Monday, October 31, 2022

The Great (Mallow) Pumpkin

Halloween should be rated as the second best candy holiday - the best, as it commonly known, is Easter:  jelly beans, Marshmallow Peeps, and Marshmallow Eggs are without compare (especially the Brach's jelly beans).  Other major candy holidays - Christmas, Valentine's Day - are at best pikers:  while Christmas is great for baked goods, all candies seem to revolve around some idea of mint and Valentine's Day offer nothing but candy crunchy hearts with random sayings I can barely read.

And, every year at Halloween, I eager anticipate the arrival of the best of all the Halloween candies:  The Mallow Pumpkin.

Reliably, these appear on or about the beginning of October and are gone by Halloween - which makes them the perfect seasonal candy to eat as it is a limited time bad habit (this year, sadly, many of our stores were out due to "The Great Mallow Pumpkin Crisis of 2022".  Fortunately, The Ravishing Mrs. TB was able to persevere, after fighting her way the the Zombie bite-sized candy hordes, was able to procure two bags).

To the inexperienced palate, one may believe these to be the same as Candy Corn.  This is an error.  Candy Corn is a similar candy, but definitely tastes different. And the size of the candy means that one does not get the full covering of the tongue and palate with the sugar laden manufactured goodness, merely bits and pieces of candy corn between the teeth and perhaps - perhaps - on the tongue.

Behold, the Mallow Pumpkin in all of its glory:

Perhaps it comes as no surprise that the above represents my daily ration.  I could easily eat an entire bag at one sitting (and perhaps this may have happened more than once).

Like everything else that is delicious and manufactured, there is a rather long list of ingredients that I partially understand:

But ignore all that, friends! Carpe Diem! - or perhaps, Carpe Mallow Pumpkin

After all, life is too short to not have one bad habit!

Sunday, October 30, 2022

Evening Hymn

We bless thee now, O my Christ, thou Word of God,
Light of light without beginning, Bestower of the Spirit, 
We bless thee, threefold light of undivided glory,
Thou has vanquished the darkness and brought forth the light,
to create everything in it.

Thou has given solidity to matter,
moulding the face of the world,
and the shape of its beauty therein.
Thou hast enlightened the human spirit,
endowing it with reasoning and wisdom.
Everywhere is to be found the reflection of eternal light,
so that in the light the human spirit
may find its splendour and become entirely light.

Thou has illuminated the sky with spangled lights,
The night and the day thou hast commanded to alternate in peace 
by giving them, for rule, brotherly love.
Night puts an end to the body's toil,
Day awakens us again to our work,
to our business that engrosses us.
But we are fleeing the darkness,
we are hastening to the day that never wanes,
to the day that will never know the sorrow of the dusk.

Grant to mine eyelids a light sleep,
that my voice remain not long dumb.
Thy creation shall keep watch to sing psalms with the angels,
May my sleep ever be peopled by thy presence...
Even parted from the body my spirit sings thy praise
O Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
To thee be glory and power
for ever and ever.

- Gregory Nazianzen (329 A.D. - 390 A.D.), Dogmatic Poems, as quoted in The Roots of Christian Mysticism by Olivier Clement

Saturday, October 29, 2022

On Silence And Noise

 One of the things most valuable to me when I come to The Ranch - both when my parents lived here and now when I am here by myself - is the quiet.

Inside the house - early now as I write this - there is nothing but the sound of the refrigerator running, the clocks ticking, and the hiss and pop of the wood stove as the fire burns.  Were I to have the doors open as I did earlier in the Summer, one would here the crunch of the grass as the deer make their rounds or possibly a hare or two, followed by birdsong as the sun started to come up (it is a little cold for that at the moment).  Outside the house, one is generally surrounded by the sound of birdsong and wind in the non-rainy times, or just wind and rain during the rainy season.  There are periods where far away, one can hear cars and dogs and chainsaws and the jets that fly overhead, but those still (thankfully) remain fairly distant noises and periodic occurrences.

I compare this to the dull roar of sound that fills the air at New Home.

We live not all that far from the intersection of two major highways, so background traffic noise is present.  Throughout the day, vehicles whip past our front window - sometimes in tranches, early in the morning when people are leaving for school and work and then again in the afternoon/evening for people returning from the same, and sometimes the stop and start of the delivery vehicles which have become almost ubiquitous in every neighborhood.  The same sorts of noise occur here as well as at The Ranch - barking dogs, yard equipment (not chainsaws of course, but mowers and weed eaters and leaf blowers), jets flying overhead.  In a way I suppose, not that different.

Except in in the extent of it.  At The Ranch, noise is an interlude between the existing background noise of Nature.  In New Home, noise is the 24 hour background to one's life.  And one does not fully grasp this until one is removed from one or the other.

Oddly enough, one of the great comments that people make when they are out "in the wild" is how silent it is, as if it were a valuable thing  - and yet they return to the sounds of civilization without a thought in their mind.  Silence has become the exception in our society, not the rule.

It strikes people in odd ways.  There are some who simply cannot just exist in silence - they inevitably have to have some kind of background noise - music, white noise, talk shows - going on at all times. For some, I think, it provides a certain amount of "drowning out" of other things to allow them to focus.  I find that sort of thing highly confusing as I can really only concentrate on one thing at at time.  For me if there is something in the background, I will inevitably focus on that.

Is there a right answer?  As with most things, I am not sure.  There are people who thrive in urban environments with background noise, to the point that they cannot function in the silence of the wild.  And there are those who need nothing except the silence of the wild to function.

Friday, October 28, 2022

Grocery Store Gaps And Holes

One of the things I try and notice when I am here in Old Home is the difference in shortages at the local grocery store.  I come from a time - say, two years ago - where there never was an empty shelf.   Now, partially filled or completely empty shelves are so common as to barely merit comment by the vast majority of the population.  It is as if there is an unspoken rule that states that such things will now just be considered a regular feature going forward.

The biggest - and perhaps most surprising - gap in Old Home is oatmeal.  Simply put, there is almost none available, at least in the 2.5 pound container.  Not this trip, not the trip two weeks ago.  And was was left was both smaller and much more pricey (I made the mistake of thinking a smaller bag of more "custom" oatmeal was on sale.  Turned out it was not; no way I am spending $6 on 12 ounces of steel cut oats, no matter how many awards they won in Ireland).  I had no ideas oats were either so popular or so out of stock - which is a bit worrisome to me, as oatmeal is one of foods I practically eat every day.

Another odd one was peanut butter - not that it was not there at all, but it seems to have greatly increased in price for even the "generic" store varieties.  And it had packaging size outages as well, especially in the national brands.

A third odd noticeable lack was in spinach (another one of those foods I eat every day).  There was a single bag (which I scooped up).  No plastic containers large or small and no other containers.  This is a little reflective of New Home, where salads are often out of stock (but spinach is not).

There are the ones I specifically noticed, mostly because these are the ones that I reliably but when I am there.  But even in the ones I notice that I do not buy, I often find that shelves are often half filled or just faced to the edge.

It is a single data point of course, and not inherently useful.  But the fact that 2.5 years later I can still see gaps and holes is not a comforting sign.

Thursday, October 27, 2022

On Relocation Decisions

 With the departure of TB The Elder, the question now arise of "When to move".

(Yes yes, I know.  End of the world and all.  We operate with the best information and situation that we have in hand and plan around that.)

