Saturday, April 30, 2022

Connecting Five Dots And More Reading

 As I sitting in my chair journaling yesterday morning with my now additional morning time, I suddenly made a connection I had not made previously - perhaps an epiphany (although I wonder how many times we use that word for things that are simply not epiphanies, but just common sense).

There have been five sorts of "dots" over the last two weeks or so.  The first was waking up one morning and simply realizing that "I was done", although I was not clear what I was "done" with.  The second was the social outing that left me exhausted to the point that I seriously question how many I have left in me.  The third was the aforementioned change in morning programming that left my cell phone to the side for the first hour or so of the morning.  The fourth was a change in how comments are done, which makes my own commenting much more slow on the InterWeb and thus makes it less easy to use.  And the fifth - yesterday - was the announced blogging retirement of one of my favorite bloggers.

All of this came to a proverbial head when - on Thursday evening - I found myself finishing work at the actual time I was supposed to and suddenly having an evening with a few activities and a lot of time.  And suddenly I realized I was making a change in my life, a change I needed to make and had not essentially being willing to do. I needed to spend more time and focus on the quiet life that I say I want to live, but never really do.

In other words, I need to simply give myself permission to spend my life on a small subset of things that really matter.

Maybe this has been obvious to those that read here; it would not be the first time that the last person to realize issues about myself is me.  But what I found as I mulled these five points over in my journal - which thanks to the addition in morning time, I am forcing myself to double what I was writing (two pages instead of one) - is that I have fallen into a trap of needing to be mentally busy and serving masters that really had no impact on my life.

One of the things that has almost become a guilty pleasure is reading.  Why this is, I am not sure -except that somehow (except for flying on a plane) I have come to associate "sitting and reading" with not be productive.  Which is foolish of course - for the gaining of knowledge and for pleasure, there is nothing that beats reading (yes, I understand there are videos and such.  They never quite work the same way for me).  Reading has not been a priority, the way that it used to be or should be.

Which comes to how I spend my time.  Things like surfing the InterWeb become much less easy when your commenting interface is difficult and the bloggers you read (over to the right there, and whom I love) generally write a post once a day to once a week. That certainly does not justify hours of "looking", and the decision to largely discontinue media makes it even less real.

And the experience of the social outing?  I need more quiet and less people, not the other way around.  Excluding my family, Iaijutsu class, and volunteering at the Rabbit Shelter, I really only see people I have have no relationship with at the gym (and largely church at this point as well). 90% of my day is spent at home (whether here or at The Ranch) at most in meetings - so voice, not presence.  

Which, as I am finding, is how I like it.

In that sense I suppose, I need to double down on the life called Contemplative by the medieval mystics:  Less people, more thoughtfulness, more time spent with things around the home(s), more time invested in the things in my life that matter.  Perhaps doing "less", but more focused on what I am doing and in a real way, less connected to the world.

It does not impact my writing here directly (blogging continues to fall under one of the "things), as the unspoken sixth thing I realized is that I am already doing what I talk about in terms of blogging - much less current events and such, more more (hopefully ) thought provoking items and records of my daily life.  Which I am certainly happy with as it is continuing to help me refine my thoughts and my life.

In one thing I can say there is a sense of joy:  the moment when one realizes that so much of what one felt one was under was really put their by one's self, not by anyone else.

And, of course, the realization that one has given one's self the permission to read full speed ahead.

Friday, April 29, 2022

Ave Atque Vale, Claire

One of the saddest things that can happen in the world of blogging is when a good blogger goes silent.

It happens for any number of reasons of course.  For some, the desire or need to write simply runs out - like so many things in life, a thing can have a force and meaning which over time disappears and is no longer a force.  For some, just the burden of continuing to come up with something to write on a regular or semi regular basis can be overwhelming - after all, 99.9% of us do this for no other good reason than a love of words and on the whole, love does not pay particularly well.  For the saddest of cases of all, the blogger does not get to make the choice but the choice is made for them (Requiscat In Pace, Ol' Remus of The Woodpile Report).

It was thus with a great deal of sadness this morning that I read that Claire Wolfe has elected  (for all intents and purposes) to discontinue her blog.

I know that she is not everyone's cup of tea (to be fair, at one point in my life I would not have considered her so either), but she is (using the present tense; she is not "expired") someone whose writing I enjoy reading simply for the fact that - agree or disagree - it is well written and made me think, to the point that I actually read books she recommend which in turn modified my thinking.  She became for me like Ol' Remus of the blessed memory above, or a cadre of bloggers that still write and whom I look forward to reading with relish (the list I look forward reading looks a lot like that list over there to the right) whenever I saw they had a new post as I curled up with my cup of coffee in the morning.

Her reasons for leaving are manifold:  partially just that the drive to write of insanity in a world which is every day seemingly trying to outdo itself in said insanity has disappeared, partially because it simply costs money to operate a server in a time of increasing expenses  and she prefers to allocate resources elsewhere, and (the most happiest part for me at least) partially that she has found good things in her life that she would much prefer to spend time on than continuing to dwell on the more disagreeable things of the modern world (which, to be fair, we all would).

Over the years here as I have written, I have found myself transitioning to a different kind of writing which is different in its genesis (for me, I really just do not like unpleasantness and conflict in the comments section) but ultimately the same in outcome:  I have chosen to write about different areas other than current events and the general insanity not so much because it is not there (it is), but that my writings provide very little in the way of actual solutions to such problems - they become more  a simple grousing about the way things are.  That helps no-one ultimately:  not me, not my readers, and not the situation in general.  I would rather write about things that either provoke my thoughts or that I simply enjoy; the potential that they have an impact to fix any current issues is an accidental by-product, not the intent.  And so when someone else makes the realization that the time has come to spend their life on happier things, I can only raise the proverbial glass and shout "Huzzah".

I am selfishly sad of course, the sort of selfishness that comes when a beloved local store or restaurant closes because the owner has decided to retire or simply move on:  glad for them and sad for myself that I will no longer have the experience of shopping or eating there.  At the same time, we are remiss if we do not in our selfish sadness take the opportunity to be grateful to the spot that they filled in our lives during that time.  Our sorrow is most likely not so much from the inconvenience of not having access as it is to the fact that something we enjoyed will no longer be a part of our lives in the same way:  not an active participant, but a happy memory.

I struggled with how to name this post; after all "Goodbye" or "A Requiem for" has the sort of finality that suggests something other than what Claire has decided to do, simply step into another place in life.  As I pondered, the phrase from the Roman Poet Catullus "Ave atque Vale" - "Hail and Farewell" suggested itself.  I post the translation of the poem here for completeness:

Carried through many nations and over many seas,
I arrive, brother, for these wretched funeral rites
so that I might present you with the last tribute of death
and speak in vain to silent ash,
since Fortune has carried you, yourself, away from me.
Alas, poor brother, unfairly taken away from me,
now in the meantime, nevertheless, these things which in the ancient custom of ancestors
are handed over as a sad tribute to the rites,
receive, dripping much with brotherly weeping.
And forever, brother, hail and farewell. (Source)

Ave atque Vale, Claire.  

Thursday, April 28, 2022

Technical Difficulties - Please Stand By

 So I have to apologize for the rather awkward commenting of late.  Apparently Google in their infinite wisdom "fixed" a problem that never existed and as a result, I cannot comment my own blog (or others).  I It frustrates me to no end.

I have tried the recommended suggestion of clearing out my "cookies", but only seem to have managed to lock myself out of my browser (Brave) access to my blog to the point I may have de-install and re-install the browser.  At the moment I am going through an incognito window with "Shields" down; I will post them back up and then close the window. 

