is most pervasive when one is directly over the target.

Your Obedient Servant, Toirdhealbheach Beucail

Saturday, January 29, 2022

A License Plate And An End Of An Era

 This week, after a month's wait and a frantic back and forth to the repair shop to get a copy of an inspection report, we finally got my parent's car registered in New Home with new license plates.  I was taking the plates out to screw them on as The Ravishing Mrs. TB and the household ensemble rolled up.  "Here they are" I said, most directly to Nighean Dhonn, the youngest. "You can take it to school and get your parking permit."

The Ravishing Mrs. TB looked a little sad at that. "I will miss driving you to school a bit".

As she said this, I had one of those moments, the moments I keep capturing only after the fact that they have happened:  the quiet turns in the road.

By my calculation (as I slowly screwed the plates onto the car), we have been transporting children to school for over twenty years.  Originally it was not every day of course:  first periodic morning classes, then a Pre-K class, and then finally school every week day.  As the children continued to arrive, we added on trips and times, sometimes to different locations until finally we managed to get them all at the same place (only for a few years as it turned out, as then they slowly started passing into high school).

My experience growing up was completely different of course:  we attended a small public school and high school and rode the bus.  In my early years my mother worked at the same school I did and I assume, although I do not clearly remember, that we rode with her; by fourth grade we walked down to the end of the road and waited with all the other kids on our street, a practice which continued all the way through the beginning of my junior year (and the appearance of the coveted driver's license).  But we made a conscious choice to enroll our children in private Christian school and thus, we drove up to the point in high school that their own coveted driver's licenses appeared and transportation became available. 

The Ravishing Mrs. TB and I swapped off driving responsibilities as the location of work and school changed.  For many years she did it until we moved to New Home, when after some time and her securing of her current job, it was more convenient for me to drop them off and her to pick them up.  This happened as well in high school for all of them - right up to 2020, when I no longer went and The Ravishing Mrs. TB did.

And now, in the simple act of screwing on license plates, that time has passed.

I cannot specifically recall a discussion or conversation from those years of driving, partially because my memory has a thousand things packed into it and partially because I tend not to talk when I drive.  The Ravishing Mrs. TB was far better at it of course, and used the time to download their days and what happened and perhaps any other tidbits she could extract.

It is a bit of an inconvenience of course, as parking lot efficiencies have not made their way to schools in large numbers yet and the having to leave and be there at a certain time always put some level of fetters on what could be going on in the morning and afternoon.  The humdrum existence of negotiating the car lines, wishing them a good day or asking how their day went, and then driving on.

All that, now, is largely history.

This was going to happen of course; it was always going to happen.  And in some senses I cannot say I not pleased by it, both for the freedom it represents to a parent as well as the simple fact that, as with a child getting a driver's license, the convenience of having them do a driving chore instead of you is immeasurable.  At the same time, I was struck by the moment which was entailed in those license plates:  before they drove up at home, things were one way.  As I screwed them in, things were different.

There is a quiet sense of mourning, I suppose, in the passage of such things.  As some genius has said, One day you and friends went outside to play, not realizing that it was the last time you were ever going to do that.  It is exactly like that:  the sudden realization that a thing that had been a practice and habit for years was only ever a transient thing, more like a butterfly than solid stone.

And like a butterfly, one notices its liftoff not by the loss of pressure on one's arm but only in sudden flash of movement as it flies away.

Friday, January 28, 2022

An Employee's Hiring Market

 I was chatting with a coworker this week about some shared work acquaintances that had recently taken new positions.  The concern with this, of course, is who is going to take over their position and/or how soon their positions would be backfilled.  "No idea" was the response.  "From what I hear, by the time they can make a decision people already have another offer or what is being offered is considered low."

Welcome to the market of the employee.

I have been working long enough that I can recall when markets were not employee friendly:  2009 comes to mind, when after a layoff (Hammerfall) I went through well over 100 applications in 4 months time for 4 interviews, two job offers, and one acceptance.   So does the mid 1990's where unless you were in the wild world of tech, you were scrabbling.  But the pendulum swings of course, and suddenly employees now find themselves in the driver seat.

Some companies are nimble and can adapt.  Others - like mine, apparently - seem wedded to the previous model.

The previous model - for those that have not been job hunting or working in an industry recently - is one where CVs are funneled through an HR portal and the top X number forwarded to management for review based on an HR assessment.  Usually there is an initial HR conversation, followed by a high level interview, and then if there is interest perhaps two to three rounds of interviews with various departments and levels.  After all of that - if there is still interest - an offer will be written, reviewed, approved, and tendered.  And even after that, there are the inevitable background confirmation and checks, which I am sure have become more extensive than ever.

If this sounds like a long process, that is because it is.  In an employer's market, it is borne with a grudging hope and patience.  In an employee's market, no patience is often required.

The second - one that surprises me - is that employers have not grasped the fiscal implications of an employee's market.

It should be news to no-one now that, due in large part to budgetary mismanagement only partially caused by The Plague (because governments cannot help themselves), the market is different that it was two years ago or even a year ago.  A statistic I saw last week suggested something like 4 million jobs are currently wanting for people to fill them.  Some of those positions are indeed specialized positions that may be industry specific, but some of them are the sorts of things that cross industries:  accounting, shipping/receiving, purchasing, facilities, general labor.  The sorts of jobs that keep the wheels greased and systems running so the more "profitable and smarter" work can continue.

It is jobs such as this that will see higher salaries by companies that realize this and will do whatever is in their power to fill gaps - which often looks like offering higher salaries, work from home options,  undefined "benefits", and quick job offers.

Some companies get this.  Others, like mine apparently, do not.

The pendulum will likely swing back at some point; it always does.  Either the market will flood with employees as the salaries reach what people are willing to work for or desperation from a collapsing economy will drive them to it.  And then companies will look again at their bottom line and ask the question of "Why are we paying so much for these people?"  And people will be laid off and have to have grudging patience at the process again.

That of course presumes one thing:  that companies that cannot adapt to the current employee market somehow find a way to do so and make their way to the next phase.

Thursday, January 27, 2022

A Marriage Discussion

 The Ravishing Mrs. TB came in and sat down yesterday evening with a wine glass in her hand  as I was doing my evening round of the the InterWeb.  She sat down with the air of something to say (if you have been in any relationship long enough, you know the "air"), so I sat back and waited.  Sometimes these conversations can be something that has been anticipated, sometimes they can be out of the air.

"Do you remember X from my work" She asked.

I nodded.  X is someone I know tangentially through my wife - but then again due to the nature of my wife's work, I know a lot of her coworkers.

"Their marriage is breaking up"  she said.  "It is amicable separation, but it is sad".  A sip of wine, a sigh, then "It seems like a lot a marriages have been breaking up."

I nodded.  "It has been a rough two years"  I replied.

We chatted on a bit after that about our own marriage, but the thought stuck with me through the evening.

It has been a rough go for marriages, especially over the last two years. Note here I am not including various political and social reasons why marriages are not happening (because, of course, that is political and social and there are lovely sites that discuss those issues), but the marriages that have been in place for a while and are dissolving.

I do not write this without knowledge of the painfulness of this subject.  I have as many friends and acquaintances that have been through a marriage break up as have not and even in the recent past have walked with friends as they have been through it.  I have "caught up" with friends on Social Media only to find out that "when we last left our heroes" had changed a great deal since we last left our heroes.

