Thursday, December 31, 2009

2009


On a Tuesday night in Wellington, NZ, our family walked down to J. J. Murphy's, one of Evan's favorite haunts, for pub quiz. We got a booth, ordered our food and beer, and participated in the evening contest. We did very well in many of the categories that evening, and might have placed among the top teams had there not been an entire section focused on New Zealand history and culture.

Anyway, one question asked was the name of Adam and Eve's third son. Everyone in the family turned to me smiling, assuming that I would be proficient at Bible trivia. I shook my head and said I had no idea, to their consternation. I have always been more focused on what the Bible means than what it says, which is not a helpful when you're engaged in pub quiz. Moments later I said, "Seth". They wrote it down, no doubt thinking I had been holding out for dramatic effect. The fact that I got the answer right doesn't change my disdain for Bible trivia, or any other form of biblical literalism. I came to my position early in life, supported by my dad, who taught us that "nothing is true because it's in the Bible. It's in the Bible because it's true." The trick, of course, is discerning the level at which the truth emerges.

In the ninth chapter of Genesis, an angel tells Lot that Sodom and Gomorrah are to be destroyed, and that they should flee and not look back, lest they be consumed. Lot's wife looked back, and became a pillar of salt. She never made that mistake again.

I thought of Lot's poor wife this morning as I read the paper, replete as it is with articles about the past year and decade. At times like this I think maybe the angel who warned Lot's family had a point. We are a species that seems to be infatuated with the past. We scour the record of years past for trivial details as if all of life is a pub quiz. At the same time, we seem to think very little about the meaning of past events or their implications for the future.

Earlier this week, two analysts on The News Hour with Jim Lehrer talked about last year's Wall Street collapse, and what we've learned from it. Alarmingly, they agreed that nothing has changed in the last year, especially in regard to the attitudes of the principal players. These magnates view themselves as tough survivors, rather than being grateful recipients of public rescue, determined to avoid the mistakes that laid them, and the nation, low.

It may seem a fine point, but I am less interested in stories about what happened than I am in efforts to insure that it doesn't happen again. There are those who earnestly implore that we must learn history in order to avoid repeating it, and I could agree with them if our obsession with the past showed a pattern of profound learning and application. As it is, the mistakes of the past resemble more the tree in the path of a bicyclist: the more they are stared at, the more unavoidable they become.

So here's to 2009. It was a year. But let's not forget where the action is. Nothing we do today will change the past. But our decisions and actions today, or their absence, make the future what it will become. May 2010 prove to be a year where we kept our eyes fixed forward. That might make a difference.


Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Winter


After a week of denial, I am ready to acknowledge that it is winter where I live. The sun is so low in the sky that it never quite clears the trees on the other side of the neighbor's house. Yesterday the sun remained behind a thin layer of mist all day, as if it were embarrassed to show itself more fully.

At the same time, I am thankful that we are not buried in snow like last year. The local paper has been running small articles about how things were back then, and it seems surreal, though I was there and know the stories to be true. Instead of snow, we have consistent cold, hard frozen ground, and that shy, retiring sun making its way across the edge of the sky each day.

In the midst of all this I was warmed by the thought that I'll be riding my bike in earnest in two month's time. Two months isn't so long to wait. In the meantime, I'm thankful for a warm house, a nice cup of tea, and such light as old Sol is willing to shed.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Worth a Thousand Words




Out of desire to document what I knew would be a wonderful trip, I took photos of all kinds of things during our New Zealand sojourn. I took photos in the Spokane airport of us having coffee as we awaited boarding our flight.





Once in San Francisco I took photos of the plane we would fly to Auckland.







In New Zealand I took lots of pictures of plates of food,





various drinks,


and even the toilets that we would eventually require as a result of our eating and drinking. By the way, on many toilets in New Zealand, the little indicator turns from a green "Vacant" to a red "Engaged" when the door is locked. I really like the use of "Engaged" on a toilet. It reminds me of Star Trek.







Anyway, once home I realized that I don't take enough photos documenting my day to day life here. After all, had we walked through a Ponderosa Pine and Syringa forest amidst basalt outcroppings in New Zealand as the setting sun slowly turned from orange to red I surely would have photographed it multiple times.

So, here is Sally on a winter walk with the dogs.








And here are the dogs.











And here is Sally using a cleaver on the ginger slice crunch dessert she just baked. These little moments add up to a life, and ain't life grand?

Friday, December 25, 2009

Kiwi Christmas Card



Merry Christmas to you and yours, from the Bredeweg clan, seen here atop Mt. Victoria overlooking Wellington, New Zealand.


