12/31/2012

Aulde Acquaintaunce - NOT Forgot

May the Divine assistance always remain with us.  And may all the souls of the faithful departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace. Amen. 

End of the year.  End of "The Holidays"  [well, the end for most people -- we keep the holiday lights going through Twelfth Night at least - crowndot]. 

Thoughts turn toward absent members of the festive gathering, friends and family who have gone before us into the next life.

I like the gentle words of the new (Advent, 2011) translation of the second Eucharistic Prayer, where it says:

Remember also our brothers and sisters who have fallen asleep in the hope of the resurrection and all who have died in your mercy: welcome them into the light of your face.
"All who have died in your mercy." 

The mercy of God is infinite and inscrutable.  And that's a good thing. 

12/30/2012

Resolution Runners

There is a new crop of New-Year's-Resolution runners out on the trails.  The really superior ones start a week or so before New Year's Day so as to feel all exercisier-than-thou next week. 

I can tell by the socks of course.  The beginner balks at laying out $100 +/- for a pair of actual factual running shoes, but particularly shies away from paying $9.50 for a pair of socks

But I can also tell by their faces, and responses to my greetings.  There is a look of fear in their faces, and there is no response to my "Hello" or "Happy New Year".  It seems to be fear of being caught in the act of something.  Fear of being recognized.  Recognized as a failure?  Recognized as a running newbie?  As for the response or lack of response, maybe I'm just so funny looking that it takes their breath away.  Maybe they are running too fast and have no breath left to take away.  But I don't even get a wave or a tilt of the head or a smile.  Just a look I call "The Pole-Axed Cow" -- the wide eyes just before the complete collapse.  (To be fair, it is not just newbies that  give me the Pole-Axed Cow look.  I get it from the IronMan guys, the deathly serious out-to-prove-something guys a decade or two younger than me (I'm 55) and still acting out their adolescent pride.)

For all the new runners out there, let me say two things. 

First, it's totally okay if the gear comes later.  When I started running in 2004, it was cotton socks, cheap all-purpose training flats, and cut-offs.  I remember doing the Couch to 5K the first time, that big day of the 20 minute run, in cut-off BDU pants that had cargo pockets and came down to my knees.  Oh, and I carried a digital kitchen timer for those first weeks of timed run / walk intervals (did not have a digital watch at the time)!  So -- gear will come later, and to suit your comfort (and income) level. 

Second, it's okay to respond to greetings by other runners.  Honestly, runners are some of the most welcoming and inclusive people!  Your local group may vary.  Maybe where I am is exceptional.  But I don't think so.  The attitude that says "Only Competitive Runners Allowed" is extremely rare.  Many race directors are or have been very fine competitive runners, and they are happy to see runners of every ability level in the field.  But it's not just race events that will welcome you.  Many runners remember their start too, since we weren't all naturally gifted talents that climbed success upon success from Middle School on.  We're glad you're here.  We hope you'll stay. 

12/29/2012

Life <--> Dreams

I remember St. Thomas Aquinas said that we are not culpable for the sins we commit in our dreams.  I suppose I should take comfort in that. 

Sometimes I make bad decisions in dreams -- like not  punching somebody out.  Or telling them off.  Or slaying, staking and burning them. 

In a dream last night, I was attending some crowded meeting in a small room.  School?  City government?  Sewer district?  Anyway, I was being scolded by a pair of ugly women for daring to move that the minutes be accepted without being read (always a good move at any meeting where you have a say!), and that the meeting then be adjourned immediately. 

One of the uglies even had to take her teeth out so she could scream at me better. 

I was jostling my way to the exit when I woke up.

Non mea culpa, non mea culpa...

12/27/2012

Holy Innocents

28 December is the memorial of the Holy Innocents slaughtered by King Herod in his attempt to nip in the bud a possible rival king.  (The story is told in the second chapter of the gospel of Matthew.)  

It always comes down to that.  The need for power drives them to slay.  They want to consolidate, expand, perpetuate their power.  Solidify, justify and secure their power.  All those in favor?  Subjects.  All those opposed?  Enemies.

Enemies that at the beginning need only to be marginalized, but ultimately -- and the more successful the tyrant the easier it becomes -- to be eliminated.  Final solution. It is not a surprise or a shock to me that a Herod would employ such measures.  It goes with the exercise of his type of rule.

This day also calls to mind the flight of Joseph, Mary, and the baby Jesus into safe seclusion in Egypt.  An angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream to warn him to flee.  In this picture, the souls of the slaughtered babes accompany their flight. 

 


Then when Herod died, an angel appeared to Joseph again in a dream to tell him to return to the land of Israel.  Joseph must have believed that the new ruler was no improvement, because yet a third time Joseph is guided by means of a dream, and they end up moving to Nazareth.

I think what we need is a devotion to St. Joseph under the title of St. Joseph the Dreamer.  Would that all the people should have such a clear channel to the guidance of the Holy Spirit!

"It's turned out nice again..."

As George Formby used to say.

Yes, it rained most days.  I had a four-day migraine, but it was much better on Christmas day.  I haven't come down with the flu or a debilitating cold (yet).  I didn't have anything on my Christmas wish list, so I can't say I didn't get something I wanted.  I have bite marks in my cheek and tongue, but I did not say anything that got me into trouble at the Family Get-Together Thing. 

Fortunately at casa Crowndot we celebrate all the Twelve Days of Christmas, so it's not like I have to stop enjoying the season --  the tree, the lights, the music, the festive food -- all at once.

That means I still have time to work in some of those things I haven't been able to squeeze into my days off so far, like hibernate.  And have a good cry. 

Christmas Day has come and gone.

As George Formby used to say, "Haha, never touched me!"


12/26/2012

On the feast of Stephen...

