Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Barometer of a Nation ... Canada

What is a nation? Is it a place bounded by unseen lines upon a land or the twining path of a river or the sea? Or is it one people, though they be scattered far and wide?

Were suddenly all U.S. citizens to be called home from wherever they live in the world, a flood of millions would pour across the borders. Some would hardly seem American, having been away so long. Some of them would be deeply resentful.

What is a nation? Is it a unity of purpose in spite of differences, like the Roman citizenship that once bound men from Britain to Libya, from Spain to Anatolia?

I enjoy my little hobby of studying the nations of the world, one at a time, month by month. In December, I have been contemplating my great northern neighbor, Canada. Though I have yet to sample a beavertail pastry or learn the words to "O Canada," perhaps what I have studied has been more significant. I have read Canadian Hugh MacLennan's "Barometer Rising." Authored in the 1950's, it is the tale of a terrible tragedy in Halifax during WWI: the collision of two ships in Halifax Harbor, one laden with munitions, that killed hundreds, perhaps thousands of people, and leveled nearly the entire city. MacLennan's tale begins quietly, swelling like a wave upon a darkened sea,finally rising to terrible climax.

May I be forgiven for having learned nothing about this horrible event in my life until now, nothing in school, though I certainly should have.

MacLennan also throughout the book contemplates what it means to be Canadian: Neither a (U.S.) American nor British. But must a Canadian define himself only by what he is not? And what is Canada's destiny in the world? A bridge between its southern neighbor and the Old World, perhaps. He ponders whether Canada would rise to be one of the great nations of the world after Europe exhausted itself in war.

"...Neither a colony nor an independent nation, neither English nor American ... Canada must remain noncommital, until the day she becomes the keystone to hold the world together."

"... This nation undiscovered by the rest of the world and unknown to itself ... this unborn mightiness, this question mark, this future ... for God knew how many millions of mankind."

Friday, December 16, 2011

Australia to create marine reserve

"When you see the Southern Cross for the first time, you understand now why you came this way ..." -- Crosby, Stills and Nash So much of the world I have not seen ... the vast Eurasian steppes; sun-baked Africa; ancient Asia ... and the islands of the Southern Hemisphere. I read today that Australia is proposing to designate nearly 400,000 square miles in the Coral Sea as a marine reserve. Splendid! I may never see it myself but I am happy to know it will be there, a place free of exploitation, full of beauty. Just one more thing to love about the Land Down Under.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Not alone

Venturing deeper into the woods today, into parts once familiar to me, where I once felt myself quite alone, I found it not so today. Someone has built walls of scrap wood, hung black plastic tarps, created some kind of a campsite. It was uncomfortable, wondering who did so, and for what purpose. I did not linger today but I will have to go back.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Too long away from the woods

For too long, I have not visited you, my woods, not explored beyond the ruined fenceline. Massive trees, storm-toppled, sprawl across the wispy threads of old, familiar trails. A loblolly pine that once stood strong on the slope's edge now lies lifeless, its needles dry and brown. I feel a pang of sorrow, for it was always a welcome brushstroke of green amongst the dull oaks. But clinging to a boulder nearby, a new pine stands, as tall as me -- truly, how long has it been since I visited you, my woods? I pull away a tendril of honeysuckle that seeks to climb and choke the tender tree, and vow to become a friend of this place again.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Job lead

Got a FB message from a friend yesterday, may be an editor's job opening up. Tiny hometown paper. But it would be full-time, with benefits. We shall see.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Gentle autumn

Soft mist sifts down through the Virginia sky, as our autumn slowly fades into winter. This is a beautiful place to live. My thoughts are random today; I have applied for an editor's job; a friend has offered a slab of venison; I am watching happily as a tender tropical tree grows taller on my window sill; I cleaned out the recipe book cabinet in the kitchen and piled up all the loose recipes, from magazines and such, into a box until I can buy some folders into which to organize them. Life goes on. Life is good. Life, though hard and often painful, is precious. What is the alternative? The dead insensibility of nothingness, a universe unaware of itself.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Pawpaw posting

Had the pleasure this week, thanks to some foraging friends, of tasting my very first pawpaw fruit. Now the seeds are "stratifying" in the fridge, should germinate on Christmas day. The little fruits tasted like a cross between a banana and a mango.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Checking back in ...

Still no job.

But I am in good health. So is my Beloved. Life is a gift, each and every day. I boiled acorns yesterday to leach out the bitter tannin, and then roasted them, dusted them with powdered sugar and enjoyed.

Monday, June 27, 2011

A time to help and be helped ...

... How much sweeter life is when we become a family, by blood as well as by choice.

On Sunday, I learned that a Woman in our church whom I know, was having an emotional breakdown. I went over there with a neighbor and we just let Her talk and cry. She is a single Mother, dealing with the typical challenges of that situation, as well as physical and emotional issues. How my heart ached for Her loneliness and sorrow, so unnecessary! How for the 100th time I wanted to hunt down the man who left Her and rearrange his face. How I wondered why a good, solid, strong man has not yet found his way into Her life.