Thursday, December 24, 2009

Christmas Eve


Dad couldn't wait to tell me about the book he was reading. A great lover of Christmas and the Christmas season, Dad had bought a copy of The Birth of the Messiah: A Commentary on the Infancy Narratives in Matthew and Luke, by Raymond E. Brown. This weighty tome showed that the gospels were written in reverse, beginning with the faith of the post-Easter community. Events furthest from that moment in time were the least likely to be based in fact. The infancy narratives, therefore, are not historically reliable, but were rather carefully crafted from pre-existing materials to bolster the theological arguments of the later Christian community.

I loved Brown's book as well, and tried to integrate its message into my teaching and preaching. Bible study groups focusing on the themes in the book were fairly successful. These smaller groups of committed members generally appreciated knowing where the images and concepts woven together from Matthew and Luke originally came from.

The Christmas Eve service was another story. Two times in 30 years of ministry I tried to introduce, in some fashion, the notion that the lovely Christmas story hadn't necessarily happened the way we told it in our lessons and carols. Huge mistake. Nobody is interested in decent biblical scholarship on Christmas. Or Easter for that matter. People are interested in coming to church in droves and hearing the familiar narratives in word and song. Don't mess with it.

There's an image in Asian stories of riding a tiger... doing so keeps you safe from the tiger's wrath, and can help you cover miles and cross obstacles... just don't try to get off the tiger. I view Christmas and Easter as the progressive church's tigers. We know more than the literal accounts convey, and hate to sound exactly like the literalists down the block proclaiming December 25th as Jesus' birthday, but we can't stop. We can't get off the tiger. There are too many attenders who want us to feed them that lovely simple story. We can't disappoint them by telling the truth instead.

Like my Dad, I have loved Christmas. I used to bristle at commercialization and get on my high horse about secularized images like Santa and Frosty. These days, I don't have so much trouble with the hawking of baubles and the proliferation of parties. They're intended for fun and frolic, and are fairly honest about it. Perhaps more honest than those of us "upholding the tradition".

Oh yeah, Merry Christmas.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Under the Weather


Now that we are back from New Zealand, it is my intention to post to this blog on a daily basis. In this way, even if my additions are not artful, they will at least be regular. My determination has already been challenged by the "bug" I seem to have contracted upon my return. I am thankful that I didn't get sick during the trip itself.

My doctor had warned that the best defense against the swine flu would be deciding not to take the trip. "You're basically doing 'mouth-to-mouth' with everyone on the plane" he said. It turns out that it wasn't taking the trip that endangered my health, but rather coming home. I told Sally earlier today that I had looked up my symptoms on the internet (always a trustworthy source) and had determined that I have developed an allergy to the northern hemisphere.

The long early summer days we experienced in New Zealand have set us up for a shock. The 8 hours and 25 minutes of feeble daylight we get this time of year just isn't enough. But we aren't buried in snow like last year, and the days will lengthen, so there is hope. And I will feel better, and perhaps even write more effectively. Well, at least regularly.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Clever Thieves


You may have gathered from my last post that I was in the process of reevaluating my priorities and the amount of time I spend writing these inane entries. That might merit consideration. In truth, however, I was about to leave the country, and didn't want to advertise our absence from home too broadly. After all, there are clever thieves about, waiting for us to go to New Zealand so they can break in and steal the $3.75 that remains after financing such a trip.

Sally, Megan, Erin and I joined Evan in Wellington on November 28th and had a fabulous experience. Given my oft expressed opinion that the worst times make the best stories, any attempt to relate the details of this vacation would likely constitute boring narrative, so I'll spare you the travelogue. Yes, New Zealand is beautiful, Kiwi's are pleasant and laid back, and the five Bredewegs were able to coexist without serious altercations coloring the experience. It was a great trip.

Coming home, however, was a slightly different story. First of all there was the longest Friday -- we began our homeward journey waiting for the airport shuttle in Wellington at 1:30 p.m. on Friday, and finally opened the front door in Spokane at 7:30 p.m., still Friday, 27 hours of lived experience later. It actually felt like it was all one day...one very long day.

Our luggage all arrived in a timely manner, I didn't get a ticket for my erratic driving (adjusting to being back on the right side of the road), and the house and animals were in great form, especially given our three week absence. I told you it was boring.

Given that we hadn't eaten for a while and had no food in the house, it was decided that we'd order a pizza, a decision that led to my trying to find the checkbooks and credit cards that we'd not taken with us on the trip. Given my concerns about clever thieves, I had stashed those items in a secure place where no thief, regardless of degree of cleverness, would be able to find them. Indeed, my hiding place proved to be so effective that I had absolutely no clue where to look.

