End of March home improvement project/update

Feeling much better, drama has only increased around here, some day I may post about it. For now, finished the little towers up near the front door. Installed brackets for a handrail:

When I went out to build the smaller tower, I waited until some rain had blown through and the forecast was dry. This meant, of course, that as soon as I had mixed up a batch of mortar, it started pouring. I tried to quickly work, always thinking the rain would blow through. Didn’t happen. Instead, my mortar gradually got more and more soupy.

Sadly, the little brick tower came out kind of wavy. I thought for a moment to tear it down and start over, but then I thought wasn’t I shooting for funky? So I left it. Now it’s got a rebar reinforced concrete core, so it’s not going anywhere.

Was ready to install the handrail this morning, but discovered a few little spots in the epoxy enamel spray paint, and foolishly tried to touch them up. Turns out you can only add to this kind of paint within 1/2 hour or after seven days.

So, I’ve got an appointment next weekend sanding and repainting the rail. Looks real real ugly.

Decided to drown my sorrows in some homemade mushroom gyoza.

Whip up a little chicken curry and garlic naan, and dinner should be comforting.

I am feeling much better, and will try to get back to those philosophy screeds and reviews of obscure books that seem to be the bread-and-butter of this blog. Until then, have a nice Sunday.

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Brief Update:

My sister Catherine died last Saturday after a long battle with cancer. She was 69. She leaves behind a husband and two daughters. Prayers would be appreciated, both for the repose of her soul and for the well-being of her family, who of course are devastated. All four of my sisters have had cancer, three have died from it.

I’ll get back to posting here soon, as the political clown parade has reached epic levels of late. For now, I think I’m going to do a little more home improvement brick laying therapy.

See you here soon, same bat time, etc.

Bricks! The Eternal Insane Project Update

Now for something a little different: Bricks! Had to check – it’s been 6 months since I’ve gotten around to the Eternal Brick Project. When we last left our intrepid, in the sense of insane, project as of October 1, 2018, the section of the wall out front that I’d been working on looked like this:

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Now, since I’ve been feeling better, the days are longer and the rain let up, we’re here:

The subtle difference is the bricks capping the little wall, and the invisible but essential cementing in of the upright spikes with construction epoxy. The wrought-iron style fencing is now a permanent feature. A friend with welding equipment is going to come by and drop a little weld on the through spikes, which are afixed to the bricks but loose in the cross pieces.
All that’s left is the caps on the towers. Then build a duplicate wall from the end to near the telephone pole visible in the background, leaving a gap for access to the water meter. (Lame, but best I could do.) Project for this summer.

Also, as of June 3, 2017 – 21 month ago! – the front walk portion the Insane Project looked like this, featuring a little break-you-ankle-if-not-your-leg clifflet on the left:

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Got a little work in on this as well:

Upon the 75% complete little tower above will be perched a mailbox and mounted a handrail. Behind it, up against the house, will be a much more narrow tower to hold the other end of the handrail.

Over the years I’ve collected a number of funky bricks, as in weird sizes and colors and banged up in interesting ways. They appear to be quite old. Why not deploy them in this tower, I asks myself, I does:

Odd-shaped tower out of odd-ball bricks. I kind of like it!

If I do more than 2-3 hours of this sort of work at a stretch, seems I need most of the next day to recover. But at least I recover! Got to build up some stamina, since I’ve hardly done anything for almost a year.

Moral Law: RCIA Introduction

I was charged this week to give the opening statement, as it were, to the Church’s moral teaching in the RCIA class I’m part of. Here’s the outline I used – considering the intended audience, what do you think?

Visible and Invisible

I believe in one God,
the Father almighty,
maker of heaven and earth,
of all things visible and invisible.

Nicene Creed

The moral law is one of God’s invisible creations. Like all of His creations, the moral law is created from God’s love and desire that we be happy.

Love and Mercy

In all things, we are called first to love one another and be merciful.

A Great Crowd of Witnesses

The moral law is not something given to us by a guy with a funny hat in Rome. It is attested to by millions and millions of saints, great and small, known and unknown, who give witness to its truth and beauty by their lives.

“Chronological Snobbery”

We are not 500 or 1,000 or 2,000 years smarter than the people that lived 500, 1,000 or 2,000 years ago. The moral law does not change. Be careful of arguments that assume we are more advanced and therefore have grown beyond the limited morality of the past.

