Thursday, February 21, 2019

The Fault Lies Not in Our Stars (but in Snow)

What else could I do? You could try again. – John Steinbeck, East of Eden

It is embarrassing to admit it, but for the first time in about fifty years of driving, I got stuck in snow. I’d love to say it wasn’t my fault (or better yet, blame it on my saintly wife), but no, it was my fault, my fault, my most grievous fault.

My wife (Barb) and I had gone up to Sedro Wooley to visit our daughter and family, and despite her warning we should bring the pickup (due to the heavy snow on the ground) I decided to bring the car instead as it has all wheel drive, handles well in all weather conditions, and I wanted to gas it up for the weekend.

The roads were in excellent condition, thanks to the hard working men and women of the various state, county, and municipal road crews, so we made the ten-mile trip in our usual fifteen minutes. When we arrived, the roads in “Wooley” (the locals call it that) weren’t in very good shape, but still quite passable. We arrived at our daughter’s house and pulled into our usual parking spot which was, as expected, unplowed. The car came to a stop before I had applied the brake, so I knew I had miscalculated the depth of the heavy snow.

Unlike our Montana snow, which has a water ratio of about twelve inches of snow equivalent to about an inch of rain, our west coast Puget Sound snow was a much heavier three-to-one ratio. Oops.

I tried rocking the car, but the all-weather tires and all-wheel drive simply spun in place. I had miraculously converted our Suzuki into a Zamboni! The car was high centered on compact snow and I was, ironically, in hot water. Fortunately, we had brought a snow shovel with us, so I got out and began to remove snow from all around the car and as far under as I could get. My daughter came out to help and between the two of us we made a lot of space in which to maneuver the car, but we couldn’t get it off Mound Everest; we should have brought a flag to stick atop what was turning out to be the car’s new home (at least until the spring thaw).

Fortunately, a kind soul had parked nearby to pick up his child from the school around the corner, saw our predicament, and offered his help. He was about the size and shape of an NFL lineman and, after a few moments of applying his strength (and traction boots) to the situation, I was able to gain enough momentum to come off the mound and back onto the hard-packed (but smooth) road. We shoveled the rest of the parking spot (Mound Everest became a much flatter Madison Valley bench), and I parked the car as initially I had intended, and the crisis was finished off with hearty thanks, high fives, back slaps, and slowly subsiding heavy breathing (me).

Sometimes we get in over our heads without realizing that’s what we’re doing. We can see clearly what’s on the surface, but we’re often unaware of just what lies beneath. While the snow in the parking spot was only a few inches higher than the surrounding ice-packed road surface, that area is actually about six inches or so lower than the road that runs alongside it. Consequently, the moment I decided to park there, it was “Sayonara, baby.”

We all have days like that. We do the best we can, we miscalculate or make a mistake, get stuck, and then have to find a way out. I was fortunate that I had a decent tool on hand (and no, I usually don’t travel with a shovel in my car – that was serendipity). I was fortunate to have my own family at hand to help. I was blessed that a stranger had had mercy and lent us his strength. Despite several failed attempts to escape, we persevered; we did not give up; we prevailed and we overcame adversity. Thank God!

The moral is as old as life on earth: if at first you don’t succeed, try, try again. After all, there’s no business like snow business. And that’s how icy [sic] it here in this, our valley.

Thursday, February 7, 2019

The Insanity of Cooking

Many things get done in the world because someone had a vision of something better. Herbert O’Driscoll

I am the master of rubber eggs. When I cook scrambled eggs for breakfast, they have a taste and a texture that is cause for both awe and wonder, as well as fear and trembling. The family flees from them like Dracula flees sunlight, and that’s OK. The kids have grown up and moved away and I’ve stopped making them for breakfast.

I honestly don’t know why my scrambled eggs turn out the way they do, but I know it has something to do with the fact that I always prepare them exactly the same way. I am a creature of habit. Insanity, as “they” say, is doing the same thing over and over while expecting different results.

There is a hidden benefit, of course, which is that no one asks me to fix breakfast anymore, so maybe I’m not as crazy as those around me have thought me to be.

