Pet Peeve

My earliest memories have involved cats, and on occasion, dogs, so when I say I love animals, you know I have a solid background in their care and companionship. I won’t go as far as some of my friends who live, eat, sleep and breath pets, but I have a vested interest in animal well-being.    I have also lived in rural areas most of my adult life—not just small towns, but actual in the country, surrounded by wind turbines and cotton fields.

The topic of this blog involves city folks and their mistaken assumptions about abandoning pets in the country.  City folks, who are squeamish about either giving away their unwanted animals or taking them to the pound, operate on two wrong assumptions:

  1. City folks tend to believe that animals can care for themselves in the wilderness (country). The assumption is that pets evolved from wild animals, therefore, they should be able to revert and care for themselves in the wild. Unfortunately, this is not true, anymore than it would be if you took a city person and dropped him in the middle of the desert with no phone, no car, and no food or water. Animals left to fend for themselves in the county often die a slow lingering death from starvation or lack of water.  Dogs, especially, can turn vicious, going after livestock and forcing local farmers to put them down. City cats are often declawed, making them instant victims of cougars, coyotes, owls, and other predators; as well as robbing them of their main ability to catch food.
  2. City folk operate on the belief that rural folk are pushovers and will take in any abandoned animal. While most rural folk are unlikely to allow an abandoned animal to starve to death, we simply aren’t able to take in every stray that gets dumped on our doorstep, any more than a city person would take in every baby abandoned on their doorstep. This means we must either call animal control, try to find the owner (or a new owner) or put the animal down.

I wish town folk would understand that cruising through the countryside looking for a farmhouse or group of buildings to drop off your animal is cowardice.  There isn’t anything noble, or save the environment, about abandoning a defenseless animal in the countryside. Such people are merely palming their responsibility or problem off on strangers. If you genuinely care about your animal, you’ll find it a home or take it to the pound. You won’t abandon it in the rural areas.  You aren’t setting your animal free; you are condemning your pet to a slow death.

There is a corollary to this pet peeve: city folk who “humanely” trap mice, snakes, etc. and then release them in the country where we have to deal with the problem.  This action demonstrates a lack of basic biology. Rodent and snake populations reproduce rapidly as part of the food chain. Killing vermin or harmful reptiles isn’t going to diminish the local population. If such critters wander into your house, get rid of them—don’t dump them off on country folk who have enough rodent/reptile issues to deal with without adding yours. I guarantee you the first time you get bit by a rattler and have to have 6-7 vials of antivenom or end up losing part of your hand, you’ll get over your squeamishness. As for the mice and rats, they cause billions of dollars of damage yearly in the U.S. alone.  And that’s not even counting the diseases.

So the next time you city folk decide to abandon your pet in the country “because it’s better than putting it to sleep,” call your cowardice out and take your unwanted animal to the pound. At least there, your pet will have a chance to find a new home.

Forgiveness Is a Powerful Tool

Even Hollywood knows how to write powerful, moving scenes of forgiveness that stay with the viewer long after the show is over.  So why do politician and hate mongers so despise forgiveness they feel compelled to deny it to others?

As social media tracks the rise of bitterness and hatred in our nation, I am dumbfounded how determined our politicians are (on BOTH sides of the fence) to keep emotions inflamed and tensions high instead of seeking common ground or trying to find forgiveness.  Perhaps because forgiveness requires humility, and I haven’t found a politician yet who has a shred of humility within. Between the posturing, vitriol, and power-mongering, the leaders of our cities, states, and country leave a lot to be desired as role models.

There is something about forgiveness that we yearn for and at the same time fear. Even in the midst of tears watching a grieving family forgive a killer, there is a small part of us that demands, “but wait, what about justice?” Deep inside we want revenge, we want to see people punished above and beyond what their actions call for. We want others to forgive our mistakes, but we won’t extend the same graciousness to them.