Conscience vs Conformity

It is easy to believe your response to moral challenges come from your conscience, when it far more likely that they come from a desire to fit in, or merely are attitudes and beliefs you’ve absorbed from those around you without thinking. Beware of going with the moral flow of our times.

Humility and Obedience

Humility and obedience are today so unpopular that it’s unlikely you will hear much talk about them at all. Yet, without humility there is no place for Jesus in our lives. Conscious, humble, loving obedience to proper authority, such as the Church’s authority to teach us about morality is one important way we die to ourselves to live in Christ.

St. Joseph Iconography

Happy, Holy and Blessed Feast of St. Joseph! Moving on from the celebration of some minor saint who is patron of some island somewhere, we reach today the feast of St. Joseph, Most Chaste Spouse of the Blessed Virgin, Terror of Demons and PATRON OF THE UNIVERSAL CHURCH. You know, this guy:

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This Bulgarian icon wonderfully expresses the tenderness and affection of St. Joseph for his family, and they for him. Joseph holds Mary and Jesus and lays his cheek on her head, showing both his love for her and her Child, his foster Son. Joseph’s attention is entirely on her. Mary leans into Joseph, who has the God-given role of protector and provider for her and Jesus, but her gaze is fixed on her Son. Jesus, nestled in her lap and embraced by the strong arm of the carpenter, turns his gaze to us, and blesses us.

As in all great icons, there is a world of theology behind these simple images and gestures. In today’s Gospel reading from Matthew 1:20-21, an angel gives Joseph instructions:

“Joseph, son of David,
do not be afraid to take Mary your wife into your home.
For it is through the Holy Spirit
that this child has been conceived in her.
She will bear a son and you are to name him Jesus,
because he will save his people from their sins.”
When Joseph awoke,
he did as the angel of the Lord had commanded him
and took his wife into his home. (1)

The angel addresses Joseph as “son of David,” showing that Joseph himself is of the royal blood of the great king. He is instructed to take Mary into his home as his wife, bringing her and her Son under the jurisdiction and protection, as it were, of the King. Note the gold cloak Joseph wears – the color of kings.

Joseph has traditionally been honored as a most humble and obedient servant of God.His blue tunic, just peaking through, is the color of the sky, traditionally seen as all-encompassing, nurturing, feminine and passive in the sense of accepting. So Joseph’s cloths tell us he is a king, but not the Great King. His is to accept obedience to a higher authority, as he does without comment or hesitation when God’s angel gives him instructions.

His eyes are on Mary. All the saints are secondary causes used by God to effect our salvation; the first and greatest saint is Mary. Thus, in the economy of salvations, Joseph turns his attention to Mary, who, through her fiat, brought Christ into Joseph’s life, and into our lives. This is the mystery of the Body of Christ, in which each of us has a role and finds salvation through being a channel of the grace of Christ’s saving sacrifice to each other. No one is saved alone. Each receives God’s grace from the hands of others.

Mary of course has her eyes on Jesus, while acknowledging Joseph by the simple act of leaning on him. She and her Son in fact leaned on Joseph, who provided for and protected them the rest of his life, in response to God’s will.

Mary wears red, a color of power, as in fire, and life, as in blood. When she is depicted alone, she is usually shown in dark blue or black – colors of the night sky, of mystery, of feminine potency. Here, in her home with her family, her ‘true colors’ as it were are allowed to show. Alone, she is often depicted with some red or gold tunic peeking out from under the dark blue or black cloak:

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Seven Sorrows of Mary. Note the royal gold trim and jewels, and the stars on her blue cloak.

Alone, we are invited to think of Mary in her humility, with just a little reminder of her power and glory. Even in the first icon, showing her with her family, she has some blue tunic showing. Her glory and queenship rest upon her humility.

Finally, Christ, seated on Mary’s lap as on a throne and supported and protected by Joseph’s arm, turns His eyes on us, and blesses us. He comes to us not as a bolt from heaven, nor in private revelation, but in the simple, human son of real human parents. He is able to bless us, to be with us and to save us, because two humble people said ‘yes’ when asked to die to themselves and live only for God. While God needs nothing, He chose to glorify Mary and Joseph by giving them a key role in His act of salvation. He Who needs nothing allowed them to support and sustain Him, and through them He saved the world. We are to imitate Mary and Joseph, say ‘yes’ to God’s commands, and be given our salvation through becoming channels of God’s grace to others.

