Sunday, June 30, 2024

Highlands (Song of Ascent)

 I have a complicated relationship with the group Hillsong United.  I have heard more than my fair share of their music over the years, a risk (I think) of being in a church demographic that tends to cater to such interests.  Some of their work is at best weakly theological.  That said, I was exposed to at church in New Home 2.0 that hit it out of the park.    And, the video I found is all pictures of the Scottish Highlands, so a sort of double win (run time is 6:27; the scenery is quite nice).

O how high would I climb mountains
If the mountains were where You hide
O how far I'd scale the valleys
If You graced the other side

O how long have I chased rivers
From lowly seas to where they rise
Against the rush of grace descending
From the source of its supply

Cause in the Highlands and the heartache
You’re neither more or less inclined
I would search and stop at nothing
You're just not that hard to find


I will praise You on the mountain
And I will praise You when the mountain's in my way
You’re the summit where my feet are
So I will praise You in the valleys all the same
No less God within the shadows
No less faithful when the night leads me astray
'Cause You're the heaven where my heart is
In the Highlands and the heartache all the same

O how far beneath Your glory
Does Your kindness extend the path
From where Your feet rest on the sunrise
To where You sweep the sinner's past

O how fast would You come running
If just to shadow me through the night
Trace my steps through all my failure
And walk me out the other side

For who could dare ascend that mountain
That valleyed hill called Calvary
But for the One I call Good Shepherd
Who, like a lamb, was slain for me


Whatever I walk through
Wherever I am
Your Name can move mountains
Wherever I stand

And if ever I walk through
The valley of death
I'll sing through the shadows
My song of ascent

Whatever I walk through
Wherever I am
Your Name can move mountains
Wherever I stand

And if ever I walk through
The valley of death
I'll sing through the shadows
My song of ascent
My song of ascent

From the gravest of all valleys
Come the pastures we call grace
A mighty river flowing upwards
From a deep, but empty grave



Saturday, June 29, 2024

A Busy July

July, as it turns out, is shaping up to be a pretty big month.

Within this month - besides the standing events of Independence Day and The Ravishing Mrs. TB's birthday - lies the Great Rabbit Trek to New Home 2.0, a family wedding (which realistically will be the last time we all get together as a larger family unit for the foreseeable future), and the resumption of trips (shorter at the moment) back to The Ranch to make an effort to get things in order.

If that sounds like three of four weekends are booked out, you would be correct.

It is also kind of a milestone because at the moment, it is my last scheduled trip out to New Home. That is not to say that I am not going again, only that currently there are no set plans to be there.

Part of it is simply the New Home - or New Home in the person of The Ravishing Mrs. TB - will be out here more and more between now and the end of the year - at least once a month for several days between now and the end of September, and then almost a whole month between October and November, including Thanksgiving.  Christmas is not determined yet, although I suspect that any chance that Nighean Gheal makes it back to the US means that likely I will be there for part or all of that week (thankfully, we do get the entire week off).

Does it bother me, this seemingly sudden cessation of going "back"?  Less than I thought it might.

Do I miss my family?  Yes.  Do I miss Poppy the Brave and A the Cat and M the Guinea Pig (The rabbits, of course, moving in a week or so)?  I very much do, although they really are better off staying in a house with a yard to view (for A the Cat) or run in (for Poppy the Brave) than an apartment, and Na Clann are happy to have them.  And being able to train and my old dojo or go see the Rabbit Shelter will also be a special treat.

But no, at this point beyond that, there is not much that I miss.

It just really strikes me as odd, having been someplace for 15 years and then seemingly having abandon it in a short three months with minimal chances for return - and feeling okay with that in a way that I had not anticipated, of being able to clearly look back and say that I both valued that life and that I can let it go without regret.

Of course, I suppose adaptability is one of the great traits that allows humans in general, and some humans in particular, to thrive.

Friday, June 28, 2024

Bookshelf Of Wonders

 "Look at this stuff,
Isn't it neat?
Wouldn't you think my collection's complete?
Wouldn't you think I'm a girl,
A girl who has everything?
- Ariel, The Little Mermaid

One of the first things I did when our stuff arrived - beyond unpacking clothes to give my wardrobe something other than "seven shirts only" look - was unpack some books. Part of this was strategic:  I needed something to anchor the base of the bookshelves. Part of it was personal:  I felt like I needed to have some evidence of my books being present.

As I sat there on my couch, looking at my one full bookshelf (the history/literature shelf), I was overcome with a sense of wonder.  

