Thursday, December 6, 2018

River Pebbles and Glitter

These two dissimilar items came into contact when Carol, a very creative and loving 'class Grandmother' for seven and eight year old Hebrew School kids, decided that for this month's project each of them would make a functioning menorah!  They were meeting in the middle of Chanukah after all.  This idea germinated about two weeks before the scheduled project so time was short to assemble materials, especially when there was no materials list - because there was no design.

Undaunted, my loving wife searched our brains (she uses mine as a supplement since it is very rarely engaged elsewhere) to come up with a solution that would engage five youngsters for an hour or so and not burn the building to the ground.  It had to be small enough for them to take home, safe enough to be lit with supervision, and inexpensive enough to satisfy Carol's inbred frugality.

After trips to the local hardware store and the town reuse building at the recycling center, she went online to Amazon and found a solution - four ounce aluminum foil soufflé cups, minimum order 150.  Carol needed 54.  After another day of searching: the large chain hardware store, the large chain hobby store, she ordered 150 soufflé cups.

Next?  Mounting them on a stable base.  I came home from breakfast with friends to find an eight foot long piece of half inch plywood on the front walk. Inside the house were wood scraps of varying sizes, shapes, and thicknesses - including an old lap desk that had been sleeping in our library downstairs.

The optimal size turned out to be 12x15 inches so I cut one that size from scrap plywood that Carol could use to model the finished product.  How to attach the cups? Glue! I assembled the varieties we had in the house, then we strained our eyes to read the VERY fine print on each.  Carol decided to try them one-by-one.

Knowing I'd have to cut the other five pieces from the eight footer on the walkway with the handheld circular saw, I decided to buy a new blade with a finer cut to minimize sanding.  As I perused saw blades in our local True Value, my phone rang.  "Gorilla Glue works.  Get more so we don't run out."  Adding an eight ounce bottle to my blade purchase, I made for the checkout then realized we needed five individual containers for the river pebbles. I included five small paint buckets.

Carol's idea included having the kids pour river pebbles around the candles as they held them steady in the soufflé cups.  In order to make sure she had enough pebbles, she purchased two forty pound bags.

The evening before the project we glued eight cups in an arc onto each board.  The cup for the Shamash candle was mounted on an inverted cat food can (well scrubbed and unlabeled) glued at the approximate midpoint of the interior of the arc.  The finished product actually looked pretty good.

In order to be as gentle as possible with her creation, Carol decided that all the assembly would be done in separate cups that would then be dropped into the permanently mounted set.  150 cups didn't look like an over-purchase anymore.

With five miscellaneous containers of river pebbles (I returned the buckets), bottles of blue and silver glitter, clear washable Elmers Glue, and the five skeleton menorahs, we set up a table before the kids arrived and covered it with a cloth so they wouldn't see it.  I left to do some organizing of my photos.

Carol learned several things that afternoon: Gorilla Glue cannot hold soufflé cups against the eager attention of a seven year old, Glitter gets into everything, and some kids have to be reminded that candles - especially the Shamash candle - should not be glued into the river pebbles.

The following morning we thumbtacked the cups to the base, cleaned up the bulk of the glitter and the stray river pebbles, and stabilized all the candles straight and neat in their cozy little cups in  preparation for the Chanukah Party when the kids will retrieve them for the lighting of the eighth candle.
Carol's Demo Model

Carol's assessment? "Next time I'll do something a little less ambitious."

Oh, does anyone need seventy-five pounds of river pebbles?





Wednesday, August 15, 2018

Sorry for Your Loss

Folks say Sorry for your loss because it gives the receiver comfort I guess.  Sometimes folks say it because some sentiment is expected, but is it?  And if it's not coming from one's heart isn't it just a self-serving throwaway?  Who knows.

As I write this I recall a time when a friend and colleague had suddenly lost, I believe, her first grandchild.  Having five of my own I could only begin to imagine what such a loss would do to me.  When I walked into the office someone said, "She wants to be left alone."  As she stood beside her desk, I crossed the room and wrapped my arms around her.  She squeezed me tight and cried into my shoulder.

I've never been able to cry when I need to.  My dad: WW-II vet, gentle giant, my hero, told me when I was very young that men don't cry.  I don't blame him.  It was the male mantra of the time.  But there are times, like now, I wish I could.  Oh, I cloud up, I feel the urge, but I can't/won't let it come.


Betsy died Saturday.  We worked together at Empire State College for a short time.  We wrote together at a funky beach house named Duckdog for a short time.  We kept in touch electronically over the years, years when she battled cancer to a standstill then had to battle it again.  I can't say she lost.  I'd bet it was a draw and she decided it was time to go.

She wrote from her heart - memoir - growing up in a small upstate town.  When she read her work to us later in the evening, her memories were illustrated in her face, happy, sad, wistful, all shown clearly.  She wrote with honesty and candor, some regrets, no excuses.  The writing crew enjoyed her as she enjoyed us.


