Wednesday, June 29, 2022

On The (Business) Road Again

 For the first time in something like four years, I am on a business trip.

Once upon a time, many years ago - and by "many years" I mean prior to the Great Recession of 2008 and even farther back, 2001 - business travel in my line of work was simply a thing that was done on a regular basis.  Needed to audit a facility?  Business trip.  Needed to release a product?  Also, business trip.  Needed to assess a potential vendor or make second contact?  More often than not, business trip.

Then, of course, the world happened:  The Towers fell.  The money dried up as companies collapsed. And then, most recently, most travel stopped altogether.

And now, here we are.

Business travel is one of those things that seems exciting and mysterious when other people do it, but can become common place and frankly somewhat of an inconvenience when it becomes a regular state of affairs (yes, I understand there are some people that thrive on such things; I am not one of them).  Beyond the current inconvenience of the travel itself (and if you are a person that lives by schedules as I do, it can qualify as an inconvenience), there is simply the fact that business travel is short and to the point and creates its own amount of additional work.

An example:  On this trip, I will literally be in the location I am going to for 27 hours or so, some portion of that that will be covered be sleep, another by meals, and a smaller part by the actual trip itself.  Meanwhile of course, my "regular" job does not go away and the day after that will likely be me pouring through e-mails trying to catch up.

Of course, nothing beats meeting people and seeing sites by going in person and to that end - no matter what else happens - the trip will be a success, even if in the end the business is not pursued:  if a picture is worth a thousand words, then seeing a site and meeting the people is at least a thousand pictures.  And to that extent, if one trip makes a bevy of teleconferences and e-mails unnecessary, it is to that extent a useful endeavor.

Is this the beginning of a new era of business travel, at least for me?  I have no idea.  Business travel remains a very expensive option, especially compared to the aforementioned teleconferences and e-mails - and if the last two years have demonstrated anything, it is that such things can be effectively done remotely.   I suspect there will be a bit more - after all, that thousand pictures and all - but I suspect that, like holiday parties of old that were the equivalent of Roman Triumph, the era of the casual constant business travel has passed as well.

Which, perhaps, is for the better, at least for me.  After all, the rabbits do miss me.

Tuesday, June 28, 2022

On Foolishness, Ignorance, Idealism, And Walking Back A Post

 Originally, today's post was my semi-annual "plea for a peaceful separation" post, which I usually seem to put after significant political happenings.

I wrote it.  I prepared to post it.  And then I walked it back.

It is not that I do not believe in it.  I still do. But as I thought about what I had wrote, I realized that at this point, pleas for thoughtful consideration are as dust blowing in the wind.

I do not write this with any great sense of pleasure - the historian in me sees where things are leading, and where they are leading is nowhere people - thinking people - want to be. And while part of me frets about the sorts of things that come out of this, and part of me is angry (truly) at those on both sides that flippantly discuss the option as if it were a video game where - if things go badly - we can just restart it, neither of those particularly serves a useful purpose.  Because - to quote the Elder Von Moltke - "No plan of operation extends with certainty beyond the first encounter with the enemy's main strength", and there are plenty of ways the "match of the century" for either side can go terribly wrong.

In the past I have been noted as being "foolish" or "ignorant of the times" or - the one I am most proud of -  an "idealist".  I accept this badges with honor, although I will dispute that I am neither foolish nor ignorant of the times - I am quite aware of what is going on; it seems that sometimes very few see where this is actually going, not the fantasy of where people think it is going.  

To that end, I will continue in my foolish, ignorant, and idealist ways.  Hopefully, at least here, come what may, you will find something divorced (on the whole) from ongoing events and perhaps even a thought or two. After all, outposts of civilization are becoming rare indeed.  To whatever end may come, this will remain one.

Here, at least, Don Quixote continues to charge at windmills with every hope of success.

Monday, June 27, 2022

Free Wood

In my post-arrival talk with The Cowboy, we always chat about things that have gone on since my last visit:  how the garden is going, how the cattle are doing, any repairs or improvements underway, anything that has gone wrong.  During our discussion this month, he mentioned a friend of his was dropping brush by to put on the burn pile for next burn season (I mentioned I had seen the trailer).  He also mentioned the same friend had a load of firewood he did not need.  The Cowboy did not need it either, but had the thought to just drop it off in front of our woodshed.  Would I be interested in it?

Free firewood?  Of course I am.

Here is the pile:

It was an odd mix of pine, oak, cedar, and even some other woods I could not identify.  The length of the logs was highly variable, which makes me suspect it was a combination of multiple exercises in wood cutting, perhaps even some clearing after our Winter storms.

The woodshed when I started:

Stacking firewood is a rather pleasant task.  It keeps the hands busy at a level that allows thought and engages the mind at a low enough level that one can do the work and think or ponder on other issues - quite unlike the work I do now, which has no physical involvement and completely consumes the mind.

Stacking after Day one:

As I was in no hurry, the activity took  me about an hour a day after work.  My work pace was steady - after all, I just had to be done by the end of the week.  The work was in the shade of oak and pine trees, so it made it a pleasantly temperate task as well.

Stacking after Day two:

Whoever had collected the work had left a lot of smaller pieces in there as well - I effectively collected all the kindling I will need for a long time from what was in the pile, and ended up leaving a great deal of it on the ground as I simply ran out of room.  With newspaper here coming less and less easily (since my parents obviously no longer get the paper), I collect the local grocery advertisements and save them), it will become crucial in Fall and Winter.