We agreed that my Beloved and I will come back and spend some time with Her this week, just being friends and helping Her get a few things organized. It is very important that I involve my Beloved, that I help "Jane" to have some Female friends to lean on. A man's natural desire to comfort, can go the wrong way in even the best-intentioned of souls and I would be a fool to think that I am immune.

When I came home, I discovered that some of our family had dropped by and filled our refrigerator up with food. In these hard times, how we needed that!

Friday, June 17, 2011

Who in the world is C.S. Forester?

Beginning his epic "Passage to Juneau," Jonathan Raban dryly speaks of young land-lubbers, wannabee sailors, knowing nothing of the sea but having read their C.S. Forester.

Those wannabees have an advantage over me. I had no idea until tonight who indeed C.S. Forester was.

The man was a twentieth-century literary colossus, author of The African Queen -- which movie buffs remember became a film starring Bogart and (Katherine) Hepburn; and also of the Horatio Hornblower naval hero series.

According to Wikipedia, Ernest Hemingway is quoted as saying, "I recommend Forester to everyone literate I know," and Winston Churchill stated, "I find Hornblower admirable."

Guess I need to make some room on my bookshelf.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Wonders of the Day

Two weeks left til the job wraps up. Still no confirmation of employment anywhere else.

But life goes on. The Jack-in-the-Pulpit is blooming deep in the woods. I have met a friend, an incredible guy who has taken beautiful pictures all over the world -- from Sudan to Japan. He is excited for me to take him on a hike in the woodlands behind my home, because his favorite photographic subject is trees. Just have to figure out when.

Spent most of yesterday evening, my Beloved and I, keeping another friend company at the hospital. An amazing Woman whom some piece of garbage abandoned long ago, leaving Her with two children to raise alone. Now She is dealing with some horrific health problems. It felt good to be able to be there for Her when She needed it, so that She didn't have to sit in that hospital alone.

Life is beautiful and ugly, cruel and tender, all at once. It is terribly wrong to be a cynic, denying all beauty; it is wrong, too, to hide from the ugly and cruel. It is a waste of time to wait around for a perfect day in order to experience joy; to expect that the one can ever be permanently entangled from the other. Find joy and peace and beauty now, in this very moment.

And what is beauty? The eyes of a child. The gentle curves of a Woman's body. The deep lines upon an old face, telling the story of life like the rings of a tree. The pounding of the ocean. The limpet clinging to the rock at the shoreline. Bread upon the table. A doctor easing pain. The choice to be kind instead of cruel, generous instead of selfish. Acceptance of the will of the universe.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Night fear

We whose families include little dogs face unique perils.

Last night, walking her alone in the hazy, humid darkness, I heard the sound of a fierce dog barking. I know by now all the homes in the neighborhood where dogs live. Behind their fences, they can bark without concerning me. And my feisty little friend can bark back without bringing a death sentence upon herself.

But this sound did not come from any familiar yard. It came from the ominous gloom near a factory at the edge of the neighborhood. In the haze, I saw a large, dark shape.

I went into defensive mode -- scooping up our little pet, whom just about any other dog could bite in half like a McNugget -- a concern of which she is blissfully unaware. She squirmed in my arms to get down and barked at the shadow in the dark.

With my free hand, I scrabbled in the dirt for a good-sized rock, my heart pounding. My fingers found only hard-baked dirt and crabgrass clumps -- then, finally, closed around a weighty chunk of asphalt sheared from the edge of the road by some long-ago passing truck. I gripped it in my hand ready to fight.

Our little dog squirmed free. I grabbed her up again and stood still, squinting into the blackness.

Relief. The strange dog was behind the factory fence, unable to do harm. I put down my aggrieved little dog and we continued our walk, the strange dog still barking behind us in the night.

Still waiting ...

... I know my employment situation makes for a boring blog. My apologies. But it is consuming me like a match flame upon paper.

I am still waiting, in most miserable suspense, for that call back from the One Great Place. Still attempting to be something of a productive employee in the Nasty Old Hole. Haven't heard a word from my boss in days. It lurks deep within its lair, shutting the door at the sound of approaching footsteps, ignoring the steadily higher-rising stack of papers I continue to dutifully submit for approval.

It causes me to ponder, in a classic way, the nature of true evil. Is evil about seeking the good in the wrong way, as Plato and Aristotle opined? Or is it a life built upon lying to others and oneself, as the somewhat more modern Dr. Peck theorized? Is this being who torments me genuinely evil, lashing out like a wounded dragon in its cave, heedless or blinded to the damage that it is causing in this place?

Friday, May 27, 2011

Great possibility

Interviewed yesterday. Great place. Great potential. Please, oh please let it be!

Sunday, May 15, 2011

So set ...

