Thursday, June 30, 2011

Friday, June 24, 2011

New York state flag

Emblazoned on a dark blue field is the state coat of arms. Liberty holds a pole with a Liberty Cap on top. At her feet is a discarded crown, representing freedom from England at the end of the revolutionary war. Justice wears a blindfold and carries the scales of justice, meaning that everyone receives equal treatment under the law. The state motto "Excelsior" on a white ribbon expresses the idea of reaching upward to higher goals. On the shield a sun rises over the Hudson highlands and ships sail the Hudson river. Above the shield is an eagle resting on a globe representing the Western Hemisphere.


One of the places the bookmobile visits every week is a day care center. In the summer, they have a program for primary school kids and we bring an assortment of books on the theme the director has chosen. Next week's theme is Superheroes, but she mentioned that she wanted books about real heroes as well. In looking through titles, I ran across a book about an unknown-to-me woman, Claudette Colvin, who as a teenager rebelled against segregation on public transportation in Alabama. Flipping through the book to see if it would be appropriate to the age-group, I saw this verse by black (and reportedly gay) American poet Langston Hughes:
I swear to the Lord
I still can't see
Why Democracy means
Everybody but me.
Some of us still can't see, Langston.

The Good, the Bad and the Beautiful

When mowing this year, Tom intentionally left beds of deer grass around to see if it would bring deer closer to the house. Yesterday evening while on the deck, we watched a doe come cautiously up to a patch not far from the end of the house and munch away. She eventually noticed us and the cat, who was scratching noisily on a deck post, but it didn't scare her away. We went in before she disappeared. It's a good thing.

We have been battling raccoons -- well, attacking the raccoons. I am not sure they are fighting back so much as just staring at us and waddling off. For some reason this year they discovered the bird feeders. I think the trees Tom planted near the feeders to provide shelter for the birds are now big enough to enable the raccoons to climb up and get over into the feeders. We are using a diverse strategy and the raccoons seem unfazed. On the other hand, they did not show up (or we did not see them) last night. So maybe we are making progress. Raccoons are cute but still a bad thing.

Even better, this morning from the kitchen window we watched a doe nursing a fawn in the back yard.

Mama pricked up her ears and caught sight of us pretty quickly, but she waited until Bambi took a break before heading off into the woods. The fawn looked around for a minute and then went chasing off after her.

And that was truly a beautiful thing.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Happy Birthday, Brinkley!


and Happy Summer!
and Happy Longest Day of the Year!
and Happy Whatever Makes You Happy!

Monday, June 20, 2011

Vox Populi = 68%

The Principality of Liechtenstein

Saturday, June 18, 2011

To Daddy, Ted, Justin, Vince, Jason and Tom ...
and all you other fathers out there!

Monday, June 13, 2011

Weekend, book sales and deer days

Tom was in New Jersey this weekend for David and Rebecca's wedding, which according to his reports went very well. (Mazel tov!) He's due back late this afternoon.

I worked Saturday, all day because the library was having the first book sale of the year. I picked up a couple of books for Tom and a few for myself, as well as a set of videotapes on Native American nations, narrated by Kevin Kostner. These were still in the shrink wrap and the seven-tape set was two bucks. We still have a VCP and I look forward to watching them.

Yesterday I did some shopping. On the way back, a doe and fawn crossed the road in front of me right at the property line. Very cute.

Then this morning when I opened the deck door to let Sundance out, two does were in the back yard, nibbling on the deer grass Tom left unmowed just for them.

Today is a late work day -- until 8:15 tonight. I only work an eight hour shift (ten hours tomorrow), but getting home for dinner at 8:30 makes it seem endless.

On the other hand, I get to wear my librarian-original-search-engine t-shirt today, so that will be fun.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Pre-Father's Day Post

My father was admitted to hospice this past week. He will be receiving care at home, which is a blessing.