She was sometimes serious

Sometimes not

Sometimes Curious

Sometimes not

But she was always that person who was fun to be around.  I'll miss her.  I wish I could hug and cry with her family and friends today.  I can't seem to do it alone.  

I'm so sorry for our loss.

Friday, June 22, 2018

Stuckness

"An egoless acceptance of stuckness is a key to an understanding of all Quality." Robert  M. Pirsig (Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance)

I have been fighting stuckness for more than four years now.  It's as if my physical trauma back then somehow grabbed hold of the mind that once spilled over with creative story ideas, wrapped a chain around it, and stuffed it in a closet.  I haven't been able to accept the situation yet. I keep pushing back, trying to pick the pocket of my jailer and get the key to the chains, but it hasn't worked. 

For example: the seventy-six words in the preceding paragraph took more than half an hour to write. Five years ago it would have spilled onto this blog in less than a minute.  
Why not now?  Not only did it take that much time, but the act of putting those words out was also anxiety provoking.

Here is my thought: to write whatever comes into my head without censoring anything and see where that goes.  Are you ready?

***

Note: It is now over a month later.  So much for moving on.  I wasn't ready.

In my defense, I was on the road from May 12th until June 8th.  But still: I had sporadic internet access, I've been sketching out a travelogue of the trip each day, and I had ample time to compose my thoughts, but I didn't.

***

It is now June 22nd.  I had breakfast with good friends and we discussed, of all things, politics ... sort of.  We talked about the term progressive among others, but I want to highlight progressive.  Not the capitalized word with the article 'a' in front, but the simple noun.  

I am progressive in that: I believe in the right of everyone to have access to health care that is not driven by their ability to pay, I believe that we need to make sure all residents of the USA have housing, food, and access to quality education, I believe that capitalism works when it isn't accompanied by greed, I believe that everyone who is able to work for a living should - but if there are no jobs they should still be able to have a home, food, health care, and education.  I believe that every job should pay well enough to provide those necessities.
I believe that government is responsible for ensuring that those elements work and that, when one's work life is ended, there is support through the remainder of that life to enjoy the fruits of  years of labor without worry.   

For me progressive is not a label, it is an attitude, a way of looking at my world.

We as Americans, and I suppose all other members of humanity, tend to apply labels to people, and that's unfortunate.  We label them by religion, by political perspective, by income, by ethnicity, by color, by sexual orientation, by gender identification, by any of a bunch of other terms.  The only label that has any validity is Human.  everything else is an attempt to find a slot, a convenient place where we don't have to treat the person as an individual, where we can apply a set of generic opinions which is easier than getting to know them.

I try to reject labels when getting to know a person.  I try.  Mostly I succeed, but not all the time.  I guess I'm asking all of you who read my infrequent posts to look into your own attitudes toward people and try to see them as individuals, not as labels.

Thursday, April 12, 2018

High Anxiety

Last couple of months I've been getting anxious - feeling that something's wrong, occasional dizziness, tension, and other sensations I can't come up with words to describe. It hasn't occurred often, but when it does it's debilitating for the relatively short period of time it's happening

Having had no prior experience with this, I'm not sure how to deal with it. When I'm in the middle of the situation, the intensity is scary, like I need to go to the hospital or something to get help. Then it's gone. Like now. Twenty minutes ago I was in the middle of one of these events and gave serious consideration to a trip to the ER.

That's a cruddy way to live. I have a new appreciation for folks who suffer from this ... malady? condition? I have no idea what to call it ... on a regular basis. I hope not to become a member of that group, but then I may not have a choice.

Things I'm gonna do to attempt to mitigate the situation:

Meditate every day, increase my exercise regimen and yoga, and whatever else I can figure out to calm my mind.

Side note: Carol - busy making dinner and watching PBS Evening News - put flour in the sifter then saw it was in the bowl upside down. Combine that with Elvis, my primary cat, asleep on my lap, and life is good.
Elvis is on the Right - Zorro on the Left

Stay safe people. And love your neighbor, even when it's hard sometimes.

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

Means and Opportunity

Two things that are necessary in order to commit a crime, be it shoplifting or mass murder.  Means and opportunity. Of course intent factors into the equation, as perhaps do other things, but the key items are means and opportunity.
Bailey Holt 15 Years old, killed January 23, 2018 in Benton KY school shooting

When it comes to killing school children and teachers, the opportunity seems to be all too easy to manage. What can we do about that? Turn our schools into fortresses guarded by armed and trained personnel? Possibly, but how does that help learning? Is there a better way? I don't know a good, rational answer in today's environment.

However, we can do something about the means part of the equation. We can make access to the type of weapon most often used in these crimes extremely difficult, maybe even impossible. Let's first agree on a few things: regardless of your right to own one, a semi-automatic assault weapon has no use as a hunting weapon; the adrenaline rush of blowing holes in concrete blocks or silhouette targets just doesn't last; and no person that is not in a military or police uniform, and on duty, has any business with one in his or her hands outside a firing range.