The Child wears gold for kingship (a stronger gold than Joseph’s) and white for purity.

Back to Joseph, here a some other traditional-style icons:

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From Orthodox Christianity

The first two images above have all the traditional elements: Joseph in a black or midnight blue tunic with a gold cloak, holding Jesus with both arms, eyes locked on the Child. Jesus, thus sustained and protected, holding onto Joseph’s hand, looks out at us.

The last two images, of the angel appearing to St. Joseph in a dream, also have Joseph in blue, but with a red cloak in the first and a brownish cloak with just a hint of gold in the second, lying in what might be a red hammock or blanket. In both the angel is dressed as a royal messenger.

There’s a lot more to traditional representations of St. Joseph, how he became portrayed as an old man with a flowering staff (medieval embellishments) sitting flabbergasted on the edge of the Nativity scene (nod to the mystery plays, or maybe the other way around) – but that will have to wait until next year.

  1. This calls to mind a story I once heard from a woman who did prison ministry. She’s trying to explain the perpetual virginity of Mary to a bunch of scary looking dudes who aren’t buying that Joseph kept his hands off Mary all those years, until one very large and scary dude opined that it made sense to him: “Who’s going to touch God’s Baby’s Mamma?”

Reality Bites

Another autobiographical bit you probably should skip.

I am the 7th of 9 children of a mother who lived 87 years and was sharp as a tack until the day she died, and a father who lived 88 years, the last decade or so in slow decline into dementia. She had knee replacement surgery, but otherwise generally avoided the medical community. He retired young, after a massive heart attack almost killed him at 59. Fortunately, his little sheet metal company had done well enough that he could comfortably retire at 60. His standard 12-14 hour work days, 6 days a week for 15 years, had a lot to do with both his success and his heart attack. He spent much of the next 37 years catching up on the sleep he missed, although he remained a farm boy workaholic until he could no longer take care of himself.

We kids are not faring as well.

Both my parents had arthritis. Mom’s hands and knees hurt; dad once had an X-ray due to some back pain, and he turned out to be one of those people who have serious arthritis yet don’t experience much pain, and he was just the sort of old-school tough guy who wasn’t going to say anything unless the pain was killing him. His spine was riddled with arthritic growths.

We kids evidently inherited a genetic disposition to arthritis. Several of us have been tested, and came out positive. This has turned out to be a bad thing, much worse than it was for either parent, fatal, even:

Oldest sister: died of cancer at age 73. Cancer is a side effect, if you can call it that, of the immunosuppressants one takes for rheumatoid arthritis. Suppress the immune system because rheumatoid arthritis is an immune disorder, and if you don’t suppress it, you get to lie around in agony until you die. She had been houseridden for almost 30 years when she died; even with the drugs she could barely move and was in a lot of pain. She had a Master’s in Chemistry and a J.D., but the progress of the disease made it impossible for her to pass the bar. Permanently disabled by age 47.

Next sister died of cancer at age 46. Not sure if arthritis had anything to do with it.

Oldest brother, now in his early 70s, was permanently disabled in his early 50s, and has been in generally poor health for years. Arthritis.

Next oldest brother has somehow dodged the bullet so far.

Next sister is in hospice now. Cancer. She had a different form of arthritic condition, but was also on immunosuppressants.

Next sister recently lost an eye to cancer. Not sure if arthritis is involved, but I’d almost be surprised if it isn’t. Weirdly, one’s eyes often get affected, and there’s the cancer stuff.

Then there’s me. So far so good – just a little arthritis in my knees, not surprising for a fat 61 year old guy who played a lot of basketball.

Older little brother has been on permanent disability since before age 50. Arthritis.

Youngest brother first came down with Reiter’s Syndrome – a form of arthritis – around age 20. He got a full-ride basketball scholarship, but then was unable to play starting in his sophomore year. Mostly it’s in remission, but he has lost a job due to a flare-up, and had other problems as well. Still working at age 55, making him one of only 5 of us to pull that off.

So here I am, remarkably healthy in context. Even though I’m coming off a couple years of being constantly exhausted and sick – I’m doing much better now, some of it was probably depression-related – I’m having a bit of survivor’s guilt. lf things continue as they have, I might just outlive all my siblings. This was not on my bucket list.

