Thursday, November 24, 2011

Thanksgiving and Casinos

We weren't sure we'd have Thanksgiving with my parents this year.  My Dad is recovering from a severe case of diverticulitis. My Mom is worn out caring for him.  When we called over the last week to check on them, she sounded tired, more so than usual.
We called a couple days ago and they said, come on up for Thanksgiving.  They don't travel so we drive the 100 miles to see them these days.  Mom didn't want to cook. NO ONE cooks in her kitchen but her.  We offered to bring the food, but she didn't want to clean.  NO ONE does dishes in her sink but her.   So they suggested something I never imagined I would ever do in my life:  Thanksgiving Dinner at the buffet at the casino near their house.  "The food is really good," Mom said.  I know it is because we've been there for lunch with them before, and for a Mother's Day buffet she wanted to go to one year.  
Of course I said, "Sure! That sounds good, Mom!"  even though it sounded... weird.
So we spent the afternoon with my parents watching episodes of "Hillbilly Handfishing" and car shows and went to the Casino for what was, in actuality, a really good buffet. During the meal Mom kept saying, "...and we don't have to do dishes!" 
I never imagined ever in my life having a meal at a casino, much less aThanksgiving Dinner buffet.  
But I never imagined being so thankful that my Dad and Mom are still around to have dinner with at all. I believe this Thanksgiving is more precious than all the others we've shared before. 

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

First Nativity Fast Fail

I'm buying a Thanksgiving turkey, fixin's and wine.
The "trailer park-ish" woman in front of me at the grocery store check out buys a pre-made Thanksgiving dinner, ice cream, some fruit juices and two packs of cigarettes. She sends the bag boy back because he didn't get "100's". 
She tries to pay with a credit card and it is maxed. She tries to run the card three times.  She says to the cashier "it's all I got", and tears up. She has to leave her basket. 
I could have paid for her groceries. I thought of paying for them. 
But I didn't want to pay for a pre-made Thanksgiving dinner and cigarettes. So I said nothing and watched her walk out the door empty handed.
I hope God doesn't treat me the same way.

Friday, October 28, 2011

New Congressional Fashion


In an unprecedented move, Congress has passed legislation requiring all elected officials to wear NASCAR type suits to display their corporate sponsorships. We have the best politicians money can buy, we may as well know who has purchased them.  Here, Senator Harry Reid models the new "Political Sponsorship" wear.  (I'm not picking on him in particular... his head just fit.)



Saturday, October 22, 2011

DANGER!

The most awesome warning sign on earth.

You can now buy it here and help me pay my $10,000.00 tax bill from last year for raiding my retirement account in order to keep my house and feed my family because there was no work for almost 3 years. 

Share the link, promote the product on your FB, Twitter, blog etc.

Thanks.

Buy it HEREhttp://www.zazzle.com/danger_ninjas_and_pirates_and_laers_and_s_t_poster-228883956496116923





Tuesday, October 04, 2011

Muddled Musings this Morning

I was reading someone else's blog a few days ago and they mentioned they've been blogging steadily for four years which is like being 100 in "blog years".  I realized I missed the 7th anniversary of my blog this past July, which means I'm dead, on life support or have dementia in blog years.

One of the things that real life forces me to do (sometimes) is look at my life realistically.  For the past 3 years I've been virtually unemployed and had lots of time on my hands.  It was easy to spend a few hours a day cartooning and writing, and it was a distraction.  The blog went from 10-12 hits a day to 7-800 a day (not that I was counting.... but yeah, I was counting for a while).   It is amazing how fast the hits drop off if you don't post something more interesting than what you had for breakfast every other day.  But that's not the point of this post.

A lot has happened in the last couple months.  New careers for both me and the Missus have rearranged a lot of our life.  The Church we helped start and have served for seven years is going through a positive and healthy transition after years of issues (that I have avoided blogging about).  After fourteen years of doing Church planting and being at the epicenter of major crises that ended up in pastoral and leadership changes in two different Mission parishes we've helped establish, we decided to take a break from leadership roles.  For the good order and sake of allowing the new leadership to establish itself, we essentially left the parish and our friends (and we are all still good friends, there is no animosity at all).  The new leadership agrees that is a good thing I'm not there, but I agreed to be "training wheels" at Reader's Services to teach the new Readers and help them when there is no priest serving a liturgy.  So, we've been visiting various Churches and friends, but also spending more time visiting my parents instead of leading Church services and refereeing dysfunctional Parish Council and hierarchical meetings. 


The reality I've realized lately is I'm not really missing leadership, nor am I missing saying stuff.  I suppose I could write it off to just plain burn-out.  I could spiritualize it and say that after 14 years of radio shows, podcasts, blogs, building monasteries, serving altars and doing Church planting I've realized it all ran on vainglory and ego and I'm finally humbling down and shutting up and getting a REAL spiritual life now.

I could see it as the "demon of the noon-day" and a temptation to be lazy and quit after spending 14 years getting "street cred".

I could see it as a sabbatical.