Before it was known as the Day After Christmas Sale Extravaganza; before it was known as Boxing Day; before it was even known as the Second Day of Christmas -- it was the Feast of Stephen.  Yes, the day mentioned in the carol about Good King Wenceslaus is 26 December.

St. Stephen is remembered as the first martyr of the church. The name Stephanos in Greek means "crown" or "wreath", as in a victorious athlete's laurel wreath.  I don't know whether the saint lived up to the name he already had, or is honored as having attained the crown of martyrdom. 

Catechism of the Catholic Church, §2473  
Martyrdom is the supreme witness given to the truth of the faith: it means bearing witness even unto death. The martyr bears witness to Christ who died and rose, to whom he is united by charity. He bears witness to the truth of the faith and of Christian doctrine. He endures death through an act of fortitude. "Let me become the food of the beasts, through whom it will be given me to reach God." 
[St. Ignatius of Antioch, Ad Rom. 4,1:SCh 10,110]
The trial, witness, and death of Stephen are described in the New Testament book of Acts, chapters 6 and 7.  In spite of some of the simpering iconography, he must have been a man of great physical courage in addition to great faith.  I hope I don't have to find out what it would be like to face death by stoning.  
"Behold, I see the heavens opened, and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God."
[Acts 7:56, ESV]





Resolutions

If you have not made good progress on writing up your New Year's Resolutions list, chances are you are not going to make much progress on that "Conquer Procrastination" one during 2013. 

Just sayin'.

12/24/2012

Tinnitus

I don't notice it most of the time.  Sometimes at night when everything is quiet, I hear it.

Two or three variable high-pitched whistles, a low rumble or two.

Hearing damage is cumulative, and in the old days (1970s) hearing protection was less "normal" than it is now.  All that framing lumber cut with the Skil saw, that trip in the old station wagon one hot afternoon with all the windows down and the wind roaring through, the sudden start of an impact wrench where I work -- it all adds up.  I don't notice it until things go quiet around me.

There are other noises:  mental noise, soul noise.  Thoughts that come back.  Lingering regrets.  That time I was so embarrassed.  When the rest of my world is quiet, they come back.  Should-haves.  Why-didn't-yous.  If-onlys.

There is a kind of mental tinnitus, a chorus of caterwauling, shrieking zombie thoughts that won't stay buried. 
Twas the night before Christmas, when all through the house,
Not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse. ...

Mama in her kerchief and I in my cap
Had just settled our brains for a long winter's nap ... 

When up in my brain there arose such a clatter!

Forgiveness, yes.  Forgiveness is out there, it is available.  Healing, though, that takes longer.  Scars, too, maybe they last.  The freshness of the wound toughens up, the color and tenderness of the scar diminish.  But they last, maybe until a new heaven and a new earth -- and a new body in a new life.

I don't notice it most of the time.  Sometimes when my soul is very quiet, I hear it:
In dulci jubilo,
Nun singet und seid froh!
Unsers Herzens Wonne
Leit in praesepio;
Und leuchtet wie die Sonne
Matris in gremio.
Alpha es et O!
A song of our true homeland.  Angels we have heard on high. 

Christmas Birthday


This is a verse from a birthday card my mother used to recite on the anniversary of her natal day, Christmas Eve. 

When I was growing up, most of the day was dedicated to Mom's birthday.  After a dinner of (always!) take-out Chinese, decorated incongruously with Japanese paper lanterns and tiny parasols; after the opening of birthday presents; after the birthday cake and ice cream -- only then did the day transform into Christmas Eve. 

We had a cheap vinyl tablecloth that was printed in birthday motif on one side and Christmas motif on the other.  The annual turning of the tablecloth was the Big Deal I remember as a Christmas tradition at our house. 

Mom passed away in June of 2000.

I still feel like I need to give her a phone call to wish her a happy birthday.

Happy birthday, Mom!

 Mother's Bouquet, Jeffrey T. Larson 
 

12/23/2012

Why don't you just tell me what you really think?

I've had about enough of that snide commentary about my cooking -- from the smoke alarm. (Oh come on!  I'm not that bad!  I just, um, use a lot of BTUs!)

A few of my favorite things...

Out of the 200+ ornaments hung on our little tree:




12/22/2012

The Road to Bethlehem

In those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered. This was the first registration when Quirinius was governor of Syria. And all went to be registered, each to his own town. And Joseph also went up from Galilee, from the town of Nazareth, to Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and lineage of David, to be registered with Mary, his betrothed, who was with child.  (Luke 2:1-5, English Standard Version)
 I know we celebrate Christmas at Midwinter.  Does it really matter what time of year these events actually took place?  I don't know whether it was clear and cold, or raining, or snowing.  

The Government made them register.  They had to travel.  At the worst time for her.  Not in a buggy with springs above the wheels.  Tradition says, on a donkey.  There may have been at least three donkey rides in Jesus' life:  before his birth, the flight into Egypt, and that day entering Jerusalem with hosannas and palms.  

I picture Joseph as tired but competent; I imagine him with strong opinions about the government that makes them travel at that moment, but also with both the physical and the emotional strength to stay quiet and just deal with it.  

I picture Mary, "Who was with child."  She is nearly full term.  The baby has shifted, head down, and dropped.  She can breathe a bit easier, but the jostling on the donkey must have been torture.  

"Joseph, I need to walk a bit for a while."

"Joseph, I need to just sit here for a while."

"Joseph, help me down."

"Joseph, help me up."

Imagine the Mother of Mercy turning a patient smile toward her betrothed, quietly breathing, "Thank you."

Some days I imagine a dry road of rock and dust.  Other times I imagine days of rain turning the roads to mire and their wool and linen clothing cold and heavy.  

