Be the Wall & Weekend Bullet Points

1. Be the Wall. Many years ago, my beloved and I attended a few child rearing classes, from which the one thing I remember was the stern admonition to Be the Wall. Kids are going to want to test their ideas and your limits. If they get all emotional and vehement, interpret that to mean they trust you, their mother and father, enough to risk real exposure. This works from toddlerhood all the way to adulthood, and is in no way contradictory to being loving, supportive and gentle. Kids need to push to grow up, and pushing against people they love and trust, and who they know will love and trust them back even if – especially if! – the answer is ‘no’ is the best way for them to learn self control, self respect, and how to stand firm themselves.

So, parents must be the wall, neither giving an inch nor overreacting to the pushing. Not always easy, but necessary. A key part: knowing what you stand for, knowing the places you will not give. These should be few, and consistent. Everything else should be negotiable. With any luck, children so raised will be able to carry these lessons out into the world, and distinguish between principles and necessary rules, and things that can be negotiated. They will be able to behave as adults.

Image result for wall falling downWe live in a world of feral children – of all ages. They have pushed, and found no wall. Many times found no mother or father. They pushed, and one time, the wall fell with hardly a breeze; the next time, it pushed back violently. They pushed and pushed, and ended up in the streets, looking for something, anything, that will push back.

Thinks that should have been learned in the privacy of family life and that can only be learned in family life are now lacking in public life. Our feral children find no walls. The drive to push is unsatisfied and unabated.

2. Fight the Urge to Dirge. Ye Sons and Daughters is one fine Easter song, great tune, tells the story in a charming, memorable way. Only one problem: for some inexplicable reason, choir directors seem almost universally to take what should be something like a bouncy waltz, tempo and feel wise, and turn it into something more like a funeral processional. With a bit a vim, the song is catchy and easy; plodding, it is just another forgettable church song.

You can imagine what brought about these thoughts. We did do some glorious Easter hymns yesterday as well. But it hurts to see such a charming tune done so – bleech.

3. White Sunday/Mercy Sunday Pizza bash! Invited all sorts of Catholics with whom it is meet and just to be celebrating the end of the Easter Octave over – had maybe 30 adults and a dozen or more kids (many of whom wanted to make their own pizzas, which we did – maybe made 20 pizzas in all). Kept it going from 2:30 until after 9. A lot of fun.

Two thoughts, and if you have any suggestions, I’m all ears: when inviting people to something like this, it is customary for them to ask ‘what can we bring? aaaand customary for me (who tends to be the major cook for these things) to say ‘nothing’ or ‘something to drink’ – because trying to manage who brings what is just more trouble than it’s worth, But: people want to bring something, at least, I know I do when the roles (and, possibly, rolls) are reversed. So, this time, due to the large and uncertain numbers of people, I said: we’ll be providing main courses, you needn’t bring anything, but you can if you want.

So, yesterday, at 10:00 at night, I’m packing away A LOT of food. We ran through the pizza stuff, sure, but I made a vat of guacamole and about 8-9 lbs of pastrami with ciabatta rolls and fixings to match and – lots of stuff. But lovely and generous people also brought lots of delicious things, much of which got left. Into the freeze went pastrami, a couple chickens, a couple dozen ciabatta rolls. The fridge and a couple coolers are packed with salads and vegetables; my wife made delicious pashka and kulich – which got lost in a sea of wonderful desserts. So, into the freezer or coolers it goes.

There are only 4 to 6 of us at home (it varies because – story). I hate throwing food, especially really good food, out, so now I’m looking for homes for at least some of the more perishable stuff. Work, school, neighbors are all likely to get some nice gifts – but this becomes another task on top of set up, food prep and clean up.

I also hate telling people how to be generous and all the planning it takes to be able to say: no, we have enough salads, how about a dessert or some wine? Or whatever.

Thoughts?

Finally think I’m getting the hang of the brick oven. The usual advice is that each oven is different, you just have to use it and see what works. What works for this oven: at least a two-hour burn before you start cooking. Three hours is better, although this probably had something to do with all the rain making the whole oven a little damp. Then: just keep it going – at least 2 or three logs burning at the back in addition to all the hot coals while you cook. By the end, we were popping pizzas in and out in 2-3 minutes each. And they were excellent.

If I ever build another brick oven, please shoot me. I mean, I’ll make it more massive and better insulated. Also, getting the hang of Naples-style pizza dough, which you make a few days in advance and let chill until a few hours before you’ll be using it – slightly sour taste, excellent stretchy texture for making those lovely thin-crust pizzas that work so well in a brick oven. (I honestly cringed a little when the kids were manhandling those beautiful dough balls on the way to making cheese and olive or pepperoni over store-bought sauce pizzas – but that’s what they were there for! Deep breath. I do love kids more than cooking. Really. And they had a blast.)

Great fun. Looking forward to doing it again next year.

4. Finally, I compulsively reread this bit of flash fiction fluff, and got a little worried that people might think I was making fun of Southerners, when nothing was farther from my mind – Edgar and Bill are perfectly competent adults who love telling tales and maybe messing with the out of towner a bit. Colorful locals, in other words, not red neck morons. I worry some people don’t know the difference, one difference being that, in my experience, there are many more of the former than the latter.

Anyway, came across this YouTube video, wherein an English shipwright is rebuilding the Tally Ho, a hundred year old classic harbor clipper style racing yacht. He’s rebuilding it in Washington state, but needed a lot of extra-sturdy Southern live oak for the structural members.

Turns out that a man named Steve Cross in southern Georgia runs the only mill in America that handles live oak – the very characteristics that make it ideal for ship structural members render it very difficult and uneconomical for commercial mills to deal with. So Steve builds his own Rube Goldberg style mill out of parts from tractors, forklifts and combines and whatever else was lying around, and serves ship builders and restorers around the world.

He’s clearly a mechanical genius of sorts – and is just as clearly one of those colorful locals messing a bit – a completely friendly bit – with English Leo the shipwright.

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Story Telling

Apropos of nothing: Was reading in comments to a Mike Flynn blog post about how he came to be a writer, more accurately, a story-teller, and started in thinking of why I, with little success as success is usually counted, want to tell stories. In other words, what follows is autobiographical navel-gazing. You’ve been warned. Here goes:

We were not a literary family. Mom read Reader’s Digest condensed novels, a brother or two read the sports pages. Nobody that I can remember read to us when we were little. In a way, it’s a little amazing more than half of us 9 kids got through college – three of us overcompensated with Masters (one of my sisters has *3*); one even got a JD.

Dad always thought and said that education was for getting a job. He himself had pursued all sorts of vo-tech stuff, back in the day, learning first how to do office work (he decided early on being an Oklahoma farm boy was not his vocation) and then how to do everything in sheet metal fabrication. He stayed home during WWII – a crack welder with two small children was the kind of guy they were happy to have stay to help build and repair stuff.

So education = job prep. Reading was something mom did in her very limited free time, or guys did to see how the pennant race was going.

Let’s say I didn’t fit in. Didn’t learn to read until I was 6, I think because nobody showed me how. I remember learning phonics (dark time, 1964!) and going wow! THAT’s how it works! and driving the family nuts for a few weeks sounding out every street sign and billboard that went by as we drove.

(This is also when I had my first splash of cold water in school: I LOVED to read, and did it very well – and so teacher never called on me in class. She would ask, I’d practically jump out of my seat, hand held high – and never got called on. Because – and this logic baffled me then – because I could do it. But I had to stay in class anyway…)

Discovered the school library in 4th grade. Tore through the Time-Life Science books – picture books with science-lite in them, but good enough for a kid. I even read a college level history of Rome (have no idea what it was doing in a grade school library, but there it was) because one of those Iowa basic tests said I read at a college level in like 5th grade, and so, literalist that I was, thought I should start reading college level books. Well, I could sound out all the words, sure, and knew 99% of the vocabulary, but I don’t think I was quite ready intellectually. At any rate, don’t think I learned much. Did muscle through the whole thing.

Around the same time, due to the accident of there being a series of short books in the bookcase under the windows in the 5th grade classroom, I read a lot of biographies. Mostly American heroes. I’d learned that if I sat in the back and didn’t bother anybody, the teacher would leave me alone. I sat in the back near that bookcase, and wold grab a volume when I thought no one was looking. So I began the habit of ignoring what went on in class and surreptitiously reading something. Became my M.O. well into college, when I discovered I couldn’t pass the classes if I didn’t pay attention. Go figure.

Image result for Time-Life science books
If I’m remembering correctly (50 years ago!) this volume has the instructions on how to build an electric motor out of paperclips, thumb tacks, a couple nails and some wire. I built it – it worked!

I early developed this bias that a serious reader read real stuff, not that frou-frou fiction stuff. In my innocence, I thought Time-Life science books were real stuff. Wasn’t until about 6th grade that I got into fiction – science fiction. Bradbury was my first love, followed by Asimov. By my junior year in high school, I’d switched to philosophy – Plato, mainly – because I’d decided to go to St. John’s College and thought I’d get a head start.

 

But there were mom’s Readers Digest condensed books lying around the house, so I read those. Occasionally somebody would suggest something and I’d read it (read Lord of the Rings, was not impressed. Hey, I was young and stupid. Now at least I’m not young). And I’d thumbed through hundreds of books at the Whittier Public Library, read a few on fairly random topics (e.g., frogs, ancient maps, paleoanthropology). No program, just pulling stuff off the shelves.

What does this have to do with story-telling? Outside Bradbury, Asimov and Star Trek TOS, I din’t really have much experience even hearing stories, let alone telling them. Nobody I knew wrote much of anything. The world of writing was as distant and theoretical as the world of doctors, lawyers and professors. The typical adult I knew was a welder or a housewife. The kids I knew read comic books if they read anything.

In college I discovered a new world, where everybody, it seems, was the son or daughter of a lawyer or doctor, everybody had read a ton of books, people kept folders or files with stuff they wrote in it, and all in all treated this intellectual stuff as if it were work! As if it had value.

Hmmm.

Sometime after college I discovered that I really liked writing. By then, I’d hacked my way through the Great Books as well as a more broad selection of fiction. But emotionally, it was never real work, the results were of mere mystical value, not like the sheet metal buildings and cabinets my dad turned out. Always felt weirdly guilty about writing, and could hardly work up the perseverance to finish anything very long – I mean, it’s not like it has any value…

My wife, in a fit of inexplicable foolishness, married me when I was 29 and almost an adult. We had our first child in 1991, with additions roughly 2 years apart until we hit 4 in 1997. I built a weird bunk bed – queen on the bottom, twin on the top – out of scrap lumber (we still have it). To give my poor wife a break, I’d put the kids to bed – I’d lay in the bottom bunk, 2, 3, or 4 kids cuddled up next to me.

And tell stories. Eventually, I’d let each child pick one or two characters and then try to work them into a story. Got pretty weird, with video game characters, Disney princesses, made up creatures (that would come with rambling dissertations about exactly what they were like and what powers they had, and woe to dad if he forgot to work those into the story!) and so on.

It was a challenge and a delight. Must have told several hundred of those stories over the years. Perfect audience. The race was to see if they would fall asleep before I did – even money.

Then the kids wanted to tell stories, too. I served as stenographer to the two oldest and the Caboose. Hope I can find those stories to embarrass them at their weddings.

Then came this blog. Here I can write as long or short a piece as I want and just throw it out there. Well over a 1,000 posts and 1,000,000 words. I suppose that counts for something, like carving a statue out of a grain of rice – cool, sorta, but why?

There’s now this pile of story ideas and drafts and even a few completed ones. Couple novel outlines. I had hoped to get into it more about a year ago, but then life got really complicated – no, really, much more complicated than it had been, with many additional obligations which sap my time and energy. So – maybe next year.

Either I’ll learn how to work around life, life will get a bit simpler, or it won’t.

Update: Reading, Writing, Life

I must have half a dozen books/magazines going right now, may be some kind of record for me. Plus a bunch of things I’ve finished that I ought to review. So, of course, started another book last night – I admit, a blurb yanked from a review did me in:

“It’s sort of like what might happen if one of Heinlein’s juvenile heroes (say Kip from Have Spacesuit Will Travel) was thrust into the modern era and was forced to use “SJWs Always Lie” as his freshman orientation guide while battling the Black Hats.”

I mean, c’mon. So I’m about 50% into The Hidden Truth: A Science Fiction Techno-Thriller by Hans G. Schantz, which is book 1 in the series book 2 of which earned the above comment. So far, yep. Dude is very good and inventive writer. If he keeps it up, I’m up for the series. Plus, it not too long.

About 25% into Okla Hannali by Lafferty. It started getting sad, and there are times I can’t read a lot of sad. This is one of those times. Brigg’s Uncertainty: The Soul of Modeling, Probability & Statistics got to the point where I needed to reread the opening chapters to sure I was getting it – and so, almost to the end, I started over. Good book. Needs more attention than I’ve been able to give it so far.

And a pile of books on mythology that I tend to read when nothing else appeals to me at the moment. Greek, Roman, Polynesian.

And the Phenomenology of Spirit, where I stopped half-way through the main text after having read Hegel’s interminable introduction. Read it in college, need to finish up the reread.

Read a bunch of superversive/pulp rev magazines that I’ve yet to review. Have a pile I haven’t started yet. Also, looking sternly down at me from the shelves, are some Flynn, Wright and Wolfe. *gulp* In addition, I have maybe half a dozen books and stories from the Essential Sci Fi Reading List I’ve yet to get to. There’s maybe 20 more I haven’t tracked down a copy of yet.

Aaaand – there’s the longer term projects. Half way through some education history and biographies of the major players, but set all that aside as I need to be sitting up at a desk taking notes, not drifting off to sleep, to read these. I want to write a book or two about my findings one of these years.

So much for the reading side. On the writing side, seems I’ve done nothing since about August of last year. This is not merely inertia or laziness – life got complicated. I have maybe 3 out of 4 Friday and 2 out of 4 Monday evenings free – weekdays all booked up otherwise; weekends are a crapshoot. I get up by 6:00, so pulling 10:30 – midnight writing jags really isn’t in the cards, at least not regularly. And, for spiritual/emotional reason (fancy way of saying it calms me down) I’ve taken to playing piano an hour or two a day. About halfway through learning Beethoven’s Sonata Pathetique, as well as continuing to plow through the Well Tempered Clavier (have about 6 down pretty well, and a few more sorta kinda). Also throwing in a little jazz and improv.

That said, for some reason I reread a bit of the Novel That Shall Not Be Named (except here’s a sample that has since been revised and may not even end up in the book) the other day, and started getting excited again, and wrote another few pages, and – I need more time, but I also need a job.

Very sad last few days at Thomas More College in New Hampshire, where my charming and beautiful younger daughter is a junior. The little brother, 11, of one of the students fell into a coma out of the blue, and died. No one knows why, totally unexpected. Please say a prayer for the repose of his soul and comfort for his family and for the College, which, being tiny, is taking this very hard. A number of other sad things have happened there as well – when there are only 125 students and everybody knows everybody, problems and tragedies are communal things. Tough Lent for them.

Me? Feeling better, love, love, love being involved in RCIA, the First Communion Parent’s class and my Feasts and Faith class at the local parish, even when it does burn up a huge chunk of time – but then, that’s what life is for. So that’s all good. Have almost completed the transition from worrying about raising our kids right to worrying about what they will do with their lives. Youngest just turned 14, the three others are in their early 20s. And worrying about how they take care of themselves. Fortunately, we were blessed with truly wonderful kids, so we don’t worry too much over things most modern parents worry about. But, still.

Enough.

 

Quick Book Review: Superluminary

I think somewhere on his blog, John C. Wright mentioned that in his latest novel Superluminary: The Lords of Creation he decided to go as over-the-top cosmic pulp adventure as he could. If that’s so, the author of the Eschaton Sequence, the Golden Age series and Somewhither  has finally cut loose ? Stopped toning down the SFF crazy?

Superluminary: The Lords of Creation by [Wright, John C.]What? I would say that when it comes to piling on more wild SciFi speculation into a book or story, Mr. Wright is without conscience. And that’s a good thing. That said, this book is a wild ride.

The Lords of Creation, the first of four books that compile the weekly serial Superluminary, starts fast and never stops. Somebody wants to kill Aeneas Tell, the upstart young Lord of Creation, and very nearly succeeds. The first chapter ends with the first of many narrow, death-defying escapes, characteristically employing wild yet tethered to reality SciFi gadgets.

The extended family of an insane (or is he?) god-like ancestor have nearly limitless power due to an alien artifact that the original Lord discovered. The offspring overthrew him, and have solved all want and war, but treat mere mortals as nothing more than pets. Aeneas thinks the Lords have grown too powerful and complacent, but his plans to overthrow them and share their technology with the peons backfire. He gets assassinated, after a fashion.

Aeneas finds himself headless and freezing to death on the forbidden planet Pluto, losing precious heat through the bloody stump of his neck (he keeps a backup brain in his torso for just such contingencies), when his enhanced senses discover a gigantic tower on the horizon, which turns out to be a long-lost spaceship with an undead, life-sucking crew of 300 – you get the picture. And it never stops!

No planets get blown up in this volume, an oversight I trust Wright will remedy over the next three.

So if you’re jonesing for a rollicking good old-style space adventure with boatloads of modern tech speculation and undead spacemen and a deftly and memorably drawn cast of characters, this story is for you. 5 stars.

Got a couple more books/magazines to review when I get a minute. Also, started rereading William Brigg’s excellent Uncertainty: the Soul of Modelling, Probability and Statistics, which I never quite finished and reviewed – it’s not a light read, but a book to be pondered. Must give that a write-up as well.

Bombax and Our Lady of Grace 

In St. Petersburg Florida for an industry convention. On the lawn of the Museum of Fine Art there’s this bombax tree: 

No leaves this time of year, but a zillion giant red flowes. Impressive.

Also, a little over a mile away is St. Mary Our Lady of Grace, a lovely octagonal church I’d visited before years ago under similar circumstances, but failed to get pictures of this time. 

Aaaand – that about sums up the highlights. Off to Tampa and a flight home.  More book reviews coming up soon. 

Boodog!

Y’all probably thought I was making this up, right? You thought my efforts to popularize ‘throwing down the boodog’ as an idiom for vigorous partying was just some random emission from my overheated brain.

Well, well, well – here’s a little video, from some Mongolian university no less, that will show you just how wrong you are! (Or probably or possibly wrong, to cover all the bases.)

Ha!

(Darn it! Can’t get the video to start at the #6 at 3:44 in, which is boodog. So skip ahead if that’s all you want to see.)

Boodog (which I admit I am disappointed to learn is pronounced more like ‘buhdig’ than BOO-DOG! Mongolians don’t know the opportunity they’ve let slip away here) is in fact what any solid Mongolian throws down at a party. Just watch the video!

That is all. Except I ate a bunch of gator bits (that’s what the sign near the dish called it) with a slightly spicy sauce here at this convention I’m attending in St. Petersburg, FL. I had them with a nice Merlot, if you must know.  And yes, it did taste somewhat like slightly chewy chicken. So I would myself have some boodog if anyone were throwing some down in my presence. I’m that kind of guy.

Hail Lithuania!

Until I spent a few minutes googling around just now, all I could tell you about Lithuania is:

  • One of those surprising medieval empires was built by Lithuanians, as a kingdom that passed into a duchy (I think.)
  • A disproportionate number of tall, athletic men hail from Lithuania. Šarūnas Marčiulionis and Arvydas Sabonis being perhaps the most famous.
  • They have very good and cheap wireless access there (read this in some business publication somewhere…).
Sabonis Lipofsky (1 of 1).JPG
This dude, for example, is HUGE!

Aaaaand – that’s about it. Sounds like a fascinating place, just never really read up on it. How such small countries/nationalities retain their identity and culture when so many others are crushed and forgotten is a subject of great interest to me, so I suppose I should try to find out how a couple million people managed to hold on when surrounded by much larger and more aggressive cultures (Russia and Germany, for starters). There must be something strong about Lithuanians.

Why am I writing this? the inscrutably bored reader might wonder in passing. According to WordPress’s blog stats, some person or persons from Lithuania have been surfing this humble blog over the last few days.

So consider this a shout out! Welcome & thanks!