It is why there are so many different faiths with a “works” theology. We don’t know what to do with sin, with its guilt and burden, and we can’t just accept that belief in a single sacrifice could cleanse us completely. So we invent traditions, rituals, check boxes we must tick off, or good deeds we must compile.

But forgiveness is disarming. It can instantly defuse a tense situation, deflate ballooning anger, soften hard hearts, break stubborn stalemates, and deliver us from death.

I wish I could say that accepting Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross for our sins automatically makes us default to forgiveness of others, but that isn’t the case. Forgiveness is also terrifying. It’s something we don’t see coming and it makes us uncomfortable. Someone who was once an enemy is now a friend? It blows our minds and we say, “Never!” Perhaps, it’s because we’ve lived with the unforgiveness and bitterness so long we accept it as normal. Perhaps, forgiveness reminds us of our own flaws and shortcoming and makes us feel embarrassed or guilty. Perhaps, forgiveness shows our vulnerability and need for others and in a nation of independent do-it-myself individuals we’d rather be thought mean than weak.

A part of forgiveness is letting go of the past. This is not the same as forgetting the past. When we forgive, we remember the action, but we choose to cover it with forgiveness.  The person, the relationship, the good of others becomes more important than hanging on to our sense of entitlement and injury.  We choose to move beyond the past and live in the present for the future.  We acknowledge the wrong done and go forward.  I think what is hampering our nation today is we cannot move forward.  Somehow, we feel to move forward is to forget. Instead of allowing a hall of shame to motivate us to greater acts of kindness and goodness and to transform our behavior, we cling to the past and relive the emotions and hurts, stirring up bitterness and strife all over again.

I’m sure psychologists have a term for this tendency, but I simply call it “unforgiveness.”

The saddest thing about unforgiveness is it never fixes a problem only causes it to grow. Unforgiveness never rights a wrong, only compounds it. Unforgiveness never hurts the other person; it hurts the one harboring it by destroying that person from the inside.

Perhaps the worst thing about unforgiveness is it is contagious and those who “take up an offense” on the part of someone else, never gets the grace to forgive. It is the reason so many people who “side” with you in your unforgiveness against a situation or person turn on you once you’ve forgiven that person. The collateral damage from unforgiveness extends years after you’ve already moved past the incident.

If our nation is to ever heal, we must learn to forgive.

Four of Twelve

Four of Twelve

I’m an old school writer. I make no excuses or apologies for being such. After all, I was raised on the Hardy Boys, Rick Brant, Tom Corbett, serial TV shows like Star Trek with the same cast of characters, just new episodes, and books that were able to tell a complete action/adventure story in less than 350 pgs.  So I really don’t get this whole “Borg” culture of writing massive story arcs that take 10 to 15 books to tell the story. Even Tolkien told the entire Lord of the Rings story arc in three books.

As a reader I love reading books about the same characters, but I’ve also never had the free cash flow to recklessly splurge on dozens of books just to find out how the story ends. I still remember the frustration of reading a book by a favorite author in the library and realizing too late (at the end of the story) it was the middle part of a trilogy.  (I was an adult before I ever found the last book).  I find it hard to believe that in a society/culture of instant gratification there are enough readers to warrant a story that lasts longer than a trilogy.

 I get that such a strategy makes money and is highly profitable for authors, but it’s not very supportive of our readers. After all, what are writers without readers?  Readers bring our stories to life. Readers keep us writing. Readers believe in our characters and story worlds, so perhaps our books shouldn’t be about how much money WE can make, but how much entertainment we can give our readers.