They did what they had to do under the "benevolent" government of the Pax Romanum in order to get to the place they needed to be.  They obeyed the law in order to bring the Law Giver to the place of where the history of humanity would be intersected with the plan of the Unmoved Mover.  

Spring or Winter, wet or dry the weather, there was some one particular night when they got to Bethlehem.  That one particular individual girl named Mary got down from that donkey at the end of the journey.  

And while they were there, the time came for her to give birth. And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn. 
 A particular manger.  Near a particular No-Vacancy Inn.  And very particular firstborn Son.

12/20/2012

Once the fastest ship






In local lore, the schooner Forester  (its remains are shown above) was once America's fastest ship.  Fastest ship in the world, some say.  It didn't make the Kessel Run in less than twelve parsecs, but apparently it made the run from Australia to San Francisco in record time shortly after the turn of the 20th century, using wind power!

Launched in November 1900 from the Hay and Wright Shipyards in Alameda, California (across the bay from San Francisco), the Forester took lumber to the other side of the Pacific Rim and returned with coconut meat (called "copra").  Here is an old newspaper photo (highly contrast-enhanced and edited by me) from time of launch:





Lots of canvas-carrying capacity up on those masts!  Not much freeboard under load!  Here is a picture from the Martinez Historical Society:


That's lumber, stacked to what looks like a dangerous height and weight.  Maybe they just tied it all down and figured the whole thing would still float, even if every void filled with water?

By the early 1920's, what with all that newfangled steampunk paddle-wheel technology and all, the coal-smoke-belching vessels were carrying more cargo, faster than by sail.  That put an end to the full time commercial career of the Forester.

The formerly-fastest Forester did a stint from 1927 to 1931 as part of a floating breakwater during the construction of the Southern Pacific Martinez-Benicia railroad bridge, which was at that time the longest, heaviest double-track rail bridge west of the Mississippi River.

Capt. Otto Daeweritz was the only captain the Forester ever had. Some time after 1931, he had the vessel towed to anchor off Grangers' Wharf at the mouth of Alhambra Creek in northern Contra Costa County between Martinez and Port Costa, along what is now the Martinez Regional Shoreline park area.  Forester served as Capt. Daeweritz' home until his death on board in 1947.

The schooner remained in place.  It burned to the waterline in June 1975 in a fire the local gossip says was a fireworks accident, not deliberate arson.  The picture at top of this post was taken by me on 9 December 2012 during a solstitial new-moon extra-low tide.

The remains of the hull are disappearing gradually, to tide and storm, worms, and vandals.  At casa Crowndot, we usually refer to the Forester as "Martinez' slowest ship."

12/19/2012

Runners have 52 words for mud

Water soaked soil.  Mire.  Slime.  Muck.  Goo.  Adobe.  

Some people still say the Eskimos have 52 words for snow.  Be that as it may, I'm pretty sure that from autumn through spring, trail runners have about 52 words for mud.  If you include compound words.  And phrases. 

A lot of them take the form of "(expletive-adjective) (expletive-participle) (redacted) mud!" 

Sludge.  Ooze.  Bog.  Slush...

12/18/2012

This is the MEDIA.

"Woe unto him that giveth his neighbour drink, that puttest thy bottle to him, and makest him drunken also, that thou mayest look on their nakedness!"  Habakkuk 2:15 (KJV)

Oh, would that there be woe to those who flood the eyes and ears with their liquor that goes down so easy and strips away the natural defenses of free and reasonable persons.  Hard cases make bad laws.  But that never stops them.  With purring, luscious come-on pillow talk; with constant repetition of the Party Line; with shrieking and wailing to drown out anything else; with a Dialogue and a National Debate and a Cause -- for the children! -- they replace deliberation with de-LIBERATION, and strip the decent protections of freedom.  One by one the garments hit the floor, and there the poor drunk stands defenseless, shameful, wondering how it came to this.  Too late the drunkard wonders where he made his wrong move. 

It's time we have a national debate about guns, they say.  We HAD that debate.  That's what makes them so irate.  The pro-gun people won.  Most states have "shall issue" concealed carry laws and less crime.  The Supreme Court states in black and white that the second amendment to the United States Constitution recognizes the right of individual persons to keep and bear arms.  "More guns" equals "less crime" wherever it is tried.  (And vice versa: look at the crime rate in the place formerly known as "Great" Britain.)  All this new noise since Friday is the same old noise, and the same old noise-makers.  Bloomberg.  Schumer.  Feinstein.  The rest of them. 

Here, have a drink, sailor.  New in town?  Drink the kool-aid.  My place or yours? 


"Jar Jar, you're a genius"

"Jar Jar, you're a genius"

Just because.

12/17/2012

Restoring the Springfield 1903 Rifle

It's a freedom thing. 




Earlier this year I finished turning a "sporterized" Springfield '03 rifle back into something like its original military configuration.  The hardware pieces were accumulated over the course of many years.  Numrich had in their inventory a "new, unissued" stock and handguard, I finally worked up the courage to begin. 

The "new, unissued" M1903A1 stock looked like it had spent the last 60 years or so in a damp basement.  It had what looked like marks of roots on it, but the wood was sound.  With many hours of fitting and sanding, the action fit and functioned.  Half a dozen coats of boiled linseed oil (per military specification!) actually produced a better looking product than I had feared.



One of the peculiarities of the '03 and '03A1, of course, is the rear sight, shown here with the folding elevator down in the "battle sight" mode.



Designed by someone's feuding in-laws, this item's staggering complexity is surpassed only by its truly inhuman range of adjustment.



It is not your imagination -- the sight really does parallelogram toward the left -- to allow for the drift due to bullet spin.  There may be a Coreolus Effect adjustment, or one for the precession of the equinoxes, for all I know.

Another item that strikes the modern user as quaint is the magazine cut-off, shown here to the left of the rear receiver ring in the center position which allows removal of the bolt.



