Tuesday, July 07, 2015

Lemons and Limes and Labs Oh My!

During a visit to the nursery last week to find a plant (eventually a Lavens Lavendula Grosso) to place over Snowball's grave I found that Lemon and Lime trees were 25% off. This was kind of exciting, as some level of citrus independence was listed on my goals and citrus is something that is within my ability to do here.  And so, one day later, off to the nursery I went...

(Labrador Retriever not included  with citrus trees in all states.  Consult your local regulations for details.)

The upshot was that I acquired two Mexican Limes and two Meyer Lemon trees for under $100 out the door (In cash.  Thank you very much).  The Mexican Limes are dwarfs naturally and will theoretically top out at 6 to 10 feet; the Meyer Lemons can grow taller but (as I discovered) are controlled by the size of the container.

These are not trees for year round outdoors.  Not at all.  We run the risk of getting pretty cold here - we have dipped to 19 F and seen 25-30 F regularly at nights in winter - which these trees will not tolerate.  However, with large pots the idea of an orangerie becomes possible, where the trees are migrated into a greenhouse or house (or in my case, my garage with my spiffy new insulated garage door that has windows) for the winter.

Is this going to completely resolve my citrus needs?  Not at all - even with fantastic production, lemons and limes will only carry me so far.  I need more - a Satsuma orange (mandarin) or two would be ideal (they are apparently much more cold tolerant but were not on sale) and even a graperfuit tree would help.  Still, every little bit is an advance - and lemon/lime juice can easy be frozen for use later on or (potentially) preserved for later use (I've read about this - never tried them though).

But I have to remind myself in such moments that every little advance makes a difference.  Even if I just get enough to not buy lemon or lime juice, that is money in my pocket and a little more independence in my life - and, let us be honest, citrus blooms are both peculiarly fragrant and attract bees....

Monday, July 06, 2015

DeFace(book)ing My Life

Part of the outcome of Input Deprivation and Quietly Disappearing has been the slow fact that my life is becoming deFacebooked.

It happened almost by accident:  I woke up one morning and suddenly felt no urge to stop by there. The  incessant need to make a daily post - even if was an inspirational one - went away as well.

It is an odd thing, to suddenly stop doing something that has been part of your life for a long time (7 years, in my case).  At first it feels very odd indeed:  one has to fight the constant urge to go back and check in and see what is going on or post the latest thing that has occurred.  And then, over time, one finds that the "need" is there less and less, that time previously dedicated to Facebook has become swallowed up in other things (some might argue, the actual fact of living).


Facebook has become a great tool in the ebbing of discourse and human relationships.

(Well, that seems pretty expansive.  Care to explain?)

Facebook's great appeal is that you can become connected with almost anyone anywhere - a sort of mini-Star Trek United Federation of Planets where everyone interacts on a sort of giant spacestation. And initially, it is quite a heady thing:  one can find friends long disappeared or make new friends half a globe away.  The promise of technology, I suppose.

But what one comes to realize is that beyond social applications ("Look at this amusing Internet print!  My child's tooth has fallen out!") very little of actual import gets done there.  As with the Internet in general, it shares the fact that it is not a forum where intellectual debate happens or the important issues of life get resolved - in fact, it sort of functions as a sort of agora where the demos rules by volume, not by well thought out arguments.

The second - and perhaps more pernicious - item is the fact that is has pretty much completely debased the word "Friend".  A friend, at one time, was someone with whom one shared a relationship or interest, something that grew over time into a thing of joy and preciousness.  Now, that word has been reduced to "Send Friend Request" and then one ends up with hundreds and hundreds of "Friends".  It is as if we have completely short-circuited the process of relationship in the need to make connections as quickly as possibly.

A third point - perhaps the most alarming - is that, like all other private entities, it controls the environment in which it operates.  It makes the rules.  Again, following my cardinal rule of no politics or religion, I will simply say that Facebook does not operate as the free marketplace of ideas.  It is, rather, a connection site where certain ideas or concepts are discussed and others are not.  That is their right after all:  it's a business and they control it and I (when I was there more frequently) was using their Terms of Service just as I would not start singing "O Canada" in the midst of a fine restaurant.