Sounds like a contradiction, doesn’t it? More entertainment equals more books, so what’s wrong with making the reader buy a dozen books to see how the story ends?  Two things, really. One, I think it’s lazy writing. If I need to write 10 books for one adventure, how much of it is fluff? As a reader I have a tendency to skip over long boring passages that neither contribute to the plot or character development. After all, how many pages does it take to describe a living room? A writer should be creative enough to intermingle description with dialogue and action, not do an information dump. A big part of reading is giving enough description to set the stage and leave the rest to the reader’s imagination. Sometimes I get the feeling writers are so proud of their research and expertise they feel compelled to include everything in their stories, making it too long for a single book. Unless the blaster jams because the hero forgot to oil or change something, I really, really, really don’t need an in-depth description of the weapon and how it works.  Just tell me the hero drew his weapon and fired. If you want to give a more realistic approach, keep the description under five sentences. (See H. Beam Piper’s Lone Star Planet and his description of the hero’s pistol. Artfully done!)

Am I not creative enough to come up with a new and fresh story idea? I must admit there was a period of 10 years when I didn’t have any story ideas and my writing pretty much ground to a halt.  When I did start writing again, the ideas have flowed steadily, usually within a few months of completing one. Perhaps this is because I don’t have the pressure of writing for a traditional publisher and the old adage of “publish or perish.”  Writing isn’t my day job, and I don’t write to please anyone except myself and a couple of fans. As I’ve stated before, the money would be nice, but it isn’t the reason I write.  I’m a storyteller and I have stories to tell. Whether or not someone else wants to read them is beside the point.  I feel about my stories the way I feel about my children. I do my best to raise them right—whether they are famous or not isn’t important.

Second and most importantly for me as a reader: books are expensive. They always have been. As a kid making 50 cents an hour babysitting, it took a lot of weeks to save up the $3.50 for a good paperback.  That’s why a library was my BFF!  Now with paperbacks at $8-$10, I’m even more picky about what I buy.  Add in the fact I spent 10 years overseas where books were few and far between and outrageously priced ($20 for a paperback), anyone with a library full of paperbacks was considered wealthy (even though said books were bought second hand for less than a dollar). I remember those times and consider my readers. I honor the fact they have lots of things to spend their hard-earned cash on and taking a chance on a new author shouldn’t mean they have to buy a ton of books just to see how the hero wins.

When I’m scanning Kindle for books, I’m less likely to buy the four out of 12 kind, unless it’s like a TV series about the character and not required to know the ending. Tell me a good story. If I like your book, I’ll buy others. It’s really that simple.

I Need a Hero

Spoiler alert: this post contains disturbing ideas that can upset delicate constitutions. Read at your own risk.

Sometimes I think I should have been born a 100 years ago, when heroes were heroes and not scruffy looking wimpy guys with a day’s growth of beard. I would like to know where Hollywood (or authors) finds these guys because in 50+ years of living I’ve never seen one in person. Nor have I met the touchy-feely “I’m so clueless that I need a female to rescue me and validate my life” kind of guys.

I’ve met jerks, strong silent types, extroverts with more pep than the Energizer bunny, true “gentlemen” who aren’t afraid of their tender side and know how to treat a lady, salt of the earth farmers and ranchers who still believe in family values and military men who don’t have to use the F bomb every other word. I’ve also known godly men who if written as the hero of a novel would be labelled as “unrealistic and not real life.”

Perusing the list of books available I’m saddened by two trends: one, the predominantly, politically driven trend that every single main character MUST be a woman and any man in the story has to be one of the wishy-washy guys you can’t depend on.  As if needing help means weakness and heaven forbid a female might need a helping hand once in a while. (Trust me, while I’m perfectly able to grab a broom on the cleaning aisle to get something down off a top shelf at Walmart, I’d rather ask the nice male clerk who is 8 inches taller than me to get it down for me).

I don’t object to female main characters. If you’ve read any of my novels, I feature strong woman who are comfortable in their own skin being women and don’t need to prove they’re men in dresses (see a previous blog post). But this prevalent idea that women are all good and men are all bad and that to be a woman means doing everything men do better is just wrong. I had a discussion with a colleague a few years ago and mentioned that I thought feminism had done more to harm than help women. Case in point: women must now be in the workplace to validate their self-worth, but no one has offered to help them care for the home and children. Instead of liberating us, we’ve added something else to our already overloaded plates.  I find it rather insightful that it is not okay to portray women as unintelligent and naïve in commercials and sitcoms, but it is okay to portray men that way. Come on, folks. We are all individuals and worthy of respect.

