Thursday, January 24, 2008

Coming Together

Today was the day!

Six months ago an appointment was scheduled with the cardiologist. The agreement was that I would try lifestyle changes to lower cholesterol and we would discuss the future after a follow-up test today. I think he expected to say "OK, your numbers are too high. It's time to prescribe drugs." I was prepared to reply "No way! I refuse."

Long story short: Numbers are good, he was surprised, I was pleased, another appointment has been scheduled for July to include an optional nuclear stress test just to monitor things.

Here are my lifestyle changes:
1. Eliminate all processed foods.
2. Refuse anything containing partially hydrogenated fat.
3. Limit saturated fat to less than 12 grams per day.
4. Eat a vegetarian diet with the exception of cold water fish.
5. Consume flax seed, almonds and walnuts daily.
6. Break rules 1-5 without guilt when a guest in someone's home.

Julie and I have made some other changes also. About two years ago she took a half-time job so she is off on Fridays and summers. Last year I negotiated an 11 month contract so I am off in June. About two weeks ago I proposed an 11 month contract of 32 hours per week (Monday through Thursday) so I could be off on Fridays also. This would have reduced my salary to a little less than 74% of full time. I was offered the opportunity to continue working 40 hours but work 8 hours per week from home at any time of my choice. I accepted the offer. I try to work 5-7 AM before going to the office and working a regular 8 hour day.

Fridays off for both of us mean more work around home. This summer our major thrust will be landscaping and a garden. I haven't had a garden in 15 years and am looking forward to building raised beds, installing irrigation and doing battle with rabbits, rodents and other hungry critters.

Yesterday I received a phone call asking that I write a master gardener column for the newspaper on the subject of herbs. As part of writing the article I think I'll start an herb garden and put the someday-to-be-finished greenhouse to use for something other than heat and houseplants.

Life seems to be coming together -- Fridays off means time to garden which means good exercise, less stress, better food (all good for the heart), actual experience with high desert gardening so I can write realistic articles -- and time with Julie who makes my heart beat faster.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Bowl of Fire

Bowl of Fire is a misnomer, a name that misleads one into thinking of a caldera formed in a volcanic period. Actually, the Bowl of Fire is an area of Aztec sandstone formed from ancient red sand dunes. We chose the hike for its contrast to Gold Strike Canyon. Rather than tall sheer walls that block sun, wind and views we would marvel at open desert views on the way to the Bowl and watch the horizon in hopes of seeing a herd of horses.

Following one of the washes that lead to the Bowl. (Larger version)

There is no defined trail to the Bowl. The directions we had were somewhat vague. “Head due north to a wash, turn northeast in the wash, turn north into another wash, after one-half or three-quarters mile watch for a small canyon on the left . . . .” Between the sun in the sky and occasional views of red sandstone in the distance we had no trouble finding our way.

A strange formation. (Larger version)

Some may think the desert a barren and boring place but I find deserts to be living, fascinating places. There’s a wide variety of plants, abundant animals and rich textures that paint a kaleidoscope of shapes and subtle hues. The sound of a gentle breeze soothes and the horizon beckons.

We left the car and headed north weaving our way around plants, staying on gravel and avoiding cryptobiotic soil, the living crusty, knobby soil that is home to microorganisms. Millions of years of volcanic activity, erosion, uplifting, water and wind have created a rock hound’s paradise. This is no area of sameness but a rich field of attention seeking stones that cause one to stop, pick up a stone and examine it before discarding it to take another one. The only way to make time is to walk head erect without looking at the ground.

Looking down on the last wash and the place were we had lunch. (Larger version)

Hunger pleaded with us to stop and eat but the anticipation of eating on a high point caused us to put foot in front of foot. As we neared the first red hill we skirted it on the west side and found a way to climb to a saddle between it and a higher peak to the east. Lunch was good as it always is when eating in a remote place while hunger evaluates any food as excellent.

Moving toward the center of the Bowl. (Larger version)

A fun little game involves a cell phone. If we get high enough or in the right place, can we get signal and call someone and say “Guess where we are!” When we left the car we had no service. After lunch Julie powered on the phone and was surprised by a beep and a message announcing two missed calls. A foolish thing to do is to depend on cell service in case of trouble. It’s a game and only a game.

A mystifying area. Julie is sitting on one area of sandstone with uniform streaks of color. There were other large area colored similar to this one. (Larger version)

Hunger alleviated, we began to explore the area. The vast array of eroded shapes, holes, and formations cannot be appreciated in a casual glance. We climbed down to the drain that led us behind the hill and followed it upstream into the heart of the bowl. A slick rock tub held close to 100 gallons of water. Given time and patience it would be interesting to find an observation point and watch the wildlife that comes to drink.

Nearing the point where we would turn back while wondering what was ahead that we would not get to see on this trip. (Larger version)

We were in awe of many details. One unique detail was area of stone that contains a pattern of blue streaks. What cause the color? How did it infiltrate the stone in a regular pattern?

Returning to the car. We were parked near the hills in the distance. (Larger version)

One of the problems of hiking without a specific destination is to know when to turn back. Every rise and each turn may hide some marvel. Do we turn back now or go a little farther. We found a spot and decided no farther.

Gold Strike Canyon and Bowl of Fire – just two of what seems like an unlimited number of places to explore and be rejuvenated.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Gold Strike

Maslow had it almost right. He left out one basic need. In the hierarchy of needs, at the level of love and belonging, above safety and on a par with friendship, family and sexual intimacy is hiking. It a basic human need that can be ignored for short periods only.