The wonder, as I thought about it, came from two areas.  The first is that having read works of ancient history which quote works of ancient history that are lost to us, I was overcome with the wonder of the fact that I simply have so much information at my fingertips.  Saying "I have more knowledge at my fingertips that The Library of Hadrian in Athens (which I have been to)" seemed a little over the top, but the fact that all of the works exist in my position certain gives me a leg up on 99% of the population up to the mid-19th or 20th century, when books began to be more commonly available.

The second area came from the fact that it was if I had seen these books again for the first time.

The bulk of these books have been in my possession for years - the earliest ones on this shelf since 1989 (A History of The Crusades by Sir Steven Runciman0 and Osprey Publishing's The Normans, both which date from my time in Ireland.  These books have gathered and sat on this bookshelf, which was near the entry of our house in New Home.  I have walked by them thousands of times without giving them more than passing thought unless I was looking for a specific one.

Now, it is like I see each and every one of them for the first time.  I am reminded that in some cases it has been years since I opened some of these up to read.  

I am also reminded that I could never purchase another book again and still read for years.

Look at this trove
treasures untold
How many wonders can one cavern hold?
Lookin' around here you'd think,
Sure, she's got everything.

If I think deeply enough about it, I realize that I have allowed my life what this microcosm of books represent:  a series of acquisitions and desires for things that I do not own yet, but somehow am convinced that I should.  I justify the need in my mind - I will benefit from this, I will somehow be better/more knowledgeable/"in-sync" if I have this or that.  And too often I acquire the thing, use it once or twice, and then it goes into the closet or onto the shelf, a trophy to be looked at and admired.

I would like to be able to blame "the world" of course, as the world has created a system where nothing is good enough for us except the thing that we do not own.  And that is part of it - but a larger part of it is myself.  If I am honest, I am the gaping maw that cannot be satisfied. I continually "need" things.  

I confuse "need" with "want" more often than imagine.

I've got gadgets and gizmos a plenty
I've got whozits and whatzits galore.
You want thingamabobs?  
I've got twenty.
but who cares,
no big deal,
I want more.

Is there anything wrong with wanting things?  Not at all.  Desiring a thing can motivate us to work hard to achieve it.  Some things we want are things we will use a great deal.  And owning things is not, in and of itself, a bad thing.  I suspect the issue comes when owning them makes them nothing more than the aforementioned trophies on a shelf.

I cannot swear that I will never by another book. But I can swear that I will think long and hard before I do and the reason behind why I am buying it.  And I do fully intend to re-read everything I own.  After all, gathering knowledge without using it is just as bad as not having it at all.

Thursday, June 27, 2024

The Collapsei CLIII: Epiphany

 04 August 20XX +1

My Dear Lucilius:

I had an epiphany yesterday. I do not often have them (contrary to my own sense of importance) so when they take root and actually pan out it is something to be noted.

Even though I have been specifically told not to worry about it, I continue to ponder about the wheat North of us. Even with everyone we met taking some, there would still be plenty to be had for the industrious. But there are a great many logistics involved.

Who, you may ask, do I have to present these logistics to? A great question with a fairly fluid answer.

If one is looking for “government” in this part of the world, there is not one. The local towns of the Garnet Valley seem to be managing themselves, with occasional multi-town events. But that is organized beyond my line of sight – which is fine by me (and even more fine by Pompeia Paulina, as it turns out); the last thing in the world either of us want or need is another set of endless discussions that lead nowhere. I have had too much of those in past careers.

I have indicated before that Young Xerxes seems much more plugged into that side of things. I have no idea quite how or how much; any questions on those sorts of things seem to mysteriously shift into other lines of discussion. It is likely more than I think and certainly more than he lets on. He was,if you recall, the one that enabled my meeting with was apparently passes for leaders at the beginning of this.

So I have been confronting myself with two problems: the first is how to know when the wheat might be ready in sufficient time to allow for a group to get there in time to harvest it, the second how to communicate and arrange all of that. This has been the thought in my brain as I have wandered throughout my day, even casually bouncing suggestions off my wife – which as long as they do not seem to involved travel, seems to be a safe topic.

It came to me in the garden today: why not use my own grain as a guide?

I have grown small patches of wheat, rye, and barley for years now. I seldom get more than enough for flour for some loaves of bread and retaining enough for next year, but it remains an activity that I enjoy immensely: there is something about watching the stalks and grain ripple in the wind that fills my soul.

We are not that far South – perhaps 20 miles as the crow flies, and only one significant hill range between us and the fields. We might be a touch off, but not much: why not gauge readiness off of what I can see with my own eyes?

Yes, I know, there are a couple of caveats. One, of course, is that we have people we are in communication with and could tell us – but that might mean we are too late to really organize. The other is my wheat might not be precisely the same variety (honestly, it probably is not).