Naturally this happening right before Father's Day has me thinking about my father's life and his impact on my own. I once told a story about him as part of a homily; my mother points out that it was at Mass on Mother's Day, and I still owe her a story, but time for that later.

I included it in my book, Elijah and the Ravens of Carith, and it is that version that I reproduce here.

Much has been written about charity since Paul’s famous passage in his letter to the Corinthians, and nothing perhaps has surpassed those words. Certainly nothing I can say will! All I want to do here is offer a reflection based on my personal experience of charity, love, from the perspective of the one who has received it.

Some years ago a woman who was on retreat complained to me that I kept talking about love and she had no idea what I meant by it. This startled me, because I knew that this was a supremely generous and self-sacrificing woman. I tried to point out the ways in which she herself was showing love, but she stopped me.

“I don’t know what it means to be loved. You keep talking about God loving me, but I have no reference point for that. What does it feel like to be loved? What does that mean?”

So I pondered for a while my own experiences of being loved – by parents, by friends, by those who had been (or thought they had been) “in love” with me. As I did so, three common elements emerged, and I shared those with her. What follows is what being loved has been like for me.

First, acceptance. The people who loved me accepted me. They did not always understand me or necessarily approve of everything about me. My parents, for example, would have preferred that I go to college nearby instead of choosing to attend a university fifteen hundred miles from home. They were not pleased when I entered the Catholic Church while at that university, and they could not understand fully why I would choose to enter a monastery after graduation and forego having a family of my own. Yet in all of this, they accepted me. That was part of their love.

Second, challenge. Acceptance by itself can be pretty limp. If those who loved me just let me be, I would never have grown. Instead they challenged me to be better, to face my fears, to try new things. As a result I learned that I could stand up before a crowd and speak, that I could go to a foreign country and learn a new language, that I could even dance (more or less). Part of their love for me was the challenge to go beyond myself.

Third, commitment. Acceptance and challenge became love because they stayed with me. They didn’t just say, “Okay, this is who you are. This is how you can become better. Stay warm and well fed. Bye!” They walked with me, sometimes wept with me, sometimes helped me up and other times let me get up on my own. But they were there.

Acceptance, challenge, commitment. That was my experience of being loved, and those elements were present in all of the varied relationships that were worthy of the name love. This story about my father illustrates this.

When I was fourteen, I learned to drive while working on my grandfather’s farm for the summer. An older cousin took me under his wing and taught me how to drive an old army surplus jeep. It was in less-than-perfect shape, and I had to learn to double shift and sort of slide into and through second gear. It had little pick-up, and I had to push the pedal to the metal to get it to move, but by the end of the summer, I was managing well enough to feel confident when I began my driver’s education classes at school.

One day in the fall, before I had actually gotten into a car to drive in driver’s ed, my brother was playing down the road when dinnertime rolled around. My father tossed me his keys and told me to go get him. I made excuses, but he assured me I could do it. After all, it was a country road with little or no traffic, the distance to cover was only about a block each way and I had learned to drive over the summer. Right?

I got into my father’s Plymouth with some trepidation, but also with some excitement. After all, this was an automatic transmission. I did not have to worry about the clutch or shifting gears. How hard could it be?

I started the engine, sat for a moment, pushed it into reverse and, as I had done many times with the jeep, floored the gas pedal.

Unlike the rickety old jeep, the Plymouth was in good shape and had approximately a gazillion horsepower engine. It flew out of the garage, narrowly missing my mother’s car and the central supporting pillar, across the curve of the driveway and into a tree in our neighbor’s yard.

I was physically unhurt – there is much to be said for the physical resiliency of a fourteen-year-old – but when I got out and saw the crushed rear fender, I was sick at my stomach. I waited for someone to come, but apparently no one had heard the crash that to me has seemed to shake the Texas countryside. There was nothing to do but go tell my father.

I went back into the house, where he was still reading the newspaper and told him what had happened. He folded the paper, got up and said, “Let’s go see.”