Stacking after Day three:

By my count, this is a bit above a cord of wood - and at the current rate I am here and how much I burn, will last me quite a while.

 Out of curiosity, I checked in the local area here for pricing.  Prices ran anywhere from $700 for three cords of unsplit wood to $150 for a sixth of a cord split.  I have no idea what the actual value of this is and it probably fluctuates depending on where one is:  given the Winter we had this last year, I suspect our local area is awash in wood, not so much in the more urban parts.  No matter what it is running, it was - to us - free.  All it cost us was about three hours of work.

Reason #343 why The Ranch is a magical place:  up here, things like this still happen.

Sunday, June 26, 2022

Loving Humility

 "At some thoughts a man stands perplexed, above all at the sight of human sin, and he wonders whether to combat it by force or by humble love.  Always decide:  'I will combat it by humble love.'  If you resolve on that once for all, you can conquer the whole world.  Loving humility is a terrible force:  It is the strongest of all things, and there is nothing else like it".

- Starets Zosima, The Brothers Karamazov (Fyodor Dostoevsky), as quoted in The Orthodox Way  (Kallistos Ware)

Saturday, June 25, 2022

Beginning To Sort

This visit to The Ranch, I was able to do a little bit of cleaning and disposal.

It has been a rather long road to get here.

It is certainly not as if I am under the illusion that my parents will ever be able to come back here.  I am not.  Both of my parents are now at the point that they need 24 hour care:  TB The Elder cannot walk at all with assistance and my mother needs constant supervision.  This is the reality we now live with.

That said, coming up and starting to "clean things out" has been a challenge.

Part of the challenge, frankly, is that we are our schedule, not any need to clear out the home and sell it.  Part of the challenge is that they really do not have a lot of "junk" that can be easily disposed of; my father was an antique collector and thus most of the things in this house actually have value.

But the biggest part, I suspect, is simply me. 

I tend attach feelings to things. I always have.  Objects are not just inherently objects; they are imbued with the memories and associations of those that were around them.  It is true for the things that I retain in my house, and it is true of the things that are.

Many of the things in the house are things that came after we had moved - but they were here every time that we visited, so in a sense they "belong" here.  Other things - a surprising amount - are things that I remember from my own childhood as being in our house.  These are even harder to contemplate getting rid of, as they are sometimes handmade or have deep associations with my parents.

But over a year has passed now since my parents have left here.  And in small ways, I am starting to clear things out.

I was confident enough this week that I went ahead and got rid of all of the church related directories and phone books.  The directories are all old and most of the people in them have passed away; the phone books for our rural area are very small indeed.  I completely cleaned out a couple of drawers and sort of organized things for disposal.

It is not much of a start.  But in my mind, it is a start.  I have reached the point where the immediacy of my parents' presence here is gone and I can, in a somewhat clinical manner, begin to assess what can go, what should stay, and what (hopefully) I will likely have need of when we move here as well.

It still bothers me a bit, though:  I stand in the midst of 80 + years of life and living and saving and collecting and in some meaningful way, I have become the arbitrator of value.  It is not a comfortable position.

Friday, June 24, 2022

Lights Of Dawn


Moon and morning star

hide behind the pine needles:

astral fireflies

Thursday, June 23, 2022

June Wildflowers Of The Ranch

 In my posting of pictures of wildflowers from my recent hike, I realized that I had not been giving equal love to the wild flowers here at The Ranch.  In point of fact they are just as beautiful as the ones I saw in the mountains, and these were all seen on the 0.5 mile walk from the house to the paved road.  

It strikes me as odd how often I do not notice them as I drive in.  In commenting to Leigh, I noted that walking allowed me the time to really notice them - is this just another appreciation that technology has changed for us?


Wednesday, June 22, 2022


One of the habits that I continue to work on is my walks in the morning.  Part of it is simply that I need the exercise.  Part of it is that Poppy The Brave also needs the exercise. Part of it, as I have written about, is that it helps me to think.  And part of it, with a big hike coming up in August, is that I just need to get in more training time.

Walks here at The Ranch are always an ever evolving practice.  The range of sunrise and sunset is much more varied here, and some of the times when I might want to walk - evening, for example, carry with them the very real presence of things larger than me looking for a meal.

And so I walk most often in the morning.

Early morning here carries with it a lot of silence.  The sound of cars has not yet invaded the space, nor is there the sound of the inevitable aircraft that will eventually make their way in the skies overhead.  The flight path they follow is the flight path I sometimes end up taking when I fly back here.  I continue to look for The Ranch from above, but somehow always seem to be on the wrong side of the plane when we are passing overhead.

The air has a certain luminescence some mornings - like this one - that I can fully explain or describe.  It may simply be that we are in the final transitions from Spring to Summer - it is late June, and that is usually when I associate Summer starting.  We are in the midst of one last cool spell before the coming of what will be the Summer heat.  The last of the native grasses will dry up and off and the vernal streams will finish their annual runs and disappear.  By the time I return next month, likely this walk will be surrounded with brown.

