Sunday, June 18, 2017

Finding a Good Book

Dear Blog Reader 

I hope that this finds you doing well. I am fine. I know that I have not posted for a while. That is not the same as I have not written for a while. Around Easter, I started a blog about a complicated subject. I worked it and reworked it and in the end it was not publishable. The work was not a total loss. I got it written about. When a topic climbs into the idea hopper, it has to be the next topic written about. There is no cutting in line. I noodle it around until it is completed. It is one of my basic coping skills to keep me sane. And it works for me. So now I am just like Prince (the purple one). I have a vault of unpublished work to be released posthumously. All the better to increase the value of my estate, and give my children something to fight about at a future date.

There is a paragraph from that other blog that I wanted to share. On Easter morning 2017, I believe that I saw a first in my 54 years. We were getting around, putting on our Easter suits. I had rifled through the easter baskets and traded (swapped) all of the licorice jelly beans for any other kind in the lovely Miss Beverly's basket. Then, I witnessed my very first rainbow to the west. We seldom have the edge of rain move in with the sun low enough in the sky to the east to project the light spectrum someplace over Carmel. I suppose Jim Brainard figured out a way to spend enough money to get it done. It is a bit ironic that Jim, the Carmel mayor, would have "brain" in his name. (A little local humor. I apologize to all of my French fans for the lack of shared context. But there are some central Indiana folks who just blew cereal milk out their nose.)

Rainbows are a bit sneaky like that. They are one of nature's phenomena that help convince us that we are the center of the universe. When I said that the rainbow was somewhere to the West, I meant that it was west of me. I am the pivot point. All of the hundreds of eastern rainbow were simply east of me. For rainbows, I am the center of the universe and all rainbows get their relative positioning base on my center of the universe perspective. Is it any wonder that I never find the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow? I am simply chasing something conjured up with me as the pivot point for the entire universe. While being the center of the universe is an easy place for my mind to visit, it usually means that the rest of me is rarely doing something that is conducive to actually earning a pot of gold.

I mentioned that I had worked on a blog for several weeks without a successful completion. During this time, another idea was crawling into the hopper. The idea of recommending a book that I was reading to all of my readers in the You Said What Roger? Fan base. I suppose that from the center of the universe I was sure that Amazon would suddenly have a run on this book and not have the cash flow to buy Whole Foods. There is a lot of pressure at the center of the universe. So I am not going to give you the low down on this great little book that I have not only read once but have read multiple times and I simply love.

No, I don’t think that I am going to send hordes of reading barbarians to the storehouses of Amazon. I am reticent because reading a book and finding it incredibly enjoyable is a very personal activity. That is something that the lovely Miss Beverly and I had to learn in our marriage. I would recommend a book and she would barely get through one chapter before setting it aside never releasing the spine glue from the death grip it had on the unturned pages. She would recommend a book to me and it too would go unread. Finally we learned that sharing books is not the same as sharing a life. We do find books that we both like. We even find some that we both like with a great passion. However, mostly I go to the murder aisle and she plumbs the wells of authors who beautifully describe the mysteries of life.

Ten years ago, I stopped organic farming and took a normal job that paid me for my labors every two weeks and provided the opportunity to pursue hobbies like writing a blog. It is a normal job. However the commute was not normal. For 10 years, I have spent two hours a day driving back and forth to work. Books are the only thing that have made this daily trip bearable. Ten hours of listening a week for ten years has made it not only bearable but enjoyable also. Ten hours a week for ten years is a lot of books. Plus, bike riding hours have had stories whispered in my ears through blue tooth also. So I have had the opportunity to listen to lots of books. Mr. Carnegie through his foresight and philanthropy and the ability to compartmentalize his life between union busting and establishing libraries, has provided me with the opportunity to listen to an nearly unlimited supply listening materials.

Some people would say that I have not been reading books for the past 10 years. I have been listening to books for 10 years. You will get no argument from me. I listen to the credits at the end of a book and from time to time the publisher thanks me for being a audiobook reader. Equating listening and reading is playing fast and loose with language. (Yes, I do see the irony.) I don’t mind admitting that reading takes much more concentration and focus than listening. I can listen to all of my mystery novels and describe the plot faithfully at the end. I cannot read a non-fiction book. My mind wanders and I get through a paragraph and think that was important but I did not catch it. I could never teach myself brain surgery by listening to books on tape. I am sure that would get the pre-frontal cortex confused with the brain stem. It seems to me that you don’t want any parts left over when reassembling a brain.