Also, I worry about our kids – are they going to have problems? So far, so good, but they’re all still young – oldest daughter is just 25, youngest son just turned 15. Wife’s side of the gene pool seems clean of serious arthritis. I don’t know how the inheritance works – do you need genes from both sides? I’m thinking there must be all sorts of complicated interactions, as nothing this extreme happened to either of my parents. Lots is suspected but little is known about the vast family of arthritic/immune disorders, less about their genetic roots. For example, many people with the known genes don’t get any diseases, some without them do, and in one case – people with AIDS – having the genetic markers corresponds to *lower* incidents of some varieties.

The funny part is I never even thought about this until maybe 15 years ago, when tests revealed both my little brothers have the same genetic disposition to arthritis. Two older sisters were in the same boat. The rest of us, I don’t know, but it doesn’t look good.

Anyway, life is still good for me. I have a wife and kids to love, and they all love me back, so, whatever happens, I’ve had a really good run, no complaints. I just feel terrible about my siblings.

Science! Your Tax Dollars at Work

Few, I imagine, are bugged by this, and I maybe the only one to strenuously object:

A recurring and dishonest trait of science popularizations and populizers is their utter disregard of science. Here, we have a little PBS documentary where more and less supported speculation about things that happened many millions of years ago are presented as simple facts, over an over and over again.

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Waterson is a god.

It’s good to remember that what we actually have is a good pile of fossilized bones that are very reasonably thought to be many millions of years old. Even this conclusion – that what we have are the bones and imprints of animals and plants that lived in the distant past – is, while very reasonable and something I’m fairly well convinced is true, is yet built on a foundation of a whole bunch of assumptions. These assumptions – for example, that we can tell how old something is by the geological layer we find it in, that we have the right dates for those layers, that fossils don’t get jumbled around – seem good, and I have no reason to challenge them, but they remain assumptions. They could be wrong.

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In other words, I’m not getting too exercised if a narrator says simply: these fossils are about 100,000,000 years old. While it would be nice to see the case for believing this is so made explicitly once in a while, it’s not an outrageous overreach.

Where it starts getting a little less certain is when it is simply stated that, say, dinosaurs dominated a particular environment. Really? We know that giant cephalopods, who left no skeletal remains because they thoughtlessly neglected to have skeletons, didn’t lurk in the shallow seas and eat dinosaurs for lunch? This only sounds crazy, until you realize that any number of even crazier sounding things have proven to be true. Plate tectonics, say, or the motions of the seemingly motionless earth. Sea giants live on krill and ants kill and eat pythons and cattle in this world! Venus flytraps eat tree frogs!

I’d bet, if there were any way to collect on such a bet, that speculations about the environments in which various dinosaurs lived over the many millions of years are seriously off about half the time. Some creature that left no traces might be the prime food source for, say, triceratops, who used their thagomizers primarily to rip it loose from the rocks it grew on to eat it. Or, far from being minor players, the primitive rodent-like creatures were causing the extinction of many larger animals because they gnawed through the shells of their eggs, or, even better, pushed eggs out onto rocks to break them. Maybe worms infested the nests of pterosaurs are killed them off, or the giant plant eaters lived on particularly chewy jellyfish. Who knows, but nature being nature, there was bound to be some weird stuff like this over the course of a couple hundred million years.

Sometimes we have entire fossilized skeletons, sometimes even the imprint of skin and feathers, and traces of pigment are recovered. Even DNA shows up, sometimes. Mostly, though, we have a few scraps of bone reassembled through hunches and presumed parallels with better known creatures. We look at teeth, and speculate that those that look like more modern teeth belonged to creatures that ate the same sorts of things that those modern animals eat. Well? Seems reasonable. Should it be stated as a fact, especially given that there no reason to imagine we have anything like a complete catalogue of what was available to eat in any particular environment?

These may seem like quibbles, but taken all together, we, the viewer, are given the impression scientists are a lot more certain about a lot more things than they ever could be certain about. We KNOW how the dinosaurs lived! We KNOW what killed them off! We, your scientific betters, have filled in all the blanks, answered the questions, provided the proper understanding. All that’s left for you little people is to get in line and parrot what we tell you. You’ve all had 12-16 years of schooling to prepare you to do exactly that!

Not so dangerous, possibly, when we’re talking dinosaurs. But it doesn’t stop there.

(Didn’t mean to take a break from posting here, just sort of happened. Stuff happens. I would appreciate it if you might say a prayer for my sister and her family, as she is near death. In less than 7 years, I’ve lost a son and 2 sisters. It has not been an easy time for any of us.)