With the magazine cut-off in the "magazine off" position (lever swivels down toward the stock), the bolt cannot be drawn back far enough to clear the back of the top round in the magazine.  In this mode, the rifle functions as a single-shot rifle.  The rounds in the magazine, according to period manuals, are thus "held in reserve".  All five of them!



With the magazine cut-off in the "magazine on" position (lever swivels all the way up), the bolt comes back far enough to allow the top round to be pushed forward and into battery.  When the last round is expended, the rear of the magazine follower prevents the bolt from moving forward.  The magazine may then be charged with single rounds or a five-round stripper clip. 



Here's the muzzle end.  The thin front sight blade makes a fine target sight.  The picture includes the front sling swivel and bayonet lug band.  You may be able to see the "flaming bomb" ordnance proofmark behind the front sight.





The Springfield in military configuration has a forward barrel band that retains the front handguard retaining band, holds the "stacking swivel", and mounts the bayonet lugs.



The latch in the slot at the rear of the bayonet handle slot fits between the two sections of bayonet lug.  When attached, the hilt loop slips over the muzzle and the handle slot slips onto the lugs.



Here's the end that sends forth the hurt to the enemies of freedom:






Beethoven's Birthday Tribute



Fur Elise by Beethoven on Grooveshark

Well, it is actually the date when Ludwig van Beethoven was baptized.  But that's birth into the Church, so here goes...

12/15/2012

And Razzleberry Dressing


I have access to a wonderful lunch service that stops by at the place where I work.  Usually I treat myself to a couple of their wonderful salads each week.  My favorite is a spinach salad with grilled chicken, feta cheese, a hard-boiled egg, half a pear, steamed and seasoned with cinnamon, dried cranberries, and a little cup of what you see above:  genuine raspberry vinaigrette.  With real raspberry seeds, your certification of authenticity!

This time of year it reminds me of the song from the old Mr. Magoo Christmas Carol TV special.

12/14/2012

And the moral of that is...


Sunrise over the knife rack

What to my wondering eyes should appear this morning but -- color and texture in the dawn sky.  This picture looks out the kitchen window:



And yet ... and yet ... half an hour later, the sun is above the cloud layer and I'm still below.  The day is now gray.  Anybody that was not up for the show just misses out. 






There would be a moral to this story, but the Duchess is still asleep.

12/13/2012

New Moon Time

New Moon (lunar/solar conjunction) was at 12:42 AM Pacific Standard time.

I always feel better once the moment of New Moon is past. Not that I'm all astrological or anything. It's just that, well the brain being mostly fluid, I am sensitive to the movement of the tides, including brain tides.

Besides, back in the days of playing NetHack, the program would note the system date, calculate the phase of the moon, and titrate the number and severity of enemies in your dungeons according to the degree of darkness of the moon.  "You're in luck, full moon tonight!" was a good message to see at the beginning of a NetHack session.






If you know what this is . . . then you'll know what this is!

Happy New Moon!  Don't party too hard.



12/12/2012

Mechanical Minions

They promised us home nuclear generators, flying cars, and robots.  You can look it up in old editions of Popular Mechanics.  But no-o-o-o.  I'm still paying the power bill and still driving around in a thing with wheels, on the ground.  Isn't that dangerous?  I mean, don't they run into things and stuff?

Oh well, at least I have robots.  Not the "Danger, Will Robinson" kind.  But robots.  Faithful electromechanical servants.

My clothes washer is smarter than the first computer I worked with.  Doesn't work any better than the clockwork-timer jobbie we started with, but it's quieter, and they tell me it's more energy-efficient.

I have a robot in my kitchen that's kind of cool.  I put soft, squishy food waste into this thing through a hole in my sink, and then I turn on the water and tell it to take out the garbage, and by golly it disposes of that stuff.

But my favorite robot is the one that does automatic data backups at work.  I bet that between 1982 and 1992, I spent a thousand hours backing up data onto removable media.  I missed out on 8" floppies (but I remember our early version of dBASE came with 8" as well as 5-1/4" floppies!  I used 5-1/4" floppies in all varieties; I used 3-1/2" floppies low and high density; I used Quarter Inch Cartridge tapes.  The QIC tapes were supposed to be a vast improvement because it promised "automatic" backups onto a single media destination tape.  Only problem was it didn't always work, so you sort of had to attend it anyway -- and it violates the Popular Mechanics promises if the human has to be the attendant of the machine.

Since 2005, however, the core of the backup strategy has been CDs (and now DVDs).  I have software that actually does reliable automatic backups while I am home not thinking about my employer's data.
When it requires a disc change, it politely opens the drive and waits for my presence in the morning;  in my mind's eye it seems to bow slightly at the waist as it hands me the completed disc on a butler's silver salver.  "Thank you, Minion, you may go," I say.

At last I am the ruler of my mechanical minions!

12/11/2012

Changing Shifts

As I was getting to work the last few days, somebody else was getting off work.  We meet in a parking lot surrounded by trees.

It was a Western Screech Owl.  (wiki image)

He flies low across the parking lot, and perches in the top of a coast redwood, looking at me.

Then up and off, into the fog, he flies away from the perimeter lights.

12/10/2012

Don't do the twist!

This is so simple it should not need to be said.  But I am such a klutz that I have to keep telling myself over and over.  When I am running: if I want to change direction, or step off a curb, or step from the trail to the pavement, I must plan to move to the right with my right foot, and move to the left with my left foot

If I don't plan ahead and happen to cross over to the right by moving my left foot ahead to the right of my right foot, I am putting a lot more of a twisting motion onto the stationary right foot.  I call that scissoring, and it is what I try to avoid. 

Now that we are into the season of wet pavement, mud, and (for some people) ice and slush, it's too easy to get injured if you don't have the safest habits (i.e., if you're a klutz like me).