I could see it as I've been a con-man Jacob and I'm finally getting my "Rachael" after working 14 years being wed to "Leah", the ugly wife I was tricked into (let the Biblically literate understand), but I'm not sure exactly what "Rachael" is or if I will recognize her if I meet her.

I could say all this musing about this is just more evidence of how vainglorious I am, that I'm not all that, I'm not a Bible character, my rumination about it all is pointless because I'll rewrite the history in my head six months and six years from now anyway (and I really don't ruminate about it all that much, actually) and maybe I just need to live in the present moment and not prognosticate about the "whys" and "heretofores".

After 59 years one thing I know is you cannot tell what kind of plant is going to grow from a seed of Providence.  Nothing I've started, finished, quit or avoided, whether with spiritual intentions or evil, has ended up like I believed it would.  Why should the events of this present time be any different.

So maybe I'll just fall back on being a Christian. Love God. Love my neighbor. If I blog or not, podcast or not, be here or there or not, in the end all things will be well.  All things will be well.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Real Life Kicks In

Ever since I got a "real job", and finishing latent construction commitments it seems I have little time for blogging or reading and commenting on other blogs. 

I have a lot of thoughts and ideas for blog posts and podcasts but not much time to flesh them out. 

Hm. Maybe after three years of virtual self-unemployment I've encountered real life once again. 

On the other hand, I've been having this inner urge to sit down and shut up and take a break from being "out there" so much.

But that's another blog post/podcast in the works....

Thanks for checking in on the blog.  I'm liking my new job. 

More coming.... some day soon.

Saturday, September 03, 2011

We Can. If Only We Would....

Rye Barcott was a student at the University of North Carolina who spent a summer sharing a 10-by-10 shack in Kibera, the largest slum in Nairobi, Kenya. One night he awoke with diarrhea and stumbled to the public outhouse. He slid onto the cement floor and vomited as his bare body hit puddles of human waste.
He left his soiled pants outside the hut, but when he went to find them later they were gone. He was directed to another hut where a stick-thin girl, with missing clumps of hair, had the pants, scrubbed and folded, in her lap. Barcott said softly, “I’m grateful,” and asked her why she had cleaned them. “Because I can,” she replied. A week later, she died of AIDS and her body was taken in a wheelbarrow to a communal grave.
- From "The Rugged Altruists" by David Brooks

H/T Orr

Friday, August 26, 2011

First Week on the New Job

Well.

I've put in my first 40 hours on the new job.

I can tell right now that having to be in the office at 8 and having to put in a "true 8" sitting in a chair on a computer on an office network that blocks anything not work related is going to seriously cut back on my blogtime (posting and commenting), facebook status updates and podcasting. My life is over.

I discovered after three days that my office wardrobe was seriously under stocked. All of my old office-worthy clothing was nearly 30 years old and 4 inches of waist ago. The only time I've had to dress up in the last 30 years has been for two weddings and a couple of funerals. At the last wedding I had the pants from the previous wedding let out two inches so I wouldn't have to buy a whole new suit. Other than that, everything I've had to wear to anything formal has been hidden under a black cassock. As long as I was wearing decent black shoes I could have been nekkid and I was good to go. So, it was off to Goodwill.

Way back when, I was a bit of a clothes hound. Maybe it's the old "art major" in me but for some reason when I'm shopping clothes I scan a rack and inevitably my eye is drawn to the most expensive pair of pants, shirt or accessory. I admit I've owned $75.00 ties and $200.00 pairs of pants... way back when I was making the kind of money you weighed instead of counted. But for 20+ years I've been counting, and I don't have to count very high these days. So I have to somehow reconcile my "eye" and my "wallet".

One word: Thrift stores. (OK, two.)

Not that I'm into "labels", I just know what I like... but I found a little over a week's worth of worthy office attire at Goodwill for under 80.00. Pants, shirts, ties, most of them indistinguishable from new off the rack. Because I've never needed brown shoes for the last 20 years, I did have to buy a pair of new brown shoes that cost me the same as my entire wardrobe. I know enough to know the same wardrobe at Macy's or Dillard's would have been well over a grand. I actually had to spend more on my construction clothes because those kinds of things don't make it to Goodwill and I had to buy them new.

Anyway, that was an anticipated part of the career change. It's kind of mundane for most of my readers I'm sure, but when you've been wearing carpenter jeans and a white T-shirt and tennis shoes to work for 30 years it's a big change.

Years ago, I would have bristled at the thought of having to dress up for "the man". But I've come to realize that a certain amount of "chameleon competence" is not a bad thing when navigating life and the various environments one finds one's self in. The issues of fitting in are far deeper than what drapes your body. If a piece of cloth offends or creates a barrier then I've created a hurdle that has to be overcome before I can begin to address the deeper issues of what separates human beings.  Of course I realize I could dress like a homeless person and press an issue on that level, but if that is a huge issue I won't be around long enough to influence any change anyway and the relationships are lost.  But that's not the point.