So set beautiful wreaths, Dika,
about your tresses
plait together the dill shoots
with your tender fingers.
Primed with flowers
the blest spirits of Joy most favor
such occasions:
they shun people who wear no garlands.
-- Sappho, Greek poetess

Thursday, May 12, 2011

Quote for living

"There are two ways to get enough. One is to continue to accumulate more and more. The other is to desire less." -- G.K. Chesterton

Thursday, May 5, 2011

The job search

Sweetie knows now.

She took the news of the impending job loss with courage and strength. She has reminded me daily that She loves me and She thinks a great injustice has been done.

I am trying to maintain a good attitude here. To work as hard as I can up until the day I leave. What point in being childish and sour, to justify the decision that the boss has made?

I have two interviews set up early next week. They sound promising.

I have always tried to be a grateful person. We've never had great luxuries but I can eat beans and rice for dinner and be happy for it. I can go months without buying anything new, just paying our bills. I'm grateful that my parents raised me that way. Now, more than ever, I will be grateful for whatever job I can find.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011


Maybe a ray of light. Maybe. I will know in a few days. I will know if I have dodged, not a bullet but a cannonball.

I saw a guy outside a convenience store last night. Scruffy. Maybe homeless. Maybe not. If I have learned anything from these last few terrifying days, it is just how fragile one's security is. Cannot ever take it for granted.

"What's your story?" I wondered, as I looked at the guy. He didn't ask me for change. Just kept smoking his cigarette.

So easily can it all go away. In the caprice of a boss, in the diagnosis from a doctor, in the twist of a tornado, in a bit of black ice on the highway. You go from being casually content to fighting for your very survival.

I still have not told my Beloved, so long as there is a possibility of hope. No sense in Her worrying at all if the news turns out well. But it is hard to keep my fear and sorrow pent up inside.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Screaming in silence

We will not be renewing your contract.

Seven horrible, terrifying, cruel words.

Words I must live with.

I have felt for some time that the new boss did not like me much. I have worked harder than ever before. But obviously, to no avail.

I am in agony. I have told no one. I can scream out my misery here, on this anonymous blog.

Everything I have worked for is in danger. We are one paycheck away from losing the house and the car. How will we eat?

It has taken every ounce of my energy to keep the awful news hidden from my beloved this weekend. To pretend that all is well. Why should I cause her to worry, until absolutely necessary? In a perfect world, I would find a better job in the few weeks I have left until my sands run out at this one, and then I could share the bad news with her but calm it with the good news.

I have not been jobless since leaving college. I am terrified.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

The gamut of emotions


To discover that our ad rep at the local paper incorrectly spelled "effectiveness" in a front page ad that we were to run this week.

Horror: To get an email back from the ad rep stating that it could not be changed at this point. To be told that I had created the error in the ad copy I sent to them.

Cold comfort: To check my original submission and find that the spelling error was in fact their doing, not mine.

Frustration: That I cannot get them to answer their phones.

Warm, joyous relief: To call an old friend at the newspaper and be assured that in fact he will make sure that the ad copy is corrected, even at this late hour.

Gratitude: To God, whatever my damnable, detestable doubts about Him may be -- oh, to kill them once and for all -- for if there is a God, from Him came the inspiration to make that last call and thus possibly save my job.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Season changing ...

Daffodils, tulips, hyacinth, forsythia ... all are in bloom now or nearly blooming, in my neighborhood. Signs of spring, we say.

But these are foreign transplants, truth be told. The peoples who called this area home, before the boats of the Europeans ever dropped anchor, would not have recognized them.

No, for a Powhatan or a Monacan, the changing of the season from winter to spring would have been seen in the budding of puccoon (bloodroot); and what we now call Spring Beauty, Virginia bluebells, Mayapple and other ephemereals -- long gone by the arrival of summer.

In a corner of the woods near my home, I have reintroduced a few of those native flowers and every spring, I cherish the sight of them far more than spindly forsythia and home improvement store daffodils.

The first sign of Virginia bluebell, photographed yesterday, is not much, a few green leaves above the brown litter of autumn's detritus -- but just you wait until she blooms!

Friday, March 4, 2011

Where trees should grow

As I walked the dog this morning past the fenced-in factory on the edge of the neighborhood, a thought drifted into my mind and stayed there.

The west side of the factory property, about two acres or so, is close-mown grass. Better than asphalt, certainly, but still, rather useless from the perspective of the planet, other than for beetle grubs and robins.

What if I could talk to the big shots that own the factory? Convince them to let some conservation group, Boy Scouts, etc., plant about forty trees in that grass? In years to come, a cool, shady forest requiring no attention from humans, no mowing, no fertilizing, could cover that area. Great PR for the factory, and a money-saver, too.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Reading to children

I agreed to read to a classroom of children today, Dr. Seuss' birthday. When I arrived at the school, I saw that many volunteers had signed up to read to the littlest kids (K, 1st grade, etc), but none for the older kids (5th graders). So I signed up for 5th grade, being contrary that way, I suppose.

Our reading choices were of course the works of Dr. Seuss. I picked up The 500 Hats of Bartholomew Cubbins.