It does mean, though, that I might choose not to dine there in the first place.  Because mistaking a restaurant for a place where one can express one's musical talent is a foolish thing.

I am not sure where this all ends up.  The reality is that I have made friends through the site (true friends by shared common interests) and it is a handy way to update pictures for family and friends far away - so it has a certain utility.  And certainly there are ways to control the flow of information (although my Luddite tendencies may prevent me from making the effort to learn).

Perhaps my mistake in the first place was grabbing the idea of Facebook as if it were a pair of wire cutters and believing that I could do much more with it than simply cut wires.

Saturday, July 04, 2015

The Declaration of Independence

This strikes me as more meaningful this year than many past:

When, in the course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the laws of nature and of nature's God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.

 We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. That to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed. That whenever any form of government becomes destructive to these ends, it is the right of the people to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their safety and happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shown that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such government, and to provide new guards for their future security. --Such has been the patient sufferance of these colonies; and such is now the necessity which constrains them to alter their former systems of government. The history of the present King of Great Britain is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute tyranny over these states. To prove this, let facts be submitted to a candid world.

He has refused his assent to laws, the most wholesome and necessary for the public good.

He has forbidden his governors to pass laws of immediate and pressing importance, unless suspended in their operation till his assent should be obtained, and when so suspended, he has utterly neglected to attend to them.

He has refused to pass other laws for the accommodation of large districts of people, unless those people would relinquish the right of representation in the legislature, a right inestimable to them and formidable to tyrants only.

He has called together legislative bodies at places unusual, uncomfortable, and distant from the depository of their public records, for the sole purpose of fatiguing them into compliance with his measures.

He has dissolved representative houses repeatedly, for opposing with manly firmness his invasions on the rights of the people.

He has refused for a long time, after such dissolutions, to cause others to be elected; whereby the legislative powers, incapable of annihilation, have returned to the people at large for their exercise; the state remaining in the meantime exposed to all the dangers of invasion from without, and convulsions within.

He has endeavored to prevent the population of these states; for that purpose obstructing the laws for naturalization of foreigners; refusing to pass others to encourage their migration hither, and raising the  conditions of new appropriations of lands.

He has obstructed the administration of justice, by refusing his assent to laws for establishing judiciary powers.

He has made judges dependent on his will alone, for the tenure of their offices, and the amount and payment of their salaries.

He has erected a multitude of new offices, and sent hither swarms of officers to harass our people, and eat out their substance.

He has kept among us, in times of peace, standing armies without the consent of our legislature.

He has affected to render the military independent of and superior to civil power.

He has combined with others to subject us to a jurisdiction foreign to our constitution, and unacknowledged by our laws; giving his assent to their acts of pretended legislation:

For quartering large bodies of armed troops among us:

For protecting them, by mock trial, from punishment for any murders which they should commit on the inhabitants of these states:

For cutting off our trade with all parts of the world:

For imposing taxes on us without our consent:

For depriving us in many cases, of the benefits of trial by jury:

For transporting us beyond seas to be tried for pretended offenses:

For abolishing the free system of English laws in a neighboring province, establishing therein an arbitrary government, and enlarging its boundaries so as to render it at once an example and fit instrument for introducing the same absolute rule in these colonies:

For taking away our charters, abolishing our most valuable laws, and altering fundamentally the forms of our governments:

For suspending our own legislatures, and declaring themselves invested with power to legislate for us in all cases whatsoever.

He has abdicated government here, by declaring us out of his protection and waging war against us.

He has plundered our seas, ravaged our coasts, burned our towns, and destroyed the lives of our people.

He is at this time transporting large armies of foreign mercenaries to complete the works of death, desolation and tyranny, already begun with circumstances of cruelty and perfidy scarcely paralleled in the most barbarous ages, and totally unworthy the head of a civilized nation.

