Minutia and Writing Updates

No excuse for boring you, my loyal readers, with this, but here goes:

A. Trying to keep up the momentum, I’m switching back and forth between 3-4 writing projects. When I get stuck on one, just switch. Don’t even think about, just keep writing, with the goal still being 2 novels and 2 collections of short stories ready to go (to an editor, most likely) by end of June. And that science book. Anyway, what’s in the hopper:

Layman’s Guide to Understanding Science: Right around 10,000 words, on temporary hold. The comments, especially from Dr. Kurland and some of the commentators here, made me think – always dangerous. The question is not so much what science IS – which can be approached, I think, from several valid angles – but rather, in what sense should a layman care what science is. It will do little good to be technical accurate if my imagined reader doesn’t see any point to it. Ya know? So, I’m letting that one stew for now.

Working title “It Will Work” the first 6,000 or so words of which appeared on this blog as a series of flash fiction posts. (CH 1   CH 2   CH 3   CH 4   CH 5   CH 6 CH 7) I couldn’t seem to stop writing this, right up until I could, and it got the second most positive comments of anything I’ve written here, (1) so it seemed primed to become a short novel. It was one of the three novels-in-development in the Novels folder I set up back in January. At about 8,000 words at the moment.

Always told myself I needed to settle on an ending, so I knew where I was going with this – even though the 7 fragments were each tossed off totally seat-of-the-pants. Well, just today I started outlining what the kids these days might call the Boss Battle, the final test of Our Hero – and, it rocks so hard. Want to talk stupid? I was getting choked up telling my wife about it. I wrote it long before the current insanity, but, given the current insanity, it all makes so much more sense. As far as a “things done got blowed up good” by bombardment from space and aliens in power armor scene set on a distant moon of a far-away planet can be said to relate to current events. (answer: quite a bit, really.) Anyway: got the finale & denouement outlined, and am in the middle of the middle section. My only fear, if you can call it that – if I keep the pacing such as it has been so far, I’ll wrap it up in +/-30K words. Don’t want to stretch it simply for the sake of stretching it, but do want at least 40K words – Pulp Era novel length. Not a real problem until it is….

The White-Handled Blade – the Arthurian YA novel set in modern day Wales, the first 25% of which is the novella several generous readers here beta read for me a couple years ago. Currently sits at about 13K words. This one is exciting, but I want to do more reading in Arthurian legends and outline a longer path, as in, a potential series, before maybe writing myself into a corner. The story as it stands now is little more than a free retelling of the Lynette & Lyonesse story as told by Malory, ending right before Gareth makes his untoward advances toward Lyonesse. So, obviously, I would continue along those line BUT I want to introduce more stuff that will let me go in any number of Arthurian directions. I already have several of the important knight (reimagined as middle-aged academics, because I find that amusing), so, in future works, it will be easy to take some side-trips to Scotland or the Orkneys or Cornwall or France. I want to keep Lynnette as the heroine, because I like her, and she was designed from the ground up as someone the reader could relate to: she’s fiercely devoted to her older sister, loves but has trouble communicating with her dad, gets snubbed and bullied at school, can hold a grudge, but never gives up and is as brave as needed to rise to the occasion. And is otherwise a blank slate, so there’s nothing in the way to seeing yourself in her shoes.

So I’m rereading Malory and reading the Mabinogion for ideas. The farther back in time one goes, the crazier the legends become, such that getting a glimpse into Malory’s world – 15th century retelling of much older stories -is a lot easier than getting into the world of the Mabinogion, which are thought to be older still. Even Malory requires a bit of gymnastics to get into the moral mindset of people who seem to kill each other rather gleefully at the drop of a biggin, but not like the Welsh tales. And then there’s the French version…

Speaking of writing something I didn’t set out to write and would have never imagined writing, it seems YA fiction is mostly characterized as follows:

  • no sex
  • no swearing
  • not too much gore

Which, frankly is a pretty fair description of anything I’m likely to write. On the other hand, Hunger Games is about children killing each other for the amusement of the powerful – I’d take a lot of sex and swearing before I’d consider that entertainment…

Anyway, it seems to be common industry knowledge that YA readership includes large numbers of adults who are just sick and tired of all the gratuitous sex and swearing and violence in mainstream stuff. So, from that point of view, pretty much anything (well, except this) I write would qualify, but I have never consciously tried to write YA. I’m putting in plenty of what I hope to be interesting non-childish philosophical and political and moral stuff. So – huh? Anyway, I’ll have to be careful of how I market this stuff. Studying up on that in parallel. Hope to get back to it soon, but it’s It Will Work is on the front burner at the moment.

Longship, the working title of the Novel That Shall Not Be Named (wait! doh!), some sections of which I’ve thrown up here on the blog, is the one that has both been percolating in my mind for a decade or two AND the one I’m having the least success in hammering into a actual novel or 4. On the back burner.

Finally, Black Friday is another bit of flash fiction fluff (well, 1400 words, so not exactly flash fiction…) that seemed ripe to expand, so I’ve been outlining that one, too. Have put in some work on it, but not in the form of adding to the wordcount.

B. This brings me to another consideration: The science and education stuff (remember that education stuff? I seem to have forgotten) I will publish under my own name. However, if I’m hoping to actually make a little money off the SF&F stuff, it would seem prudent to market under a nom de plum. I’m under no illusions that I’m anybody important, but underestimating the pettiness of our self-appoint betters is a fool’s game.

On a related note, I’ve taken a few baby steps towards hardening my superversive presence online, including a Brave/Duckduckgo browsing combo, a protonmail account and staying off Google as much as I can. I want to go :

  • secure VPN
  • secure website hosting

Just want off, as much as possible, the Bidenriech’s surveillance network. A know I guy…

C. The 16 year old Caboose just mentioned that his favorite books include a book on spiritual teachings from the perspective of a demon, a book on politics from the perspective of rabbits, and a post apocalyptical novel about a monastery.

Kids these days. I asked him what about that book about the short dude with hairy feet trying to return some stolen jewelry? He laughed.

D. Slept 8+ hours straight last night, the first time that’s happened in months. Felt very good. Been getting 4 -6 hours most nights since the Crazy Years became manifest – wake up, can’t go back to sleep, get us and try to do something. I could get used to that.

E. Got a few hundred more bricks. The neighbors who I, being a solid California suburbanite, hardly know, have twice now over the last few years of the Great Front Yard Brick Insanity and Orchard Hoedown, have, unbidden, offered me bricks, because I’m the guy with the brickwork. So, dude around the corner had this pile of bricks he wanted gone – 6 1/2 wheelbarrows full. Maybe a short block away.

One Load 3, I think it was, I came off the curb a little too hard and bent the metal wheel supports (it’s a cheap and old wheelbarrow) such that the wheel now rubbed against the underbelly of the tub section. I was able to brut-force them straight enough so that I could limp that load home.

So, had to repair the wheelbarrow. Two bolts that hold the handle arms to the tub section, which I had replaced a few years back with a couple far too long bolts I had lying around, had worked themselves very loose then rusted into their new loose positions. This made the load likely to shift from side to side as you rolled – no biggie with a load of dirt, dangerous and tiring with a load of bricks. But the bolts were carriage bolts, so there was no easy way to grip the head from the top. After a applying a bit of WD-40, tried to grip the excess bolt with plyers while using a crescent wrench to tighten them up. The first nut moved a little before the plyers had shredded the threads on the bolt and would no longer prevent it from turning; the second budged not a whit. Jury-rigged the ugliest solution: took some heavy wire, bent it unto a U shape, then crimped it onto the bolts between the nut and the tub – one on the side I’d gotten a little tighter, and two one the side I’d been unable to move.