The wildflowers of Spring continue their appearance, cycling in and out through my monthly visits.  The picture to the left is what I know as Tarweed, a low lying scrub brush.  I have distinct memories as a young boy being with TB The Elder and my Great Uncle - the one who originally bought the land with my Great Aunt.  My Great Uncle was doing a controlled burn; I remember a can dripping with fire as he set the the Tarweed alight.  He knew about controlled burns and practiced them long before they were a thing.

Every time I see the bloom of Tarweed, I think of him, a gentle man who really only ever wanted to manage cattle.  He played the fiddle and always smelled faintly of something I never could identify growing up; it was only years later I realized it was hand rolled tobacco.

My walks here have a rhythm and rhyme to them; after all, no matter how much I may enjoy the walking I still have to get back to start the workday, so I do not go quite as far as I might or should.  I keep thinking about ways I could extend them.  I can go down this path and continue up to the main road, or make the large outer loop that surrounds our property.  Always at the back of my mind is the nagging sense that I have to get back to "the real world", so I usually turn back before I would like to.  The only way to increase this is to get up earlier, something I have not been able to quite bring myself to do, yet.

As I make my return, the world is starting to wake up.  I hear the cry of roosters from surrounding homes as I make my way back.  There was time - not so long ago - when those noises were much rarer than they are now.  People are creeping in.  

But even as they creep in - at least these people - they still follow the rules of the road.  Everyone is respectful of property, closing gates and going around where needed.  People still wave as they drive by, at least on this little part of the road.  And good neighbors around always make for help when things go awry, as they sometimes can out in the real world where a neighbor is far closer than civilization.
The morning birds chirp away as I make my return, singing me back to the house and the computer desk (although I am only an accidental recipient of their trills; they likely see me only as another moving object to be avoided until I pass). A squirrel, invisible in the tree above me, chitters away in anger as I pass, yet lacks the dash or bravery to make an appearance, preferring to heap scorn upon me at at distance.  The cows in the pasture are starting their morning conversation.

Inside, the coffee, warm and dark and full of its own sort of mystery, awaits.

Tuesday, June 21, 2022

Gone Hiking II - Wildflowers

We were blessed with a multiplicity and variety of wildflowers on our hike.  Enjoy!

Monday, June 20, 2022

Gone Hiking II

This past weekend The Outdoorsman and I took the second of our three training hikes.  In this case we started much higher (6,400 feet/1950 meters) and ended much higher (8100 feet/ 2468 meters).

Also very different from last month's hike, there was lots of water.  We had to do several almost marsh walks and one creek forwarding (about up to ankle level).

As we climbed, the scenery got more stark.

And there was snow!

We camped overnight an Alpine lake.  It was beautiful, but cold with the wind - we basically got there, put up our tents, made dinner, and then got into our sleeping bags.

The next morning when we got up, our shoes had frozen.  After a little discussion, we elected to turn around and go back.  The total hike was about 14.5 miles.

All things being equal, I think I enjoyed this hike more for the scenery.  Hiking in green always seems better than hiking in brown.


Sunday, June 19, 2022

Proclamation and Recovery of Joy

 "From its very beginning, Christianity has been the proclamation of joy, of the only possible joy on earth...Without the proclamation of this joy Christianity is incomprehensible.  It is only as joy that the Church was victorious in the world and it lost the world when it lost the joy, when it lost its witness of it.  Of all accusations against Christians, the most terrible one was uttered by Nietzsche when he said that Christians had no joy...'For behold, I bring you tidings of great joy' - thus begins the Gospel, and its end is: 'And they worshipped him and returned to Jerusalem with great joy...' (Luke 2:10; 24:52).  And we must recover the meaning of this great joy." 

- Father Alexander Schmemann, as quoted in The Orthodox Way (Kallistos Ware)

Saturday, June 18, 2022

Eyes And Scallops

 The yellow flowers,
staring at a blue sky,
watch clouds rise like waves

Friday, June 17, 2022

Preconceptions in Serving God - Finale

 Thank you very much for sticking with me as I walked through this excursus to what I normally post.  It has been good for me to revisit these things, even if I bit painful. In some cases, these are the first time I have formally revisited these since they occurred and for the original rejection of entering the ministry, this is something that has been a hidden sore point for over twenty years.

Sensibly of course, let me start with the beginning as the end.

The sermon series our church started last week was on the book of Jonah.  You will remember Jonah:  Minor Old Testament prophet whose story makes just about every children's Sunday School class ever (and made for great flannelgraphs, back in the day) and at least one full length feature ("Jonah:  A  Veggie Tales Movie").  It is famous enough that the concept of "being swallowed by a whale" has entered the public consciousness.

As you may recall from your Flannelgraph days, Jonah was  prophet that was active in the Northern Kingdom of Israel circa 8th Century B.C.  Israel at this this - "The 10 Northern Tribes" - had not followed the Davidic line of succession and in fact had (as state policy) abandoned God, although God had not abandoned them.  One of their great adversaries - really of all the the region - was the Empire of Assyria, centered in Nineveh.

So when (in the first chapter of Jonah) God commands Jonah to go to Nineveh to preach repentance, he does a very human thing: he immediately says no and heads the opposite direction (literally).  Not surprising for most of us, pretty surprising for an acknowledged prophet of God, and about the only example of a prophet specifically telling God "Nope".