This has been an ongoing discussion for some months, especially with my father's death.  It is not an unreasonable discussion: from my parents' estate point of view, the house at The Ranch represents a potential income stream that could be used to offset the living expenses of my mother (although she is covered under a Long Term Care policy that one simply cannot get anymore because it is so good and has a good retirement income, even those have potential limits of course).  On the other hand, it makes no sense to rent it if we were to move into it within the next year.

So the question comes: when are we ready to move?

The Ravishing Mrs. TB is more connected to New Home than I am - she has always been much better at making connections wherever we have lived.  For me, leaving would be a matter of leaving the dojo (which itself would be hard) and the rabbit shelter (again, hard), and finding a new gym; for her it is leaving a network of friends, travel companions, and the variety of urban life New Home affords.  Also, her job is completely tied to a location while mine allows me a great deal of latitude in where I do it from - and if for some reason I were to lose said job, I would likely either try to find the same arrangement or simply find a job here.

The other factor, of course, is that Nigehan Dhonn (the youngest) still has to complete her senior year.  So any activities would be deferred until at least June, and more likely until after she leaves for college in August of next year (hard to think of that as soon, but it will be here before we know it).  As that is a known date, any potential dates for relocation become tied to the September - October or even November timeframe, as that is when the weather is probably manageable for a move (cooling into Autumn but perhaps not yet in the throes of Winter).

Then of course, the question of the things in the house itself:  What stays?  What goes?  We discussed this briefly when we were here for the funeral, but that becomes a real consideration as well, both for what is to be moved as well as what will be moved (the size of the truck, etc.).

And, of course, there is the question of the property itself - while we have a working agreement between my sister and I that I would keep the property and she would take the estate, there is a a question of value of the property as neither of us really knows (that, fortunately, is a resolvable issue and one that hopefully now that the fire is done, can be resolved as I imagine assessors in the area were busy over the last month).  There would be nothing more awkward than to move and then have that discussion.

This, of course, is precisely the sort of thing that drives me the most crazy, the making of decisions and the accompanying commitments.  But at the same time, this absolutely has to be planned out and agreed to before too long - after all, plans have to be made one way or the other.  Time, as I have been recently reminded, marches on no matter what we think or care to do.

Wednesday, October 26, 2022

On Stacking Wood

One of the tasks that needs doing while I am still here is loading up the wood racks by the house.

My father had metal ricks put in under the porch to make stacking of wood easier and more convenient. Every few days, he would go out and pull some in and stack it.  He stacked out on the porch as well for the last few years as he got older to make the trips less.  For me, we have some good weather now, so better to pull it in before next month and the rain and cold hits.

The trek back and forth from the wood pile is maybe 50 yards each way.  I am still using up the "old wood" he kept under a tarp which as not all that good to start with and he was using up first before he got into the good, cured wood.  Likely he would have burned it all if he had been here beyond January 2020.  As it is, I will likely not get through all of it this year.

The day is one of those pleasant days that makes for a good day working outside:  the sun is warm but not too hot, the sky a brilliant blue streaked with white streamers that for all that I wish foretold rain, just mock me in the late October afternoon. The wheelbarrow - the old one I remember from my own childhood that mixed concrete and carried wood in its own day - creaks as I trudge back and forth over the uneven ground and gopher holes, trying to forget that I just spend the day doing nothing but being on the computer, doing things that in 10 years will matter not at all.

There are only two ricks of wood left, one which is surprisingly in pretty good condition and one which is definitely of the sub-par variety.  I start with the better wood to fill up the middle rick by the house, the one with the larger chunks that will burn slowly during the day as I work away.  The older, less good wood comes next and faces in the rick closest to the door.  Dry, it makes for a good fire builder post kindling, but I would likely run through it at a fast clip if I was to burn it at like I would normal wood.  This is what my father did; this is what I do as well.

I pull up by the rick and toss the wood into the wheelbarrow.  Sometimes I try and stack it but sometimes I become a bit lazy and just throw it in - after all, there is no prize for organization at this point of the job, only at the end when the wood goes on the stack
I am somewhat nonchalant as I make my way back and forth between one set of ricks and the other. I am not on a particular schedule with this:  my goal is to clear the outside ricks of wood by stacking by the house or moving the remainder of the "good" wood into the woodshed - but I am here until the weekend and have sufficient afternoons and evenings where I otherwise engaged to get it done.  Besides stacking wood is something that one should not really rush to do:  it falls into that pleasant set of tasks where by one is busy enough with one's hands to make the time go by, but not so busy that the mind cannot wander as it needs to.

The valley is quiet, except for some plane noises I hear vaguely overhead.  There are no cars, no dog barks, no background symphony of power tools or gunshots or the odd portable generator going off.  Just me, the bumping wheelbarrow, and the thud of wood as it hits the stack.

Stacking the wood  makes me feel closer to my father, who stacked wood every year that he lived here and even before he lived here, when he would come up from our hometown, cut wood from The Ranch, and bring it home.  Wood cutting, wood stacking - this were recreational activities for him, not just the practice of necessity or of a man preparing for a Winter three years ahead.  He genuinely enjoyed doing this work; of all of the things he did at the property, stacking wood was the one thing he never gave up on.

The sun drifts into the trees as I take a last load up.  Night falls more quickly, now that High Summer has past and Winter - for all the clouds and cold that promise rain but will not give it - is upon us.  The clouds streak above my head as I park the wheelbarrow under the porch for the evening. 

My father saw the same sky, I think as I go inside.

Tuesday, October 25, 2022

TB The Elder's Eulogy


I have taken the liberty of presenting my eulogy for TB the Elder today.  It is a little long - perhaps too long for an ordinary blog post - but I feel compelled to share it, if for no other reason the closure that it will bring.  In a very real way, you, the readers of this blog, have been my support group over the last two and a bit years as I we have walked this journey to its inevitable conclusion.  I appreciate that, both for the support as well as ability to write what I cannot always say.

In this, perhaps, blogging and the anonymity it can grant makes such things a bit easier.  The names and locations are changed below, in some cases to places that readers will know in a way the hearers will not, but the content and feelings remain the same.  


On behalf of my and my sister’s families and of course my mother, we would like to thank you for taking the time to be with us today in memory of our father and grandfather. It means a great deal that you would take time out of your lives to honor him.

It puzzling place to be in, the giving of a memorial speech for one’s parent. What does one say, precisely? As children, we see a specific part of our parents’ lives: there is a whole history that goes on before we arrive, there is a background history that goes on that we are unaware of as we grow up, and then there is the final history where as we go on to have our own lives, and our parents once again have their own.

That said, I can only give you my story of him: of how I saw him, my relationship to him, and what he taught me.

My father was a complex man, something I at least did not come to realize until years after I had left home. I certainly did not realize it when I was growing up. I do not know that he always appreciated his complexity or if he did, he kept it quietly walled off in a place that most people never saw.

His formative years were far different than the experience he gave myself and my sister growing up. We lived in the same house our whole lives provided for by parents that essentially had the same job our entire time at home; he had a life of moving first from the state of his birth and then to what became his home in different locations, following agricultural jobs. We had no major trauma; he lost his brother before he was ten years old and in some ways my mother alluded to but never really fleshed out, was on his own to deal with internally it as his father took care of his mother and his older brother took care of his siblings.

He would not ever really speak of growing up much until years and years later, when we would be driving around to towns in the local area. He would direct me down certain roads and point out houses to me: his grandparents lived there, his one aunt and uncle lived there and the others there. When they moved closer to my hometown they lived there, where the equipment yard was on the old state highway now stands; a field with a remaining tree or two used to be a fruit orchard and there a bunkhouse that he and his older brother shared.