And – it kinda works. Reality often fails to suitably rebuke me for my stupid ideas, thereby encouraging me to keep coming up with more of them. It’s going to get me killed someday…

Next, for the bent arms: Cut a scrap of walnut into two maybe 8″ pieces, placed them behind the bent arms, clamped them until the arms were more or less straight and in contack with the wood, then drilled some wholes and put in some tiny screws to hold it all together.

And – that worked, too. Now have a much more stiff structure and a couple inches of clearance between the tub and wheel. See what I mean? If these slapdash ideas keep working, I’m going to keep doing them.

Next step: replace the 16+ year old cheap and falling apart wheelbarrow. Once some stupid repair idea fails to work, that is.

Picturesque old wheelbarrow, with lots of freshly stacked bricks in the background. Those with sharp eyes can perhaps spot the much too long bolts where the handles first encounter the tub, and even the thick wire crimped on them; the gratifyingly straight struts connecting the wheel to the tub. Yes, I took a picture of my wheelbarrow. At night. Just to throw up on the blog. Yep. Really did that.

F. Got the front yard orchard cleaned up, pruned, fertilized, mulched, copper-sprayed, and watered, not in that order. So, that’s done for now. Next, finish the brickwork, paint the house, get it fumigated for termites, replace the dying major appliances, put in this year’s vegetable garden, marry off a son on the East Coast in May, and goodness knows what else. And teach a couple history classes. Shaping up to be a busy Year 63 for me. And write two novels, put together two books of short stories, and write a book on science – in my spare time.

Yes, I am freaking INSANE.

  1. Most positive comments: One Day. Heck, even Mike Flynn liked it enough to comment – I’m still blushing.

On a Lighter Note: UPDATE

Taking Sunday off from worrying over the current state of post-Weimar Germany our fine nation, at least until I go to Mass and am forced to assume the face diaper of compliance in order to not get our parish fined out of existence…. Let’s talk writing! Huzzah!

“I knew it!!”

A. Now have 6 short stories finished, as in: not going to edit any more unless at an editor’s instruction. Three are bleh, 1 is OK, and 2 I really like. The two I like add up to over 20K words – half a pulp novel’s worth. One, The White Handled Blade, a modern-day Arthurian YA type story that a couple of the Loyal Readers critiqued for me a couple years ago (Thanks again!), is almost begging to be the first part of a series of stories featuring Lynnette Redlands, a 15-year old American living in Wales in the heartlands of Arthurian lore with her older sister Ness and their father, who teaches at a nearby university on a fellowship. They discover, in the words of Commander Peter Quincy Taggart: It’s all real. Adventures ensue.

I’ve lavished a lot of care on a bunch of characters who I now love, seems a shame not to have them do more stuff. Write three more of these roughly the same size, and I’d have something I never dreamed I’d write in a million years: a YA novel(ish) starring a teenage girl. Tempting, Hammy, very tempting…. (Yes, I mixing movie references. Sue me.)

The approach: take one or more of the (very weird) Welch Arthurian stories, and reimagine them in a modern world (yea, real original idea) where the Roundtable still exists – as a standing committee at a small Welch college. Heck, the last story could be fighting the daemons of Diversity – fell, indeed – as they attack the College! Cliffhanger!!

The problem, here, is that while I’m a fan of Mallory, and enjoyed White’s Once and Future King a lot, I’m hardly some sort of Arthurian geek. This whole YA-based on Arthurian legend stuff seems to be a well-trod and highly worked field. Do I run a risk of violating some sort of canon? Not losing sleep over that. The comforting, if absurd, though: maybe I could be the Raymond Chandler of the genre? You know, the bored and highly educated Englishman, who, being a great writer and all, took detective pulps and made them into literature? Ya know? Humor me. Of course, he’d read a bunch in that genre first…

The other is a little fairytale called Seed Music, set in the same universe as my generations ship novel but a couple centuries after the colonists arrive at the Systems. I’m using fairytale in roughly the same sense C.S. Lewis used it to describe That Hideous Strength.

They’re both highly superverse, if that even needs saying.

Of the 4 remaining short stories fragments, two are fairly far along. I should finish them up, on principle. Then there are two others little more than Ideas with a couple pages of text attached; then there’s another folder and a list containing maybe a dozen ideas or very rough sketches. Plenty to work on.

B. Novels, on the other hand… Percolating in the back of my mind for 2-3 decades now is not exactly a story, but a world. Within this world, I’ve come up with ideas for a number of stories, 2 of which I’ve even written. BUT the big framing story, the who, what, how, and why of the whole thing, is not coming together for me.

I’ve mentioned rabbit holes and the hard science vs handwavium issue. I would like whatever science I throw out there to be plausible enough to not take the 1% of my potential readers who care about such things out of the story.

Which brings us to rocket science. I would really like it if my generations ship could, via acceleration to near-light speed and the resulting time dilation, get my colonists where they’re going before the people who set out as children are all dead. Because reasons. One can play with calculators that do the math: pick a distance, plug in an acceleration factor, and they will spit back how long the trip will take from both the on-board (dilated) and home planet view, and what your top speed will be.

Nice. The one I was playing with today also spits out how much fuel you’d need to accelerate and decelerate a ship of specified mass – you must flip your ship and fire your drive for as long as it took to get up to full speed in order not to simply fly by your target system. The more massive the ship, the more fuel you’ll need – and mass is going to be almost equal to fuel for any near-light speed ship.

If your trip takes 100 years, you’ll be firing your engines for a good portion of 100 years. At least, that’s the assumption. I’m going to play with it, to see how long at a given acceleration to reach a speed where the time dilation is enough to keep my young characters alive long enough to arrive at their destination as old people. That’s what I’m concerned with.

Then: how much fuel do I need, which almost translates to: how massive is my ship? In hydrogen fusion, about 0.008% of the mass is converted to energy; in an antimatter reaction, it’s 100%. So, we’d need some sort of antimatter creation thingy that can crank out a lot of the stuff – or something else.

I spent hours reading up on this. Creating antimatter, turns out, is almost trivial if you happen to have a nice big accelerator, and are happy with unimaginably tiny amounts that, with the proper application of superconducting magnets, you can hang onto for about 0.17 seconds before it annihilates itself by contact with regular matter. So, how about this – spit-balling here – you start with millions of gallons of nuclear salt water and a set of nuclear reactors. Some small portion of your reactors’ power is used to get your nuclear salt water drive going, but most of it is used to power accelerators and anti-matter rifles, let’s call them. How it works: (very well, than you) is that the accelerators are bombarding something – the walls of the hollowed out asteroid in which all this is located? – thereby creating a bit of antimatter. That antimatter is captured by magnetic fields that fire it (thus, antimatter rifles), in its microseconds of existence, into the combustion chamber of the nuclear salt water drive. You then have an antimatter drive: the nuclear salt water fuel is replaced by (much, much more efficient) antimatter annihilation. The mass of the ship itself is consumed as raw material as it is superheated and flung out, equal but opposite wise , in the matter/antimatter annihilation.

Hey, it’s *something*, as in: not just a bunch of handwavium. There’s a tiny spec of science in there! No, really! makes it all better.

And (almost) nobody will care.

C. Grabbed a military sci-fi series for $0.99 off Amazon, written by one of those 20 Novels to $50K people, just to see what it was like. Very much Dent, Lester Dent style, full of sound and fury, with the protagonist in a world of hurt by about page 3, which is about as far as I’ve gotten. While I do love me some stories where stuff done blowed up good, I also love me some Canticle for Leibowitz style storytelling – slow-paced, but full of character development and table-setting. Can’t we all just get along?

Slightly more seriously, the story starts with Our Hero already in a tough spot, and engaging in playful banter with her crew, and getting out of it by blowing the living heck out of some aliens. Like, by paragraph 3. Then, we have some exposition, some by way of telling us what people are doing, some just flat out ‘here’s how it works’ sections. More banter to establish the heroine as a Tough Broad with a sketchy past, who takes no guff and has trouble with authority. Then, disaster #2 – oh, no! How do we get out of this?

Judging by this very short sample, the writing is perfectly workman-like and functional. Dude can write, in other words. And, if I picked up a book expecting Mil-SF action, I’m getting what I paid for. So, there’s that, and that ain’t nothing. There’s probably a bigger audience for it than there would be for the more – introspective? complicated? amateurish? – stuff I like to write.

Basically, setting the obvious disparity of talent and skill aside, on a conscious level, I want to be a blend of Cordwainer Smith, Heinlein (from his non-dirty-old-man period) and maybe Mike Flynn? Capturing wild ideas, adding some action, but allowing room for some love of history and melancholy to occasionally shine through?

The muse, however, goes where she may, and fights against the goad. I’m probably the worst judge of what I’m actually doing.

Finally, need to make sure I don’t let a day go by where I don’t write something new, in addition to whatever rewrites and research I may fell compelled to do. All this is stuff I should have learned 45 years ago. Better late than never. As a friend pointed out, if I start now, by the time I’m 82, I will have been at it for 20 years!

D. The Caboose, our youngest, is trying in this time of (insert lighter description of our current time than any I can come up with), to reach the rank of Eagle Scout. Since the bulk of normal, healthy activities that might otherwise occupy a Scout’s time are banned or severely circumscribed, he’s working on some cooking activities. His troop, which of course can’t meet in real life, are holding virtual ‘Chopped’ style cooking contests.

While as a contest it doesn’t really work – how are you judging food you can’t taste? – as dinner it is excellent. A couple nights ago, our 16 year old prepared a dinner of pork tenderloin roast on a bed of wild rice covered in a savory cranberry sauce, with creamed spinach on the side.

It was really yummy. The cranberry sauce, for which he sautéed onions and herbs, then added and reduced chicken stock & red wine, then added fresh cranberries, was way good, prefect on the pork. The spinach – well, as son pointed out, any recipe that starts with melting a cube of butter its pretty likely to be good.

As the youngest by quite a bit – 6.5 years – he had older siblings cooking around him while he grew up, which, as sometimes happens, seems to have unconsciously disinclined him to cook himself. Now that his siblings are not around much anymore and he’s a little older, he’s following in their cook/foodie footsteps.

And we get to enjoy it.

Personal Impedimenta, etc.

A. What a great word. Buried in the idea of things that hinder your journey is the idea of stuff you need for that journey, maybe, even, things essential for the purpose of the journey in the first place. Dictionaries consistently give the example of the baggage an army carries. But wouldn’t weapons, say, constitute a large part of that baggage? Weapons both hinder your travels AND allow you to do what you’re traveling to do: wage war. The examples I came across were in Manalive, where Innocent Smith carries a large bag full of items essential to his being Innocent Smith, and in The Metal Monster, where Dr. Goodwin’s scientific equipment are so described.

I seem to have accumulated a lot of impedimenta over the years. I hope it’s of the essential kind. Speaking of which –

Two years ago, several of you were kind enough to do a little beta reading on a couple of my stories, which I do deeply appreciate. For a number of reasons, I set aside almost all fiction writing then. Now, I’m jonesing to get back to it.

Rocky And Bullwinkle Moose And Squirrel GIF ...

In another context, someone (Severian?) was describing the nature of personal change, where one is doomed to failure if one simply tries to muscle through a particular activity – dieting, say, or writing books. Instead, to succeed in loosing weight or writing books, one must, cognitive-therapy style, become the sort of person who weighs an appropriate amount and writes books.

Easier said than done, of course, but at least it’s possible. In the great Catholic tradition of both/and, I will remind myself, as I diet and write, that I’m exactly the sort of guy to weigh around 210 and publish stuff. Do and believe.

And ignore that Bullwinkle never did pull a rabbit out of that hat of his, IIRC.

B. On the Covidiocy front, we’ve reached the point where we are plumbing the depths of the psychological damage done to our rootless, abandoned, manipulated population, children of all ages deprived of all normal human relationships, ‘raised’ by equally damaged parents, taught to worship the abstracted individual and, above all, that their personal worth derives from doing as they are told and saying what they are told to say. The family, village, and church being destroyed or abandoned, and the idea that purpose and satisfaction derive from duties we mostly don’t get to choose having been reduced to incomprehensibility, school becomes an oasis of order – do as you are told, and get a gold star! Get a degree, a job, a life! Get the only affirmation, the only sense of belonging, you may ever get. Woe to any who kick at this goad!

I wonder: is there anything at all that would convince the rabbits they’ve been had? What would it take for your typical Front Row Kid to admit: wow, I’ve been royally played. What can be stricken from the list, at least insofar as they are considered individually:

  • Evidence. It’s no so much that the rabbits don’t care about evidence, it’s that years of training have both 1) rendered them incapable of looking at or even knowing what evidence, as opposed to hearsay and bald unsupported statements, is, and 2) convinced them that parroting whatever the approved authority figure says IS considering the evidence. They don’t know what they don’t know, but are convinced they do.
  • The examples of our betters. Brix, it appears, is travelling to one her vacation homes and Christmassing with 3 generations of her family. So much for lockdowns, social distancing, etc. – for her, Pelosi, Newsom, and many others. Not that the rabbits have heard of this contempt, because the hairdos with journalism degrees are unlikely to mention it.
  • Their own lying eyes. How many rabbits personally know even 1 otherwise healthy person who died of COVID? Of course, this would require acknowledgement that the people, if any, they know whose deaths, in CDC terminology, *involved* COVID were well on their way to assuming their places in the Choir Invisible with or without the help of a respiratory virus. Which is a thought not allowed to enter their minds.
  • Basic logic. E.g., if masks work, then they are trapping billions of live, dangerous viruses. If so, handling used masks without a hazmat suit, gloves, a hazardous waste disposal containers, incineration, etc. would be SUICIDE! OH MY GOD!!! Yet, they are treated with less care and caution than a used Kleenex. Stuffed into and dragged out of pockets, fiddled with, thrown any old place, used for hours, days, weeks at a time. I find them on the street whenever I go walking. Same logical problems with social distancing: if 6 feet is good, why is there still a pandemic? If we’re not safe to meet indoors, why are stores still open? why are there lockdowns, when it’s safer outside? And so on.

Would some combination of these factors finally burst the bubble? The constantly evolving story, where it’s 15 days to flatten the curve to as long as it takes to create a vaccine (but not properly test it – what, don’t you trust Big Pharma and the billions in criminal fines they’ve paid for exaggerated claims and falsifying data?) to – I dunno, what are they claiming today?

These are all rhetorical questions, of course. Nothing so trivial as loss of liberty and sanity will cause the properly educated Front Row Kids to reevaluate their self-image as the smartest, best educated, most moral people in history. Such wunderkind couldn’t possibly be clueless rubes, ignorant of even the most basic principles of science and logic, mindless parrots of whatever they hear, easily-frightened, historically illiterate rabbits about as likely to think or act independently as the gears in a pocket watch. What would you rather be, the smart kid with membership in the circle of smart kids, or the kid suddenly alone, cut adrift from the only society he’s every really known?

Good thing I believe in miracles. Otherwise, I’d have to start throwing punches, and I’m too old for that.

C. Still have hardly decorated for Christmas. Stuff came up, and the available slots for family-time activity sort of vanished. Decorating by one’s self seems kinda sad. But we will get it done.

We have passed the point of her family/my family scrambling over holidays. Except for my MIL, who lives with us, parents are dead; brothers and sisters are far away or cowering rabbits or both. So no plans at that level of family. BUT: now we have a married daughter! Her in-laws, to their credit and with our approval, want to be friends. This daughter and her husband just bought a house, appropriately about 1 hr 15 min from each set of in-laws – just far enough for a little separation, but close enough for regular visitations and family activities.

So now we get to coordinate among our children’s families (well, 1 so far, but I’d bet 2 or even 3 extended family branches within the next few years). I’m digging it.

On the home-home front, failing to get commitment on what people want for Christmas dinner(s). The fam is not big on turkey – fine by me, a lot of work for something not really all that popular. Tried to ask after lamb – ambivalence. Then, partly in jest, suggested: fried chicken, mashed potatoes, and gravy – probably the most popular thing I make around here (1) (I do make d*mn fine fried chicken). I got the ‘not special enough’ response.

Seriously considering getting some ribeye steaks. That’s what I’d like to do. Maybe for Epiphany, when Middle Son and his girl will be in town. Or maybe a slab of salmon?

Merry Christmas to all!

  1. I love to cook. Things I regularly make for dinner, in order of family popularity: fried chicken; hamburgers; Napa cabbage tacos (fish, chicken, beef, or pork, using cabbage leaves instead of tortillas – makes for a much lighter meal), pork chops, various curries and rice. Make a lot of other things, too, but these are staples.

Family Life

Beloved younger daughter got up today at maybe 5:00 a.m. to make conchas in honor of the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe. (Happy, holy, and blessed feast day, BTW.)

Mexican Conchas: The Cookie-Topped Bread With a Mysterious ...
Conchas. Traditional Mexican treat.

When I got up just before 6:00, she was rolling out dough on the table, and explained that something had gone wrong with the dough. She couldn’t fix it fast enough before work, and would I please bake the cinnamon bread she was winging from the dough she was rolling out?

Sure. Now, she’s a fabulous baker, I have no idea what made the dough unacceptable to her, but – I let the cinnamon bread rise, popped it in the oven, and it is delicious. Her mistakes are better than what most people, me most definitely included, can pull off when we do it right.

So this information is being relayed to the family as we come in from Mass to a delicious smelling house. Some minor confusion over the story arises; I attempt a quip along the lines: best not to try to think about it too hard, as the cinnamon bread is un-conchas. Unlike the bread, the joke fell flat.

16 year old son deadpans: that joke had a lot of potential.

Put in my place by the Caboose.

Monday Update

A: Lots of important things to discuss, so lets skip that (and the *140* draft posts now in my folder here) and talk about something else!

B: Teaching 8th-grade and 9th grade level history classes is pretty much a full-time job. To prep for 6-8 hours of class a week takes me around 20 – 25 hours. Partly this is due to the amount of research I need to do into areas of which I’m ignorant (that would be most areas); partly because I’m reviewing, selecting, and producing handouts from source materials – the kids have been subjected to excerpts from Herodotus, Thucydides, St. Jerome, Chesterton, Belloc, Tacitus – with plenty more to come. Tack on the organizational and planning aspects and – there’s my week.

It’s fun, and the kids are great.

C. You’re dying to hear about progress on the Endless Front Yard Brick Project and Backache Jamboree, aren’t you? I know you are!

Short answer: nothing. Back in the summer, when the evenings were still light, I just couldn’t make myself do it. Started a couple times, but the next step – putting in frames and pouring concrete footings for the final 30′ stretch of wall and planter – just no. Started several times, have a nice pile of 2X4s slowly warping into uselessness out front, but – nope. So now I need a long weekend of nice weather and inspiration, or wait till Spring.

My money is on Spring.

D. This is not to say nothing has happened. Consider:

The sacred shrine to the Oracle of the Water Meter

Back in May, I think, when I finished this oddity up, you can see I transplanted some moss – that’s the little tufts of green. It seemed to have died, and weeds started taking over, so I pulled the weeds except for a few I decided to call ‘dichondra’, which they might actually be, who knows.

Threw some water on them when watering the trees and plants. Now:

Please ignore the former flowers in the planting boxes. It’s October. They died.
The moss came back! And is now in a struggle for its very life with the dichondra.

Kind of cute, huh? Give it a rainy winter, and it’ll take over the world.

E. Speaking of Nature in all its glory and horror: my beloved wife suggested, and I enthusiastically agreed, to plant some morning glories.

Well. I stuck some seeds in the ground in a small patch between the fig and citrus trees, behind the brick bench I put in during phase 3.2(b) of the above mentioned Endless Project. Poor things! Took a long time to come up, only 5 did, and the bugs got right after them. So I started a few inside, just in case. Transplanted them outside in June. We had 7 little plants that made it.

But they didn’t seem to be going anywhere. I stuck a light redwood trellis in the ground for them, by way of encouragements.

It evidently worked:

What may not be apparent from this picture: the sheer massiveness of the plants – the only reason I think the trellis hasn’t snapped is because the vines are now strong enough to hold themselves up. The whole mass is leaning dangerously forward. I have a pole propping it up on the far side, as it looked like it was going to fall that way originally. Word is they die with the first frosts, which here in NoCal tend to happen in December. So it’s going to get bigger.

For the last month, I’ve been waging daily war, snipping morning glory vines trying to strangle the fig and citrus. The next day, there are more vines. I think with a little patience, I could watch them grow. I’ve stopped watering it, which seems to have kicked it into flower-making mode.

So I did a little belated research on morning glories. One consistent warning: once you’ve gotten a batch established, it’s all but impossible to get ride of them – they shed millions of seeds that can last for several years, meaning that, even if you pull up a thousand plants one year, you will probably see more the next anyway.

The seeds, which are about the size, shape and color of rat droppings, are already everywhere.

At least morning glories are very pretty.

F. Speaking of unspeakable horrors, my beloved also planted a bunch of sweet potatoes in three planter in the back and side yards that I wasn’t using this year. The plants have done very well, although in my attempts to locate any sweet potatoes I have found only smallish, skinny ones.

But the leaves are edible! Kind of like spinach, but even milder. Since we have tons of leaves, I googled some recipes.

If you are interested, check out some sweet potato leaf recipes from Africa, specifically, Sierra Leone. YouTube has any number of cheerful Africans whipping up dishes that look, if you skip ahead and only see the end products, delicious.

It’s the steps in between that might cause a little squeamishness. I’m absolutely an omnivorous, and would gird up my culinary loins, as it were, and try this stuff if I came face to face with it. And it would probably be good! But –

A recipe that includes chicken feet, fish heads, leftover chicken parts, stray meat, and other probably best left unidentified ingredients, immersed in *cups* of red palm oil and then boiled until not quite unrecognizable – best just eat and not ask questions.

The funny part: they all refer to this as a potato leaf recipe, when the chopped leaves are added at the end and cook down to a mere background. Meanwhile, that catfish head in there is doing the backstroke….

They cook sweet potato leaves all around the world. Wilted in butter and garlic is quite good, although now I feel like a coward going that route.

G. Yesterday, we drove for hours to do some visiting, and so attended mass far from home – at a parish that’s decided enough’s enough. I will be as vague as possible, since the world is infested with Karens and narcs (but I repeat myself).

What I saw: a few nods in the direction of social distancing – people sat every other pew, sort of, which reduced the number that fit into the church proper down to the technically allowable 100. But the choir loft was also full-ish…

The overflow went into the adjoining hall. There, the folding chairs were maybe a little farther apart than usual.

The priest, citing the teaching of the USCCB, stated that it was simply morally impossible for a Catholic to vote for Biden due to his support for abortion. Whoa.

The most telling part: we got there a half hour early; the people from the proceeding mass were still milling around in the courtyard, chatting and visiting. I saw a total of 4 masks. After our mass, people likewise were visiting.

People are starved for basic human contact. Finally given a chance, they embrace it desperately, like drowning men finding a lifeboat. When we were walking in from the parking lot, never having been there before and knowing no one, a man struck up a conversation with us – just because. While waiting for mass, I was standing in the courtyard while a priest was talking with a small crowd nearby. When finished, he approached me to see if I was waiting to speak to him. I think he gets it.

They have evidently been doing this for a while now, so of course we had to step over the dead bodies in the parking lot and stop out ears to the death rattles of the dying.

Not.

Seriously, if anything, this congregation has acquired the herd immunity we all would have long ago acquired if the lock down had not been implemented to extend the outbreak. They have refused to trade social sanity for the illusion of safety.

H. Oldest daughter just passed 4 months of married life. She and her husband still seem to get along fine. 😉 She just turned 27, got a new job, and broke her finger. Sigh. Poor kid. She and hubby are looking to buy a house.

Kids these days. I’m itching to build them furniture and maybe a pizza oven for their new house! That’s the ticket!!!

Middle son got himself a serious squeeze, the kind he’s flying across the country so that she can meet the family over Thanksgiving. So far, via Face Time, she seems very sweet.

Younger daughter spends her days not dating her coworkers at Costco, who regularly ask her out, and not letting her bosses put her on a career track. A cheerful, hardworking, responsible smart kid – gee, they want to keep her? She’s planning to study languages at some grad school in the Holy Land, where Greek and Hebrew are taught conversationally, and the base language of instruction is French. Because why not? She’s barely conversational in French, so might go back to France for more polishing. She wants to study Scripture in the original languages, and will end up with 5 languages: English, French, Latin, Greek, and Hebrew. Hebrew is the only one she hasn’t at least got a start on.

Kids these days.

Youngest son was just confirmed in a weird (and holy and wonderful, don’t get me wrong!) outdoor ceremony with the bishop.

Wife is co-running the local 40 Days for Life, the last round of which was ended by the lockup. Now? Masked up and ‘distancing’, we pray.

Education History Book Review: More Rise & Growth of the Normal School Idea in the United States by J. P. Gordy (1891)

Getting back to Gordy’s epic circular, before moving on to a few books he references that sound interesting.

First, some long quotations, recounting the state of teacher training in the 1830s in New York. At the time, three ‘academies’ had taken it upon themselves to set up teacher training programs, and their graduates were filling the common school teacher positions in the area around those academies. Gordy, who when he wrote this book taught at the original state teachers college in Ohio, is not entirely down with the idea that private schools, responding to economic opportunity, started training teachers on their own without oversight by the state. Therefore, he spends a chapter talking about how the State of New York, when reviewing the need for trained teachers, understandably but mistakenly thought the situation was in hand. Private schools were meeting local demand without any mandates or funding by the state. But that’s not the way the Idea of the Normal School was supposed to be Progressing!

The state legislature took a look at teacher training, and decided they had some funds lying around that they could use to support those three academies and incent other schools to set up education departments.

This work was undertaken by these academies without aid from the State, simply in response to a demand created by public opinion for better prepared teachers. The first law passed in New York, and indeed in this country, making provision for the education of teachers for the common schools was passed May 2, 1834. The act is as follows :

Section 1. The revenue of the literature fund now in the treasury, and the excess of the annual revenue of said fund hereafter to be paid into the treasury, or portions thereof, may be distributed by the regents of the university, if they shall deem it expedient, to the academies subject to their visitation, or a part of them, to be expended as hereinafter mentioned.

Sec. 2. The trustees of academies to which any distribution of money shall be made by virtue of this act shall cause the same to be expended in educating teachers of common schools in such manner and under such regulations as said regents shall prescribe.

At some point, New York State set up a “literary fund.” It seems, from context, that ‘literature’ at the time meant all serious writing and, by extension, all serious academic pursuits. Dwight uses it that way for sure, and it seems that’s what is meant here. So there is already some money. What to do with it?

A special meeting of the board of regents was held May 22, 1834, and a committee of three was appointed ” to prepare and report to the regents at some future meeting a plan for carrying into practical operation the provisions” of the law.

The committee consisted of Messrs. Dix, Buel, and Graham, and at the annual meeting of the board, held January 8, 1835, it reported through its chairman, Regent John A. Dix, [who went on to become a famous Civil War Union general for whom Ft. Dix is named] ” a plan for the better education of teachers of common schools.”

This elaborate report — it covers 26 pages of an octavo volume — is well worthy of a careful perusal, not only because of its historical interest as outlining the first plan for the training of teachers ever presented in this country, but because of the ability and thoroughness with which the subject is discussed.

After an emphatic statement of the importance of the subject, the report proceeds to discuss the provisions for the training of teachers made by France and Prussia. [you know, places where the state would throw you in jail for expressing unapproved political opinions – ed.] That the necessity of providing for the training of teachers was not felt when the common-school system was established is explained by the fact that there were at that time a large number of experienced teachers who had been teaching private schools ready to be enlisted into the service of the public schools.

Reference is made to the fact that the St. Lawrence, Oxford, and Canandaigua Academies have established a course of lectures and exercises for the preparation of teachers, and since this has been done with very little aid from the State it is inferred that more generous assistance is all that is necessary to enable them to reach the desired end. The success of the St. Lawrence Academy is particularly dwelt on. The schools in its neighborhood are almost entirely supplied with teachers by its students, and they receive on the average $40 a year more than before a department was established for training them.

The question of creating separate institutions for the training of teachers [the direction in which History is Unfolding, natch] has repeatedly been before the legislature, but it was deemed more advantageous to establish teachers departments in the academies, and this may now be considered the special policy of the State.

The revenue of the literature fund then in the treasury, which, according to the law of May 2, 1834, was to be devoted to making provision for the training of teachers, is stated to be $10,040.76, and the annual excess of that revenue which could be applied to this purpose would amount to about $3,500. The former sum could at once be devoted to making provision for the education of common-school teachers in existing academies, but it was too small to be divided among all the academies of the State. The limited sum at their disposal made it necessary to select a small number of academies, [IOW, the state chooses economic winners & losers – ed.] but these, for the sake of public convenience, must be in different parts of the State, within reach of every county. The committee recommended that one academy be selected in each senatorial district, as there were eight of such districts, and as a smaller number than eight could not be selected with due regard to public convenience.

The committee further recommended that each of the eight academies should be supplied with the same apparatus and with equal facilities for undertaking the proposed course of instruction. They thought that $500 for each academy would be sufficient for the purchase of apparatus, library, etc., and that in addition they should receive $400 annually for the support of a competent instructor.

Then the Committee describes what constitutes an acceptable teacher candidate:

The committee thought it evident that the course of study should include all those subjects which were regarded as indispensable to a first-rate teacher of the common schools. They recommended that no student should be admitted to the teachers’ department who had not passed such an examination as the regents required to entitle him to be regarded as a scholar in the higher branches of an English education. The subjects which he should pursue should be —

(1) The English language.
(2) Writing and drawing.
(3) Arithmetic, mental and written, and bookkeeping.
(4) Geography and general history, continued.
(5) The history of the United States.
(6) Geometry, trigonometry, mensuration, and surveying.
(7) Natural philosophy and the elements of astronomy.
(8) Chemistry and mineralogy.
(9) The Constitution of the United States and the constitution of the State of New York.
(10) Select parts of the Revised Statutes and the duties of public officers.
(11) Moral and intellectual philosophy.
(12) The principles of teaching*.

No other subject should be required to enable the pupil to obtain a diploma, but other subjects should not be excluded if any academy desired to introduce them.

In addition to what a modern person might expect a well educated teacher to know in 1834, we have drawing, bookkeeping (to teach or to do as part of school keeping?), mensuration, surveying, the Constitution of the United States and the constitution of the State of New York, and select parts of the Revised Statutes and the duties of public officers. Nothing objectionable and much to be commended in that list. Then we add: moral and intellectual philosophy. and the principles of teaching. I’ve read ahead, so I know that the ineffable Pestalozzi figures large in the principles of teaching, and that there will be no place for Catholic moral and intellectual philosophy in the common schools – this will not be stated as such, just assumed, after the manner of the sentiments expressed by Dwight quoted a couple posts ago. Gordy reiterates at intervals throughout the text the greater importance of moral training in the common schools, and that the state trained and certified teacher – not dad, mom, the family, and church, who are each subject in their unique ways to unacceptable levels of laxity – is the correct channel through which such moral training is to be delivered.

What’s missing from this list is the Latin, Greek, and more advanced math used to justify having highly trained and certified teachers. Harris and Gordy follow the Prussian gymnasia in their dream curriculum, training up polyglot and mathematically accomplished kids ready for Harvard at 15. But that ideal – if it is an ideal – is not shared by the New York regents. Most of the listed required subjects could easily be taught by any competent adult, and those that need more specialized training are pretty much less important in proportion to how unusual the skills to teach them are. And this list won’t get you into 19th century Yale or Brown.

The level of education expressed in the New York regent’s list above is what William Torrey Harris calls ‘substantial education’:

There are two kinds of education. The first may be called substantial education, the education by means of the memory; the education which gives to the individual, methods and habits and the fundamentals of knowledge. It is this education which the child begins to receive from its birth. This sort of education is education by authority that is, the individual accepts the authority of the teacher for the truth of what he is told, and does not question it or seek to obtain insight into the reason for its being so.

William Torrey Harris – The Philosophy of Education, Lecure II

Substantial education, delivered ‘scientifically’, produces automata:

Ninety-nine out of a hundred people in every civilized nation are automata, careful to walk in the prescribed paths, careful to follow prescribed custom. This is the result of substantial education, which, scientifically defined, is the subsumption of the individual under his species.

William Torrey Harris – The Philosophy of Education, Lecure I

I discuss this quotation here and elsewhere on this blog. What’s fascinating is that the education reformers in New York are claiming to aim for having common schools produce good citizens capable of taking their role in the government of our Republic. Harris, the Hegelian phrenologist, thinks on the other hand that this sort of education suits one only to following orders. In this sense, Harris is the true heir of Fichte, who believed the destruction of free will in children is the sole goal of compulsory state schooling. A properly schooled kid under Fichte would simply be incapable of willing anything his teacher didn’t want him to will. Free will is replaced by an automatic love of, and obedience to, the German nation. This is all done for the good of the nation and the kid (there is no possible conflict, as Fichte understands the good).

Harris’s and Gordy’s understanding of the purpose of schooling would have been a very hard sell to Americans in the early 19th century. As it is, what changed between then and when Harris and Gordy were writing was not so much the attitudes of Americans as the approach of the champions of public education: they learned to talk about this sort of thing only to each other and in obscure journals, and talk the 3 Rs to us peons. The real work is done out of sight as much as possible. Thus, state education departments, standards, and curricula are created in the darkness, and presented as fait accompli. Common Core is just the latest example of what’s been going on for a century and a half.

Harris does have an original thought of a sort: he thinks that kids taught to be mindless conformists can be made into real thinkers – by, of course, achieving Hegelian enlightenment:

It is this education by authority, the education of the past, that the modern or second kind of education seeks to supersede. This second kind may be called individual or scientific education; it is the education of insight as opposed to that of authority.

I know Harris means Hegelian enlightenment here, because he doesn’t think there is any other kind.

Back to the book.

The committee then proceeded to make detailed suggestions in regard to the above-mentioned subjects of study. The teacher should be familiarized with the best methods of teaching the alphabet. Blackboards and slates should be used in teaching spelling, so that the eye might assist the ear in detecting mistakes. In teaching arithmetic much use should be made of visible illustrations, and the subject should be made as practical as possible by selecting as examples such operations as the pupil must be familiar with in after life, though it should be so taught, at the same time, that the pupil might receive the maximum amount of mental discipline. Instruction in principles of teaching should be thorough and extended, not confined” to the art of teaching or the best modes of communicating knowledge, but including also such moral instruction as might aid the teacher in governing his own conduct, and molding the character of his pupils. The text-book recommended was Hall’s ”Lectures on School Keeping;” and as reading books “Abbott’s Teacher,” ” Taylor’s District School,” and the “Annals of Education” were recommended.

I’ve tracked down a couple of these books. I’ll do “Lectures on School-keeping” next – it’s fascinating.

Getting an early start on state-level micromanagement, the Committee next recommends specific classroom hardware:

The committee thought that each academy should be furnished with a library well supplied with the best authors on the subjects in the prescribed course, but were of the opinion that the selection of the books ought, for a time at least, to be left to the academies. The committee, however, made out a list of apparatus, with prices, which they thought necessary for each of the eight academies. It is as follows, with the prices annexed so far as they can be ascertained :


Orrery $20. 00
Nuniera 1 frame and geometrical solids 2. 50
Globes 12. 00
Movable planisphere 1 . 50
Tide dial 3.50
Optical apparatus $10. 00
Mechanical powers 12. 00
Hydrostatic apparatus 10. 00
Pneumatic apparatus 35. 00
Chemical apparatus 25. 00
One hundred specimens of mineralogy 10. 00
Electrical machine 12. 00
Instruments to teach surveying 80. 00
Map of the United States 8. 00
Map of the State of New York 8. 00
Atlas 5. 00
Telescope 40. 00
Quadrant 15. 00

Inflation calculators don’t go back to 1834. Prices have gone up by 26 times since 1913, meaning that, even if there were no inflation between 1834 and 1913, that orrery cost the equivalent of $520.

Like that Dwight book, can’t seem to let this one go, even as I accumulate a (by now vast) set of additional period books to read. Onward!

Home Improvement Project: Music Desk

Youngest son, who plays the fiddle, sings, and enjoys goofing around on the guitar, drums, and whatever else is lying about, got a little Akai mpk keyboard for his birthday a while back. He wanted to create And record music.

So do I.

Way back when hair bands ruled the earth, I was in some bands, and I, too, wanted to record some music. It was a little more complicated and expensive back then. Garage Band on your phone wasn’t a thing. So I have some seriously outdated experience, and, perhaps more important, some somewhat outdated equipment.

I had converted part of the garage into a recording studio 20+ years ago. Long story.

