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The Next Great Adventure, Redux

29th July 2014

The death of Grandma was like a bomb detonating in my life. It was not like a bomb in an emotionally wrenching and explosive sort of way. Rather, her death was exceedingly disruptive in an “upending the physical order of my life” sort of way. When she died the day to day life I had was torn apart and the scraps thrown to the wind for me to chase, find, and put back together as I might be able.

The disruption of my life wasn’t unexpected. Since April, when Grandma had her last heart attack, her decline had been steady and unremitting. As summer began I had a strong sense that she would not make it into the golden days of autumn. As one can see the turn of a season in the changing color of leaves, I knew the present period of my life was drawing to a close. But I didn’t know the exact day, or unfolding, that would herald that final end. I knew I had a bomb sitting in my life, but I didn’t know when it was set to detonate, or how big an explosion it would be.

In my mind–in the months and weeks and days leading up to the end–I dreamed it would be a small and neat explosion, easily contained and organized. I wanted to imagine it a quite explosion of confetti and cheery lights heralding a happy new beginning. Such are the stories we want to tell ourselves when living through a grueling time. I knew the fantasies were false. I knew the bomb couldn’t go off so neatly. Still, when mentally and emotionally my teeth are clenched and I am slogging through the mire and darkness there is some small part which believes the ideas of neatness and cheer and good order and control that the dreamed future is imagined to contain and which the ugly present so starkly lacks.

I told myself it was foolishness even while believing it, just a bit. Well, maybe a little more than a bit. Then Grandma died, the bomb exploded, and I was a bit surprised that the eruption wasn’t all packed with confetti and pretty lights and nice neat dreams fulfilled. Real life dashes those delusions.

The story I told myself was that when Grandma died I would neatly pack up my life at her place, cleaning my stuff out, sorting, filing, and throwing away. I would walk in the back yard in the darkness of evening and let everything go. I would say some kind of goodbye to my old haunts, however you do that. I would get everything in good clean order, say a quiet farewell to the place and way of life that had been mine for eight years. Then I would move on with the book closed. I thought I would do it at my pace–deliberate and controlled.

The reality was that nobody wanted the business of Grandma’s estate to linger. Going through her stuff was a painful and time consuming process and my aunt and uncle in charge of handling the estate conclude it best to be quick and efficient. What I had envisioned as a slow and ponderous parceling out of Grandma’s possessions was in fact a speedy dispersal. Relatives were told to come and claim what they wanted as soon as possible because everything that nobody wanted was going, pronto. Furniture, appliances, dish-wear and everything in-between began to exit the house. The life I had been living unraveled quite visibly in short order.

On the one hand I was pleased with the speed because I also wanted this chapter closed as soon as possible. I had envisioned a bit of time to wrap up my life, but even I had drawn my imaginary limit at three weeks. Then it became much, much, shorter than three weeks. The problem for me personally was that dispersing the belongings of Grandma picked up speed so quickly that I spent all my time, every day, helping to clean out Grandma’s stuff. There was no time to pack myself or to do my slow imagined decoupling from the life I was letting go. Instead it was crazy packing, tearing apart the house, and going to bed very late.

This was not the transition of my planning.

I suppose it was fitting, in some cosmic sense, that I left my time at Grandma and Grandpa’s the same way I came. Before I came, those eight years ago, I knew I would be coming sometime soon, but I didn’t know exactly when. Then the need for me came suddenly and I had to leave my old life in a messy hurry and stumble through the process of putting together something new in the wake of sudden change. The very messiness of the transition into my time of caring for Grandma and Grandpa added fuel to my desire to leave in a manner more sane and organized than I had come. But that was not to be. I left in the same disorganized manner that I came. My possessions were packed up helter-skelter into various bags and boxes and then dumped hither and yon back at my parents house. All of my earthly belongings were scattered about as if a bomb had gone off.

Now put all of that back together.

Grandma died Sunday, June 29th. On Saturday, July 5th–only six days later–I moved out permanently, taking what possessions of mine I could on truck and trailer. By that point her place was already nearly empty, almost completely gutted of Grandma’s earthly possessions. Four days after she died her ashes came back from the crematorium. And on Saturday, the very day I moved out, we had the memorial for Grandma. It was like the book to that part of my life was slamming shut so fast and hard that pages were scattering everywhere. The mind is numb, or reeling, or both. It is hard to tell.