As I walked down the hallway, I wondered how these sophisticated "big kids" would react to being read a Dr. Seuss book. I had deliberately picked one of greater length and more depth than most of the good doctor's works. I know little children love funny voices, hand gestures, etc, when being read to. But 5th grade? It has been a long time since I was that age, and I have not been blessed with children of my own. So what do I know about the mind of a fifth grader?

I read the book to them, changing my tone for the various characters but not getting overly silly about it. I had fun. I hope they enjoyed it, too.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011


I brought upon myself my first bully.

He was a moron and I told him so. He did not appreciate my evaluation of his intelligence and chased me through the neighborhood to fight me on every possible occasion. My last bit of revenge was to blow sand in his eye through a garden hose a couple of days before we moved. I've never seen him again. I'm sure he is warming a cell in some prison. Or maybe he grew up, got smart and is running a corporation somewhere.

I endured other bullies as I continued through school ... until, in seventh grade, I learned to fight back.

An organization now exists in which kids can anonymously report bullies. http://www.anonymoustips.com.

These people comprehend the impossibility of convincing kids to openly report to an adult that they are being bullied. I know for a fact I would never have gone to my teacher or principal to "tattle," no matter how miserable I was. But if I could have filed an anonymous report ... well, I just might have done so. I wonder if the taunts that still echo in the back of my mind today, might never have taken such hold of my pysche, nipped promptly in the bud.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

No rest ...

... My daddy worked all night in the Van Lear Coal Mines,
All day long in a field a-hoein' corn,
-- Loretta Lynn

Okay, so my miseries don't exactly compare.

But why precisely on the night my Beloved and I determined to go to bed early and catch up on a little sleep, did my dear brother have to call just as we climbed into bed, needing a shoulder to cry on ...

... and why, as soon as I finally hung up, did a pack of idiots have to start hooting and hollering next door, riding their motorcycle around their back yard until I finally stumbled outside and threatened them in the most savage terms I could formulate from the cobwebs in my brain?

Of course, Sweetie is now convinced that they will plot revenge and burn our house down or something.

There is no rest for the weary.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

She is amazing

"I don't want to go out for dinner tonight or anything like that," She said to me.

And She explained. She wanted to spend Her Valentine's Day evening with me visiting a lonely, house-bound friend.

So we had a quick dinner from Wendy's in our car along the way and then spent the rest of the time with this friend, who has medical procedures scheduled tomorrow.

When my eyes were opened as a boy to the magic of Womankind, to the sparkle in Her eyes and the sweet music of Her voice, the power and complexity of Her intelligence, and the intoxicating, exhilarating joy of simply being in Her presence, and I realized, firmly and unshakeably, that the highest and most sublime destiny of a man is to find the Woman meant for him and devote his life utterly to Her, in sickness and health, richer or poorer, come what may, from days of youth until death parts us, hopefully but for a moment ...

... yes, when my eyes were opened and I began my quest, I couldn't even begin to imagine that the One who would consent to journey with me through the remainder of my life and beyond, would be even this utterly incredible.

I am humbled. Blessed. So very happy.

Happy Valentine's Day, my Beloved. You inspire me.

Friday, February 11, 2011



Thank heaven.

Who invented work anyway?

I hope he got kicked over a cliff by an irritated mastodon.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Deals with the devil ...

It is so very, very easy to be a critic, as I so often am. It takes little intelligence, very little creativity -- nothing but an inflated sense of self-righteousness, especially when you don't have a horse in the race.

How richly ironic that in the very week that on this blog I have chided my country for making deals with the devil and stood on my soapbox again against the developers of housing projects, I have received an email at my job, from the representatives of a local housing development that last year burned up a beautiful forest in our city, to clear the ground -- choking our air with smoke for days, and whose greed I cursed bitterly and still do, each time I pass the desolation they call development.

Yes, how ironic that they want to talk to me about partnering with our schools, as they are having trouble selling the homes they have built, and they blame it on the perception our schools have in the region.

How ironic, because of course I will meet with them and shove my personal disgust for them deep down into some closet of my soul and pretend like they are Girl Scouts selling my favorite cookies, not rapists of Mother Nature.

I suppose that makes me a laughable, pitiful hypocrite.

Termites chewing, chewing

The news reporter stood at the edge of a subdivision last night and pointed at a forest just beyond.

"Soon," he said, "this wooded area will be cleared for 80 new homes, the first application in this part of the county in over a year ...."

The whole story was presented as a great thing, a sign that the economy is turning around.

I shook my head in sorrow for the box turtles, deer, wild pogonia, oaks, maples, pines, bluets, wild azalea, butterflies, black snakes, birds, tree frogs and countless other wild things that will not be consulted in the developers' plans.

And I wondered again: When every last acre of the United States outside of our national parks has been plundered, raped and paved over, when our insatiable greed has spread a dreary shroud of "development" from sea to oil-slicked sea, when Los Angeles borders Boston, when no more "development" is possible because nothing outside of our national parks is left to destroy, how will we keep our sacred economy afloat?