Why?  We find out later in the book, but Jonah is afraid that he knows God all too well and that if Jonah preaches repentance, the Assyrians will repent (which, of course, they do; long term we do not find out beyond the immediate how Jonah felt about this later in life).  And that is not what Jonah believes should happen. They were enemies (to be fair, they were really awful people) and deserved punishment, not mercy.  And so, as Jonah's interpretation of his task is not to preach repentance to God's enemies, he takes a trip.

In other words, Jonah has decided how he will serve God, not how God wishes him to serve.

God is God of course, and so after a storm, getting thrown overboard and swallowed by a giant sea creature and spending three days in its digestive track, God gives Jonah a second shot.  He is thrown up on the beach and gets the same command:  Go to Nineveh and preach repentance.  This time, Jonah accepts his task, undoubtedly smellier and far more blanched for his troubles (although still pretty grumpy about extending mercy to the enemies of his nation-state). 

This concept - determining how he would serve God, not how God wished him to serve - was what caught my attention and made me think.

I have  (we probably all do) conceptions about things we are good and skilled at, places that our talents and gifts intersect with reality.  It is sensible that we would seek out careers and hobbies that we enjoy and are in some way good at; should that not be the same in how we serve God?

It can be, of course:  great singers are great singers no matter what they sing and great teachers are often great teachers in many subjects.  But ultimately we serve at the pleasure of God, not the other way around.

I certainly am not suggesting that we should not explore how we can serve, or that our service may overlap our gifts.  But what is apparent - at least for me - is that when I start to determine how I will best serve God, I may be putting myself in a position where God has to, first of all, remind me Who is in charge.

Which is a lesson one ought to learn.  Getting vomited forth back on the beach multiple times can become a smelly, fishy business.

Thursday, June 16, 2022

Preconceptions In Serving God III

 The third story in what has apparently become a trilogy is a little more vague in terms of dating in my mind - not so much that I do not remember the event clearly, but that I do not remember the moment where the realization hit.

The year (likely) was 2011 or maybe even  2012.  We had, again, changed up our lives:  we had since relocated to New Home.  Na Clann were all now in school, attending a K-8 Christian school with an attached church.  Membership got one a decreased tuition, so of course we had joined.  It was a flavor (a more conservative flavor, perhaps unsurprisingly) of our previous denomination (the one that had suggested teaching was a better option).   It was much more established with a formal clergy and elective board. 

But they did have a music ministry.

I felt relatively comfortable in music - I had been involved with music since the sixth grade instrumentally and vocally, had performed as an adult in a music duo and a group, and had spent 4 years performing on the Worship Team at our previous church.  There was  not really a formal process at the new church - one just simply got "asked" - but somehow I managed to get myself "asked".

And so, I joined the 11 AM Worship team.

In my previous Worship Team incarnation, I had performed literally every Sunday.  Here it was much more of an "on-again, off-again" schedule.  But I was more than happy to do it.  I was feeling as if I was serving.

Relevant to what happens next, it is important to know that I love to sing.  I tend to sing loudly - perhaps too loudly, in the view of some.  And while I love to sing, I almost completely lack the ability to harmonize - at all.  I can carry a tune well and even to some extent by ear, but that is only the melody.  Finally, I have an arguably limited range - upper bass to low baritone, perhaps 1.5 octaves.  Within my range, I am great.  Outside of my range, things become iffy.

The service was a Christmas service.  The song was Veni, Veni Emmanuel (O Come, O Come Emmanuel). I was excited when I saw the listing.  I knew this song.  I loved this song.  I loved the fact it had Latin verses (which I could pronounce and sing).  I loved that it was - squarely - within my range.

But during rehearsal that week, a couple of things became evident.  The first was that the arrangement was not the standard key; it was higher.  The second was that the decision had been made that I was going to solo.

I tried to suggest - mildly - that singing with someone else would have been better.  We practiced with two people singing the part - and even then, my voice was starting to crack like a 13 year old.

But Sunday came.  And on that Sunday, I soloed. 

Was it terrible?  No, it was not a train wreck.  Was it great?  Also no - I could hear myself straining and reaching and not quite hitting the upper notes (incredibly frustrating for a song that, if it was in the original key, I knew I could sing).

We finished.  The Ravishing Mrs. TB made some kind comments.  We packed up and went home to celebrate the season of Christmas.

And that was the last time I was ever asked to sing.

It did not hit me at first - after all, things were on a rotation.  But after 3-4 months of waiting, including having very small groups of singers when I was obviously there, even I got the hint.

My service after that - up to the time that we ended up leaving to switch to the church my wife worked at - was limited to communion service as requested.  I never asked about why nor was I ever told.  Even after the person in charge of that function left his position, I did not bring it up.

I completely understand not having someone with a skill do that skill.  The only thing that ever bothered me about the situation was it was fairly clear during rehearsal that I could not hit that note, yet I was put in a position where I was supposed to do it.   If this was something important - a time of war or a "Sing Or Die" moment, perhaps?  But for a typical Sunday service?  That seemed, well, a bit like a proverbial "Hail Mary", or a reason to ask someone to step aside without doing so.

The lesson - combined with the other two - stuck well enough:  when we became members and started attending our current church, I carefully looked at options and selected the ones that involved minimum public exposure:  making coffee and setting up after hours.  Both were within my wheelhouse of skills.  And both involved no risk of personal investment being wasted or simply being shuffled to the side without comment.  