He has constrained our fellow citizens taken captive on the high seas to bear arms against their country, to become the executioners of their friends and brethren, or to fall themselves by their hands.

He has excited domestic insurrections amongst us, and has endeavored to bring on the inhabitants of our frontiers, the merciless Indian savages, whose known rule of warfare, is undistinguished destruction of all ages, sexes and conditions.

In every stage of these oppressions we have petitioned for redress in the most humble terms: our repeated petitions have been answered only by repeated injury. A prince, whose character is thus marked by every act which may define a tyrant, is unfit to be the ruler of a free people.

Nor have we been wanting in attention to our British brethren. We have warned them from time to time of attempts by their legislature to extend an unwarrantable jurisdiction over us. We have reminded them of the circumstances of our emigration and settlement here. We have appealed to their native justice and magnanimity, and we have conjured them by the ties of our common kindred to disavow these usurpations, which, would inevitably interrupt our connections and correspondence. They too have been deaf to the voice of justice and of consanguinity. We must, therefore, acquiesce in the necessity, which denounces our separation, and hold them, as we hold the rest of mankind, enemies in war, in peace friends.

We, therefore, the representatives of the United States of America, in General Congress, assembled, appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions, do, in the name, and by the authority of the good people of these colonies, solemnly publish and declare, that these united colonies are, and of right ought to be free and independent states; that they are absolved from all allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political connection between them and the state of Great Britain, is and ought to be totally dissolved; and that as free and independent states, they have full power to levy war, conclude peace, contract alliances, establish commerce, and to do all other acts and things which independent states may of right do. And for the support of this declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of Divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our lives, our fortunes and our sacred honor.

New Hampshire: Josiah Bartlett, William Whipple, Matthew Thornton
Massachusetts: John Hancock, Samuel Adams, John Adams, Robert Treat Paine, Elbridge Gerry
Rhode Island: Stephen Hopkins, William Ellery
Connecticut: Roger Sherman, Samuel Huntington, William Williams, Oliver Wolcott
New York: William Floyd, Philip Livingston, Francis Lewis, Lewis Morris
New Jersey: Richard Stockton, John Witherspoon, Francis Hopkinson, John Hart, Abraham Clark
Pennsylvania: Robert Morris, Benjamin Rush, Benjamin Franklin, John Morton, George Clymer, James Smith, George Taylor, James Wilson, George Ross
Delaware: Caesar Rodney, George Read, Thomas McKean
Maryland: Samuel Chase, William Paca, Thomas Stone, Charles Carroll of Carrollton
Virginia: George Wythe, Richard Henry Lee, Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Harrison, Thomas Nelson, Jr., Francis Lightfoot Lee, Carter Braxton
North Carolina: William Hooper, Joseph Hewes, John Penn
South Carolina: Edward Rutledge, Thomas Heyward, Jr., Thomas Lynch, Jr., Arthur Middleton
Georgia: Button Gwinnett, Lyman Hall, George Walton
Source: The Pennsylvania Packet, July 8, 1776

Friday, July 03, 2015

Grave Digging

Digging a grave is a sobering and holy experience.

I have never actually had to dig a person's grave but I have had to dig a number of pet graves -but the mechanics and surrounding sense are undoubtedly the same.

One patiently scrapes away the upper level of soil or grass or mulch and begins to dig into the soil.  If the soil is undisturbed or had not been disturbed in a long time one can see the banding of earth as one digs down.  You try to get straight strikes down into the soil to make the grave more square (important tip:  a square edged shovel is your friend here).  You work back and forth from side to side and top to bottom, trying to create a rectangular pit.  Thrust, apply pressure with the foot and leverage, lift up and onto the shovel and move it to the side with a soft "plop" as it hits.  Scrape across the bottom to get the loose dirt, then eyeball the grave to see where the next shovel set will be.