But comparatively speaking, those seem like minor challenges compared to a potential realistic solution. I reckon that if the planning starts now – tomorrow – a team could be made ready to depart. I should easily have the sense of a week before the event begins to happen – which could be confirmed by our friends to the North.

I ran all of this by Young Xerxes.  He seems all in, and will be off to discuss the idea with whomever he talks to about such things.  Who knows - perhaps other people that raise wheat are beyond my grasp here locally could give a better predicting tool than this.

Pompeia Paulina, when presented with this, gave me the look that I have come to associate with “This had better not involved another trip”. I shall endeavor to keep as low a profile as I can on this – while working intently on it.

Given where we are, it is likely a month or a little more for all of this to happen. If only the weather will hold, Lucilius. If only the weather will hold.

Your Obedient Servant, Seneca

Wednesday, June 26, 2024

2024 Turkey: Gülhane Park II

 More pictures from Gülhane Park. The flowers were simply incredible.

You may remember the Column of the Goths from our earlier post on Roman Empire ruins.  Its resting place is here in the Park.

Peeking up towards the Topkapi Palace:

Tuesday, June 25, 2024

2024 Turkey: Gülhane Park I

Gülhane Park (Gülhane Parki in Turkish, or "Rosehouse Park") is an urban garden adjacent to the Topkapi Palace, the Imperial Palace of the Ottoman's.  The Park was originally a part of the outer gardens of the Palace.  It became more well known after the 1839 Edict of Gülhane was announced in the garden, the launch of Tanzimat reforms in the Ottoman Empire (which provided for things like modernization of the Empire and equal rights under the law for all citizens regardless of religion).  It was turned over the municipality of Istanbul and became a park in 1912 (before the fall of the Ottoman Empire).

We were lucky; the flowers were all in bloom.  There is not much else to say, other than "Enjoy the view".

Monday, June 24, 2024

The Arrival of Stuff

The stuff has arrived.

The grand total came to around 175 items coming in:  165 labeled items (a combination of boxes and furniture) and around 10 or so items that were not specifically labeled - shelves for the bookcases, outdoor chairs, some random items.  Even not being the whole house, it still seems like a lot.

The unload took three hours; I up front apologized to the crew for the fact the apartment was on the third floor.  Only one item almost did not make it up the staircase, the larger of the two couches, but was saved at the last moment by removing the bottom legs and then putting them back on.  

Only three items failed the move:  a nightstand where the leg was just cleanly broken off (and not found) and two of the IKEA bookcases, older ones where the stabilizing material on the back had become dislodged and lost structural integrity (that said, I now know had to fix that problem on future builds of bookshelves).

All the major furniture is in place at this point; the nice thing is that it looks like we guessed correctly about the amount of things we should take with us.

I have undertaken some unpacking, although I have been told I do not need to do so (The Ravishing Mrs. TB has suggested politely it might be better if she does the bulk of it so it goes in the places that she would like it to go).  My clothes are all unpacked; the bottom shelf of one bookcase is done and and I ended up fully loading another - my ancient/medieval/Japanese/military history shelf.  I know it I did not need to do it, but it just makes me feel better.

It is nice to have things here: something with a back to it to sit in, an actual bed to sleep in.  But mostly, it is just really nice to have my things here with me.  It somehow gives me the sense that there is some level of control in my life at the moment, that my resources are all here now, not strung out half a country away from me.

In that sense, it is good to be home.

Sunday, June 23, 2024

No Ordinary People

 Over the years, I have re-read C.S. Lewis' Mere Christianity  numerous times.  It is a wonderful book if you have never read it - chock of full of the humble wisdom and theological insights that I always find to be hallmark of Lewis.  Many of his thoughts have made it into the larger Christian consciousness (even as the memes above), and many of them continue to rumble through my mind, even 30 years after I originally read them.

The comment above is one that continues to haunt me.

It haunts me, because I am well aware of my own tendency to categorize people based on any number of factors:  Are they "On my side"?  Are they arrogant or proud or obviously have no self control?  Are they a flagrant sinner?  Are they a "Christian In Name Only?"

Lewis confronts me with the fact that although these are relevant questions to ask, they are perhaps not the most important question.

Every person we meet, every person we discard or help or fight with or use or a treat well or treat poorly, each of these individuals is someone who, at the end of the day, will become either a creature beyond our comprehension of beauty or disgust (as Lewis says).  We are mortal in the sense that we die, but we are immortal in the sense that we all have souls.  How does that impact how we treat people?  How should that impact how we treat people?

