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.

Update: April – the Month That Was (bricks, flowers, a certain minor disease)

A: A happy, holy and blessed Feast of St. Joseph the Worker. True story: When I went to Italy as part of an art program in the 1980s, we we visited a number of smaller towns around Florence. Can’t remember exactly which one we visited on May Day (Lucca? Somewhere…), but we found ourselves in the middle of a somber little parade in the medieval town plaza. We watched mostly middle-aged men in their Sunday finest go by, each wearing a red carnation.

Duomo di Lucca, Cattedrale di San Martino. Maybe here?

Communists. It was a little, um, odd. Then we went into the duomo, in front of which this parade had taken place. As I looked around and prayed a little, one after another of the men from the parade came in, took off their red carnation, and laid it at the foot of a statue of Our Lady. A nice pile of carnations was formed over the next half hour.

Someone, it seemed to me, was very unclear on the concept: Communism, the Catholic Church – pick one? They don’t really go together. But it seems Italians – and I love Italians – are not as troubled by niceties of consistency as I am. Or perhaps they see some consistency on a level that escapes me. Or – one can never rule this out – they’re basically crazy?

As a 20-something punk, this little moment has stuck with me ever since, and helped form my take on the world . People – hard to figure, sometimes.

B. Due to Sarah Hoyt linking to this post on Instapundit, I saw basically a year’s worth of blog traffic and a couple year’s worth of visitors over the course of a couple days. (Not saying all that much – my beloved regular readers are treasured, but few). Perhaps this kicked me up a little in Google’s algorithms, or maybe – I flatter myself – the blog picked up some more readers – In April, most days got over 100 views, even after the 5-figure spike was well past.

So, if you are a new reader, welcome! If the skewering of bad Science!, the history of schooling, curmudgeonly commentary on current events, reviews of SF&F and other books, and the occasional home improvement project and Catholic shout-out are your cup of tea, you belong to a very, um, select group – and this here’s a blog for you!

C: Bricks. We left it here:

That tub up top I use when I want to soak bricks in water so that I have longer to move them around before they suck enough water out of the mortar to make it stiff. This morning, I noticed what looked like a stick floating in it – a lizard had fallen in! poor thing! I dumped him out – he was alive, seemed OK.

Today, I’m hoping to finish this little piece up. Here’s how it stands now:

Once I cap the little towers in the corners, we will put potted plants on top of them, and long wooden planters in between. Something from this selection:

Nasturtiums, self-seeded from last year, on the back patio.
Those two wooden boxes in the middle are sized to fit atop the sides of the project. Wildflowers have been planted in them.

Should look nice. I wanted pots and wooden planters so that, come Christmas, I can move them and set up the Nativity scene there. Then on to the south wall/planter.

D: Planted a little herb garden in a wine barrel half. It’s sitting off the patio a couple steps from the pizza oven and the back door out from the kitchen. Previously grew herbs on the south side of the house, not handy if you’re in the middle of cooking. (Huge batch of oregano is still there. Will see if I can transplant some closer.)

Basil in the back. The skewers are to remind me of the divisions until the plants come up: Thyme, sage, chives, cilantro, green onions.

E: Big stress here at the casa: our older daughter is to be married on May 30. Our unctuous, reptilian governor has continued the lockdown in the face of all objective evidence. This means the church and the venue for the reception are closed. On the off chance we do get to hold something (the marriage is going to take place on the 30th no matter what, even if it’s just bride, groom, priest and witnesses) have cleaned up the back yard, trying to make it look spiffy-ish:

Have a lot to do in the front yard, where my brick obsession has made quite the mess, but at least the plants are coming in strong:

Rosemary, nasturtiums, honeysuckle along the street. Fruit trees in the background.
Tomatoes, between the fig to the right and the cherry behind.
Apricots.
Figs.

In a month, maybe we’ll have some flowers or at least plants in all those pots and planters, to be distributed around. If we can do anything.

If you are the praying kind, prayers for our poor, stressed daughter would be appreciated. Thanks.