Service in silence, it seemed, was the true calling.

Wednesday, June 15, 2022

Preconceptions In Serving God II

 By 2007, our world had changed significantly.

My choice in industry was largely cemented since 1999 (Biopharmaceutical/Medical Devices).  I had changed jobs in the industry to Quality, which had allowed a number of things, including purchasing a home not once, but twice in the intervening 8 years.  We had added to our family (Nighean Bhan and Nighean Dhonn arriving in that space of time).  I had started and failed a business (The Firm).

We had also joined another church. 

In this case it was non-denominational church which had split (we followed the split).  By going, we got to see the construction of a church from a "we are in a gym" phase to "we are getting offices" phase, watching structure and form materialize.  And having been there are long as we were, we slowly integrated ourselves into ministry:  I was on the worship team practically every Sunday and had been asked to lead a small group (they have various names, but basically a group of 10-12 people that meet once a week for study and fellowship).  We had been - twice - to the large conference that served as much as anything as a denominational meeting.

And then, in last part of 2006, I was asked if I be willing to train as a deacon.

Well of course I would.  

And so I started a training with one of the elders, meeting with him weekly as we went through a book and study guide (How To Be A Deacon, or some such title).  The study rolled on through the end of 2006 to 2007.  Things were going rather swimmingly.  I was serving, leading, and on the path to some level of leadership in the church.

Until 26 February 2007.

That morning was a meeting with the elder at Starbuck's, as they had been for the last 5 months or so.  I got out my book and workbook, ready to go.  "We should set that aside today" was the response "I lost track of where we were".

He then explained to me that following the elder's retreat that previous weekend, the elders had talked about everyone in the deacon program, including me.  The decision had be made to discontinue me in the program.

The reasoning behind it was unclear, or at least it remains unclear in my notes.  He could not specifically tell me what had changed between the previous August and the previous weekend, only that things had changed, sometime in November or December.

My service was still welcomed of course.  My small group could continue, but it would not longer be advertised as possibility for new members (thus, of course, eventually dooming it to extinction)  - approved, but not sanctioned as it were.  In terms of restarting the process - there was no path forward.  Out of the running now meant, it seemed, out of the running forever.

We chatted some more, made a commitment to meet the following week and start some other study.  He went on his way, and I left for work.  A 40 minute commute, so I had plenty of time to think.

In retrospect - at the time and even now, as I re-read the entry and reflected - the biggest thing that bothered me was the complete lack of feedback.  Somehow something changed, and no-one said anything or asked about it at the time. I even went so far as to call the pastor (a friend then, still a friend now) and express my complaint that while I did not question they had the right to decide as they did, I did question the fact that no-one talked to me about it when the first were concerned about it.  

Initially after the conversation, I was numb.  As it went on, and I moved past my "Why did no-one say anything?", I was crushed - two times in less than 10 years, I had essentially started and been set aside.  It made for a long, lonely drive to work.

And with that, any further actions for any sort of leadership in the church - any church - were finished. It was clear to me at least that not only had a door been closed, it had been locked up, boarded up and bolted on the other side.

The small group continued on after that, dwindling in size over time until it was just us and one other couple - to be fair, we were friends (our children were similar in ages) and so that Sunday evening became as much of a social event as it was a study.  I continued to prepare for it as I would if there were 20 people there.  Perhaps it acted a sop to my conscience, but it still allowed me - at some level - to feel like I was contributing.  It continued on from that time forward all the way through 2009, when we moved to New Home, a sort of last morning mist that finally dissipates in heat of the morning sun.

Tuesday, June 14, 2022

Preconceptions In Serving God I

When I was younger, I thought I was meant to be a pastor.

This came about sometime in my post college years.  I cannot say that I was specifically "called" - after all, if God speaks (and I believe He can), I do not not know that I have heard him in that way - but it was a strong a feeling as I had experienced about something.

In the early '90's, I started the process (sort of pre-stage 1), but it went nowhere.  The feeling persisted and I formally followed through in the Fall of 1998 and Spring of 1999.  As part of that process for the denomination I was in at the time, we were required to undergo a three day processes of intensive testing and some level of psychoanalysis to make sure that we "fit" the profile of a successful pastor. 

I did not pass the test.

My intent was noble, of course, but the meeting with the main assessor and the accompanying letter (a fairly thick one) suggested that I as I was prone to depression and needed to work through that.   They suggested more counseling and maybe pursuing an alternative career, like a Ph.D. in Classical Studies and a career in teaching.  Only after that work related to depression was done (and proven) and the degree and teaching experience demonstrated (perhaps) should I consider re-applying for the ministry.

I had felt career devastation before, when I failed the first round of the Foreign Service Exam in 1993.  That was nothing compared to what I read in the report that was delivered to my door (and was forwarded to the synod).  It is one thing to have a governmental body think you should not move forward.  It is another to have an organization which is some way represents your God and your beliefs list you as "not recommended".

However, the process was not over.  Even though I had their formal recommendation not to advance me, I still had to complete the process of going to the synod meeting and getting formally rejected.  The drive there was bad enough.  The drive back was worse, not so much that I did not know what was coming (I did) as it was that one was not simply washed out at the evaluation phase and could simply withdraw; I had to go and get formally rejected although everyone knew that was what was going to happen anyway.