My search began calmly as I checked the usual locations. Within minutes I realized that there was a problem. The checkbooks and credit cards were not to be found. As I ransacked the office and various other rooms, I engaged the services of the rest of the family in my quest. Their initial level of amusement faded when they realized that I would not allow them to sit down and enjoy their pizza until I found the stash.

It was at this point that I began to speculate about how clever our thieves had been. They had seemingly managed to break into the house without leaving any evidence of their presence, finding something that I myself could not put my hands on, and left without a trace. Clever indeed!

I got on the computer and checked the balances of our credit cards, but there was no unexpected activity. I did a credit report, but found that no one had attempted to open new accounts under our name. Our clever thieves were so clever that they had not even used what they had stolen. That way we were unlikely to suspect that the items were even missing.

Given the clear signals of normalcy, my loving family members came to the conclusion that no one had broken in , and that I had simply hidden the items too well while my mind was focused on leaving for New Zealand. Thankfully they were proven correct, as the secret cache was discovered before I had the chance to call the police or put stop orders on all of our financial accounts.

Having learned my lesson, I've decided that the next time we travel I will place these things in a safety deposit box. I just can't take the kind of excitement that our (eventually fruitful) search generated. Even though it all turned out to be a false alarm, I won't tell you where our stuff was hidden. After all, people might be monitoring this blog for just such a disclosure. Clever thieves!

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Taking a break...


I'm not going to be writing as often for a little while, as other things take priority in our lives. I'll be back in touch by email to let you know when I've gotten refocused. Until then, I wish you all the happiest of Thanksgivings. Don't let the consumer bugs bite as the holiday season approaches!

Monday, November 23, 2009

The Best Laid Plans...


In preparation for Megan and Erin's arrival, Sally and I did some cleaning up yesterday. The heavy lifting involved disassembling the wood shop in the garage. Many of the tools we had used in the remodeling project were still in the garage, including at least 7 different kinds of saws, a bucket full of pry bars, and all of the dry wall implements. In addition, there were material remnants leaning up against the walls: gypsum board, plywood, concrete backer board, two by fours, trim pieces, and leftovers from the old cabinets. Everything needed to be sorted, and much needed to be pitched, in order to get both cars into the garage.

After successful completion of the work in the garage, we turned our attention to the spare bedrooms. We needed to make the beds with fresh sheets, and also dusted, vacuumed, and cleaned the bathroom connected to the basement bedroom.

In the midst of this effort my cleaning obsession got the best of me. Not only did I want the bedrooms to be clean, I wanted then to stay clean until the girls arrived. Now, if you have a cat, you recognize that there are some things cats find irresistible. Like moths to a flame, cats are drawn to string, catnip, laps clad in dress clothes, any person who doesn't like cats, and fresh sheets. I did not want Mr. Cat covering the fresh, clean sheets with a layer of hair. Thus, after the bed was made, I closed the door to the bedroom, and went on to other tasks.

After finishing our chores, I spent some time getting prepared for the evening meeting I was to attend. I printed some files, pulled together my materials, and then had a bite of supper. Needing to clean up a bit before changing to my meeting clothes, I elected a quick, electric shave rather than time consuming manual depilation (blade shave). I keep my Braun razor in the basement bathroom, where there is no limit on counter space. As I opened the bedroom door, a rather desperate cat ran out of the room, at last emancipated from his afternoon's confinement in a room replete with fresh sheets.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Snokane


Greetings from the Great White North! Yep, woke up to snow this morning, and it's kept on snowing all day. It's enough to make you want to head for the southern hemisphere.

Sally is making one final batch of plum chutney out of the last of the Friar plums this afternoon. She finished off this year's Italian plums by baking two plum cakes and partially drying a couple gallons for storage in the freezer. We had pears with our oatmeal all this week, but they have required more and more paring back. I think the fruits of the harvest have been harvested.

On the construction front, we did quite a bit of finishing work in the kitchen yesterday, adding the molding mount, crown molding, and toe-kick skin. It looks really nice. A big thanks to neighbor Bill for cutting two lengths of crown molding on his table saw. A 45 degree cut of an odd shaped, eight foot length of trim was more than I could do by hand. We also cut a new shelf for one of the kitchen cabinets, and two new shelves for the glass cupboard now in the music room.

Erin and Megan are coming home this week, and we're really excited to see them. It will be the first time either of them have seen our remodeling handiwork. We're eager for them to see it for real, as opposed to the photos I have lavished on you all in this blog. With company coming, housework calls. We aren't fooling our daughters by redding up, but their arrival offers a good excuse to put things in further good order after our summer of construction. With the trim work finished for now, we can clean out the garage and make room for our cars there, and for the girls' cars in the driveway.