I haven't really escaped construction.  I got in the office early Monday morning and no one else was there yet. The offices had moved the week before and furniture and boxes were still stacked all over the place.  I moved some stuff around and found an old wooden desk in one of the offices. The center drawer was in three pieces from the move. I went out to my truck, got my tools and glued and clamped it.  It turned out it was the CEO's desk I fixed.  I went in to remove the clamps and put the desk back together and he asked who I was.  I told him and said this is my first day on the job, I had gotten there early and decided to make myself useful since I didn't know what else to do except what I used to do until my boss showed up to show me what new thing to do. We had a nice talk.  Not a bad first impression, I suppose.

I also started a job last Saturday that should have been a one day project.  It has turned into a week plus another 2-3 days next week because of changes and complications.  I've been working through my lunch break at the office so I can leave a half hour early to go work on the remodel project.  In the meantime this week I've gotten a half dozen calls from people wanting me to do construction stuff for them.  So I've been putting in 14 hour days this week and will continue on into next week.  That's not all bad since we need the money.  I can make more for a few hours after "work" than I will for the eight hours at my desk.  But I know I can't do that for long.  It's Friday afternoon and I'm fried and I have to go to work all weekend.

It is interesting being a total "newbie" at something once again.  I have basic computer skills which are essential for the new job. What I don't have is familiarity with the software and educational environment I am working with.  It is intimidating to be given a link to a website that you have no clue what it does, means, contains or how it fits with what  you are supposed to be doing.  Then you given 3 more of the same and you have to just play with them, click around all the dozens of menus and sub-menus to figure out how they all fit in the big picture and integrate all the information you get from each of them and put parts of each of them back into those same websites.  Of course I have a mentor, but he has his own job to do and part of my job is to take some of his job, so along with the learning curve I was handed a few dozen students and had to set up my own record keeping systems and get all of these kids started in all of the schools' programs in the meantime. Needless to say, even with a mentor there were plenty of opportunities to feel stupid and overwhelmed.  I know I had to ask several times stuff like, "Ummm.. WHICH website is it that you sign a kid up for/get this information from...?"  I've always told my employees there's no such thing as a stupid question, but it's still easy to FEEL stupid when asking one when you KNOW you've been told how to do that before.

Of course nothing is as simple as it looks.  "This is the procedure to do this..." Then the first batch of kids I got happened to be "exceptional cases" in the software and procedures. What should have been straightforward processes ended up taking me deep into sub-menus and different administrative procedures to get them enrolled and on track. It wasn't until the middle of the week that I got a true straightforward process. But, now I already know the hard stuff.

It's amazing how much of the same information needs to be stored in different places. I think I've cut and pasted more stuff than I have total in the past 15 years.  I've discovered more than a dozen Excel tricks and discovered two dozen more issues that I need to figure out what the tricks are to fix.  I can already see that keyboard short cuts are the key to survival in this job.  

So far I like what I am dealing with both in terms of the technical aspects of the job and the interaction with parents and kids.  I can see I'll be doing some "hand holding", tech support, coaching, encouragement, tough love and just ordinary information giving about the educational system/requirements.  It's not too much different than running a crew of 55 drywallers, really.  

Things I can see right now:

I need to change my eating habits. I'm going to be a blimp in about two months if I don't.  I sit down in my chair at my desk and except for bathroom breaks I don't get up again for 8 hours. If it ever drops below 110 I'll walk to work. My new office got moved to four blocks from my house. 

I need to say no to "side work".  One day a week, two in an emergency.  All work and no play makes s-p a dull boy and a bad blogger.

We need to budget.  The Wifey got a teaching job this year. Between the two salaries we can make ends meet if we're careful. Cool thing is we are both 10 month contracts, we could actually take vacations in the summer if we're careful.

I like the people I'm working with. I liked them in the interviews and staff training.  They get better every day. 

So, there's 40 hours in a nutshell. The nice thing is, no regrets and no red flags.  Yeah, I can do this.

Thursday, August 04, 2011

Getting Older and Pithlesser

I'm turning 59 in five days. I've never been much into birthdays and milestones and "passages". My 20, 30 and 40th birthdays went pretty much by without any sense of "gee/wow-ness" or movement toward or away from anything. My 50th birthday was an existential awakening. I'd been through the standard Red Bugatti mid-life crisis (yeah, I really had one), divorced, blended family etc. etc. (not that all that is normal, but it is the fodder of a John Updike novel).  But even during and after all that life did not seem particularly finite or "particular" in any real way.  I walked through it with the sense of appropriate angst, guilt, shame, joy, apprehension and uncertainty that one should feel when life is all akimbo, but it was just "life".

When I turned 50 I stared at the number and it was as if I stepped outside my door thinking it was midday and saw the sun setting.  The dusk of my life was in front of me, undeniable and darkening.  No matter how I cut it, my life was more than half over, more than likely I had about a quarter of it left to me, if that.  "The days of man are as grass, as a flower of the field so he flourisheth... Our days like a spider have spun out its tale. Our years number three score years and ten, and if we be in strength mayhap fourscore years, but what is more than these but toil and travail?"  I was old enough to see the truth in that, I just never thought it applied to ME.  But on my 50th birthday it did.  My life was on the downhill slope and I was still sheet rocking and lifting heavy stuff for a living.