Sizing and depth are always in your mind as you dig:  the last thing you want to have to do is go to bury a beloved pet and discover that the grave is too small.  The only human example I have been involved in when the grave was too small was my grandmother, whose coffin was a bit longer that the grave.  It was the mountain ghost town where she had grown up, a fairly rural setting:  someone got a shovel and my father dug out another foot or so while we all waited.  Unexpected and yet seemingly appropriate.

My thoughts when I dig the graves are always the same, usually reflecting on the pet friend I am burying:  the good times we had, how I miss them, and the hope that I will see them sometime again.  The surroundings usual seem to help:  for some reason the universe seems to dull the intense roar of life and wind and weather, leaving a sort of silent bubble of myself and the grave I am digging.

It is shame, I think, that we no longer dig graves as part of the burial ceremony.  It is quite sterile now - we drive to the grave site (if we go at all anymore) and there is the grave, all nicely dug and the edges neatly covered.  The dirt may be in sight or it may be removed somewhere else.

In failing to dig the graves of those we love - perhaps even the digging of our own graves - we lose a potentially vital connection with ourself and our place in God's cosmos.  Grave digging brings us face to face with the reality of our own mortality:  as we dig the graves for others, so someday someone will dig a grave for  us.

How much more sobering, how much more valuable, if we dug the graves of all those we buried as part of the burial service.  It need not be fancy:  those suits and ties and somber dresses would be replaced by the boots and workclothes of outdoor work, the solemn graveside words enhanced by the fact that it is we who are digging the place to bury our friends and loved ones, not some impersonal third party who is doing simply because they are paid to.  It would bring a sense of peace and closure, one that often seems missing as we pull away from the grave site.  And the post-funeral meeting, usually involving food, would be enhanced by the smell of honest sweat and labor, a sort of fitting tribute to all of us whose life is surrounded by such labor in some form.

I know - I am extrapolating all sorts of things from the mere act of digging a grave.  But so many they say they want to be closer to nature and the natural world and there is nothing more natural than digging a grave to make sure the one we loved is probably placed and laid to rest in the bosom of the earth.

For when the grave is finished and the body laid down and the earth shoveled back over and the grass or mulch put back over there is little -save a stone - to mark where they lay.  What a comfort to know even if we cannot see where they now lay that we actively helped to put them there - perhaps the last gift we can directly give the departed.

Thursday, July 02, 2015

The New Path of Christian Growth

One of the trends of the West - and arguably one can say that it is a trend - is the slow rise of the disregard if not smoldering hostility for Christianity.  Christianity is by and large no longer welcome in the public square (somewhere interestingly to me, other religions such as Buddhism or Islam have a sort of "cool" or "novelty" factor that goes along with them).  We have not yet reached the point of active hostile persecution but are certainly entering a time of soft persecution.

Where do we go in such times?

Again, I do not discuss politics or religious apologetics on this site.  There are people that do and are quite good at it. My thoughts try to run to the more practical.  What are Christians to do?

I suggest we go back in our history, back to the early days of the church.  Where was the growth?

With the poor.  With the needy.  With those that the Christians served.

Read the words of Dionysius, Bishop of Alexandria:

  "Many of our brother-Christians showed unbounded love and loyalty, never sparing themselves and thinking only of one another.  Heedless of the danger, they took charge of the sick, attending to their every need and ministering to them in Christ, and with them departed this life serenely happy, for they were infected by others with the disease, drawing on themselves the sickness of their neighbors and cheerfully accepting their pains.  Many, in nursing and curing others, transferred their death to themselves and died in their stead, turning the common formula that is normally an empty courtesy into a reality:  "Your humble servant bids you goodbye.".  The best of our brothers lost their lives in this manner, a number of presbyters, deacons, and laymen winning high condemnation, so that death in this form, the result of great piety and strong faith, seems in every way the equal of martyrdom.  With willing hands they raised the bodies of the saints to their bosoms; they closed their eyes and mouths, carried them on their shoulders, and laid them out; they clung to them, embraced them, washed them, and wrapped them in grave clothes.  Very soon the same services were done for them, since those left behind were constantly following those gone before.
     The heathens behaved in the very opposite way.  At the first onset of the disease, they pushed the sufferers away and fled from their dearest, throwing them into the roads before they were dead and treating unburied corpses as dirt, hoping thereby to avert the spread and contagion of the disease; but do what they might, they found it difficult to escape." - Eusebius, The History of the Church (Penguin, 1989, p. 237).