The physical mess in the aftermath is a very apt metaphor for the larger disorder of my life–but sometimes it would be nicer if the apt metaphors weren’t so literally, physically, true. It is enough to find yourself mentally and emotionally trying to put your life back together. Being required to literally do it as well is not a welcomed addition. Where is the break? But that is how life works; not how we want it, now how we plan it, but just how it is. The choice is living with it in grace–riding the waves and feeling the wind on our face–or sitting down and throwing a fit. I am trying very hard to not sit down and throw a fit. A healthy dose of perspective from what I just came through helps very much in keeping a glad and thankful perspective, but I won’t deny that some days it still feels wearisome in a way that has no words.

Some days I just want the world to stop and walk away from it all, into some wilderness place of rest, for a very long time. Perseverance is going on even when I don’t get that. There is a lot of perseverance in life.

Eight years ago I wrote about starting a “Next Great Adventure” of caring for Grandpa, and how a shadow of death hung over it all. Well, that shadow came near and passed over twice, and more. I feel more tired, more worn in a deep way, than I did going in those eight years ago. But I have gone in, and come out, with plenty of stories from that journey. Today it is July 29th, one month since Grandma died. Yet again, I find myself stepping into a new great adventure–older than those eight years ago, perhaps wiser (I hope), but no more certain of what the future holds.

Here I am trying to collect my things, and myself, going on a path I know not where or how.

Adventures, and life, are for more mysterious than we want to give them credit.

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A Story in Numbers

30th June 2014

Numbers, numbers. Our culture today is about the precision of numbers. As a culture, we cling to the exactness of the story that numbers tell. There is no uncertainty or doubt. A number speaks true and clear.

The numbers of time and events tell their tale of Sunday, June 29th, 2014.

158/72/77 9:45AM. That is written out in my handwriting on the lined paper of a spiral notebook used to record Grandma’s blood pressure results. The first two numbers are the systolic and diastolic on Grandma’s blood pressure, the third number was her pulse.

97.2 Temp 10:00AM. How precisely the thermometer recorded that temperature.

90% O2 10:15AM. An O2 reading rarely stays precisely on the same number. A healthy person should be 98-99%. Like a pulse, it fluctuates a bit. But she hit 90% (which is low) with over 5 liters of oxygen being administered on a cannula.

115/49/37 10:30AM. This is the first place the numbers of the written record tell the story of how wrong things were going, how wrong they had become, and where the day was headed.

You cannot live long with a pulse beating in the low 30s. The body cannot live, the heart cannot function, on that slow sluggish rate.

Grandma was crashing. Her heart was shutting down. The pulse dropped from the 30s down into the 20s. It hovered there, swinging back and forth. With the pulse-ox on her finger I watched the number and it was like watching someone dance along the edge of death. Yes, it was watching that dance in numbers.

We switch to different numbers now.

10:50AM 2:03. That was the time I stepped out of Grandma’s room to call my Mom and let her know what was happening with Grandma. The call was two minutes and three seconds.

10:53AM 0:32. That was the second call I made to my Mom after I stepped back into Grandma’s room and saw she was dead. In the space of those few minutes when I was away, Grandma died. The beating heart and breathing breath stopped. The numbers mark it. But as I was on the phone that second time–even as I spoke the words pronouncing death–Grandma’s dead body shifted slightly. For a bizarre moment I thought the waxen bloodless body with mouth hanging open in lifeless lips was still alive. And I felt guilty for declaring dead what wasn’t (but it was) so I stammered and told my Mom I would call back in a bit when all was certain (it was already, but one gets uneasy declaring death).

10:56AM 1:43. This the final callback to confirm the death. The pulse-ox had come off Grandma’s finger when I was out of the room making the first call–I guess it came free when she clenched her first in the final death spasm. I put it back on in the time lapse between the second and third call. The blank reading of the pulse-ox, empty of all numbers, showed no oxygen or pulse in blood. It was enough to assure me of what lifeless body already said; that the death I saw with my eyes was death indeed.





Yes, I have a fascination with numbers. They do mark things. Numbers are like witness, sentinels that stand as bondsmen to the realty and unfolding of time and space. Things were here. They happened. My cell phone records in careful detail how I made the calls to the rest of the family and gave them the news. Words flew across air, carrying the end in the swoop of loss. Everyone knew it was coming. None of us knew the day. The fact that I was not giving a surprise call made it easier. But it is never an easy call to make.

These have not been easy days.

Eight years. It has been nearly eight full years since I left my old life to begin caring for my grandparents, from beginning to end. Nearly a decade.

Ninety-three months. Somehow that sounds like more time. Those months slipped by, one after the other. Half forgotten, half remembered. We forget far more quickly than we often realize. Those months gone now, and they won’t come back.

Two thousand eight hundred and thirty-five days. That sounds about right. Number the days, down to the last. From the moment I showed up that Sunday night on the 24th of September 2006 to the Sunday morning on June 29th 2014. A span of time, marked out.