Be that as it may, I don’t mind trying different things and I don’t mind trying things differently. A recent craze in the world of the culinary arts, for instance is the multi-functional pressure-cooker-slow-cooker pot you have no doubt seen stacked in the aisles of local mega-marts. Intrigued, I asked for (and Santa delivered) one such device for Christmas.

Sadly, it did not come with any recipes, so I ordered a few Insta-Pot recipe books online so I could use the machine more regularly. Unlike many people of my gender, I happen to enjoy reading instruction manuals and following directions. It makes life much easier (albeit far less adventurous).

Our first dish was actually quite simple; we made a batch of rice. I tossed in the rice, water, and salt in the appropriate proportions, sealed the lid, pressed the RICE button and, voila, the machine heated up and steam poured out the pressure release valve, making it look a bit like an old steam locomotive on steroids. After a few minutes the steam dissipated and after ten minutes the pot’s timer beeped, and the rice was ready.

Interestingly, it was a bit crunchy. I discovered that the pressure cooker’s release valve should have been closed while the rice cooked. Now, I happen to like crunchy rice, but the sunshiny mistress of the house prefers it presented in its more traditional, fluffy form, so we learned from our experience and now we make sure the valve is set properly for whatever we are cooking.

It has really revolutionized our life in the kitchen. We also learned it is better to look for individual recipes online, or to examine recipe books in person. The first book we ordered was worthless as it called for ingredients, many of which we had never heard of, and called for more steps and stages than what the “Insta” part of Insta-Pot would reasonably be understood to mean!

The second volume is actually pretty good, although it doesn’t have a well-organized index, so we have to thumb through it to find what we’re looking for, and the ingredients for each recipe are listed so haphazardly that it is hard to know what has been included or left out at each stage. Be that as it may, though, the few recipes we’ve tried have been as fast and as tasty as anything we’ve fixed in a more traditional manner.

And QUICK! I have been amazed at how much quicker it is to cook under pressure (and even nicer when it is the food that’s under pressure, and not the cook!), and how tender it makes of cheaper cuts of meat.

As I’ve said, I’m a creature of habit, but I do appreciate trying new things. As one fellow said, “If you don’t get out of the box you’ve been raised in, you’ll never learn how much bigger the world is.”

I think we need to learn to look at this world of ours – God’s world, really – with fresher eyes and less fear. Maybe if I had learned to cook my eggs differently they might have proven to be more palatable for my loved ones. Wouldn’t that have been egg-citing?

In the meantime, life goes on. I’m just going to enjoy it more as pressure builds in this, our valley.

Wednesday, January 30, 2019

The Fence-Line- A Parable

A few weeks back the wind blew so hard in our neighborhood it blew the fence down between us and our neighbor to the south. We looked at it and decided to rebuild it in the Spring when the weather improves. We haven't discussed costs or other options (hiring it out, e.g.), but the episode got me thinking - or "daydreaming" to be more accurate.

I thought about replacing the six foot privacy fence with one just like it, but realized my neighbor has an eight foot step ladder. What kind of privacy would a replacement fence give me? So I considered building a twenty foot fence, but realized my neighbor also owns a twenty-four foot extension ladder. There's not enough privacy to be had with a twenty foot tall fence! So I decided to build a thirty foot fence, just like The Donald wants!

Now the sun no longer reaches my yard; the plants have died; the grass has turned brown. Even the mushrooms and toadstools have gone flaccid. I have my privacy, but I have it in darkness.

Thursday, January 24, 2019

Every Song Once Was New

I want time to sit and read, take a nap and snack. Basically, I want to be in kindergarten. Anon.

I woke up this morning and found myself stumbling around the bedroom like as if I was coming off a bit of a bender – I wasn’t.

I wasn’t dizzy (although I do have blond genes), and I wasn’t groggy from sleep or struggling to wake up. I was fully awake as I clambered out of bed, but as I made my way to the wash room I found my equilibrium was anything but equilibriating!

That happens every so often. The body wakes up but the inner ear stays in bed and – voila – we find ourselves schlepping off into the world like Godzilla through Tokyo. It’s not a pretty sight (although it can be downright comical).

Fortunately, our house is small enough I can cruise along using walls, furniture, and countertops like any self-respecting toddler my age, and so life is as safe and sane as I make it (for whatever that’s worth).