I suppose on one hand every age has been a hard one to be married in, as there are some problems which are universal to the human experience throughout the ages (one wonders, for example, prior to the invention of the refrigerator, what was the ancient or medieval equivalent to "Who left a quarter cup of milk in the gallon container in the refrigerator?").  At the same time, there are specific problems to every age which are not shared by all of them. 

If I do a running list of the last two years, we had a divisive "election experience", economic disruption the likes of which I have not seen but twice or thrice in our lifetime, The Plague, and an overall general mood of "We should pretty much reconsider everything".  That is a lot, especially to pile on a relationship which may have for various reasons already been under some stress.

Spouses which had evolved relationships suddenly were having to evolve them again, from being separated for large portions of the day to being in the same place for large portions of the day.  Societal and political pressures may have strained relations; having children in the home with "school via e-mail"; and economics, which can create issues when strained at the best of times, can create a disagreement faster than almost anything.

A month of this might be endurable.  Six months, possibly.  We are now two years into this entire situation.

The odd thing - to me, at least - is that when I hit those points of stress, the first reaction that I will often have is not "I need to go back and reassess that primary relationship and see what I can do to fix it", it is too often "I need to double down on those things that are bringing me happiness and joy "- which is pretty often not the relationships I should be focusing on.

"The Great Reconsideration" (which I think is what this two year period from 2020-2022 should end up being called) has given people an opportunity - often enforced by circumstances - to look at their lives and ask hard questions.  Unfortunately, I wonder if we have become a people which asks first and foremost "what is good for me" rather than "what is good for the relationship"?

I am conscious when I comment at all about marriage that there are a standard set of statements one has to put in place:  people should not have to stay in abusive relationships, people should not have to stay in dangerous relationships, etc.  I hope (if you have been here long enough) the assumption is that I am not implying any of things by not making more of them.  And there are another set of people that have either gone through one round of marriage and said "No more for me" or have elected not to marry at all.  And there are many people who have had a "do over" which was a far better relationship than the first.  These, too, are valid ways of living - but again not what I am considering here.

I cannot speak clearly as to the long term outcomes and costs of this if it truly is a trend, other than the fact that it concerns me that creating an environment in which marriages struggle to survive has implications - and not terribly good ones - for the larger society as a whole.  If we are creating an environment in which significant relationships are harder and harder to maintain - and these the most voluntary of them - what does this imply for the larger society which ultimate benefits from stability but is creating an environment that destabilizes it?

I do not have answers to this, any more than I have answers to most of the other issues I ponder.  All I do know is that it has made me painfully conscious of my own relationships.

After all, if your wife sits down with "an air", it is usually a wise thing to listen.

Wednesday, January 26, 2022

Mom's 82nd

Today is my mother's 82nd birthday.

Were you to ask her, she likely would recall that her birthday falls on this day, although I highly suspect that she would not recall that today is that day, just as she can still tell you the town and county she lives in, but only because she has lived there almost all of her life.

Were it any other year than the last two, we would call at some point in the evening - and, per usual, probably miss them as they would be out with my sister and her family celebrating.  We would likely leave a message on the phone to get a call back later and pass the phone around the house, so that she and TB the Elder could catch up with everyone.  The next time we would see them, we would likely go out to dinner and bring a card and a small gift.

There is nowhere to call now as the phone is disconnected and even were I to call the place they are now living, she likely would not recognize my voice, nor have need of anything we might bring.

I have always credited my mother with a great deal of how I have ended up in life.  She was a reader, and so reading was encouraged and I became a reader.  She was inevitably kind, and so she taught me kindness.  She was almost always non-confrontational (almost always), and so I learned - painfully at times - that confrontation does not solve everything the way the world thinks it does and that it costs nothing to listen.  She was a lover of God in a quiet, unassuming, unpretentious way and so I became one as well - even when at times I went way off on my own, she never said a word but patiently waited for God to bring me back.

If I really think about it - and I hate to do so - the last conversation I had with mother as my mother was probably three years ago.  By the time that I was able to go back on a more frequent basis, the person I was visiting with - pleasant, quiet, often patiently sitting and waiting for my father to tell her what they were doing or where they were going next - was in meaningful ways a faint echo of who she was.

I find myself conflicted, torn between a great sadness and something which for which the word "frustration" only mildly describes the un-muttered rage within my soul at the outcome.  This is not the way things were supposed to work.  This, it feels like, is a colossal waste of a good person.

But right after that conflict comes up, an immediate second thought follows on, the one that says "She cannot, but you still can".  She cannot be the person that she was, with all of her good qualities simply because in real ways, she is not that person now. She is still herself, but those things are now beyond here.

They are not, however, beyond me.  And I cannot be so blind or foolish to believe that in a world that is as much filled as it ever was with discord, ill will, misunderstanding, and sometimes outright evil that practicing learning, kindness, listening, and loving God by being are things which are not needed now or more so as they have always been.  

Perhaps that, then, becomes the birthday present I can give to someone that has no need for anything else.

Happy 82nd Birthday, Mom.


Tuesday, January 25, 2022

A Minor PR

This past Sunday, as part of my "readjusted" schedule for the gym (and after being away), I went back to finish out my workout sequence from a week ago.  In this case, my deadlifts.

Deadlifts, in case you have never associated the term with a lift, is where a loaded bar is pulled from ground level (well, really about 6" from ground level) to the level of the hips.  The greatest attention is paid to keeping the back in the correct position, not rounded (back issues ensue).  It is a good exercise in that it works virtually every muscle on the back, posterior, and legs.

The current raw record (no extra special equipment) is 1,015 lbs (460 kg) set in 2011 by Benedikt Magnusson.  The current "equipped" record (Deadlifting suit and straps to help hold the bar) is 1,105 lbs (501 kg) set in 2021 by Halfthor Juilus Bjornson (I saw this lift when it was streamed.  It was amazing.  Again, what starting with an almost 7' frame will do for you.).

My records are not nearly so impressive my best single deadlift ever being 310 lbs (140 kg) set at least three years ago and maybe four.  That said, the deadlift has become my favorite Olympic lift (the other two assigned lifts by The Berserker being the Bench Press and the Squat).  There is something almost almost meditative about stepping up to the bar, setting up, stiffening the core, and then raising up, reaching full extension, and then lowering down.  I cannot explain it, anymore than I can explain why the same sense of mediation comes to me when I draw the sword.  It simply is.  And it is the one lift that I can say I can feel when the adrenalin and Central Nervous System kick in - a rush experientially like nothing else.

This time something happened which I did not expect for this particular sets of reps:  I achieved a PR.

A PR is simply a "personal record", a best at a particular lift, weight, and set of repetitions (1X, 2X, 9X, etc.).  It is nice because - for each of the lifts - one can end up with 10 to 12 PRs based on each number of reps.  However, when you start hitting middle age and beyond and one has been training for a while, PRs become less and less of an occurrence.