If in every encounter I saw not a person, but an immortal either on their way to either Heaven or Hell (for Christians, those are the options we are given), how should that change my encounter?  If my treatment of them or interaction with them has the ability to help them reach one destination or the other, it probably makes the most sense to do all that I can to help along towards one and away from the other (which is really what Christ talks about, of course:   we are to reflect Him and be guides pointing towards Him).

If I had that kind of awesome power in my grasp - which I do, every single day that I get up and talk to a single person - how am I using it?  

Saturday, June 22, 2024

Learning To Let Go Of Relationships

 I have struggled all my life with letting people go.

I believe I come by this naturally; a combination of a introverted and nerd-like childhood and young adulthood combined with living in a small town will do that to you.  What it manifests itself as is the inability to let people drop out of my life.

I say "drop out" as if this some kind of intentional thing.  It is not.  It simply the nature of life itself.  People get new jobs, people move, people get new interests - and move on.

Not me, though.  For years, I have sought to breathe life into relationships that had passed their expiration date.

I have written about it many time before, but I am someone who grew up believing that long time relationships where just the way it worked.  Part of this was reading both history and fantasy/science fiction, where historically people often stayed in a single location or where the band of adventurers came together and spent the rest of their time in one's company.  Part of this was simply that I had a core group of friends that followed me, one from K-8, one in high school and beyond.

But that, as I have been reminded, is the exception not the rule.

To be fair to myself, I have gotten better about this over time.  Originally I would  do everything in my power to keep the connection going, probably to the point of being annoying (I say probably. I was annoying).  Now, it is more of a periodic check-in where the periodicity cycles longer and longer until a new balance is found or the communication simply ends.

It is better.  But it is not easier.

Part of that lack of ease is, I suspect, simply the fact that I somehow feel that I have failed in the relationship:  I let the relationship down and that in the event that something happens I will not be there to help or support.  Which is rather taking a lot of credit for things I may or may not provide to the relationship.

It helps - a bit - to remind myself of a saying that The Ravishing Mrs. TB found long ago, that there are life friends and friends that come in and out our lives for a season.  I had believe most relationships should be life friends; imagine my surprise when it really turns out most of us are in another's life for a season only.

Will I continue to get better about it?  I have to; the idea that somehow one person can maintain a relationship that is not longer required is foolish (trust me, I have tried multiple times with the pre-determined result).  I am training myself instead to learn to enjoy the relationship while I have it and gratefully let it pass on when the time has come.

Like flowers:  here for a season bringing beauty into our lives, then fading away.

Friday, June 21, 2024

A Lifestyle Not A Hobby Followup

 One of the traps that pontificators - professional or otherwise - have a habit of falling into that they either refuse or fail take to their own advice to others.  The famous phrase "Physician, heal thyself"  falls on deaf ears.  They - we, or me anyway - have a keen eye for seeing the issues in the lives of others but somehow miss the same issue that is operational in their own life.  Or equally as bad, they note something about their own lives which intellectually they agree with but has not impact and leads to no change on their part.

Thus, when I actually make of note something in my life and change it, no-one remains more surprised than I.

One of the outcomes of the entire discussion of A Lifestyle, Not A Hobby (which I am somewhat surprised to find I wrote only a week ago) was that whether or not I had realized it years earlier, I had selected the lifestyle of Iaijutsu - something made plain both by my headmaster's story as well as the realization of what it felt like when that normal habitual schedule of training and class was cut off.  I had done the thing for years, but now it became a conscious choice to continue and get better.

Somewhat to my shock, that simple series of thoughts has actually changed my living style.

Oh, it is in the smallest of ways, of course.  One is trying to be much more conscious about my training sessions and making the most of them in terms of time and focus.  Another are those secondary activities which support that primary activity, things like ongoing Japanese study and weight training and aerobics.  A third is finding some supplemental activities (mostly stretching related) to help increase my flexibility, which is rather abysmal.

Another - and this is a surprise - is looking at stopping some things.

Again, this falls into the category of the most minor of details:  a 10 minute daily activity here, a 10 minute activity there.  Now I am at the point where I am looking at each activity, asking "Does this actually advance my chosen lifestyle?"  If not, I am finding it is easier and easier to just stop doing that thing - for a week, I tell myself, just stop for a week and see how it goes.

My guess?  One week will turn into a month and carry on from there.

I am trying not to have high expectations of any of this - after all, I am famous for starting things that I never finish - but the fact that I can actually see the outcome of this thinking is rather somewhat exciting.

Sometimes - surprisingly - I may actually have good advice.

Even for myself.