(I also tried on Microsoft Edge with no better results - which actually made me feel a bit better.  Trying to avoid the conglomerates.)

For the interim I have put commenting in a pop-out window to at least allow people to comment.  I do not like the fact one cannot "reply", but that seems to be my only option.

My sincere apologies for the inconvenience and thanks for your patience as I try to work through this.

Wednesday, April 27, 2022

A Slight Change In Morning Programming

 One of the rather poor habits that I have picked up about my early morning routines is that I have become largely dependent on my "Smartphone" to make it happen.

It started innocently enough of course:  I had an app that I used in the morning as part of my routine.  So I started reaching for it there.  The next thing I found, I had added another app.  Then I started checking my mail.  Then I started just "looking" at the blog in the morning, and one or two other things.  The next thing I knew, I found that I was picking up the phone right after the Bible and prayer and not putting it down for 30-40 minutes.

All of that is fine, of course, except what I found is that it was becoming a crutch for putting off the work I really needed to be doing:  Journaling.  Thinking carefully about what I was going to write for this blog.  Exercise.  That sort of thing.

Which I had sort of learned to live with and work around (not well) - until last week one of the rather ubiquitous "X ways to improve your life"  floated across Instaphoto.  The first suggestion:  Dump your smartphone for the first 60 minutes of your day.  

Well, hello perfectly good idea that I had started with and then given up on because I was, well, "Trying to get more done".  Which sounds a lot like lazy.

So this week I have started doing it.  Perhaps somewhat (not) surprisingly, I am already finding my focus more clear and my writing a little less awful.  And also, I suddenly seem to have an addition of time that I was not previously aware of.

Not that the time somehow magically reappeared.  It was always there. It was how I was choosing to use the time that made it less available.  And not that this things were complete time wasters - it was just that they were of less value than other things.

There is a point - and one that is somehow just slightly buried here that I have to try and understand it - that just because something is a little bit easier to perform and is perhaps even somewhat worthy of being pursued, it is not necessarily the best and highest use of our time.  

And sometimes, it is as simple as just putting something aside for a little while.

Tuesday, April 26, 2022

Aftermath Of A Social Outing

 This past weekend I had occasion to attend a large social event.  I was in this particular case happy to do so, although as it was family related there was some sense of obligation as well.  And there was indeed an element of fun had at it.

But the aftermath on me is such that I do not think I have many more such events in me.

To be fair, it was an event that - generally - catered to a slightly younger group. It is also fair to say that I was on the tail end of a week of less than ideal sleep and there was bit more alcohol in my system than has been there in a while.

But even now, two days later, I still feel completely wiped out by it.

It is not just the physical side. I (in theory) know that I will be able to rest up and have my body recover from a few days of not eating well and no exercising as I usually do.  But it is the mental condition that has me the most bothered.  Literally, it feels like I am trying to lift a huge weight to get into gear.  It is as if all of my mental reserve and thought processes have been totally washed away, leaving me nothing but a blank slate.

I do not like it.  I do not even know how to process it, other than writing about it.  At best, I am hopeful that with a week of limited activities and the silence of home, I might reach a place where I can begin to re-sort things out again.

Some important lessons here for me.  

By my back of the envelope calculations, I have maybe six to eight of these events left in my lifetime (maybe a few more - who knows).  They will be the sorts of things I will need to attend.  So I need to do a better job of preparing for them.

I had also not anticipated how impactful the last two years of really doing no social events had been on me.  This was likely the largest and certainly the loudest event I have been two since the start of The Plague, if not even before that.   I have realized I have become more of a creature of the silence and the quiet; how much, I did not know.  

And how essentially critical it is to my ability to function.

At this rate, I estimate a week at least until I am back to where I was last Wednesday after having spent time at The Ranch.  Which seems like a lot of recovery time for a single event.

Somewhat graciously by the hand of God, it is raining now.  The patter of the drops soothes my soul.

Saturday, April 23, 2022

Farmer's Lament

Why do these barns stand empty,
On this old family farm,
And when did farming smaller holdings,
Actually do the country harm,

He was happy with his hundred ewes,
Few horses, hens and sows,
And never really saw the need,
To milk more than thirty cows,

Most of what they ate, he grew,
As DEFRA looks to blame,
He didn’t need the plastic tags,
He knew his stock by name,

But he finds himself retiring,
Because his joints are stiff with age,
His sons moved to the city,
Where they pay a proper wage,

So he’s in the hands of agents,
And their joy is plain to see,
Not a thought about his lifetimes work,
Just a big fat sellers fee,

They split the farm up into lots,
Such is their endeavour,
Without the sickening realisation,
Another farm is lost forever,

When the farmhouse sells at auction,
Should he really mind?
When it’s bought by the very people,
Who have robbed his pension blind?

Its sold with tiny paddocks,
Because they’d like to keep a horse,
But they love the look of foxes,
So they’ll never hunt, of course,

They won’t like crowing cockerels,
Or the smell of muck being spread,
The winter sound of gunfire,
Or the thought of game shot dead,

These barns have stood a century,
Will soon be filled with glass and steel,
Developers will leave some beams in,
So it has that country feel,

All the strangers move in slowly,
And all the country skills are lost,
Do we think just about the value?
But ignore the long term cost,

He sells the farm and wonders,
What all his works been for,
And how will these new folks manage,
If there comes another war,

When Sainsburys shelves are empty,
There’s no wheat or livestock reared,
They will look for farms and farmers,
To find that both have disappeared.

- Neil Andrew

Friday, April 22, 2022

On Silence

The wind is blowing fiercely this morning.

It makes a nice counterpoint to the rain that was falling earlier this morning, which seems to have disappeared at the moment.  The outside is becoming dimly grey as the sun begins its journey behind the clouds, a dim pervasive light that slowly raises the gloom inside.

The wind blows through the fireplace.  I can hear it as it fuels the draught that burns the wood inside and drives the fireplace fan on top of the firebox, which quietly clicks away as it blows heat into the room.

I do not suppose I need the heat at this level - it is already warm enough in here.  But the sound and color bring me a certain joy and it costs me nothing, so I let it burn and add another log to the fire.

There is a certain simplicity in all of this - were I to pull down my laptop, I would sit in the ever lessening gloom.  With exception of the airliners that occasionally fly overhead, things are largely silent and even possibly as they were a hundred years ago.

I have written before - and often - of the silence that I find here.  Not the silence of the absence of sound - there is never that in the real world - as much as the silence of the modern world:  the cars, industrial noises, random noises of civilization, and even people.

I am prone it is as well, perhaps more often than I care to admit.  I will often fill the silence at New Home with noise - not so much to fill the nothing with something as to drown out the other noises that are going on around me.  An instinctive reaction perhaps; a right reaction, not at all.

Silence seems to make us uncomfortable.  Perhaps it should:  silence forces us in upon ourselves in a way that a world of sound does not.  We have nothing else to interrupt us, so we are forced back to an internal conversation and review, something which can often be uncomfortable.

"The unexamined life is not worth living."  This is credited to Socrates via Plato and has made its way into the common lexicon of motivational speeches, motivational posters, and memes.  But do we really believe it?  We smile grimly as we hear or see these words, agreeing internally that we need to rigorously examine ourselves.  

But only on our terms:  when it is convenient, when it is not burdensome, when we have the time.

Silence distorts this.  Silence is now, silence is inescapable.  Silence makes us examine ourselves simply because we have nowhere else to turn in the silence but inward.  All the great contemplative traditions recognize silence as a critical factor to growth and self-understanding.  They inherently know something that the modern world does not:  silence increase self examination and knowledge while the constant filling of our lives with meaningless sounds decreases it, leaving us in a bemused state, unable to focus on that which is truly critical.