How much longer until Egypt explodes?

Ever try to hold the lid down on a boiling pot?

I wouldn't recommend it. Eventually it will explode in your face.

Mubarak must go. He will go. If he does not go soon on his own two feet, he will be carried out in a coffin. That is obvious to everyone in the world but him.

What will come after him will probably not be orderly. Democracy, it has famously been said, is messy by nature. It will certainly not be very friendly to the United States. But we made that bed for ourselves propping up a dictator for 30+years, simply because he said the right words to us while standing on the neck of his people; now we must lie in the bed we have made.

There are casualties great and small in this struggle. Obviously, those who have died or been wounded. Those who will die or be wounded in coming days. Another likely casualty: The long struggle of Egypt to have its ancient antiquities returned from the various museum collections of the world. No sane museum curator with a love of the ancient, will take those requests seriously for a long time to come, not after the heartbreak of the shattered wooden artifacts from King Tut's tomb, now smashed by looters.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

The Patch on the Quilt

What an incredible, heart-rending short story, by H.C. McNeile. Read on my lunch break today.


Top Dog

Doing a little web-surfing on my lunch break y'day, I hit upon a site for Cesar Milan, the Dog Whisperer. Great eye-opener. Reminder that humans and our canine buddies, much as we love each other, are partners hailing from different countries on the globe of evolution.

Quite simply, a dog pack has a dominant dog. His or her job is, not surprisingly, rather stressful. If a human unwittingly promotes their dog-pal to top dog, that dog will therefore be stressed -- especially if their human sends mixed signals.

So, no more letting our little pup stand and put her legs against us, something we thought was just her being cute. I am to go out the door first on our walks. She is to walk beside me, never in front. If she pulls on the leash, I don't pull back but to the side, throwing her slightly off balance as a reminder to heel.

I put what I learned into practice last night. Immediately, I had a calmer dog on my hands -- she didn't even growl as she used to at a neighbor we passed.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Science and Engineering

"Science is the study of what is. Engineering is the study of what is to be."
So said a certain professor at a training session I went to the other day.
Very succinct.

Friday, February 4, 2011

Treacherous words ...

As my clumsy fingers dance around the computer keyboard like an old man trying to do the jitterbug, I am both mildly amused and annoyed, once again, by their insistence on typing the word "signing" as "singing." Wouldn't that look great on the press release I am preparing!

Some words are dangerous that way. Perhaps none is more deadly than "public." Curse the old Latin smarty-pants who came up with that word so perilously close to a verbal cousin who is generally kept locked in the closet -- er, bedroom.

Certainly there are others, not helped by the artificial set-up of the "qwertyuiop" keyboard, which rumor has it was put together to SLOW down the earliest typists, rather than to be helpful.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Dueling proverbs ...

"He that meddleth with strife, is like one who seizes a dog by the ears."
"Who knoweth but that thou art come ... for such a time as this."

Confidential things said, situation needing resolution, I could step back and stay uninvolved, or take ownership and try to resolve it.

On Smell

I am about halfway through Bonnie Blodgetts's "Remembering Smell" -- the author's personal account of the nightmare of life without the sense of smell, following a reaction to Zicam, a medicine.

I read several online reviews of the book, some attacking Blodgett as a whiner deserving of very little if any sympathy for insinuating that being scentless might be even more traumatic than being blind.

It seems they missed a very important point in the book. The primal sense of smell is so deeply ingrained into our brains that its loss utterly confounds our perceptions and attacks our mental health in ways that science does not yet fully understand.

An enlightened 21st century person no longer recoils from, or mocks a sight or hearing impaired person or someone who is wheelchair-bound. But when it comes to mental health, we have a long way to go, don't we? "Crazy" is still funny, or disturbing.

And when mental illness is not in-your-face visible, such as with clinical depression, which Blodgett says is very typical of anosmia (loss of sense of smell) it becomes even harder for someone not suffering from it to understand or to sympathize.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

400 for the KJV

I have just a few chapters left to read in St. Augustine's "City of God," the literary colossus of the 5th Century. Then, before diving into the Byzantine era, I plan a temporary detour. For the United States, 2011 marks the 150th Anniversary of our Civil War and I will spend the remainder of this year reading, studying and visiting the sites of this moment in history.

Of course, the journey begins with Uncle Tom's Cabin, by Harriet Beecher Stowe, credited by Pres. Lincoln himself as the book that finally brought on the storm of war that had, in reality, been stirring since the foundation of our republic.

Contemplating history this morning, I realized that this year also marks the 400th anniversary of the publication of the King James Version of the Bible. Believers and non-believers alike cannot deny the impact this translation had upon the English-speaking world ... certain Christian sects today still insist that no other version is "inspired."

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Off the wagon ...

Sweetie bought me an e-reader for Christmas.

Last weekend, I finally cleared the last surface remaining in my study room upon which no books reside, to make room for a stack of books that has lived in a corner of the floor for years.