That seems to be the way 2019 has started off for me. It isn’t a bad year (yet); I don’t expect to see it improve or get worse as it progresses, and yet it just seems a bit “off” to my sensor array.

For instance, it is January, but we haven’t had any snow come down in our corner of the world. That’s not a bad thing (being snow-averse, as I am), and yet I know the lack of snow will have an impact on the forests all around us. I fear for what it will mean when fire season returns. I can’t do anything about that, so I don’t fret; I simply plan to be careful when out and about. I will make every effort to minimize sparks wherever I go.

Actually, that sounds like good advice for life. We should all go through life minimizing the sparks we fling off here there and everywhere. In the Saint Francis prayer, we ask God to make us instruments of peace. That sounds good on the face of it, but then at some point we have to deal with people and situations that bring out that same feeling one gets when fingernails are scratched down those proverbial blackboards (that people have heard of but never use anymore).

White boards. Ugh. What’s the fun in those?

I have fond memories of taking the erasers out after class to pound them along the bricks at Whittier Elementary in Seattle. The cloud of chalk-dust blowing up as those felt blocks whacked into one another, or tumbled onto the asphalt playground outside the Janitor’s entrance. That was life; that was living. There was pride to be had in restoring those erasers to as black as black could be. Black meant they were clean, and that we had done our job. But now-a-days: Blecht!

Now we have color-coded “dry-erase” markers. Erasers are still made of felt, but there’s hardly anything to beat out of them. You bang them together and you might, if you’re lucky, get a little pufflet of a piffle-cloud – totally incapable of causing even a flea to sneeze. What a waste!

But, that’s the world we live in. It is so safe and sane it’s hard to feel a great sense of accomplishment getting to the end of the day alive. Having been bubble-wrapped, there are no bruises to point out; no scars witnessing to the day’s battles.

Well, blackboards are a thing of the past. No doubt when schools introduced them generations ago, teachers grumbled, too, about having to toss out their granite tablets and designer chisels.

But, that’s progress; that’s nothing to grouse about (really). The same goes with being at peace with the world. It is so easy to fight everything that comes around until one realizes the world’s not here to fulfill our every whim. There IS a center to the universe, but I am neither he, nor she, nor it.

All I need to do to be at peace is to realize that fact and, further, to see to it I keep MY fingernails off the chalkboard of life. The less dust I raise, the better off we will all be.

And that’s the way I see it as I stumble ‘round this morning here in this, our valley.

Tuesday, January 22, 2019


Silly me. It seems a wall the GOP refused to build during the past 2 years when they controlled both house of congress and the White House is now so critically important they refuse to pay the people who actually secure our borders. As if the promise to pay is sufficient reason to come --- when it has been over a month.
There is a rule of thumb one does not negotiate with terrorists, bullies, or extortionists, for if one does, then that is all people will do: terrorize, bully, and extort. Oh my. No wonder the Dems continue to pass bills in the HOUSE to pay federal employees and carry on federal programs the GOP senate passed before the year ended.
Building the Wall is worth discussing and debating. If it will work, then convince Congress in open debate. But to hold our nation hostage for what many consider a vanity project? Oh my; how vain is that? How insane?

Sunday, January 20, 2019

Hobbies and Such

SHOWER THOUGHT: The first humans sent on a voyage to another solar system might be greeted by humans who were sent later using faster space ships.

Every year, I try to find something new to conquer. I have never been much of a hobbyist, and yet I have always yearned to find that “one thing” that I can delight in and which might help me pass the time in a way that is more productive than watching television, going to movies, or reading books – all sedentary activities.

One year a friend suggested I take up golf. I was reluctant to give it a shot; years earlier when I had only just become a teen, my uncle took my brother and me out to shoot a round at a local golf course. I had never had lessons, had never gripped a club or struck a ball with one. I had seen the game played on television (black and white, grainy picture, and 13 inch screen) so I had an idea of what to do. I think we played nine holes and I shot something in the neighborhood of 180 (not counting swings and misses).

