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Timeless Reflections, Welcome Thoughts

January 1st, 2009

It’s the dawn of a new day, and a new year.  Amazing how our lives evolve to a seeming time warp of past memories.  One day we look around and wonder, “What happened?!”  And thus it has ever been.  With the transition to a new year I always find myself in a reflective, perhaps pensive mood.  We are reminded of so much, and at times we struggle to understand the change in our lives, or even the passing of the year.

Last night the young boy stayed up for his first new year’s celebration.  Celebration is an optimistic word at best, but we all said farewell to the year gone by and toasted the arrival of the new year.  Considering that we usually fell asleep early the past few years, last night was a big event!  But as we counted down the minutes and seconds, the boy didn’t want 2008 to end.  He didn’t know why really, he just knew that we were saying goodbye to something, letting it go and moving on.  And those transitions are hard sometimes.  

Earlier in the day we said farewell to “Brownie” the goldfish.  Brownie was a gift to him five years ago at Christmas.  He awoke that day long ago with all the fervor of a three-year old, running down the hall shouting “Santa brought me fish!”   It was so cute.  And after starting with three, we now have one large, seven-inch goldfish left.  They grow big in five years. Brownie was a Black Moor- those bulbous, puffy eyed black colored goldfish.  Only Brownie became orange over the years presumably because of the food we gave him.  He looked like an orange ball with fins, and was a really nice fish.  But sometime last year his swim bladders stopped working right and he spent a few hours each day upside down swimming around.  He didn’t seem to mind, and swam upright otherwise.  But yesterday he was struggling on the bottom of the tank, and I knew it was his time.  Still I tried to resuscitate him, pushing him back and forth, coaxing him to live…  but shortly after he gave two big yawning gasps, a flick of the fins, and then he was gone.   I’ve never had a fish die in my hands before, it was very strange. 

Reflections in a winter pond

We took Brownie to the pond outdoors, the grounds were frozen and hard.  Besides we decided, fish live in the pond and that should be a good resting place for them too.   The boy cried and my heart was heavy as we said farewell, remembering our goodbyes to his Bepaw, my father, and a pet cat Sparky in recent years too.   So many memories- reflections of years past, the pace of change and the path of our lives.

Letting go can be hard, especially for those we love.  Even the symbolic change that a calendar represents holds meaning for us, created by man to lend astronomical reality to the measurement of our lives.  Today is really no different from yesterday, except that it is new, and we’re alive in the present.  And with our reflections come welcome thoughts of hope and promise.  It’s a day, the first day of the year, to make the best of ourselves, and continue making those memories we will cherish years from now. 

Benumbed, Biting and Bitter

December 22nd, 2008

Cold that is.  Other fitting synonyms might include glacial and piercing.  Saw 3 degrees this morning, and we’ll go below zero tonight.  Okay, not as cold as you guys are seeing up north, but it’s pretty darn cold for around here!  I’m not sure I could tell the difference between 10 degrees either way- it’s just cold.  The northwest has a huge snowstorm, and the northeast is getting one too.  If it’s going to be this cold I’d like to see some of that snow, but it doesn’t look like we will.  So how does this fit into the whole global warming schema?  Beats me, but right or wrong, I’m sure there’s a rationale for it somewhere. 

I can’t remember the pond being frozen so much in December, but it sure is neat with the reflections.  I wonder what the little circles or rough spots are scattered around the surface? 

Frozen pond reflections in Missouri

The news mentioned that if we get a few more “hundredths” of an inch of moisture this week, it may become the official wettest year in recorded history for Missouri.  That and December may be the coldest month on record in decades.   Isn’t it amazing how the birds and other wildlife can handle the cold?  I topped off the feeders today and they gathered around to enjoy the buffet. 