F: Don’t think I’ve ever posted on food per se – too much of that out there already – but this is maybe odd enough to be interesting. Somebody gave us a turkey months ago, don’t remember why, and it sat there tying up freezer space. Saw this guy on Youtube do something interesting, and thought – I should try that, get rid of that turkey:

Deboned and stuffed turkey:

Yes, it is time-consuming and not all that pleasant to debone a turkey, but, then again, carving a regular turkey can be some work as well. I did a poor job: the trick is to not cut the skin, which, when you roll it, is what keeps it all together. I tried to use a very cheap filleting knife that we’ve had forever, but it wasn’t up to the task, you need a very sharp tip to the knife, and this one just wouldn’t keep an edge. Got my eye on a Victorinox boning knife, if I ever do this again.

And I just might. However much trouble I had up front, it was very nice to simply cut slices without having to worry about bones and with a nice dollop of sausage stuffing right there in the middle. And it cooks a lot faster, too. FWIW.

G: Something proposed in a com box discussion here with Darwin Catholic, a man whose analytic abilities I respect: will COVID 19 result in more deaths in 2020 than would have otherwise occurred? I say: no. He says: yes, at least 75K. Now, even 75K is a tiny number on a population of 330M, but it should be noticable: the UN predicted around 2,930,400 deaths in the US from all causes before the current kefluffle. So: an additional 75K puts us a little over 3M. (Darwin wants to do a lot more math, with weighted average mortality over 5 years – OK by me, although I’m not sure what the gain in accuracy would be).

More important, and more obvious: the minimum number of dead with a continued lockdown was estimated at 100-240K just weeks ago. As the lockdown is eased or eliminated in more sane states, they theory goes, those numbers should get higher. So, anything short of about 3.03M lillion dead should be seen as an obvious fail, as far as any predictions go, and, realistically, anything less than 3.2M or so should lay a thick coat of egg on the face of the panic mongers. Not that they don’t already have lies in place to cover this.

The trouble here, as Dr. Briggs discusses here, is that the mitigation steps themselves have begun to kill people. First off, if biopsies and follow-ups for serious diseases, and the usual rounds of check-ups and screenings during which problems are routinely uncovered, are delayed, and thus problems are not discovered and treated promptly, prospects for those people are worsened. Some people will die. Same goes for some elective or non-critical treatments – something that looks non-critical today can get critical if pushed off enough.

But, by far, the major risk of death from COVID 19 is quickly becoming the psychological stress of lockdown and subsequent job losses. Suicide, taking stupid risks, drug abuse, domestic violence – these are real, and really kill people.

Is it enough to offset the ‘savings’ we might get from retarding the spread of *ALL* communicable diseases for a few months (insofar as that works. Not always and everywhere, that’s for sure, but some)? The longer the insanity of the lockdown drags on, affecting 330M people, not just the 1M cases of COVID 19, even a slight uptick in lockdown-related deaths could offset all gains. What a disaster, in terms of lives and morals. We want to believe we are not killing people with the lockdown, and so we do believe it. But we are, and it means nothing to us.

Someone somewhere should be putting together very targeted lawsuits against the people responsible for the government’s suspension of of our constitutionally guaranteed right to free assembly and, effectively, unlawful seizure of our wealth without any due process or review whatsoever. I’m saddened so many people accept this without a hiccup. Does it not occur to them that the patriotic need to be brave and face our enemies and risk death to defend our freedoms is still required, even if the enemy is a *&^% virus?

How About Some BRICKS?

Long time, no bricks. When we last left our Eternal Insane Home Improvement Project, back at the end of last August, things looked about like this:

Once Daylight Saving Time kicks in and the weather get a little warmer, I am able (and motivated) to get back to work. Here’s where we stand today, after a couple weeks of getting in a few hours on most days:

As you can see, everything is at least in progress. Redesigned the brickwork around the water meter – the curve idea was looking weird when I tried to work out how to actually do it on the ground. The square shape is both easier and more aesthetically consistent. We’ll know in another week or two. Also have dug out around 8-10 wheelbarrows of dirt and screened out the the larger rocks as I attempt to prepare to pour the footings for the south planters/wall – the last walls to build!

Pictures! Cars parked on the curb prevented a good angle on this part:

Footer. In the background are wood chips from a neighbor who took out a tree. 8 wheelbarrow’s worth, moved one at a time from about a block away. Will use to cover all paths/bare dirt in the mini-orchard.
Notice how the water meter box isn’t square to the path/street? I’m fighting off the urge to spend hours digging it up and straightening it out….

Over on the south property line, we got some digging to do:

Looking east. Forms are so far just the outside edges of the footers; there will be 2×4 rectangles marking the inside edges. The end of the forms marks about where a Marian shrine will go; then more planters where I’m standing to take this picture. Got several wheelbarrow loads more removed since this was taken.
From the street looking in.
Catty corner, so you can see how this all ties together.

Rained Saturday through Monday, so had to mostly lay off. Did get a little more digging in before it got too wet. So, if it dries out enough, will work on this some more this evening.

My Beloved planted irises in one of the front planters:

They are very beautiful, a lovely deep blue with yellow highlights. They brought to mind Don at zoopraxiscope, who grows and takes beautiful pictures of flowers. So, if you want to see good pictures of beautiful flowers by a guy who knows his way around a camera and can tell one kind of flower from another (I’m always getting my jasmine and honeysuckle mixed up. Among others.) check his site out. Me, I’m more a tomato and fruit guy.

Future bulletins as events warrant, or when I fell like it and remember to take some pictures. Maybe at the end of the summer, if all progresses well, I’ll do a video walkthrough?

“Climate Strike” – A Sign of Hope or Despair?

I awoke this morning to discover there was no climate. The mystery of why we had no climate today is that Our Betters ™ had called a “climate strike.” The climate, which, low, these past decades has been awaiting orders from the Right People, complied, as any right thinking climate would. That will show ’em! Us, I mean.

79 at the moment. I’m not buying a high of 88, and note that when I rechecked just now, the forecast high was 87.

I kid, of course. Our little piece of Northern California is having one of those envy-of-the-world perfect sunny California days, mid 80s, very light breeze, totally beautiful. So Climate, anthropomorphised or not, is on the job!

I was blissfully unaware that a Climate Strike had been called, until I was in a little business meeting across the street from the City Hall of an adjacent suburb, and saw a small crowd of children and a few adults who could very well have been Professionally Aggrieved Grievance Professionals, but since the uniforms are somewhat inconsistent, I can’t be sure.

Even with an invitation to ditch school, only about 50 kids showed up to be hauranged by a foul-mouthed teenage girl calling for an end to Capitalism and institution of Socialism – because the planet may – may – be getting ever so slightly warmer, and Socialism is the answer to Climate Change because something something reasons.

Several of the signs called for passing motorists to honk in support of climate action. I suppose driving a Hummer (one went by as I watched – this is a medium-tony suburb – couldn’t tell if the driver honked) could conceivably be seen as taking action on climate change, although not it the direction these gullible rubes protestors might desire. The Left’s irony deficiency, not to mention hypocrisy, was on full display. I’d bet, based on the neighborhood, those kids are living well above average material lives, and have their own cell phones and computers and video games, if not their own cars for the oldest ones. Mom probably drove them to the protest. Every one of them lives in a house with a carbon footprint bigger than several third world villages put together. But it’s those *other* people who are the problem!

A foul-mouthed girl, dropping F-bombs and calling B.S. on everybody, stated to applause and cheers that Capitalism is the problem, that money-hungry business people are destroying the planet, and we must overthrow the system and institute Socialism. People cheered, including the children of all ages who it would strain credulity to think could explain the difference between free markets and totalitarian state control. Little Miss Trotsky then unloaded on the mean schools that told students not to ditch class, stating that they – the schools – were tools of Da Man. Out of the mouth of babes!

I wonder where she got this idea?

A massive Global Climate Strike is set for Friday. Above, students march for climate action in New York City on March 15.
Gee, it’s almost as if the whole Climate Change mishegas is just a cover for a bunch of Useful Idiots to promote Socialism….. The caption reads: “A massive Global Climate Strike is set for Friday. Above, students march for climate action in New York City on March 15. (Spencer Platt/Getty Images)” “Massive.” Right. A classroom and a half’s worth of schoolchildren and a couple wanna-be hippies from a population of 300,000+ within 10 miles…

I like the clenched fists. Very original.

So, on the one hand, we live in a world where children are indoctrinated and used (and discarded as soon as they are no longer useful, but that part isn’t in the marketing materials) such that what should have been a pretty young lady learning how to behave as an adult is fashioned into a podium-banging mini-Khrushchev cursing like a sailor, railing against a system that has given her the opportunity to comfortably and safely play the fool, and for a system she doesn’t in the slightest understand. On the other, despite vast efforts and the complicity of the press, they got 50 people to show up. That a whole bunch of kids somewhere would rather sleep through Algebra II than be seen with these goofballs gives me hope. Unless they ditched, but then went to smoke weed behind the dumpster or something – which, all things considered, isn’t the worst alternative.