Those are numbers, all of them precise. They put the events into a container. They mark out borders. But those numbers don’t tell the full story. They don’t tell of the sorrows and joys contained in those times, the success and the failures. The numbers don’t capture what was learned, or forgotten, gained and lost. They don’t give you the depth of the grace, or the edge of the fear.

Most of all, those numbers don’t tell you how brutal the last few months, the last weeks, have been. Those numbers don’t tell you all of what happened on this last day, of all that is contained in the poetic lyric that is living and dying.

But for right now, the numbers are all I have to share. They will be here, the markers of what has happened, until events and thoughts have stilled enough to allow more words.

One Response to A Story in Numbers

  1. Nicole says:

    “Most of all, those numbers don’t tell you how brutal the last few months, the last weeks, have been. Those numbers don’t tell you all of what happened on this last day, of all that is contained in the poetic lyric that is living and dying.”

    I’m sorry, Erend. Sorry that you were alone, and sorry that I hadn’t been to see you or Gramma Jan in a long time. I’m sorry that I am one of those friends that we talked about that don’t see each other for spans of time. It was certainly a heavy weight you’ve carried for the past 9 years, and hopefully now you can take some time to focus on yourself.

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The Threads of Life Stories

26th June 2014

I am fascinated with stories. I like to tell stories–both real and those I invent. I also appreciate stories; those I see, hear, and experience. Stories make me think about life, and the deeper things behind events. We are all, each one of us, always living stories. But in what seems like the mundane of my life I slip into feeling like I’m not living stories–and by that I mean the events of living appear to lack meaning, purpose, intent, and direction (a story always has those things). I stop thinking about my life, and the lives of those around me, as things to ponder and puzzle and seek to understand. Instead, I fall into thinking of life as something to be endured. As a result, I spend a lot of time in the swamp of blindness and apathy. But sometimes an event or an occasion will throw me–for just a moment–out of my dull thinking and numb feeling. Then in that sudden movement from darkness to light my eyes and senses are be opened to the stories around me, and maybe even my own.

This past Saturday I attended a wedding, and for me it was a moment to notice the stories of life. Being a man of few social inclinations, and even fewer friends, this was the first wedding of my life to which I had been invited as an individual. I have an extensive extended family so I have been to my share of weddings as “one of the family” but this was the first wedding I attended because of who I was personally (friend of the bride) and not for my blood relation to the participants. It was unusual enough to break up my daily habits of thought, and living, to open my eyes to the stories of living–if only for just one day.

At a wedding the story on display for all to see and rejoice in is the story of two people being brought together in love. In the public places it is the story about meeting, and falling in love. In the quiet places are the memories of answered prayers and life long hopes fulfilled. In the story written large we can all ponder about the path of life and what journeys the bride and groom have taken to reach this place of happy union. But I also think about how in the greater story of the lives of the bride and groom each of the guests knows only a part–and to each a different part. The family of the bride knows the history of her youth better than any other present, and the family of the groom the same. And I as a Christian friend of the bride knew more about the spiritual journey of her life than many other people present. Each of us present that wedding day saw a different part of the tapestry of a story on display, and each of us saw different shades of meaning in the events unfolding.

The big story of the day written in bold colors and bright smiles was about love found and a new life begun, but after the ceremony was over and the party moved to the dining hall my attention wandered to the small stories hidden in the corners. Those small unnoticed stories etched the contrast of life, the fullness and complexity of living–all things caught up in the moments of breathing and being–and they gave the big picture on display more context and depth. In the nuance is the heartache and true hope, and the place where the mysteries often dwell.

My small stories of the day came at my dining table. It is hard to capture the texture of their meaning for you, but I will try.

The bride–being both thoughtful and aware of my less that ebullient social nature–had kindly placed me at a corner table far away from most of the party bustle. There I shared the wedding meal with other outliers: The pastor’s son and the son’s wife, my sister Cadie, my cousin (who was helping with the wedding party), and a young single lady who was a friend of the bride. We were all the awkward ones who didn’t fit in with the rest of the party.

We started out an uncomfortable circle–all introverts of various measure. First there was no conversation, and then it began with strained effort. We struggled where others would have thrived, but I was okay with that. I was thinking about who we were around the table. Through the wash of time and events we were several disparate story threads thrown together for a moment; different, stark, real. And in few words over a meal we shared bits of our stories which hinted at the larger. And I thought about how our larger stories shadowed us each at the table.