Part of it, of course, is the fact that as one ages, one can simply lift less weight as things like tendons and joints become issues and the care and management of them becomes more important.  Part of it is also the fact that - like Iaijutsu - as one continues to master and training just doing the thing becomes less important that doing it well; form is a thing to be practiced in so many aspects of our lives.  And part of it is simply that one becomes less concerned about the amount of weight one can pull (especially in light of point one above - there are many former athletes and power lifters that cannot do near what they used to because of injuries they have sustained over the years.  Being able to train for long years becomes as important as the amount of weight lifted).

That said, the fact that I hit a PR - and for this particular set, something that I have not approached in at least four years - was cause for a small moment of celebration.

According to the Unrecorded (But Understood) Standard Rules (U(BU)SR), a PR does not have to be much to count - a 2.5 lbs or 5 lbs PR is still a PR, just as in Highland Games a 1" increase goes in the books as a PR.  In that sense, it does not matter how small the victory is - it counts as a victory.

The other thing that gave me a small shot of adrenalin was the lift was 1.57 times my body weight, completed X times.  In theory, of course, the max lift I could achieve at my weight is supposed to be around 500 lbs for a single lift if I were a super lifter (Point of order:  that is never happening).  For an average lifter - which is what I am - it looks pretty darn near my current max.  Which is fine of course; the chances I will need to lift even that much is pretty small.

One the whole, of course, this matters not at all:  Whether on not I can lift or not lift this sort of thing is of no interest to none but myself.  At the same time, it makes me glad that even though I am in my 50's, I can still have the ability to set a PR.  Our ability to improve is not ultimately limited by our age, only our mindset.

Monday, January 24, 2022

The Power Of The Social Internet

 One of the thing that continues to amaze and encourage me is the power of the Social Internet.

The Social Internet - a term which I believe was coined by either Cal Newport or Nicholas Carr - was designated to refer to the deeper interactions on the InterWeb, an arena of discussion and information exchange that is set in opposition to Social Media, which is a 140 character/picture laden version of "Fire And Forget" technology.  Social Media involves throwing things up and out and then responding in short bursts or immediately moving on to "The Next Big Thing"; the Social Internet involves talking about and exchanging views about things, perhaps not always with a resolution.

My example -and why it struck me this week - was my post on having to deal with mice.

I posted my issue and the little bit I was doing.  What I received in return was a bevy of helpful suggestions, not only in how to deal with the problem but (perhaps more importantly) how to deal with a change in my thinking, from cute "Ratatouille-esque" Disney Characters to the bringer of war, disease, famine, and death (in other words, The Riders of The Apocalypse are apparently mice).  The remarkably odd thing about this - and what makes it very non-Social Media - is that in none of this was there any sort of berating about "How did you let this happen?" or "Why do think about things this way?"  or "By The Great Jehovah, you are an idiot for doing it that way".  Just helpful suggestions and support on how to deal with a problem which is apparently a great deal more widespread than I had thought.

This is the power of the Social Internet.

I have seen it time and time again: 

- In people sharing their ongoing projects which either informs those that have never done such a thing or creates a feedback loop where they can get suggestions; 

- In people writing of history (their own or others) that helps people learn more or draw connections and understand how people, places, or movements got to where they are;

- In people sharing their struggles and finding both support and experience from those who have gone through similar things.

I do not discount that perhaps such things are possible on Social Media - but they are not possible in the same way.  Seldom can one post an actual thought process, information ask, or struggle on any of the Social Media platforms and get the same thing.  If lucky, one gets a number of "hearts" or short supportive comments.  But nothing like what I have seen with The Social Internet.

It encourages me.  It encourages me that there are any number of people out there who are deep, thoughtful, and willing to share their own information and in some ways, their own lives in a way that the current societal standard exchange does not.  It encourages me that there are still people out there that can discuss and suggest and not just "react" to a comment or given situation.  

It encourages me that such people - you - exist.

If we ever get to more sane and sensible times, I would like to believe that in part, it was because it was revealed that Social Media had nothing to offer but division while the Social Internet had the power to enable actual thought, conversation, and information exchange.

Thank you for being part of this small outpost of the Social Internet.

Your Obedient Servant, Toirdhealbheach Beucail

Sunday, January 23, 2022

On Leaving

 Leaving The Ranch is something that becomes slightly harder every time I come.

It is not that I by any means despise where I am going - I miss my family when I am gone and my pets and the parts of my life that are filled in there by activities and people.  There is always - at least for me - a certain sense of comfort by being surround by my "things"; in that, I suppose, I am more of a Hobbit than anything else.

Part of the dislike of leaving, of course, is the simple fact that every time I leave it will likely be three to four weeks before I return, which means three to four weeks before I will see my parents again.  Sometimes, like last month, one or the other of them is not really "there" due to sleep issues; sometimes, like this month, I cannot see them at all (Plague cautions and all).  It is not the sense of knowing that at some point they may pass away; that is something that at their age, I have steeled myself for the day the call comes.  It is the sense of knowing that at some point, they simply will not recognize me.  That, I am not ready for although I know that it, too, is coming.

Part of it is that there is simply so much to do here.  The house needs to be painted at some point; there are trees that have fallen that need to be made into firewood; and simple things - like, say mice patrol - have come up.  And that does not even cover the list of projects that I have thought that I would like to do (Oh, there is a list of those as well.  It is rather long, and could easily consume my time until I pass).  

Part of it is simply the fact that being here is amazing.  Every single day, one wakes up to woods and trees and wildflowers.  I have seen a multiplicity of birds - songbirds, hunters, scavengers.  A plethora of wildlife is outside the door:  deer, jack rabbits, skunk, fox, coyote, mountain lion, bears (and mice, I suppose).  Nature is here, full force, going on about its daily and seasonal business in a live action television show the likes of which Hollywood can never produce.

But I suppose the greatest part of it is simply the peace I feel when I am here. I cannot define for you why or how this peace occurs, only that it exists.  Part of it surely is the isolation that is here, but part of it as well I suspect is simply that here one is not packed cheek by jowl into a place where every direction you look you see a neighbor of some kind and the air is not filled constantly with the sounds of city living.  The stresses here, while real - power outages, potential fire or snow damage - are if controllable, at least consciously manageable.  Not so the city:  I can change none of the risks there I face at all.

But whether ready to go or not, I must.  And so I will pack my suitcase and computer bag, clean out the ashes from the woodstove, set the thermostat to "Low", seal up the house (and hopefully the entrance for mice!), and head down the Hill to go to the airport, submerging myself again into an urbanity that claims that it holds the keys to a modern and fulfilling life, but too often just seems to present shackles destined to hold me from living instead of enabling it.

Saturday, January 22, 2022

The War With Mice

 About two months ago, I noted a sound in the ceiling at The Ranch I had not heard before, a certain small scampering about.  


I had seen evidence of them in the garage and had - earlier in the Summer - trapped one or two.  Now, however, they seemed to have migrated.

Initially in the garage, I had tried all sorts of "humane" traps with minimal success.  Mice are pretty clever creatures it seems, and either do not have sufficient weight to collapse the larger traps or (mysteriously) will not go into the small traps to conveniently get caught.  The only thing that worked, it seemed, was an actual trap with an actual snap.

Nothing, it seems, succeeds like Death.

I absolutely hate killing things out of hand or unnecessarily.  There are a few things - mosquitos, roaches, fleas and ticks - that I will eliminate on site given the opportunity.  For the rest, I will do everything in my power to not harm them.  I have been good naturedly ridiculed at home for carefully escorting spiders, flying insects, and praying mantises out the door.  I will slow down to ridiculous length in neighborhoods to avoid the squirrels and birds.