Outside, the first bird of the morning has started sounding.

Thursday, April 21, 2022

Green, Blue, Brown, White

These are why the rains are so important.  This is much more how it should appear.


Wednesday, April 20, 2022

A Rainy Day

 It is a Day of Rain.

Rain is not unknown this late in the year at The Ranch - even as it is not expected every year at The Ranch.  Some years it happens, some years it does not.  It is just called "climate" and is the natural way of things (last year, for example, there was little rain in April.  Years before, there have been "Miracle Marchs").

The rain here is the rain of my childhood, days of rain that comes misting or dropping down over the course of hours - perhaps interrupted for periods only to return for a period before it drifts off at it makes its way to some other location. Like New Home, there can be short bursts of intense rain; unlike New Home, the sun will like not make a reappearance after that day.

When rains, it is inevitably cold.  There is none of the "warm rain" nonsense that we found such a surprise when we relocated to New Home.  Even the very occasional thunderstorm that we receive in Summer will have a hint of coolness about it.

I have always been a lover of Winter and Rain as my most favorite of seasons - not for the cold, of course - of that I am not a fan.  I cannot fully tell you why.  Part of it is just the spectacle of sitting at a window and watching the rain fall and dance across the landscape - when I was growing up, I would watch it out the larger window in my bedroom across the neighbors field and over to their house, watching it down the leaves and tree-trunks and bend the grasses with the weight of the drops.  True as well, as a reader growing up (and still as a reader) rain always indicates the justifiable ability to read as "not a lot can be done in the wet" (it can, of course, and I am only really making excuses for myself, but it is at least a factor).

And the Rain is an audible companion - unlike the wind which creaks the branches and trees, rain moderates its patter on the roof or gurgles as it makes its way down the gutter and drain pipe into the places it goes.  It is a pleasant and cheerful sort of sound, and makes a delightful counterpoint to interior activities (like, for example, reading).

I suppose in the back of my mind as well, I give thanks for the Rain as it falls.  Not one place I have ever lived has ever suffered from too much rain (on a regular basis anyway), and I am all too aware of the impact this rain will have here.  Badly parched earth will be reborn with moisture and grasses and wildflowers; the frogs and turtles rejoice and the polliwogs unknowingly celebrate the fact that their "world" will exist until they can scramble away;  some portion of the trees that were possibly on the edge from the heat and drought last year will get the boost they need to continue on.  The cattle at The Ranch may very well feed on green forage until June, which is often the case.

It makes me wonder how modern Western civilization is enamored of the appearance and reappearance of the Sun and heat - important times indeed, those - and does not have the same celebration of Rain and the cold.  For us in our modern world, the Sun represents the ability to go out and do things and entertain ourselves while Rain represents the cold and wet and lack of activities.  We do ourselves a disservice in this, I think, perhaps because now we are too far removed from the earth and world that supports us.  We have come to view the elements as things that are enablers of our entertainment, not our very lives.  And we are indeed the poorer for that.

The Rain, caring neither for the rise and fall of civilizations or my quaint enjoyment of it, continues to fall.

Tuesday, April 19, 2022

Rain, Home, Spring

 It is good to be home.

It is funny to say "home", because absolutely none of my actual "home" is here.  My wife and children are not here.  The menagerie that makes our house right now is not here.  My regular activities - Iaijutsu, gym, rabbit shelter - are not here. Certainly all of my things - what constitutes (at this point) a specialized formidable library on specific subjects and my swords (and, I suppose, all the other paraphernalia that I actually need to live) is not here.

And yet this feels more like home each time I am here.

As it turns out after my concerns last month about the rain, they have had a regular intake of it almost since I left - even during my week here, we are scheduled for starting tomorrow through Thursday.  It is not the higher snow we will need, but this may very well keep us green into June (which is traditional) and will certainly help recharge the aquifer, which is all very welcome news.  Hopefully this year will be a "normal" fire year, not the explosive potential we have had for the last few.

Also, the grass is starting to grow (which it did not last year).  That means mowing, which The Cowboy and The Young Cowboy have offered to do.  To Ed's point yesterday, have people that are invested in the property as much as you are is a blessing.

It is still coolish enough for a fire (surprising to me a bit as New Home continues to smolder its way into Summer), which is a pleasant enough thing for me - and still remains novel enough that I enjoy doing it.  It certainly has the benefit of not only heat, but a silence that the furnace lacks.

It is odd - I think the thing that makes it feel the most like "home" is the fact that when I am here, the world seems full of possibilities - possibilities not all realizable of course (no-one can do all things), but possibilities.  It has sense of being in the fifth grade and set free for the Summer, aware enough that you can go out and do things on your own and cognizant of the fact that you have whole days to fill before you have to trudge back to school.    At New Home, there is much less of this sense:  the chessboard is set and filled and there are limitations - more, if I am sticking with the analogy, of a weekend away from school.  We enjoy the weekends as a break, but we enjoy the Summer more.

Then again, the green of Spring always encourages me in a way that still continues to surprise me after all these years.

Monday, April 18, 2022

A Prayer (And Place) For Uisdean Ruadh

As some may be aware, my long time friend Uisdean Ruadh and his mother,  A Mhaithar na hUsidean Ruadh, were both separately notified at the end of February that they needed to leave their apartments - for Uisdean Ruadh, 15 years and for his mother, over 40 years - by the end of May this year.  Many of you have been kindly praying for them during their search in a difficult market, for which he - and I - are thankful.

There is, as Paul Harvey would say, now a "Rest of the Story".

One of the features of The Ranch, not heretofore discussed, is The Cabin.

The Cabin is a very small (800 square feet? 900?) structure at The Ranch, about 100 yards down the hill from The House. It was originally (as the saying goes) a logging shed (called a donkey shed?) that was dragged from place to place following the loggers. Over the years a foundation was put under it, and slowly rooms were added onto it by family: My material grandfather and my mother's brother built at least one room, TB The Elder and my maternal grandfather built another.  Over time it has been modeled and remodeled and re-remodeled; when we first starting coming here regularly it was where we stayed (for some reason I remember this horrible shag carpet and an electric organ.; both have [perhaps fortuitously] disappeared).

It has never entered into the story until now because since the 1990's it has been a rental and, as a rental, was really other people's and not part of any story here.

Never once was it marketed.  People showed up by word of mouth or recommendation as others left; it scarcely went unoccupied for a long period of time (the Cowboy's son, The Young Cowboy, then The Young Cowboy and his wife and (then) son, and then his sister all passed through here, for example).  My father valued good tenants above good money and so charged less than he could have gotten if it was priced at market value. And there was never really a problem with the tenants:  all respected the unspoken trust implied by how my father handled things (never once was a lease signed; it was all done on a handshake) and except for one or two odd incidents, almost nothing needed to significantly repaired or replaced - in fact, some tenants actually made improvements themselves.

Four days after Uisdean Ruadh  and I talked about looking for an apartment for him and his mother, the current renters - who had told us they were staying until the end of Summer - let us know that due to circumstances they had to leave by the middle of April.  I talked with my sister, then called Uisdean Ruadh:  It was small -  maybe two-ish bedrooms and one bath, and had a pellet stove for heat - but it would at least be somewhere for him and his mother to stay until he was able to reorient their lives. It was certainly available if they needed it.  

Initially he thanked us profusely and said it was an option.  Then, two weeks later at a doctor's appointment, his mother's doctor expressed that he should consider Hospice for his mother.  At that point,  he simply said he was too overwhelmed with trying to deal with both things and did the offer still stand?

We walked through it yesterday.  He will start moving his things in this month.