The pastor’s son and his wife had just moved back up in the area, not much more than two weeks prior. He had just graduated from seminary, down in Mississippi. They had a little boy, and the wife pregnant with a second child. They were Presbyterian and he talked about how there were not many churches of their denomination in this area compared to down south. They were back in the area looking for a pastorate–but also because his father had been gravely ill and nearly died. Earlier in the year the pastor had needed surgery for an intestinal blockage, and the surgery resulted in complications. I had seen the elder man before the wedding ceremony, gingerly making his way to the front of the church looking drawn and haggard like one who had fought a battle for his life and still wasn’t certain if he had won or not. Shortly after the pastor had arrived he left as he had come and a substitute officiated the ceremony. After the ceremony, standing outside with the crowd, I heard two people talking off to the side about how there had been some kind of problem with the pastor’s colostomy bag. The things you hear if you listen, the story threads of pain and suffering woven through even the happiest of days.

The pastor’s son and his wife were back in the area because they were beginning a new journey of their lives, but also because they had wanted to be near a loved one who had nearly died. Fresh finished with college their future was uncertain, the path ahead unclear. The thread of their story hung suspended in the moment.

To my left was the young lady, a Ms. Stoltzfus, dressed in the garb of a Mennonite. I knew that she attended a church the bride had previously attended, and I also knew that–strictly speaking–the young lady was not a Mennonite because the church was not a Mennonite church though many of the members had previously been Amish or Mennonite and retained many habits of dress and life. In 2006 I had led a volunteer crew helping with flood cleanup, and a number of young ladies from that church had been a part of my crew. I tried to politely make conversation by asking if she had been part of flood cleanup. (She had not.) Awkward lapse in conversation.

Cadie attempted to make some small talk about a mutual friend that she and Ms. Stoltzfus knew. After that conversation wandered to its rather quick conclusion I attempted to make feeble conversation about how many people there were with the last name Stoltzfus’s, and whether she was closely related to many of them. I called it a common Mennonite last name, she said it was actually more from the Amish community. Ms. Stoltzfus said that she had been born down in Lancaster but that her family had moved up to this area when she was very young. I then remembered an old story I heard from the bride’s mother about friends who had been Amish and had become shunned when they left that community and ever since family reunions and visits back to Lancaster were painful. I thought I was probably sitting next to one from the family right now. A thread of her past and shaken family ties, woven up to the present symbolized in her last name.

Conversation around the table continued in the fits and starts of introverts not sure what to do with each other. Somehow the topic came up about how my sister and I came from a large family and so Cadie asked if Ms. Stoltzfus also came from a large family (a blatant soft-ball question since Cadie and I knew full well that most families who attended that church were large). Ms. Stoltzfus said, “Yes. There were eleven of us.” She said it quietly and matter-of-fact, but grief still echoed in that careful qualification. Were.

A few years ago one family in that church had lost a young daughter to drowning in the local river. Around the same time another family had lost a teenage daughter in a car accident. In that one word of past tense Ms. Stoltzfus named herself as from one of those families. She didn’t know that I knew the stories, and perhaps she thought her carefully honest qualification would go unnoticed, but the still fresh pain of loss–understated, but so present in the careful acknowledgment of what was no more (there were eleven)–almost made me blurt out ill considered words. I felt the urge to say it was okay, it was all right, and ask her to share the story of why now there were ten. Somehow, I wanted her to feel like the hurt of her family didn’t have to be a half concealed secret, hidden behind a single word of what had been. But I wisely caught myself. You don’t ask a stranger at a wedding to share the most painful episode of loss in their family. Still, that thread of her story was there, a realty of pain that had shaped her life and even now she carried and made her the person that she was.

The conversation went on to mundanities, but now I couldn’t escape the feeling of different stories hung in balance around the table, weighted with the complexity and meaning of life. Ms. Stoltzfus to my right had her story of family loss, but little did she know that just to her right my cousin had also lost her mother in a car accident a few years ago. The threads of sickness and death swirled round our table, stories of lives in the balance: the pastor’s son and his wife, worried about his father sick but hopefully recovering, and looking to their own future with a growing family. My cousin, struggling to make her own path in life without a mother. Ms. Stoltzfus with her family loss and quiet loneliness with unspoken wishes for a better future. Me, living out the last days of caring for my sick dying grandmother as she struggled through her final miserable days and nights. And my sister, feeling out with tentative steps where she would go in her own adult life with so many questions and so few answers.

I felt in that moment how each of our story threads hung in suspension, the future to be woven, our pasts more complex than we could share, and in that moment of a wedding day we had all swirled together. For one meal we sat at the same table our stories so real in the pain and loss and hopes and fears. Then it would be over, the moment would pass, and our story threads would weave away. All the complex hidden parts of our stories with the visible tension of different lives brought close would recede again. We would go back to our normal paths, the depths of the lives of the people around us unnoticed.