For 30 years I've been doing construction because my college degrees would land me a 13.00/hour job.  When you're 35 and invincible, construction is a good living.  When  you're 58 and have been doing it for 30 years it is a hard living and one false move can mean a torn tendon or ligament that will put you in bankruptcy.  The frequency of "six ibuprofen and three beer" nights increase.  You just learn to live with chronic pain, move slower and don't "be a hero"... you ask for help to lift and move stuff.  Without any health insurance and another option to buy groceries on the table you live in fear of an accident, a miscalculation, an untimely muscle spasm or just plain exhaustion that will end up in a career ending injury. 

A month ago I interviewed for a new job.  It was not just a "job", it was a new career.  Actually it is more like my original career working with "at risk" kids and families.  At 59 my youngest has graduated from high school and cosmetology school.  The Wifey has finished her teaching recertification for Arizona and found a teaching job after 30+ years of staying home with the kids.  Between the two salaries on paper it looked like we can pay our bills if I do a "side job" here and there.  I got the job.

It was somewhat of an affirmation that after 30 years in construction and pushing 60 someone thought I had something on a "professional level" to offer an organization other than repairing their drywall or building them a new office.  But the reality is, I have been self-employed for 30+ years.  It will be an adjustment to be working for "the man", punching his time card, asking him for days off and taking his allotment of vacation.  I can't just pack my tools up and go build a Church or a monastery for three weeks anymore.  I know it will be an adjustment, but I also know I pretty much HAVE to make the adjustment, just like I made the adjustment from ministry to construction 30 years ago out of necessity.

Fifty nine is a strange birthday. It has an anticipatory facet to it that is sobering in a way that actually turning 50 or 60 doesn't.  My parents are in their mid 80's and we're waiting for "the phone call" about my Dad. I'm his age when his parents passed away. I get AARP's magazine and it tells me every month that I'm on the cusp of the "retirement decade" and I have nothing.  The past 30 years have been spent on groceries, house payments, electricity, stuff to raise our kids and a trip to visit family now and then (but not nearly often enough).  The only things we have of value are memories, a wonderful bunch of kids and a couple of cute grand kids.  Everything else is a liability and worth less than we paid for it.  But in the grand scheme of things, if I make it another eleven years to three score and ten, I won't regret investing in those things instead of a 401k. 

So, here is to change.  I know there are more  changes on the close horizon that I did not apply for, cannot fully prepare for nor predict.

So, here is to having more life to remember than to anticipate.  It is an odd place but thankfully I do not find it frightening or depressing.  The dusk breaks into a new dawn and I'm looking forward in peace to the last and eternal dawn.  There's something to be said for that, even if I'm punching a time card for the man.

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Stages of Conversion

I don't think I have ever lifted a complete blog post from someone else's blog (though I've quoted and recommended a few... very few).  Silouan posted this on Facebook and I read it. It is about the process of "converting", something many or most of us have done.  I'm posting it because I don't want to take the chance that you won't take time to click the link.

Wisdom, let us attend!
____________________________________________
It doesn't seem to matter what version of the Christian faith you join, because this seems to be a near-universal process:

Phase 1: The Cage Phase
So you've found your new tradition, and you've finally discovered all the answers to life's problems encompassed within it. You've also read a few books that explain how every other Christian tradition (especially the one you just left) has absolutely ruined the piss out of the Christian faith as a whole. As God's apostle to the unconverted, it now falls upon you to save the world (especially your friends and family in the old tradition) by enlightening them as to just how perfect everything is about your new tradition and how stupid and wrong everything about their current tradition is. It is very important for you to have a blog during this time so that you can enlighten as many people as possible.

Phase 2: Addiction
After having ruined all your relationships from your past life, you are now disillusioned with the willful ignorance and impiety of all those outside your new church. Let the heretics stew in their heresy. It is now time to busy yourself with drinking as much religious Kool-Ade as you possibly can, preferably until your skin becomes the same color as Purplesaurus Rex and your body's pH levels are completely thrown off. You need to read every theological or devotional book you can, buy lots of the assorted trinkets associated with your tradition, and make lots of pilgrimages to either theology conferences or monasteries, depending on how your church rolls.

Phase 3: Apostle of Renewal
You've recently noticed that most of the other people in your church are not nearly as obsessed with it as you are. They aren't reading those books, and they aren't buying all that crap you've strewn your house with. They're more concerned with paying the bills than why those awful sectarians are wrong. They even have friends outside the church! Many of them are not aware just how right and perfect their church is, or how great their lives would be if they would just fling themselves with total abandon into the kind of obsession you yourself have. This is clearly a problem that must be fixed, for it threatens to destroy the purity of the faith. As God's chosen agent of change, you busy yourself with trying to whip up everyone in the congregation into the same frothing devotion you yourself exhibit.

Phase 4: Beaten by Reality
You've finally faced the harsh truth: The people in your new tradition are, at their core, a whole lot like all those people from your old tradition that you despised so much, with all the same foibles and failings. You give up on saving the world, on restoring your tradition to its purity, and have lost your confidence that God himself has appointed you to fix everything. You've discovered that your new church in fact has a lot of ugliness in its history, has a lot of jerks in its power structure, can't solve all of life's problems, and isn't always all that consistent or believable in what it teaches or what it does.

Phase 5, Option 1: The Rat Leaves the Ship
Clearly, you were had. You thought you had found the One True Perfect Tradition, but you were deceived. You know what you must do--find the tradition that really does get it all right, because it must be out there. Back to Phase 1 for you!

Phase 5, Option 2: Complete Disillusionment
You have realized, perhaps after going through this cycle several times, that you are perhaps the only sincere, thinking Christian in the world. Everyone else is a hypocrite or a dunce, and all these corrupt denominations and hierarchies have ever accomplished is completely screwing up everything. Completely embittered at the idea of organized religion, you isolate yourself in order to go be a true follower of Christ without all those awful other people screwing things up. If you meet some like-minded folk, you start meeting up with them in order to transcend organized religion by organizing a religion. It's very likely that you eventually realize that all religious people are deluded fools and become an atheist or agnostic.

Phase 5, Option 3: Partial Disillusionment and Accommodation
After facing the harsh reality in Phase 4, you've further realized that phases 1 through 3 ought to be renamed "Jackass," "Nutjob," and "Know-it-All," respectively, which suggests that you are, for the most part, much worse at being a decent human being than all those people too stupid and impious to realize how awesome your new religion is. While many of the reasons that you had for joining your current tradition remain, and thus so do you, you decide it's time to cut yourself, your church, everyone else's churches, and rest of the world some slack.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

On B.S.

I spent a couple weeks in Montana visiting my sister and brother in law.  I've met him a few times, but hadn't spent much time with him. Like me, he is a construction guy with college degrees. My sister told me Todd has insomnia and stays up at night and writes.  She said it was good stuff.

I got him to let me read some of his essays.  I brought the hard copies home with me and told him he should set up a blog and if he didn't I was going to steal his stuff and pass it off as my own because I'm running out of stuff. So, he set up a blog. He's posted up a few essays and more are on the way, on work, life, economics, faith, God, and recently one on "bullshit".  A quote:

"There are other forms of bullshit that don't mean anything. Food packages will say things like “30% less fat.” 30% less fat than what? A block of pure fat? “Fresh Frozen Food?” “Fresh Pickled?” “Fresh Smoked?” “How are you?” “I'm fine.” “Mission Accomplished.” “That's really something.”

Bullshit is not new, and philosophers including Kant, Hume, Locke, Hobbes, and Frankfurt have attempted to define it and its role in society. I think by this point we have become so glazed over by bullshit's residue that we can at least recognize it by contrast to what it is not. It seems that when you see something that isn't bullshit, it is striking. When someone speaks a simple truth or does something genuinely good, it momentarily captures our attention as if it were something rare and precious. The Lord gives us the darkness so we can see the stars." 
 
From my brother in law's blog  "Truth, Ire and the Night" 
Check it out, check back frequently.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Curmudgeophan on TV

I think we need to do an Orthodox version of this with Curmudgeophan and some cranky monks and priests.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Where Does the Time Go?

Where has 30 years gone?

In five days and about two weeks shy of turning 59, I begin a new career as a high school guidance counselor and will finally be using my college degrees in an "official" capacity.

This week I'm working 14 hour days wrapping up jobs, notifying my clients (some of whom I've had for 30 years) and going out this weekend to buy "office clothes".  My wardrobe consists of jeans, t-shirts and stuff I wear under a cassock on Sunday that no one can or should see.  I had one button down white shirt that I wore to the wedding and we discovered we left in Montana the morning of my second interview.  I found another shirt that faked it well enough to land me the job as long as I didn't take my sport coat off. 

There's a lot of mixed feelings to say the least. More later when I can breathe....

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Where I've Been

Those of you who check in regularly know I've been gone for a few weeks. The Wifey and I went to southern Montana for what was supposed to be about a week for our son's wedding but then ended up a visit with my sister in northern Montana and turned into almost three weeks. While were in Kalispell we attended the Fourth of July Parade down Main Street. Here's some of the "floats":


There were actually TWO cement trucks...and the Flathead Lake Rollerderby Queens team.

This was the front-loader with a bucket full of rocks.  I thought they should have taken the time to at least paint the rocks red, white and blue or stick a flag in them or something...


This was the "marching band".


The kid wasn't a bad drummer for sitting in the bed of a moving pickup truck. I'm sure he was tired after two blocks of wailing away on the drum set.  I didn't get a picture of the random Toyota Minivan that took a wrong turn and got stuck in the parade.  The occupants looked a bit embarrassed.

The wedding was held at the bride's uncle's ranch.  Here is my son and grandson with a fawn that they had found abandoned by its mother.  Not something you get to see in the big city.