I do not, as I hope my readers know, post this as a sort of "look at us" sort of self- congratulatory post. I would not bring it up at all except (as usual) I think there are some larger lessons that can be applied.

1)  The first, of course, is simply to thank everyone who prayed, had good thoughts, or sent good vibrations.  Thank you.

2)  The second is that for those that prayed, this is a demonstration that prayer - your prayers - worked.

3)  The third - the one that has made me the most self- aware - is that sometimes we are the answer to the prayers.

Eaton Rapids Joe had posted an comment about disaster relief donations and in it, noted that often times people use disasters as a way to give what they think people need instead of what they may actually need and in some cases, as a way to clear out "stuff".  Often times, the comment noted, cash really was the better option as the people on the ground knew what was actually needed.  And was a good and interesting insight from someone in the midst of relief.

However, I do not wonder that sometimes that trains us to believe that the only sort of aid we can or are really obligated to offer is that cash when sometimes, we have the ability to offer more.

I have to confess that when the previous renters notified us, the first thought was to see about refilling the Cabin with another renter paying the going rate as it really goes into my parents' account which we are stewarding, not owning.  But in Uisdean Ruadh's voice I heard an anguish, an anguish I had heard only twice before:  once when his father had passed, the other when his ex-wife filled for divorce.  The thought was about 10 seconds long before I talked to my sister.

In this case, good was in our ability to do.

I always find remarkable to realize that a prayer has been answered, whether something small or large.  What is even more remarkable is to realize that one was actually the answer to the prayer God had in mind all the time - at that in some unfathomable sense out of depths of time, God looked at a logging shed and found it would a far more profound impact than its own simple existence and preserved and expanded it and made it available precisely when a need was present.  All we needed to do was say "Yes".

Perhaps to be an answer to more prayers, we simply need to learn to say "Yes" to God more often. 

Sunday, April 17, 2022

Happy Easter 2022

Now after the Sabbath, as the first day of the week began to dawn, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary came to see the tomb. And behold, there was a great earthquake; for an angel of the Lord descended from heaven, and came and rolled back the stone from the door, and sat on it. His countenance was like lightning, and his clothing as white as snow. And the guards shook for fear of him, and became like dead men.

But the angel answered and said to the women, “Do not be afraid, for I know that you seek Jesus who was crucified. He is not here; for He is risen, as He said. Come, see the place where the Lord lay. And go quickly and tell His disciples that He is risen from the dead, and indeed He is going before you into Galilee; there you will see Him. Behold, I have told you.”

So they went out quickly from the tomb with fear and great joy, and ran to bring His disciples word.

And as they went to tell His disciples, behold, Jesus met them, saying, “Rejoice!” So they came and held Him by the feet and worshiped Him. Then Jesus said to them, “Do not be afraid. Go and tell My brethren to go to Galilee, and there they will see Me.”

- Matthew 28: 1-10, NKJV

Friday, April 15, 2022

A "We Are Done Here" Moment

Did you ever have a moment where you felt - deeply felt - that you were being pushed in a direction that you had no idea where it was going, or even what the direction was?  That feeling hit me about mid-day on Monday this week.

I cannot legitimately explain it.  I was reading, and suddenly something just said to me "We are done here". 

Lovely, I said to me inner voice, put down what I was reading, and proceeded to go on with my day.  Except I could not escape the feeling that a road marker had been hit, an off-ramp had suddenly been taken, and I had no idea why or where it was going.

And then - the following day - there was my mood when I woke up in the morning.  Frankly, it is was abysmal.  No idea why - it was not as if anything had happened the night before.  But simply nothing was good in the morning.  My Bible reading was flat.  My mood was sour as I made my way around the walk.  

Something - something - had changed, and apparently I was too foolish or too blockheaded to understand what it was.

For better or worse, I like to believe that I have some level of active knowledge and insight into where my moods come from. It has been a hard won knowledge:  for years I was "just angry/depressed/fill in the blank" with no idea why.  Since then I have learned to carefully track my moods back to where they came - for example, one super easy one I have discovered is dwelling too much on current events and the resulting anger/dismay/depression, which can easily set off my entire day.  But anger, guilt, even laziness - all of these I can track upstream of what the originating event was.

This, I literally have no idea.

I have never been one to question that God speaks to people (my estimate would be "He speaks a lot less than people think He does"); I cannot think of a clear time He has "spoken" to me.  That is okay of course:  if my faith relied purely on the concept that I needed to hear from God on a regular basis, it should be a very weak faith indeed.  

That said, I have the rather jarring and annoying feeling that He just did.

This feeling - this "We are done here" - is not unknown to me.  It has occurred before, only I am too often too unaware to appreciate what it actually means. I shrug it off or double down on things that are going on, not realizing or accepting that change is in the air.

It is difficult to put a timeline on such things, and to some extent even writing about it seems to feel like I am already putting a schedule on it.  These things cannot really be anticipated (at least in my experience) as to day or precise time; only that they are coming.

I have learned one thing though: The purposes of God are not thwarted and when it is time for a thing, it will happen - even if one is "dragged" kicking and screaming through the door.  And so I am trying to hold my life now with a lighter hand in expectation that something is changing - even if I do not know what it is.

Thursday, April 14, 2022


 The clouds of evening
roll in like waves with the wind,
singing of the rain.

Wednesday, April 13, 2022

Redneck Raised Bed

 You may remember two weeks ago when, in the question of positing what to do about the Slab in my backyard, I mentioned that I had a rather large pile of degraded wood pellets, rabbit droppings, and hay:

One suggestion - A good one - was to make this a raised bed.  I thought about it, measured out the length, and calculated what it would take in pre-fitted stones to make a raised bed, and balked.  That was a bit more money than I intended to spend.

And then I started thinking.  The chicken wire essentially restrains the materials in there - has for 3 years or more, and I can add hay if I want to give a little more firmness.  I suddenly thought of the concept of a "potato tower":  a container - be it a burlap sack, a paper sack, or even tires - that contained growing medium and potatoes and was used as an in situ location for growing.  Why, I wondered, could I replicate it?

Well, I had seed potatoes:

I made rows and planted them.  I left the farther third "free" of planting - I will dump the new materials there, and then re-rake at the end of the season.

Below is the finished product.  You will note the sprinkler on the bed - given that I travel at least one week a month, it is just easier to have something hooked up to a timer.

To be fair, I have no idea if this actually will work - I have had plenty of "good ideas" that have not.  But worst case, I tried something and failed.  Best part:  total cost of the project essentially zero dollars (yes, I bought a new hose and sprinkler, but I was going to do that anyway).  If it works, I added a bed for no money whatsoever. If it does not work, I figure out something else.

Either way, I win.

Tuesday, April 12, 2022

Going (Job) Hunting

So somewhat begrudgingly and under a form of internal protest, I have started the process of getting ready to look for another job.

Being someone that does not enjoy change - let alone like to undertake change - this was a rather difficult decision to reach.  After all, in a lot of ways this job has been a good one and at the moment I literally have no financial or benefit-related reason to go anywhere else.  Also, to be fair, I am relatively "new" to my career field (just two years last month) and were I to go anywhere else, I feel like there will be a lot of explaining to do as to how I went from an executive level position in one field to a high level entry position in another.


But I got surprise once in January 2009 when I got laid off (for those that are curious, the outcome is in January and February 2009 labeled "Hammerfall").  And much like I was overtaken by a change in world events following 9/11, I am now what might be considered "highly paranoid" (might, I note) about being caught flat-footed without a job again.  

The fact that The Ravishing Mrs. TB also considers this a possibility is of note.