Thursday, June 20, 2024

The Collapse CLII: Reasons

 02 August 20XX+1

My Dear Lucilius:

I fear that there is not much to write of a novel nature over the last few days – even as the week before, my activities and efforts focus completely around this plot of land I call home. The heat during the mid part of the day here can make working outside an exhausting and sweaty effort, so rising as soon as the sun is up and working until early-afternoon has become the standard practice. After that, it is a short lunch break and then whatever work can be done out of the sun – one particularly useful activity has become sitting in the shade of the trees behind The Cabin in the afternoon, working away at tasks that can be done sitting and chatting.

Today, as we were sorting Black-eyed peas, Pompeia Paulina asked “Do you think this whole thing could have been avoided?”

I looked up at her. “This? No, you have to remove the husk or the whole thing cooks and you get mush in the soup…”

She looked at me crossly. “That’s not what I meant and you know it. This, all of this – the failure of money, the shutting down of everything, the deaths...could it have been avoided?”

It is a fair question Lucilius, and one that I have given thought to myself as well.

The odd thing about this entire thing – The Collapse, that is – is that I still do not really know what happened. I can theorize of course, but I was never one for much following the media in the last few years and certainly once things accelerated I had absolutely no idea what was happening. The contact with the Armed Forces almost a year ago now was the last time I heard or spoke to any representative of any official branch of government. And no-one I have interacted with since has said provided any information – in fact, no-one has really mentioned it at all. It is as if the event happened and no-one speaks of it at all.

Is there a national government? I assume so, somewhere. Is there a state government? Possibly – although given the population of this state, likely it functions no more than on a very local level if at all. And if our area is any indication, local government has essentially become the same as “everyone that lives in an area”.

But could the whole thing have been avoided?

I am no economist to understand or predict such things, and therefore felt completely unqualified to comment on the matter (and said the same to Pompeia Paulina). But it did strike me, I said, that throughout my lifetime I had only ever lived in a world where debt at every level had gone from something that was to be avoided to something that was to be actively pursued as a policy or practice. Current deficits, it was said, would be paid for by future returns.

Until, of course, they are not. Even I as a historian realize that 7,000 years of recorded history say otherwise.

What will the future look like? I have no idea. I have tried to think of examples in history of civilizations doing an economic cold start. It is tough to come up with examples. It is not just the fact that the money needs to be there, of course. You need infrastructure and energy and trained personnel to make all of that happen. And then, of course, you need the will to make all of that happen.

I am not sure where people’s will is right now, Lucilius. Mine is currently in the simple life of harvesting Black-eyed Peas with my wife on a fine Summer’s day.

Your Obedient Servant, Seneca

Wednesday, June 19, 2024

2024 Turkey: The Basilica Cistern II

As mentioned yesterday, the Basilica Cistern is supported by 336  30 ft/9 m columns.  The columns are arranged in 12 rows of 28 columns spaced apart ever 15 ft/5 m.  The columns appear to have been "recycled" for the most part from other parts of the Empire, combined with materials left from the construction of Haghia Sophia.

One of the most distinctive of the recycled columns is not the column itself but its pediment, which is a recycled Gorgon's head.

(Looking up at the Gorgon Head's column)

Another is a highly decorated column.

A third, known as Hen's Eye, contains protuberances that are said to resemble hen's eyes.

(Author's note:  The videos below were originally intended to be present with yesterday's post, but due to some apparent issue, they were not able to be posted until later in the day.  Reposting.)

Tuesday, June 18, 2024

2024 Turkey: The Basilica Cistern I

Arguably one of the greatest historical sites I saw in Turkey was not something that would typically be thought of as a tourist attraction: a cistern, or more correctly, the Basilica Cistern:

When Constantinople was designated as the Imperial Capital, it was still at a time when Rome built things - which was good news, as the capital, which had great sea access and defensibility, had very poor water sources.  Over the years, a number of aqueducts reaching farther and father into the hinterlands were constructed, the longest being the Aqueduct of Valens, which ultimately pulled water from 75 miles away and had almost 450 miles of conduits for the water.

But it is not enough to get the water there; one has to hold it in place until use.  Thus, cisterns were built throughout the Imperial Capitol (Byzantium ultimately had 160 of these that have been identified).  

The Basilica Cistern was built by the Emperor Justinian I (he of the Nika Revolts and Haghia Sophia fame).  The cistern is 453 ft/138 m by 213 ft/65 m supported by 336 columns of 30 ft/9 m high.  Total capacity for water is 2.8 million cubic ft/80,000 cubic m.

Wikipedia compares the area - 105,000 sq ft/9,800 sq m - to a cathedral. Having been in some cathedrals, I would say that might be a little underestimated in comparison.

Reportedly 7,000 slaves were used to build this cistern.

To enter the cistern, one takes 52 steps down.  The cistern is made with 12 ft/4m firebrick walls, covered with a water resistant mortar.