After we shovel.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Fair Play


The world of soccer was shaken this week by an incredible incident in the World Cup qualifying match between Ireland and France. Only one of the teams would go through to the field of 32, and France was heavily favored. Ireland played brilliantly, surviving regular time and most of an overtime period. With 17 minutes left before the match would have been decided by penalty kicks, France scored a goal that has left Ireland bereft.

French striker Thierry Henry was behind the Irish defense at the moment of a free kick deep in Irish territory. For the uninitiated, that act constitutes "offsides" in soccer, and play should have stopped. But no whistle sounded, and play continued. Henry couldn't quite catch up to the ball which was headed out of bounds, and so he reached out with his hand, pulled the ball back in front of his feet, and then passed to an onrushing teammate who headed the ball in for the winning goal. Like the "offsides" that wasn't whistled, a "handball" should have been called, and the ball awarded to Ireland. All 11 Irish players, and their fans as well, shouted in appeal. Unbelievably, the referee signaled the goal and the end of the game. France will make their customary appearance in the World Cup, and Ireland is left to struggle with another indignity.

I visited my brother Tom and his wife Debbie a couple weeks ago in Westfield, Indiana. In the midst of our flurry of reminiscences, Tom talked about our neighborhood sports activities as kids. My brothers and I were the organizers and central figures in sandlot games of all sorts - bicycle racing, football, softball, and basketball among them. As Tom rightly recalled, one of the amazing features of our "league" was that players called fouls and violations on themselves. Winning was nice, but the joy of competition and a standard of fair play was even more important.

Thierry Henry has admitted his handball and expressed sympathy for Ireland, going so far as to endorse an additional playoff game... a do-over if you will. The world soccer governing body, FIFA, has staunchly refused, saying that the referee's (non)decision was final. Henry's handball will live on in infamy, tainting an otherwise wonderful career. I think the taint is deserved. Though he admitted his flagrant violation after the fact, had he grown up in my neighborhood, he would have immediately gone to the referee to say, "I'm sorry, I cheated. Let's play on."

It isn't to be. Winning is so much more important than fair play.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Leaves


Sally and I raked leaves on Wednesday afternoon. Though it was quite chilly, we knew we had only one clear day before a Pacific storm rolled in, carrying with it certain rain and the threat of snow. As it was we had waited longer to get around to the annual task than had our neighbors. I am lazy, of course, but that description neither fits Sally nor applies to our reason for delaying yard maintenance. Our leaves simply didn't fall when everyone else's did. The birch tree in the front yard blazed bright yellow until just a few days ago. The Gravenstein apple tree in the back corner retained its foliage with a seeming tenacity that we wish it would display with the many apples it prematurely discards each summer. But by Wednesday enough leaves had fallen onto the lawn - and few enough of them had blown across the street to Kathleen's - to justify the effort.

I loved raking leaves as a child in Terre Haute, Indiana. We had a large, sycamore tree in the front yard that, in addition to shedding bark and seed balls, dropped its dinner plate sized leaves every autumn. We raked the leaves into huge piles or built intricate battlements before forming long leaf piles in the street gutters, where they were burned. I so clearly remember that wonderful smell, and the wonder of stirring oxygen and new life into seemingly dead embers, running along the gutter with a stick, trailing fire behind me.

Our family moved to Indianapolis in 1963, and leaf raking lost its childhood appeal. Dad was so taken with the heavily wooded acre on which our new house was to be built that he wouldn't allow the contractor to clear the construction site. My brothers and I - in fairness, mostly my older brothers - spent long hours helping Dad clear brush and saw up the trees that were felled to make room for the house. When all was said and done, more than 300 trees were left standing: hickory, oak, ash, and tulip poplar. We had young, thin trees stretching skyward in search of a shaft of light, and true forest giants bent on capturing every last ray in their huge canopies.

In the fall we experienced a veritable riot of leaves. Given the dark shade of our forest, we had no lawn to speak of - only wild flowers and mosses - yet Dad insisted we rake up the countless leaves as if they would otherwise kill the grass. Leaves could only be burned in an incinerator, which we lacked, and so ours were dragged through the fence gate to the undeveloped lot behind us where they were piled into an enormous leaf mountain. At least it was as close to a mountain as you're likely to get in central Indiana. Other than occasional episodes of "King of the Mountain", there was no jumping and no battlement construction. There really wasn't time to play, what with all the leaves still awaiting us. We knew from experience that we would have no free time until every last leaf was gathered.

The loss of childhood innocence has been variously portrayed in literature, both the great and the pedestrian. In most instances that painful, awkward transformation is illustrated as sexual awakening or the sudden awareness of the dark side of human nature. I would illustrate that loss differently, as the moment when falling leaves bring out in us, not playfulness, but a sense of drudgery and dread that matches the gray autumn skies, when joy is reduced to the fleeting moment between chores as we cross off a task on the "to do" list for another season.