In terms of more "wild" locations like The Ranch, the practice since I have grown up here is that if we are off in the woods and see something - like, say a poisonous snake - you walk away and leave well enough alone.  If it is near a house or building, it gets dealt with - not just because it is there, but because it can offer a danger to people not paying attention, pets, or livestock.  Or in some cases, property.

In this case, the choice is the house or the mice.  The house wins.

Conveniently there is a cutout in the ceiling near the inner garage door with a small landing just inside the attic.  Up went the the traps with peanut butter on the pressure plate.  The next day, down I came with two mice.  The count now is four.

I do the best I can, given, the circumstances:  they all get buried outside with an apology as to me having to do this and an explanation why it had to happen.  Having done all of this, I surely do not feel better about any of it.

Ultimately of course, the solution - if I really want to avoid this - is to find out where the mice are getting in, as our friends Leigh and Dan did (with victory at last!).  Saves the mice from chewing things in the house, saves me from having to ensure they do not have to be eliminated.  But that is going to be a longer struggle, most likely - my initial review of the outside did not reveal any place where entry could be gained and all of the grating at the foundation and roof line seemed to be intact.

Frankly, I hate this. It is a necessary thing to protect the integrity of the house, but I surely do not glory in it and look forward to the day when the only mice I see are scampering about in the forest or meadows much farther away.

Friday, January 21, 2022

The Chair

 The chair next to the wood stove has become one of my favorite places to sit when I here at The Ranch.

The recliner is old and brown with the cross-hatched weave that seems ubiquitous to recliners; I have no recollection of where it came from.  Over the top where the head rests is a small cattle skin that I think may have actually come from my Great Aunt who originally owned this place.  There is a small lamp to left with an almost 19th century glass shade terminating at head level. The chair itself is wedged in between the entertainment center and the brick raised corner that the wood stove sits on - the brick hearth a convenient height to place books and a coffee cup on.

My father TB The Elder sat here for years and years, either reading or napping or talking.  The couch across the way room was where he would sit to watch television, but this is where he would often sit - especially in Winter - to read or work the iPad my brother-in-law set up from him or nap.  

The chair itself is not wildly comfortable - it is almost too narrow for my medium frame and so my elbows slip off the arms when I am typing (as I am now), which is slightly annoying and feels a bit odd. And certainly - known from pragmatic testing - I cannot nap in this chair the way he did.  At best I can relax for a spell; whatever power this chair had to grant sleep, it has evaded me.

In the mornings when I here, this is where I will do my praying and reading and journaling and blog reading and my own blogging.  The couch is more comfortable (my elbows do not slip off, for example) but that it does not get me nearly close enough to the fire.  Also, to be completely frank, I like my warmth and have come to covet the heat of the fire in the Winter mornings.

After my reading and praying and journaling, I will turn off the light with its elegant glass shade and sit in the firelight, reading on-line and typing away.  The light casts a fine orange glow when the fire is stoked (as it will inevitably be in the morning), glinting orange light off the exposed metal and giving form to the furniture and pictures hanging in the room, if not detail.  The hum of the heat fan on top of the stove is my only companion in sound, except for the pops and crackles of the fire.

It occurred to me this trip, as I was sitting typing away, of perhaps how much time my father spent in this very spot over the last 20+ years.  Likely this was the place that, up to the end of 2020, he would have read my blog post every morning.   This is the place where he would have sit and thought about his children, hoping perhaps that they would be able to move up.  And undoubtedly in the last few years, this is place where he dealt with the reality of the fact that my mother had a condition that he somewhat understood but never expressed fully, and what was he to do.

Certainly this place does not have the same sort of historicity that, say, an inn in New England with "Washington Slept Here" would have, nor does this chair carry about it same aura of any of the thrones of royalty would have.  But for all its commonness, it shares with them a distinction that few places have:  Greatness was here.  Greatness sat here.  

I am certainly not that some sort of magical power has infused this chair and this place that can somehow seep into me as I sit here.  That said, it does leave one with the sense that one should strive to worthy of the person that sat in this chair before me.

Thursday, January 20, 2022

A Day Of Old Friends

 Last Monday being a holiday (and myself being in Old Home), I reached out to Uisdean Ruadh, my long-time friend (Freshman in high school long-time) to see about breakfast.  I was off and - due to his work as a contractor to the government - he was also off.  

We did whatever old friends do when they get together on a day off and in the morning - we went to breakfast.  In the midst of our omelets, fried potatoes (hash browns for him, home fries for me), toast and coffee, we chatted about our New Year's plans/resolutions/good ideas/"things we are going to do this year".

After packing down said omelet/potatoes/toast/coffee, we were on way up the street when I suggested calling The Actor, my other long-time friend (Freshman in high school long-time) as he was also off and had suggested we give him a call after breakfast.  Sure enough, he was back home after shopping - why did not we stop by for a visit?

We did indeed stop by.  What then evolved was a rather long (3 plus) hour conversation that covered a variety of topics - catching up on the goings-on of families and children for sure, but other subjects as well, a sort of meandering conversation the way one sees a stream spread out over low land:  going somewhere, but not really in a hurry to get there.  We walked his property, him discussing the improvements he had been making, me suggesting "Hey, you should put a swale in here!" and him responding "We were thinking of doing that very thing!".  The day was the sort of Winter-Spring day that one could only hope to desire: the sun warm, the air with the hint of chill (it is still January, after all), and everything the green of pre-Spring that will start to brown by April and slowly work its way up the mountain until in June, our places look alike.

After the walk, Uisdean Ruadh and retired back to Old Home (literally "Old Hometown" Old Home") where we had our usually Friday-customary frozen yogurt loaded up with various and sundries, almost burying the yogurt itself beneath a wash of sugar that would make a 10 year old's eye light up.  Sitting out in the slowly descending sun and increasingly cool breeze, we discussed books and movies: the nature of good stories and good story telling, the need for antagonists that are strong, and why it seem so many franchises were failing.

It struck me, after I dropped Uisdean Ruadh back off at home and was making my way back, what a rare occurrence this was.

I cannot remember the last time I was able to stop by The Actor's and have a conversation that did not seem rushed with time.  I cannot remember the last time I lingered over breakfast with anyone - it always seems that things are "breakfast and then...".  I cannot remember the last time that I simply had a day where the point of the day was being with people to talk, and nothing more.

It is customary, I suppose, to people of my generation and older to lament the loss of "The Visit", be it the Sunday afternoon drive to nowhere with family or the random stopping by of friends and family. The point of getting together with people so often now is to "do" something, be it a meal or an activity or to go somewhere else for a meal and activity.  Conversation happens more often as a by-product of, not a reason for.

But this day, there was none of that.  We almost completely eschewed - other than brief messaging - the use of electronics.  We had no set activities or agendas.  It was first two, and then three, old friends getting together to talk as we always have and seemingly too often do not have the time to do so of late.

I suppose I could insert any number of items here about the current state of friendships or the impact of Social Media or any of fifty things that will make me sound like a grumbling Oldster trying to make a point that really is as obvious as it is unsolvable.   Too often many - myself included - try to make object lessons instead of simply enjoying what is.