On the meeting of my mother, my father was fairly elusive. If there was a story, he never revealed it. This was a tendency he tended to have as well, this keeping of background which, when it came out, always made for a much fuller view of my father. One prime example that comes to mind is the one birthday of my sister where we had both lost a cat and I have rear ended someone the same day. We sat there quietly at our birthday dinner out in a restaurant, and conversation dragged a bit. At one point my father made the comment he would have had more words had it not been my sister’s birthday. Then, out of the blue, my mother trots out “Did your father ever tell you about the time he took his older brother’s car without telling him and totaled it?”

“No Mom, no he did not”. Suddenly the mood of the table changed: this was not an isolated event, this was family history.

My mother always seemed to know this about my father, this ability to regulate his mood and reset the tone. I have no idea if this was something she did instinctively or had come to it by practice: again, the years of their marriage until my and my sister’s birth were also shrouded in mystery, with vague tales of living others exotic locations like neighboring states and pets we never met and a blank between my father’ s entry into the Navy and their settling at the house we grew up at. I suppose – like most things – they felt it had no significant bearing on their lives as we knew them, although like most children, I confess to a certain sort of curiosity of what my parents were like when they were young. After all, the younger stories are often the more exciting ones.

He always wanted better – for my mother, for his children, for his grandchildren. He never went to college beyond a single day (at which point he joined the Navy instead), but the fact that we were going to college was never discussed; it was simply assumed. He never verbalized why, although I would guess grow up at the mercy of crops and years digging trenches and running lines made him desire differently for his children. For over 30 years he got up early, worked late and never really mentioned it.

And he was supportive of his children – financially of course but also in their interests and activities. I do not believe my father missed a single game, event, or activity that myself or my sister participated in and, when the grandchildren came along, he did the same. Even if I suspect he did not always understand or possibly enjoy everything we did, he came anyway.

I would tell you he was not an outwardly affectionate man, but that is only the view of his son. Perhaps like most grandparents, the experience with his grandchildren was not the experience that we had growing up with him – sometimes to the point that both my sister and I would look at each other and mouth “This is not the man we grew up with”.

I learned things from my father – we all hopefully do from our parents of course. Some things are instinctive and personality driven – an expression or a turn of phrase that makes me suddenly react and go “Good Lord! I’ve become my father!”. But other things are much more conscious conclusions, things that we knowingly adapt as they are modeled for us.

My father seemed to know a great deal about a great deal, although he would always insist that he really knew nothing. He built fences and chicken coops and decks but was no carpenter, performed car maintenance though he was no mechanic, helped herd cattle and feed them and bury one or two, though he was no farmer, and became quite a margarita maker though he was no bartender. He always seemed willing to try anything and usually was a lot more successful than he let on. From this, I learned that I can do almost anything, at least once.

My father eventually did come to grips with the trauma of his childhood. I still remember the day that we had that conversation about his depression and what he was doing about it. From this, I learned that it is never too late to deal with your past.

My father, who was never a reader, suddenly developed a taste for books after he retired. His tastes ran different than mine – sports stories, World War II biographies – but for a man who had never read much more than newspapers or magazines when I was growing up, it was as complete an interest change as one can have. From this, I learned it is never to late to start – or keep – learning.

My father was devoted to my mother his whole life and, after her diagnosis of Alzheimer’s in 2015, became her primary caregiver, becoming responsible for the mass of ordinary tasks that she had done for years and making sure that doctor’s appointments, medicines and the like were all attended to. As my mother’s memory became less and less, he coped with continuing to care with a person that was less and less the person he had married. My mother enjoyed drives, so every day they would take a short drive somewhere. It did not matter where: she did not remember they had been there the day after, and he liked to drive. They would go out to lunch somewhere – McDonald’s, Chick-Fil-A, local diners that they had found over the years – and then drive home. He cared for her up to the point of moving her in to a care facility; only a few days later, he himself had a stroke as if his body and mind, knowing that they had done what needed doing, finally just gave out. From this, I learned and relearned commitment.

After my family’s move from Old Home to New Home, I would call to speak with my parents. I called during the drive home from my martial arts class. Over the years that day changed – sometimes Monday, sometimes Thursday, but mostly Tuesday. Every week for years, I would call at 7:15 or so their local time. The conversation would always start out the same “Hold on, let me go get the other phone –say hello” he would tell my mother as he would get the phone, and we would start talking.

Our talks would be of the most ordinary sorts of things, week after week: The weather. What the grandchildren were doing. The price of gas. What was happening at The Ranch. The quiet things of routine.

And that, perhaps, was the greatest lesson I learned from my father: that even in an ordinary life, there is a simple and quiet greatness to be found.

Monday, October 24, 2022

The Burial Of TB The Elder

 The Saturday of the funeral was cold and overcast - a cold front had blown in ("cold front" being a relative term for my more northerly readers of course), and the wind blew in steadily from the southwest as it always does at this time of year, driving the moisture that will bring the Winter rains.

The graveyard itself is the old original graveyard of my hometown, with graves going back well into the 19th Century and their markers of granite, some old ones stand tall and straight, others askew or akimbo as the ground has shifted.  My mother and father purchased this site years and years ago; in retrospect I have no idea why, other than it was something that my mother's father had recommended to my father (and for anything financial, my father always took his advice).  I had never been to it before today - had never known where it was until the morning of the funeral.  It was there, in the back corner of the downhill slope, surrounded by others who in no way seemed related to my parents in any way.

It was a small service:  our family, my sister's family, and the pastor of their last church.  After the customary greetings and initial small talk, we milled around as we waited for the start of the time.  My father sat there, a small mahogany box upright on the table with the American Flag ready for folding; behind the table was a small hole in the sod with a container for the box.

The Navy Honor guard arrived and The Outdoorsman took the flag out to them as we waited - it is not as if there is any sort of instruction manual on this.  They conferred at the top for a few moments, then came down to the grave:  two men in dress blues, one older and one younger, the older (my guess is a petty officer from the stripes on this uniform) carrying the flag and the other one - younger, with a corpsmans' insignia - an instrument case.

The senior naval man was kind, saying that although he did not know TB the Elder personally, he did know him through his naval service and both knew and honored him through that knowledge.  With that, the service effectively commenced

The corpsman moved away to the side, opened his case, and pulled out his bugle.  After adjusting the mute inside the bell, he played Taps.  It was as haunting a rendition and moment as I can remember: the wind blow and rustling the trees, the sailor at attention, all of us with our hands over our hearts, the song soaring aloft.

After replacing the bugle, the corpsman approached the table and took the flag.  Given the end to the petty officer, they slowly walked it back and unfolded it, then unfolded it again, then with a snap expanded it to its full size.  It was held there for a moment until, they began to fold it back up, first over and then over again, then in the triangles I remember from Cub Scouts and Flag Day.  As a practitioner of paired martial arts, it was interesting to watch the subtle signs of co-ordination between the older and younger man, eyes flickering back and forth and a slight nod, unnoticed except for those who would know.

After folding, the petty officer brought the flag to my sister and said the standard phrase "On behalf of the President of the United States, the United States Navy, and a grateful nation, please accept this flag as a symbol of our appreciation for your loved one's honorable and faith service". With that, they saluted one more time and marched off slowly.”