Yes, you readers are superior to us listeners. However, there is one little trick that I as a listener can do that a reader can’t. I can relisten to a book and have memories of the physical space that I was in when I listened the first time. I have three or four authors who have created a story or a character that speaks to me so strongly that I listen to it a second time (maybe one or two authors that I would listen to the third time.) I was doing a revisit this past weekend and I was able to relive five days of bike riding from last year’s summer vacation. It was a week of riding through the back roads of norther Indiana. So, as John pulled his gun to clear the room, I was mowing the yard and turning left down a small hill on a tree lined road. I stopped pedaling and coasting along took a drink from my backpack. That is when listening to a book brings me intense joy and a mental juxtaposition that has never happened to me when reading.

So who are those three or four authors? I made a mistake of answering the favorite question a long time ago. The interviewer wanted to know what my favorite book was. I blurted out The Great Gatsby. It wasn’t my favorite book. It was the most recent book that I had read for a college class. So I was able to stand up to her withering cross examination. I was able to remember the meaning of the stupid red light off the end of the pier. I answered her questions but I don’t think that I convinced her that it was my favorite book. It was a passionless discourse on the technical points of a book filled with characters that had no connection to my life. It was a good review for the test I was to have the next week but it conveyed no passion that would translate into a job.

The favorite books that I would share with you are all ones that are favorite for very familial reasons. The lovely Miss Beverly and I believed Barbara Bush when she told us to read to our children. So we read. We read the Lorax, Good Night Moon.  We read the Trilogy of the Rings while Ben and Grace were very young. I have no idea what we were thinking. Grace recently shared that she had never read the trilogy and can’t remember a single plot line from the books.  It all ended someplace in the middle of Harry Potter. These are all fine books and we spent hours together reading and listening. Yet the time together was better than the books themselves. Although, I still wonder how Tolkien kept us following the band of rescuers following the orcs that had captured Peregrine and Meridoc mile after mile across that stupid plain. I still wonder how I got across without skipping a few thousand pages.

My favorite book? The greatest of all time? I decline to answer. I think that “favorite book” has more to do with the frequency of your internal tuning fork. The things that make you tick. I have had books that make me cry. I love books that describe courage in dire testing. In fact if you are driving through southern Madison County at 5:00 a.m and I am listening to one of those tests on a bike ride you will hear me sobbing and gasping for breath.  I also enjoy listening about people who enjoy themselves and who they are becoming. 

The author who wrote the book that I was listening to for the second time last week, wrote in his foreword “The book, in time, found its people.”

So get out there. Expose yourself to books that are looking for their people. See which ones vibrate your inner tuning fork. When you find the ones that cause you to sob at 5:00 a.m on a dark country road, you know that you have a candidate. But for goodness sakes, don’t go telling everybody. You don’t want to spoil the finding for everyone else.

Take care 


Sunday, April 2, 2017

Well that's your opinion

Dear Blog Reader

I hope that this finds you doing well. I am fine. It was a bit touch and go these past few weeks; what with the attack of Daylight Savings Time. I woke up on that Monday morning hearing that I was 25% more likely to die from a heart attack. Just as my heart started to get over the shock, I had to dodge all of the sleepy drivers that were causing daylight savings Armageddon on the roads. Thankfully, I made it through the 99% chance of fender benders. Getting to work, I was depressed. This too was predicted with the 11% increase in depression caused by DST. Thankfully, it should pass within 10 weeks; when we will be well on the way to falling back and returning to the proper way of things. I found out all of these things via my local newspaper and other outlets that I peruse on my way to be an informed citizen.

In the mean time, I will continue to chase day break on my bike with 4 weeks of dawn and 1 week of a sliver of ole sol around my birthday in June. As I contemplated this man-made plague of locusts, I was struck by the messenger of these glad tidings of bad news. I have to shake my head sometimes. The news was in full throat on daylight savings time weekend. Doom and gloom was everywhere.

As I thought back, I remembered when they were the heralds of our salvation. "The economy will be spurred ahead by DST. We will have more time to spend playing catch in the yard with our children. We will be able to mow the lawn after work during the week. This will free up time on the weekend and allow us to spend more time at the beach relaxing." All of these were written and spread freely in the media. With these new revelations, I suppose that they should have provided the caveat "if you live until the weekend."

As a Hoosier living at the center of the universe, I had an even more unique perspective as we held out for years as the forces of heart disease, bad driving, and depression assailed us yearly with missives about how confusing it was for people to come to meetings in Indiana because we held our ground and didn't change our clocks two times a year. We continually heard how difficult it was for airlines to program their computers for the one Hoosier exception and keep the  planes from falling from the sky. This strikes me as odd when you consider that computers will someday revolt, take over and . . . wait for it . . . cause planes to fall from the sky.

But I digress. This isn't another tome describing my dislike of DST. That is well documented. It is a tome about the madness of the media. How can you advocate for one thing and then once sated whine and complain about all of the things you just got? Through the years there have been gallons of ink spilled over DST and now gallons more are being spilled on the opposing view. For goodness sake, save the indigo people.

I don't know if it is fake news. It does strike me that it is news written by people with the emotional maturity of two year olds. I suppose that I should be more charitable and say that once actions are taken other voices join the discourse and the zigzagging back and forth brings us to a fuller picture. However, we don't view the media as made up of multiple voices. We bemoan the idea that the other side is lurking out there. Politicians of all stripes deny the legitimacy of the media of the other side. Oh for goodness sake, don't get all huffy and tell me that your candidate has never done that. That the left is pure as the wind driven snow, or the right's poop doesn't stink with regards to this issue is patently false. It would take me about three minutes to provide documented examples of "vast right wing conspiracies" or examples of "fake news."

I do think that all news is self-serving. As I have been ruminating on this topic for the past three weeks, my memories have been taken back to September 11, 2001. In the aftermath of that tragic week, I was watching the McLaughlin Group. It was a weekly syndicated news panel on PBS. It featured two liberal and two conservative journalists to discuss the issues of the day. That week one of the topics was what should be done with the terrorists who did not make it on the plane that day. To a person; liberal and conservative alike agreed that they should be tortured so that any information that would save innocent lives in the future could be gathered. The methods varied. Some wanted to repeal anti torture directives and do the work ourselves. Others wanted to farm the dirty work out to other less enlightened cultures who were not as squeamish about torture. The point is everyone agreed. Everyone was pulling out their pliers, car batteries, and water boards preparing to get their pound of flesh.

Yet their fervor waned. The cry for blood subsided and soon several of them sang a different tune. They went back to serving their own agenda and started whining and complaining about the very things they advocated for in the first place or started blindly assenting to torture that had gone too far.

What are we to do? It seems that we should stop listening to the news. It should be recognized for what it is; a group of elitists telling us what we need to know from their perspective. What would happen if we stopped listening and started talking to one another; weighing the words and perspectives, challenging and testing, pulling apart and rebuilding.

It strikes me that we wouldn't be any worse off. Plus, I might not still be looking for that hour of sleep.

Take care.


Tuesday, March 14, 2017

An ounce of Prevention

Dear Blog Reader

I hope that this finds you doing well. I am fine. I hope that you did not succumb to the intense pressure of last week to the warm and balmy February temperatures. I saw some of you slipping out to the park in shirt sleeves. Some of you even let your children out  to play in the grass and on playgrounds around central Indiana. I wrote this paragraph three weeks ago. Pretty funny considering the weather roller coaster we have been on since.

Science really has encouraged us to slip the axioms that have built civilizations through out the millennia. "Ten pounds of coat prevention until May 15th is worth 100 lbs of mustard poultice cure until your fever breaks and Lassie runs to get Doc Johnson." No, now we treat our foolishness with a round of Z pack and a couple of aspirin.

Case in point; I recently changed jobs and moved from having an office to working in a cube. This is fine. I am office style agnostic. I can adjust. I have a white noise machine (quickly purchased after listening to a heated phone debate about whose familial responsibility it was to pick up rat poison on the way home. TMI!) However, in these closer quarters, I have noticed that this lack of basic respect for the laws that govern the application and removal of flannel sheets has permeated the office space in which I work.

One person in our block of cubes sounds like they escaped from a TB ward. They are obviously a 300 Egyptian cotton thread count person. They felt the warm temperatures of the last week of February; took off the flannels because it was "too hot" (think whiney voice.) They probably exacerbated their exposure and went outside without a hat as the temps broached the 70 degree mark. Obviously, they paid the price for their transgressions and came down sick. Sure it felt warm but the calendar still reads FeBRRRRRRRRRuary. The Romans knew how to name their months. Put a little reminder in there that February is cold, leave the flannel sheets on Octavius, and for goodness sake stay away from the Egyptian cotton until June and stay away from hot Egyptian queens - always.

As I said, I wrote that first paragraph three weeks ago. Since then we have had two more rounds of freezing weather and yesterday we were experiencing a french toast event (get your milk, bread, and eggs and hunker down.) You're sad about your magnolia trees getting frozen; all of their beautiful white blooms blackened by a few days of freezing weather. Please do not be surprised by this people. Magnolia trees were put in zone 5 for the specific purpose to remind us what happens when we get too exuberant about a few days of good weather before Memorial Day.

With magnolia trees the average is about one spectacular white and pink blossomed year in three. They get out there and really show off once every three years; them with all their fancy blooms in early March and it works out. The home owner is the envy of the neighborhood. Their magnolia in fabulous bloom providing the perfect backdrop for the yard of the month sign.  We are the same. We will get out there in all of our glory. You sport your bare heads and naked arms. Some of you will even wear shorts and start working on a little bit of a tan and everything will work out perfectly for you. You won't catch a cold. You won't expose your coworkers to the green viral miasma as it floats above your cubicle.

You will be fine every once in a while. Then we have a year like 2017. Sixty-eight degrees and get out the wife beater and head for the beach only to be faced with not one but three cold snaps. Cold snaps that makes old Mr. Groundhog look like the smartest varmit on the back 40. Cold snaps that will send you running home getting the flannels out of the linen closet quietly trying to sneak them back on before the laws of nature kick in and you are laid low with that stuffy red nose, and viral hack slowly turning itself into bronchitis.

It is sad. We are so ready for warm weather. We suffer from our lack of vitamin D. We need to uncover our arms and sweat a little. It isn't as sad as say in New England where they are paying for early spring-itis and the fact that they are home to the Patriots. So it could be worse.

Go ahead, repent. Get the flannels back out we still have 60 days before they can be safely put away. And what will you do if it warms up a little bit? Just open the window but stay hunkered down under those flannels.

Take care


Sunday, February 19, 2017

I Can't Wait to Get Out of Here

Dear Blog Reader

I hope that this finds you doing well. I am fine. I had started a blog a month ago. It could not get any traction. I do wonder if my blogging days are spiraling down. It is hard to pin point the reason for this waning phase. I have accumulated numerous other hobbies; gardening, bee keeping, wood working, bike riding. I feel like a high school sophomore  facing college applications with high Tetris score as the only legitimate accomplishment in my brief 16 years on this earth. Holy crap! I had better get busy. Whatever the reason, I am having a hard time taking "that would be a good blog topic" all the way to a "take care" sign off.

I do like this time that I spend with you. I like writing. I like going through my everyday and running things through the "that would be a good blog topic" sieve and seeing what catches: taking that one idea, adding to it, trying to make it work. I do imagine you looking at your Facebook feed, seeing that a new post is out there and silently saying "aw what the heck? I really didn't have time to find the cure for cancer today. I might as well read what Roger is writing." So I keep writing; not as often, but an effort is made.

As I mentioned, I had started a blog about a month ago. It was all about the disappointment encountered while on a 5 day vacation in Orlando; how two pale hoosiers succumbed to the hype of warm January weather and were drawn to the promise of warmth, sunshine and sandy beaches. It was to be a parody of all of the January beach pictures of our northern friends and relatives that are sent out simply to coax me into a hellish eternity; paying for winters of envy and covetousness while looking at your posts on Facebook while the winter ravished the countryside outside my cold drafty house.

That blog reported the plane stopping while approaching the jetway because a snow drift had to be cleared from the tarmac. There were jokes about forgetting my sunglasses and being snow blinded on the beach and a reference or two about the wind chill. I tried. I had four really tight paragraphs about being lied to and about how happy I was to figure out that all of my tormentors had really been lying. It was good to find out that mom had been right. People will say anything to make themselves feel better at your expense.

I tried to stick with the theme of cold, miserable weather. But I couldn't do it. It was too perfect. The lie was too big. It was 85 degrees. The wind chill was 79. I had my sunglasses so there was no retinal damage. The only drifts that could have occurred might have been from a little bit of sand piling up around the edge of the pool.

So the lovely Miss Beverly and I have found out that it really was true. Florida is very nice in January. While I did not make it to Disney, even though, much to the chagrin of some relatives, I was a mile from the gates to the magic kingdom, I did spend two days on a bicycle dodging cataracted geezers in their Buicks on the busy streets of Orlando. I enjoyed every second of it.

As you may have noticed, the lovely Miss Beverly and I are not exactly early adopters when it comes to sun worshiping. I suppose that someone has to be late to the party. It does appear that we are so late to the party that others of our tribe of pasty white folk have moved on. If my Facebook feed is any indicator, several of our friends have decided that the beach was getting too crowded and moved on to Australia. "My beach is getting too full. I am going to fly 24 hours to get to a less crowded beach" is certainly a first world solution to a first world kind of problem.

I do feel for the Orlandans (not very catchy but better than Floridiots). Every place that I went people were asking "where are you from?" Once my proud hoosier heritage had been proclaimed, they would immediately tell me where they lived before moving to Orlando to be the vassals of long suffering northerners. Granted being an introvert, I did not have the opportunity to engage in small talk with a large number of people. Okay of the five million people in the Orlando environs that week in January, I spoke to maybe 30 and reached the "where are you from" level of intimacy  with ten of them.

I know what your'e thinking. "You spoke with ten people in a week Roger?" What can I say? I had made a tactical error. I had taken Indiana centric t-shirts with me for the expressed purpose of warning off the rifraf. In my mind, seeing a shirt with all of the Indiana counties listed on it screams "YOU HAVE ALL OF THE INFORMATION YOU NEED. LEAVE ME ALONE." It appears that for others in this world it means "Oh your from Indiana. Where do you live in Indiana?" I would dejectedly point to Madison County on my belly map and cringe as I would have to nod and act like I cared that they were from Boston, New York, Fort Wayne but had lived here for more than a decade.

But act I would because they still had time to spit in my appetizer, or misdeliver me in their Uber, or slip a tarantula in my nice orange backpack that I was buying. This forced civility did provide important insight, as forced civility will often do. I learned that, based on my limited sample size, no one living in Florida is from Florida. You are a state of transplants. You are all happy about the beautiful weather. You do not miss the tornadoes, the ice storms, or the occasional polar vortex. But you do miss home. "I go back every couple of years and I miss those Boston streets and se food." Really you miss the seafood? You are surrounded on three sides by ocean and you can't find seafood? Your'e not trying hard enough. "We had a great neighborhood in New York. We lived in the Bronx and it just isn't the same here. But a house up there was worth three times the house down here plus retirement money. We couldn't say no." The stories repeated. The weather is great but I am reminiscing about a home that I left 12, 15, 20 years ago.

It is trite but true. Dorothy had it right. "There's no place like home." We love it. We hate it. We work hard to rid ourselves of it. Finally when we get to paradise, we spend years reminiscing about how great it was or should that be is. Makes you wonder what the future will bring and how neurotic we will be from the surface of Mars.

Take care.


Sunday, January 15, 2017

It's Complicated

Dear Blog Reader.

I hope that this finds you doing well. I am fine. Thank you for all of the positive feedback about the 2016 Christmas Letter. It is always fun to collaborate with the lovely Miss Beverly. Usually, I write with very little revision (laziness). Thankfully, the lovely Miss Beverly didn't want the Christmas letter to go out the door without our best efforts. She did such a great job polishing and adding a great amount of sizzle to the initial words and ideas first spewed onto the screen.

Two weeks down 50 more to go. We finally took down the Christmas tree last week. Thankfully, we had not made a resolution to get it down on New Years day. That would have been a complete fail. We started. We took all of the ornaments off, wrapped them up and banished them behind the cold, but soon to be stifling hot, knee wall space in the attic. Christmas ornaments are long suffering. They wait patiently behind that knee wall freezing in winter and sweltering from April through October. Then in December we take them out and bring them into the environmentally controlled space of our life. They take center stage. They reveal the phases of our lives.

The first round, those wooden, poorly glued, lead painted, creepy ones, are nearly gone. They entered our married life first. Newly married in a town with a new Sam's club, they were an impulse buy when we realized how empty our first tree would be. Only a couple of that 24 pack remain. The freezing and thawing cycles loosened most of their glue joints and they have been replaced by better made ornaments from children and various handy people in our lives.

We have the macaroni on a cardboard, spray painted gold, preschool projects. They take  prominent places near the bottom of the tree where stronger branches can hold their one pound of glue. There will be no glue failure here. Every year the school picture, being transformed with glitter and a bit of string into a guilded pathway thru childhood into the teen age years, has added to our ornament arsenal. There are the painted Santa spindles made by a friend who had gotten a lathe and turned dozens of spindles a little fat in the middle and of various lengths. They are some of my favorites.

There are chickens of various shapes and sizes; a testament to an incorrectly identified hobby of collecting chicken figurines. It was an honest mistake. We lived on a farm. We raised chickens. All of the Christmas letters has chicken stories in them. The lovely Miss Beverly finding a vintage chicken target game, to replace the one she had growing up, was the kicker. Yes, the chicken figurine fever burned hot and for many years. Dare I call it the chicken pox phase of our life. We have all kinds of chickens; glass chickens, skiing chickens, chickens with funny glasses and stars on springs shooting out everywhere. We even have a miniature version of the classic rubber chicken. Can you imagine that at one time in America, dressing our own chickens was so ubiquitous that it could become a gag that would be universally recognized?

All of the chickens, Santas, pictures, macaroni collages, commemorative college bulbs were put away (the IU bulb a bit roughly) on January 1. The memories going back in the box were as strong as when they came out of the box three weeks earlier. That said, we did not take down the tree. No, the lovely Miss Beverly and I have an affinity for a plain lit unadorned tree. It is very simple. The white lights on a fragrant green tree does try to push back the long cold darkness of December and January. In fact a couple of years ago, we became a couple of a certain age (read the Christmas letter for a more complete explanation) that lost the will to decorate the tree after getting the lights on that first weekend of December. It stood there ablaze in white light without a single decoration. Even the angel on top was banished to the decoration box that stood ready at the bottom of the tree for two weeks while Bev and I marveled at how much we liked our unadorned tree. It was all fine and good until Grace got home from school and thankfully decorated the tree. I write thankfully because I am thankful that she didn't get out the retirement home brochures or call her brother and start planning our incarceration in the old folks home because: "They are obviously losing their marbles. They aren't even decorating the tree for God's sake." I would have been okay with just the lights (at least for that year.)

Isn't it funny? We are all experts at our perfect tree. The entire time that the tree was going up and coming down this year I was thinking artificial vs real. The lovely Miss Beverly and I grew up in live tree families. Is that a question on the premarital counseling survey? Do you believe in real or artificial trees? I believe that real trees are about the real Christmas spirit. Artificial trees? Well artificial trees are the spawn of Satan. Yes, I think that maybe this question should be answered in pre-marital counseling.

I certainly grew up during a time when it was an annual debate. I grew up in a divided family. My mom and dad were both big live tree advocates. However, both of dad's sisters were artificial adherents. Both sets of grandparents were artificial tree people. My maternal side being converted over time and my dad's mom opting for the aluminum foil tree with the rotating red, green, and yellow light. Each year it would make its way downstairs from the attic fully decorated, set up and lit by that ridiculous light whose motor, that turned the tri-color disk slowly, made a remarkable amount of noise for its size and lightness of load.

I once asked Nanny, why she didn't put the lights on that aluminum tree like everyone else. She said that people learned the hard way that aluminum "trees" are fantastic conductors of electricity. So if you put electric lights on an aluminum tree and it develops a short over time someone is going to be electrocuted. I think that by saying 'the hard way" she had read a story of said person's electrocution. Anyway in order to maintain that UL seal of approval, the Reynold aluminum foil company took the lights off of the aluminum tree and gave us the three disk light.

Yes it was an annual debate. The newspapers would be filled with opinion pieces from the realists; the trees smell better and the artificialists; you are being a poor steward of the world's natural resources by cutting down a live tree every year for 3 weeks of decorations and an artificial tree won't catch on fire with those hot bulbs that we used to have. Yes all of you millennia's out there, we used to put 200 lights, each about the size of a spot light, on our live drying out trees. They generated enough heat that natural gas suppliers around the US would notice a sizable decrease in amount of gas used to heat homes. That much heat on a tinder dry tree in a house with a relative humidity of 20%, it is going to cause a few fires. Each year we would read about this or that family who had their Christmas ruined because their tree caught fire. We would all come together and help out the family. But I could hear my aunts mutter, "it wouldn't have happened if they had an artificial tree."

The debate hung in the balance at the Sharritt house year after year. For us, it was sticking a white pine needle into our big toe in July every year. To be fair, we had 4 inch green shag carpet through out the 70's. Those needles would burrow down in there lurking until we were sure that we had dodged the bullet. Then "CRAPPPPPP! MOM I HAVE A TEN INCH NEEDLE IN MY FOOT. WHY CAN'T WE GET AN ARTIFICIAL TREE NEXT YEAR." She would answer, "take it easy. It isn't that deep. Rub some dirt on it." She would go on. "We are not getting a fake tree this year. Have you ever smelled a fake tree? Of course not, artificial trees don't smell. I love that pine smell in the house every December."

It is hard to believe that I lived during a time when real or fake trees as the great question of our time. We have certainly managed to make the world a much more complicated place.

Take care.


Sunday, January 1, 2017

Sharritt's Annual Christmas Letter

Dear Sharritt friends and family,
The gifts have been unwrapped and our belts have been let out a notch or two to relieve the pressure from the great cooking and baking in an expanding assembly of family foodies.
In discussing a theme for the Christmas Letter,
the lovely Miss Beverly's mind went to three
trees that were cut down on the farm this year.

All were brought low because of things to which trees of a certain age succumb. Two of the trees were 40 foot ash trees planted by Bev and Roger the year of their engagement in 1984. Sigh. For Miss Beverly, read a sigh of melancholy, and for Roger read a sigh of contentment by the ash-stoked fire. We know, after 31 years together, how our paradox of love works. These ash fell to the Emerald Ash Borer, a shiny green beetle, that found our trees of a certain age, and found them delicious.

The other tree was a 50 year old maple that was in our yard. I mean no disrespect to my Great Aunt Mid when I write this. This tree reminds me of her. She was of a certain age where years of crossing her legs, one ankle over the other, had caused her sciatic nerve to flare and "no end of aggravation" late in life. She would shift from one hip to the other trying to get comfortable and suddenly realize that 80 years of muscle memory had crossed her ankles once again. The maple tree suffered from the same aggravation. Early in its life it got in the habit of crossing one root over another root. There were no problems early on but 40 years later that habit had robbed itself of the nutrients needed to survive on its eastern side.

The lovely Miss Beverly had tried to will it back to health. We would pull into the drive, and both look at the tree, and the conversation would go something like,
Roger: We need to cut that down.

Bev: Half of it is still green. It must be coming out of the root girdling thing. Couldn't we just cut the dead half?
Roger: No. Too dangerous.
Bev: Let's wait, I think it's greener this year than last year. Don't you think so? Roger: No.

Bev: Maybe in the fall.
But it was of a certain age also, and Bev, after taking some photos of it over the season to try to document its comeback, yielded to Roger's pragmatism.

I know what you are thinking. Are they really writing a Christmas letter about being of a certain age? Dead trees? How depressing is that? I have those concerns myself. In reading Face Book the past few days, the mood is not good. For some the election results have depressed you and then the double whammy of Princess Leia and her mom Queen Leia has really taken the wind out of your sails. And now the Sharritt's want to write about being of a certain age. Before you reach for your favorite antide- pressant, please hear us out. We aren't in denial about getting older, but we are choosing to think of if like a tomato that is just getting ripe. Things have really gotten interesting now that we have become a couple of a certain age.
The lovely Miss Beverly, becoming a person of a certain age, embarked on a job search in the spring to see what other things a teacher for the blind with 20 years experience might do in the big wide world. She found that PATINS, a statewide service supporting technology and inclusion for all learners was looking for a teacher for the blind with 20 years experience and a creative mindset to be a specialist/ advocate for students with blindness, and their teachers. This has allowed her to travel the state teach- ing about electronic Braille displays, while scouring the countryside for diners with good pie.

Becoming people of a certain age, Roger and Bev's excursion into having nine and ten year old sisters live with us through the Safe Families program ended by be- coming the lovely Aunt Beverly and Uncle Roger, as we are still involved in Vaeh and Viki's life. That grouping has expanding now that their father, Jeff has been re- united with the girls. We have them over and find ways to influence the trajectory of their lives even if it is just a little bit. They nudge us out of our own trajectory too, making sure we don't keep our legs crossed any certain way for too long.

Ben and Grace are doing great. Or rather Ben and Lisa and Grace and Chris are doing great. Becoming people of a certain age, our
family continues to expand. Ben and Lisa will be married next July under the same oak
tree where Chris and Grace were married. Roger has been challenged (in his own garden-of-mythic-proportions mind) to grow a myriad of flowers for the wedding and
stands ready to put his green thumb, and collection of professional equipment to the
test. As he says, with a gleam in his eye, "dirt will be thrown in the air." Grace is raising
oodles of money for the American Cancer Society, and Chris is just a few months away
from having to endure a lifetime of lawyer jokes. Our time together during the holiday
season was a blessing. There is a Psalm (133) that speaks to the blessing of people coming together in unity. I don't know what Hermon Dew flowing down upon the mountain is like but if it is anything like playing exploding kittens with your highly competitive children or sitting around the breakfast table with everyone sharing the experiences of their families of origin, I say let it flow.

Roger has suddenly decided to pursue all of the hobbies from all of the certain ages he's ever been. At the same time. He has a worm composting unit, taking him back to the toddler years of grubbing in the dirt. He continues to garden like the 12-year-old with the legendary cucumber harvest of 1974. A re- newed passion for woodworking takes him back to his 20's and 30's and the tools that have gathered dust in the back of the barn are buzzing again. Also buzzing, he has added bee-keeping to his evenings with two hives this past summer. It's fun to hear him talk about the personalities of each hive (one mean and feisty, the other comparatively laid back). The Kozak's introduced him and the lovely Miss Beverly to Pickle Ball to add another fitness regimen to his enduring passion for riding his bike. He loves writing
the blog and writing Ben and Grace a weekly snail mail letter. Also becoming a person of a
certain age, Roger may have figured out that it is okay to stop. During the RAIN ride with his lovely

daughter Grace, he was able to figure out that you can have a fun 100 mile ride with your daughter or a miserable 160 mile ride to Richmond and chose the fun 100 mile ride. After a delightful first 50 day of riding with Bev and Ben on the Hilly Hundred, he and Bev both woke up feeling like 50 was enough, so he put the bikes on the back of the car and headed home rather than tough it out. Yes, on becoming people of a certain age, I close my eyes and see that perfect tomato on a late July morning. It hasn't warmed up yet and dew is still in the garden. It is a tomato that has been eyed for the past week and a half. It was the first bloom to set fruit and it has been coming with great anticipation. Today it is fully ripe. I have walked to the garden with my salt shaker. The toma- to is carefully picked and salted. I bite in and ahhh . . . joy in this moment of this certain age.

Merry Christmas and all the Blessings of a New Year.

Roger and Bev. 

Sunday, December 18, 2016

Are You Through With That?

Dear Blog Reader

I hope that this finds you doing well. I am fine. If I get this done, I will have been on a roll of three weeks in a row. Alas, I did not get done so I spent a week of lollygagging and you had to read reruns. With regards to blogging, I spent the year lollygagging along. Suddenly the end is near and I try mightily to speed things up a little to save the year of reduced writing. Who knows what will happen next year.

 A couple of things are going on here. I have just made the commitment to cut wood until I am 70 or 75. We made the investment of buying an outdoor wood burner 15 years ago. The furnace heats water in a vessel that surrounds the firebox. The water then is pumped under ground in insulated piping. Once inside of the house we use it to heat the house and all of our hot water. I suppose over the course of the 15 years we have saved close to $10,000. That is over and above the cost of the installation. Of course, I have spent a lot of hours during 12 weekends each fall cutting wood. I could have been making a whole $5 an hour. However, I wasn't doing much else that I could make that much money.  What else would I have done; spend $40 a weekend to watch Purdue lose football games, write 12 more blogs a year and publish them in a medium where I get no money, or maybe work harder on my pickle ball skills in anticipation of a long career on the seniors tour? No, in each case, cutting wood was the big payday for me.

In the 15 years since we purchased this furnace, the technology has changed. The federal government did not like the fact that 10,000 people across the country were burning inefficient somewhat smoky furnaces. So they said that you shall make your furnaces more efficient. They burn much hotter and route the heated exhaust around the inside of the furnace to let that heat burn up the pollution so the furnace burns clean and extracts more heat from the wood burned. There is no such thing as a free meal. All of that routing of heated gas allows parts of the furnace to be covered with creosote. This causes the steel used inside of the furnace to corrode and start to leak much sooner than 15 years. That is unless you upgrade to the stainless steel model for 2x the cost.

The good news is that with the more expensive option, rather than passing on more cash to Ben and Grace when Bev and I pass, we will be able to pass this furnace down to our children. That is how the sales person on the phone with her Minnesota accent sold it to me. She may have to break the good news to the kids. When I shared the possibility of a bitter inheritance fight, I was a bit underwhelmed. I was hoping that a bit of sibling rivalry would break out and I could turn it into a long term containment facility that provided extra chocolate chip cookies for septuagenarians who no longer care about their borderline diabetes.

This is probably the first major purchase that the lovely Miss Beverly and I have considered the fact that we were getting old and may not be fit enough to use it until the end of its useful life. I remember my grandmother, Nanny making that decision with regards to her last new car, a blue and white two toned and two ton Pontiac Bonneville. I remember a lot of familial debate. The size of the old steel land ships had crested a few years earlier. In fact the car before the last car, was a green Pontiac Bonneville. My grandfather bought it. It happened to be his last car. However, there was no end of life discussions for Pop. His cancerous pancreas snuck up on him. When he drove that big green boat into the driveway, he believed that he would be able to replace that beautiful tilt steering wheeled behemoth with and even bigger tilt steering wheeled behemoth ten years later.

He loved the tilt steering wheel. He went on and on about it. He had a unique body type. Big bellied, short legged, and short armed, he had spent 30 years buying cars with his legs fully extended yet constantly having to mend his bib overalls where the steering wheel rubbed the spot where that belly that produced the nickname "Tubby" was wedged up against the wheel. I had the opportunity 10 years after his death to meet the GM engineer who patented the tilt steering wheel. His eyes lit with delight as I told of my grandfather's  20 minute discourse of "this is the steering wheel up and this is the steering wheel down." Who knew that a couple of strategically placed and engineered U-joints could change the world?

Any who, I remember the debate about the cost of a new car. She didn't drive very much. The green one still had a lot of miles left on it. She could live a long time yet. But in the end, it was going to be the last car she ever drove and it was her money. We all enjoyed riding in that blue and white two toned Bonneville. It did turn out to be the last car she ever owned.

I have friends who are downsizing to the last house that they will own. A few who are concerned about making a long term commitment to a dog or a cat that other family members may not want to inherit. These things are starting to weigh on my mind from time to time. And this is a new sensation. It seems like it was just yesterday that I thought that I was going to live forever. And while I do hold out some hope that I will be the first person to live to 150 years old (because someone will some day), I imagine that my earlier love affair with Big Mac's, in continuing love affair with ice cream and cookies, and my early childhood exposure to certain farm chemicals will leave me somewhat short of the goal. So somewhere out there is a day of reckoning where  some of the things that I am currently committing to will be passed on to those who want them or maybe future Craigslist posters.

I know that I am not imaginative enough. Lord knows that there some things that have been brought to my door by the UPS guy that will be the last one of "those" before the sands of my hourglass have passed as the Days of my Life. I will never purchase another pet rock. I think that I am over getting another chia pet. If I lower my expectations, no new toilets will pass my threshold. If I don't get too big of a garden and don't leave them out in the rain, it is a good bet that I have a couple of pretty good hoes that will be available in the year 20??.

Yes, I think that I am entering a different stage of life. A stage with a bit different calculus. Do I want to deal with this in 15 years when I'm (gulp) 70?; will be a question that pops up from time to time. While the possibilities of the never ending have been fun to contemplate and enjoy, the thoughts of ever after are starting to show themselves and they feel a good place to be.

Take care.