The cistern was used for hundreds of years but gradually forgotten about by all but local residents, especially after the Ottoman Conquest.  A French traveler in the 16th century records a trip in which he was rowed in a boat in the cistern, seeing fish swimming below.

The cistern is now used as a museum and archaeological site.  Were I to recommend sites to individuals visiting Turkey, this would be high on the list.

Monday, June 17, 2024

On InterWeb Groups And Making Good Choices

 Old AF Sarge over at Chant du Depart has been crafting an excellent narrative - he always does, but this most one is extremely good (if you are not reading him, you should be).  In the current series, one of the characters - a guy who thought he was doing the right thing but ended up enabling some very wrong things - makes the the following statement in police custody:

"Look Sir, I'm in over my head.  I know that now.  I betrayed my oath, I betrayed my shipmates, and damn it, I betrayed my own core beliefs."

This particular sentence stood out to me because it is a concept and question I often keep asking myself about.

One of the great challenges of feeling like one is largely on one's own is the reality that one tries to find contact with the others that are on a similar wavelength.  This is something I have done my whole life as a "nerd" whose interests ran pretty contrary to most of my peers.  It becomes even more pronounced when one finds one's self an island of one set of beliefs in a culture or social situation that has a different set.

The reality is that for 95% of us, all we know of our fellow human beings on the InterWeb is what the post.  Sure, social media may provide additional information or there are some individuals that just post their whole lives, but for most of us there is a very wise dividing line between engaging in conversation and thought and inviting the world to track us down.  As a result, we often only know what people want us to know about them.

Sometimes this is fine as is and we can share opinions or thoughts or recipes.  Sometimes, it is not fine and we finding ourselves associated - seemingly suddenly - with individuals and groups that we had no intention of being in support of.

I write this from experience - it has happened to me more than once online.  No, not "those" kinds of groups and nothing criminal, but people starting edging from comments that seemed reasonable and rational to comments that really did confront that line of oaths to friends, oaths to society, oaths to myself.    Having recognized the issue, I ceased moving in the same direction.

But the temptation always remains, looking for a group that shares one's beliefs and in some fashion throwing one's lot in with them.

I have gotten a great deal better about this through the years - especially with groups, I am far more standoffish than I used to be.  And in social situations, I have virtually mastered the art about having no opinion about anything that is remotely controversial (a "mmmm" and general non-committal head gesture goes a long way).    And I have tried to get a lot better about asking "What is it I really want to see accomplished", followed by "And how is this person/group/association going to accomplish that?"  If I keep pressing into those questions, I find that I am generally a lot more aware earlier of potential risks.

But it remains a challenge.  I will say that I have found connecting with individuals - mostly on their blogs or here - seems  a much more reliable method. 

I completely believe in the Social Internet.  But I do not believe that even with its benefits, it outweighs significant risks of throwing ourselves "in" with the wrong crowd and only realizing that fact too late.

(Post Script:  Again, thank you for your management of comments and discussion here.  At least for me, this truly functions as an environment where I can think and ponder and post and be understood for what I am trying to do through the process.)

Saturday, June 15, 2024

Updates From Home, June 2024 Edition

 A big week of news this week at Taigh na Thoirdhealbheach Beucail.

1)  As some of you may recall from earlier in the year, our oldest, Nighean Gheal, moved back home from living in the Big Big City.  Her lease was up, she could work remotely, and there was nothing really holding her there.

One reason she moved home was to save money.  The second came to fruition this week.

From her sophomore year of college on, she has made money by doing online tutoring in conversational English, mostly for students and business folks in North Asia.  She enjoyed it, she was good at it, and it gave her extra spending money.

As she started her job a little over two years ago at (Insert Large Name) Consulting Firm, she found that she did not really care for the business world.  As she explained it to me in a conversation, when she left "work" she felt exhausted and drained but when she finished tutoring she felt excited and energized.  A sign, one might say.

The outcome of this was she applied for and has been accepted to be an English teacher in South Korea.

She has had a passionate interest in Korea since we located to New Home 15 years ago, perhaps originally driven by the fact that the school she was at had exchange students from South Korea.  Over the years she studied Korean, fell in love with culture (most especially the music, or "K-Pop" to the uninitiated).  She has been at least twice and minored in Korean Studies.

We do not know her departure date or where specifically she will be placed; we do know it will be in the province of Chungcheonbuk:


This program (as I understand it) is some kind of extension program through the South Korean Government.  The program lasts for a year, but if you are good you can be extended.