The graveside service was likely the standard one most of my readers will be familiar with: an opening prayer, a reminder that this life is not all there and that we are dust and to dust we will return, the Lord's Prayer, and a benediction.  With that, the service ended and the pastor left us for the service in the afternoon.

All that remained was for my father to be interred.

We looked at each other - The Outdoorsman and I were the most likely candidates, and after a brief exchange of glances, I took the job for myself.  Removing the astro-turf covered board that was on the hole, I knelt down and put the box in the container - somewhat amusingly, there was not really any clear way to do this:  Stand it upright?  Lay it down?  Would my mother eventually go in here?  Finally after some consultation, we laid him down and then placed the cover over the the box.

There was a finality to placing that cover on the box, a finality that was not felt by myself later in the day at the memorial service. That would be a time of remembering. This was a time tying up the last truly loose end with my father over the last 2 year journey we had experienced together.

The wind blew on as we went back to cars to find breakfast although, perhaps out of a grace undeserved, the sun did come out to light our way.

Sunday, October 23, 2022

Know To What Extent The Creator Has Honoured You


"Know to what extent the Creator has honoured you above all the rest of creation.  The sky is not an image of God, nor is the moon, nor the sun, nor the beauty of the stars, nor anything of what can be seen in creation.  You alone have been made in the image of the Reality that transcends all understanding, the likeness of imperishable beauty, the imprint of true divinity, the recipient of beatitude, the seal of true light.  When you turn to him you become that which is himself...

There is nothing so great among beings that it can be compared with your greatness.  God is able to measure the whole heaven with his span.  The earth and the sea are enclosed in the hollow of his hand.  And although he is so great and holds all creation in the palm of his hand, you are able to hold him, he dwells in you and moves within you without constraint, for he has said "I will live and move among them' (1st Corinthians 6:16)."

- Gregory of Nyissa, Second Homily on the Song of Songs, as quoted in The Roots of Christian Mysticism (Olivier Clement)

Saturday, October 22, 2022

TB The Elder's Day


Hello friends.

Today is the day of my father's funeral service:  burial in the morning, service in the afternoon with a light repast following, and then (likely) family convening at my sister's house afterwards.

If I could ask your prayers, good thoughts or good wishes (as you practice), I would be grateful.  Specifically for being able to speak well and being able to be the cheerful front face of the family to a bevy of individuals who have come to honor my father (as an introvert, this can be exhausting).  

As a  note, I suspect it will be Monday for a post-service report. 

Be of good cheer, and remember that Christ has overcome death and the grave.

Friday, October 21, 2022

On Steel Coffee Cans

This week I finished off another coffee can of Cafe du Monde.  As always, I washed the can out and saved it.

It is stainless steel, as all of them seem to be - which remains to my complete surprise:  given the way the world works now, I would have thought almost everything would have converted to plastic at this point.

Steel coffee cans hold a treasured place in my memory.  When I was young and we would go to The Ranch when my Great Aunt and Uncle owned it, I would wander out to the barn, a three bay wooden structure with a shop on the side.  It was a marvelous collection of things to a young boy:  bits and parts of tools, odd furniture, item which I realize (only now) were of family historical significance (there was an entire blacksmith shop, if I had known it at the time). 

Scattered throughout the barn were steel coffee cans, most of the faded and a bit rusted, holding tools or nuts or parts of things.  The pictures on the side were never any brands I had heard of on the television; old brands that had long disappeared or logos that had been redesigned.  Having fulfilled their primary purpose, they had been repurposed and sat, silently waiting and slowly rusting, serving the purpose of my Aunt and Uncle and promising mystery to a young boy.

And so, I keep my coffee cans.

They have their own uses here as well, of course.  Holding things in the garage, but they have converted to other things over the years.  Planters.  Ticket holders.  Small containers for the harvest when I need something right away.

I do the same when I am at The Ranch and have built up a stash there as well.  Eventually they will migrate down to our Barn, where they will likely fulfill the same purpose.

Could I use plastic containers?  Of course.  But there is something that, to me, is magical about an empty steel coffee can, something that no plastic coffee can has ever offered me.  Perhaps it is the sense that plastic is now "common" and "common place".  Perhaps it is that steel coffee cans (the painted ones, which are by far the best instead of the plastic wrapped) preserve visual history in a way that I can see and remember.

Or, perhaps, it is because steel coffee cans bear with it a wealth of memories that remain after the coffee is gone.

Thursday, October 20, 2022

Cooler Mornings, Falling Leaves

 Our mornings here have turned to the coolish-side:  Mid-40's over the last 2-3 days, with daytime temperatures in the 80's or even the 70's.  It is the pleasant time of year in New Home, the time that makes one reflect that this is not a terrible place to be, if one has to be somewhere else.

Mind you, this season never seems to last long here.  The standing joke is the four to six weeks of the year between Frozen and The Face Of The Sun are delightful - but they are short.  Short enough to lure one into a sense of "Wow, this is not so bad" but not long enough to let one get accustomed to the change.

It feels more Autumnal than it has in years past as well.  I think the upcoming funeral of my father has something to do with it, a sort of "leaves falling" moment that has a finality that Autumn does not always have.  That is combined with a feeling, perhaps, that the world is not as right as should be and perhaps will not be for years to come.

This is the time of year (as long time readers know) that I start to take stock of next year's goals or at least things I want to aspire to (yes, I have already started the process) as well as begin the list of things I want to do in the Frozen season (always easier to do some things outside in the cold):  the trim really could use an updated paint job (but I do not have the ladder to complete the job), the yard is largely dead and needs to be rethought (although with the coming rains, I am anxious to see how "dead" things really are), and the garage is long past due "The Great Purging".  

And, of course, there is the reality that decisions have to start being made soon about moving - or staying.  

I feel a weight pressing down on me, a weight of things and life, a series of scarcely seen but noticeable pressures and bars around my life.  The immediate reaction - the reaction of any animal - would be to push back reactively on these things that feel like they are trapping me in.  But that is not the right reaction either - shedding things simply for the sake of freedom means you end up shedding the useful and the useless.  

And perhaps this shedding sense or need is what reminds me of Autumn at the moment.  Even here, our non-native trees are starting the shrivel up their leaves with the cooling nights, ready to cast them to the ground ahead of the cold that has not fully manifested but they know will be here.

Like a tree, perhaps, I feel the same need to shed in view of a Coming Winter

Wednesday, October 19, 2022

On Shelters And Abandonment Of Animals

As has been discussed here before, I volunteer at an animal shelter - specifically an rabbit shelter. I have done this for some indeterminate period of time - 6 years?  7 years?  I really have no idea precisely how long. Originally I started going with Nighean Gheal when she thought she wanted to be a veterinarian; she decided that blood was not for her but I kept showing up.

Rabbits, by at least a few definitions I have read, are the third most abandoned animals (after cats and dogs).  That number - if true - is not surprising to me.  Rabbits are great pets, but they are not dogs and cats.   They can be litter box trained, but it is never an exact science (their time and place of peeing is their choice; rabbit poops just seem to happen sometime).  They test everything with their teeth first, thus cords, baseboards, and low hanging curtains are simply snacks waiting to happen.  And while their food is not exotic - hay, pellets, and vegetables - it is not quite as convenient and going down to the grocery store and getting some.  And, of course, rabbits are not cats and dogs:  they show affection, but they are not necessarily great snugglers.  Thus many people get rabbits thinking they are getting a cat or dog with long ears, only to be disappointed.