I do not know that my thoughts are fully developed on this - but I will say this:  the world likes to practice the sort of charity that is seen by others and is too often related to special causes that occur occasionally.  The real work of need goes on day in and day out, in the hidden spaces that most cannot or will not do.

Here are the holes that Christianity can plug.  Here are the places where we can make God real.  Here are the places that we can impact lives.  Here are the places that perceptions or beliefs about how Christians "are" run smack into the deeds that they do.

The world is consumed with itself. Christianity commands us to first be consumed with God\, then with others, self last of all.

Our influence may be temporarily - or permanently - waning.  The soft persecution of words and laughter may pass into the hard persecution of abuse or imprisonment or even death.   But we have a chance to really take a part of the world by storm, a part that society too often pays lip service to or is passively served by Government.

As I stated earlier, the path of success to anything is laid out.  We need only to follow the footprints of those who have gone before.

Wednesday, July 01, 2015

The Mighty Snowball is Fallen

The Mighty Snowball is gone.

He had been losing weight for a bit but still seemed to have an appetite, still energetic and playful and interactive.  And then today, when I got home, a threshold had been passed, a threshold that animal owners probably know all too well.

He had some of his favorite carrots and a little electrolytes and then we just sat in the chair and rocked waiting for the time to come.  He was a family member to the end:  he waited until The Ravishing Mrs. TB and Nighean Gheal got home and started to enter the door before he slipped off to hurl his spirit through space.

He was with us about 5.5 years, a school rabbit baby (the size of my hand originally) that came home with Nighean Bhan and eventually ended up a ward of my own (which they most all seem to).  He was a fine companion, most tolerant and loving.  He loved to race around the back yard and would play tag with you, waiting for you to run to one end of the yard before he then raced after you.

He was the only rabbit I know that made noises as he moved, little sorts of grunts as he hopped back and forth.  He loved to be held and be pet and was always one that was happy to see you.

And now, he is gone.

In Richard Adams' classic Watership Down El-Arairah, the rabbit folk hero of the rabbit's tales, has a sort of personal guard - the Owsla - which is a sort of wild hunt of great rabbit heroes, joined by invitation only:

    " "You've been feeling tired"  said the stranger, "but I can do something about that.  I've come to ask whether you'd care to join my Owsla.  We shall be glad to have you and you'll enjoy it.  If you're ready, we might go along now."
      They went out past the young sentry, who paid the visitor no attention.  The sun was shining and in spite of the cold there were a few bucks and does at silfay, keeping out of the wind as they nibbled the shoots of spring grass.  It seemed to Hazel that he would not be needing his body any more, so he left it lying on the edge of the ditch, but stopped for a moment to watch his rabbits and to try to get used to extraordinary feeling that strength and speed were flowing inexhaustibly out of him into their sleek young bodies and healthy senses.
     "You needn't worry about them," said his companion.  "They'll be all right - and thousands like them.  If you come along, I'll show you what I mean."
     He reached the top of the bank in a single powerful leap.  Hazel followed, and together they skipped away, running easily through the wood, where the first primroses were beginning to bloom."

In my understanding, or maybe my belief of Scripture, animals are part of Heaven (God created them after all and He seems to love them a great deal because He made so many different kinds.  I think C.S. Lewis believed the same.).  And so I hope, albeit with a few tears in my eyes, that Snowball now runs fast and gloriously across Heaven's green field.

Run hard dear friend.  Run free.

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Animal Rescue - Ukraine

One of the less thought of casualties in any conflict are animals.  They are sort of taken for granted I suppose - either left behind to fend for themselves.  Here's a sort of nice story about someone who actually is doing something to address an actual need: