Wednesday, January 1, 2020

Pursuing Perfection

Happy Thanksgiving, Merry Christmas, and Happy New Year!  Though the last of those three heartfelt wishes to all you patient readers is on time, the other two are examples of my pursuit - procrastination.  Throughout my adult life I have been a fairly effective procrastinator, though not perfect by any measure.  This decade I mean to change that.

I'm reminded of Jimmy Carter's recollection of his first meeting with Admiral Rickover.  When Rickover asked the new Ensign whether he always did his best at the Naval Academy, Carter answered "No." Prompting Rickover's second question, "Why not?"  Since I'm pretty good at procrastinating without putting any effort into the act, it's reasonable to assume that, with a little work, I could be much better.

First of all, this is my Christmas letter (or Solstice, or Hanukkah, or Kwanzaa ...) so I'm already on my way as an olympic class procrastinator!  See, I'm starting the new year right.  Second, I started this letter at about six this morning.  It is now past two-thirty.  How'm I doin'?  Third, I interrupted this to begin neatening up my office - a process that promises to occupy most of 2020 - does that somehow (the interruption) count as procrastination?

Since this is the first holiday (see list above) letter I've ever written, bear with me if I deviate from acceptable norms ... Let's see ... news of the year ... Oh yeah, I visited the ER in January and again in May, January for tripping over my bike on the way down the bike shop stairs - concussion and large gash in my leg from the pedal, May after fainting while making morning coffee - concussion and finally recognition that one of my heart meds was trying to kill me.  It's now listed as an allergen in my comprehensive health record.  Carol had cataract surgery on both eyes November and December, you know of course those are not the names of her eyes (I had to say that) but rather the months in which the surgeries took place.  She loves the results.  I think that covers the medical history part of the year.  On to family.

Our three kids Laura, Wanda, and Kelly are doing very well as are their spouses.  Now the grandkids: Phoebe is wrapping up a bachelor's degree and will soon be an RN;  Phil graduated from Syracuse with a Chemical Engineering degree and is now in Madison Wisconsin working for Epic;  Nick got his MBA from UL Lafayette and is working in Baton Rouge and living in Lafayette with our two great-grandkids, Suri and Jaxon.; Miranda is fifteen, a sophomore, and still heavily into her gymnastics (she spent the week before Christmas in the Bahamas at a gymnastics meet);  Danny is twelve and very interested in singing and acting.  He auditioned for the Chamber Singers in his middle school and was accepted.

Carol and I spent the first half of February in Cedar Key, as we have the last several years.  Oh! Oh!  I forgot! The morning we left on that trip south, Carol slipped on the ice and fractured her wrist. (That should have been in the medical section, sorry.)  It got tended to when we arrived in Chapel Hill, North Carolina because she didn't believe it was that bad, until the pain told her it was.  Anyway, when that happened, we had the car all loaded and the bikes mounted on the rack so, at her insistence we headed south to Joan's.  About the bikes, Carol was unable to ride so her bike lazed against the porch rail of our cottage until I loaded up for the trip home.  Other than that mishap we had a very good two weeks.

Wow! I wrote a lot of stuff.  I guess that's how these letters are supposed to go.

Until next time ...


Saturday, October 19, 2019

Time is Relative, but Relentless

It's a rainy cold  night in New Paltz.  It seems we jumped from late summer to early winter in the past week.  I sit at the reception desk of Roost Studios, facing the open door.   I am tonight's guardian of the store from five to closing at eight.  On this cold rainy evening we have had one visitor.  On the upside one can get some chores done without interruption. On the down side there aren't that many chores to do.  Boredom sets in; time slows, and slows, and slows.  I feel like a child perceiving every hour as a day, every day a week, every week a month, every month a year.

In reality, I'm more than halfway past my seventy-seventh birthday.  To my old self it feels like my life has taken no time at all, gone too quickly as I continue riding the speeding train that carries my last several decades away.

Time to cheer up.  Let's talk about aging.

Things I have noticed:

1) My tact and diplomacy filters, charged with monitoring observations and opinions that form in my brain to decide whether they become public or remain 'inside words', have become mired in a septuagenarian soup.  Hence an unfiltered comment often escapes, becomes in public, with unpleasant results.

2) There appears to be a tollbooth between my mind and vocal cords, and I am unable to pay the toll on time.  I will begin a statement that, in my mind, is clear and relevant to whatever discussion I am entering, only to be short the toll for a keyword that my entire argument revolves around.  So I am left in open-mouthed silence, or stammering until that word surfaces, or until I find one barely sufficient to continue the remark in some way that makes sense.

3) Proper nouns, specifically names, occupy a compartment in the cranium that is the earliest to deteriorate.  I've heard that the brain contains everything that has ever entered into its nooks and crannies.  Well that portion of my particular gray matter that houses the name recognition storage, may have retained the name of every person or object I have ever taken in, but the recall mechanism has disappeared.  I never had a reliable memory for names, but as I've aged it has become so problematic that in speaking with people I've known for decades, I am often unable to say their name until they're gone.  It doesn't have the same effect if I blurt it out to an empty space, or to a stranger who hurries away in fear.

4) Topics of conversation.  During my weekly old guys breakfast, our interaction generally begins with what someone has dubbed 'the organ recital,' wherein we outline aches and pains in a sort of unacknowledged competition before discussing: the current political climate, upcoming travels, or our wives.

Those of you who have reached your dotage know whereof I speak, the rest of you — just you wait.


Sunday, September 29, 2019

The Pen-in-Hand Mystery and Other Musings

No, I'm not gonna whine about how hard it is for me to write every day, well maybe that will come out but it's not the topic of this musing.  What I need help with is a bit of sleuthing from those of you who frequently watch interviewers on TV channels other than PBS - I don't.

Here's the thing: every interviewer on PBS holds a pen between the first and second fingers of his/her right or left hand, depending, I suspect, on which appendage they write with.  I say suspect  because I've not ever seen any of them actually write something.  Adding to the oddness, the nib is directed at the interviewee or the ceiling, meaning the interviewer must flip the pen in order to write and place it between thumb and forefinger (unless they are one of the rare individuals who writes with the instrument between the initial digits.). So let me know via comment on this blog, on my musings Facebook page, or whatever.  My public needs to know.

PSA(s) - For those of you who have mourned the end of Downton Abby.  The movie is terrific!  If you're wandering around Hudson NY after 5:00 and get hungry I highly recommend Lil' (their apostrophe placement) Deb's Oasis 747 Columbia Street.  It's a funky place with a great creative menu and good wine.  While we're talking about Hudson, it's worth a day trip to walk on Warren Street and check out the various shops, restaurants, and even the list of available real estate.  I'm attracted to all the spaces between buildings on the street.  Some have benches and landscaping, others a bit of sculpture or the like.  The buildings themselves have the charm of age and a kind of belonging on Warren.

By the way, if you intend to dine at Deb's place, they open at 5:00.  Best to keep walking east on Warren, turn left at 8th and left again at Columbia and you can't miss it.  After dinner continue down Columbia a bit and you will come upon Time and Space Limited.  Stop in and see what's happening.  Further along you'll find Club Helsinki, Hudson version.

Hope you enjoy yourself.


Sunday, June 16, 2019

Once I Could Run

It's coming up on eight am this cloudy cool Sunday.  As I write, many runners are passing on sleepy Plains Road.  A Father's Day Race, Carol tells me.  The competitors are long gone, flying past.  Now the stragglers are passing in ones and twos, a couple of them even walking.  The lead dozen ran by in silence, the first one carrying an American Flag.  The middle ran in conversational clusters mostly, with some outliers.  I'm guessing this is some kind of fundraiser like the Thanksgiving Day Turkey Trot.

Seeing them hurry past, their feet pounding the pavement, brought up two feelings:  a fond memory of the days when I ran several times a week, and the reminder from my knees that those days are long over.  I never ran competitively; I ran because I loved the rhythm of my feet hitting the ground, of my breathing in counterpoint.  Once my body hit its aerobic stride I felt like I could keep it up forever.  I had no interest in racing anyone, in changing my rhythm to contend for the lead.  I wanted only to run, to feel my breath, my heartbeat, to enjoy the day.

I miss it.

While musing about my younger self, my undisciplined mind began to ponder the word RUN.  As with so much of this colorful, complex language we call English, the word has several contextual variations in meaning.  I give you some phrases to consider:

Run it up the flagpole,

Let's run a hundred copies.

In the long run.

There's a run in my stocking.

Does this bus run on time?

First run feature.

Let's run over your lines again.

It might be fun to take a run at coming up with your own set.  If you have the same discipline level in your mind as I, it could occupy you for quite a while.


Monday, May 27, 2019

Some Things are Just Wrong!

Throughout my several careers I have been an agent of change.  Whenever I heard any variation of the phrase We've always done it that way, I knew I could find a better method.  I delighted in throwing radical ideas against a wall of tradition to see if it would develop a crack that let in the light of change. I thrive on chaos (for evidence come visit my home office.)  Why then does this particular situation bother me to the point of distraction?

The photo shows the container that holds a week's supply of my vitamins - C1000, D3 2000, B100 Complex, Magnesium Citrate, and Aline Probiotic - in case you were wondering.  All but Aline come in bottles of a hundred or more.  Aline comes in a box containing several packets, each providing a week's supply.  Two weeks ago my vitamin ingestion schedule was disrupted for a few days due to circumstances beyond my control.  The photo shows the filled seven day container (trust me on that, and ignore the green pill cutter on the left.)  Below that is the most recent packet of Aline.  Note the three empty pods and the four that are undisturbed.  

I can think of no way to rectify the situation other than throwing the packet away (an expensive proposition) and starting anew the beginning of the next week.

Is thriving on chaos different from objecting to disorder in the cosmos?  Opinions welcome.


Sunday, March 31, 2019

February - Another Rabbit Hole

I was born in February.  That alone makes it my favorite month.  Adding to that auspicious event the fact  that many of my favorite people — best friend, daughter-in-law, mother, paternal grandma, enough other close friends and family to have a big party, and a couple of presidents; also claim February as their birth month, got me thinking about its unique position in our year. I got curious as to why it is the shortest month and why it became the one month with an inconsistent number of days.  Hence the Rabbit Hole.