The analysis suggestion, of course, was interesting but completely unrealistic. Did I struggle with depression?  I did (still do, in some ways).  But I was in my mid-30's, we recently had our first daughter, and I was working as a manufacturing tech at a medical device company.  A four year program to go into the ministry would have been difficult, but at least there was a pathway and plan.  A four to six year program with limited to no income and no firm job at the end was another.

(One could always attend seminary, of course.  It was just that there would be no job at the end of the process, making it an expensive "study for fun" exercise.)

I write that because it has come to my attention that perhaps in some way, my involvement with and interaction with churches has been, at some level trying to disprove that assessment.- or said another way, me trying to prove to myself and God that this was the sort of role I was meant to fill.

Was not moving forward in the ministry the right outcome?  Certainly even if I had somehow been allowed to continue (our pastor at the time, who had recommended me, made a formal complaint to the synod), I would likely have had to separate from the church at some point as it and I went very different ways.  and there is enough water under my bridge now that I can more fully understand some of things that a pastor does - and frankly, I likely would not be good at them.

But the ultimate assessment came down not to whether I felt I had a call or not (perhaps debatable at best).  What it came down to is whether people thought, not that I had a call, but rather that I would be a success in that position based as much or more on my mental state (real or perceived) than any sort of calling.

What if my involvement - my coming in and going away and in some ways, my stand-offishness to more involvement in any of the churches I have been in - is not fully a thing of my seeking right or holiness but my simple sin and my anger and resentment about being "denied" the calling that I thought I had, and instead one long march in proving them - and perhaps - God wrong, and myself right?

Monday, June 13, 2022

Learning Home Repairs

 I am not a fan of self done home repairs.

This seems to stem from a couple of places.  The first is simply that I am not very skilled with my hands.  I never have been, really.  As a result, my repairs seem to take longer and are not nearly as good looking as they always seem to be in pictures or by experts.  The other is, frankly, they always seem to "almost" work, but not quite truly work.  

I was never much of a mechanically oriented person growing up.  Part of it was that I tended to read more than I did other things, part of it was the fact that working with my hands was not something I really enjoyed.  I did a little bit of "building" things when I was young - I suppose most boys did, once upon a time - but it never really stuck with me the way it should.

But now, enter the wonderful world of homeownership, inflation, and a labor shortage.  In some very real ways, there is no longer a choice in the matter.

This weekend, I changed a toilet fill valve that was leaking.  I had never done it before but found a video or two on The Tube of You (for this sort of thing, videos are without peer), watched it a couple of times, and then went ahead with it.  That I can tell, the toilet still fills and there are no leaks as of this morning.

As I went out into the back yard, I noticed the some of the facing on the concrete steps to the patio had peeled away (finalized due to the heat, I think).  I have a little other concrete work around that needs to be done.  I look on-line - again, looks like something that (with a little care and careful watching) I can do.

There are lots of things I will still refuse to do - plumbing, for example, is just a good way to have water damage later and I will happily pay my very good plumber to come do the work for me.  But in point of fact I actually have to not just start learning to do this sorts of things, but feel confident in doing them.

Which is really the thing, of course:  I can do them, but I lack the confidence to believe I can do them.  Which is in turn fixed by only one thing:  doing them.

Sunday, June 12, 2022

Author And Creator

 O Thou who coverest thy high places with the waters,

Who settest the sand as a bound to the sea

And dost uphold all things:

The sun sings thy praises,

The moon gives the glory,

Every creature offers a hymn to thee,

His author and creator, for ever.

- Lenten Triodion

Saturday, June 11, 2022

Solitude And Standards

One of the greatest difficulties - for ourselves and others - is when we change ourselves.

The variables, I assume, are the nature of the change and the nature of the relationship.  For example, I can make a very minor change - say, deciding I will no longer eat potatoes.  To my coworkers and passing acquaintances, it will likely never come up.  For my friends, it may come up in odd ways, like if we go to dinner and in ordering a burger, I do not order fries (which, to be clear, is a tragedy and a farce; this is only an example).  For my family with whom I eat, it likely becomes a point of discussion when I either I keep suggesting recipes that do not include potatoes or my not eating potatoes results in a great many more potato leftovers for someone else to deal with.

Potatoes are a pretty benign (but tasty) example.  Try something a little more challenging, like a change in standards or beliefs or how one views the world.  Suddenly "Would you like fries with that?" is the least of my worries.

Most people tend to not not be the stereotypical Exerciser about whom the joke:  "How do you know someone does X- exercise program?  Because they tell you two minutes into the conversation."  We go about our lives - work, family, relational, personal, spiritual - without necessarily needing to explain every aspect of our beliefs.  

But not explaining, of course, is not the same as practicing them.

As we modify our standards or beliefs or world views, they have an impact on our lives.  We may not be willing to argue about something as much as we used to.  We may choose to do other things.  We may adopt practices - exercising or fasting or a prayer rule - that we go about in place of something else.

Inherently given long enough, this things start to create diversions in our lives.  The basic example is, of course, the alcoholic that no longer drinks.  Such things go both ways, of course:  the recovering alcoholic does not want or need the temptation, and the former alcoholics friends no longer find the alcoholic as "fun" (to be fair, in my own experience the drunk were hilarious at 24.  Not so much now.).  And so, naturally over time, a separation occurs.