We went out and he walked around the car. He jumped up and down on the bumper a couple of times and got it loose from the tree. Then he turned to me and said, “Get in.”

Get in? Get back in the car? Surely you jest!

He was serious. He had me get back in the car, in the driver’s seat. He got in and had me start the car, pull away from the tree and down the drive, and then he talked me through driving down the road to get my brother and all the way back. His only concession to my poor driving skills was that he let me get out and put the car back in the garage himself.

To me, that was a great act of love. My father accepted what I had done. I know he did not like it or approve of it. But he accepted it, and more importantly, he accepted me as the one responsible. He then challenged me to do better by having me get back in the car and drive. Finally, he committed himself to me by getting in the car with me, even though he saw what I had just done. That may have been the greatest act of love of all.

Accept. Challenge. Commit. Go and do likewise.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Borrowed from Tom's blog, pictures and all


I’ve been spending my time on planting and mowing this week, with a couple days of brush cutting at the railroad.

The railroad is in good shape, in terms of brush and grass, at this point. Roland and I spent most of Tuesday and Wednesday hacking back the brush along the side tracks, and Carl and Steve have been mowing the side tracks. I blew the leaves and springtime debris off the track yesterday, and we are good to go for the next month or so, anyway.

Around here, I’ve been working on gardens, for the most part, when I’m not mowing the grass. Garden-building, like nation building, is a slow task, particularly since I’m trying to use native species and “found” plants — plants and cuttings given to me by neighbors, gleaned off abandoned farmsteads, and so on — rather than the usual “buy it and stick it in” method of garden development.

I’ve been creating meander lines along the natural topography of the land, trying to “layer out” — clean and lawn-like near the house, more and more natural as the perimeter moves out. The line in this photo marks the boundary between lawn and woods, and consists of iris and about five different variations of the old-fashioned day lilies found along the roadsides in this area, planted long ago by folks now dead and naturalized. As I find more old plants, I’ll keep extending the line along the boundary.

I simplified the area along the front walk this spring, removing a number of plants, adding more rock — that’s something I have no shortage of, to be sure — and trying to keep it a bit more kempt. We’ll see how the line along the walk and in front of the house fares this summer, as the dry and the heat hit hard in a few months.

I put in a new garden this year, east of the house, after Bob Kelly took down a few scraggly trees. The plants in front are wild roses that grow in the woods. I found a few of them growing in the clay in the immediate aftermath of construction, and I’ve been nursing them along for the last five years. I cleaned up the area this week, added a few patches of day lilies and slow-growing phlox that Peggy gave me, moved in some bleeding heart seedlings, and demarked the boundaries between the plant groups with logs.m Now I’ll wait and encourage it to grow in for the next five years.

The shrubs in back of the house are finally growing this year, some approaching mature height. The back of the house is a slab, with a deck, and needs the softening of shrubs. I’ve tried to pick varieties that attract birds, because the feeder is in back of the house, and I like the show. I think that I’ll be in a position to start trimming this fall.

Gardening is as much a matter of patience as it is art.

Michael laughed at me last night, saying that by the time I got the gardens the way I wanted them, I’d be ready for “Our House”, a local assisted living facility. He’s probably right.

Reality check

First of all, I acknowledge that this looks a lot like one of my favorite comics, Pearls Before Swine, conceived and executed by the brilliant Stephan Pastis. I note, however, that I have altered it by inserting a halo over Rat. This is not only a visual change. In Pearls Rat is soooo not a saint. So I contend that I am not violating any copyright infringement because I have made substantive changes not only in the look but in the characterization in the strip.
In one Pearls strip, Rat writes something insulting about Goat in a book, but claims that his lawyer assures him that he cannot be sued because the character in the book is named Goatt. Pastis, I remind you, was a lawyer before becoming the brilliant artist and social commentator that he now is.
I figure it can't hurt my case to say nice things about him in case he does get on my case about the copyright thingy.
The reason I post this today, however, is that a previous post of mine from back in 2008 got a comment added today. To re-read the post and see the comment, click on this link.