The meal ended. My cousin left because she was tired and her job in the wedding was party finished. Then the pastor’s son and his wife left because their little boy was tired. Out in the center of the room the dancing started. The bride and groom had the first dance, and how they smiled. Ms. Stoltzfus watched the first dance, but after that she left. With my table emptying I stayed a little longer, watched a little more of the dancing, spoke briefly with the bride and groom when they came by for polite conversation. Then I, too, left.

Still the threads of stories swirled and swirled. They spool out in every moment; stories I cannot see, do not understand, and have not valued as I should. If I stopped and recognized the moments better perhaps I would understand them better for what they are–parts of a much bigger story which echoes profound down to the smallest hurt and quietest smile. That is something to ponder.

One Response to The Threads of Life Stories

  1. M.O'Keefe says:

    Quietly moving, thoughtful.

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A Blog of Unusual Words

11th June 2014

I like unusual words, so I thought I would share this blog I came across:

One thing I was reminded of in looking over the words on that blog is the fact that unusual words can help us say things concisely. Some people think unusual words are just a way for wordy people to make something hard to understand. In reality, well chosen and well used unusual words can be a beautiful way to express difficult ideas in a concise manner. Yes, that might require some readers to learn something new, but that is not necessarily a bad thing.

2 Responses to A Blog of Unusual Words

  1. Wow, this is really neat. Thanks for sharing.

  2. rundy says:

    Glad someone else appreciated it :-)

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5th June 2014

Today someone passed along the word Hiraeth to me, thinking I might appreciate the word and its meaning. What they passed along was a Pinterest photo with the following text as being the definition of the word:

A homesickness for a home to which you cannot return, a home which maybe never was; the nostalgia, the yearning, the grief for the lost places of your past.

Being one to question the precise accuracy of information on Pinterest, I looked the word up myself, and found the following at wikipedia:

Hiraeth is a Welsh word that has no direct English translation. The University of Wales, Lampeter attempts to define it as homesickness tinged with grief or sadness over the lost or departed. It is a mix of longing, yearning, nostalgia, wistfulness, or an earnest desire [...]

Another website gives this attempt:

The Welsh word hiraeth has no equivalent in English. It often translates as “homesickness,” but the actual concept is far more complex. It incorporates an aspect of impossibility: the pining for a home, a person, a figure, even a national history that may never have actually existed. To feel hiraeth is to experience a deep sense of incompleteness tinged with longing. The only living language with an exact equivalent is Portuguese, through the term saudade, which refers to an impossible longing for the unattainable. [bold emphasis mine]

What immediately came to my mind was, “That is a word which describes exactly what Abraham felt.” In the Bible we are told,

By faith Abraham, when called to go to a place he would later receive as his inheritance, obeyed and went, even though he did not know where he was going. By faith he made his home in the promised land like a stranger in a foreign country; he lived in tents, as did Isaac and Jacob, who were heirs with him of the same promise. For he was looking forward to the city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God. [...]

All these people were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance, admitting that they were foreigners and strangers on earth. People who say such things show that they are looking for a country of their own. If they had been thinking of the country they had left, they would have had opportunity to return. Instead, they were longing for a better country—a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them. (Hebrews 11::8-10, 13-16, NIV)

For those who walk in Abraham’s footsteps, the longing we have in our hearts is the longing of hiraeth. It is an impossible place in this present creation, and it has not existed–yet. But still we long for it.

And in the strange connections of the internet, I found a poem1 that captures it:

Hiraeth beckons with wordless call,
Hear, my soul, with heart enthrall’d.
Hiraeth whispers while earth I roam;
Here I wait the call “come home.”

Like seagull cry, like sea borne wind,
That speak with words beyond my ken,
A longing deep with words unsaid,
Calls a wanderer home instead.

I heed your call, Hiraeth, I come
On westward path to hearth and home.
My path leads on to western shore,
My heart tells me there is yet more.

Within my ears the sea air sighs;
The sunset glow, it fills my eyes.
I stand at edge of sea and earth,
My bare feet washed in gentle surf.

Hiraeth’s longing to call me on,
Here, on shore, in setting sun.
Hiraeth calls past sunset fire,
“Look beyond, come far higher!”


1 The author of the poem, Tim Davis, is a Christian so while the poem on one level is speaking about a desire for Wales, it seems pretty explicit to me that the author recognized the additional meaning in the word that I also saw. Unrelated interesting tidbit about the man–the guy is a math professor and he says, “My research is in sparse matrix algorithms, computational science, numerical methods, and applied mathematics. [...] My codes are widely used in industry, government labs, and academia. For example, MATLAB uses my sparse solvers in x=A\b, and Google relies on them to create Google Street View and PhotoTours.” See:

2 Responses to Hiraeth

  1. Joel says:

    Interesting and lovely word. I remember feeling that way when I was 10 about northern Minnesota when we moved into the city, or even, when not much older, about Tolkien’s Middle Earth. (It sounds silly, but I can’t have been the only one.)