So I have no excuse, no rationale, no reason, no justification for what I did today.

Why did I make a left out of the parking lot on my lunch hour, southward towards the local college, instead of right?

Oh pathetic addict that I am, who shall deliver me out of this body of bibliomania?

Perhaps I convinced myself that I would find no books worth buying. Or that I could just look and carry none away. The devil sat upon my shoulder and flipped pages in my ear.

The evidence of my shameful deed is in a paper bag in my car, eight more books to cram into the confines of my home. Sweetie will not be pleased.

But they looked so good! I nabbed books of poetry, books about places and old books long out of print and not likely ever to land in an e-reader. I couldn't help myself.

The library enables, that wicked place. Four dollars is a steal for a whole shelf of great literature. Yes, a whole shelf that I surely will never have time to read until I am dead. But you see, that's my plan. Whilst other departed souls are tapping on tables and making cold spots in old houses, I shall finally have time to sit down and read all the books I hoarded in my life, reveling in my spectral opportunity to peruse pages instead of running errands and making a living.

Monday, January 31, 2011

Three strikes and Sam is out

Google "Walmart Sucks" and you can be entertained for hours.

I go for the groceries and little else. I resisted even that until the day my local grocery store wanted $3 for a little can of corned beef hash.

Occassionally I permit a little spasm of optimism to shake up my generally cynical outlook. Today was such a day. I needed three things: a children's book, a set of book-ends and a "forced" bulb -- a bulb in a pot. I had 30 minutes on my lunch break so thought I could sweep it all up at Sam Walton's megapolis.

Stop One: The garden section. Says the stocker to me, "We aren't carrying those (forced bulbs) right now."

Perhaps they are waiting for July, when forced bulbs are all the rage. Please note the sarcasm.

Stop Two: Household goods. No sign of book ends. I track down a clerk. "We don't carry those anymore," sales associate says.

My rather flimsy temper is beginning to fray. "Don't people put books on shelves anymore?" I ask. She just looks puzzled, poor thing. Maybe doesn't know what a book is.

Stop Three: Book section. I go back and forth amidst trashy paperback romances and coloring books, in a vain search for something resembling children's literature. Walmart's stock, at least at this urban location, consists of about three picture books and some pathetic Disney princess paper-waste.

Strike three, you're out.

I have come to understand the big box store strategy: Convince the world that you sell everything. Drive your competition out of business with your falsified claim. Then carry almost nothing.

But of course I have only myself to blame. Sam depends on people like me to fill his pockets. If millions of joes like me were to go elsewhere, his empire would crumble.

Unfortunately, I would have to be willing, once again, to pay $3 for a can of corned beef hash.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Can't hear ya, sonny!

Among the things that frustrate me -- people who are hard to understand.

Of course, some people have speech impediments. I'm not talking about them. Nor am I talking about people who have learned English as a second language. They deserve credit for whatever level of mastery they have achieved with our difficult language.

No, I'm talking about mumblers, for the most part, chronic mumblers ... who could improve their speaking skills if they tried. Or people who for no explainable reason, just are hard to understand.

I work with a certain someone in a position of authority over me who I think must stick their cellphone in their mouth when they call me, because I CANNOT UNDERSTAND them. I struggle and strain and try to comprehend at least enough verbage to gain some idea what they are talking about. They sound like the teacher in the old Charlie Brown shows, I kid you not. Wa-wah-wa-wah-wa-wa. Every so often, I ask them to repeat themselves, and the muted trumpet just plays the same song again.

I spent six months of my life in a fog of utter non-comprehension, as I tried to learn one of the world's toughest languages, by immersion in its native land. It was the hardest mental challenge I have ever endured -- utterly exhausting. Frustrating. Humiliating. One is reduced to the level of a little child, pointing for what one wants, dammed up mentally, making linguistic gaffes that are difficult to correct. What one wants to say is a whole roomful of words, that must squeeze through the keyhole of your suddenly incapacitated lips.

Your native idioms and witticisms, become useless. You can no longer say, "Miss, I sure would like another slice of that great-looking crusty bread on yonder platter. Simply delicious! What's your recipe?" Rather, at best, you say, "Bread. There. Some please mud. Where cow's bicycle?"

Having endured that once in my life, I don't care to endure it again.

Today is a day to remember heroes and Heroines of exploration

I distinctly remember the day, 25 years ago this morning. I was in eighth grade. I rode my bike to school as always, and locked it up in the racks.

Something was in the air, an odd feeling, as I went inside the building. The teachers were huddled around a television in the teacher's lounge. The space shuttle had exploded in flight, killing all the astronauts aboard.

I wish I could remember exactly how I felt. I had just begun to keep a journal that year but I didn't write anything. Maybe I just didn't know what I should write.

It was a heart-breaking day. I know that much.

The essence of humanity is curiosity -- the vision,the craving for knowledge, the urge to explore new places. That day, the dream, the drive, had painful consequences.