I am obviously very proud of my daughter - not just that she was accepted (it was a pretty rigorous application process including a background check, a Letter of Apostille, multiple interviews, and a draft lesson plan), but that she had the personal awareness and foresight to realize was she was doing was not making her happy and making a change before she got trapped in a career that she hated (as happens to many people).

Needless to say, likely there are pictures of South Korea in our not too distant future.

2)  Nighean Dhonn, our youngest, has been accepted into a University at New Home.

Last year, as you may recall, she was accepted into the Archaeology program at the University of Evansville.  She liked the school and program well enough, but unfortunately a series of retirements from the department meant that her interest (Classical [Greek and Roman] studies) would no longer be offered as more than a general course.  She applied for a transfer; we were notified that it as accepted this week.

There are two major impacts.  The first is financial, although I am not certain of the difference - she had a very decent package at her previous school and her new school (being a state school)  is not nearly so generous.  The second impact - related to the first - means that she can live at the house in New Home which in theory will mean that we are not paying for university housing (it is a commutable distance).

Another, lesser impact, is that we will not have get her and her stuff back in the Fall.

3)  Not to overlook the middle child, Nighean Bhan, she has started the second year (Summer session) of her speech pathology program.  She remains on course to finish in May of 2025, after which she will do a one year internship.


The amount of change that has happened this year - correction, the first half of this year - continues to stun me.

Friday, June 14, 2024

A Lifestyle Not A Hobby

The Seminar with my headmaster - although sadly shortened this year due to the change in my location and the starting of a new job - was good; two days with a Grandmaster is better than no days with a Grandmaster.

The great joy of training comes not from the physical exertion - plenty of that - but of the small comments and vignettes that are woven into commentary as he observes us. I envy him his ability to seamlessly do this; I always seem to awkwardly approach such issues when I try to do the same.  

At one point during our training, he mentioned the fact that one of the great frustrations he had as a teacher was people who simply made no progress.  This could take one of two paths: the first, that they only appeared irregularly, trained but obviously had not improved, and then went away for another period of time - a sort of drop-in casual student.  The other was those that did train regularly, but only seemed to mark time in their position: they did not improve, but simply add years to the amount of time they were present.  The comparison was made to traditional Japanese arts and martial arts in Japan where the lifestyle is all encompassing and difficult to the point that many, if not most, wash out because they do not wish to make the level of commitment.

Iaijutsu, he said, is the same.  It is is intended as a lifestyle, not a hobby.

The thought flew from my headmaster's lips and profoundly smacked me upside the head.

Anyone that knows me or has followed this blog is aware that I am a hobby person.  My interests are wide ranging - and arguably, there is nothing wrong with that.  The gathering of knowledge can itself be a lifestyle of sorts.

But in my case, I have also chosen the lifestyle of Iaijutsu.

When I was accepted into the school and my headmaster became not just my headmaster but, in a real way my master (Note the small "m", not the capital "M".  I have only one Master.), I entered a contract:  This is how it was, back in feudal times.  I agreed to train in this art and not others.  Additionally, I agreed to other conditions, some of which I knew and some of which I did not fully understand until later in my journey.

I cannot just "display" my art; I need to ask for permission.  Training at another dojo (as I did over the weekend, as New Home 2.0 is now my new dojo) requires formal permission.  There are techniques I am not allowed to publicly display, knowledge I am not allowed to speak.  I am even forbidden from casually displaying my sword to other martial arts practitioners.

Somewhat to my surprise, I found I had started a martial art and acquired a lifestyle instead.

But frankly, it is a lifestyle that I do not practice as I should. In so many ways, I still treat it as a hobby, something that I can practice or not at will.  In point of fact, I have made the commitment.  For me to give up now would be to be cast out in a literal sense:  my name would not be spoken, my sensei (plural) shamed because of my failure (it has happened).

But really, this true of my life in general as well.  A lifestyle of hobbies prevents one from really become skilled simply because one is not willing to commit in meaningful ways.  It means choosing not to do some things.  It means training when one is tired or bored or just not feeling it.  It means - at some level - measuring all of one's activities against the standard of "What best advances me in this lifestyle?"

Does this mean I will stop making yogurt and cheese or studying Old English or half a dozen other things I do?  Hardly.  These things fill useful niches of my life, either by the products I get from them or the simple enjoyment derived from them.  But it does mean that some things have precedence over others and that my time and indeed all my activities need to be viewed through the lens of how this impacts the path of swordsmanship I have chosen.

For me, I was reminded that the musha shugyo - the warrior's pilgrimage - is not just a saying.  Even now, for some, it remains a way a life.

Said differently, it is a lifestyle not a hobby.