Anyway, space being an issue, cleared out a corner by my piano to set ups more modern, and much cheaper, DAW work area for the Caboose and me. Threw together a desk to maximize the available space. Like this:

The KRK V-8s I knew where they were, so I grabbed them (they’re sweet. Followed the advice I’d read somewhere: only spend real money on mikes, monitors, and instruments, because they don’t go obsolete every year. After the long obsolete Mac tower, the only real investment I made). Need to track down my little Mackie board and a bunch of cables and mics, download some software, hook it up, and we should be good to go.

The desk itself is oak veneer 1 1/4” particle board pieces I’d rescued from some old cubicles getting thrown out many years ago.

Anyway, could be fun. Let’s see if it gets used.

Samuel Read Hall: Deep in the Warren

In yesterday’s post, mentioned that, via the Oracle Wikipedia, discovered a gentleman named Samuel Read Hall, an important figure in the American compulsory state-run school movement of the early 19th century. So, I poked around…

Turns out, he wrote a number of books and textbooks. And that the Internet Archives has several of them online for free. So, in my usual manner, I set aside the de la Salle I was reading to take a look. The tome titled The instructor’s manual: or, Lectures on school-keeping looked promising. I’m painfully aware of my lack of understanding and sources for exactly how schooling as we now know it took over America, and this, dating from the 1820s even though this edition is from 1852, seemed like a good place to look. It’s only a couple hundred pages…

The brief biographical information I could run down about Hall doesn’t provide many hints about how he came to be a champion of modern schooling, merely that he was such. He was the son of a clergyman, never went to college, and became a school teacher at age 19. He then devoted the rest of his life to education, campaigning for Massachusetts to establish a superintendent of common schools, at which he succeeded, and of which Horace Mann became the first office holder. At 27, he was a school principal; at 28, he founded and ran a teacher’s college and became a licensed minister. The rest of his long life was devoted to educating teachers and ministerial work.

Yet, somewhere, he absorbed the Pestalozzian approach to education, with a strong, if typically muddled, foundation in Rousseau. He’s a huge Prussian schooling fanboy.

When I entered the same field of labor, in 1816, there was scarcely a paragraph in the weekly newspaper, and not a single book or even tract within my knowledge, intended to aid the teacher, in knowing how to instruct and govern a school. Nor was there at that time a Teachers Institute or Normal School within the United States, or even Europe. The magnificent school system of Prussia, which has since awakened such deep interest in Christendom, was not then matured.

from the Introduction

Hall quotes with approval a contemporary reverend, as he presents a long list of all the ways a child’s education can shape him – a snippet from the end:

“…Carry him to the city of the Grand Sultan, and he will grow up a worshipper of Mohammed, and exhibit all the peculiarities of one of his most devoted sons.
Let him live where the gospel sheds its benign and enlightening rays, and he will embrace the doctrines and rejoice in the precepts of Jesus.

” Such is the controlling influence which external circumstances must and will have upon all other children. And these external circumstances are nothing more or less than the concentrated influence, the whole education, through which a person passes, and by which he will be benefited or injured, in proportion to the healthful or baneful nature of the sum of this influence. Of what unspeakable importance, then, must it be to this heir of life and immortality, that this influence should be enlightening, elevating, and moral ; that he be under the influence of virtuous associates, judicious parents, and truly intelligent, virtuous, and patriotic teachers.”

I’ve wondered if the blank slate/formless clay idea gained ground with the separation of people from farming. A farmer knows that, while care and luck certainly figure into it, plant a carrot, get a carrot, not a brussel sprout. In other words, things are what they are, and all we can do is plant them in the proper soil and take good care and pray. Mostly, that works; sometimes, it doesn’t. Here’s Hall quoting the same author:

” The rising generation, like clay in the hand of the potter, are readily moulded into almost any shape, and will certainly take the form, adopt the principles, and fall into the habits which the all- fashioning power of education comprehending under that term whatever in the world around operates on the mind or heart shall give them. …The whole future condition of the rising generations, in all their mental, social, and moral interests, their present and future joys and sorrows, is involved in it. “

To his credit, Hall is trying to educate kids to be good, under an understandable definition of good: Christian and patriotic virtues, 19th century New England style. And, even more so, he recognizes parents as key. Hall differs from Fichte here, as Fichte wants New German Men, virtuous according to standards only unclearly understood. And parents are the problem education aims to address. The Apostles and their virtues and zeal would possibly be considered acceptably educated by Hall; they would be throwbacks to an earlier, superseded age to Fichte, and thus an unacceptable step backwards.

Perhaps I give Hall too much credit here.

Only lightly skimmed so far, There are lots of examples in the form of dialogues between student and teacher. Some of Hall’s advice is sound, such as not explaining difficulties using words the kids don’t understand.

I’m going to try not to spend too much time on this work, but do want to read it. If it proves helpful, Hall has a bunch of other stuff out there on the web as well.

Further updates as events warrant.

Current Unpleasantness Comes Close to Home

Paris. 1832. No much like here and now.

While out here in the working class part of Contra Costa County, Antifa isn’t a huge or obvious presence, we are close by Berkeley and Oakland, where the revenge fantasies of those with daddy issues more often find a traditional Stalinist outlet.

But burning Oakland and Berkeley *again* is starting to lack that thrill of adventure. Why not, thinks the Antifa leadership, go to the other side of the Berkeley hills, where some rich people live, and where all the good high-end shopping is, and make our oppressed voices heard via smashing windows and looting stores and burning stuff down? Thus, ‘protests’ took place in Danville and Walnut Creek yesterday. Other nearby upscale cities – Pleasant Hill (borderline – mostly people who bought homes years ago, and saw the old California joke realized: I always wanted to own a million dollar home, but I thought I’d have to move.), Lafayette (similar, but with a dose of McMansions thrown in) – also got worried and Took Steps. We’ve got curfews and stern warnings in place in most nearby cities (not ours – yet).

Last evening, younger daughter drove to Danville, where she has a part-time job at a Costco, only to find the store shut down and all workers sent home. On her way back, the freeway was shut down – ‘protesters’ had stationed themselves in the northbound lanes. Gratifyingly, the Walnut Creek police warned them, gassed them, and hauled them off. But not before our daughter was forced onto surface streets – not entirely a happy situation. But she quickly found her way home like the Wise Men – by another route. Major relief.

This is all maybe 8 or 10 miles from here. We live in a working class neighborhood, little houses built in the 40s and 50s, nothing much worth looting, I should think. So, not really concerned – yet.

One irony: Danville and Walnut Creek are the homes to many current and retired athletes from the various Bay Area teams. It’s a very nice area, where a couple million can still get you a pretty nice house. Many if not most of these athletes are black. Most also get along very well with their neighbors – at least, in all my years living here, I’ve never heard of any issues.

(Personal stories: many years ago, I played on a city league basketball team. Several of the teams had players who were former Oakland A’s. Let’s just say they were a *little* more athletically gifted than your typical 35-ish city league players. I got dunked on my head a few times. Also, Steph Curry lives in Walnut Creek. A couple years ago, out local Safeway was all abuzz, as he’d dropped by to pick up a few things on his way home one day. He’s a demigod, at least, in these parts.)

There’s also a lot of retired military out here, and a few gun clubs. I could, in theory, walk a half-mile to a sporting goods store and get myself just about any legal firearm I might want. So, I wonder if the goon leadership has taken this into account. I, personally, am not armed (for now), but I can’t imagine if a riot happened on my street, some armed resistance would not readily appear…

UPDATE: Our county government, always one for overreaction and grandstanding, has issued a county-wide curfew starting at 8:00 tonight. Sigh.