History is filled with the stories of brave men and Women who advanced human knowledge and experience. Such was Pocahontas. We learn of John Smith and the rest of the Jamestown crew and marvel at their courage. But their Old World was for Her a completely New World, which took incredible bravery on Her part to visit.

What of the first adventurers to climb Mt. Everest? To visit the North and South Poles? What of the long-ago Polynesians who settled the Pacific islands with no navigational guides but the stars to aid them?

The expansion of human knowledge will ever have moments of exhilaration, and moments of great tragedy. But we must go on. We are not meant to be mere animals, living in the bubble of the present, living only to fill our bellies and reproduce the species. We are meant to step into the unknown and find answers to the questions there ... and find more questions for which to seek answers.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Pomp and Circumstance

"I don't go to the graduation ceremonies," said a colleague of mine in the school district. "I didn't even go to my own. I just don't do pomp and circumstance."

I thought about his words. Is he enlightened or impoverished?

Ceremony is part of human culture. We celebrate birthdays, comings-of-age, graduations, weddings. We honor the departing soldier, the returning veteran and the dearly departed. Some people pay close attention to the changing of the seasons. In Japan, there is a day set aside to honor boys; another to honor Girls.

The ceremonies we cherish, change over time. Christmas as we know it, is a very modern Western idea -- it would be unrecognizable to our forefathers, even the most devout Christians of them. Halloween is completely different today than when it began .... and at least where I live, trick-or-treating door to door is nearly dead -- certainly, dead is the idea of people offering apples, warm cookies and cider to the costumed pixies at their doorstep.

As the Western world continues to cut loose from the moorings of religion, will the time come when its sacred holidays fade completely away? If so, what will remain? Some people kneel at the altar of the Superbowl; the Wave becomes today's genuflection; and the grid-iron athletes are the new apostles.

Others offer their devotions to celebrities as fervently as a former generation did to the canonized saints. They don't burn candles but they devour People magazine.

Is this progress or retrogression? Praiseworthy or pathetic?

A thousand years from now, what ceremonies do you suppose we will cherish and what will be utterly forgotten? Remember that the whole idea of high school and even college is a novelty in world history; consider that marriage in the Western world is an endangered species; and that, even though Og the Caveman probably tossed a ball of animal hide or maybe his neighbor's severed head for fun, the sports we know today -- football, basketball, etc -- are babes in the nursery, basically fads.

Will we come full circle? There are devoted groups now attempting to resurrect ancient Greek paganism. There are people who fervently wish to reclaim the idea of "good witches" from its exile in fairy tale literature. Will they succeed or will the law of diminishing returns exact its toll?

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

A profoundly unprofound post

This will be my last blog post of the week about food. I promise.

"How did you like your meatloaf?" someone in the family asked me as we wrapped up dinner out last night.

"Not too great," said I. "It was ... too ... creamy."

That was the best word I could think of. And pondering this incredibly unimportant detail later, I remembered a comment my Sweetie made to me a few weeks ago. She told me:

"You like your foods to have texture."

That is probably why I prefer big, sharp-edged Doritos to flimsy little Lay's potato discs. Why I like rice pudding, which most people hate. Why crispy fried chicken will always tempt me over the broiled kind. Why I would sell my soul for hash browns but not mashed potatoes.

My Beloved knows me so well. I had to step out while the family was ordering but She knew exactly what to tell the server: I wanted meatloaf. I am a passionate fan of this blue-collar, much-maligned food item. Just not, I realize, of the version they served at Restaurant XYZ.

Too creamy.

Another soul might sing the praises of meatloaf that sort of melts upon your tongue. My meatloaf should have a crispness to its crust, and within ... texture.

In the great, vast universe, this is a detail of less significance than the undulations of a protozoan in a rain puddle. But a blogger can be insignificant now and then, methinks.

(The photo above is from the Food Channel online, a succulent-looking, TEXTURED meatloaf with cheese. http://www.recipebridge.com/recipe/cheesy-meatloaf-MTAxMzYxMTI6Ojo6MTY4)

Monday, January 24, 2011

Movie I might go see ...

"The Way Back" looks like the kind of movie I might just go see this year. I don't watch too many movies; Hollywood generally tends to irritate me, and its conceited, soft-headed, leftist glitterati don't deserve a penny from my pocket.

But this film seems cut from different cloth, er, celluloid, purporting to be based on "the real life saga of three prisoners who in 1940 escaped the Soviet gulag and walked 4,000 miles across Siberia, over the Himalayas and on to refuge in India."

We need these reminders, very badly, of the kind of world that results when we allow a government to make promises and to become the master rather than the servant of the people.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

In praise of parsnips

I travel eagerly the roads of discovery, listening, touching, tasting and seeing, reveling in the joys of being alive.

When I learned by chance that one of the favorite dishes of old Augustus Caesar was parsnips drizzled with honey, I sought out this odd, old-fashioned vegetable and gave his recipe a try.

To this day, I love it. I slice and steam them until they are soft, then drip the honey over them.