In that spirit I can say is this:  I have not enjoyed a day spent with friends more in a very long time.  

Wednesday, January 19, 2022

Progress Marches In

The Ranch - that 90 acres or so of Heaven I spend part of every day scheming to get back to - was actually originally part of a much larger portion of land owned at one time by my Great-Aunt and Uncle, who originally lived here.  The part that my parents own - the 90 acres with the Meadows - and the house above on the hill that my Aunt and Uncle own plus 20 acres and an additional 120 acres they purchased - were the gem and the developed part of the property.  The rest of the land - I am not sure how much, but quite a bit - was sold to a distant relation that had some sort of plans to eventually develop the property.  If helpful as an image, think of an avocado: the Ranch is the pit, the surrounding fruit flesh the other land. 

The potential for the surrounding land to be developed has thus always been there since the early 1980's.  Nothing really materialized over that time:  brush was cleared, permits were gotten, then extended, then re-extended.  The original owner passed and his family is now in possession of the property.

When I took my walk looking at fallen trees yesterday and got beyond the gate of our land, I noticed a thing I had not seen before.  You can see in the lower right corner of the picture.

The road is now rocked in.

Not just graveled in, rock in.  Big, solid pieces of fist-sized gray rock from where the road out branches to go up to the higher level of the property all the way back to the main road.  

This cost someone actually money.  This is a new thing.

This was always the way it was going to be, of course.  I am a pretty staunch believer in private property and the rights of people to do (within limits, of course) what they would like, even as I inwardly decry the fact that this sort of development ruins perfectly good land that will never be the same.  At the same time, my money is not tied up in land that is essentially doing nothing but running up a tax bill (Note:  Were governments actually concerned about overdevelopment, they would limit or perhaps even eliminate taxes on undeveloped land.  Sadly, their "love" of the environment is eclipsed by their love of tax revenue).  

There are other small signs as well:  The main road has had more traffic on it than I can recall in my lifetime.  And for the first time from my parents' house, I can see a streetlight that someone has put up (thankfully in summer it is blocked by the trees, but it is there none the less).

I know that my Uncle (who owns the house and 120 acres) is sensitized to this as well; he and I have had more than one conversation about how to manage the land that he has, even putting it into a land trust to prevent it from being developed).  It is on my mind as well; I am sure that at at some point the rocked in road will be rocked in or more, and the land around The Ranch will be filled with lights and houses and bar-be-cues music on the weekends and people feeling they are living "the good life" by being away from it all, all the time (for the most part) insisting that the modern world follow them in.

Potentially there still remain barriers, of course:  the risk of fire and resulting cost of insurance is a real thing, along with the fact that even our short drive "to town" can become both costly and time consuming if one is making it every day.  The recent power loss is likely going to be another factor for some people as well:  while the power is not down for two weeks every year, it is down to the extent that it is something that one plans for here as a not irregular occurrence.

All of this, of course, is beyond my control.  But what it does reinforce to me, more than ever, is that the - urge, desire, feeling? - to preserve this small plot of land from the larger world is something that is real.  I may not be able to prevent development of the land all around, but I can perhaps prevent the development of this small part.

It is not sensible, of course, nor is terribly rational.  But I sometimes wonder if this is how salmon feel  recalled to the stream of their birth for no other reason that that is the place they are meant to be.

Tuesday, January 18, 2022

Results Of Snow

Whilst I was away this last month, The Ranch had snow.  Lots of snow - up to 13 inches, which for here is pretty much a blizzard. Of course power went out as it did across many areas here; based on where The Ranch is, they were without power for 13 days.  Conveniently, I showed up after the power was back on - that said, almost three weeks after the snow there is still a little bit in the shade.

Apparently there were a few trees down on the road out but they all got cut/pulled off.  The trees around the house lost some limbs but fortunately no real damage.

Note the widow maker pine tree in the top of the other tree.

One of the oak trees in the Lower Meadow split and may have to come down:

But the real shock was walking down the longer path past the Lower Meadow to the creek and back up to the main road (technically, our "official driveway".  Here, as there has been no traffic, the damage was much clearer.

This oak tree split in three sections.  The reason for its fall is clear: heartwood rot.

Not everything has fallen:

You may remember this shot from the creek, where I had the epiphany of two streams splitting and then meeting again:

The split will be gone soon enough:

So many other trees leaning, ready to go:

 Being my father's son of course, my first reaction was "Look at how much firewood there is".  The actual disposition of this is somewhat in question, as the property the trees are on is not ours but the road is - that said, were we to start pulling the wood out, I doubt anyone would care especially now:  there are far more trees down in the area than can be used by any one person or group of people.

In a way, it is sad - not just for the fact the trees have fallen, but for what ultimately be the waste of so much good wood.

Were we a smart society and one based on the use of actual renewable resources instead of the ones we think are renewable, we would see many of the trees not been cut up and pushed to the side of the road to rot but turned into firewood (renewable heat) or salvaged as potential lumber in a thousand small mills for use in building.  There would be chipping and transport to spread over areas damaged by fire or used in gardens and animal pens.  Some would remain in the forest to break down slowly, recreating the cycle of life.  The more clever among us would be gassifying the wood or turning into other useful things.  But even with a rather unanticipated bounty, we would be putting the wood to good use instead of just leaving it to rot wholesale or thrust to the side, an inconvenience to be pushed away.

Thus the tragedy is magnified, not just in the destruction but in the waste.

Monday, January 17, 2022

The Ranch Move: Starting To Plan

As I noted back in my goals for 2022, one of the big ones is to begin preparing for what is intended to be the last move (hopefully, until they cart me away) from our current location in New Home back to Old Home, specifically The Ranch. 

I say "begin preparing" in light of the fact that I am assuming a certain trajectory of events which will allow this happen, acknowledging the fact that given the state of the world now, any sort of prediction may be a gamble (Or more succinctly stated, "Man proposes, God disposes").  I also hope you will humor me in this and perhaps point out my holes and mis-steps:  this is something that I need to do, and the easiest way I find to do such things is to write them out.

I have some initial dates and frameworks to work with.  The major date in the middle of 2023, after which time we will have no binding reason to stay where we are (other than if we needed or wanted to), as the last of Na Clann will move on from her current schooling and off to college.  The other date tied to that, oddly, is taxes:  based on what we decide to do with our house in New Home, we might have tax implications if we decide to move to soon and recognize income in 2023 as an inhabitant of Old Home (the underlying choice attached to that, of course, is if we decide to become landlords or not. Arguably based on our current location, there are good reasons for that to be an option, especially if we do not immediately need the money).

The other complicating factor is the fact that The Ranch belongs to neither my sister nor myself currently but rather lives in a trust my parents created.  This is a discussion that my sister and I have had for many years - in the event (hopefully years from now) that the trust would need to be dissolved, I would take the Ranch portion and she would take all else.  The math works out pretty well for that.  And certainly were we to move here now, there would be no issue - better the house lived in regularly than not.  But there is still another round of paperwork and Legal fees to wander through before that is done.

So we have at least one fixed date - 2023 - and an unknown second date to walk through things (although to be fair, that actual "walking through" needs to be a discussion point with a lawyer prior to committing to anything, just to have our eyes wide open).  What are the other considerations?