While I have my strong doubts about Trump, I will crawl over broken glass if need be to vote against the manipulative child abusers behind these ridiculous photo ops.

The Real Presence

Social media (the tiny corner I frequent, at any rate: Twitter & some blogs) has been discussing a stupid poll (1) showing most Catholics don’t believe in the the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist.

Well. Not to put too fine a point on it, most Catholics couldn’t pick a monstrance out of a lineup of migratory waterfowl, so I’m not real surprised here. Subtle teachings like ‘show up for Sunday Mass’ and ‘no sex outside of marriage’ seem to truly baffle your average Catholic, in my experience. Don’t let your view of the knowledge level of the faithful get skewed by hanging out with the people who actually attend Mass with you; most of the people saying they’re Catholic in this poll probably couldn’t name three dogmas of the Church to save their lives. If they even know what a dogma is. (2)

Since everybody’s got their opinion on the cause and solution to this problem, I will not offer mine so much as simply quickly review how such a stupendous and stupefying claim was communicated to the faithful over the years. Spoiler: the Church used to be wise enough not to confront the searcher or believer with a mere Wall of Words. The meaning of the word transubstantiation is not difficult to grasp, but the Reality being described by the word is truly ineffable. It would be wise to appeal to more than just the verbal intellect when trying to communicate something as profound ad the Real Presence. Consider:

Interior of the Notre-Dame Basilica, located in the historic district of Old Montreal, in Montreal, Quebec, Canada.

This is the view you get when you walk in the main doors of Notre Dame Basilica in Montreal. The art and architecture conspire to create beauty, mystery and focus. Nobody needs catechesis to understand something important is happening here, and where it is happening.

Walking down the center aisle, you get to the high altar:

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High Altar

There’s that Jesus fellow, front and center. Everything works together to tell you something important is here, something beautiful and mysterious.

Here’s another:

Image result for york minster
York Minster, beautifully defining the skyline of York, as it has for 800 years.
Image result for york minster
York Minster, West portals.
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Interior

The church in which the Blessed Sacrament is to be confected, consumed and reserved is the building in most traditional Catholic towns; in the larger towns and cities, there may be many churches, but generally, there is a main church – and no one can miss it. And in each, the art and architecture work together to draw attention to the main altar, which is what the building is built around, as it were.

Another:

File:Milan Cathedral from Piazza del Duomo.jpg
The Duomo, Milan.
High Altar

And on and on. Churches were constructed, from the very earliest days, to not just hold a congregation, but to give glory to God – and to help the people understand, through beauty, that something of infinite value was here. Nor were beautiful churches limited to major cities. Here is a church from a village in Southern Poland:

Image result for Zalipie church
Fewer resources to draw on, perhaps, but it doesn’t seem to matter: the people do the best they can, which is often spectacular.

If you’ve traveled to the older cities in the US much, you may have seen beautiful churches, often built by poor immigrants, all over the place. Up until maybe the 1950s, local Catholics building beautiful churches were the rule.

But this is just the start. A high mass sung in a great church is the greatest single work of art mankind has ever achieved.

Image result for high mass catholic cathedral
Something important, beautiful and precious is going on here. You don’t need a theology degree to see it.

Music, incense, pageantry, ritual, and the resulting solemnity all work with the building and artwork to convey one thing: this, here, is infinitely important. That’s how the Church for centuries treated the Real Presence; that’s how people came to know it and believe it. The teachings will always ring fantastical and hollow if the Church itself does not act as if it is true.

Now, if we just get the extraordinary ministers to approach the tabernacle with more reverence than if they were fetching a cup of sugar from a kitchen cabinet, that would be a start.

  1. Pretty much all polls are stupid; Pew polls doubly so, with their air of objectivity and Science! I imagine the Pew pollsters, if confronted with their obvious biases, would either give you a deer in the headlights stare, or, if really feeling it, a Snidely Whiplash mustache twirl and cackle. Or not. Maybe I should rephrase this: anyone who takes such polls as these at face value is stupid.
  2. As mentioned here, I’ve spent a good bit of time with the products of our local ‘Catholic’ prep schools – and, yea, well, um, not so much Catholic. OTOH, hanging out with the homeschooled Catholic crowd gives me a little hope. Leven, and all.