Two: Where have all the good heroes gone? More and more I see books that portray male characters as dark and broody, given to the dark side, few if any redeeming qualities, with the morality of a tomcat and I’m supposed to like this guy? I didn’t marry that type, I didn’t raise my sons to be that type, and I certainly have no desire to read about any as the hero of a novel.  I think Beauty and the Beast is responsible for this new trend. After all, Belle tamed the Beast and turned him into a prince, but in real life it’s often the other way around. The Beast destroys Beauty.  Proverbs states, “do not be deceived, bad company corrupts good morals.”

Even Christian writers are not immune from this disturbing trend. Instead of writing about godly people struggling with everyday life (which is challenging enough, btw), Christian writers seem bent on using lost, depraved people (perhaps to get in all the profanity and sex and violence they think is necessary for a good book?) before “saving” the character.  Why not start off with the redeemed character and show the struggle to be light in a dark world? I realize this type of writing is much more challenging, but well worth it in the long run.

As a reader I’m pretty picky about what I spend my time on. I want a book with strong action and adventure, moral characters who know the price of their faith and can make the hard choices between right and wrong, good dialogue that will stand the test of time and not sound like something out of the 70s, and real heroes. It doesn’t mean they are perfect, but they understand their imperfections and work hard to overcome them. I want a hero with high standards, not some fickle fly by night who has no self-control over his words, thoughts, or actions. In my book, if the main character doesn’t demonstrate self-control, he isn’t a hero, and I won’t be reading your book.  You see, I have several of these heroes in my own life, so I know they exist and they set a pretty high standard for fictional heroes. Why waste my time on second best?

What’s in a Name?

Somehow the world shifted around me without my noticing it. Perhaps I was too busy teaching, or writing, or just being involved with life. Whatever the reason, there was a subtle shift in book presentation that has left me floundering.  Sometime over the past few years, book marketers have decided it is more important to list the author’s name larger than the book title.

I discovered this most frustrating phenomenon while perusing the library shelves in search of an interesting book.  Row after row of giant size author names without a way to figure out the book title without squinting or getting down on my knees to figure out if I’ve read all of Author So-and-So’s books.  This name inflation on book covers makes no sense to me at all.

First, if I’m searching on Kindle, I already know the author’s name. What I’m looking for is a title. Second, if I’m searching shelves in a library I already know where certain author names are kept (or can find them fairly easily alphabetically). Again, I’m looking for titles.  When I have a favorite author, I’m more interested in the book title than the author’s name.

Perhaps I sound a bit redundant, but it really bugs me when I’m scanning book titles and I can’t find it because the author’s name is so prominent.  Is this supposed to impress me? Make the author sound more famous than he is? When I’m in Half-Price books watching the grandsons, I don’t have a lot of time to search the shelves. It’s scan ‘em quick and keep one eye on the boys. If I’m looking for a title to catch my interest, and all I see is the author’s name, I’m going to give the book a pass. Woo me with your titles not your name, please. I’m always on the lookout for new authors, but if I can’t find your title and I don’t know your name from Adam’s house cat, why would I pick up your book?

A corollary applies to book blurbs.  I guess some people are impressed by what others think of a book, but I discovered long ago what interests me most about a story isn’t necessarily the same as reviewers. When I’m looking over a book, I want to know what the story is about—not how many important or influential people have read it.  Books that begin with page after page of affidavits leave me cold, especially if I still have no idea what the book is about. Grab me with the story, don’t drop names. It doesn’t impress me and sometimes the very people you think will impress me turn me off. A rose by any other name smells just as sweet, but a skunk cabbage will still stink, as well.