The windows on the porch were frosted this morning too- first time I’ve seen that really.  And I was looking out at the garden, thinking about topdressing and some clean up, more thoughts of spring creeping in.  Then I took a quick walk around outside, smiling at the futility of such thoughts with the hard “crunch” of frozen ground.  What better way to celebrate the beginning of winter? 

Frosty windows in sub-zero cold

Change Happens, What Do You Do?

December 18th, 2008

Did you ever have the feeling that the things you are really good at are no longer useful?  Or at least less useful?  I’ve been thinking about that lately.  Take spelling for example. You know, spelling words correctly?  I was always a great speller, and memorized words very easily.  But what good is that now?!  Okay, when I write here I don’t have to check spelling very often.  But it’s not a skill that gets you anywhere… nowadays we have “spell checkers” so whether you know how to spell or not really doesn’t matter.  I don’t use ’em, and if I make a mistake here it’s usually because I hit the wrong key.  But dang… I’ve been outdone by technology. 

And typing?  I guess that’s still useful when writing- I can type pretty fast.  But there are voice translators now… you can just talk into a microphone and the text shows up on the screen.  Of course I can’t type worth a darn on little cell phones or a mobile PDA.  Texting?  Okay I can do that.  It’s kind of a pain.  I’m all thumbs.

Oh, and how about knowing where you are?  Some folks are directionally challenged, but in a strange way I’ve always had an amazing built-in compass.  I know where I am, how to get somewhere, and which way is north, south, etc, at any moment in time no matter where I am.  It’s pretty handy when I’m out in the woods in the middle of nowhere, or cruising a tangle of suburban streets.  I may not know an exact address, but I can always find my way around. 

But these days it seems like a pretty marginal skill.  Everyone’s got a Garmin GPS or onboard nav system in the car.  Put an address in there and it’s like being on autopilot.  You can follow the directions of the GPS-thingy, and not have a freakin’ clue where you are.  It’s magic.  My brother and I once drove from the Black Forest in Germany all through the Bavarian Alps… at night, and simply followed “The Voice.”  

Garmin navigating across the Mackinac Bridge

And I can’t complain- we got one and took it on a trip around Lake Michigan.  We found places that we wouldn’t have even known about without the Garmin, and it made the trip both easier and a lot more fun. 

I used to be really good at tuning up an engine, and fixing mechanical things.  I guess it’s still a handy skill with lawnmowers and such, but I can’t do anything with cars and trucks anymore.  They’re all a mass of wires and computers under the hood these days!

And fixing things just isn’t the same anymore anyway.  It’s usually cheaper to throw something away and buy a new one.  We live in a disposable society, and that seems a shame.  If we take care of things, they used to last.  These days they aren’t meant to last it seems.  But I still like trying to make them last… and squeezing every last drop of utility out of them. 

I’ll waste too much time trying to make something work rather than throw it away and get a new one.  One time I “fixed” a $500 CD stereo… it wouldn’t play CD’s anymore.  I took it apart and adjusted and cleaned all the components really well.  Worked like a charm after that.  I was very proud of myself… but these days that same stereo system costs about $50 at the big box store.   Okay it’s a little old.  But it still works!

Oh, and I did fix our bread maker.  One of those neat machines that makes bread?  That we don’t hardly ever use?  A little kneading paddle stopped working.  My stubborn side made me take the whole thing apart one day after it sat on the shelf for three years… I found a nut had worked loose and the bearing was slipping.  That’s all.  Tightened it up, back together and it works like a charm too.   We still don’t use it, but we can if we want to.

Hey but I’m certainly not stubborn enough to take apart a sewing machine pedal and swap electronic components… I heard a guy named Ron did that recently.  If I can find the link to his site I’ll put it up here… :)  But I was stubborn enough to try and fix an old trimline phone in the barn. You know, one from 30 years ago with a really long cord attached to it?  Sentimental reasons… never mind.