It all starts with humans.  At some point in human history, someone decided that a day — the span between sunrises, or sunsets — should be subdivided into equal parts and, through diligent study, or maybe over many flagons of strong wine, determined that 24 parts seemed to work.  Thus began humanity's obsession with time, culminating, one hopes, in the formation of the International Earth Rotation and Reference System Service (IERS) which manages the length of a day because it turns out it isn't exactly 24 hours — close but no cigar.

Even though the day is a bit wobbly length-wise, there are 365 of them in a year.  Well not quite.  The solar year is actually 365.2422 days long (365.25 incorrectly rounded) requiring a day to be added from time to time to keep things in sync; February is where that happens.  If you want more detail about the seemingly simple word year, here you go Year.

Let's get back to February.

The Roman Calendar began its new year in March, and at its inception the year  had only ten months with a total of 304 days.  Very soon two more months were tacked on: January with 29 then 31 days, and February with either 23 or 28 days, depending on the need for five more days to come closer to the actual solar year.  So the origin of February was intended to make up for the calendar year being too short, solar-wise.  When Julius Caesar got hold of it he flipped the calendar around so the new year began on January first and that month was given 31 days.  Next came February at 28, then the March, April, May, and June, followed by July (nee Quintilis, the fifth month which it no longer was so Julius renamed it), August (Sextilis with an additional day added and renamed to honor Augustus).  The last four months stayed as they were, except that December was first shortened to 29 days when January and February were tacked on the end, then boosted to 31 when they were moved to the beginning of the year.

Got all that?

Notice that February still drew the short straw, even today it flips to 29 days on almost every year divisible by four — centuries divisible by four e.g. 1600, 2000, are exempt (because of the rounding error above.)  So it seems to me that my month has been the dumping ground in humanity's attempt to define a year.  I accept that as kind of an honor.  February can handle change.  So can we who were born into it.

If you want to continue down the rabbit hole try Week, but don't say I didn't warn you.  Signal me if you ever come back.


Thursday, February 28, 2019

From Pencils and Brushes to Artists and Clams

About six years ago, Carol and I were feeling the winter cold more than usual and were dreading the late January/early February days when winter seems endless.  She asked me to find a place where we could spend a week or two, her criteria being someplace quiet and warm.  The second criterion kinda narrowed it down to Florida.  Quiet was another issue since most of Canada, the upper midwest, and the northeast reached a similar conclusion about warmth.  We had both spent enough vacation time in lively upbeat tourist traps to yearn for laid back relaxation and relative quiet.  A couple of hours with TripAdvisor, Yelp, and Wikipedia led me to Cedar Key.  Though labeled a city, this tiny place —year-round population about 1,000— is easily walkable.  A stroll that covers every street in the downtown area takes about an hour with time for browsing.

2nd  Street — The Main Drag

The South End of 2nd Street — The Main Drag is just over the rise

The city was named for the Eastern Red Cedar that provided the smooth non-splintery wood that spawned two factories devoted to making the slats for pencils.  Slats were then shipped to New York where the pencils were completed.  Other factories harvested young Cabbage Palms to fashion into brushes of various sizes that were shipped all over the world.

Among Cedar Key's other historic claims to fame is the fact that it was the western terminus of the first trans-Florida railroad, which ran from Fernandina on the Atlantic coast in northern Florida to Cedar Key on the Gulf.  Ships bound for the Gulf of Mexico no longer had to make the loop around Florida. Instead cargo was offloaded in Fernandina and sent by rail to Cedar Key to be loaded onto waiting ships bound for New Orleans and other Gulf ports.
All that's left

Enough history - let's talk about what this city became after the diminished supply of Eastern Red Cedar and a devastating 1896 hurricane caused Eberhard Faber and other factories to relocate.

With the will to survive and fortitude typical of Old Florida, Cedar Key gradually reconstituted itself into the country's largest supplier of farm-raised clams and a haven for artisans to practice their various crafts.
Clam farmer starting the day

There are two artist co-ops on 2nd Street about a block apart, each contains local pottery, sculpture, paintings, and photographs.  Surprisingly they are not in competition!  I believe local artists may put work in both places as long as they are willing to take a shift behind the counter.  Above the one named The Cedar Keyhole is a gallery that hosts local art which changes about once a month.  We've met several artists while there, finding that most of them are transplants from northern climes who visited and fell in love with this slice of Old Florida.

There is a sense of calm and acceptance in the place that pulls one in.  Maybe it's the fact that the nearest supermarket is about 30 miles away (the local market is more than adequate for most needs); or that, with no yoga studio available, folks get together upstairs at the library three days a week to practice to some CD selected by those who show up; or that the coffee shop puts out food and water for several feral cats that inhabit the area.

There's also some tourism, but it's a bit more laid back than jet skis and power boats.

Enough about our not-so-secret hideaway.
Until next time.
- Namaste