Thursday, June 13, 2024

The Collapse CLI: Smoldering Stalks

 30 July 20XX +1

My Dear Lucilius:

Pompeia Paulina sleeps away behind me in the other room.

I write this in the darkness of night, by the light of the almost full moon, awake from a dream as I have been for the past three nights.

Each night it is the same: We are in the field of wheat where we met Epicurus and Themista. It is later in the year; the wheat is brown and dry and bowing down slightly in readiness. The winds of September, bearing on them the hint of Winter that will come in less than a month, whirl fleeting ripples into the ocean of grain.

Pompeia Paulina is there. So is Young Xerxes and Statiera. We are sitting on the rise of the hill, a picnic of fruit and cheese and wine on a blanket.

Then- soundlessly - the field suddenly erupts into flame.

It is not as the movies of wildfires that I have seen, an advancing wall of flame driving all before it. It is a singular eruption into a fireball without an explosion. I smell the scent of scorched hair; my own, I see by the withered hairs on my arms and the ashen eyebrows drifting into my eyes.

They are all gone – Pompeia Paulina, Young Xerxes, Statiera. It is just I and the picnic blanket, undisturbed by the fire.

One of the wine glasses pings and shatters. From nowhere, everywhere – gunfire erupts.

I fall to the ground, wildly looking for a weapon. There is no weapon of any kind, except the cheese knife that sits idly on the plate of cheese, now stained with red wine from the shattered glass.

A hand shakes my shoulder – startled, I turn and look. It is Blazer Man out of nowhere, handing me a rifle. He smiles bleakly at me, then takes aim at unseen enemies who cannot be seen on the road or in the smoldering field of wheat that is now naught but black stalks and seared grain heads.

With that, I awake. Every night, the same dream, at the same moment.

I am no soothsayer to see the meaning of this. The things are real, the facts are not: Pompeia and Paulina have never been to the field of wheat, it is not September, and Blazer Man has handed me no rifle – or anything else for that matter, fields do not spontaneous erupt into flame, and weapons are only shot by people using them.

It troubles me, Lucilius, more than I care to admit. There is no horror in the dream, just confusion and fear and a lack of understanding as my surroundings collapse into flame and death and last stands.

And yet sitting here I can still smell the smoldering stalks and see the drops of the dusky red wine staining the cheese beneath it.

Your Obedient Servant, Seneca

Wednesday, June 12, 2024

2024 Turkey: Columns and Walls

 Peppered throughout Istanbul are isolated items of her Roman and Byzantine past.

The Column of The Goths is possibly the oldest remaining Roman monument in Istanbul.  Standing 18.5 meters high, it may date to the reign of Claudius II (Emperor A.D. 268 - 270) or the years A.D. 331-332 of Constantine I.

An A.D. 6th Century writer notes that the column at one time had a statue of Tyche (Fortuna) on top.

The script, now much faded, suggests a memorial to a victory over the Goths.  

The Column of Constantine was moved by Constantine I in the year A.D. 330 from the temple of Apollo in Rome. Originally surmounted by a statue of Apollo, it was replaced over the years by statues of Constantine, Julianus, and Theodosius.  Destroyed in A.D. 1081, it was rebuilt and a cross placed on top by Alexius I Comnenus.  The cross remained until A.D. 1453 and the Ottoman Conquest.  In the late A.D. 1600's to early 1700's, the column was damaged by fire.  A wall was put under the column and iron rings bound it.

Interestingly, at least one story has relics of Christ being buried under the column.


Byzantium and Constantinople were protected by walls through most of its history; it was these walls that allowed it to survive multiple sieges (it was ultimately the gunpowder era that overcame them).  The walls of the original Acropolis were expanded by the Emperors Severus and Constantine I and his son Constantius (A.D. 317 - 361).  The walls were a single wall - which the expanding city quickly outgrew.

The single Constantinian walls was replaced by the Emperor Theodosius with an inner wall, an outer wall, a low wall and a moat.  


The walls, once built, secured the city - but were often prey to earthquakes, needing multiple repairs.  After the sack of Constantinople in A.D. 1204, the walls were more often than not in disrepair.  Only the threat of attack was enough to get them in better condition.  And yet, even at that, they withstood a 53 day siege before the Ottomans took the city - almost 1,000 years of service.

These walls are part of the Old Inner City and stand by the Topkapi Palace.  All of the Walls - or what was left of them - stood throughout the Ottoman Era.

These last set of walls were not half a mile from our hotel.  I have no idea what walls they are - there was no indication on any map and no marker.  A small park is there now and a small mosque.  The day I came the sun was setting and families who had make a picnic of the day were preparing a barbecue or packing up to leave.

As they had for perhaps 1600 years the walls stood, silently watching.