But society is evolving.  We have not only become more mobile, but a lot more social.  Just think of this blog.  There’s a lot of folks reading my wandering thoughts who I’ll never know… but we’re all interacting and I’m sharing this aspect of our lives with a bunch of people.  It is pretty cool.  And there’s a few others I think of as friends that I’ve met only through this form of communication, and I really have no idea who they are.  We’re never really “out of touch” in our life anymore.  Between the internet, email and cell phones… we can almost always talk to people half a world away. 

There was a time I remember being at sea, not having a phone or any ability to communicate beyond writing letters.  Letters that took three weeks to get to someone half way around the world.  And to get a response from them took another three weeks.  You could have an argument that took almost a month and a half… on paper!   It’s weird to even think of such times anymore.  We’ve seen decades of change, especially rapid over the last 15+ years, and it’s still changing fast.  It can be hard to keep up with at times.

Clouds in the sky go by 

Did you see the Wall-E movie?  It’s pretty cute, and makes you think about the future.  At one point there’s this self-contained tourist spaceship that was lost centuries ago, and there’s still people living on it that have “evolved” as humans who don’t actually do anything.  They ride around all day on these automated, floating lounge chairs, sucking on milk shakes…. in space.  They’ve become “weight challenged” and look like big ‘ole chubby dudes with short legs.  Pretty funny.   And sad… it worries me to think we’re on that path somehow.  People these days might grow up thinking they don’t have to actually do much of anything.   They’ll either buy something, have someone (something?) do it for them, or throw it away. 

I hope it doesn’t come to that.  I hope we will always value the human endeavor… our collective experience, knowledge, skills and lessons learned.  I’m a Boomer, part of that enormous generation that’s influencing public policy in so many ways these days.  But I’m kind of near the end of that group so I have a lot of crossover between the generations. 

As much as I lament how technological change seems to make basic living skills less relevant at times, I must also admit that those same changes have made our lives a lot easier.   And a lot better in myriad ways, not the least of which includes life-saving advances in healthcare.  

I’m thankful for the reliability of our vehicles, heating and cooling systems and so many of the other basic things we take for granted each day.  In fact I love technology and all the cool things we can do, and there are aspects of my life that exist solely because of the advances in technology… I can only acknowledge it all with gratitude.  And if we need help with something, it’s usually pretty easy to find someone that can help us with it, at least for a price.

I guess I have to admit that I’m getting older. Changes happens, and we can run from it, or embrace it.  I’ve always enjoyed change, and adapted willingly, embracing the wonders of life as it unfolds.  But it isn’t always easy.  I’ve reached that point where I’m finally seeing the wide gradients of change in my life, and it’s kind of humbling.  

Old reading, but one of my favorite essays is Emerson’s Self Reliance.  It bothers me not to able to take care of things or accomplish things independently.  I’m still kind of stubborn with making things work… it’s just the way I am.   And basic skills do come in handy around the homefront.   Knowledge and skills can bring security, especially when the most basic of human needs are crucial to survival.  Maybe I’m still running on vestigial fumes of generations past.   I just like knowing how to do things, and it bothers me not to be able to do them.   I know it bothers other people too… especially as we grow older.   And if I lived somewhere that I didn’t have to get to tinker with things, I wouldn’t really know what to do with myself.   One of these days that will change too.  I just hope not too much.

Ramblings and Remembrance

December 7th, 2008

Brrr…. okay, winter seems to have come early this year.  Getting a lot more done inside, but at this rate we’ll be through our woodpile by the end of January.  Which is a good month and half sooner than expected!  That’s okay, just means I’ll need to split a little more on the nice days; most of it is seasoned already as unsplit rounds.   But next year?  We’ll really need to get busy.   The pond has been wavering between ice and open water the past few days.  The boy and the yellow lab are both curious, and sometimes the designs in the ice are fascinating.

Boy and Yellow Lab looking at pond ice

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It’s time again also for the Festival of the Trees!  Mary at A Neotropical Savanna has put together a beautiful theme and collection of shared thoughts relating to the world of trees. 