A job, of course - it is likely in the next 2-3 years I am going to fail to become independently wealthy (a shame, that), and will need something to bridge the next approximate 10 years until I could consider retirement.  I am sure given the way things are now, my current position would be open to me working "from abroad", but it is just as likely (given my industry) that I will be in need (or maybe want) a new opportunity.  Fortunately, the current emergency has made positions like mine more amenable to remote work; I need only gain and keep the credentials to make it worth their while to have me do this (again, this needs to go on the list).

Another thing that will fall under "Getting Ready" is the prepping of the house itself - not that things have gone wildly off kilter (I am here at least once a month), but there are things like chimney sweeping and a repainting and so on that it would be ideal to happen before we moved, not after.

I do not include the process of "repurposing" The Ranch with its things, as that is something that simply will have to take place on a more active basis this year.  I am also not including - specifically - the relocation from Old Home to New Home, although again that is a process to be mapped.  One thing I suppose that would be helpful is to begin planning now to move later (and starting to clear out all those unnecessary things, especially the ones I dragged from Old Home to New Home and hopefully will not drag back).  

Thanks for letting me drone on.  I feel better with the basic outlines of a plan.  Now I need to commit it to a timeline and start listing tasks.  

It is as if my change of careers from Quality to Project Management served a different purpose...

Saturday, January 15, 2022

On Creating My Own Newsfeed

 On a lark at the beginning of the year and through a link at Rural Revolution, I started following a blog called Home Living .  It is this very nice, old fashioned sort of blog run by a Miss Lydia who writes about (and puts out regular Video Blog entries) the home and home making.  It is, as I as say, a sort of old fashioned sort of blog where people like me feel about at ease as a rhinoceros keeper coming in from the pen into a tea room:  slightly out of my element, thinking I should have at least wiped my feet and (probably) changed before I entered, and pretty sure I am going to be asked to leave any minute now.  (Full disclosure:  She spends a fair amount of time speaking about making a good home (in the 18th-19th England way), Christian Living, and a cornucopia of other topics. Your mileage may vary.)

As it turns out, the video blog is just at the right level of mental involvement to allow one to do a second activity (say, Weight Training) while one listens, and so when the music is not the Heart-Stopping Pulse-Pounding "Life More Weights, You Fools!" that I prefer, I listen to her (admittedly, quite a variation).

In an episode from this week, she mentioned the idea of controlling the input of information and media when we first get up in the morning, the "flow of news" that at one time used to be characterized by flipping open the newspaper or flicking on the television or radio for the morning news.  Her point was that our intake often set our mood for the day and what we do with it.  Instead, she suggested that we "create our own news" by selecting the inputs that we read and listen to in this time, whether they be other blogs, readings, podcasts - whatever.  

Said another way, create your own newsfeed.

Interesting thought, I pondered as I struggled to get the safety squat bar back into the holder before I moved to my next exercise (stupid heavy piece of steel!), when I realized that accidentally, I had been doing the exact same thing all week.

This week our church, as they have done for many years, is doing a fast and pray event as part of the New Year.  A week of fasting, to someone who is weight training, is pretty much anathema (and not being Catholic or Orthodox, not a specific requirement), so I fasted from something I have fasted from before: media.  For the past week I have confined myself to the blogs I follow and a single board.

The results, I realized when I heard her comment and pondered, were staggering.

For the past five days, beyond my usual Pray/Read/Exercise/Walk/Write practices, I have eschewed any media (as I have during the day as well).  I have kept myself to reading the blogs that I follow and perhaps exploring one or two more.  For walks, I either find a podcast (non-media or current events) or listen to music from Two Steps From Hell (Heroic, Video Game sort of music).

The results?  I am literally less stressed - not only in the morning, but throughout the day.  I suddenly have time I did not used to have, both from not checking the news not only in the morning but throughout the day.  My "InterWeb" wandering - when I am bored and just clicking - has ceased as well:  after all, unless I am actually looking something up, I am already up to date on most of the blogs I follow - why look at what I have already seen?  Suddenly, I have time to start doing some of the things that I have said I very much want to do:  memorizing the names of the heads of my sword school, finishing Quintillian - you know, the sorts of things that get pushed to the side when you are agitated about the news.

Funny how all that works.

I might recommend it to your attention.  It is easy enough to do:  just choose consciously what you will read and listen to in the morning.  Maybe yours will involve media (mine does not) - but no matter what it is, make it a conscious choice instead of a habit or an accident.  And try it for a week, or as much time as you feel you need to judge results.

At least for me, again a fairly stark reminder of how a seemingly small change can create a big difference in my life.

Friday, January 14, 2022

Of Routines And Schedules

 One of the things I find I grapple with mightily is a change in routine.  Needs to have a well developed schedule to contrary, I inherently do not like change - even when it works out better for me.

Since I started training in Iaijutsu in 2009, we have had a variety of class times.  For 5 to 6 years we trained once a week, then we moved to twice a week - Tuesday and Thursday.  This turned out to be very convenient for me personally as it meant that I could perform my weight training on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday (3 training days).  It was splendid.  Every evening had a training and the days I did not have Iaijustu class, I would practice and weightlift.  Nirvana.

Then, we moved to a new dojo.

The move itself was amazing:  larger space and more classes (almost doubling our time to train).  However, after a bit our schedule changed from Tuesday/Thursday to Monday/Wednesday (and Saturday).  My happy little schedule of training was put into a tailspin.

I tried the option of working out at other times during the day - but I am not a morning workout person (kudos to those who are:  I am just not limbered up out of bed) and lunch workouts always left me feeling rushed (and a rushed workout is not an effective workout).  So I came up with an alternative: Tuesday/Thursdays/Fridays for workouts.

While better, this did not really resolve the issue either.  One really needs a full recovery day between workouts - or maybe a more fair statement is that I do - and if I was not feeling up to it, I would let is slip to Saturday (another day of Iaijustsu training, so often it did not happen).  And, as I am at The Ranch one week a month, by default I either had to work all of that training in or "miss" a session (which would always be deadlifts, which is maybe my favorite lift).

And then last week, the rather unusual thought came into my mind:  What if I worked out on Sunday?

Every Sunday that I am in town, I volunteer at the rabbit shelter.  I literally drive past the gym to go to the rabbit shelter.  Every week.  There and back.  One turn, 300 yards and I am there.  Week at The Ranch?  Conveniently I travel from Saturday to Saturday so my first day "back" is Sunday, so I could effectively finish out that cycle (I do have a body weight set The Berserker supplies me with at The Ranch which is ever bit as fearful as my regular training).  So there as well, I lose nothing?

Sunday as a rest day?  I am already in attendance at church (and very occasionally serving at the coffee bar), cleaning the Mob here, volunteering at the rabbit shelter, and taking care of other things here - so it is not like I am already living this proto-Protestant "Sit in Your Chair All Sunday And Meditate" sort of life.

The single biggest reason, I think, is that it is not what my routine is.

Routines are hard to adjust.  Routines can be schedules, but they can also be beyond schedule, just the way that I go about my life.  I have activities I do in the morning, but they are always in a specific order:  Pray, then Bible, then journal, then on to other things.  If I do it out of order it feels wrong or unnatural.