    I wonder whether the Christian construction is really faithful to the word’s *impossibility* nuance, since the heavenly city is something we are promised, not a place lost in an irretrievable past. Still, I can make it fit.

  2. rundy says:

    Yes, Joel, I think you have quite a bit of company regarding your feelings about Middle Earth. ;-)

    Word meanings have fuzzy edges so whether the Christian meaning is entirely faithful to the words “original” intent could be debated. But in my mind it is quite adequately answered by the truth that fellowship with God was broken/lost in the Garden of Eden (and so we now long for its restoration in fullness) and entrance into heaven and the new creation is impossible for man. To me the delight of the Christian understanding of Hireath is in how the word’s paradox is resolved; “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible” (Matt. 19:23-26). So it is both impossible, and not.

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Shades of The Past, Shadow of The Future

16th May 2014

In January we moved my mom’s parents into the local village so that we could better care for them. In particular, so we could better help care for Grandpa. I say “we” because I speak of my collective family–I, myself, do not have much to do with the situation on a day-to-day basis because I am caring for Grandma Purdy. But from my place I hear the gathering stories of Grandpa O’Keefe. And, like a gathering storm with its rumbling thunder, the stories have a too familiar ring to them.

You see, Grandpa O’Keefe has Alzheimer’s, just like Grandpa Purdy did. For me, it’s like watching the same story all over again–except different in the details. When I step back from the details it’s still the same tune, the same theme threaded through–poignant, sad, and tinged with fear. And I watch and I listen and all the while I know how this song will finally end, and what happens before the curtain falls.

There are broad patterns you can typically see in the progression of Alzheimer’s, but the disease affects every individual uniquely. Not only is the details of the progression unique in each case, but so also how the personality reacts, and adapts. In personality, Grandpa Purdy and Grandpa O’Keefe faced the disease from opposite ends of the spectrum. Grandpa Purdy had a chronic problem with poor self-esteem all his life and so in Alzheimer’s he was apt to accept his incompetence more readily because he had always thought poorly of himself. Grandpa O’Keefe has a chronic problem with self-importance, and cannot tolerate the idea that he might be wrong or incapable so he has an intransigent mulishness against correction or any suggestion of need for help. Neither extreme is a healthy way to live life, but an over-valuing of one’s only capabilities is particularly harrowing when combined with the degrading acid of Alzheimer’s. Grandpa O’Keefe may have always measured his own skills a bit more highly then reality, but at this point his self-perception has become completely separated from reality. As a man who has been forever accustomed to considering himself unquestionably right, the task of managing him, and his delusions, is both delicate and difficult.

Grandpa Purdy was in general good health when Alzheimer’s started to take him. Grandpa O’Keefe is not. He is diabetic, with a raft of complications–eye problems, skin problems, and (most severely) peripheral neuropathy, which at this point means he has lost practically all feeling in his hands and feet. His sense of balance, and tactile awareness, are very poor. When Grandma and Grandpa O’Keefe first moved into their new house there were several episodes where Grandpa “locked” himself out. He swore that the door had somehow managed to lock itself. But the door was not truly locked–he simply was not able to open it.

In my judgment the Alzheimer’s came later in Grandpa O’Keefe’s life and has progressed more slowly. But, at the same time, Grandpa O’Keefe does not have the same level of physical good health to battle the disease. Grandpa Purdy had a physical vitality that allowed him to happily crawl all over the house long after his ability to walk had left him. Grandpa O’Keefe won’t be able to do that, and so though his brain has held on to the ability to walk longer when he final loses it the decline will be more precipitous. Grandpa Purdy had dexterity in his hands so he could continue to clumsily feed himself long into the process of losing the ability to use dinner utensils. Grandpa O’Keefe has nearly no feeling in his hands already so when he begins to forget how to feed himself the decline will be precipitous. Grandpa Purdy was lean and light and agile and took many falls without serious injury. Grandpa O’Keefe is overweight and stiff and his first fall–when it comes–may well be his last.

Alzheimer’s takes each of its victims in different ways, and though Grandpa O’Keefe has held the tide longer I think his decline will be swift when it reaches the tipping point.

Until then, Grandpa O’Keefe fights on, trying to be the big man he once was. Grandpa Purdy gave up driving when the car became too difficult for him to use. It was an ability Grandpa Purdy didn’t want to give up, but when it deserted him life went on without any appreciable change. For Grandpa O’Keefe his ability to drive is an integral party of his identity as a self-made man, a conquerer of the world, and to lose that is like death itself in his eyes. He should not have been driving years ago, but he has fought tooth and nail against the process of losing his license. About a year ago Grandma O’Keefe took away his keys, but Grandpa waited for the chance to prove he was still the man he once was. This spring, he found his chance.