The Wifey made me wear my suit and tie for the wedding. The last time I wore it was at the daughter's wedding about 8 years and 20 pounds before. Ouch.

This is Mom pinning the boutonniere on the groom


This is the bride and groom in a "private moment".

The reception was held outdoors. A friend of the family has a BBQ restaurant and catered the reception.
After the reception, a sparkling send off to the bride and groom....


A double blessing of the wedding was we got to meet our new grand daughter.

After the wedding we got to travel some of Montana and Yellowstone National Park. We drove the Beartooth Highway, deemed the most beautiful drive in America. I can't argue with that.


One of the things I discovered on the way home is a "biker bar" used to be a place where scary Hell's Angels hung out.  Now it is an upscale watering hole at a trendy destination where middle aged men with 25,000.00 toy Harley Davidsons and Goldwings go for vacations.

All in all, a nice break. I was in 78 degrees and on a pontoon boat trout fishing when it hit 118 in Phoenix.  It was hard to come home.  But in the end, there's no place like home.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

What I Learned on My Summer Vacation

I just got home from a couple weeks away. Pictures of the wedding, scenery and events are coming later. A lot of life can happen in two weeks. Even when you're on vacation life does not take a break. One of the places we went was Yellowstone National Park and went to some of the hot spring areas which look like a Martian landscape.


But even in the middle of acres of sulphur, crusted salts and boiling acidic water there is life. But life only springs up in places that nurture it. I needed to be reminded of this.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Engineer's Psalter

As far as the variable of latitude being 110.574 Km @ 0 degrees, and 111.694 Km. @ 90 degrees, averaged to 111.134 Km per Arcdegree Latitude times 180 degrees separation (constant) =
π/180M (Ø) = 20004.12 Km, so far hath He removed our iniquities from us.
Psalm 103:12

H/T Facebook

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Orthograph #137 - Confusion of Speech

Curmudgeophan's Caption Contest #2


They said it couldn't be done, but Fr. Benedict did it once.  It has taken several months for Curmudgeophan to recover and regain his lemony fresh personality.  He's been training hard with Subdeacon Barfy and reading a lot of OCA websites lately so he's ready for a new challenge.

Go ahead, hit him with your best shot.


The winner will get whatever I give them, whenever I get around to it.

Monday, June 06, 2011

The Heresy of Positive Thinking

An excellent critique of the cult of positive thinking. It gets into politics and economics but get past that stuff: this is very much also about family, relationships, religion, "faith" and the dynamics of how we get sucked into denying reality.

Friday, June 03, 2011

The True Test of Sainthood

If you can have a beard like this and not look to see if people are looking at your beard...


... or not be jealous.

H/T Jamey

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Hats

I heard there was quite an interest in the hats worn at the Royal Wedding last month and specifically Princess Beatrice's.


Personally, I don't think it holds a candle to Patriarch Bartholomew's Paschal hat.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Moo Awarded Honorary Doctorate

Moo was invited to receive an Honorary Doctorate and give the commencement address to the graduating class of Saint Vladimir's Seminary on the topic of "Change in the Orthodox Church in America: Lettuce Attend!". Unfortunately Moo was unable to accept the invitation due to a conflict with his sister's high school graduation (pictured here with him).

St. Vladimir's Seminary awarded Moo an honorary doctorate in "Orthodox Phronemaology" for being the only thing on earth slower than change in the Orthodox Church in America.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Of Friends, Deer Heads, Vans and Death

To my shame I can't remember exactly how many years it has been since I knocked on the door of my best friend's ex wife to tell his 8 year old son that his Father was dead.

It wasn't that Josh hadn't seen his Dad nearly dead a dozen times.  He had stepped over his urine soaked, trembling body on the living room floor of his apartment many times.  He had called 911 or me enough times to have him taken to the indigent's detox center.  But this time Josh wasn't with him when he passed out.

Joe worked for me that Friday.  He had been clean for a few weeks again. He was supposed to get a pass and stay at my house with his son for a visit.  I asked him when I should pick him and Josh up.  He said, "I have plans tonight..."

He and a group of his friends had scored some dope and that night they went AWOL from the rehab, bought their alchohols of choice, and rented a motel room.  When Joe passed out no one paid attention.  When someone finally shook him, he was dead.  They left his body in the room and snuck back into the rehab. In the morning one of them anonymously called the police.  They found my phone number on a card in his wallet.

I was on the job Saturday morning working alone.  Joe didn't show up for work. I knew he was probably drunk again.  I got a phone call about ten o'clock.  "This is Sergeant --- from the Phoenix police department.  Do you know a Joe ---?"

It was a short conversation.  I was able to positively ID his body on the phone by his tattoos and scars.  I packed up my tools and drove to his ex's apartment.  His ex answered the door.  I didn't say anything but I guess the look on my face said it all.  She said, "Joe?...."

Josh cried.  His ex said, "That son of a bitch".  Then she cried too.  I couldn't.  I still haven't.  I think by the time it happened I was too ready for it. 