To my mind, of course, a simple thing like adjusting my workouts in a way that 1) Regularly schedules them; 2) Allows me to not "lose" a workout once every 4 weeks; 3) Actually probably saves me a little money in that it is one less trip I am taking; and 4) Does not stress me out or "guilt" me out when I do not do the workout - all seem like wins.  And yet - even as I write this - there is a certain reluctance in committing to it.

Why?  Because that is not the routine, argues my brain.  And if you do that, you will have to readjust other things (not really as true as my brain says, but it has been known to fudge the truth).  

How odd, that a simple change in order of operation or timing in a non-critical task creates such angst in my mind.

Thursday, January 13, 2022

Kits, Cats, Sacks, Wives

I would suspect that most of us growing up remember the old riddle of someone going to St. Ives:

"As I was going to St. Ives,
I met a man with seven wives,
Each wife had seven sacks,
Each sack had seven cats,
Each cat had seven kits,
Kits, cats, sacks and wives,
How many were going to St. Ives?"

The answer, of course, is one (Spoiler alert!): the speaker.  Apparently wherever everyone else was headed it was not to St. Ives (although to be fair, the riddle is somewhat vague about this - perhaps they were just taking the long route).

As a child, I bet most of us were both puzzled and then amazed by the answer and likely we immediately ran out and tried it on our family and friends.  Our family, no doubt, humored us by guessing; our friends either had to guess or blurted out "That riddle?  It is so childish.  I knew it years ago" (children often being the nadir of tact).  And so perhaps we learned where St. Ives was (there are two in England:  one in Cornwall and one in Cambridgeshire), perhaps learned that people carried things to market, and maybe learned to do math in our head (I get 2801, as corrected from original answer by Eaton Rapids Joe:  1 man, 7 wives, 49 sacks, 343 cats, and 2401 kits). 

But I wonder if we really missed the point of the riddle.

The crux of the riddle, of course, is in the first and last lines:  I was going to St. Ives, how many were going to St. Ives.  Everything else - the bulk of the riddle - is superfluous information not related to actually solving the problem.  In fact, in confuses the issue: people get lost in adding up how many peoples/items/animals are there, without realizing the fact that (per the riddle) none of them are going to St. Ives, only the speaker of the riddle. 

All that calculation and higher math and geography, wasted because it simply has no value to the actual answer that is needed.

I (and perhaps you) will laugh at this simple riddle as perhaps a happy memory.  What struck me as I was out walking Poppy The Brave this morning is how little I actually learned from this.

I could make a strong argument that for many years, I learned precisely the wrong lesson:  when asked a question, I  often get wrapped up in the minutiae and the details, in things that while interesting have no bearing on the actual question to be resolved.  Ask me how my garden is doing (not well, by the way this year - nasty cold snap) and I will get into the minutiae of the soil and water and amount of sunlight - all relevant to the potential for the garden, but you asked a different question:  "How is your garden doing", not "What are the contributing factors that adding to the fact that your garden is not doing well?". 

All of a sudden, the fact that I struggle with or have not resolved issues for many years - sometimes 40 or more - is not from a lack of trying or getting resources of thinking deeply on the subject, it is that I have not being solving for the right thing. "A = B+C" is the equation, but I am out looking for F, H, and Z because - well you know - I need to account for those kits, cats, sacks and wives.

I do not really need them to answer your question - oh, it is interesting and sometimes explains why the thing has turned out to be the way that it is (so for example, my garden would do better in Winter if I moved it 10 feet over), but that is the answer to a separate question:  "Why is garden not doing well in Winter"?

In dealing with one of one our senior executives at work (the sort of person that one would say "They would be a great mentor" if they had the time to do it [except I know they do not]) they presented a very simple response to any question/request/puzzle:  "The Ask, The Task, and The Timeline".  I am pondering this a great deal (It is simple and I think as we all know here, I am a simple man) as a paradigm, but it points out exactly the problem I have noticed:  If I do not understand the Ask correctly, of course everything else (The Task And The Timeline) will be completely wrong.

Or said another way, if I am not careful I will find myself traveling with man, wives, sacks, cats, and kits to an unknown destination - when really I wanted to go to St. Ives.

Wednesday, January 12, 2022

The 10 Year Challenge

 For those of you who do not frequent Social Media (and who, probably, are the better for it). you may not be aware that currently there is a thing called the "10 Year Challenge" making its way through postings.

The concept is pretty simple: post a picture from 10 years ago and post a picture from 2022. Maybe make a brief comment on the state of your life then and now.  Await the "likes" or "hearts" that will come in (because, of course, who will "dislike" a personal story, even if they could?).

The postings really end up in three categories:  young people who grew up, people that were in a bad way physically/financially/personally that conquered their issues, and people that just look older.  There are some sorts of permutations of course, but really those are the options.

On a lark, I was paging through my Book of Face entries for a picture from 10 years ago from curiosity as much as anything else (One curious fact I discovered is there are not a lot of pictures from 10 years ago).  My explorations, based purely one what was posted, are pretty much the ones listed above:  Na Clann were much younger, I was much younger with less gray, I had just started throwing in the Highland Games (weight training was still years away),  and my Iai technique needed a lot of work (it still does, of course).  I was also apparently "on the cusp" of a brilliant publishing career (which pretty much has turned into this blog).

However, in my intellectual and gentle mockery of myself and what I thought the next 10 years would have looked like, it did give me pause to think about what the future next 10 years would look like.

This is where these considerations always break down.  It is good to have a retrospective from time to time, even if it just to poke fun at one's self and see one's shallowness displayed for the world to see.  And yet none of us live in the past: it is a known country, but a country that we can no longer visit except in pictures, memories, songs, and dreams.  The future is the unknown country that is hurtling towards at the breakneck speed of 24 hours a day.  

What might interesting - although I doubt it will ever happen - would be for people to post their future 10 year challenge.  Not so much pictures of course (if someone wants to use that aging software, great: I can assure you based on experience none of us will be nearly that attractive), as what we will be and what we will have done.  Committing themselves - perhaps recklessly or foolishly as the future, as that sage Yoda would say, is "always in motion" - but to a potential course or courses of action and outcome.

Some could argue that this is what planning and goals and life strategies are, and I suspect they are right.  But how many of them are willing to publicly say what they are privately striving for?  Yes, there are likely to be gaps and failures and unexpected twists and turns - that is life and no-one I know of faults you if, say, you have to move halfway across the country to a new state because you cannot find a job anywhere else (a total random example, of course) or you have a significant change in health (like our friend STxAR did). But acknowledging that is different from not talking about the future at all.

The past is history, one that we can regal and digest and laugh about.  The future - ah, that should interest us greatly, as that is where we will be spending the rest of our lives.

Tuesday, January 11, 2022

A Dearth Of Ownership II

 One thing that I think I can be legitimately accused of is that while I have some ability (debatable as to what level, I suppose) of being able to point out a problem or issue, I am not very good at pointing out solutions.  Or at least practical, applicable solutions.  It is one thing to say "The system (name your system) needs to be fixed".  It is another thing to say "This is what I can do to fix the system".

And so with the question of ownership of policies and issues.  It is not enough for me to complain that there is an issue and we are living through the results of this, which I argue we are.  I need to propose and practice a solution.