Grandma O’Keefe needed a vacation and now that she and Grandpa lived right nearby my family set up a schedule of people keeping an eye on Grandpa which allowed her to fly out to Hawaii to spend ten days with my uncle. In the meantime Grandpa thought to prove to the world that he was still a capable and independent man. The crisis came when my brother Lachlan was baby-sitting and Grandpa found some car keys and declared that he was going to drive himself to Syracuse. Lachlan tried to dissuade Grandpa with reason (to no avail) but declined to use physical force. He did call 911, but the operator said that if Grandpa still had his license (and he did, because it wasn’t legally taken from it) then there was nothing that could be legally done to stop him since legally he was still considered competent to drive. And so Lachlan watched as Grandpa boldly drove out of sight.

The journey to Syracuse is about one and a half hours. Seven hours later, after dark, the police called. Grandpa had finally had an accident. It was only minor damage to the car, and had involved no other vehicle. In those seven hours he had never made it to Syracuse, and was no where near Syracuse when he had his accident. In retrospect, it was the best ending we could have asked for. Nobody was hurt, and the police started the process of formally revoking Grandpa’s license.

Grandpa’s reaction to the incident was telling. Publicly, he was filled with equal parts bluster and delusion. He argued that the mistakes were ones anyone would make, the problems were not really problems, and everything would have been fine if the painted better lines on the road. Next time he would take a GPS and have no difficulty. But later, privately, he admitted to one of my sisters how miserable and scared he had been.

That one event is a picture for Grandpa fighting his Alzheimer’s. He still wants to be the big man, and lord of his own domain. So he talks bluster and delusions to the people around him, and he is trying very hard to talk bluster and delusion to the whispering fears in his own mind. He asks to be told what Alzheimer’s feels like because he says doesn’t feel like he has anything. He feels perfectly fine, he says. And he gets a book out of the library on Alzheimer’s and says he is going to stop it (even though he will never read the book). He says he will ride a bike around town to make himself stronger–but he can barely get around with a walker. You never forget how to ride a bicycle he says. Is he telling us, or trying to convince himself?

Both, really. There is a part of him, deep down, which whispers the truth about what he is losing. Some days it is louder than others, but they are words he doesn’t want to hear, so he tells himself a story about how he will win this battle, and how it is not so bad as it seems. And some days he believes his own stories more than others. He is trying with all his might to hold onto the life he once hand, but it is slipping through his numb fingers, one piece at a time.

Back home from her vactaion, Grandma watched through the window as he tried to figure out how to get on the bike he would ride around the village. He walked round the bike, trying to determine some way of mounting it when he didn’t have the ability to lift his foot more than a few inches off the ground. Finally he tried sliding the back wheel between his legs, but of course that didn’t work. So, days later, he asked me to build him a stool so he could climb on the bike. He told me a story about how he would have a carrying basket on the bike and he would use the stool to get on the bike and then put the stool in the carrying basket and ride all over town. Then he will get healthy and strong and be independent. He didn’t say all those things, but that is the story he is telling himself. Never mind that it is nonsensical and meaningless. If you don’t have the ability to lift your feet more than a few inches off the ground how are you going to climb onto a stool–much less stay on the stool when you need a walker to keep your balance. And how is this stool going to help you get your leg over the seat of the bike? And how are you going to put the stool in your bike basket when you can’t bend over? And how are you going to balance the bike when you can bearly balance yourself?

I don’t ask him those things. It’s pointless and cruel. He will never ride a bike again, and I think some voice deep, deep, inside him has told him the same thing. But he told himself, “You never forget how to ride a bike.”

And he wants to believe that.

He wants to believe many things. He told Grandma that he cooked his own suppers while she was gone. He wants to believe that, but he didn’t do it. He mistook a bottle of soap for cooking oil, and thought an outlet with a plug looked like a lady with her arms stretched out.

He still thinks he is a computer genius, but he doesn’t even remember how to turn the computer on. He imagines he is still an ace at playing cards, but often enough he plays the wrong suit, and now he is starting to play cards from previous hands. It is no real game now. His grandchildren just play along.

He tells endless repetitive (sometimes incoherent) stories about his past glory days to any willing listeners (or not).

He liked to pretend that he was a free man when Grandma was away on vacation, but really he couldn’t wait for her to be back, and admitted to my sister that he worried about the possibility of life without Grandma.