I'm not going to jump into a pile of leaves this fall. Even at my age that activity could be considered an extreme sport. But I think I'll collect a few leaves into a pile to burn this afternoon, just so I can smell childhood once more.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Hanging out in the kitchen...


I'm not sure when it started, but I've had this thing about pot racks for a while now. Perhaps it was the house we didn't buy when we moved to Spokane, the bungalow on Shoshone Place between Cannon Hill Park and the Japanese Garden at Manito. If location-location-location indeed constitutes the answer to all real estate questions, then that house was the ultimate. A tree-lined, brick paved street between two of Spokane's signature parks. Hardwood floors and french doors into an office off of the main room. What's not to like?

Well, OK, there was the fact that the house had a 10x15 foot front yard, and no back yard at all... not exactly optimum for a family with large dogs. And then there was the asbestos siding... but how big a deal is a little asbestos removal? Oh, sure, the house had no storage at all, shared a tiny driveway with a neighbor, featured a one and a half car garage, and needed all of its electrical infrastructure replaced. And we would have spent every bit of our cash just getting into it. Picky, picky.

The kitchen, however, was attractive. I remember it having a tiled floor, vaulted ceiling and a copper pot rack over the stove. I'm not sure what type of stove it was. I was too busy looking up at the pot rack.

Wisely, we didn't finalize the purchase of the house on Shoshone. Despite the nostalgia evidenced above, we really haven't looked back, and have no regrets. Our home, with its lovely yard, fruit trees and vines, and garden space fits us very nicely. It even has adequate storage for all the stuff our kids never moved out. It feels "like us", and even more so as we continue the process of remaking it one room at a time.

Last night I finally got my pot rack. Our remodeled kitchen is still small. As neighbor Ron says, the wall stretchers didn't work. And given the fact that our ceilings are anything but vaulted, the nice, large pot rack of my dreams would have occasioned a spike in emergency room visits. I need more low hanging metal like, well, like another hole in the head.

So a nice, stainless steel bar hanger is what works. It went up last night, and provided me easy access to the oatmeal pan this morning. Easy access matters at 5 in the morning. I know it's silly, but I'm really quite thrilled to have it.

Now, how about french doors for the laundry area?

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Wild America II


Two nice bucks were walking across the church parking lot this evening when I went to my car. No reappearance of the coyote, though I've had my phone camera at the ready since 11 this morning. Maybe in six more years....

Wild America


I wonder if Marty Stouffer did his own cinematography....

Two blocks from our house on my drive back from second breakfast with Sally, a coyote crossed the street. It sniffed about and then headed back up the wooded hill north of 34th Avenue. I grabbed my cell phone - yes, the one with a camera that is always coming on by itself - in hopes of getting a photo. Of course I couldn't figure out how to turn on the camera. It apparently likes things to be spontaneous. I got the camera on just as the coyote disappeared over the ridge. I took a photo, but failed to release the shutter in time. Drat.

Anyway, it was a beautiful, healthy coyote. Very exciting to see, unless you're a cat lover. Coyotes are cat lovers, though admittedly in a slightly different sense.

The Joke's On Me


Do you remember the old joke, "Why did the little boy hit himself in the head with a hammer?" "Because it felt so good when he stopped." I remember hearing this as a child and thinking how stupid it was. Now that I have grown out of my literalist phase the joke doesn't seem stupid at all.

This particular trip down memory lane is brought to you by the good folks at, well, let's just say I attended a church meeting last night. It had been a couple weeks, and I had forgotten my primary defense mechanism, which is trying not to care. If you don't care about the outcome of a church meeting you're much less likely to wind up awake at 3 a.m., verbally shadow boxing with the committee members with whom you wasted an evening.

All of my idealism about churches should have been rubbed off in my stint as a newly ordained pastor in Evansville, Indiana. Like most churches I have come to know, my first parish comprised many lovely people who underwent radical transformations whenever a meeting was called to order. In this they were very much like the cuddly mogwai who were transmuted into demonic creatures in the Gremlins movies. This alchemy was accomplished, not by feeding them after midnight as in the movie, but simply by asking, "Is there anything to add to the agenda?"

Long before my emotional wounds were sufficiently healed to exhibit the cynical scar tissue I now bear, I complained to my Conference Minister father. I found ministry to be brutal, and told him so. He patiently sought to allay my fears, sharing stories of ministers who had made an incredible difference in the lives of others without even being aware that progress was occurring. I now think he made those stories up. My mother might have thought so as well. In response to my complaint about Dad's incessant encouragement, she said, "Perhaps he's forgotten about the times that he returned home after Church Consistory meetings, went into the bathroom and threw up." Mom hadn't forgotten.