Reification in Real Life: Home Improvement Update

Numerical descriptions of reality, however useful, are not reality. While science has a whole set of its own issues with practitioners wanting math to be reality, rather than, at best, to provide a useful description of reality, in mundane life, the risk of reification can perhaps be summed up in the old adage: measure twice, cut once. Don’t imagine your first measurement tells you too much about the thing-in-itself. Mistakes happen, best give yourself a second shot at avoiding them. While measurements will never be the thing, they’re certainly more useful when they’re accurate.

What brings this all to mind is my skipping a step when laying out the bricks to be cut to allow the metal rods that support the wrought-iron style fence to pass through. I did indeed measure several times, but what I failed to do was take the fence and position it atop the marked up bricks, to verify that the rods were more or less centered within the chalk rectangles I’d drawn for cutting before I started in with the mortar. I’d carefully measured the locations, checked them a couple times, but, the fence being awkward and kind of heavy (for an old guy, at least), I just sort of skipped that step.

Spent an hour or two cutting the bricks, then a couple hours setting up and mortaring them in. Then, and only then, did I put the fence in place and drop the rods through.

Thus:

And:

The map is not the territory. Have a couple theories about what I did wrong, but no matter. With misgivings, got out a masonry bit and drilled into the bricks to widen the holes – I’d feared drilling would loosen the bricks, but it worked like a charm. Which suggests that all this falderal I’d gotten into cutting the bricks was a waste of time: should have just put ’em in, set the fence up, marked where to drill, and drilled holes. Would have been much tidier and a lot less work.

Oh, well. With that slight detour, finished it up:

Looking south.
Looking north, with the twin of this fence/planter in the background.

Updating the Insane Eternal Brick project diagram from a few months back, this is where we’re at:

Next up, apart from the little towers for the gate across the steps into the mini-orchard, is a the crescent wall above the water meter. It will go a little something like this:

Sloppy even by my low standards. The idea is 4-5 courses of bricks with river rocks worked in, then some brackets along the top upon which might be fastened some wooden posts for a fence/trellis. Or something, still working it through.

Maybe plant some ground cover around the meter?

I find myself obsessing about getting this done. Hanging over my head too long now. Hampered by my inability to do more than a couple hours work per day for more than one day. If I do any more, need to take a day or two off. The knees, back and general muscles won’t put up with much more than that. That said, you can get pretty far with a couple hours a day 2-3 times a week.

Three weeks of summer to go. Would be so nice to get this project done. Then get a job.

Home Improvement Update 08/18/19

Got lots of little essays percolating, but writing those takes time and and thought and quickly begins to resemble actual work. Therefore,

BRICKS!

When we last checked in, way back on July 23, the front planter project looked like this:

Some progress has been made:

The capping bricks along the front are not yet mortared in. I first needed to lay out where the holes go for the upright spikes on the fence. This requires carefully laying out the bricks, numbering them, marking the seams, then marking where the uprights go, so that I can then take the bricks that need cutting, cut them, check them, then stack all the bricks on the ground so that I can mortar them in in the right spots one by one. Only then can I epoxy in the little pieces of angle iron to which the bottom horizontal runner of the fence will be attached, fill the square towers with concrete up to that point, add another 7 rows, add another couple little pieces of angle iron for the top runner – THEN I can attach the fence.

I’ve done this once already, worked out fine. Lot of little detail tasks.

Marks and numbers:

May be a few days before I get to this. Our lovely and beloved younger daughter, Anna Kate, is home for a few days before heading off to South Sudan for a year of missionary work with the Salesians. 22 years old. Kids these days.

Meanwhile, a little progress on the front steps. We left them here:

Doesn’t look like much, and it isn’t really, but today we’re here:

Got the rebar epoxied in; cut and shaped a piece of round stock for the bottom hinge – a very simple post through a hole style; got a corner piece for the rain spout, which will help guide exactly where I put the bricks. This little square tower is critical, as the gate will hang on it – must be sturdy and exact. There will be, again, little pieces of angle iron with holes for the hinge rod and the rebar, to tie it all together so little kids won’t destroy the gate when they (inevitably) swing on it.