Wedding

(Started with a bitter, snarky, angry attack on our reptilian governor-thing and his petty, society-destroying tyranny, but who need any more of that? So, cutting to the chase:)

Our beloved eldest daughter was married yesterday to a fine young man. We are all thrilled for her. Due to the current unpleasantness, the wedding Mass and reception were up in the air until two days before the event. She and her new husband are both meticulous planners, and so had had detailed plans for this wedding in place for months. God evidently wanted to send the message: you are not in charge, but I love you and will make it better.

Although the “Science!” on what is or is not allowed changes with the governor’s socks, the young couple decided a month ago they would be married on the 30th as originally planned, even if it was just the two of them and a priest. Then the diocese said: 10 people max, all masked, may attend the wedding mass. Then, two days ago, it was upped to 30 people. So we got to have a wedding mass with immediate family, bridesmaids and groomsmen, and a photographer. This meant, of course, that anyone who had to travel was not going to be there. When the wedding was originally announced, family and friends from as far away as London were planning to fly in.

This small, out of the way parish was willing to risk 30 people, for which we are eternally grateful. Aside: no pics where you can see individual faces – don’t have permission from the people involved.

About a hundred people gathered in the church parking lot – properly socially distant from each other, as the Science! – any day now – will clearly demand:

Signs with good wishes, balloons. Very touching.

Two weeks ago, when it became evident we were not to be ‘allowed’ to have a reception, we – the family – decided to become veritable pirates, and do some approximation of what we wanted to do, with implied obscene gestures and unprintable curses flung in the direction of Sacramento. I was ready to be the guy hauled off in handcuffs, if it came to it. Enough is enough.

We began to set up a wedding reception for 30 people in our backyard. The story becomes tear-jerkingly wonderful at this point: the number of people who showed up and worked like dogs to pull this off is truly amazing, and our family will forever be so grateful to them.

Tiny amount of background. We are not the neatest people. To put it mildly. We like projects, so there’s, um, stuff lying everywhere. I’ve got bricks and wood and, stuff, everywhere. My wife has her needlework and sewing and other artsy things. Similarly, basic stuff gets, um, less attention, e.g., we filled half a dozen large green waste containers with weeds and branches just cleaning up the backyard. So prepping the physical plant, as it were, was non-trivial. And that’s not the half of it.

But everybody pitched in. Start with our children: our youngest, 16, spent hours helping me clean up the yard, repairing broken things, hauling things around. He similarly helped my wife clean up inside the house. He took spreading wood chips and mulch on paths and other bare dirt areas as his own personal artistic project – and it looked good! At the last minute, he was arranging potted plants out on the patio to make sure everything looked good. Just a saint. What a good kid!

Next, one of the real heroes is younger daughter, 22. She flew back home from South Sudan two months ago as soon as a lockdown looked inevitable just to make sure she could be here for her sister. On an emotional level, it worked much better to have her be the coordinator with her sister than for either parent – the two of them could treat issues and decisions in a more jocular manner, important as the bride-to-be was understandably under incredible stress. Younger daughter took this role on with grace and style.

AND: baked this wedding cake:

Oops – doesn’t look like I took a picture of the finished product. It was utterly beautiful and charming, complete with Lego bride & groom figures on top.

AND: helped with fitting bridesmaids’ dresses, baking vast numbers of scones and sweet breads (the reception was a formal tea), shopping, coordinating, cleaning, bossing her brothers around, doing the layout and decorating – just amazing! Can’t say enough. All while remaining cheerful.

Next, older son, 24, flew in a week ago, the soonest he could get away from work. (He will be pulling major hours to make up for his time here when he gets back). Likewise, in a unterly cheerful and gung-ho manner, he threw himself into whatever needed doing, shopping, errands, and of course clean-up and set-up. His shining moment was on Friday night, when it became apparent that there was simply no way to keep the finger sandwiches cool – not nearly enough fridge/cooler space, and the pretty trays they were on could not be stacked much. So he brainstorms, finds 40 lbs of dry ice, some cardboard boxes, towels and a little desk fan, and puts together a makeshift refrigerator, large enough to lay out trays of little sandwiches so that they could be kept cool without smashing any of them.

Worked like a charm.

Awesome. Next, 3 bridesmaids decided early on they would come no matter what. Two of them, uncertain of the dependability of air travel, jumped in a car and drove 2 days from Colorado, showing up Thursday. A third drove up from Southern California. From Friday morning through clean up late last night, the three of them without a moment’s hesitation threw themselves into set-up and final cleaning – and acted like it was no big deal. Totally wonderful!

A friend of my wife’s, someone who works 40 Days for Life with her, just shows up – for 2 long days – and cleans windows, organizes project materials, just whatever needed doing, smiling and laughing the whole time.

A old school friend of our daughters agrees to mange final set up while the rest of us are at the wedding Mass, a 45 minute drive away. She lost out of the 30 attendees allowed at mass, but, just like everybody else, cheerfully pitched in.

Did you notice the clouds in that second picture above? Weeks of nice, if a little hot, weather before the 30th; weeks of warm, dry, sunny weather forecast starting today. The 30th itself? Scattered thunderstorms. So on Friday night, after the team set up the tables, my wife and I tarped and weighted them all, just in case. The old school friend was to come over a few hours early, pull the tarps, finnish the formal tea set up – complicated! – and then, once we called from the wedding Mass to let her know people were on their way, fire up water pots, set out the charcuterie and lemonade, cue up all the sandwiches and baked good, and have it all pretty and ready to go for when the guests arrived. 25% chance of rain at the scheduled start time, tapering off to nothing over the next 2 hours.

Halfway through final set up, as we are driving back, cloudburst. 1/2″ of rain over maybe an hour. She and a friend she brought to help her quickly retarp all the tables, bring in any food, and – wait. We get home, pouring rain, I grab a push broom and start sweeping an inch of water off the patio – it drains poorly – and we wait. Forecast says the storm should blow through any minute – and it soon does. HOWEVER, our back yard is completely shaded by two ancient walnut trees – a huge part of its charm – and every little stir of the wind brings further showers of drips off the leaves. So we wait some more.

Finally, the sun comes out and quickly dries things out. The tea that should have started around 2 p.m. starts after 4. But everyone was in a great mood, and had been socializing inside, and so were perfectly charming and happy as we rolled out the tea. Here’s some pictures:

From the patio, prior to final decoration of the bower elder son and I threw together.
With decoration, before we left for Mass, tarps still on the first time!
Closeup. It was pretty.
As you walk through.
Sorry, no final set-up pictures, as the guest were there before I could get any. You’ll have to imagine the charming tea sets, heaping platters of finger sandwiches, scones and sweet breads, and little bowls of clotted cream, lemon curd, apricot and berry jams – all homemade, of course. We’re crazy that way.
A little side table with wedding pictures of the parents of the bride and groom, plus gifts.

It hardly needs saying that the mother of the bride worked her fingers to the bone on this, cleaning, baking, jam making, sewing, mothering. She hardly slept the last few days; she was still abed at 9:00 a.m. today, very unusual for her. Another hero. I’m sure I’m missing a few. But the number of people who cheerfully pitched in at the last minute to pull this off – and everything was lovely – was staggering. We are all so grateful.

Two families partied until around 9:00. Tea followed by cake and champagne and coffee, followed by some pizza and chicken. Social distance was not maintained. Nobody turned us in.

So, that’s where I’ve been the last few days. This morning, warmed up some coffee from last night, and grabbed some leftovers (a small mountain remains – we made 2X+ as much as could possibly have been eaten. Tradition!) and sat out on the patio typing this, a happy and grateful father of the bride.

Scones with clotted dream and lemon curd – heaven.