While I love looking at a well-done book cover, I remember the days when library books were plain with just the title and author’s name.  You had to open the book and find a pasted insert that told you what the story was about. Even those plain ones with dust jackets did the same. The testimonials might be on the back of the dust jacket, but you could always depend on opening the cover and reading what the story was about on the inside flyleaf.  Now it seems we’ve dispensed with the story blurb and depended on testimonials, even though the modern technological age has rendered most testimonials untrustworthy.

So here’s my promise to you: I won’t put my name larger than the title on my novels. Hopefully, if you’re a new reader, the title will draw you in, or the cover will, or the book blurb will. If none of those things grab you, then maybe my books aren’t for you. And if you’re a regular reader, you know where to find me.

Happy reading!

No Judgements Here…Oh, Really?

I learned a long time ago not to share my opinions in public. It’s not that my opinions are bad or wrong, but I’ve never been one to allow public opinion to shape my views.  I remember in a college journalism class the professor asking what ads I watched that influenced what I bought. I replied, “I read a book during the commercials. I buy whatever’s cheapest.”j

In high school during speech class, we had to debate controversial topics: marijuana usage, premarital sex, abortion.  I successfully debated the against side for each topic; my professor lamented he had not made me take the for side.  I told him I would have taken the F instead. 

Whenever I’m asked for my opinion, I always preface it by stating, “You don’t want to know my opinion.” I had the humorous experience on the mission field while training language proficiency experts of a trainer who insisted on my answering his question about language school. When I finally gave my opinion, he was shocked. I reminded him I had warned him he wouldn’t like the answer because I knew it wasn’t the expected response.  Looking at life from a different perspective has always been my thing.

It amazes me that people can get upset over the least little thing. Like whether you drink Pepsi or Dr. Pepper. It shouldn’t matter, yet people seem unable or frightened of having a different opinion or not being like everyone else. I don’t know if it’s because they aren’t sure of themselves, fear they are on the wrong side, or afraid they can’t defend their position. I learned long ago I don’t have to defend my position or beliefs. You are allowed to have a differing opinion. I don’t have to change it.

So when I read on a Twitter thread or forum post “no judgements here”, I have to smile. Because in reality what the person is saying is “I have my mind made up, but I want everyone to think it’s open. I won’t flame you, but if you don’t agree with me I’m not going to respond and we won’t be having a discourse on the merits of a specific idea.”  I can hear the arguments now. However, my viewpoint is based on past experience.  I remember a specific thread on a forum what claimed to discuss open ideas on how the universe was formed. The person really wasn’t interested in differing views, but only in supporting his own agenda.  When he didn’t like my opinion, he resorted to name calling. This past week, I read another Tweet about another sensitive topic with the same sentiment: “No judging here.”  Unfortunately, the people involved only demonstrated interest in one viewpoint, not several and those who offered different suggestions were pointedly ignored.

Social media is not the place for open discussion or discourse. That needs to take place face to face over a cup of coffee or dinner table. Among peers and friends who care enough about the friendship to respect differing views.  IDIC (Infinite Diversity Infinite Combinations) works well on Star Trek, but the majority of people can’t handle it.  We feel compelled to change others’ viewpoints to fit our own or get emotionally fired up if we find our viewpoint challenged to the point we can no longer defend it.  Truth is truth—it doesn’t need me to defend it. And diversity means ALL opinions, good and bad, whether I agree with it or not, whether it’s politically correct or not. It’s not diverse if you exclude someone.

So don’t ask my opinion unless you are ready to be challenged and are comfortable to agree to disagree. I love open ended discourse where we don’t have to come to consensus. I love exploring new ways of thinking that open up new possibilities without you having to change your opinion or me having to abandon my beliefs. It’s the give and take of exchange that is valuable, not the final conclusion.

I’m comfortable letting you have your own beliefs. Are you comfortable with allowing me mine?

You want fries with that?