I met Joe on a job.  Our introduction was a practical joke by the general contractor.  I tell the story of his hatred for Jesus and Christians and his conversion HERE .

Over the next few years he did everything he could to destroy himself and I did everything I could to keep him from it. No amount of dysfunctional or functional love could restrain him.  I cannot presume to know what it is like to wrestle with his demons, and they were legion.  I think the best lesson he ever taught me was by his death:  that is, that I am not Jesus Christ.  He died imprisoned, bound and casting himself into the fire, and in the end all I could do was watch because I had run out of ways to love him and prayers.

I presided over his funeral at the rehab center. For years I was angry at the parade of guys who abandoned him in the motel room, who came to the microphone and wept.  They were supposed to eulogize Joe, but it really wasn't about Joe, it was about themselves "See how much I loved him..."  But now I realize they probably loved him like I did, helplessly and cluelessly and eventually angrily because he would not validate our love for him by staying alive and being our friend, Joe.  At the intersection of whatever within me was "real love" and Joe's free will, or his will bound up by the sins perpetrated on him and his own sins trying to loose himself, lies his death that still hurts in places I do not understand.  And perhaps it is best that it remains a mystery and a conviction of my own finiteness and lack of faith and understanding.  For that gift I am still grateful.

Somehow Josh found me on the internet a few months ago and I got an email from him.  He has moved out of state and is doing well.  He asked if I had any pictures of his Dad.  I had two.

This one is a Polaroid of us in front of my 1952 bread truck/work van probably taken around 1990.  My ex didn't like my deer head over our fireplace so I mounted it on the front of my truck.  One Christmas Joe and I decorated it with a wreath, Christmas balls and a red light glued on the nose that lit up when the key was turned on.  The decorations never got taken off.

We were working at an office building one day and one of the office workers complained that she was staring at the deer head out her window and was offended.  The building manager came and told me I was technically in their office parking spaces so I had to move my van.  When I went out to move it, there was a vacant general parking space immediately behind my van and I backed it up 15 feet into it.  The building manager laughed and said, "You're legal."  Yeah, I can be  passive aggressive.

Eventually some kids stole the deer head in the middle of the night and the van broke down irreparably, probably out of grief.
This is another Polaroid that we took with the Easter Bunny when we were working at a Mall one year.  Joe put on his "Easter Joy" face for the picture.

I guess there was no real point to this post except that I had part of the day off and I found the pictures and scanned them and emailed them to his son today.  If any of you who read the blog pray for the departed, please remember Joe for me.  I don't remember him often enough after all these years.  But our friendship is such that he would tell me that he expected that of me and doesn't mind because he would do the same for me if the tables were turned.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Life vs. Blog Showdown

I can't believe it has been over a month since I started painting repo'd houses.

I ended up missing all of Holy Week, including Pascha services.  I put in a 14 hour day on Holy Saturday, got home at about 8:30pm and had to be back on the job by 7:00AM on Sunday morning to finish it in time for carpet layers and to start another job on Monday morning.  I took a day off on Mother's Day to visit my Mom in northern Arizona, and today is my second day off in almost 7 weeks. Not that I'm complaining....

During the last two and a half years there have been weeks that I had no work at all and most weeks I had less than 15  billable hours.  But during that time I got to build a Church for our Mission and for St. John's Monastery and a dormitory and chapel for St. Anthony's Monastery.    As much time off as I had, I didn't lose any weight, however.

As cool as it was to have a real Church building for our Mission, a few months ago QT Gas Stations bought the land that our Church was on.   We couldn't afford another piece of land or to move the building, so this is what became of our Church. 
Now we're renting a chapel from a Coptic Church and looking for another office/warehouse space to move into again.  "God works in mysterious ways" is probably the only thing anyone can really say about that without trying to rationalize it, spiritualize it, or become cynical or despondent. 

But that's not the point. The point is, I've had a LOT of time on my hands for the last couple years and no time on my hands for the last couple months.  When I have a lot of spare time it is easier to find time to be "holy", well... do things that make me at least look holy, and to tell everyone about it on the blog.  The Church benefits from my unemployment, my skills and, yes, even my ego.

The last couple months I've been working for about a third of what I used to make but getting three or four times the billable hours. I've found I'm getting up and down 24 foot extention ladders a lot slower than I used to. I've found that gravity gets stronger after 8 hours of painting baseboards. I've found that it is easier to get up and down ladders if I don't have to carry a Whopper with cheese, large fries and a Coke with me in the afternoon. I've found that cleaning gutters buys groceries just like painting a wall does. I've found pride comes before a fall and lack of pride comes before a meal. I've found I'm still the same person whether I am unemployed, under-employed, broke, rich or busy climbing the 30 steps of the Ladder of Divine Ascent for Lent or climbing a 24 foot fiberglass ladder for ten bucks an hour.  I've found that neither exhaustion is more sacred than the other.

I've also found as hard as I think my work has been there are other people working harder for less. I haven't had to do this yet for minimum wages. Yes, that is a running chainsaw in his hands.