So I didn’t have much confidence I would do any better playing golf as a middle-aged couch potato. Still, he encouraged me to give it a go and even went so far as to set me up for some lessons with an instructor at the local public golf course. I took the lessons and must admit it helped bring my score down out of the stratosphere. I don’t think I ever parred a hole (but I can par boil eggs). I gave the game a run for a year or so but came to know deep in my heart that it wasn’t a sport, activity, or hobby I’d be good enough to actually enjoy, so I eventually gave away my clubs and equipment to a relative who had interest in the game – and skills.

I’ve tried other hobbies, of course. I strove to play the Recorder for a bit, but I didn’t have money to blow for lessons. I entertained woodworking for a while, but I board (sic) of it too quickly. I branched out into whittling but couldn’t make the cut there, either. I wrote music for church, but nothing of note came from that. Then I pictured myself becoming a photographer, but that didn’t develop the way I expected it to, either.

So this year, I thought I would take up calligraphy. If I become good at it, maybe I can ink a deal to create note cards for special occasions, like weddings or baptisms.

I bought a beginner’s set; it included the pen, a variety of nibs, and a bottle of ink. The online advertisement said the set also came with a case, but what they meant was one could use the cardboard box they came in “as” a case. I was underwhelmed on that score, but I appreciated the rest of it anyway.

First chance I had, I got everything out and set up and began to practice my calligraphy skills and must admit the results were more legible than my standard handwriting. I use the word “handwriting” very loosely as it looks more like a seismographic scrawl than a row of letters or a sentence. I can’t even read what I’ve written, for heaven’s sake!

Moving on, what amazed me at first was how often I had to dip the pen into the ink to draw enough fluid to produce a letter or two. It is very slow going, and I can now appreciate what it took for the writers of the scriptures to produce the books of the Bible. I think we take it for granted that everything just fell perfectly into place, but what a painstaking process it is!

If I had to rely on a traditional stylus, ink, and vellum (or papyrus) upon which to write letters, sermons, poetry, or the like, I doubt I would have the stamina to produce more than a couple of pieces per year. On the other hand, it would look so pretty.

It turns out I have fun doing calligraphy. I can’t hardly wait to do my next column in ink and vellum, which you’ll likely see around 2025. Maybe you can golf while you wait for it in this, our valley.

Saturday, January 19, 2019

Political Correctness

I have no idea what that means, really. Language changes with time. When I was growing up, my grandfather was an invalid. He was a cripple. He suffered from a major stroke and was wheelchair bound in the late 1950s until his death in the early 1960s. We don’t use those terms (cripples, invalids) anymore. We’ve moved on to disabled, handicapped, differently abled, mobility challenged, etc. It isn’t because we’re offended by the other terms. Rather, it is because we seek to be kind, compassionate, and thoughtful. 
Some years ago when I moved to California from Michigan, I was speaking to a group of people and used the term “orientals” when speaking of people from the far East. Ironically, I was speaking against racism. I was informed afterwards that the term “oriental” was no longer appropriate. The term de jour was now Asians. I thanked my friend for the insight. I’d missed the memo. I wasn’t offended by the correction. I didn’t think the person an ass-wipe for confronting me. Why? Because he didn’t confront me. He shared some information that would help my relationship with the people I was serving. That allowed me to be kind, compassionate, and thoughtful.
The other day Steve King (for whom I have virtually no respect (politically) anyway) got into trouble for asking what to my ears was a rhetorical question: Why are these words and phrases wrong? Rather than censuring him, or lambasting him, or punishing him for his ignorance, I would think it would have been more helpful for our national dialogue for someone to have spent a few minutes going over the history of those terms. I doubt he would have understood it, but then again, we wouldn’t have had people hiding behind the “Oh look how we’re being persecuted for speaking our mind or asking questions” that so many use to avoid conversation and deflect addressing the issues that divide us.
I have been blocked for expressing my political perspective on Facebook and Tumblr and other venues - by Right Wingers. I have never blocked them or stopped following them because (let’s be honest) they sometimes post some righteous stuff and funny memes. Although we may often view the world differently, I need the Right to help keep me balanced. I have tried walking with one leg tied up. It’s NOT a pretty sight!
So, until someone can help me understand what it really means to be PC, I shall continue to strive to be kind, thoughtful, and compassionate in word and deed. I think that's what Jesus might have done.