I’m holding off a bit on epoxying stuff until I’ve got a bunch to do, so I’m not opening and closing the tube of industrial epoxy mix (works like a caulking gun, only with two internal tubes that must be mixed) and thereby wasting the stuff. I’ll do the brackets on the front planter and the hinge on this tower at one time.

For your possible amusement: we had 3 old coolers, each with various issues: the hinges on the big one broke off, and the little drain plug went missing; a handle broke on another, and a crack developed in a third. After pricing replacements, decided to throw the cracked one away and repair the other two so they are at least useable.

Have I mentioned I tend strongly to overthink and over do things? I replaced the handle on the smaller one with a piece of broomstick with a hole drilled through it lengthwise (1) tied to the cooler with a length of heavy nylon cord – well and good. Then came replacing the little plug on the larger one.

The lost original was a plastic cap that screwed on. Now, you may be thinking, as I was after 5 minutes of trying other solutions: how about getting a piece of cork, shoving it in there, and calling it a day? I have in my shed a little drawer full of various sized corks. Entire process would take maybe 60 seconds, if I sauntered my way through it. I eventually did just that:

But no. The above fix took place maybe 20 minutes after I had started trying other solutions, and 15 minutes after the smarter part of my brain started whispering, then yelling: just get a cork, you schmuck!

We’re talking washers, expansion bolts, butterfly nuts, plumber’s tape, futzing with pliers and power drills and looking through a couple dozen little drawers with bits and pieces of plumbing hardware and nuts and bolts, none of which worked even a little…

And then I put a cork in it.

On the garden front, God is maybe trying to tell me something. Might be something simple like: plant in good soil with plenty of sun and water and far from any walnut roots. But I’m thinking it might be more complicated. For this year, a number of surprising things happened in the garden.

A little background: I grew up in Southern California, land of the long, perfect growing season, son of a man who grew up on a farm. When I was 12, we moved to a house with enough land attached that Dad cleared a nice area, had a truckload of manure delivered, and we put in a vegetable garden.

My childhood memories of gardening are that you plant stuff, make sure you don’t forget to water it, and you get more vegetables than you can use. And tomato worms.(2) Easy-peasy.

About 27 years ago, we rented a house with an overgrown dump of a backyard. I thought: garden! and put in a ton of work clearing and tilling a nice chunk of it. Beneath the dead grass and weeds, the soil was iffy – closer to the house, it showed signs of having been worked at some point in the not too distant past; the farther out you got, the harder the clay.

Thus began 27 years of gardening frustration. In Northern California, while the weather is still very good, nothing from my childhood seemed to work. I added manure. I watered and watered. I fertilized (which we never did when I was a kid). We’d get some stuff some years, but never anything like what we got when I was a kid. Our house where we’ve lived now for 23 years has rock-hard clay soil and a couple huge walnut trees in the back. The only way we get anything is planting in planters, and that only sort of works.

Until this year:

Two of 4 cantaloupes on a volunteer vine in the front planter, along with one of 8 nice butternut squash on another volunteer vine.
A few of the couple dozen large tomatoes on one of two plant in the front.
One of 5 and counting sugar pumpkins.
Scale is hard to get here, but that’s a large and growing giant pumpkin, heading toward 100+ lbs (we hope)

And there’s some peppers and sweet potatoes, along with a lot of fruit from the fruit trees. The backyard stuff in planters is disappointing as usual (although we’re getting a few melons and some nice peppers) but the front yard in-the-ground stuff is a flashback to childhood! Woohoo!

So: I lost my job 14 months ago; my wife quit her (modestly salaried) school job in June. We’re both trying to get some home stuff taken care of before hitting the job hunting trail. Yet this is the year of the fairly epic garden and orchard. Like I said, not sure what if anything this means.

  1. If you’re wondering, I drilled a hole freehand the length of the handle, coming at it from both ends and meeting in the middle. Got lucky – the holes met up exactly. I mention this because if the Universe wants me to stop doing stupid things like this, which had probably under a 20% chance of working, I need to fail the *first* time I try. Otherwise, flush with success, I’ll keep doing stupid things, thinking they’ll work. Ya know?
  2. My little brothers and I were greatly amused when we showed the dog the tomato worms. They’d spit at him, he’d eat them. He’d have green whiskers the rest of the day.

NOT Breaking My Pledge…

…to never write about cats or sports. I’m writing about animal behavior. It just happens to be my cat’s behavior. Totally different! No, really!

I like pets. In addition to dogs and cats, I’ve had fish, reptiles, frogs and toads. My family briefly had a canary. Kids have had mice and hermit crabs, and I’m sure I’m forgetting something. So, pets, yes.

I like dogs and cats, but like cats more because a) I find their ‘personalities,’ such as they are, more interesting, and b) cats are a lot easier to care for than dogs. Your mileage may, of course, vary.

One thing is clear: virtually all discussion of animal intelligence is projection. Dogs and cats are intelligent, in some sense, but not usually in the senses people seem to think. Both are predators but of very different kinds, and have ‘intelligence’ that reflects how their ancestors stayed alive in their environments of evolutionary adaptation. At least, that’s the party line among evolutionary biologists, and seems to me to account for the vast bulk of Fluffy’s and Fido’s behaviors. There’s behaviors around the edges, such as cats attacking dogs who are attacking their humans, or dogs standing watch over the graves of their former owners, which are harder to explain, or rather, the explanations come off as egregious ‘just so’ stories.

Yet on the whole, our furry pets’ behaviors seem to make sense, once you think of a dog as a pack animal, and a cat as a largely solitary hunter. Dogs, like people, ‘know’ instinctively that their survival depends on belonging to a pack/tribe/herd. Belonging is survival Job 1, and so dogs are forever seeking affirmation, showing submission (or dominance, if poorly trained), and trying to engage you in play of some sort. They also really have a hard time with the ‘my food/your food’ distinction unless you are there to enforce it. In the dog’s world, the alpha should simply never walk away from food he still wants.

A cat, on the other hand, will leave you a present. That dead rat, mouse or bird on the welcome mat is a gesture of affection perhaps even more profound than a dog’s leaping up to lick his master’s face. This is food we’re talking about – life and death. You ‘share’ cat food with the cat, which in some ways must blow his tiny mind. They must really like you to share back.

We are currently down to one pet, a cat. Our cat is a Siberian. Unlike other breeds whimsically named for exotic places, Siberians are called that because they come from Siberia. They look the part, with the thickest, softest fur, suited for a place where it gets really, really cold. They are also large – helps with heat retention.

Siberians are most well known for low levels of allergens in their saliva, meaning that people with cat allergies can tolerate Siberians better than most other breeds. (1) Everyone in the family except me and the Caboose are allergic; we all went to the breeder’s house together and spent an hour there, and nobody reacted very strongly – and so I paid actual money for a cat, something I’d never done before.

They are also known for their strong ‘personalities’ – they tend to be smart, playful, athletic and fond of their humans. They can also have a mean streak: our son very presciently named his cat ‘Razor’. He’s a nice cat, usually, just don’t cross him. Sharp claws and teeth, and he does not hesitate to use them.

So, anyway, here’s the interesting situation that occasioned this post. The Caboose is the cat’s human; I am the number one back-up. In general, this means that when the boy is sitting around playing video games or watching something, the cat can most often be found draped on him. When his boy is not available, he wants my attention.

This cat’s idea of getting attention is to act like a toddler: he will follow me around, and any time I stand still, he will put his front paws on my thigh to get me to pick him up. Usually, I obligue. When I don’t, like when I’m up early and trying to make some coffee and breakfast, the cat generally gives up after a few tries, and then maybe tries again when I’m done eating.

Well, his boy has been on three one-week Boy Scout adventures this summer so far, and the cat is not taking it well. When I get up early – almost every day – and the boy is not around (2), the cat freaking panics. He doesn’t just follow me around, meowing, and putting his paws on my leg, he freaking chases me down if I try to walk away. No amount of ignoring him will get him to stop. I finally had to put him in another room and close the door just so I could have a cup of coffee.

By now – 2:00 p.m. – I’ve picked him up and held him and petted him for a bit at least half a dozen times today. He finally went off to nap somewhere, meaning I can type this. His boy got up mid-morning (hey, he’s 15, it’s summer) and that helped. But it didn’t fully end it.

This behavior seems much more dog-like than cat-like. I certainly have never seen it before. I’m trying to map it to ‘solitary predator’ behavior, and it ain’t working. What is up with this crazy cat? I’m sympathetic and all, but it’s also driving me nuts. What will happen when our son goes away to college in a few years?