The biopharmaceutical/medical device industry, especially for small companies, is almost always a "feast or famine" industry.  I have often compared it to shooting craps:  one rolls the dice and hopes a "7" comes up before you run out of financing.  And we are certainly nowhere  near that point now.

But there are signs.  Troubling signs.  We continue to lose employees, some who have been there for long periods of time.  And when they leave, the positions are not being backfilled.  And for the first time in my sojourn here, we are hearing words about resourcing and having to make decisions and balance resources.

As the saying goes, the best time to look for a job is while you still have one.

I have had to re-activate my Linked Out account, because that is the quickest way to start the search anymore.  And I have to go through and revise my CV as while it lists all the relevant information, it is hardly the sort of thing that will stick out in the modern world. I am aware of that.

I am not in any particularly hurry (although to be frank I need to be in a bit more of one), and I having some level of what I would like and timing (if I am looking now, I might as well be strategic about it):  Ideally it will be a job that continues to allow me to work remotely and (even more ideally) remotely out of New Home.  Ideally it will has some similar measure to what I am earning now (not precisely - that is never going to happen again, but close).   Super Ideally, it will put us in a position that when we decide to relocate, we can do so effortlessly.

There are significant reasons that it makes a certain amount of sense to stay through the end of the year, as it would allow me to complete a project which would essentially be the "gold standard" in my industry and a feather in my cap.  And if it works out, great (of course, if one stays through the year, then it makes sense to "stay" through the bonus season as well, just because).  But I do not think that should be a reason to not test the waters. 

I have been surprised in a bad way twice:  once at The Firm where I saw all the signs and did nothing, the second in Hammerfall when I did not see the signs but got surprised anyway.  Shame on me if it happens a third time.

Monday, April 11, 2022

The Purpose Of Church

(Author's note:  Today's post is a discussion concerning the nature of church, specifically my experience with and opinions on it.  Apologies in advance to all for who this is not a "relevant" post - to a great extent, this is the proverbial "inside baseball".)

The conversation between Uisdean Ruadh which actually seems to have created a great deal of fodder for my mind occurred, as has been referenced earlier, on the traditional Eating of Frozen Yogurt following our Friday dinner and stroll.

I had asked him about the number of attendees at the Stations of The Cross (30-40) and if that was "average"; he stated that it was.  I asked him why he thought that was the case.  What transpired from that initial question was a fundamental question about the nature and purpose of the Church itself.

His initial theory was a combination of the post-results of The Plague and laziness -which, I said, I could agree with.  And I told him that I thought that most mainline Protestant churches would likely have a similar turn out given the circumstances.  But then I compared it with the church we attend currently which, if they were to announce that they were having a stand alone "Worship Night" (song and prayer) would come close to filling the Sanctuary (300 or so seats).

How is it, I wondered, that there could be such a difference?

And why, we wondered, do people go to church?

My thought was that people go to church to have an encounter with God in a way that they cannot have it any other way.  Yes, I understand the importance of corporate worship (especially in times where we feel isolated) and (depending on your strand of Christianity) the nature of certain activities (communion, for example) that can be done no other way - but for something to become more than a duty, like trudging off to work can become for many, there has to be something that draws people back.  

That thing, I would argue, is an encounter with God.

If that is the case, what is it that makes some places have more of that sense of "encounter" and other places a sense of "duty"?  

I wish I knew. For myself, if that is helpful, I find those sorts of encounters with God in two places:  the first in Nature of course (with The Ranch largely fitting into that construct), the second in the equivalent of "High Church" (as we used to call it in the days of yore).  There is something about ceremony and the sense of otherworldliness that helps to lift my mind above the commonality of the daily living

(In the vein of high church, for years Uisdean Ruadh and I have argued about what sort of monk I would be, were I to be one.  He things Benedictine, I counter with Cistercian.  Neither are likely of course, but it is amusing to see someone else's take on me.)

Which probably gets to the reason that people do not feel like they are encountering God:  the church - be it Catholic or Mainline Protestant or even other - is a great deal like the world right now.  That cuts both ways of course:  I would argue that the modern church has a great deal more emotionalism and modern "show-like" tendencies (lights, music, etc.) which allows be to feel emotionally moved (music will do that for us) but also puts the experience at risk when the emotions die or the "style" of worship no longer reflects the current trends of society.  And at least for Catholicism (from the little bit I have attended), Vatican II style worship has none of the grandeur of the Tridentine Mass.  

But engaging the emotions - in anything - is a way to pull people in.  And engaging our emotions and our minds to lift them up to God should be a primary calling of any denomination.  How is it that the church has failed to engage its congregation in the vastness and glory of God?

I do not have answers of course, beyond really asking myself the question of "Why do I attend church?" - or if not as much as I used to, "Why not?" (and I think I know the answer there).  What I do wonder is if the churches themselves - Catholic, Orthodox, Mainline Protestant, Non-denominational - are asking themselves the same question.

Because it seems to my fairly un-theologically educated mind that if people are not encountering God in the current manifestation of the church, that might be something worthy of consideration.

Saturday, April 09, 2022

Our Own

 "If all this is true and we are not silly nor playing a part when we say, 'Man's good and man's evil lies in moral choice, and all other things are nothing to us', why are we still distressed and afraid?  Over the things that we seriously care for no-one has authority, and the things over which men have authority do not concern us.  What kind of thing have we left to discuss?

- 'Nay, give me directions' - What directions shall I give you?  Has not Zeus given you directions?  Has he not given you that which is your own, unhindered and unrestrained, while that which is not your own is subject to hindrance and restraint?  What directions, then, did you bring with you when came from him into the world, what kind of an order?

Guard by every means that which is your own, but do not grasp that which is another's.  Your faithfulness is your own, your self-respect is your own; who, then, can take these things from you?  Who but yourself will prevent you from using them?  But you, how do you act?  When you seek earnestly that which is not your own, you lose that which is your own."

- Epictetus, Discourses, Book 1

Friday, April 08, 2022

Embody It

 Perceptive and long time readers of this blog will know that in point of fact I often tend to incorporate different aspects of whomever and whatever I tend to be reading at the moment - in that sense I am somewhat of a chameleon, adapting as I come into contact with new ideas.  Some of that will dissipate of course as I move to something else, but it always seems as if something remains.

As I am paging through Epictetus and thus the philosophy of Stoicism, I am finding both a buttress to my faith (I would argue that Epictetus is as close or closer to "Christian" thought as Plato is perceived to be) as well as a different methodology and framework for expressing beliefs and philosophy through life.

Of the Stoics I have read - Marcus Aurelius, Lucius Annaeus Seneca, and now Epictetus  - one common theme I am finding is the living out of the Stoic philosophy.  Philosophy for them was not just an thought exercise, it was a life practice that was to be lived out daily.

As the world seemingly becomes more chaotic and unsettled and things start to fray - or perhaps simply that I am getting older - I am coming to appreciate how meaningful this sort of philosophy is.

We live in an age where many people say things, make pronouncements, decree actions and thoughts.  We also live in an age where not living by what one preaches is considered completely acceptable and not at all worthy of comment.  It has always been this way I suppose; it is only the modern world and the fact that we can both see the present and history so quickly thanks to technology that such things become so evident.

If we want to be different - if we want to stick out in a good way - we need to not tell people about what we believe - our philosophy, our religion, our way of life - we need to embody it.

The world has plenty of examples of those that speak of great themes and mighty actions.  The world is well short of people that actually live by it.

It is not just a thought exercise.  How many times have we heard of someone that we think would be like us in thought or belief and then we meet them or hear them and suddenly realize that they are not the sort of people that we would at all want to imitate?  And it does not just have to be in the actions and words, it can be in their demeanor and presentation as well.  