One of the perks of being an empty-nester is going out to eat. Although Covid has slowed and limited our eating out choices (Denny’s is still a great place to eat out—not crowded at all), eating out is still at the top of my list of fun things to do. Unfortunately for restaurants, I’ve noticed a peculiar trend even before Covid hit, a tendency by wait staff to overlook a great marketing technique that was standard 10-15 years ago: asking customers if they wanted a little extra

McDonald’s started it with “You want fries with that?” before the advent of combo meals. Whataburger upped the game with “You want cheese?”, especially since the junior burgers don’t come with cheese. At $.40 a slice that was a great money maker. In bakeries, it was a baker’s dozen: one extra added to the dozen.  At sit down restaurants, the phrase was simply, “You ready for dessert?”

I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve been in a nice restaurant, ready to order dessert and the waiter brings the check without asking if we wanted any. With desserts priced anywhere from $3 to $5 a pop, that’s a huge profit loss.

I don’t know if it’s because of being shorthanded, wanting to maximize profit margins by cutting back on low margin entrees and desserts, or millennial managers training millennials who don’t know about such things, but offering the little extra seems to have fallen by the wayside. Customer service seems to be less about making the customer happy and more about what’s convenient for the business. Notice I did not say what’s best for the business. Taking care of customers keeps a business thriving, but in today’s world min maxing seems to be the commonality. Min maxing, or making the most with the least effort, may work well in video games, but I don’t really recommend it for business, if it means shortchanging customers in terms of service.

It doesn’t take much to make a customer happy: acknowledging a person is waiting to be seated or served (“Be right with you”), asking to refill coffee or drinks midway through the meal instead of just before you bring the ticket (why would I want another cup if I’m ready to pay out?), asking if they’d like something else before bringing the ticket (If you’ve already brought the check, I know you aren’t interested in bringing me anything else), or bringing the customary glass of water with the silverware (now you have to ask for a glass of water and yes, I know all the reasons why it was discontinued, but it’s still good manners to provide a glass of water with a meal).

I’ve focused pretty heavily on restaurants, but the same technique applies anywhere else. Consistently, cashiers, salesmen, clerks, etc. have a tendency to ignore customers as if we are somehow bothering them or interrupting their five minutes of “me” time between customers. It’s not a big deal to simply acknowledge the customer and let them know you’ll be right with them, but it builds tons of goodwill and the “I want to keep shopping here” mentality. Stores with rude personal who make me feel invisible or unimportant generally don’t see my repeat business.

One more caveat: managers need to encourage and reward employees who demonstrate great people and customer service skills. That one minute extra of making a customer feel wanted and important with a bright smile, a sincere comment or small talk, can be worth millions when multiplied by thousands of customers. Taking care of one’s employees and not treating them like cattle will in turn create goodwill and caring for the customers. It’s a good marketing strategy. A company that goes the extra mile to care for both employees and customers will last a long time. It pays to show a little bit of kindness to everyone in every situation.

 I close with a story I read a number of years ago.  A prominent businessman took the time to care for his employees, who in turn cared for the customers. He made the employees feel wanted and important and invested them in the company. The employees, in turn, made the customers feel wanted and important and thus the business grew exponentially. The businessman was voted Businessman of the Year.  Unfortunately, when accepting the award, the businessman forgot he owed his success to his employees and took all the credit.  This soured the employees, and they took their ill feelings out on the customers who quit supporting the company.  Moral of this true story:

“You want fries with that?”

New Growth

This is a follow up on yesterday’s post as the process of clearing out and downsizing continues. While the last post focused on the letting go side, I’d like to focus today on new growth. Although my parents and grandparents were excellent and avid gardeners, I only inherited a love of the land and plants from them, not their green thumbs. Thus, my understanding of growing plants is rather limited. 