So all in all, all is good.  Or is it, "All is well"?  Or perhaps it is both.  Even when it doesn't feel good and seems like it isn't going well.  God works in mysterious ways.  That's my story and I'm sticking to it.

Saturday, May 07, 2011

18 Years Today

19 years ago I put this on a cassette tape and sent it off with a dream. 

18 years ago today she said "I do" not knowing what she was getting herself into.

I love you more now than then.  Thank you for saying yes, my beloved.

Happy anniversary.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Foreclosure Predictors

I picked up a new client a couple weeks ago.  I met him when I repaired a couple holes in his girlfriend's house. He was impressed and asked what I did besides drywall. I told him I do handyman stuff and painting too.  Turns out he fixes up bank repo's to put back on the market. Usually they are pretty trashed.  

He said, "I have a house to paint inside and out. I have 2,800.00 in it. If you want to do it you can have it, otherwise I have a Mexican that will do it for me at that price." The price was less than half of what I usually do painting for. I thought about it for half a second.

I said, "Me llamo Esteban."

So now I'm on my second house for him.  I'm working for less than half of what I usually work for but I have over three times the amount of work I've had in the last two years, so I guess it works out.

The first house I painted last week had a powder blue room, a pink room, a room with bright red, canary yellow, lime green and shocking blue walls. The house I'm painting now has... hmmm, a periwinkle room, a Pepto-Bismol pink room and the master bedroom is powder blue. I'm beginning to think I see a pattern developing. I should market my idea to mortgage companies:  Show people a color swatch and see what they pick for house colors. It is a better predictor of foreclosure than perhaps even income.

As much as I love the bedroom colors, the thing I love most about the house I'm repainting now is the living room.  The thing I'm not crazy about is the blood splatters ten feet up on the master bedroom walls.  I don't even want to know. I'm thinking it might have something to do with illicit drug use.  But it makes sense.  After all, I think it would take conciousness altering substances for someone to do what you see when you walk in the front door. 
Isn't there a 911 Designer Police phone number you can call? 

"OK, ma'am.... Put down the sponge, raise your hands above your head and slowly step away from the paint bucket and no one will get hurt...." 

Even though I'm not getting paid a lot there is a rewarding sense about this job.  Even though I am missing most or all of Holy Week to get this job turned over in time, I feel like I am contributing to the spiritual well being of humanity by covering this up. 

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Orthograph #129 - Lenten Disasters


I thought about letting this stand alone, but as my 12th anniversary of becoming Orthodox looms in a few days I figured I'd add some personal annotation.

My first Lents were "successful" because I thought they were. I encountered the disciplines of the Church and I kept the fasts and attended the services relatively strictly. Of course I was tempted and "failed" in some ways and in good conscience and zealous humility I acknowledged my weakness and confronted my humanity. But Lent was a new toy. Or, in construction terms, a new tool. When I first got my unbelievably heavy 12" compound slider miter saw I gleefully hauled it everywhere.

After a dozen years, Lent has become less a "new toy" or a new tool and more of a "real job". Now when I have a job that REQUIRES my 12" saw, I reluctantly carry it from the shed to the truck and do the set up on the job site. But I need it to do the job well. Lent has become much the same thing. I love Lent, but it is also a heavy tool that I'd rather avoid using if possible.

The problem is Lent is like a "real job" now. But it has no time card to punch, no Human Resources Company Rules and write ups that go in my employee file if I screw up. The "threat of discipline or termination" is entirely in my own mind and imagination of my relationship with God and the Church. I've discovered that, once the novelty wore off and Lent isn't fun or some kind of ego trip or contest anymore, without a tangible "boss" hovering over me, I slack.

I think now after a dozen years, Lent is finally becoming real. The disasters are more real than the recipe gathering and label reading and chat room discussions of fasting and prayer fed by novelty and zeal without knowledge. Yes, certainly I learned some things in the early years, but they were things I knew from what I was reading that I was supposed to learn. But I think they were not true fruit but only seeds, and those seeds are just beginning to sprout and perhaps bear some flower. I am not willing to say they are even truly bearing fruit yet.

So in my second year of abject Lenten disasters, this year was not as bad as the last in some ways. The main difference this year is the lack of guilt and the enhanced sobriety. Less a focus on the plate and more a focus on the soul. Less a focus on the ingredients on the labels and more a focus on what makes up my character. Maybe I needed to finally utterly fail in order to finally strip away the facades and the "passion of novelty" and find the true function of the tools.

Perhaps I am on the downhill side of the graph. I hope so. At this point it is a projection and prognostication, not an experience.

My prognostication in the short run is I will watch this Holy Week from a spiritual distance and follow Christ to the Cross from afar... which is where I fancied myself in years past because I knew that was where I was told in the books that I was "supposed to be". Maybe in another dozen years I'll figure out where I really am this year.

Until then, I guess I'll just try to keep the Cross in sight no matter how far I wander from the self sacrifice on Golgotha.