How often - we have all had it happen, I think - we have recommended a person or an author to someone based on their ideas or their philosophy only to be appalled when we hear of something that does not at all comport with who we are or what we believe?  It is not just embarrassment for the thing itself; it is an embarrassment for our friend or associate, who now has to walk through the issue of what they had heard or seen and how we likely could endorse such a thing - what does that say about us?

If we want to make the world a better place - a place that we claim, in some form or fashion, we want it to be, we need to not just talk about such things.  We need to be - "embody", as Epictetus would say - the beliefs and philosophies we espouse.  We have to live them out to make them credible.

I know the counterarguments.  "It is hard" - it has always been hard to live out beliefs, especially in a world that by default and nature tends to promote everyone being the same.  "Those that our our opponents have all the control" - most great movements that actually improve the world always start small, in the face of opposition.  Yet they have succeeded.  "Everyone else is inconsistent and gets away with it" - but this is exactly why we are where we are; everyone has become used to people not living what they profess.  Can we blame them if they believe it is the only way things are?  "Anger and rage are the only way to accomplish things in the current world" - anger and rage can indeed make great changes but they are fueled by something that cannot last or make lasting changes; they will all eventually collapse upon themselves.

As I have grown older - possible wiser? - the people that I find the most credible and the most admirable are those that live out their philosophies and beliefs on a daily basis.  It costs them all, sometimes in material goods, sometimes in reputation, sometimes in simply snide remarks by a world that does not understand and does not care.  These are the ones I want to be like, because they are not only living what they profess, they are demonstrating that such a thing is possible.

You cannot speak one way and live another or live in a way that belies everything that say you are for, and then somehow believe that people will want to adopt your way of thinking or philosophy.  It is incumbent on all of us who want reasoned, self-sufficient, thoughtful, independent, and polite society to not only desire it and believe such things, but to live them out in practice on a daily basis.

The only way to truly be that thing is to show the world that it works, in our beliefs and practices and actions and works.  We can be the most credible example of what we believe - or its biggest detractor.

Thursday, April 07, 2022

On Respect And Lively Discussions

During my last visit to Old Home, I attend Stations of the Cross with Uisdean Ruadh.

He, of course, is Catholic; I am a Protestant of varying vintages.  That said, he constantly invites me to such things and I am happy to attend when I am able.  There is something to be said for a universal Christian brotherhood, even if we do not agree on everything (and I do not know that we to on every single thing).

After dinner and at our usual post-walk yogurt, he asked me what I thought about the service.  To my Protestant eyes, there was very little different from other "higher church" services I had attended (except the genuflecting, of course).  I asked him if the attendance there - perhaps 30-40 people -was indicative of the usual.

This spun off into a question of faith and the purpose of church and encounters with God - a worthy discussion which I should probably separate out into its own discussion, as this is not the point of today's missive.

At one point in the conversation, when we were discussing why membership is dropping at many churches (not just the Catholic), we got into a sensitive area of discussion about the recent history of the Catholic church (Author's note:  Do not, do not, do definitely not put some sort of silly Catholic bashing in the comments. It will not make through).  It was somewhat tense for a moment as he and I have different perspectives on the issue in terms of how people see something from the inside versus the outside.

Yet strangely enough, we got through the conversation.

We got through the conversation because we both have respect for each other as people (and friends) first.

Respect can be exercised in such conversations in a number of ways. In this case, rather than press into the recent past for the Catholics, I pressed into the recent history of a prominent evangelical who after death was revealed to have quite a different life than what he portrayed.  Suddenly the conversation was not about "this" or "that"; it was about principles.  And in turn when I had a comment about a practice that I do not find as engaging as others, he in turn was able to discuss the very differing opinions and uses of the Rosary.

It was, to quote a commenter yesterday, a "lively discussion" but it was a discussion that both of us were able to learn from (I did, hopefully he did too), walk away from without rancor - and then finish another mile loop talking away.

It strikes me that this sort of respect for each other is precisely a major underlying component for a great many reasons why we find ourselves where we are today.  Without an underlying respect, things simply become weapons and large missiles we hurl (hopefully only verbally) at each other.  Intrinsically or extrinsically, at some level we have no belief that we are going to "convince" the other side of anything; we have to bludgeon them into submission.

And there may be submission.  But it will be of the slimmest sort, ready to fracture under the first sign of strain.  And more tellingly, we will find over time that other parts of the relationship - be it personal, professional, religious, or a group association such as a nation-state - will weaken as well. Because people are very cognizant of when their thoughts or opinions become unimportant, and they will simply keep them to themselves.

I risk in writing this dissolving the conversation (yet again) into a discussion of issues about which we do not talk about here.  And that is not my intent.  My intent is really aimed at myself in all of this: am I practicing the sort of respect that would engender even "lively discussions" that might move an issue along in a way that I would like to see it moved?  Am I, as Gandhi said, "Being the change that I want to see in the world"?  

I can never control anyone else; I can only control myself.  But I can certainly be that example of what respect for others - even when I may disagree with their opinions or decisions - looks like.

Wednesday, April 06, 2022

On Arguments

I cannot precisely remember when it happened, but there came a point at which I realized that not every argument is what it is actually about.

Growing up I suppose, when I saw an argument (or the rare times I was involved in one), it simply seemed like it was about the subject of the argument.  To be fair, to my recollection I never saw my parents argue in public or in the home (although knowing my father, I suspect they happened; the first time I remember them having one was when I was in my twenties); my arguments were all of the garden variety child and pre-teen version.

To be fair as well, I am not a very good arguer.  I do not enjoy conflict at all and actually will go great lengths to avoid it.  I had a brief stint in college arguing my positions, until I was told by my advisor that my "arguing" was really just assuming my positions were correct and then trying to overwhelm the opposition, the equivalent of mass frontal attacks:  costly, ineffective, and almost never achieving the objective.  It was at that point I simply gave up arguing and just started listening.

And maybe that was for the best:  in listening to those arguing, one heard without being blinded by the actual nature of the views of the arguers on the subject at hand.  And often times what they turned out to be arguing about was actually not the problem at all.

Take a very simple example:  Someone has a bad day at work and comes home in a foul mood (mind you, this has happened to other people.  Never me.  Nope, not once).  Something minor happens - a dog that is just a little crazy, some element of the house that is a bit off, even something like random coughing - and the horse, as they say, has left the barn.  "Why is it that the dog is ill-behaved/the dishes are always in the sink/you never go to the doctor when you are sick?" is launched, and usually not in a quiet tone of voice.  Things escalate quickly.

The reality, of course, is that the real issue is not any of the things in the home.  The real issue is at the job or the job itself, which for any number of reasons the individual feels they cannot address.  All they can do is funnel that frustration into another area, one they feel they can control.

A simplistic example, for sure.  But take that into any actual real world situation, and you will find the mechanisms of cause and action the same.  We just put better titles on it to make it sound more sophisticated.

At the risk of struggling to find something (relatively) non-controversial, take preservation of agricultural land.  One side argues that land owners should be free to do whatever they want with their land, including selling it.  The other side argues that land owners should be prevented from doing whatever they want with their land, including selling it,  because preserving it has greater value.  In reality, the land owners would quite likely be willing to preserve the land as it is as long as they could reasonably profit from it as if they were selling it.  The preservers want the land preserved, but (often) are not willing to pay the land owner the going rate for the land to preserve it. 

In reality, both sides want to benefit from the land - in different ways, but benefit from it. That is the real core of the discussion:  how do both sides derive equal benefits.  But that is not what it becomes about.  In point of fact it becomes about power:  the power to dispose of versus the power to control the disposition of.  Which becomes expensive, angry and seldom ends up with what either side actually wants. 