“This issue of Festival of the Trees comes after a month of autumn color in parts of the northern hemisphere and at the beginning of a month of snow and thoughts of Christmas trees, whether you celebrate it or not. There seems to be something about this time of year that prompts reflection…”

Reflection indeed.  I love reading about the thoughts and creative endeavors of so many others throughout the world.  After all, it’s our shared Nature isn’t it? 

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Time also to wish a hearty Congrats! to all you Oklahoma fans out there for the Big 12 Championship win last night.  We had better hopes for Missouri– and they have been great this season- but the Sooners are almost playing in a different league.  That and the front-end guys on the OK offensive line, I think their height ranges from 6’4″ to 6’8″ with an average weight over 310 pounds!  And that’s college football?!   It’s still fun to see- I enjoy watching a few of the bowl games over the holidays, and catching the spirit of the schools and students.   And lest I forget, Congratulations to Navy on Saturday for their big win over Army.  That’s a game of historical proportions, and many sailors and soldiers watch it all over the world.

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I also send out a hearty Salute to my younger brother, an Army Sergeant Major, returned this week from Iraq and other environs.  Welcome home!

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Speaking of our troops, it is also National Pearl Harbor Remembrance Day and we remember the service and sacrifice of so many then and now.   For me the story is unforgettable, as are the lessons it has taught.  But time has a way of fading the memories and trials of generations past.

“You say Pearl Harbor to a lot of the kids today and they ask, ˜Who was she?” Samuel E. Clower

But we lost over 2,400 Americans and almost 1,200 more wounded.  Most of those who were killed died within the first 15 minutes of the attack on the navy ships.  And the long, bloody Pacific War was set to begin. 

“I was looking out to sea at 8 o™clock in the morning and these planes started coming over and I thought, ˜More maneuvers again today on Sunday?™ Jaekel said. œI thought the Air Corps was doing a full attack. They dived and came down and I thought, ˜Oh boy, this looks like it™s real,™ and then I saw meatballs [or Japanese rising sun emblems] on the wing of one [plane] and one of them launched a torpedo. [One plane] came around the channel and it went by where I was and the rear seat guy was pumping shells, shooting at us and I just lied down and tried to crawl up between the ties. [The gunner] was so close that I could see the expression on his face. I didn™t get hit, but the guy right below me was in the phone booth and he got hit and the phone booth just shattered.”    Haile H. œJake Jaekel

And yet the U.S. and Japan have come so far, with a shared vision for world stability and peace, and as staunch allies today.  After spending some time in Japan, I can only embrace our shared history with friendship and respect, and hope that others in the world may look toward peace among nations in the years ahead.   It’s also a fitting weekend to see the nomination for the incoming Veteran’s Affairs Secretary, General Eric Shinseki, as one who will lead public policy administration efforts toward the care of our veterans, and whose own service brings his career- and Japanese-American heritage- full circle.

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Sometimes things never seem to change.  Yet they do of course, and it’s important to find time to appreciate the nuances of life that unfolds around us.  Here the pond’s ice has thawed, been moved by wind and water and then broken apart. At night it freezes again in geometric patterns.

Geometric patterns in the ice

Light and Shadows of Trees

November 26th, 2008

Sometimes the sun and the clouds and the trees and the wind and the water and the shadows and light are just… beautiful.  I was working outside the barn, enjoying the day and busy with my hands and thoughts.  Time for a break and a walk to enjoy some fresh air, watching the sunlight dance on the water.  This isn’t a view that can be seen in the summer.  The leaves are gone from the trees and it’s different now.  Sometimes trees just seem like trees, until we see them in a different light.  And then they come alive, bright and inspiring, or are revealed as shapely shadows.  We get used to things a certain way, and then comes change.  I’m always amazed at what change teaches us.  There’s always another way to see things.  We have much to be thankful for.

 Shadows and Light

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