There is no reason not to be kind or pleasant, of course - kindness and pleasantness costs absolutely nothing other than time and avoid a lot of senseless encounters and conversations.  But as we go, we find that there is a falling away of sorts - and frankly, it often does leave a greater solitude in its wake.

Our society hates solitude.  For many, I suppose it is uncomfortable (for the introvert, as I am, it is not a problem at all).  But our society has a message that we need to be connected all the time - somehow, someway.  

Solitude is a problem for modern society in any number of ways:  it promotes thought, it strengthens individuality, it makes us internally stronger - the man or woman who can do something for themselves or be alone by themselves has a power that the masses do not.  In a way, solitude is very dangerous - thus, it is only encouraged in very specific ways in the current societal paradigm: A three day "retreat" is okay.  Living one's life as a retreat is not.

I should therefore not be surprised that as I continue to refine my beliefs and practices and (for me, anyway) my religion, I find less of things and people, not more.  The more one climbs, the fewer the climbers - but the more expansive the view.


Thursday, June 09, 2022

A Passing Thought And 12 Years

 One of the...not precisely "dangers", but perhaps "risks"...of Social Media with people that you knew once upon a time but only see online or not at all, is that the mind tends to run down the paths of "back then".

For example, a random viewing of a former acquaintance (because somehow their name had popped into my mind) led me to path of where I had met them, which ended up being 12 years ago.  When I say that, 12 years really does not sound like that long of a time to me - which is a surprising personal response, because it is about a 22%  slice of my life at this point.  One in five are not terrible odds - unless you are talking about time, of course.

12 years ago, we were here in New Home less than a year.  Na Clann were all much younger of course, and things like Middle School or High School were still far in the future.  We lived in the rental house we found when we first came here, and had Syrah The Brave, Bella the Bunny, and Midnight the Rescue Bunny.  The Ravishing Mrs. TB was still doing some sort of direct marketing on the side, but was largely involved in driving children hither and yon and volunteering for their various things.

12 years ago, I did not really enjoy what I was doing for a living (ah, how little has changed).

12 years ago, I had less than a year studying Iaijutsu.  I had been to one seminar with the head of our school had realized that I was probably not a marital artist (in this case, a great deal changed:  not so much that I am a martial artist, but at least I kept with it in a way that I did not imagine possible).  

12 years ago, life felt a lot simpler to me.  I suspect that in point of fact it was not simpler, but only seemed so because some things had not manifested themselves as they did today and pressures of the outside world were kept at bay, at least in our household.  Over time of course, that becomes harder to do - while I would like life to remain Littlest Pet Shops and Narnia, it never works out that way.

12 years ago, I have never had the thought of Alzheimer's in my family and I had real, long conversations with TB The Elder And Mom; in fact, I think they had come to visit us that Easter.

12 years ago I talked and interacted with a group of people of which most of the relationships have passed into the wind.  For a few, we still touch base from time to time or pop in on Social Media platforms.  Others have simply passed into the wind of memory - not that they have necessarily died (a few have, of course) as much as they have traveled beyond the Event Horizon of my own life just as, I suspect, I have traveled beyond the Event Horizon of their lives as well.

12 years ago, different decisions lay in front of me that I did not realize at the time I would have to make than the ones that lay in front of me today.  In some cases I chose well, in other cases I chose poorly.  In either case, the decision was made and the thing passed into history:  doors opened, doors closed, in some cases doors were boarded up and then burned to the ground.  

Did I do wrong in those 12 years?  Probably.  It is hard to keep track of every decision made, every choice exercised, every opportunity exercised - or missed.  And were all of us from that 12 years ago to come together now, I suspect we would scarcely recognize each other - physically yes, but not in our hearts and minds.  Having been apart from each other so long, we simply are different people that in some cases can no longer do no more than pass the time speaking of weather and food.

12 years of itself can cover a lot of ground:  from birth to almost individuality, from teenager to some form adult (fully functioning or not), from free spirited adult to responsible parental or career adult.  And then we reach here, from responsible parental or career adult to...?  I really have no idea what comes next.

How odd:  a slice of time that seems not so long ago - and yet, seems to be lifetime.

Wednesday, June 08, 2022

Evening Dog Walks

One of the changes that happens when I am home alone is that I become responsible for all the walks with Poppy The Brave.

Our usual practice is to go for a walk every morning after I have read, prayed, and calisthenicized. She also usually gets an evening walk as well provided by one of Na Clann.  When there is no-one here, of course, this also falls to me.

In Summer it only makes sense to walk at night, both to protect puppy foot pads from hot concrete and for the somewhat vain hope that it will be somehow noticeably cooler (it never seems to be, no matter how much I hope).  Later is better from both a concrete cooling and "less people out walking" perspective, so often we will wait until 2100 or later to start.

By that time, most of the normal people living their lives have gone inside; only the occasional dog walker like myself is out, likely with the same ideas on dog feet and general temperature.  It certainly cuts any need to converse or even acknowledge to a minimum, just a general awareness to float to the other side of the street as needed to avoid unpredictable dog encounters (or, I suppose, unpredictable human encounters, or even the predictable ones).

Dark here is not like dark at The Ranch: the dark there is truly the dark of night when the moon is not up, with only the stars giving light.  Here it serves more as a backdrop to the pooled streetlamps and darkened houses with their windows lit.  The occasional car passes, a late night driver on their way somewhere effectively after hours, their identities and appearances reduced to blocky shapes, moving lights, and the whoosh of the air as they drive by.