So I don't forget, I made up a silly little graphic. 


Maybe I will remember now. 

12/09/2012

Winter Wildflower


Along the shoreline of the San Francisco Bay and adjacent salt water areas, one meets the hardy Hairy Gumweed (Grindelia cuneifolia).  All yellow flowers are there to be loved, no matter how ignoble their names, how sticky their buds, or how prickly their foliage -- and especially to be loved are things that bloom in winter.  This one is in northern Contra Costa County, at the Martinez Regional Shoreline park.  The picture is from a few hours ago, the afternoon of 9 December 2012. 

No Vacancy

I have never accepted the opinion that Mary, by virtue of her Immaculate Conception, escaped all the aches and pains and inconveniences of human life. 

Would she not rather,  like the Son she was chosen to bear, freely choose to undergo our trials and sufferings out of love for us, if not out of necessity?  So it is with all due respect that I consider the following. 

I have had occasion to travel by car when my spouse was "great with child", as they say.  It's bad enough in a car.  The posture is all wrong, breathing and digestion are a challenge, and there better be a rest stop of some sort every fifteen minutes.

But on a donkey?!  I chose the image above (found by way of an images.bing.com search for "posadas") because Mary is visibly preggers.  Aren't they a darling couple?  Can't you see Joseph lifting her (them) down from and back onto that donkey?  Can't you see him finding a place and then guarding her so she can, um, powder her nose?  Can you imagine how much work it was to travel with a nearly-full-term woman?  Oh. Right.  You can.

I also do not particularly accept the idea of "Saint Joseph the (Communist Peoples') Worker."  That is too solidarist for me, and I'm more a subsidiarist kind of guy.  I prefer to think of San José as "Saint Joseph the Dreamer".  Matthew's gospel mentions three dreams of divine inspiration -- those are the ones we know of. 

But in spite of all the "ins" Joseph had with God, The Big Guy somehow failed to call ahead for a reservation at any of the inns around Bethlehem.  God lets us sweat the details, I guess.  Something about freedom.

Random bonus thoughts:  The Roman occupiers of Judea remembered the hammering the Seleucids took from the Jews some time before.  I am sure I have read that the Romans did not look kindly upon Judean natives carrying arms.  But as a wood-shaper and carpenter by trade, Joseph would have been expected to have lots of pointy steel things in his possession.  Good choice for guardian of Mary and Jesus.  What would be more natural than for Joseph to be on hand to cut the umbilical cord when Jesus was born?  (I believe Jesus underwent natural birth, remember?)  So, think of it:  Joseph ties cord; Joseph wields a small blade; Joseph with the Most Precious Blood on his fingers...
A great miracle happened there.

12/08/2012

Fungus Among Us

After recent rains, what is this I see popping up through a mat of spruce needles next to the parking lot at work?  A whole colony of toadstools, in various stages of emergence.
After the dome pops through all white and shiny, it begins to spread out.  The outer layer dries and darkens into interesting texture.
The tops become flat, and the spore-bearing surface on the underside matures.
Spores will drop from the "gills" of mature basidiomycota.  There's a whole lot of life out there when you look!




12/07/2012

Remember Pearl Harbor





It is important to remember.


It is also important not to go all truther about it.

On 5 December 1941 Task Force 12  departed Pearl.  The Lexington went along to ferry Marine aviation to Midway.  Lexington had been the last carrier remaining in the harbor, since the others were on scheduled training exercises.  It just happened that way.

The code the British had broken was the diplomatic code, not the military code.  Even the British had no idea an attack on Pearl Harbor was going down when it did as it did.

Roosevelt may have been evil in many ways (social/economic policy, sucking up to Stalin) but don't you think if he had gotten the carriers out because he knew an attack was coming, he would have snuck a few battleships out of there too? 


But do remember.

12/06/2012

Jolly Old Saint Nicholas






My mother grew up in a North Dakota German family that celebrated 6 December and St. Nicholas Day.  The children would hang up a sock the night before, and in the morning there might be fruit and nuts. 

One outstanding memory for Mom was when some of the neighbors got together to stage a visit from St. Nick himself.  It is not clear to me whether it was on the eve of the feast or the feast itself.  The family was at home minding their business, when the door suddenly flew open and The Saint Himself threw nuts and candy into the room, departing quickly with well-wishes and blessings. 

According to the web site of the St. Nicholas of Myra Catholic Church in North Dighton, Massachusetts (and what could get more official than that?!):


St. Nicholas was probably a native of Patara in Lycia, Asia Minor. There are far more legends about his miraculous good deeds than there are clear details about his life.

This much is known for sure:

Nicholas was first a monk in the monastery of Holy Zion near Myra. Eventually he was named the Abbot by the Archbishop, its founder. When the See of Myra, the capital of Lycia, fell vacant, St. Nicholas was appointed Archbishop. It is said that he suffered for the Faith under Diocletian, and that he was present at the Council of Nicea as an opponent of Arianism. His death occurred at Myra, in the year 342.

The characteristic virtue of St. Nicholas appears to have been his love and charity for the poor. Because of this and of the many legends of his works, St. Nicholas is regarded as the special patron of children. The Emperor Justinian built a church in his honor at Constantinople in the suburb of Blacharnae, about the year 340.

He has always been honored with great veneration in the Latin and Greek Churches. The Russian Church seems to honor him more than any other saint after the Apostles.

12/05/2012

Gratitude



"A Moving Art original short. This inspirational video was well responded at TED conferences and filmmaker Louie Schwartzberg motivates those around him as happiness is revealed. Spoken word and music montage created and composed by Gary Malkin. Narration written and spoken by Brother David Steindl-Rast." 