It is satisfying to get the occasional feedback from a total stranger who has stumbled across this blog. Someone contacted me once about the big red shoe in the Dells, too, after I had written about it.

On a totally unrelated note, every now and again someone buys one of my books and I continue to get a few pence every month or so.

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Tom and the copter

Tom got a new toy today. Here are a couple of brief video clips of the action outside. He played with it in the house and terrorized (or at least totally fascinated) Sundance. Maybe I can get some video of that later. (It may take a few seconds to load the video after you click on the arrow in the bottom left corner of the video window.)

As you can see, Tom is still getting the hang of it. (I won't comment on the cameraman's lack of skill ...) Below is a slightly longer flight around the yard, ending when the copter gets out of range of the remote controller.


We caught a segment today on television about the Cardiff Giant, one of the most famous hoaxes in United States history. It was a 10-foot (3.0 m) tall purported "petrified man" uncovered on October 16, 1869 by workers digging a well behind the barn of William C. "Stub" Newell in Cardiff, New York. Both it and an unauthorized copy made by master showman and cynic, P.T. Barnum are still on display. The photo is of the original, now at the Farmers' Museum in Cooperstown, New York. Barnum's replica is said to be on display in Michigan.

The folks at the Farmers' Museum, with tongue somewhat in cheek, insist that theirs is the authentic Cardiff Giant. When challenged on what seems to be a claim that it is a real giant, they point out that all they mean is that it is the original fake. Barnum's is a fake fake, if you will, although his superior marketing prowess meant he made more money off his than did the owners of the real fake.

The game is in what you mean by authentic. In normal usage it means something is true, so if you say this is an authentic Civil War bullet, that means it is a real bullet used in, or at least from the period of, the Civil War.

But sometimes the word has other meanings. For example, in Catholic theology, "authentic" can mean simply "official." Thus, the authentic teaching of the Catholic Church is that artificial birth control is immoral. That sounds like the TRUE teaching is that artificial birth control is immoral (which may indded be the case), but in Catholic dogma, it means that this is the official position of the Church as expressed in official Church documents. Should the Church change its mind on this point -- as it has on lots of things, such as the morality of lending money for interest, once considered a mortal (SERIOUS) sin -- then the teaching will change. The new position will be authentic, not because it is necessarily true (or more true) than the old, but because it has become the official teaching.

People are always getting tripped up by this, thinking that it if is authentic-in-the-official-sense, then it must be objectively true and therefore immutable. Not so much, as it turns out.

So next time someone tells you something is authentic Christian teaching or that it is the authentic American position, pause for a moment. Is it, in fact, immutable truth or simply the present official position of a lot of people with authority?

Also ask yourself about the person or group advocating that position. Are they the only authentic Christians or Americans out there? This may indeed be something they often assert, but maybe they are authentic the way the original Cardiff giant is authentic. Because if there are Christians and Americans out there who think differently, things may change.

And they do.

And they will.

'As the quote I posted before says, Things are only impossible until they're not.

Belated birthday gift and others

Tom was away for my birthday, but yesterday I received a t-shirt as a belated gift. It arrived with some others I had ordered myself. Shirts and/or slogans as below:

Mine is red/maroon, not orange. Even though orange is the new black.
It Gets Better is a program to fight the high rate of suicide among LGBT teens. They are more than three times as likely to attempt suicide as their heterosexual peers. The program includes Youtube videos posted by celebrities, politicians, sports teams, artists, musicians and just-plain-folks -- gay and straight, religious and not, liberal and conservative -- to reassure and encourage kids at risk.
Now that even our library circulation system is web-based, some folks have started referring to us as cybrarians: a person whose job is to find, collect, and manage information that is available on the World Wide Web. Which is where I found that definition.

It's June. "Hey, batter, batter, batter! Swing!"
'Nuff said.That last one is very descriptive of me, even in my pre-librarian days.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Things are only impossible until they're not.