As we walk and turn through the streets, the flicker of air conditioning units cycling off and on make a steady and predictable back beat to our footsteps.  Random sprinklers sound as we go by:  sometimes one can see and move around them, sometimes they are hidden in darkness and one can hear the sound but not see the outer spray until it strikes one in the foot - or face.  Motion sensor lights flash on as we pass, hyperactive sentinels that - in these early hours of darkness - probably attract the same amount of attention as a car alarm did when they had become so common that no-one acted when one sounded; by contrast porch and window lights occasionally meander on and off.  We are walking early enough that people are, on the whole, not ready to fully surrender to the softness of sleep.

On a good night, there will be a breeze which will blow the air around - even when it is hot, it offers some illusion of relief.  It also sets the trees to blowing and creaking, which makes a nice backdrop as the two of us pad our way through the suburbs.  How the squirrels and birds, who likely shelter in the same trees overnight, feel about the wind is never revealed; at least in the morning when they appear on the back porch, they simply will not speak of it.

There are no great mysteries to be worked out walking in the neighborhood at night:  the traffic is predictable, and only the evening hares and the wandering toads proclaim that life is continuing on.  If there are great discoveries to be made about the universe, they are not apparent in the faded stars or gentle underlying hum of power and life that passes us as we continue on.

In a way, I suppose, it is really reflective of the modern life:  each of us small self contained, sealed units, visible only to passers-by as flickering lights and the hum of power, pools of life which are visible but unconnected in the continuing darkness.

Tuesday, June 07, 2022

A Collection Of Gamma World 1st Edition: Miniatures

Along the with publications mentioned yesterday, there were also miniatures produced for Gamma World 1st Edition.

The miniatures were produced by Grenadier, who also did many of the original Advanced Dungeon and Dragon miniature sets (The legendary "Gold Label" line).  They came in two styles:  Larger sets of 20 miniatures (2) and smaller "blister pack" sets (52).  They are also manufactured in good old 1980's lead (and people were concerned about licking lead paint walls at the time...)

The boxed sets consisted of two groups:  Denizens (the set above) and Adventurers (the set below) and were apparently selected on some random combination of what the originators thought were the coolest or most easiest to manufacture.

They also came packed in this handy blue foam.  Old Grenadier fans will recall this foam as it was great when it arrived, then degraded over time.  Which managed to get everywhere.

One of my boxes has the original flyer for the first Miniature painting contest at  DragonCon, which is a pretty cool piece of history (and pretty obscure).  

These sets are still pretty readily available on the InterWeb (largely eBay).  One can pick them up from anywhere between $90 and $325, depending on how desperate one is (I certainly did not pay the high end either time).

(Badders:  Mutant Badgers.  Handily armed with a series of medieval weapons) 

Blister packs (52) contained anywhere from two to six miniatures depending on the the nature of the miniature (generally, "human" sized miniatures were six, "larger than human" sized were two).  These had a much wider range in general than the boxed sets, ranging from different sorts of mutants to villagers (because even the 25th century needs villagers!) to robots and robot tankettes.

(Hoops (mutant rabbits), two of a blister pack.  Again, my favorite.  Also one of the hardest to find as they are snapped up almost immediately)

Blister packs are, on the whole, a great deal more rare. They tend to come in two categories:  Unopened (which people seem to believe somehow justifies a huge premium, because the market is mysteriously that big), and either in the pack opened or loose.  Of the 52 packs, I have maybe only ever seen 10-12 of them for sale ever. I  am not sure if this is a function of someone holding onto them for the lead content in the case of the Apocalypse or simply that they were much less produced overall and we have not yet cycled through that generation's "selling of the things".

(This is some kind of flying insect - Cal Then?  Soul Besh?  Blaash?  One of those.  It is a "giant" miniature and as such, actually might put a dent in an actual human).

You will note that all of the miniatures I have are unpainted.  Once upon a time (back in the long, long ago) I painted and enjoyed painting the AD&D miniatures (Grenadier and Ral Partha).  Now that I am older I now longer feel the need, partially because these are collectables (and even more so than my printed materials, might have a little bit of value) and partially because of the fact that by painting them, I  almost take away the potential of what they might look like in that I impose my own vision of what they should be.  The grey and/or primer color leaves the possibilities open.

A miniature manufacturer, Mirilton, bought the Grenadier molds in the 2018 timeframe.  I was pretty excited, as I was hopeful that they would bring some of the rarer blister packs back into production.  They did do a Kickstarter (which I participated in and got some of the Badders above), but really seem to have just concentrated on the AD&D line (specifically here, if you are so inclined).  I understand in that AD&D was far more popular than Gamma World was; that said, I am a little disappointed that they did not get anything else into production (again, Hoops would have been ideal).

Like my published materials, there is little point to any of this beyond personal satisfaction.  I do check on eBay to see what comes available but 95% of it is always the same thing:  the same miniatures which were broken out of the larger boxed sets (and I already own) and the occasional blister pack which is priced into the stratosphere.  Which is all really okay, of course:  because it does give me the potential of always finding the next blister pack just around the corner.

Sometimes, even with something so trivial, it is good to have something to look forward to.