How to explain the taste of a parsnip? I find it somewhat similar but superior to the common carrot -- spicier and yet not quite as musky-strong. Do not be put off by its pallid complexion. Certainly don't confuse it with a turnip, which is round, bitter and of a different plant family altogether.

I was excited to discover a recipe for parsnip bread recently. But I was disappointed with the results. The ingredients were quite standard: flour, an egg, oil, salt, cloves, allspice and cinnamon, as well as, of course, two peeled and shredded parsnips.

It also called for a full cup of sugar. I don't care for bread that is "crunchy" with sugar crystals so I halved the amount. If anything, that should have made the resulting dough even less dry than it was. But confronted by a powdery, clumpy pile in the baking bowl, I added about half a cup of milk, nowhere called for in the recipe, until a state of batter was achieved.

The results were still somewhat dry and somewhat flat and quite disappointing. I am sure that good parsnip bread can be made but I will have to find a different recipe.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

I give a hoot but we all pollute

On the back of a big truck today, I saw a placard declaring:

"CO2 is not a pollutant."

I wondered about the reasoning behind such a statement.

What, after all, is a pollutant?

I would venture, any substance introduced into an environment, that has an adverse effect upon that environment. Makes no difference if it is generally benign or "natural." It is entirely possible that a tanker truck of orange juice could tip over into a creek and kill the fish, thus making O.J., in this case, a pollutant.

Carbon dioxide is rather common. You make it within your own body. It won't kill you to breathe it ... so long as there also happens to be some oxygen in the neighborhood. Perhaps the placard people meant to emphasize this fact.

Of course, the current worry is that too much CO2 is heating up our planet. Perhaps the placard people disagree. Guess we will all know soon enough, one way or the other.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Treading into technology

Over the weekend, I practiced using the Nook e-reader that my Beloved bought me for Christmas. The tiny keyboard is hard on my big, clumsy fingers. But I am beginning to get the hang of the thing.

First book downloaded: Remembering Smell, by Bonnie Blodgett. As a person who unabashedly delights in the joys of the senses -- touch, taste, hearing, smell -- I've wanted to read Blodgett's exploration of the olfactory world for quite some time.

It cost fourteen dollars to download. Not much of a savings from the bookstore shelf. That was irksome. For what one pays for an e-reader, the books should be a lot less expensive, methinks.

Later, I downloaded a free edition of St. Augustine's City of God,the paper and ink version of which I am about half-finished reading. Disappointment number two: It was apparently scanned from paper and ink, and utterly unreadable, with gibberish goofing up most of the text.

On a brighter note, my little brother convinced me this weekend to try out Skype, and that was fun.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Giving up on Pakistan

Reading through the comments following the announcement of throngs cheering for the reprobate scumbag who killed an advocate of moderation in Pakistan this month, namely a man who simply said that death should not be the punishment for blasphemy ...

...I understand the feeling behind the cry to cut off all U.S. aid and support to Pakistan following this news. But that would be exactly what the fans of a Stone Age civilization for Pakistan would like us to do.

No more Americans treating sick Pakistan children and clearing up birth defects, digging wells, funding micro-businesses. Just a sick country left alone to stew in its misery with the extremists and their madrassas as the only voices speaking and the only beacon of hope.

Such a policy worked really well in Afghanistan ... until a little thing called 9/11 woke us up to reality.

Tucson thoughts

We must be very, very careful that the current call for more civil discourse does not translate into any laws suppressing discourse. American politics have always been rough and tumble. Ain't nothin' new.

I'd rather have 10,000 talk show hosts on the right and the left screaming their throats out at each other, and politicians slinging mud like they were trying to dig down to China on a 3 p.m. deadline, than live one day in a place like, say, North Korea, where the official line is that nothing bad ever happens and Dear Leader can do no wrong. No mud gets thrown there. People just quietly starve to death.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Ted Williams

So I have learned that the media went crazy, falling over each other to thrust their mikes in front of Ted Williams, the "golden-voiced" homeless man.

I pray not only that he can stand the spotlight, but also the ice-cold moment when the fickle media turn away again, as they will, and leave him on his own, the former flavor of the day.

I also think there's a lesson here. There are thousands of homeless men, Women and children in this country. Ted is/was just one. I wish him all the best. What are we doing for the rest? Is it possible that inside each and every one of these our fellow human beings, is a seed of hope that could be nurtured?

Instead of falling over each other for the exclusive next interview with Ted and his mom and everybody that ever knew him, why not send your more thoughtful reporters out to find more Teds on other street corners?

New year

Okay, so I am late commenting on the new year, very late. I do hope this will be a year of more peace, more love, more joy in the world.

As the song says, it has to begin with me.

I look for a year of service, of learning, of new friendships. Of new opportunities, new foods tried, new words learned.

I look for a year of less time wasted and more thought given to what I say and write.

I am just a man, a flawed, temperamental man. But I like me, on most days. And I probably like you. I'll lend a hand or a buck if you need it. I don't kick puppies or make children cry or deface public property.