Ah, the SECOND AMENDMENT says we can. Sigh... and so it does, if you're part of A well regulated militia.

"But, I only use it at the shooting range." Awesome! How about this then?  Let's have all shooting ranges that are safely capable of dealing with that kind of fire power, include lockers in which the weapon can be securely stored until you are next ready to use them at the range. Since it's no good for hunting, if you're a true hunter, you don't need one for any other purpose.
The Second Amendment as Ratified:

A well regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the People to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.

Let's look at the part that precedes the comma, especially the phrase I highlighted earlier - A well regulated militia. The logical way to accomplish that regulatory requirement would be to assure that anyone owning a weapon had been properly trained in its use and safety, and was mentally capable of handling it without injury to oneself or others. Much like an automobile owner is required to have a license to drive the vehicle,registration and insurance that identifies the vehicle and provides protection in the event of an accident, so should any gun owner be required to have a license that indicates what weapons the person is qualified to handle, and registration and insurance on each weapon to cover any liability incurred in the use of the weapon. 

Among the absurdities promoted by the NRA, such as arming teachers, is the following from Dana Loesch:

The NRA's front person stated in an interview, obviously trying to divert the interviewer from the point of the weapon's capability to the mental health of the user, said, "The weapon didn't walk into the school by itself." No, but if it wasn't available to the perpetrator, it wouldn't have walked into the school at all.

We must, as a rational society, understand that the above amendment has two parts, and that the United States Constitution is more than just one amendment. 

Monday, January 1, 2018

Good Morning 2018

Goodbye 2017

The brutal cold of the last week
of a brutal year is still with us
though the year has gone
the way of all years.

The naked maples in our woods
still carry the powder
of the last snow on their
windward trunks.

We sit in our many-windowed
sunroom, cats and computers
in our laps.  A typical morning,
no different from so many others.

Each of us living our morning
routine, no resolutions announced
to begin this even-numbered year,
some differences apparent though,

this icy morning, a private resolve?
A secret promise to change something
in ourselves, unannounced because
we may, likely will, fail?

And so we begin the new year with
small unremarkable changes
in our unremarkable lives.


Sunday, October 29, 2017

A Yogi and OM in the Same Day

I just experienced a kind of an India day.

We just returned from a going away party for one of the finest yoga teachers in the area, and I spent the morning chanting OM with some friends.  It was a very uplifting, relaxing, rejuvenating day.

This afternoon, as I said was a going away party, for Michael.  A few minutes after we arrived I remarked to Carol that the people in the room did not fit the statistical norm for the US.  The percentage of overweight people in the US in 2014 was an astonishing 70.7%.  The population in the room would yield about 4% that may fall in the overweight category and even that is a stretch.  Seems to me  there's something to a regular yoga practice.

A bit over two years ago I wrote about chanting OM on a rainy day and since it was that long ago I feel justified in including it here:

OM, chanted as three syllables [Ah-oh-mm] that flow into each other through a single breath, is a way to calm one's thoughts, to relax, to facilitate meditation.  It is a private time, a time when the sonorous repetitive drone brings with it a defocusing, a soothing, of the mind and of the body.

When the chant is performed in a group, for an hour or more, something else happens.

My good friend, Dahlia, counselor, mediator, musician, and beautiful soul, leads a chant four times a year around the equinox and solstice - the times of transition when people tend to recognize their connection to the universe, if only for those brief periods.  I have participated in most of them, and each time I come away with the a sense of peace, of altered consciousness, of awareness of ME.

The thing about a group chant is the melding of voices, of people sitting, eyes closed, voices open, in a common simple intonation. Om, in its polysylabic rendition, is an unintended incantation.  As the chant progresses it changes from a simple repetition to a sea of sound.  As Dahlia begins the chant, her pure gold voice pulling us in, we initially follow, picking up her rhythms, but she changes, doesn't maintain a metronomic cadence, and soon we are in our own rhythms, each different by a beat or two. The result is an almost continuous sound, sometimes with just a few voices somewhat tentative to be alone, sometimes in a cacophony of discordant sounds, sometimes even in a harmonious crescendo that lifts each voice into the harmony of OM.

An hour passes so quickly that I can't believe we're done. In the chant, I have found distance from my all-to-present mortality to some other feeling - peace I think.  The acceptance, the okayness, of this rung in the ladder of my existence.  

It is as much of a treasure today as it was then.  On October 16th. Dahlia lost her mother, Hazel, a smart gentle soul who had reached 100 in July of this year.   The chant on her return from West Virginia had a special feeling for me, having known Hazel briefly before she moved.

What I intended this musing to be was a contented sigh celebrating a relaxing, rainy day.  I hope I didn't deviate too far from it.