For years I thought pruning meant cutting or trimming off dead branches or branches growing in the wrong direction. Which from a spiritual sense can create a point of confusion as one struggles with life events. Has something been pruned in my life because it was bad or growing in the wrong direction? A hard question when one has tried to live right and cannot see the error or wrongness in something innocuous. However, several years ago, I attended a class taught by a gardener and received new insight on pruning. A wise gardener knows that the aforementioned pruning is only one type and only part of the job of maintaining a healthy and growing garden.  To my great astonishment I discovered that gardeners also prune healthy growing branches to make way for new growth and to strengthen the plant.

One example is a heavily laden fruit tree. If the gardener does not prune the branches, the tree can suffer extensive damage as the weight of the fruit break branches.  Also, trees were not meant to bear that much fruit, making the fruit small and not as juicy or sweet as if fewer fruit were to grow.

This opened a whole new insight for me spiritually and made sense of things I had long struggled with. Not everything that gets “pruned” in our lives is bad or going in the wrong direction.  Sometimes the pruning occurs to remove the clutter. Let’s face it, our lives today are more complex, occupied, and frenetic than in our parents or grandparents’ day. We don’t often just “sit back, relax, and stay awhile.” Today’s culture has nurtured the idea that “idleness” is always bad and counterproductive; although medical officials time and again state the need to slow down and relax.

As I sort through the accumulation of a lifetime, I realize how much clutter I’ve allowed to fill up my life (both literally and figuratively).  While the figurative things may take a while to get rid of, I am making headway against the physical clutter. The more I throw out or give away, the easier it is to keep house. I’ve never been a great housekeeper—there were always too many other interesting things I wanted to do, so housework was relegated to the bottom of the priority list.  Now, less clutter means it takes less time to pick up and straighten.  I’ll never be a “deep clean” type of person, but I do appreciate a neat house. It also leaves me free to pursue my interests guilt-free.

Pruning also clears the way for new growth. Since my husband is also retiring, we have plans to move in a few months to a new location. I’m sad to leave the old stage of my life behind, but excited for this new adventure. Clearing away things I no longer need for the next adventure is bit like a blacksmith leaving behind the tools of his trade to become a swordsman. He takes the strength, skills, and lessons from the past on his journey, but has no need of anvil and forge. The forge and anvil are not bad or wrong, just no longer necessary.  Many of the things I’ve kept for a “rainy day” or in case I needed them, will not be needed on this new journey.  It’s a bit liberating, as well as scary. When you’ve lived one lifestyle for twenty years, it is a bit unsettling to learn a new way of doing things. Retraining my tendencies from “you never know when you need a… (fill in the blank)” to “you don’t need to prepare for the Great Depression” is going to take some time. (Not that I’m old enough to have lived through the Great Depression, but I have lived where things were scare and obtaining them hard or times when we didn’t have the money to replace things so had to make do).

With just myself and hubby to care for, it’s a rather nice feeling to realize we don’t need a lot. A cup of coffee and two chairs on the back patio to watch the birds, a book and a grandson or two or three to cuddle, just enough Internet to check Twitter and Facebook and watch the occasional old movie, and a house without bugs, spiders, scorpions, ants and dust, and I’ll call it a good day.

Cleaning House

As we make the transition to retirement, my husband and I have been cleaning out closets and downsizing. Part of our reasoning is that when my mother passed away, my husband spent four months cleaning out her house (I was working full time), and we’ve decided we don’t want our kids to face that herculean task. Throwing out stuff accumulated over 39 years of marriage has been interesting and not all that difficult (after all, if it’s sat in an unopened box for a decade, who needs it, right?); however, there are some things that raise the difficulty level to that of a full-scale assault on a final dungeon boss.

Keepsakes, bits and pieces of our lives and history that won’t mean anything to anyone else when we are gone but are impossible to part with. A bit of jewelry, Granny’s thimble and tatting needles (for making doilies not marking skin!), a repaired ceramic figurine, the children’s artwork that recall pleasant memories of language school in Costa Rica or days in a country kitchen, a WWII ration book,  a box of seashells my parents spent a lifetime collecting, rocks picked up on walks to and from school or bits of broken pottery  gleaned at a Mayan  temple on a second honeymoon, a chipped letter opener from Japan (a piece of a country I long to visit someday brought back from my father during his Navy career), an old x-wing poster recalling the thrilling days before the Adventures of Luke Skywalker became a New Hope lost in the chaos of prequels and sequels.