The Caboose is scheduled to be home for the next few weeks, then is heading off for another one-week Boy Scout gig. Sure hope the cat figures this out on some level, or he’s going to be spending alone time in closed rooms.

For reference only: the animal in question, with his boy, as of a couple years ago.
  1. All this means is that for people with allergies that are not too severe, jut having Siberians around will likely be tolerable. If you hold them and play with them for extended periods, are bets are off. Works for us, anyway.
  2. We all keep our bedroom doors closed at night, as the cat will otherwise decide he needs to work on his prowling and pouncing skills at some point during the night, or needs some petting at 2:00 a.m. or other such nonsense. So he really doesn’t seem to know who is home and who isn’t until we get up.

Saturday Update, 7/27/19

1 I still need a job. Been a year now. About 1/2 through my contingency savings, so we could (theoretically) skate another year. But that would be bad.

2 We’re having the volunteers from the local Birthright over this afternoon for pizza and other good things the board, of which I’m a member, are providing. Most of the volunteers are retired or empty-nest women, who show up at our little center for a few hours a week to council women in crisis pregnancies. They tend to get attached to the women and their babies, and often form longer-term relationships. Good people. Should be fun. Lot of prep yet to do.

3 This upcoming pizza party occasioned another little Home Improvement Project! If you spend far too much time on this blog and have a scary-good memory, you may recall this pizza oven door I built a couple years ago:

Pizza oven, front, with its late oak door

It was cute. Well, a year or so ago, a houseguest wanted to help out, and, since he had worked as a fireman, I told him he could get a nice fire going in the pizza oven, so we could make some pizzas when I got back. Gave him instructions about how one builds a fire toward the front, then, once it’s going, shove it to the back and starts another fire in the front, then, once both are going, you can put the door in front loosely to trap some of the heat, so that the whole oven heats evenly.

Set up for a sit-com moment? You bet!

I come home, and flames are coming out of the pizza oven’s chimney; branches of the nearby privet are smoldering. And my nice little door is on fire. The door had two thin sheets of galvanized steel sandwiching an inch of high-temp mineral wool on the side facing in. The wood was not directly exposed to the fire. I’d used it a dozen times without catching it on fire. A little singe, here and there, but that’s about it. It took some, um, enthusiasm to set it on fire.

So, finally got around to building a replacement door:

Note the intense soot above the door. Scrap oak, again, but this time with one much heavier sheet of steel toward the fire, 1″ mineral wool insulation, and some high-temp furnace gasket around the edges, not for sealing, but for a barrier to the mineral wool. The fire-facing stuff is rated minimum 1,000F. So, can we not burn the oak this time?

This was a surprisingly frustrating project, took hours longer than it should have. End result looks OK, but man…. Sloppy glue-up required quite a bit of shaping; both the chop saw and the jig saw were having difficulties I could not identify and correct; cracked the board when I got a little too enthusiastic about attaching the insulation… just a bunch of stuff went wrong. Oh, well, it’s done.

4 Finally, and this is harder to write about: I’ve been having empty nester symptoms. True, our 15 year old still lives with us, but he’s been on 3 1-week Boy Scout adventures this summer already. So, it’s me, my wife, MIL and the cat. The older kids scattered to the winds for (Newman List! Don’t leave home without it!) colleges, so they’ve been gone for four or more years already. So, yea.

On the selfish plus side, Older Daughter has moved to Napa, only a 45 minute drive away. So we see more of her, and it is a blessing. She also has a lovely boyfriend there. This is all very good.

Now something my wife and I long suspected may be coming to pass: younger daughter has had this thing about going to Africa as a missionary for years now. Prior to graduation, she looked into a bunch of options, and hooked up with the Salesians. She’s training with them now in New York state. In a couple months, she’s heading off to South Sudan for a year.

She was thanking us for not trying to talk her out of it, but it wasn’t easy keeping my mouth shut. She’ll be with a bunch of other people at a well-established mission, with folks who have been doing this for years, so it’s about as safe as could be hoped. But this is my little girl here!

And – this is the part we’ve suspected – she is loving the Salesian community. She’s not talking about becoming a religious sister (yet), but loves the work and the people.

Well, she’s God’s, not ours, and has always been His. Thy will be done.