And I shouldn't have forgotten that story. But there I was again at 3 a.m., staring at the ceiling, as I have so many times before. In the gray light of the new morning it all falls into perspective: "Why did that boy hit himself in the head with a hammer...."

Monday, November 16, 2009

Working Weekend


We made some real progress this weekend, gathering and sorting the scattered remains of our old kitchen. Sally continued sorting through spices, dry goods, and utensils, trying to figure out what to keep and where best to keep it. I did my best to overcome my hoarding impulse, agreeing to lose the spice rack we purchased from Costco several years ago, and helping clean off bottles and containers that had sat too long in the midst of a construction zone.

We mounted two of the old kitchen cupboards in the basement. One went over the washing machine to hold detergents and such. The other was relegated to the wall of the shop area to provide more storage options for the pile of nails I generally keep on the counter top. Mounting these cabinets led to our reassembling the laundry area, clearing space in the main basement TV room. It feels as if we're finally moving into the house. After six years, it's about time.

We also moved the nice, glass-doored cabinet that had been in
the kitchen into the music room. It looks really nice there, as if it were intended for that wall. We hung one of our large pictures on the wall above the buffet where that cabinet had been stowed.

Finally, we picked up neighbor Bill's trailer and hauled off the rest of the old cabinets, scrap lumber, packing materials, and Evan's decrepit folding chair. This was the next step toward reclaiming the garage for our cars. Given the frosty weather, having the cars parked inside eliminates both the need for scraping windshields and the accompanying shivering.

So, it feels as if we're progressing. There's always more to do, but it feels as if we've reached the summit, and started back down the other side. The journey continues.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

PTSD


A strange, popping noise coming from the kitchen pulled me out of the recliner last night. I couldn't tell if it was coming from the refrigerator, the wall, or the ceiling. What I did know was that I was worried. It snowed yesterday, and I became instantly anxious about my installation of the range vent and the solatube, and whether great drops of water were cascading through the gaping holes in our roof to soak into the ceiling below. We had an awful winter last year, and many roofs in Spokane collapsed. Could the popping sound I was hearing foretell disaster? After all, we had received more than an inch of snow!

In the autumn of 1975 I drove my VW bug to Champaign, Illinois to visit my girlfriend. Exhibiting an uncharacteristic spirit of adventure, I left the interstate system behind and took blue highways back toward Minneapolis-St. Paul. In doing so I was able to drive through the rolling fields of northeast Iowa, where my dad had served his first church, and where one of my older brothers had been born. I had grown up hearing stories, both tender and terrifying, about my parents' experience in Tipton, Iowa. This was my chance to see the area for myself.

In the midst of driving through those rolling hills I detected a slight hesitation from my trusty VW. It had been tuned recently, so I wasn't too concerned. But as the miles and minutes passed, the hesitation became more obvious. My engine was missing. Just a little miss. Only occasional. Before long the occasional miss became a sputter. The car, underpowered in the first place, lost even more. Rolling hills transmogrified into soaring obstacles, and my pleasant drive became an odyssey.

In one small Iowa town I stopped at a gas station to ask for assistance. Even in Iowa, my car was recognized. "That's a foreign car." Help was not forthcoming. I am reminded of my roommate Jon's experience of seeking a mechanic in another small town when his Fiat broke down. He was told to "Call Paris, France." Apparently, unlike those in America, mechanics in France repair Italian cars.

I called a friend in St. Paul to tell them about my predicament, and then continued my ever-slower journey northward toward the Twin Cities. I was going to get home very late, if I were to get home at all. My poor VW coughed and sputtered more and more until, just south of St. Paul, it died. Despite the late hour, my friend picked me up and delivered me safely home.

Subsequent inspection revealed that the problem with the VW was easily reparable. The "points" had not been tightened correctly by the previous mechanic. Still, though the repairs were neither difficult nor expensive, my soul was scarred by the experience. For years afterward I paid obsessive attention to any perceived sputter or hesitation in any car engine. A mere cough or miss would transport me back to the menacing wilds of northern Iowa. (Cue the theme from Deliverance, or images of Mordor from Lord of the Rings.)

My silly obsessions about car engines and popping roofs make me aware of the seriousness of post-traumatic stress disorder. Unlike me, there are people who have experienced real tragedy and hardship. I feel for them. Sally pointed out an article in this morning's paper about the Army seeking more mental health support for veterans. As the light of a new day dispels my silly fears, I am conscious of those whose experiences are less trivial, and who deserve all the help they can get. Providing it would be a great way to observe Veterans' Day, don't you think?