The sentimentalist side of me clings to these memories and windows on the past, knowing that one day these treasures will become only flotsam and casually discarded. The archaeologist in me realizes the value of these items as a connection to a lifestyle and part of history rapidly slipping away, and I am grateful that there are local museums who preserve even a tiny bit of the past.

People say time travel isn’t possible, but these items can instantly transport me back in time to feelings, memories, events with a single touch. These are the colours that wove the tapestry of my life and pulling out one thread threatens to unravel it all. I don’t have a good memory, so these things enable me to recall the important parts of an interesting life. Unfortunately, they will mean nothing to those who come after, much like many of the antiquities preserved in our museums today.  Oh, some folk may ooh and ahh at the jewels and gold, but the daily bits of life, the tattered scarf, the broken doll, the chipped plate? Do they really see the people who lived and ate and played in that era?  Or are we so far removed from our roots and history that it is only a passing fancy, quickly overwritten by new and exciting technological advances?

I have to admit I am equally guilty of pursuing the future and ignoring the past but have become more aware of its importance while sorting through a lifetime of junk. What was once thought priceless has become almost valueless in terms of the truly important things. Friendship and family, bonds that no man-made object can replace, nor can its loss diminish.

So, I will clean house and set these things aside in a box for my children to discover and wonder about.  Who knows? Maybe one of those bits and pieces, the flotsam and jetsam of my life that floated to the surface after all else has sunk into the dark depths of time, will find a new home and for a short time become important to some one else.

Birth of the “Federation”

Watching Blue Origin’s First Step lift off today is more emotional than any other launch I’ve watched. I’ve cheered Musk’s effort (I still want to go to Mars and his plan is the best way to get there), glad to see Virgin Galactic’s efforts at space tourism, but Bezos is the fulfillment of all 1970’s kids who grew up on Star Trek.

I loved the interview with his sister, the memories of the siblings playing Kirk and crew. It brought back all the hopes and dreams my generation wanted to see fulfilled. The hope, the longing to boldly go, to explore new life and new civilizations.  Yes, I’m enough of a scientist to know that ST’s version of the universe probably doesn’t exist, but I’m also enough of an optimist to believe that any life we find is not going to out to destroy as the current culture thinks.

Why is this space flight different? Why do I refer to it as the birth of Kirk’s Federation and not any of the other agencies?  Discussing the different “looks” of the various agencies jockeying for ascendancy, I realized the vast philosophical difference between NASA and Blue Origins (not to disparage NASA. Blue Origin wouldn’t be here today with NASA). NASA represents the Vulcans (of Archer’s time), as well as the gatekeepers who would limit space to only scientists, the qualified, and the wealthy. A tiny fraction of all those who dream of the stars and who have skills and gifts to offer beyond science. There’s nothing wrong with that philosophy: it limits dangers, provides a wealth of information to better the lives of those planet bound, and builds a safe foundation for future space travel.

Blue Origin (and the other private space agencies) brings the future to the present. This is Kirk’s Federation, where anyone at any time has the opportunity to explore space and add to the wealth of knowledge and experience for all of us (Yes, I know only those who went to Star Fleet Academy were assigned to starships, but you’re forgetting that there was an entire culture of explores, miners, freighters, etc. traveling the stars). 

Blue Origin’s star ships aren’t as sleek and elegant as the others. They remind me of Cochran’s ship, cobbled together, stripped down to the bare essentials, not pretty to look at but beautiful in its own right.  Beyond the aesthetics, this ship holds the promise of sending anyone to space, even senior citizens (something NASA doesn’t risk). First Step opens space to all of us, not a limited few. And does it in my lifetime. Once more, I can dream of going to space.

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