There has always been a steady stream of rabbits into the shelter (thankfully, there has been a steady stream of rabbits out of the shelter as well due to adoptions).  Some are due to people who cannot keep them due to moves, some due to allergies, some due to tragic family events that make it impossible to keep them anymore.  And some, of course, because people just got tired of them or decided after a week or a month that this was not the "right" pet.

This is the way.  This has always been the way, since I have started.

Recently, our intake is up - and it is not just us.  Every animal shelter in New Home is full to the brim to the point of not being able to accept new animals (although I suspect if, like us, the choice is "Either you take the animal or I will do something else (not good)", they will find  a place for the animal).  And it is not just us.  It is national.

The surrenders come from the usual sources of course, but more and more people seem to be abandoning animals because they simple got tired of them and, post-Plague, they want to go out and "live their lives".  And their lives, apparently, do not extend to a living being that they inherently made a commitment to when they brought it home.

The other place - sadly - we have seen an increase is in abandoned animals.  Rabbits are especially prone to this - people see the wild hares and think "Rabbits eat grass and are like them.  They can make it."  Unfortunately, and contrary to every modern "animal trek" movie you have seen, they cannot.  Domestic rabbits, like most domestic animals, are a far cry from their wild ancestors.  Most will not make it in the modern urban environment - especially here in the Summer, where temperatures are well beyond the 80 F/27 C that is the max for a domestic rabbit.

But people still abandon their rabbits - in larger and larger numbers, if our intake is any example.  

Why?  I am not sure.  Possibly for some it is embarrassment of having to go surrender an animal.  For others, it may be that they do not know (although given the state of the connected world and the InterWeb now, if one does not not know there is a rescue organization out there, it is a bit surprising).  The majority - I suspect - simply do not want to be bothered.

It frustrates me.  It frustrates everyone that works at the shelter, and in the animal volunteer community.  And not just frustrates - it burns people out.  

I do not know there is a point necessarily to this post (other than my own frustration), other than three points:

1)  It says something about us as a people that, like with everything else, abandoning our problems for someone else to deal with is an acceptable strategy.

2)  If for some reason you or someone you know finds yourself in the position of having to abandon an animal, do not.  Look on the Interweb.  E-mail me ( with your general location and I will find somewhere for you.  

3)  Support your local shelter.  Choose one - by organization or by animals (there is literally a shelter/animal rescue group for every species and animal type imaginable).  My own opinion is, of course, local ones are better.  If nothing else, they appreciate the money as much or more and are good stewards of it.

4) (Bonus Round):  Adopt if you can.  The animals will be grateful (They are, by the way.  They seem to know they were rescued).  And you will have done a good thing.

Tuesday, October 18, 2022

A Rogue Pair Of Jeans

 This weekend, during the Weekly Sorting Of The Clean Laundry, a pair of black jeans appeared on my side of the bed.  I looked at them, looked and the waist, and then turned to The Ravishing Mrs. TB as she was putting her laundry away.

"These are not mine"  I said, holding them up to my frame.

She looked at them, then looked at the waist.  "These are your size" she replied.

I looked inside - yup, waist and in-seam were correct.  "But I do not recognize these" I responded.  "If these are mine, I have not seen them for months.  I have one pair of black jeans - these".  I held out the prayer I had just been wearing, which are the "I do not wear them out for real" as they have random splotches that I have no idea where they came from and wearing them anywhere other than to the rabbit shelter or out in the garden would earn me the "Are you really wearing that out?" eye.

"Maybe Nighean Dhonn had borrowed them" she responded. "She has said she likes wearing your jeans".

I do not know when this "my clothes started leaving my closet" practice started, but apparently it has expanded in scope.

One day, sitting in the front room writing away, I noticed her getting ready for school.  The shirt looked vaguely familiar - then I realized it was vintage 1980's Structure shirt (if you are that old, you know the type).  

"That is mine"  I noted.

"I like it" was the response as my daughter and my shirt headed out the door for the day.

Since that time, I have had T-shirts with clever logos, my corduroy pants, other shirts with collars, and (apparently) more than one pair of jeans go missing.  Sometimes I apparently think I have lost them, sometimes they float back into the laundry cycle and end up on my side of the bed and it is like a video game where one finds random, unexpected "power-ups". 

It is not as if there are not multiple full closets of clothes in the house.  Four, just in case you were not keeping track.  How mine seem to keep getting appropriated is a bit beyond me.

On the bright side I suppose, the possibility of "shopping" in-house goes both ways.

Monday, October 17, 2022

When We Cannot Talk Anymore

We seem to be losing the ability to even talk to each other.

Like most bloggers, I go to number of sites:  some blogs (like the ones over there), some opinion sites, some boards.  What is becoming both increasingly clear and increasingly alarming is the fact that the ability to have even the most basic of discussions is rapidly disappearing.

It is not longer enough to just disagree with a statement or present an opposing view.  More and more, responses are at least passively aggressive, if not actively so.   This is something I have sort of come to expect on sites that opposing sides are actively "debating" (I use the phrase rather loosely, given the times).  What is rather shocking to me is this is now happening on sites and between individuals which in theory are ideologically, culturally, or socially aligned.

I consider myself fortunate - the conversations here remain polite, restrained, and kind, to which I am indebted to you who read and comment.  Even if you may disagree with myself or others, you are gracious and observe "the house rules" (so far as I have rules on this site).  The thing that surprises me is how less and less true this seems to be out on the InterWeb.

How is that we lost the ability to respond to each other not in anger, rage, sarcasm, or disgust - and not "the opposing side", but the side that one is theoretically on?  This is not a silly passive sort of name calling or "You are wrong".  This is active and angry responses meant not to communicate information (well, possibly) as much as it is to injure and wound and some feel superior.  And again to emphasize, this is from people who theoretical claim they are all on the same side (or at least opposed to the same things).

I am honestly confused as I expected more of people who espouse the virtues of rational thought, data, reason, and (in some cases) Christian charity.

It matters - not just because we lose the ability to discuss things, but that we take the social fabric and rend it even further.  That which we despise becomes despicable; that which we loathe becomes loathsome.

That which we hate, becomes hateful.

In C.S. Lewis' book The Great Divorce, Hell is imagined as a dreary gray township under a gray sky which constantly threatens to turn to night.  The city is huge but sparsely inhabited.   The Narrator (presumably Lewis) asks another individual about it:

""It seems a deuce of a town" I volunteered, "and that's what I can't understand.  The parts of it I saw were so empty.  Was there once a much larger population?"

"Not at all" said my neighbour. "The trouble is that they're so quarrelsome.  As soon as anyone arrives he settles in some place.  Before he's been there twenty-four hours he quarrels with his neighbour.  Before the week is over he's quarreled so badly that he decides to move.  Very likely he finds the next street empty because all the people there have quarreled with their neighbours - and moved.  So he settles in.  If by any chance the street is full, he goes further.  But even if he stays, it makes no odds.  He's sure to have another quarrel pretty soon and then he'll move again.  Finally he'll move right out to the edge of the town and build a new house."

By losing the ability to talk to each other, even those who in theory share similar views (let alone those we disagree with), we are danger of building our own version of Lewis' Hell.

Sunday, October 16, 2022

Lord And Master Of My Life

 Lord and Master of my life,

take far from me the spirit of laziness, discouragement, domination, and idle talk;

grant to me, thy servant, a spirit of chastity, humility, patience, and love;

yea, my Lord and King, grant me to see my sins, and not judge my neighbor, 

for thou art blessed forever and ever.