Friday, November 13, 2009

The End of Time


Friday the 13th offers a timely opportunity to discuss a matter of interest to us all: the upcoming appearance of Sarah Palin on Oprah. OK, maybe not. But speaking of disasters, the movie
2012 has been released, loosely based on the contention of some chronic end-of-the-worlders that the Mayan calendar predicts that time will end on or about December 21, 2012. Given the track record of end-of-the worlders, we might do well to place some emphasis on the "about" side of "on or about".

In the mid-1840's a Baptist minister named William Miller developed quite a following in New England by discerning that the Second Coming of Jesus Christ would occur sometime between March 21, 1843 and March 21, 1844. Miller's contemporary, Samuel Snow, set the specific date as October 22, 1844. Many of the "Millerites", the creative appellation chosen by William Miller's followers, gave up their possessions in anticipation of the great day when time as we know it would end, and Christ would come again to wreak havoc on others. Note: end-of-the-worlders are often pretty keen on someone else getting their comeuppance.

Of course, both 1843 and 1844 passed, and the world as we know it did not. This non-event is now known as the Great Disappointment, disappointing ostensibly because the "others" didn't get their comeuppance.

I don't know why dire predictions and those who make them develop such a following. The cynic in me wants to quote H. L. Mencken, No one in the world, so far as I know -- and I have searched the records for years, and employed agents to help me -- has ever lost money by underestimating the intelligence of the great masses of the plain people. This quote is often misattributed to American entrepreneur P. T. Barnum, who said, similarly, No one went broke underestimating public taste.

I doubt that the movie 2012 will lose money. It's directed by Roland Emmerich, the proclaimed "Master of Disaster" who also directed Independence Day, Godzilla, and The Day After Tomorrow. The latter, lesser known flick, is about the sudden onset of a new ice age. The bits I've seen of it left me cold, but then, Dennis Quaid movies often do. Emmerich was asked if he bought into the Mayan end-of-time theory. He responded with a question in turn: "Did I believe in aliens when I made Independence Day?"

Indeed, today is Friday the 13th. I previously cited "13" as a number of great power associated with women and the moon. The path this number took to becoming "unlucky" is well worn. In matriarchal religions and societies, the number "13" was sacred because it was the number of lunar cycles, and menstrual cycles, in a year. When patriarchal, "sky-god" religions overran the Earth Mother, the holy symbols of the old religion became the demonic symbols of the new. Christianity in particular has proven adept at either incorporating or excoriating symbols of predecessor religions. The consumerist holiday sometimes called "Christmas" is rife with pagan images and symbols that have been twisted into a quasi-Christian celebration. The Church, resistant to this celebration of excess for centuries, finally gave up and "baptized" it in just the last 150 years.

I wonder if Bill O'Reilly of the Fox "News" Network is aware that his annual, bellicose defense of Christmas has absolutely nothing to do with religion. My guess is that, like Roland Emmerich, he has little need to believe in or understand an issue, as long as it attracts viewers. You might want to reread the H. L. Mencken quote above at this point.

When will such opportunistic pandering to the fears and ignorance of the public come to an end? I'm sorta hoping these folks will get their comeuppance before 2012, but I'm neither selling all my possessions nor holding my breath.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Aspiring for Goldilocks


Goldilocks isn't just for children anymore.

Scientist/author James Lovelock refers to Earth as the Goldilocks planet in his writing about the Gaia Hypothesis. To better understand this reference, some quick review is in order: Goldilocks comes to a house in the woods, enters, and finds porridge/chairs/beds that are too hot/hard/big or too cold/soft/small, and finally those that were just right/just right/just right. Got it?

Anyway, Lovelock uses the Goldilocks reference to explain how amazing Earth is. It is at the perfect distance from a perfectly sized star to allow for liquid water and the evolution of life into myriad forms. Other planets in this system are either too big/small or too hot/cold. Earth is just right/just right.

The Goldilocks tale can also be used in reference to other aspects of living as well. In the midst of a good discussion with daughter Erin about scenario planning, it occurred to me that one of the marks of the good life is finding the balance point between having high control needs on the one hand, and feeling totally out of control on the other.

For example, I have tried to employ this philosophy (with sporadic success) in regard to money management. In regard to to managing money/spending/investing, the aim is to avoid becoming obsessive/miserly/obsessive without falling into laissez faire/profligate/careless behaviors. In other words, manage carefully while avoiding anxiety.

In almost any pursuit, somewhere between the extremes there is a balance point that we might aspire to attain, a Goldilocks position. I'm willing to visit the extremes every now and again, but rather than forever seeking the "X" life, I'm aspiring for Goldilocks. That feels just right/just right/just right.