(To be clear, I believe in the rights of land holders.  I also believe that agricultural land should be preserved.  This should be a simple resolution in principle.  It looks a lot people that want the land preserved doing everything in their power to make sure the owners are compensated fairly - at going rates for land that can be developed - to preserve the land and everyone doing everything in their power to drop the property tax rates down significantly on such land to make it worth more to keep it as it is than develop it.)

This has become my starting point when I hear two sides arguing any more.  Sometimes - almost rarely anymore - the argument really is about the argument.  Most times though, the argument is not at all what is being huffed and puffed about, but rather something behind the words and blustering.

Find that - find the unspoken thing, the "dog that is not barking" - and look to that, even if no-one else will. That is where true disagreement lies, and that is where the best chance for truly resolving the issue is.

Tuesday, April 05, 2022


As I mentioned yesterday, one of the true pleasures of getting back to the Highland Games after effectively a 3 year absence is being able to see any number of people you have not seen in a while.  When greeting each other for anyone you have thrown with more than one game, you typically hug.  That is the way it is done.  In the process of greeting and hugging, more than one of my friends with whom I have thrown for years but not seen recently was "Man, you are thick".

"Thick" is not the way it sounds.

The term is used to describe someone in the weight lifting, power lifting, or Highland Games community (or really, I suppose, any strength based sport) to describe status of one's core and torso.  To be "thick" means you have put on muscle in your chest, upper and lower back, and abdomen. It means at some level you are stronger than you were the last time someone saw you, just because (by default) you added mass.

In other words, "thick" is not "fat".  "Thick" is a compliment.

It implies a lot of other things as well:  That you have been putting in the work - and "work" here means training in the gym.  There is probably some implication of eating right here as well.  And training.  That there is lots and lots of training going on in the background.

It strikes me as odd as I think about it that so much meaning can be poured into a single word which no-one really "explains" but one just comes to understand by association.  It is not quite a secret language - after all, someone could look hear the expression of "thick" and look at someone from the side and think "yes, they do look a bit wide", trying to surreptitiously measure someone with their hands while carefully appears not to do so.  What would be missing from the measurement would be all that the word implies, evidenced by the knowing smile between the two exchanging the word while the spectator is trying to measure others to see how "thick" they are.

The other thing that - genuinely - surprises me is that how, in my mid-fifties, I am still vain enough that I am incredibly pleased to hear it.  Yes, I train for any number of reasons which do not involve directly my personal appearance - but the inside teenager me that was unathletic and not strong giggles with glee.  The fact that those "in the know" would notice such a thing makes me internally giggle all the more.

As the saying goes "Be not afraid of going slowly, be afraid only of standing still".

Monday, April 04, 2022

Going Throwing


This weekend I threw in a Highland Games.

This is my second games of the year, and only my third game since 2019. Between The Plague and traveling back to Old Home more often,  there have been less games and I have been gone more to The Ranch.  Also, I suppose to be fair, I am not nearly as excited about driving long distances to throw (when I say "Drive " I mean get up before the crack of down, drive 3-4 hours, throw, then drive 3-4 hours home in a day).  But this was one of the close ones, and so I went.  

I suspected this at the Games I did last month, but I forget how much I love throwing.

To be clear, I am at best a mediocre athlete.  My numbers are not anything in particular to get excited about nor will they ever take me to Masters' Worlds, unless I can hold out until 60 (at which time there are no qualifying throws because there are not that many over 60's throwing.  Right now.  With my luck, it will happen).  That said, my numbers were at least within striking range of my personal records ("PR" for those not in the know), which is always good.  For example, in the Weight Above Bar event (Tossing a 42 lbs. weight straight up and over a bar), I hit 10', which is my PR and which I have not actually been near in almost three years now.  

But what I really miss is the people.

I have said it before - and any Highland Gamer will tell you - that the people really make the event.  We are an odd association:  strongmen and power lifters that are looking for a new challenge, track and field athletes that after college had nowhere to go, those that are interested in things Scottish, and people that just like doing a fringe sport.  It is in fact a competition, but is a very good natured one:  athletes will constantly offer advice to their competitors on how to improve (name another sport that happens in!).  And seeing these people periodically over the years, every event becomes an effective small sort of family reunion.  It is a river of people constantly coming and going, being away for a while and returning.  And it was very good to see people I have not seen in a long time.

For me, the other thing is simply being in the Games.

There is something almost magical that happens when you are on the field competing:  you are a Highland Athlete.  It does not matter how good or bad you are, or even how often you throw.  You are a Highland Athlete.  You are the entertainment.  You are the one on the other side of the bleachers, that people are watching and cheering on.  You are doing something 99.9% of the population will never do, and somehow in doing so become somewhat mythical to many people when they hear you do them (even if, as is true of me, you are mediocre).

To be frank, it is a bit hypnotic even to me.

We will see how I feel tomorrow - even with only 9 events and somewhere between 24 and 33 throws for all events (for me), I am a bit sore.  But it is a good sore, the sore of hard day of doing something I love to do.

Who knows, I may even break down and start practicing.

Sunday, April 03, 2022

Live As Making Progress

 "How long will you still wait to think yourself worthy of the best things, and in nothing transgress against the distinctions set up by the reason?  You have received the philosophical principles which you ought to accept, and you have accepted them.  What sort of a teacher, then, do you still wait for, that you should put off reforming yourself until he arrives?  You are no longer a lad, but a full grown man.

If you are now neglectful and easy-going, and always making one delay after another, and fixing first one day and then another, after which you will pay attention to yourself, then without realizing it you will make no progress, but, living and dying, will continue to be a layman throughout.

Make up your mind, therefore, before it is too late, that the fitting thing for you to do is to live as a mature man who is making progress, and let everything which seems best to you to be best be for you a law that must not be transgressed.  And  if you meeting anything that is laborious, or sweet, or held in high repute, or in no repute, remember that now is the contest, and here before you are the Olympic games, and that it is impossible to delay any longer, and that it depends on a single day and a single action, whether progress is lost or saved.

This is the way Socrates became what he was, by paying attention to nothing but his reason in everything he encountered.  And even if you are not Socrates, still you ought to live as one who wishes to be a Socrates."

- Epictetus, The Encheiridion, 51

Saturday, April 02, 2022

Of Empty Carbs And Empty Coffers

 I have been trying to "eat along" with The Ravishing Mrs. TB as she is embarking on her dietary adventure (modified keto).   On the whole, this means a great many vegetables and proteins and not much else.  For me, more protein for training (trying to keep at that 1 g/ 1 lb ratio), but otherwise I am trying adhere in principle to what she is trying to accomplish.  And it is certainly no great sacrifice: we still get plenty of protein through meat or eggs (and steak. We are eating more beef. This makes me happy.) and the vegetable servings are rather large, prepared in different ways, and (sometimes) surprisingly delicious.

As we have gone through this process, I have been shocked to realize a great many things about my own food choices.

I liked to think I was (overall) fairly thoughtful and measured in my food choices, that I overall ate healthy.  Yes, I had a few issues - I do like my desserts! - but I thought I was doing pretty well.

Guess what?  Not quite so much.  To paraphrase a relatively "modern" pop song (at least for me), "I like empty carbs and I cannot lie".

By thinking more actively about what I am eating, I find that I am also thinking a lot more when I do not eat about what I would be eating.  And generally - outside of regularly meals - my input looks a great deal like carbs - generally empty, and a lot of them.

I am a food texture sort of fellow.  I like things that crunch in my mouth, and I like salt - so anything that looks like a pretzel, cracker, or that it might be remotely crunchy is something that is in danger of being eaten.  Which is okay of course - in moderation, anything can be fine.  Unfortunately, moderation is not a thing I am always particularly good at.  