Work on the solar addition took almost every weekend from mid-July through Christmas. Other than short walks near home we haven’t explored a remote area for six months. Last weekend we fulfilled that need.

We backpacked into Gold Strike Canyon in April, 2003 and spent one night. This time we planned a day-trip to the hot springs. Construction on a bridge to bypass Hoover Dam closed the trail head for over a year. To make sure access to the canyon was open we stopped at the Lake Mead National Recreation Area visitor center and encountered a mildly irritating surprise.

“We discourage hiking into the canyon?”

We questioned why and received some vague responses about danger, rescues during the last year and the “official position” of discouraging use of the canyon. I find this interesting! People are rescued daily in the Grand Canyon and there are deaths each year. Why isn’t use of the Grand Canyon discouraged? A reasonable level of danger and a need for self-reliance are part of the experience and add to the beauty and reward of a hike. In June of 2003 two men died in the canyon from heatstroke. The only danger we would face would be a fall.

Small slanted steps have been cut into the stone. (Larger version)

A woman behind the counter offered a suggestion which entailed crossing the dam, driving several miles south, renting a boat to get up river and completing the shorter and easier hike into the canyon from the river. It’s sad that in today’s world we spend more time commuting to and from an outdoor experience than we spend in the outdoors.

I didn’t disagree, argue or express my opinion. I thanked him and turned to leave but he could read my reaction and knew weren't being discouraged but were going into the canyon. As we neared the door he said “You know where to park, don’t you? We don’t make the rules. We’re told to state the official position.” I replied with a light joking comment, laughed to communicate I wasn’t angry with him and wished him a good day. He was just doing the job expected of him even though he didn’t agree with part of it. I respect that.

A large diameter knotted rope made this descent and ascent easy. (Larger version)

Since our trip in 2003 a flood rolled through the canyon with a wall level of 25 feet. Enough time has passed so there was no obvious sign of alteration with one exception. Some years back a late model car had left the road about 200 feet above the floor and the debris was on one side of the canyon floor. On this trip the wreckage was missing. Perhaps the flood moved and covered it. Given it’s location and the length of time it had been there on our first trip, I doubt some group or organization removed it.

Julie in the large pool in 2003. This pool was filled in by the flood and only a small portion has been cleared by volunteers. (Larger version)

We chose Gold Strike for Saturday because of predicted winds and figured the canyon would provide some protection. High temperatures in the low 50s were predicted so the air was cool when we started. As we moved around bends and past side canyons we went into and out of the sun so we took off jackets and put them back on.

Julie leads the way out of the canyon. (Larger version)

Signs of the flood weren’t obvious until we arrived at the hot springs. There is a series of pools and sources of hot water varying from almost 120 degrees to about 80. The largest pool was chest deep in 2003 but now slopes from 12 to 36 inches deep.

We moved father down canyon to a small pool about 30 inches deep that is located behind three large boulders against a vertical wall of over 100 feet. The water was clear, about 103 degrees and looked refreshing. After a lunch of sardines, crackers, fruit and nuts we settled into a peaceful world of birds, sunshine and small talk.

Five of the bighorn are easily visible. Only an ear of the sixth one can be seen. (Larger version)

As we hiked out we rounded a bend in the canyon and came upon six bighorn sheep descending the right side of the canyon. Julie and I froze as did the sheep for a moment. Then, in single file, they finished their descent, angled across the canyon and disappeared. We watched for them to appear above some boulders on canyon left and were thrilled as they came back in sight. They stopped at an overlook about 200 feet above us. One in particular seemed curious and watched us for about five minutes.

The curious one that watched us for about 5 minutes. (Larger version)

Julie, the sheep, the small bird that flitted around our packs while we were in the pool, the flowers, the warm sun, the occasional breeze, the warm water, the sheer walls – these and other features met a basic need. I ended the day happy, content and in anticipation of Sunday's trip to the Bowl of Fire.

Monday, January 21, 2008

A Charmed Life

I think I live a charmed life. I offer these recent experiences as proof.

Snow melt during the day has made the road soft and tires squish out deep muddy ruts. Before the sun rises, while the air is cold and the road is frozen, is the best time to haul water. Before leaving for work one morning I got a load well before the sun had touched the eastern horizon and pulled up beside the cistern. On top of the cistern I keep a two inch hose that is 12 feet long coiled in a large circle with the outlet inserted into the inlet end to protect it from dust, insects, and rodents. I hooked the hose to the tank and began to straighten it to insert it into the cistern. The cold made it stiff and resistant. I needed only a little more length and cautiously put more pressure on the outside of the curve. A sudden loud brittle crack and four equal pieces lay on the ground. I couldn’t risk leaving the water in the tank to freeze and thought I might be able to get it in the cistern if I could back in close and splice about six feet of hose with the only coupling I had. Three tries and I had the taillights within two inches of the tank and less than a foot of hose inserted into the tank. I didn’t have to dump the load on the ground.

On Thursday morning I woke up at 5 AM and the house felt cold. The house was 54 degrees (the greenhouse was 61!) and the outside air temperature was minus 8. The furnace was humming but not igniting. I checked the pilot lights on the kitchen range and confirmed my initial suspicion – no propane. I assumed the pressure regulator was frozen. Julie has a small heating pad about 12 by 24 inches. I wrapped the regulator and connected it to an electrical outlet. Within 30 minutes I had the range heating the kitchen and had set about lighting the pilots on the furnace and water heater.