At least until the bears come home.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

BPA Breakthrough


Consumer activists have struggled to get bisphenol a (BPA) out of baby bottles and other durable plastics products, including can liners and water bottles. The chemical lobby has maintained that there is nothing wrong with BPA. At last there is a breakthrough. A study now links high BPA levels with male erectile dysfunction. NOW we'll see some action aimed at getting it off the market.

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I had a busy day today running around with Sally, who had Veterans Day off. We went to AAA to pick up a travel card and order some New Zealand currency, went to REI for travel clothes, and then to Costco where I ordered my first new glasses in 5 years. Since we're making such an effort to go to New Zealand, it would be nice if I could see it.

Sally made apple sauce this afternoon and into the evening. I made a hamburger casserole and Waldorf Salad which we ate after she got the apples pared and cooked down. Now she's getting ready to can the last of this year's applesauce. Yum!

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Borrowing Trouble


Time is asymmetrical for us. We can see the past but not influence it. We can influence the future but not see it. Both the invisibility and potential malleability of the future draw us to lean into it, alert to threat or opportunity, empowered by the blankness of its page (if the future is not determined, we might do anything).
Steward Brand, The Clock of the Long Now

I made reference to Stewart Brand several posts ago. I am finding this particular book, written in the dim past (1998), to be thought provoking. Of particular interest is a process called scenario planning, which Brand discusses in the chapter "Uses of the Future". In scenario planning, rather than trying to predict the future, participants are engaged in imagining different possible futures, based on different theories of what is going on in the present, and what might occur in the future.

After hearing my brief description of this process, Sally commented, "You would love that."

OK, I admit that I do enjoy talking about what might happen in the future, and spend more time than I'd like to admit in imaginary conversations that might take place in that invisible, potentially malleable realm. For some, imagining what might take place in the future represents mental illness at worst, and borrowing trouble at best, as if imagining problems or circumstances will somehow make them come true. Thus, if you think of ill fortune, throw a pinch of salt over your shoulder. If you think of good fortune, cross your fingers.

There are religions that teach that whatever we imagine will come true, and that whatever happens to us is the result of our thinking about it. Phrases like, "I'm not sure why I chose cancer" are in evidence. On the "positive" side of this aberrant belief, some teach that if we just imagine or pray for health, wealth, and prosperity it will be granted to us. Indeed the whole notion of intercessory prayer is based on the idea that our imagining or pleading for something will make it come to pass. I'm sorry. I've never bought into this.

Scenario planning, however, is different. In this process we are invited to imagine different paths so that we can prepare to respond. Scenario planning invites us to prepare for possible occurrences, at least mentally, rather than merely being anxious about ill fortune. The failure to envision multiple futures throws us into reactivity, again and again.

This is a thread I plan or returning to in subsequent posts, unless of course....

Monday, November 9, 2009

It's got to be the going...


There's a line from a Harry Chapin song that Sally and I have repeated time to time through the years: It's got to be the going, not the getting there, that's good. There is much about this journey-focused sentiment that I find to be helpful. Beyond travel, the idea pertains to life in general. Indeed, I have long held that religions in particular have a tendency to fall into the trap of focusing on destinations rather than the journey, to their peril and ours.

The other morning, on an Airbus 320 climbing toward a cruising altitude of 37,000 feet, I was struggling to enjoy "the going." Perhaps that was because I've finally gotten to the place where I'm enjoying the day to day journey of my life. I really like having the opportunity to read the paper, drink coffee, feed the dogs, and write these posts. Travel has become an intrusion rather than a welcome diversion for me, especially when it is work related or done out of a sense of obligation.

Joe Dominguez, author of Your Money or Your Life, argued that our need to "vacate" was an indictment against our routine existence. Our lives lack meaning, and so we attempt to grab the gusto through vacationing, shopping, and other material pursuits. Rather than putting so much time, energy and money into trying to escape our lives, wouldn't it be great if we enjoyed what we're doing in the first place?

In the midst of my jotting down these notes on a pad during the flight, the pilot came over the intercom to announce that we had reached 37,000 feet. I remember thinking, "I'm glad we made it."

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Back in the Saddle

I'm back in the saddle again
Out where a friend is a friend
Where the longhorn cattle feed
On the lowly gypsum weed
Back in the saddle again

This old Gene Autry song came to mind this morning as I took my customary place in the recliner to drink coffee and read the paper. I just returned from a quick trip to Indiana to see my mother and two of my brothers. Packing light as a practice run for our New Zealand escapade, I didn't take my MacBook along. I had a few moments where I regretted that decision, including a four-hour flight from Indianapolis to Salt Lake City on a plane that had free WiFi. Gosh, to think you missed out on the joy of reading what I was thinking while experiencing oxygen deprivation and leg cramps at 38,000 feet!

The trip went fine, but I'm really happy to be home.