And so, I try to find better alternatives for crunch or not eat them at all.

It is certainly not like I am suffering - there are more than enough other things I can (and do) eat and eat with gusto (if a word like "gusto" can be applied to something like celery).  And it has made me more conscious overall of how I am eating, never a bad thing when diabetes lurks in the background of one's genetics like a minor theme in a bad horror movie, always ready to leap out with a cheap scare.

Eating well, as they say, is no more difficult than eating poorly:  one just has to make conscious choices and pay attention.  What is fascinating to me - and depressing at the same time - is how hard commercialism and society works to ensure that making such choices is difficult.

One of the keys, as it turns out, to this process is simply that eating this way looks a lot like simple cooking.  The recipes made are not terribly elaborate:   a protein, perhaps a sauce, and a vegetable suitably roasted/broiled/slightly seared.  But they take time - all of The Ravishing Mrs. TB's meal prep now takes more time, chopping and slicing and packaging up.  Convenience as it comes in a box or bag or prepared by someone is much quicker.  

Along with simplicity in recipes, our grocery list has gotten a great deal simpler:  protein, vegetables, fruit (for me, not her right now), and some dairy.  That is largely it.  I eat protein bars and whey for training, but not much more processed food than that. 

So it becomes - from a commercial point of view - a losing proposition for everyone except the grocery stores:  much less products purchased and minimal processed foods purchased, and virtually no restaurants or delivery services engaged.

(Yes, I know many of live like this normally and have for years.  Please be patient with me, I am slow in any number of ways).

So the paradox is that a diet that is better for us is not necessarily "better" for modern society - to those that decry modern agriculture and modern food processing in terms of a "better world", all sorts of financial implications from this occur:  less employment in these industries, less taxes collected from these industries, less people employed packaging and transporting and cooking and serving and delivering food with the implications that their unemployment, purchasing, and tax collection brings.

All this from simply eating better and different.  It makes me wonder - for the thousandth time, perhaps - that we have not trained ourselves in critical thought in the way we should.

Would more natural eating be better for any number of reasons?  Of course; obesity is a growing trend in the US and modern agricultural practices (my mind says practiced by corporate agriculture, but it could be by anyone) can be destructive and wreak long term impacts on the land we need to grow the food.  Yet all these implications - financial capital, human capital - flow from it.  Those are never addressed at all.

Which, to be frank with you, is probably a lot more than I need to be thinking about the subject.  I am just working to be more thoughtful about my food and when and why I eat.  

And, of course, working  hard to make the peanut butter fit elegantly into curve of my celery to make it more palatable than struggling to smear it just on the side.

Friday, April 01, 2022

40 Years Of Friendship

Sometime last month I had an opportunity which I suspect is rarer and rarer in the modern world:  I celebrated a 40th friendship anniversary.

We - The Director, Uisdean Ruadh, and I - have never really formally settled on "The Date".  I can quite clearly tell you when it fell as I remember the month; the day remains sadly lost to that part of history that records where people first saw their spouses (before they met them) and the penultimate time we talked to a loved one.  We tentatively have used March 14th for no other date than it was as good as any.

I was a shy band nerd who came into high school from a very small feeder school and thus did not have a an initial support group.  Band gave me one of course, but in some ways one still lived in the almost "friendship by association" frame of mind.  My interests at that time - which were largely music, role playing, and science fiction (this in the age before computer gaming, of course) - were not really shared by anyone in my "group".

There was another freshman, a tuba player who seemed to be everything I was not:  charismatic, well spoken, plugged in (his older brother was also in band) and not only an player of role playing games but a writer of them.  I could hear the conversations of he and the group he was a part of and it sounded quite fun; I being the introvert I was (and still am) simply could not find it in myself to easily connect.  And so the Fall semester did connect.

We did end up connecting in the early Spring (the then-ubiquitous "Winter Band Trip) and found that we did indeed both have a connection in role playing.  From there we started to spend time out of band as well.  Life was good - he was in drama (I was not), but it was fun to hear his stories.

And then came the day I met Uisdean Ruadh.

As I have said, I cannot tell you the day but I can tell you the time:  it was a sunny March day during 5th period lunch.  I always brought my lunch and was headed in with The Director.  We were in the High School cafeteria, which had passable food but whose palm sized grease-laden chocolate chip cookies were the stuff of legend (to high schoolers, I fear.  These days my arteries would seize up looking at one).  He turned as saw someone and called out.  That someone was Uisdean Ruadh.  

I do not remember that conversation particularly - only that it was short - but that was, as they say, where the whole thing started.

From that humble beginning came all kinds of amazing things for three of us:  I learned drama and from our sophomore year on, there was never a play, a one-act, or a musical the three of us were not in.  We convinced Uisdean Ruadh to at least attend band functions (and I eventually moved to tuba).  We gamed (not so much Uisdean Ruadh, it was not his thing).  We met each other's parents and they, too, became our parents. We made our own drama group.  We came up with harmless but incredibly ridiculous displays of almost theatrical proportions.  People passed in and out of the association, but the three of us - The Director, Uisdean Ruadh, and myself - remained.

The odd thing - at least odd to me given the world then and now - is that we still stayed in contact even after high school ended.

We have been through a great many things in the intervening 40 years.  We have been through college and graduations and graduate school and military enrollment and dating and marriages and divorces and children coming and children moving on.  We have waded through religious discussions (Uisdean Ruadh a lifelong Catholic, myself a Protestant of various provenances, The Director a  Methodist that is now a Quaker) with respect - I suppose political discussions as well, if only that only the whole we avoid the subject entirely.  We have been through the death of parents that died early (The Director's mother at in high school), the ones that died a little later (Both The Director's and Uisdean Ruadh's fathers), and now the decline of those that remain (A Mathair na hUisdean Ruadh, TB The Elder, and Mom).  When I had to move from Old Home to New Home, one of the last celebrations anyone had for us was when both of them came down for my birthday.

We have managed to do this is a world that for many years was much less "connected" than it is now (letters were a thing once upon a time and phones were tied to the wall) and in a modern world where too often we are more likely to abandon friendships than maintain them.  We have done this across thousands of miles, in some cases when contact may have been months separated at a time.

When we get together - and fortunately it has become more frequent now that I am able to travel back - it is as if no time has slipped by at all.  The banter is the same as it ever was, the jokes as bad as they ever were (the only thing worse than a bad joke which is a running gag is one that extends across decades), and the memories are just as fun.  We talk about how our lives are going now and what we plan to do for the future.

It saddens me to think that not everyone has this opportunity.

There is a picture - taken some years back - of the three of us together at breakfast.  Thirty plus years has done work on all of us:  our faces are a little heavier, Uisdean Ruadh's flaming red hair has been mostly replaced by flaming pink skull and the rather full heads of hair on myself and The Director are sprinkled heavily (or more so in my case) with grey.  But the eyes are still as bright and nerdish as ever and what cannot be conveyed directly by the camera, the companionship and memories and frankly just fun, is just as fresh as ever.

We had decided to do some sort of celebration before the recent issue with Uisdean Ruadh's housing so we have put that on hold for a bit.  But we will do something to celebrate, even if it is a silly as "40 Stops for Food".  

I am grateful for their friendship and look forward to 40 more years.

PostScript:  In speaking with Uisdean Ruadh last night, he related to me that his mother's doctor has recommended she go on hospice.  It is not the end of the world as that might have been (TB the Elder was recently removed from hospice after a year), but a concerning sign - especially given all that is going on in their lives.  Your prayers for her health and his peace of mind are greatly appreciated.