We have a four day weekend (Friday through Monday) so we decided to take the popup (aka folding tent trailer) to Lake Mead National Recreation Area to escape the cold and do some hiking. We were nearing Ashfork, Arizona when I heard a noise that caused me to look in the mirror. The right side of the trailer was lower than normal, a blowout. A simple tire change turned into a problem. I couldn’t get the bolts loose. I took a piece of pipe and put it over the ratchet handle and couldn’t break them loose. Holding the wrench in place I asked Julie to stand on the end of the pipe and the bolt appeared to turn. When she removed her foot a strange feel like a spring contracting told me something was wrong. I noticed cracks on two sides of the socket. There was no hope of changing the tire. Fortunately we were within one half mile of the Ashfork exiT and a garage was at the exit. Fifteen minutes and five dollars later we were on our way again.

Yes, I think I live a charmed life.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Mexico City and Teotihucan

I intended to post these while in Mexico but time and technical problems prevented me from doing so. Better late than never.

Using the only easily accessible electrical outlet. (Larger version)

A Diego Rivera mural. (Larger version)

A more impress Diego Rivera mural. (Larger version)

A stranger walking in front of the mural gives an indication of its size. (Larger version)

Another mural with a theme of oppression and torture. The flames under their feet, the hands folded in supplication and the snarling dog. The hands and the dog drew my attention. (Larger version)

Police waiting patiently for the last drum to be moved after instructing street performers to move out of the street and onto the sidewalk. (Larger version)

The cathedral in the historic section of Mexico City. (Larger version)

Police in force. (Larger version)

A person dropped money into this street performers box and motioned for a kiss on the cheek from the tourist. I challenged Julie to ask him for a kiss on the cheek. (Larger version)

This photo cost me two dollars. As I started to take a photo the performers noticed me since I was taller than anyone in the crowd. Wait! One guy jumped into the arms of the other and posed. Next thing I know I'm in the middle of the circle with about 100 spectators. I was the brunt of several jokes in Spanish. Occasionally one of them would ask a question in rough English. In the end they passed the hat to me and I paid for my photo. Good fun for everyone! (Larger version)

Basillica of Our Lady of Guadalupe. This was an interesting history lesson. (Larger version)

Workmen making replicas of meso-american artifacts. (Larger version)

Replicas of meso-american artifacts. This tourist stop wasn't by choice but the workmen in the photo above made it interesting. (Larger version)

A photo from Teotihucan. (Larger version)

A photo from Teotihucan. (Larger version)

The Pyramid of the Sun at Teotihuacan. (Larger version)

Climbing the Pyramid of the Sun. (Larger version)

Part way up the Pyramid of the Sun. In the background is the Avenue of the Dead which is about 2 miles long. Teotihuacan is impressive. (Larger version)

Standing on the Pyramid of the Moon and looking down the Avenue of the Dead toward the Pyramid of the Sun. (Larger version)

Exquisite detail at Teotihuacan. (Larger version)

Julie standing beside the cathedral in Mexico City. (Larger version)

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

My Past - Part 2

Yesterday I ended with this paragraph:

I said at the beginning I can no longer answer the question 'why' -- why did I begin pastoring. However, I can answer why I walked away. Four things influenced my decision: I worked at a Baptist college, I attended a Baptist church, I read the state Baptist newspaper and I was married. Those need explanation. I'll save the explanation for tomorrow.

I worked at a Baptist college. I think it's true to say there is nothing that is holy or sacred. Holy ground does not exist. Religious music is simply music labeled religious. Christian education is no different than secular education. We have a tendency to apply labels but the underlying reality doesn't match the label.

I worked at a Baptist college but I had unrealistic expectations. I didn't expect classes to begin with prayer nor did I expect the teaching of creationism. What I expected was honesty, integrity and a set of values consistent with the recruiting propaganda.

Permit me with one experience to illustrate the source of my disenchantment. For a few years I worked in fund raising. Some employers match their employees contributions to charitable organizations. If the employee donates $1,000 then the employer will contribute an amount that is equal, double or triple the employee's contribution. We had a man make a large donation to the college that was being matched double. A secretary learned the money was being diverted from the general fund to the accounts of his daughters. In essence, this man was paying his daughters' bills, getting a tax benefit and was getting the benefit of his employer's contribution. This is clearly illegal in multiple ways. The employer's forms stated the money must be deposited in the general fund. The secretary approached me and I went to the campus post office and retrieved the forms before they were put in the mail. We discussed the issue with a vice president who refused to acknowledge the problem. He mailed the forms. A few months later the employer learned of the deception, fired the employee and demanded repayment from the school. (I did not tip off the employer but I think I know who did. Due to respect and discretion I never asked her to confirm my belief.) I decided to change positions and began searching for another job.

This is one story of many. There is no excuse for blatant unethical, illegal and dishonest behavior in any business but especially not in a church-related institution.

I attended a Baptist church. People are people. Applying the label "christian" does not change the underlying person. One of my favorite stories relates to a seminary professor whose patience was growing short with a student and made the statement "Young man, before I became a Christian I was a man. Don't scratch the veneer!"

Right or wrong, wise or unwise, I expected something of church members. My variety of christian experience focused on people and relationships. I didn't and don't care if a person drinks, uses profane language, dresses provocatively or does other things traditionally labeled "unchristian" by many groups. I was concerned about how we related to people. My focal point was a social gospel as referenced in the story in Matthew 25 of the sheep and goats: I was hungry, sick, imprisoned, etc -- and you cared for me.

He died a few years ago and I counted him as a friend. He was an alcoholic who did three tours in Vietnam. He had been married five times to three women before marrying for the last time. He had problems but in my opinion he was good natured, friendly, harmless and always treated me with kindness and respect. He began attending church. I felt good about that but one church member made the comment "We don't need his kind in church." Don't need his kind? What kind do we need? He had remarried, quit drinking and had a new daughter less than a year old. Do we need her kind? Do we "need" any kind?

This isn't among my worst experiences but is one small memory from many that illustrate church has become impotent, a group meeting for entertainment and self admiration of their goodness.

I read the state Baptist newspaper. Power is power and power is desirable. It seems there is something to the personality of religious people that causes them to need to control society. They need power. Several years ago within the Southern Baptist Convention there was a power struggle disguised in part of a theological debate. A faction began planning a takeover through propaganda and political maneuvers. In spite of biblical injunctions to peace and love, one person said "We're going for the jugular." The state Baptist newspaper wasn't filled with news of plans, accomplishments and successes related to dealing with significant problems like ignorance, hunger, disease and violence. The paper was filled with news about the fight for power.

It got to the point that I chose not to read the paper. It was a depressing, hopeless waste of time. It wasn't just my church and my college that was missing the point of Christianity. It was the entire denomination.

I was married.My children read this blog and I write this with caution and a belief that it's wise and for the best. My wife and I divorced after my son and daughter were out of high school and I have always tried to be fair and honest with them without denigrating their mother. Belittling a former spouse is never wise nor constructive. Secretly, early on, I gave my wife 90% of the blame for marital failure. As the years have passed I've realized I was probably a real pain in the neck that dropped to the bottom vertebra. Today I'll take 49% of the responsibility.

During my last pastorate I expressed my lack of contentment and loss of belief not in my theology but in the institutional church. My wife's response was "But, we need the money." End of discussion.

My wife and I always had money troubles. I could never earn enough. Well, that's not true. No matter how much I earned it would be spent and to this day I don't know where it went. Rather than learning to manage money she expected me to be discontent, hypocritical and pastor for money -- to prostitute myself. That was the final straw.

My resolution.My next to last pastorate was a trying experience -- one constant fight after the first year as one group fought for control. During the drive home from my father's funeral I decided to resign. It seemed pointless to continue and miss more of my children's teenage years as I tried to keep the struggle from erupting into a blowup. I resigned as pastor but was still a member. I didn't attend and had no intentions of attending because the church needed the freedom to select their next pastor without my shadow, influence or interference. I made sure I never said anything negative about any of the members or the church as a whole. But, the fight continued and the next pastor took sides. The leadership resigned and half the church left. My name continued to be brought up as fuel for their fight. One Sunday evening I went into the church after the service started and sat in the back. When the service was ending, as is custom in a Baptist church, I stood, expressed my disappointment with the fight and made a motion that my name and the names of my wife and children be removed from membership. There was a quick second, a quick vote and it was done.

There's a problem here. Their anger was with me, not my children. Had they acted on my motion and voted me out of membership but said my grown children could speak for themselves then I would be satisfied. As it is, they voted them out without one word of dissent. At that moment I vowed I'd never again join a church.

Well, now you know most of the story, my version of the story. I've left out my blunders, mistakes and indiscretion (that's a nice euphemism!) but I acknowledge them. I don't look for perfection. I look for flawed effort. Sadly, I couldn't find it in others or in myself.

Today I make statements that I'm not certain if I'm christian, atheist, agnostic, deist or what. What am I? I don't know and don't care to label myself. I have a complaint against institutional churches but have no problem with the teachings and example of Jesus. I see the truth in other non-christian religious writings but I have no desire to follow any one way. I feel better about myself today than I ever felt while pastoring.

Church can be oppressive. Many years ago in a moment of frustration at the illogical need to control every thought and breath I made a promise to myself -- If ever I found myself close to a nude beach I would find it and strip down as an act of rebellion and freedom. I fulfilled that promise to myself and enjoyed every moment of it. For me, that was an act of resolution.

After yesterday's post (part 1) I received an email from my daughter questioning taking her sons to church. I have yet to answer her email but my short answer is "Yes, take them but teach them to think critically, to question, to challenge authority, to be bold, to develop their personal beliefs and never accept a packaged set of dogma. Encourage them to be individuals and leaders and to be cautious followers when needed. Take them but don't send them. Teach them to acknowledge truth, to resist propaganda, to be realistic in their expectations, to accept the good and to discard the bad."

Monday, January 14, 2008

My Past - Part I

In a comment Melody wrote: I am intrigued with your past. 20 years pastoring - in what denomination? I want to respond to this request. I'll leave the reasons for my decision to another time perhaps.

Rather than immediately name the denomination, permit me to give the long answer.I can answer the questions 'what' and 'how' but no longer can I answer the question 'why'.

To the best of my knowledge, my mother's family were members of the Holiness church and my father's family occasionally attended a non-denominational community church. One of my earliest pre-school memories and perhaps my earliest memory of church is of being sent to an evening vacation bible school that I did not want to attend. I refused to go in with children my age and demanded, probably with a tantrum, to attend a class of children much older. For some reason I got my way and, a week later, I remember proudly bringing home some cardboard box filled with cutout figures of a biblical scene. During the first 10 years of my life I have no memories of going to church with my parents other than for an uncle's funeral. I'm sure it must have happened but I have no memory of it.

In 1956 a move to a small town put my father in contact with an elderly gentleman who invited my father to his church. I remember him as a man who had influence due to his winning personality. The net result is I and my family became Methodists after a few years.

Between Christmas and New Years 1967, while in college, I attended a convocation on the ministry that was held on the facilities of a youth camp. It was a good and bad experience. Some of us males were housed in rooms next to the medical office that was used during summer youth camps. Some of the young men who had attended summer camps at the facility got into the clinic and found the medical cards of young women they knew. The found it great fun to read the personal information the girls reported about their monthly cycles. This and a few other things left a bad taste in my mouth. I wanted no part of it. Within a month I had dropped out of college (math major) and enlisted in the Army.

During the four years I was in the Army I went to church at most three times. Army chaplains were -- well, let me put it this way, I never met a chaplain I respected. Sometime while in the Army I received a letter stating that I was now a Presbyterian. Due to the ecumenical movement of the 1960's the Methodist and Presbyterian churches in town had merged and aligned with the Presbyterian denomination.

After I got out of the Army I attended the Presbyterian church some. I had a son and daughter and perhaps that was the motivating force. By this time a group of Baptists had rented the old Methodist building and I attended one Sunday evening just to see the building and reminisce. Long story short, I became a Baptist and decided to finish two years of college at a church-related school in Kentucky. About two or three months after enrolling I began pastoring. After finishing college I enrolled in The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Lousville, KY. There's the denomination: Southern Baptist.

College was a breeze for me. Seminary was not. Many people think of seminary as prayer meetings and bible studies. That was not the case at Southern. It was highly academic and challenging. The work load was almost unreasonable. Somehow I survived the three years on four hours sleep per night. During this time I was commuting 80 miles one way, had a family, was pastoring and did occasional work on the side to keep food on the table.

Within a few months after finishing seminary I was offered a job at a church related college which I took. Within less than a year I had accepted another pastorate and basically had two full time positions -- the church and the college. After some years I left this church and took another church before walking away from it all. Since then I've attended church only when required -- weddings, funerals and other family obligations.

I said at the beginning I can no longer answer the question 'why' -- why did I begin pastoring. However, I can answer why I walked away. Four things influenced my decision: I worked at a Baptist college, I attended a Baptist church, I read the state Baptist newspaper and I was married. Those need explanation. I'll save the explanation for tomorrow.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

A Rosy Future

I’ve been doing some utopian reading.
Propane is a by-product of natural gas production. Although 30,000 gas wells were drilled in the United States last year, domestic production has fallen since 2003. The question of how best to heat buildings is destined to be a big topic in decades ahead. Those towering skyscrapers in big cities? The truth is that no one has any idea how they will be heated in 2050. – Home Power magazine # 123, February/March 2008
It’s unlikely I’ll live to be 104 so, in all probability, I won’t be alive in 2050. That’s a disappointment. I’d like to know what happens. Not how skyscrapers are heated but how we humans adapt to the inevitable changes.

An article in another magazine summarized estimates of remaining reserves of oil, natural gas and coal at current consumption rates. My memory of the article is 41 years of oil, 63 years of natural gas and 147 years of coal. Probably as oil becomes scarce we’ll turn to natural gas and coal in an attempt to keep business going as usual so those reserves will be depleted more quickly. Then there’s nuclear. Somewhere I read that it’s estimated there are about 60 years of uranium available. I don’t know if that’s correct but there has to be some limit since we live in a finite world.

Forty-one years of oil? Obviously – I assume it’s obvious – things will change several years before the projected end of the oil supply. Prices will increase as the supply declines and will set off a chain reaction of social events. New technology designed to solve problems created by old technology will be marketed as providing a better future and will create new problems. With a little luck I’ll live to see some of these changes.

To be honest, I don’t have much hope for all of mankind. Our collective actions haven’t given me reason for hope but I’m not negative about the future. There are some good things to the end of oil. Without oil the US won’t have an easy means to invade other countries – nor the motivation to invade them to take their oil. That’s a positive. Without oil people will have to walk more. That will have a positive health benefit. Walking can contribute to a reduction in the number of obese individuals. Without the pollution of millions of autos the air will be cleaner contributing to more positive health benefits. Without oil families won’t be able to own several cars and scatter at any whim. Parents and children may be forced to spend more time together and family life may be strengthened.

As I think about it I see a rosy future for a portion of mankind. Without the ability to commute in one occupant vehicles, towns and cities will change. We many go back to communities where schools, stores, services and parks are within walking distance. We may get to know our neighbors as we pass them while walking. Mass transit may increase but once again we’ll wait for the train or bus with our neighbor and have the opportunity to engage him or her and create a sense of community.

I like this future!

I tend to think this is part of nature’s way. In our evolutionary past some groups of hominids adapted, survived and flourished. Others couldn’t adapt – or didn’t – and the groups died. Just as the bones of Napoleon’s armies and enemies were collected from European battlefields, transported and ground up to become fertilizer for the fields of England so some of us will become nutrients for nature’s next garden of Eden.

Yes, I turn a deaf ear to poetic doomsday stories of the extreme environmentalists and to the soulless frankenstinian lyrics sung by corporate R&D. I accept the beauty and artistry of Nature as she rakes the ground clean of litter, takes hoe and begins a new rose garden.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Blackened Dots

It began in high school with an irrational irritation. I would take personality tests that required me to blacken in circles that represented my choice or answer. Why did it irritate me?

In graduate school I was required to take the Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory (MMPI). The 600+ questions provided more irritation and self-questioning as to the source of my irritation. Actually, some of the true/false questions were entertaining: “I like tall women.” How to answer that? I don’t dislike tall women so selecting false is out of the question; the only choice left is true. But, what does that mean? I like tall women to the exclusion or better than short women? I watched for a question that asked if I like short women -- which I would have answered true also -- but the question wasn't there.

I finally discovered why these tests irritated me. I reject the assertion that a person can be reduced to set of blackened circles that can be read by a machine. The sheet of blackened dots seems to strip a person of humanity, hopes, dreams, memories and passion.

Once I realized the source of the irritation it ended. Now, I take these tests with a grain of salt and with a view to learning and entertainment.

Recently I discovered a teaser test and blackened my dots. Here are the results.

I took the tests multiple times with different questions and got different results. I became Abraham Lincoln and Albert Einstein. In the movies I was Indiana Jones ("You live for adventure, fortune-hunting and danger.") and "Apocalypse Now" ("You are a rogue wanderer on the winding river of life, searching after your shadow self.")

Julie took the tests, saw her results where were radically different from mine and jokingly asked "How compatible are we?" As I've tried to tell her for some time, we're beauty and the beast.

On that note, with number 2 pencil in hand, I'll wander off in search of my humanity, hopes, dreams, memories and passion -- and scatter a few blackened dots along the way.

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Construction Update

Good news!

Propane was delivered day before yesterday. I calculated the average quantity used per day since the tank was last filled in October and compared it to the average for the same period last year. The unfinished addition (aka solar room or attached greenhouse) has reduced our propane consumption by a little over 50%.

The approximate inside dimensions of the room are 11 by 30 feet. The entire south wall (30 feet) is double pane glass. At present 14 barrels containing 770 gallons of water are being used for heat storage.

Just before Christmas we did last minute checks on insulation and air leaks and then hung drywall. The ceiling has not been installed but insulation and vapor barrier are in place. We have 7,600 pounds of flagstone on site which will be used for the floor. The opening for a door between the addition and the house is planned but not in place. Much work remains but some of the benefits are being realized.

Before our Christmas trip I configured the weather station to collect data every two hours. The following graph shows outside air temperature and inside air temperature for the period December 19 through January 1.

Inside and outside temperatures December 19 through January 1. (Larger version)

The minimum temperatures were 58.7 inside and 5.9 degrees outside. The maximum temperatures were 96.6 and 53.4. The heat was provided by the sun. There were no additional heat sources.

I’m pleased with the results thus far!

Sunday, January 06, 2008


The wind is blowing. For three days it has shaken and rattled any and everything not secured. The ground around the fence posts has been scoured clean of all loose particles and still it continues to blow. A broken shingle from the roof lies in the grass near the north fence. It’s only protection from the wind are the bent grasses that cling to it. Something as yet unidentified makes a low moan as the wind rolls over it but it is the wind generator that gives the alarm. Repeatedly in the middle of the night the blades flex and flutter in the wind until strong gusts trigger the brake but not before they elicit loud shrieks that wake us from sleep.

This morning in the weak grey light below dark clouds I saw something white where there should have been only the reddish browns of the soil and the yellowish browns of the sparse grass. Getting closer I recognized the wind cups from the weather vane that had been installed temporarily without lock-tight on the set screw. The wind’s variable gusts had jarred and shaken it until it the screw backed up and the wind claimed it as another prize.

The wind pushes low thick dark clouds across the sky, clouds that are loaded with rain and snow. The mottled white, grey and bluish-black blanket hides sun and satellites, crippling cell and TV reception and ending Internet access.

But, the wind has a multitude of gifts. The empty chaff of birdseed below the feeders is gone and the fresh seed shines like an avian banquet. The batteries have been denied the energy of sunlight but are being charged with wind power. The flagstones of the walk have been swept and accumulated dust has been shaken from the trees. All good things but he best is the time of rest. Wind and wind-chill stop work and drive us inside. Yesterday was a lazy day of reading, dosing, organizing and light indoor work. Today the wind suggested a trip to town, a movie and a dinner followed by coffee and browsing the magazines at a bookstore.

In a few moments I’ll turn off the lights, pull the covers under my chin, listen to the gusty music outside my window and feel a sense of gratitude for the wind.

Friday, January 04, 2008

The Reception

I was raised to equate fun and pleasure with evil and wrong. My maternal grandfather (that’s a curious mating of words which creates a gender confused phrase!) was a holy roller – a member of the Holiness Church. Dancing, drinking, movies and anything other than gospel music were sinful. Sex wasn’t evil because it didn’t exist. Don’t talk about it and it vanishes. Hair was twisted into a bun, jewelry was rejected and breasts were hidden.

These were strong lessons that I and my Mexican friends failed to learn.

The wedding reception wasn’t a rejection of fun and pleasure but was a real celebration.

After the wedding we walked the few blocks to the field beside the home of the groom’s parents. It was immediately obvious the crowd exceeded the preparations. The table from the family kitchen was brought out and other tables materialized. Five hundred people were there and more were coming!

Three days earlier a coarse concrete slab has been poured as a dance floor and a huge sound system was humming with anticipation. The Mariachi band was performing. Their music wasn’t the uplifting and moving music from the church. It was music that demanded enthusiastic attention.

We have wedding traditions that every one expects – the newlyweds feeding one another a piece of cake, the throwing of the bouquet and garter. I wondered if these were customs in Mexico and what other customs they may have.

The sound of voices and clapping announced Trista and Alejandro. He carried her through the gate to the table reserved for them. Before long they were up front with the Mariachi. A sombrero was placed on Alejandro and a microphone was held before him. I don’t know what he sung but it was bad. Even I could tell he was off. The Mariachi pulled the microphone back, sung several words and held the microphone for Alejandro and he did better. Before the song was over he was doing excellent!

Alejandro sings to the amusement of Trista. (Larger version)

The first dance must be a custom. Women gathered in a circle around the couple, joined hands and the music and dance began. When the dance finished the women dropped hands and clapped. Then it became a free for all. A distinguished gentleman wearing a unique straw hat moved quickly to be one of the first to dance with the bride and women took turns dancing with the groom. As the gentleman with the straw hat left the dance floor he was smiling broadly and motioned for me to join the fun and celebration by taking a turn.

In all weddings I’ve been to in the US a table is provided for gifts brought by friends. Not so at this wedding. A line of women formed before the table where the couple was seated. One by one each person gave a gift to them and wished them well.

By this time the dance floor was in continuous use. The dancing went on for hours but more about that in a minute.

The first piece of cake was different. Rather than cutting a piece and sharing it the bride leaned over and took a bite from the entire cake. Some things are universal. They are just human nature. As the groom leaned over his sister rushed passed me and shoved his face into the cake to the amusement and laughter of everyone. One thing that I enjoyed immensely was the children. They were every where but somehow knew when the cake was being cut. Lines of children formed and they were served first. There’s just something good, wholesome and right about that.

The next custom – I assume it’s a custom – was different. I don’t know if it has a name but I’ll call it the role reversal dance. I noticed the bride pick up a man’s hat, put in on and walk toward the dance floor. I wondered “what the heck?” By the time she got to the floor she had a bottle of beer, a cigarette and a belt. On the dance floor was the groom wearing an apron while holding a broom. The dance and the laughter began. As the music continued someone took the bottle of beer from the bride and gave her a bottle of rum. A young boy was given to the groom and the three of them danced to the music and the flash of cameras.

The role reversal dance. (Larger version)

The bouquet was thrown and the groom’s tie. There was no garter which was fine with me. I’ve taken part in it but never liked that custom.

The wedding was at 6:30 and by now it was about 11:00 and the crowd was as large as ever. I looked about and watched people. Children were playing in the shadows. Outside the fence was the bachelor herd – men on the fringe drinking, feeling good, talking and watching the festivities but not taking part. The American friends were fairly subdued as if out of their element. Julie was partied out. By nine each night she’s fluffing her pillows and on this night we didn’t know where we would be staying. But, the music and fun wasn’t over yet.

The bride and groom stood on chairs about ten feet apart and held a piece of cloth between them. A small group stood around each of them to protect them. A dance line of women formed and the line moved between the couple and under the cloth. With music blaring the line threaded through the crowd, between the tables and back toward the couple where the women tried to knock the groom off his chair. As they passed him they would throw a hip into the friends supporting him.

The dance line assaults the groom. (Larger version)

The music ended and a line of men formed. More friends joined the small groups protecting the bride and groom. Men are men, men are optimistic, concrete is soft. The male dance didn’t last long. To their credit they went after the groom and not the bride. Alejandro, his friends and the chair were swept off the dance floor.

This was followed almost immediately by a funeral dirge. Several men picked up the groom and carried him through the crowd as if carrying a corpse. Upon returning to the concrete dance floor they began to toss him into the air higher and higher.

One custom I has heard about is pinning of money on the groom. People would take bills and pin them to his coat as he visited with them.

Pinning money on the groom. (Larger version)

The music was loud. It had been loud and continuous all night. Most of the music was in Spanish but not all of it. “I’m Too Sexy” was in English but would have been recognizable in Spanish. About midnight a tight circle formed around the floor. In the middle of the circle was a pole. On the far side of the circle were some trees and a few boys had climbed the trees so they could see over the crowd. There was much laughter, pushing and shoving. Some of those pushed into the circle retreated quickly. Everyone waited for the bold ones. A young woman, a voluptuous young woman, a talented young woman, stepped out and danced. When she returned to the circle the music continued and another and then another person danced. They were young and old, male and female, talented and untalented but all were having a good time. Julie watched and had only one comment: “It’s just wrong to see your grandmother pole dance.”

Dancing around the pole. (Larger version)

Sometime after 1:00 AM we began preparations to leave even though a large crowd remained and the dancing continued. The music was the kind that is felt rather than heard. One song transitioned into another without a moment of silence. I watched the dancers with interest -- teenage girls dancing together, a father and his young daughter, couples who were good and couples who were excellent. One man fascinated me. He was at least my age and probably older. I could never figure out who he was dancing with but he was dancing tirelessly. Five minutes, 10 minutes, then 20. After half an hour he was still dancing without taking a break and without showing signs of fatigue. He seemed to dance effortlessly.

I enjoyed myself immensely. By the end of the night I knew one thing for certain. I’m a Mexican trapped in an American body. I want out!

(Leon, a brother-in-law, has published 455 photos of the wedding and reception.)

Thursday, January 03, 2008

The Wedding

I heard something about a car accident and began listening more intently. We had just arrived in Tepetzingo at the home of the groom's family to help with last minute preparations. The bride had taken a taxi to Cuernavaca, about 30 minutes away, and was injured in an accident. Details were sketchy but it didn't sound too serious. We were given instructions quickly and the parents of the bride and my sister Gale, who is a nurse, left to return to Cuernavaca.

Preparing for the reception. (Larger version)

We helped with decorations for the reception before walking to the church to wrap pots of Poinsettias with tissue paper and ribbons. On the way we stopped by a store for something to drink and eat. Tepetzingo is small, so small that there are no traffic lights in town, which means it's a community where people know one another. The owner of the store said something in Spanish and we recognized the name "Trista". "Yes", I responded, "we're here for the wedding." I never met anyone in Mexico who is as tall as I am. Given my height and white beard it was impossible not to stand out. He knew I must be related to Trista. In Tepetzingo wedding invitations aren't mailed. They are hand delivered to each home so he know Trista and the upcoming wedding.

Friends arrive from the United States. (Larger version)

The church in which the wedding was to be held is one of three churches. The oldest church is a small stone building with only five benches. When the town outgrew the church a wall and platform were built in front of the original church. A corrugated metal roof supported by metal poles was erected and extends from the altar area and is perpendicular to the original church, blocking the view of the building. There are no walls to enclose the building. Sometime within the last 20 years a third and larger church was added to the east side of the original building. Like the second church it is a metal roof without a wall on the south side. To prevent excessive sun, shade cloth hangs from the end of the roof.

The second church that sits perpendicular to the smallest and largest churches. (Larger version)

I pastored for about 20 years and was always frustrated by the money wasted to build huge buildings with stained glass, marble baptisteries and air conditioning -- buildings that are used to capacity perhaps one hour per week on a few Sundays. It's an interesting choice -- expend money for a building to provide momentary comfort for a few people or use the same money for people who are truly suffering. I prefer the choice made by the people in Tepetzingo. People are more important than buildings.

Back to the wedding!

After finishing preparations at the church we were resting when the man who cares for the grounds climbed steps on the outside of the old stone building and called to Julie. He motioned for us to follow. On the domed roof he rang one of the two bells with a fast clanging noise designed to get attention. Then he stopped, put his hand on the bell to quiet it and struck it once to make a clear distinct sound. I wondered if it was some commonly understood code. It was about one hour before people would begin arriving for the wedding. Was that the meaning of the single ring? After ringing the bell he stood erect, smiled and pointed to the surrounding area to share with us the views.

We returned to the groom’s house and learned the bride was fine -- two stitches on her leg and a bump on her forehead. However, the accident would delay the wedding from 6:00 PM until about 6:30.

The priest arrived and introduced himself. He’s from Tepetzingo but is a missionary in another country and happened to be home for a short period. I liked him immediately. He spoke English quite well and was friendly.

I was surprised by the Mariachi band at the wedding. I expected them at the reception but not the wedding. They took seats at the front facing perpendicular to the altar. When the service began they started singing with beautiful voices. Periodically during they service they played and sang. Later I learned it is common for Mariachis to take part in services.

Starting down the aisle. (Larger version)

The atmosphere of the wedding was relaxed. There was little of the stiff formality found in most of the weddings I’ve attended. I was amused by the young boy who was standing behind the couple as they exchanged vows. He was quietly meandering around drinking a yogurt.

I never kept track of the number of weddings I performed. There is only one that stands out strongly in my memory. It's unique because the couple had two friends with them. There was only five of us in the church. No flowers, no music, no attention to wedding etiquette -- who sits where, when is the mother of the bride seated, etc, etc. It's memorable because of the genuine sincerity, emotion and happiness of the couple and their friends. I no longer remember their names but I remember that feeling of genuineness.

This wedding will be memorable also and for the same reason.

The newlyweds and parents. (Larger version)

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

Just the Two of Us

Something happened in Mexico that hadn't happened since 1967. I got to spend some time alone with my older sister. I went into the Army in January of 1968 and our lives took different directions. We've seen one another infrequently in the years since.

One afternoon in Mexico we worked together on favors for the wedding reception and then walked to a restaurant for lunch. I enjoyed that time with her.

At the wedding reception. Left to right: Me, Gale and Jean. (Larger version)

She's about two years younger than me so I can't remember a time without her. I have several memories from the time when we were young. Most are good and a few are bad. I must admit I was the villan in the bad memories.

Jean and I before Gale was born. This photo was taken on an Easter morning. (Larger version)

I call her Jean but that's not her name. I was surprised when I was about five years old to learn her name. I asked my Mother why we called her Jean and learned that I couldn't pronounce her name when she was born and distorted it into Jean. The name stuck and the entire family began calling her by that name.

Left to right: Me, Gale, Jean and Kay, a cousin. (Larger version)

I jokingly referred to her as The High Maintenance Sister in a previous post but I could have called her The Success. She finished college years before me, authored a Spanish textbook, changed careers to a field in which I would be a dismal failure and has managed her money in such a way to make me look like a pauper.

I'm glad just the two of us got to spend time together and that life gave us the opportunity to reconnect. I hope we can arrange more times together. I would enjoy that.

Christmas morning 1956. (Larger version)