12/04/2012

The Dark of the Year

Depending on where you live, places in the northern hemisphere are experiencing their earliest sunsets around now.  In Miami, Florida, the earliest sunset was back around November 29.  In Seattle, Washington, the earliest sunset is not until December 10.  In San Francisco, the earliest sunset is around December 7. 

The latest sunrise for Seattle is about January 1; for Miami it's not until January 12; for San Francisco, it's about January 6.

Mid-winter, the winter solstice, is on December 21 at 11:12 Greenwich Mean Time.  That's the "shortest day of the year" but due to astronomical sciencey stuff called the analemma, the day of earliest sunset, the day of solstice, and the day of latest sunrise are not the same (unless you live on the equator, where all days are 12 hours long!). 

I am always glad when the earliest sunset is past, even though it only varies by much less than a minute per day when the sun is rounding the corner of the analemma, as it were.  I'm glad because I tend to do more of my non-employment-related outdoor activity in the evening, and even a few more seconds of light gives me some hope that the evenings will soon be noticeably brighter. 

May your days be merry and bright!

Weathering the Storm: ~ 3 Minutes of Awesome Power


Gerard had this.  Wow. 

12/02/2012

Rainstorm Morning

The picture is shot of the Weather Underground (I wish they wouldn't use that name) "Wundermap" at 7am 2 December 2012.  The orange streak is the heaviest rain.  We have had just about an inch of rain in the last 24 hours, and it's coming down hard right now. 

Geologist Clarence King, writing in ca. 1880, is quoted in Oaks of California (Pavlik, Muick, Johnson, and Popper, Cachuma Press 1991):

Riding thus in the late summer along the Sierra foothills, one is constantly impressed with the climatic peculiarities of the region.  With us in the East, plant life seems to continue till the first frost; but in the Sierra foot-hills growth and active life culminate in June and early July, and then follow long months of warm stormless autumn wherein the hills grow slowly browner, and the whole air seems to ripen into a fascinating repose -- a rich, dreamy quiet, with distance lost behind pearly hazes, with warm tranquil nights, dewless and silent.  This period is wealthy in yellows and browns, in great overhanging masses of oak, whose olive hue is warmed into umber depth -- those are the conditions of the vegetation.

The same is true of the coastal hills at the same latitude, with the exception of the micro-climates so near the Pacific Ocean that the morning fog cools the day and waters the ground. For the most part there simply is no precipitation from May to October.  The grass looks dead -- this is the real reason, I think (and not the excitement in the second half of the nineteenth century over metal mining), for the enduring nickname of "The Golden State". 

The weather, rainfall and its absence, and water politics are always topics of conversation in California.  For now, talk of raising my water rates due to drought is silent.  Much more of this, and talk of raising my water rates due to damage to our hydrological infrastructure will begin.  Flood watch is in effect for many areas.



12/01/2012

Coyote Bush


Coyote Bush is a large part of our Northern California coastal chaparral.  Here are two views of female Coyote Bush in the process of releasing seeds to the winds.  Pictures taken Saturday, 24 November 2012.  Viewing the ongoing unfolding of life in the natural world is a primary reason I love running trails.

11/27/2012

Grief and the Holidays: Survival Plan

Many people find the year-end holiday season to be  the most stressful time of year.  This is an especially difficult time for those who are working through their grief after the death of a loved one.  I am reaching back into my archives for some things that have helped me over the years since my mother died suddenly more than 12 years ago.  Yes I have copied and culled from emails and conversations with many, many people to produce this.   What follows is not "mine".  It is a gift from many grieving hearts to yours, hoping it will help you get through the season.

1. You don't have to go to that function / party / get-together.  You can say no.  You have to take care of you, if you're going to be any good to anybody.  Other people are not the ones who get to judge what you need right now.  They will say, "You never go out; you need to get out."  No.  Here's what "never go out" looks like:  you can't function well enough to dress yourself and go get groceries.  Unless you're basically naked and starving, you get out enough.  Trust me.  You "got out" of bed, didn't you?

2. If you do go out, make sure there is somebody there (the more the better) to look after you.  Check with them ahead of time.  You'll need someone to pull you away from all the people who have to tell you how 'sorry' they are -- and want to offer their theories on why your loved one bought it.  (Inevitably, these are the people who never called.)  They'll hurt you and/or make you angry, so have someone who can act as a buffer zone.  When you get to the party, find out right away where the bathroom is so you can make a tactical retreat when necessary. 

3. Don't drink.  Believe me, you'll drink more than you expected to if you do.  People will push alcohol on you to help you feel better -- which really means that they want to feel better.  If people try to push you to drink, move away from them or leave the party.  Even if you successfully numb the pain for a while, it will only be worse later.  

4. Nurture yourself in your own way.  Get a massage, treat yourself to a dinner of ice cream and cookies, spend a day in your pajamas, rent or buy musicals. Take hot baths. Go for a long walk. You deserve it -- besides, one of the sad things that death teaches us is that this life is not forever.  Don't postpone your joy.  [See also my longer post about Holiday Survival: How to Take Care of Yourself.)

5. If you can, shop during the day.  Take time off from work if you have to. Try to go with a friend.  You don't want to go when the stores are the most crowded.  If you can, do your shopping online and avoid the crowds and insanity, which will just make you feel like the only person in the world without a loved one.  It is okay to buy a gift for the loved one who died -- a special ornament for the tree perhaps.  Or to get something for yourself that you just know is the kind of thing they would have gotten you. 

6. It's okay if you don't celebrate this year.  You don't have to put up lights or bake cookies unless you really want to. After all, it's your house.  It's your life.  It's your grief.  The neighbors and relatives can stuff it -- the only people who matter are the ones who live with you.

[See also my post on Grief and the Holidays: Answers for the "How are you?" question.]



11/26/2012

Holiday Color, California Style


Now there's a jolly sight:  coffeeberry bush in full color.  Taken on Saturday's run in the local hills.

Start your kick whenever you're ready

Each calendar year resembles a road race.  That's just the way I've thought about it for several years.  Most of the races I enter are 5 Kilometers, 3.107 miles.  So to me the calendar pages correspond approximately to the laps of a 5000 meter race on the track.

You start out with the pack at the top of the year, intense and focused.  You try to maintain some kind of pace.  By the time the "dog days" roll around, it's like that part after the two mile point where my attention starts to wander; my stride length and frequency drop off unless I struggle to maintain the pace.  

But here are heading up to the finish.  If the year were a 5K, then this coming Saturday (December 1) would be the start of the last quarter mile.  You can stick it out for one more lap, can't ya? 

Feel free to shift gears and kick it in.

11/25/2012

Milkweed

In October of 2011, one of the first major excursions after my surgery was a slow walk up one of the local trails, where I happened to see a monarch butterfly caterpillar on California Milkweed (Asclepias californica).


Yesterday on my muddy long run I passed the same place, where there is an expanding patch of milkweed on the hillside (good news for the monarch butterflies!).

The slender little asclepias californica pods were splitting open to release their downy wind riders.


Does the rain act on the pod exterior to cause it to split when the seeds have the best chance for germination in moist soil?  It's all chemistry and physics and vectors and things, but behind it all there is -- isn't there -- the dearest wisdom, the most ingenious survival plan.


 (The pictures embiggen if you click on them, in case you hadn't tried that.)
 - - -
Update:  29 July 2014.  Since Attentive Reader Dgnativegirl (see comments) knows more about milkweed than I do, here's a link for Asclepias fascicularis. (That's what Mr. Monarch Caterpillar is on in the first picture, so it's probably what those seed are as well.)

11/24/2012

Glorious afternoon run!

The road really does seem to go ever on and on from this vantage point.  This is what late November looks like in the Northern California coastal hills.

Since the weather was cooperating, I did my "long" run this afternoon instead of Sunday morning.  5.7 miles.  Some of the hill trails are quite steep -- I walk some of the ups and some of the downs.  Since we have had rain recently, the adobe mud was in fine shape, adding weight to the shoes with every step in some spots where it was seeping.  But since the weather has been dry for a week, there were also spots where the trail is firmly molded into whatever shape the local traffic pushed it into when it was wet.  This is park land, but they lease it for grazing.  Cattle hooves create amazing texture when the adobe is pliable, and when it dries in those craters and mounds, it is a very difficult running surface! 

I'm glad I didn't have any thought of speed workout today.  I just let my watch run while I took pictures or admired the views, and walked wherever I needed to, which included drink breaks and bird-watching.  Great aerobic workout, great strength workout on those hills, and totally awesome mental-health miles.

Plus I always feel like a real trail runner when I come home with muddy legs!

Inflation at my house...

The experts define inflation as an expansion of the money supply that outpaces economic growth. So really, you silly people, there's no inflation.  Kwitcherbellyakin. 

But three weeks ago I bought two gallons of milk for $3.29 per gallon.  On Friday?  $3.99 per gallon. 

See?  That's not inflation, that's a real price increase. 

Oh, misery and pain!

11/22/2012

Moments of Illumination

Afternoon sunlight on a distant hill.


Most of life is, more or less, drudgery.  Work is, well, work -- or worse.  You get tired.  Or sick.  The people around you get tired, or sick -- or worse. 

I do not live my life in quiet desperation.  I live in quiet expectation. 

Because there are moments of beauty, truth, goodness. 

I might be out for a run, thinking more about calories and body weight and everything that is wrong with me.  Tired, out of breath, feeling all the accumulation of old aches and injuries. 

Then:  boom.

Around a bend and there is a peek at heaven on earth.  Framed, lighted, in living color.  Photography doesn't do it justice.  Not even close. 

There are these tiny moments of inspiration, illumination.  Something kindles in the mind and spirit. 

The cause can be a fleeting expression in the eyes of your beloved.  The aroma of a favorite food.  The face of that baby being pushed in a stroller.  A few bars of music. 

It doesn't last, and it's a tiny nearly zero fraction of our time.  But for those moments I wait in quiet expectation.  I pluck them and collect them and gather them in memory and try to chisel them into the stone of my heart for use during those dark times that will also come. 

More than anything this year, I am thankful for those moments of illumination. 

11/21/2012

Grief and the Holidays: Answers for the "How are you?" Question

People who know you have just lost someone you love will ask you, "How are you?"

They may never have gone through what you are going through.  They may have some vague notion that grief recovery is a matter of days or weeks, not years -- a lifetime.

Whenever the Holidays are upon us, I think about the heartless and cruel things people did and said after my mother died unexpectedly back in the summer of 2000.  (A compilation of "what not to say to someone in grief" will be a subject for another day.) One of the difficult recurring social situations is when you get that cue to speak.  The light comes on, the camera is rolling.  What do you say?

How are you?

There are two kinds responses that seem to work.  One is to fly under the radar -- lie and say you're fine.  The question is not really a question after all, but rather a kind of species of tribal ritual (think dog-sniffing).

The other response that seems to work is pure deflection.  Take the force of the question and direct it back to the questioner:
You look fabulous!
I am so glad to see you!
Wow look at your decorations!