- Ephraim of Syria, Prayer for the season of Lent in the Byzantine Rite, as quoted in The Roots of Christian Mysticism, Oliver Clement

Saturday, October 15, 2022

A Schedule Experiment

 One of the great things about being willing to experiment is getting things wrong - and realizing it.

About a month ago, I made the decision I would try to change the time I went to the gym.  I go three days a week and, once upon a time ,would go Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays - alternate days from my Iaijutsu class.  Then class times changed as the dojo moved, and suddenly that schedule was not possible.  Instead, I have been going Tuesdays, Thursdays, and some "floater day" on the weekend.

The advantage, of course, is that I had a hard training day on a day that was also not an Iai day.  It also allowed me to train with sword or weight at approximately the same time.  The disadvantages were 1) It is very easy to sluff off that "floater day" of training due to a variable schedule or simply being lazy; and 2) my travel over the last two years means I am essentially gone one entire set of days that I struggled to make up.

The experiment I tried was going back to Monday, Wednesday, and Friday training, but early in the morning.

The advantages of this were 1) A very regular schedule; 2) A more focused workout (in the evenings I tend to slow down as I have nowhere I have to be, while in the mornings I have things to do); 3)  Having evenings where I did not have to leave the house; and 4) A little more regularity in my pre-travel/travel weeks (I usually do not travel on Fridays).

I have given it almost a full month of exercise.  And I am returning to the old schedule.

I was in fact able to make sure I was up early to make it to the gym (I tried to get there at 0530 - with the drive, that is about an hour workout).  The difficulty is that  - due to my sleeping arrangements (e.g., with my wife) - a 0430-0500 wake up alarm is, well, difficult (marriage ending difficult I suppose, given long enough).  So I found myself waking up a great deal earlier on work out days (0300-0400) and then laying down to try to sleep another period of time or just eventually getting up too early and being tired all day. 

But my sleep pattern became disrupted all the time.  On the days I was not going to the gym, I slept later simply of sheer exhaustion, thus destroying the concept of a "schedule".  And frankly, I have been so darn tired all the time, tired to the point of impacting everything I do.

The other - unlooked for - side effect was that my entire morning schedule got pushed, even though I was waking up earlier and in theory was on track.  Walks with Poppy The Brave got shorter or did not happen (and I need cardio workouts to combat the nascent diabetes in my family tree), reading became less focused, and journaling/blogging became not my best effort.  And, I had to rush to the point I sort of breathlessly arrived 4-5 minutes before my first meeting at work.

Simply put, I had "solved" one problem, but created a host of others.

But the good news with experiments is they can be undone.

I will go back to Tuesdays and Thursday (with a little more zip in my workout, to be sure), and make some kind of regular plan for the floating third workout (to be honest, as my last workout - Deadlifts - is the shortest one, Saturday or Sunday mornings may actually work).  I can reset my rising time at where I had it before (which looks a lot like 0600 on most days).  Poppy The Brave will be happier for the longer walks.  I will feel less rushed in the morning.  Maybe the content of my writing will improve (probably a vain hope there).

It is always good to try to doing things differently in order to do them better.  But when it creates other issues, it is also always good to be willing to undo the change.

Friday, October 14, 2022

Parallel Ways Of Working In The System

 In a discussion earlier this week, I  commented about people working ways around the system, of parallel organization and processes that rather than fight the system find their ways around it.  The response is always "Yeah but - but do you have an example of people actually doing those things"?

Turns out I have at least two (beyond those fine people over there on the right doing the same thing).

In both cases, I can assure you that they are real acquaintances.  Names change to protect the innocent, etc. - but they exist.  Oddly enough, in both cases I met them through Highland Games.  Because apparently Highland Gamers are high on the list of "obstinate".

1)  The first example is a husband and wife, probably in their mid-30's when I first met them 6 years ago or so.  He was ex military, a sales person in industry, she was a housewife.  She always wanted to live on farm.  One day, they just decided to do it.

They bought an older home and acreage some miles outside of a larger urban area (not my urban area).  They had zero experience in farming or animal husbandry, but taught themselves.  They acquired poultry, goats and some random donkeys.

They started small, selling fruit preserves and jams and eggs.  When The Book of Face suddenly canceled any sort of reference to marketing products on their website (I assume this is because The Book of Face was not making money on the transaction), they simply learned to mention that they would be "out" at a location on a certain day.

They went through a registration process and started operating a herdshare for goats (individuals "own" part of a herd, thus entitling them to the products of said herd, mostly fresh goat milk).  They started processing poultry - and then started operating classes on how to process poultry.

Their children (homeschooled) are well adjusted from everything I can see and know.  They look happy.  They enjoy their lives.  They are (likely) no more wealthy than they were before, but they have found a way to work around and within the system to live their dreams.

2)  The second example is (again) a husband and wife, again probably in their mid-30's.  The husband is ex-military, ex-peace keeper, retired due to medical injury.  His wife is a yoga instructor.  One day, they apparently just decided they were going to open an organic farm. They had zero experience.  They self taught themselves the requirements and the regulations (more than one comment of his indicated his rather high level of confusion on paperwork).  But they persevered and within 6 months they were ready.

About two weeks ago they went to their first Farmer's market.  Someone asked him how they did.  "Sold almost everything we brought" he responded.  "No one was more surprised than I was".

Again, from what he posts they are enjoying themselves and their lives.  Not rich in money, but rich in doing something that they dreamed of doing.  Instead of risking his life on a daily basis, he gets to spend it with his toddler and their crops.


The reality is that there are ways to work on the fringes and margins of the system or even to work around the system and achieve one's goals.  The secret, I suppose, is creativity, tenacity, and adaptability - things which, somewhat interestingly, our modern society claims to value but only in very specific ways that are always to be exercised in a way that does not challenge said society.

In our own way, we can all be rebels.

Wednesday, October 12, 2022

When A Society Loses The Interest Of Others

 One of the long recurring discussions that Uisdean Ruadh and I have - and by long, I mean 30 years or more - is the nature of societies and political units and their eventual demise (This, wedged into between Theology and the Ecumenical Councils, identification of overhead jets, whether or not colonization of planets is even possible or meaningful, and whatever else comes into our heads.)  After 30 years, you would think we have little enough to talk about anymore, yet somehow thanks to the ongoing drama that is human nature in the 21st Century, we do.

It probably comes as no surprise that I, being the cynic that I am on such matters, am much more pessimistic  than he, who remains the eternal optimist in this area. I point to the inevitable current trends; he points to history and where a reunifying effort or event was not thought possible, and suddenly occurred, thereby saving the day.  And thus it goes, year after year, as we pick apart the nature of social adhesion or dissolution over walks and phone calls and Friday meals.

This past visit out, during our discussion, I posited "What happens if people just simply lose interest in a society?

"What do you mean?"

"Well, not that they hate the system or are actively trying to bringing it down.  Simply that they no longer become invested in the system - it no longer meets their ideological or physical needs.  Sort of like when marriages give out from a lack of interest in the partner's part:  they both have moved on, and only the structure of the marriage is in place, not the core."

"So you are suggesting that a society or economy without interest in its maintenance will simply fall apart?"

"Why not?  It becomes like a marriage that no-one cares about at some point:  Why bother?"

Societies - political, economic, social - derive their legitimacy and ultimately their existence from the fact that they people they "rule over" or "represent" have a vested interest in their continuance and continue to benefit from them (and to be clear, "benefit" does not mean only physical: the ability to lead a private life is a great benefit, at least to me).  Remove either of those factors - no more vested interests or no more benefits - and the society becomes at worst an annoyance and at best an inconvenience.  Like that uncomfortable relationship at work no-one talks about, everyone just learns to "work around" that person or that department.

To some, I am sure as soon as I write this, their mind immediately leaps to this party or that movement and how they have done something to create this problem.  Let us be clear:  virtually every political party is implicated here, so (frankly) we will have none of that.  This is not a Red versus Blue issue or a Conservative versus Liberal issue (although there are many fine sites you can go argue those points on);  this is an observation on what keeps a political/economic/social in existence, and what keeps it from falling apart: investment in the system and benefits from the system.

Or stated more simply:  all societies get to this point.  How any of them got here is beyond the scope of this particular post.

What happens when one or both of those goes away?  Well, potentially it can be the sort of thing that creates violence and economic mayhem (given, frankly, humanity's propensity for violence and bad decisions as a way to resolve things), but that is not always a given.  Sometimes it simply looks like those in power going to do what they have always done, and suddenly finding that no-one is interested in doing it - they have voted, literally or figuratively, with their feet, their interest, their energy, and their finances.  That can be as significant as physically leaving a location, finding other ways to do business, or simply developing other institutions to do the same sorts of things (the "parallel economy/parallel structures" one hears about so often).

The odd thing - and I pointed this out to Uisdean Ruadh during our conversation - is that ultimately the people that have checked out are never surprised by this. The only people that are surprised are the ones that, buoyed on by a sense of history and their own importance, seem to think that it is self evident that the system should continue - because, of course, it always has.

Tuesday, October 11, 2022

On Investment, Inertia, And Leaving

One of the readily recurring points of discussion that Uisdean Ruadh and I have during our monthly dinners and post-dinner walks is fraternal organizations - specifically, the Catholic fraternal organization to which he has belonged for many years.  It is fascinating for me to hear as an outsider and probably allows him to talk about it to someone that has not "heard it already".

Among the many things we cover in our conversations - nothing secret or classified or course, just general  operational issues - is the involvement of men, or the lack thereof.  It is a thing that he has definitely noticed, and which, at least in our small town, is not just isolated to his group.  All of the "standard" fraternal orders that I knew growing up - the Masonic Lodge, the Odd Fellows, the Catholic Orders, this sort of thing -  are apparently suffering from membership declines.

Why is this, I asked him?  We talked through various issues - one thing that I found both telling and fascinating was that the family events are usually the best attended and with that younger crowd that is the needed demographic; no surprise in an age when we are trying to emphasize families and so many never seem to have enough time with them.  But at least one cause we came down to was simply the fact that men (in this case) are not as invested in the concept of a fraternal order as they used to be.

I use the word "investment" consciously, as it to me represents the core of the issue.  One can be interested in something or perhaps engaged by it, but interest and engagement pass with time.  Only investment - that we are sink time and energy (and possibly money) into something - is a true sign that something is actually important to someone.  Investment inherently drives interest levels and engagement, but it does not require either.  Investment gives one a stake in the thing at hand; it means we have decided that personally, this thing meets some need in our soul.  We have a stake in its success because at some level, it feeds or calls to something deep inside of us.

It is true in lots of things, of course.  In my own life, I can clearly see the difference between friendships I am invested in - like The Director and Uisdean Ruadh over forty years, for example - versus those that were only for a season and then vanished. I have seen in the marriages of others that have fallen apart because at some point the spouses became less invested in each other and the relationship than in other things or people - the comment "He/She does not understand me and is not in my world" is not just a tired cliché, it is actually based on the way these things often work.  Businesses are no better of course - the company that has employees invested in its outcome and the company that has employees as time markers is worlds apart (I have worked in both).

The difficulty is not for those that have lost their investment.  It is for those that are not conscious that others have lost the investment, that rely on the the inertia of the past and the presumed importance of the thing to carry it on.

There is a certain assumption that once something exists, it almost by default will exist for a very long time.  Some of that is human nature of course - we all like to believe we are building for the future, not just for a short period of time.  But another part of it is that because we see the importance of it, others will equally see the importance of it as well, that they will become "invested" and so perpetuate the thing.  Organizations, relationships, individuals, businesses - all come to rely on this almost instinctive and unquestioning "this really is the best thing" motif.  And thus, they are suddenly surprised when others are not willing to make the same investment that they are.  

But inertia and "because" are not reasons to continue a thing.

In thinking this through with Uisdean Ruadh, the one useful thing I could come up with is regularly asking the questions "Is this still worth investing in?"

It is a hard question of course, because it means that we as organizations or as individuals have to put off our assumptions and understandings and even views of the world and look at things critically. In a way, it is a form of zero sum budgeting:  "Knowing what I know now, would I invest in/do/create this thing now?"  If the answer is "No", why not?  Is it something that we can rectify or change?  

It is not harmful to suggest the same question for us as individuals as well.  The questions "Am I the sort of person that someone would want to invest in (in terms of friendship)?  Am I the sort of person my spouse would want to be with now because of choice, not inertia?" are not simply fear producing or ego-supporting questions, they reflect the desire for an accurate assessment of the relationship as it is, not as it was in the beginning or long ago.

These are hard questions.  Businesses in theory regularly ask them of themselves - the dreaded "employment survey" with the admonition "Be 100% totally honest", and the often resulting silence when the results come in because they do not conform with what the assumed vision is.

Am I suggesting that we as individuals or as organizations should be 100% guided by the opinions of others?  Of course not.  That would make us the equivalent of ships driven before a storm without sail or rudder.  There are founding and guiding principles that cannot and should not change.

But it is also a fair observation to note that people, even if they weigh otherwise, will always end up voting with their feet and their presence and their investment of time and talents.  In the end, the ones that are gob-smacked by this are not the ones who have done the leaving.  It is the ones remaining who are somehow "shocked" by this seemingly immediate abandonment.

If one looked more closely, one would see the seeds of the abandonment - the lack of investment - were there long before.  It was just that it chosen, by either willful looking away or unawareness, to be ignored or disregarded.

Monday, October 10, 2022

Flying At Sunset

 Sometimes, flying at sunset give you nothing but blandness.  

Sometimes, it gives you glory.

Sunday, October 09, 2022

Fire Perspectives

This is a picture I took from the parking lot of the local grocery store in January 2021.

 These are pictures from that same parking lot after the fire.

Fortunately the town was almost completely not burned.  But the view will take a lifetime or more to recover.

Saturday, October 08, 2022

Time Alone And Choices

Funeral preparations are largely complete:  Songs have been selected, pictures prepared for scanning, speech drafted, pastor spoken to about the order of service.   The other items - venue, flowers, after-event meal, interment, gravestone - have all been ably (and thankfully) addressed by my sister and The Outdoorsman.

My part was supposed to take two days.  It really only took five hours.  What this left me with was a lot of memories from walking through almost 60 years of photos, and time to think.

I alluded earlier this week that one of the reasons I write is because it is free, therapy is expensive, and frankly I do not think I would get more out one than the other.  Writing at least lets me throw my thoughts out on paper, to puzzle over and think on as the day goes by.  The same is true of the journal I keep (and have kept for over 30 years - I write, and then I wrestle.  