Unfortunately, I am rather bad at starting mass movements and any potential political career is not going to happen due to the fact that, were I actually to run, I would manage to offend everyone by my opinions as I really belong to no party or movement and thus am equally offensive to all parties and movements.

The only way I know to do things is start with me and be an example.

So how does one go about promoting Ownership of issues?

An important point to clarify, at least in my own mind, is the difference between ownership and accountability.  Ownership is internally generated:  I choose or am made responsible for a thing.  Accountability is externally generated:  Others hold me to complete, do, or stay within the bounds of the thing.  I can certainly choose to be accountable for things I do not own, even as I can own things which I am arguably not accountable for because I have no ability to complete them.  But for the purposes of this solution, I am discussing only ownership: my responsibility to see a thing through to completion and be responsible for the results.

Oddly enough, I already practice this in small ways with swords and rabbits.

For my swords - the shinken, or live blades with edges - I am 100% responsible for them.  Not only for the location of them and management of them, but the care of them.  If any rust appears on the blade (it can happen), it happened because I failed to clean it properly.  I own the blade, therefore I own the rust.

With our rabbits, they are 100% mine.  I am responsible for making sure they get fed, watered, changed, interacted with, and exercised.  If I do not do it, it will not get done to the level that I would expect of myself (and the rabbits prefer, rabbits being rather focused on themselves, of course).

Certainly there are circumstances where another Iaidoka may use my blade or I am gone and my family takes over caring for the rabbits.  But those interruptions do not change the fact that ultimately, I own the responsibility for the outcome (even if I am not physically there).

Fair enough.  But these things - shinken, rabbits - are personal things.  How do I push the envelope to include an example which will be more publicly an example?  The only solution, I suppose, is do things more publicly.

This can be small, I suppose - selecting a piece of roadway to keep clean or choosing some portion of a group or activity to be responsible for, like always making sure the dojo is clean or coffee things put away or a host of other seemingly small items.  If something is out of place, I make it my responsibility to make it right.

I am sure that from there, of course, the argument could be made that from such small seedlings, great movements could start:  larger people could take ownership of larger pieces of road or stewarding larger pieces of land or being responsible for making sure that charity cases do not remain charity cases by helping them to succeed in society.  Those are certainly worthy goals; I will leave them to those with the organizational abilities and social interaction abilities to make them happen.  

My job - my only job in this case - is to be a part of the solution by being an example, even if a small one. In that sense, I am owning both the small issue I am dealing with and the larger one around us.

That does not mean the larger one gets solved, of course.  But I can at least rest easy knowing that rather than just complaining (again), I have both proposed and enacted a resolution.

Which may, I suppose, looks a lot like ownership.

Monday, January 10, 2022

A Dearth Of Ownership

One of the things that I have been grappling with at the start of the year is Ownership.

Originally, of course, it started with work.  "Ownership of your work" is a big thing nowadays, the concept being that you (the individual) own the responsibility of the project's success or failure. Ideally of course, the concept is that you will 100% buy in to the idea that you, and you alone, are responsible for the success or failure of the work. It can be a useful thing but at the same time is not always productive - in my case as a project manager, now matter how much I "own" the project, the decisions about it are not mine to make in most cases.  And I question if one can have 100% ownership of one does not have the ability to direct the outcome (my job as a project manager is mostly to enable the work getting done and see the project through to its conclusion, no matter what the twists and turns).

But then it got me to thinking of Ownership on the larger level.  And how, frankly, it is often preached but seldom does.

The place it seems most likely to be done is in the personal realm.  One can have 100% ownership of one's life or one's choices, because one has 100% control of yourself.  I can choose to do something or not do something.  If I want the results, I will do whatever it takes to get those results.  If I try something and it fails, the responsibility for the failure may not be on me, but understanding why the failure happened so that it does not happen again (and trying again) are 100% up to me.

But expand that to those that make policy.

In publicly held companies this is possibly the most practiced:  come up with enough unsuccessful business choices and leadership will find itself out on its duff (I have seen it happen personally more than once).  In professional sports as well:  coaches and players that do not find themselves sufficiently interested or responsible for victory will eventually find themselves transferred to other teams or doing B-grade commercials for sports drinks or pet insurance.

But in the most important areas - policy initiatives, be they economic, social, foreign, military, religious, or anything else - there seems to be zero ownership by those who are making them.

It is an odd thing, is it not?  When these policies are being put in place, there is no end to the amount of people that will fight for and publicly declaim on the issue.  Yet once the issue is voted or decided on and made into law or policy, it passes into the hands of bureaucracies and committees and study groups - and there, in the process of being executed, ownership dies.

On the off chance of a success of course, there is no end of people taking credit - as someone quoted once on this blog "Success has a thousand fathers, failure is an orphan".  But when it fails and fails miserably, no one suddenly has any ownership for how it got to that to that point.  The committee points to the bureaucracy, the bureaucracy points to the policy makers, the policy makers point to the public that demanded the action, the public points to the policy makers that demanded it.  The failure exists, the resources of time and money to make the failure have been expended; no-one claims ownership for how it got there.  And more often than not there is no accountability:  perhaps a discussion about not meeting the "goal", one or two underlings get lectured or make public mea culpas, but nothing more.

Viewing it this way, suddenly it is of no surprise to me why we find ourselves in the situation we do on so many fronts.  This is not a political party or industry or specific religion issue:   we seem to have created a society where on the whole, individuals own their results but anything beyond the individual does not.

Such a situation cannot last forever, of course:  nothing - a personal life, a company, an organization, a government, a state, even a nation - cannot stand a consistent and unmitigated string of failures without anyone owning them.  Eventually someone or some group will begin taking ownership for the results that they desire; many others will sit and complain or deny that it is the right action, but they have lost that right.  Having surrendered the opportunity to own the results of their own proposals, they lose the ability to criticize those who have owned them and seen their results through to a conclusion.

Sunday, January 09, 2022

Praying It Forward

 As part of my goals for this year, one item that has appeared as it has for years past is the simple goal of "Pray more".

On the whole, I do not feel that I am very good at praying.  Some of it is simple discipline of course; like so many others, when given an opportunity to be lazy, I will take it.  And some of it is boredom as well:  my prayers, while not precisely being rote, certainly tend to cover the same people, processes, and situations.

I would argue that there is benefit in longer prayer times, even as there is benefit in longer times of doing most activities:  by doing them longer, you gain practice and thus ability. At the same time, sitting there in silence with the metaphysical equivalent of "Hold, Please" does not really move the needle either.

So, I have started praying for all of you.

If I have a name - via blogs to the right or in the comments - I will use that.  If you fall into the category of "Anonymous", I will cover you with a sort of all purpose "and others".  If I know of something specific you have referenced in your blogs or in your comments, I will pray for that.  If not, I will again cover it with the sort of "all purpose" request.  And for those who may not otherwise comment or be listed but I do read, I will pray for you as well.

I hope, especially if you are not a believer or not a religious person, you will not take it amiss that I do so.  But in some way, you are now embedded in my life and if in no other way (quite often true, it being the InterWeb and all and all of us being in different places), this may be the only way for me to offer something in return for your time and attention.

As always, the e-mail address on the right works so if there is something specific I can pray about, I am happy to do that (everything remains private, of course).  And I am happy to just pray as I have indicated above.  

Either way, thank you for the opportunity to improve my prayer life by simply being in my life.