What follows are some answers that flowed from the sluggish Crowndot brain during a few minutes before the coffee kicked in this morning:

Fine.  You?
Fine.  You've got a lotta nerve asking that.
Fine, you insensitive boor.
Oh. Just peachy.  My Mom just died.  Did you forget? 
Fine. You didn't want the truth, did you?
Oh about as well as could be expected.
About fair.
On a good day, only fair; on a bad day... And don't ask if today's a bad day.
Well, I'm up and dressed today...
Better, thanks.
Better, no thanks to you.
About the same.  You?
Like I've been cut a thousand times  then set on fire and they put the fire out with salt and lemon juice.
Contagious.  Stay back!
Radioactive.  I will kill anyone who gets too close.
I'll be all right.
I'll be all right once I get back to some kind of routine.
I'll be all right once I get some "issues" sorted out.
I'll be all right once I get away from this party.
I'll be all right once I get away from you.
Kind of numb.
Kind of angry.
Kind of struggling.
Oh, y'know...
Everything still hurts.
I still can't believe she's gone.
I'm not afraid of death any more.
Hungry.  Where's the nibbles?




11/19/2012

Holiday Survival: How to Take Care of Yourself

The time of this posting is the morning of 19 November 2012.  In the United States, we are on the verge of the Thanksgiving Day holiday, the start of the season of The Holidays. 

The holiday season can be especially cruel to those who are not in a "holiday mood" -- such as those dealing with depression or grief.  For those whose grief is new and raw, the holiday season becomes a marathon of feeling misplaced, forgotten, pained.  It becomes a question of survival. 

If the holidays loom fearfully before you, I offer this.  They are just a number of days.  You survive one day at a time by taking care of yourself.  I put together this list of tips some years ago after my mother passed away suddenly.  I offer it to you.
 - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

1.) Eat.  You may not be able to taste it, but the tissues do need nutrients.  Think simple.  Think comfort.

2.) Try to lie down for at least six hours a day.  Do it in a series of cat-naps if you want.  You may not be able to sleep.  When your body needs sleep, your body will sleep.  But being horizontal helps even if you're not sleeping.  Try not to *try* too hard to sleep.

3.) Breathe all the way out occasionally.  Breathe all the way in occasionally too.

4.) Relax you jaw muscles.  Lower your shoulders.  Lift your eyes to the horizon.  Unclench your hands and toes.  If you can do those things, much of the rest of  you might relax too.

5.) Drink a little water or juice sometimes even if you aren't eating.  Stress (and crying!) is dehydrating.  And being dehydrated adds to the stress.

6.) If you normally bathe, consider taking a shower instead; if you normally shower, consider taking a bath.  Weird, but outlook-changing.  Likewise, if you always put on your left shoe first, do the right one first today.  Try it.

7.) Comfort-dress.  Put on your most comfortable clothes, even if the colors don't match.  Your most comfortable condition of dress (or undress).

8.) Try a new brand of . . . tea, coffee, breakfast cereal, after-shave, soap, hair gel, whatever.

9.) Make some time that is you time. Then, practice *not* feeling guilty about stealing that hour from your many other responsibilities.  Here are some ideas:  A.) Sometimes I go to the library after work and read the funny parts in a couple of the periodicals I don't subscribe to (I mean, why subscribe if all I read are one column and the cartoons?).  B.) Go somewhere comfortable and anonymous (Library, park bench, a bench at the mall...) and either pull out your phone and pretend to talk to someone (like those we have lost?) or pull out a book or magazine and pretend to read.  Nobody will bother you!

10.) I hate to say it, but exercise does help.  Even if it is just flexing  your ankles while lying on your back, it can get the lymph pumping.  (I have recently discovered that some park benches are high enough to kick my feet like a little child -- gentle exercise and "it takes me back ... ")  Gentle  walks ... on up to long aerobic workouts ... it's all okay.  Don't get down on yourself for not doing *more*.

11.) Find a piece of nature you can enjoy, even if for just a few minutes:  an all-day hike in the pristine mountains; an afternoon near the  surf-sprayed tide pool rocks; a detour into and then out of the  florist's shop (the air is so great in there!); a peek into  the pet store just to watch the baby whatevers crawl over each other.

12.) Write.  Some write in a journal.  I sometimes write "letters" to those whom I have lost.  Mostly I guess my grief writing is in the form of posts to alt.support.grief.

[Notice: the above recommendations are based on personal experience.  I am not any of the following: doctor, lawyer,psychologist, counselor, traveling salesman, or multilevel marketer.Permission is granted (Yes! Do! That's what it's for!) to use all or part of this document to help anyone dealing with grief.]

11/18/2012

Saturday Afternoon Run

Four miles yesterday between hours of steady rain. 


My running has been infrequent.  Discretion / Valor kind of thing. 
Two weeks ago, daytime temps in the 80°F range.  Lately, we've had 40°s and fog or 50°s and rain -- and everybody at my house seems to be deathly ill with some kind of snotty, croupy cold. 
Sometimes rest is just what the immune system needs. 
But it sure felt good to get out and do some of those "mental health miles" yesterday!

11/16/2012

The Shrinking of Goods

Megan McArdle was talking about The Incredible Shrinking Sugar Bag yesterday, a subject that came under Crowndotic purview (back in November of 2010 at the old posterous site).  Yes, sugar bags are mostly 4 Lbs. now, not 5 Lbs.  Not even 2 Kilograms, mind you -- which would at least be closer, at 4.409 Lbs. 

Which reminded me of another subject we have addressed before (September 2010), which I will now give the McArdle-esque name of The Incredible Shrinking Toilet Paper.  The "square" of TP has been shrinking in both directions. 

Behold:




On the left, a George W. Bush era toilet paper core.  On the right, the Obama core. 


Not only is the new size cardboard core narrower, it is also larger in diameter, so same outside diameter would have fewer sheets. 

As a further insult,  "squares" of toilet paper are now increasingly rectangular.  The linear distance between the perforations is shrinking.

Lastly (is this one my imagination?  I don't think so) the manufacturers are using a stronger glue -- so the first few sheets and the last few sheets on the roll are often pretty much a loss. 

This is some of the "change" part of the hopenchange promised in 2008.  Price increases, product decreases, everywhere you look.