The joy of this week, the bane of this week, is that I have had the overlay of time and history on top of it.  And all of this is screaming out to me from my writings and my musings as I, in an unusual and meaningful way, walked through my own history.

It is no secret to those that read here regularly that I have apparently reached a crossroads of life, being driven  towards some sort of future choice - a choice which I am in some ways very aware of, but in other ways vaguely aware of.  A lot has changed in the past two years; a lot is changing in the next year.  And as I considered my life at the moment, what I find is a series of overlapping layers of things, feelings, people, and practices, all in some way having some importance - but not all the same importance, and perhaps not all even needing to be pulled into this next phase of life.

It is like the growth of English as I remember it from an textbook:  originally came the root Old English itself, which was then overlaid in time by Latin, Norse, Norman, French, Greek, and then the world as history went on and different influences reached England.  In the modern practice of English, we by default drag all of that history around with us.  And while it is easy to make a personal choice to "avoid" modern English in choosing older words - like "trow" in place of "believe", as it "I trow I have a choice to make" - it is a great deal more difficult to sift through our lives with clarity of choice and in some cases, the ability to select.

Some of this is fundamental to the basics of life, I suppose:  What am I doing?  Why am I doing this?  Why did I start doing this?  Perhaps more importantly, why should I continue doing this?  And that extends not only to activities but to people, relationships, geographic locations, even personal beliefs.

This is an application I think of the concept of "Zero Sum Thinking":  if I were to restart this thing - be it an activity, a relationship, a belief, a practice, a place to live - from scratch without any prior investment in it, would I?  And if not, why am I do it now (the answer there, of course, is often sheer inertia)?  

Commit, decisions, choices - these are the words that keep coming up to me as sat and thought and looked.  It is as if I am getting squeezed into a chute, knowing that things will have to pop off of the pack but not having any idea which or what to pop off - or avoiding the decision altogether.

The reality that haunts me however, is that time is marching on.  In point of fact, that time frame of a year from now is coming not more quickly than I imagine (I understand how quickly time moves), but inexorably.  And if I want to have clarity then, things need to start clarifying now.

Friday, October 07, 2022

On Preparing For A Funeral

 Yesterday, today, and tomorrow I am back at The Ranch.  The focus of the these days is TB The Elder.

That is an odd sentence to write, especially for a man that had been gone for over two months now who is now - frankly - in a small box at my sister's house.  But there are still outstanding funeral arrangements that have to be made:  songs to be selected, pictures to be picked out, and a speech to be written.  All of this was going to be done last month of course, but then The Fire happened and the ability to get here was halted.

I still had two days of unused bereavement.  Far better, I thought, to shorten my time, remove any sort of work distractions, and just come up here and work specifically on these things.

Song selection, I think, will be the easiest.  My father - my parents, really - enjoyed The Oak Ridge Boys and The Statler Brothers (we grew up with a lot of their music), so that part should be relatively simple.  Add in an Alan Jackson hymn, and that should cover it.  No more than 10 minutes worth of music.

The pictures - in this case, lots of real, physical pictures - should take somewhat longer.  I have already made my categories sub-dividing his life into stages.  I believe the funeral home said five seconds a picture; by my math that divides into somewhere between 54 and 60 pictures.  At least 40 of those will be the pre-electronic physical presentation ones.  Everything will need to be pulled out, inventoried and numbered (so it can be put back, of course) and then taken down to The Outdoorsman so he can scan them.

The speech - I have written funeral orations for my material grandparents and presented them (I am not a lot of things, but I am a decent speechwriter and public speaker).  But never have I had to write this sort of speech before - not just about someone, but about my relationship with someone in a way that no-one else would have ever experienced, not even my sister (in the same way, at least).  The thought of compressing 50+ years of a relationship into something like a 5-10 minute speech is daunting: What do I include?  What do I leave out?  What do I make relevant?

To be fair, this has been in the back of my mind since 21 July, the day after TB The Elder passed.  I knew I would be the one to give the speech (in my family, this is the way it works). And I want to give a good speech - after all, in a meaningful way this is literally the last gift I can give to my father.  

The one thing all of this does - and perhaps this is the underlying reason why I choose to come out here for shorter period of time, isolated and alone - is emphasize the fact that things have changed and are changing, somewhat more than I believe them to be.  For that reason, I need to acknowledge that this is happening and give myself the gift - and it is a gift - of simply being able to focus or not focus, pick and review or simply remember, without the sideshow of the transient things I so often confuse as "life" with the things that ultimately do matter.

Thursday, October 06, 2022

On Giving Up Throwing

So I am going to stop throwing in Highland Games.

I originally starting throwing in 2012.  It was something that I had wanted to do since the mid 1990's, but never thought I could because (frankly) I thought I lacked the body weight and strength to do it.  And so I delayed for another 15 years or so until we moved and and I saw a posting for "Throw in Highland Games" and I said "why not?"

I found I quite enjoyed them, much more for the people than the any actual athletic ability I demonstrated.  They were not the sort of people I would have "naturally" interacted or made friends with, but I found them to be engaging. It made for a great day.

My involvement gradually increased as time went on - I think my busiest year was around 2016, when I threw in 13 games, I got volunteered in a local group, I attended regular practices.  I was a throwing fool.

And then, as things always do, they changed.

Part of it was simply that I found that getting up early, driving on average 2-3 hours to throw for 8-10 hours, and then drive back 2-3 hours, was exhausting and detracted from the overall fun of the event.  I pulled my involvement in to games that were no more than 2 hours away.  

Part of it - an exciting part for the sport overall - is that it is becoming a more popular sport.  That is great for everyone throwing in it; it is less good when you are at best a mediocre thrower with limited upward mobility.  While the point is not ranking, it does kind of detract from the competition aspect.

Part of it was the fact that as my involvement in Iai grew, so did my training and practice of it.  At some point, one can really focus on a limited number of things.  A choice was made for Iai (both because I enjoyed it and frankly, I could go to Japan to train), which curtailed my throwing even further.

And then, of course, The Plague hit.  Festivals ground to a halt in 2020 and most of 2021, only really restarting this year.  My limited throwing range was even more limited.  Add to that the fact that I started going to The Ranch to see my parents effectively two Saturdays a month (and the other two for Iai class) and either I threw on Sunday or had to miss Iai to do it.

I have thrown twice this year:  once in Spring and once about a month ago.  Which brings us to the final point of decision.

I apparently did something to my right shoulder when I was throwing last month - I do not know for what event (my guess is the Heavy Weight for Distance, a 42 lbs. flying extravaganza), but it manifested itself over the next two days.  And then every day thereafter.  Now, I have had to lessen my weight training and train far more deliberately with Iai - and it both cases, far less heavy that I would like.

My future, if I stick with the Highland Games, is not great.  I am not a great thrower and with so many talented athletes in the mix now, I am not really going to advance.  But more importantly, if I am tearing my body up for something I do a few days a years which prevents me from things I do every week on multiple days, that is not a reasonable tradeoff at all.  People practice Iai and train in weights well into the 80's and 90's.  Most throwers barely make their 60's, if that.

I do not know that I have ever been this deliberate about giving something up before.  It is an odd feeling.  But having made it, I will follow through.  I have one more game this year that is terribly local. I  will go out, throw, have fun (and take it easy on the 42 lbs. weight), and be done.   With new people entering the sport all the time, selling my equipment should not be an issue.

It is always good to try things you have never done and enjoy them.  But I suspect it is also good to be able to give something up at your own choosing, rather than delaying until something awful happens.