The floor of the house got “soft” and in great alarm he insisted on my father coming down and evaluating the situation. He was very afraid that when Grandma came home she would fall through the floor. How do you tell a man that the floor is just fine–the problem is in his own body, his own mind?

That is a story Grandpa doesn’t want to hear. He will tell you one instead. This story is about how he needs someone to give him a map of his property dimensions because he is going to mow his own lawn this summer. He doesn’t want people doing so much for him. Mowing your own lawn is a sure sign that you are still a real man and lord of your own domain.

Oh, and he’ll do your taxes for you, because he is an expert at doing taxes.

Everyone with Alzheimer’s unravels in their own way, and Grandpa is surely unraveling. He can’t stop it no matter how hard he tries. The end is coming, and much sooner than he thinks. I am not very near to this drama, and I do not have the carefully built rapport with Grandpa which might allow me to speak to him (in deeds as much as words) about what I have seen, and what I know, about what is coming upon him. He has asked what Alzheimer’s feels like–and I could tell him. It feels like fear. It feels like confusion. It feels like helplessness. In the end, most of all, it feels like being alone. And I would try to tell him (more in the deeds of caring and helping than in words) that the bravest thing he can do is face the reality of what, deep down, he knows he is losing. What does Alzheimer’s feel like? It feels like failure. And you can either hide from it, and pretend it isn’t there, or you can face it. That is your choice.

But I can’t say that to him. Not in such simple words, because it can’t be understood that way. And I’m not there to show him, or guide him, in deeds of facing the scary battle of losing everything.

All I can do is watch, and see the shades of my past and the shadow of his future.

3 Responses to Shades of The Past, Shadow of The Future

  1. Jennie says:

    This is painfully familiar. My mom has Alzheimer’s and she doesn’t even know it. They just told her that her memory was failing and she could no longer live at home so we moved her into an assisted living facility. It’s been horrible watching her try to adjust. She can’t remember people’s names so it’s impossible to make new friends. Her old friends don’t come around, or even call, much. I think they’re scared. I also think they have no idea how adversely that effects my mother. She feels so very alone. I spend most of my weekends with her, trying to fill her days but that can be tricky as location changes confuse her. It leaves me feeling very inadequate, so I can’t even imagine how inadequate she feels.

  2. Having read your book it is easy for me to imagine the scenario you paint, even though I’ve never met someone suffering from Alzheimer’s myself. It’s such a heartbreaking scene. Inevitable decline without antidote must be so hard to watch, even from a distance. May God give you and your family wisdom as you walk through this once again.

  3. rundy says:

    Jennie, thanks for commenting.

    Veronicah, we certainly need a lot of wisdom. Both wisdom and grace. And patience too.

Comments are closed.

Of Aging, Fixing, Breaking, and Hope

5th May 2014

I saw in the news that the oldest man in the world, Alexander Imich, is one hundred and eleven years. How time flies, they say. Think of him saying it.

I wondered then at the age of the current oldest living person. That would be Misao Okawa, currently one hundred and sixteen years. Well, she is officially the oldest living person. Taipe Mendoza might be older, but it hasn’t been officially verified by the official agency which officially verifies such official matters. But when you’ve reached that age what is a few months, a few years?

In these few narrow years of today we balance on a knife edge where a few hardy souls live among us who have seen three centuries. A few more years–such a very few–and the span will shift forward and only two centuries will be covered by those who have lived past a hundred years. It struck me how in that same thought there is contained the great length of time, and shortness.

Before the hammer fell and we began to settle the score in shorter numbers, in the far ancient times one hundred and sixteen years would have been considered the death of a youth. Even a millennia shrinks to non-existence in eternity. I walked out to check the mail today and it was a beautiful day, sunny. Along the walk the daffodils were flowering but already they are becoming weary, and lean forward to kiss the walkway. We are called flowers of the field and I can think of no more apt metaphor for the beauty, the exquisiteness of the life God has clothed in human flesh with all of its terrible shortness. He gave us flowers, and He gave us tragedy, beauty, and mystery.

On Saturday I fixed a broken lawnmower. Sort of. My brother had mentioned that he would have to buy a new push mower because the handle on the current one was broken. I thought it a shame to buy an entirely new mower for want of a handle, so I went out and fixed it. I fixed the handle using an old broken drill spade bit, an old bent nail I found, a spare bolt that way lying around, and some electricians tape. My guess is the handle is good for another year.

I can’t explain how I did it–you’d have to see it. It wasn’t the right way to fix the problem. If I had a welding machine I could have done it right, but I used what I had and made something that would work another year. But it will wear out eventually. I had a strange mixture of pride and embarrassment about what I had done. It was an exemplary demonstration of the frugal cobble job–the foolish and the ingenious wrapped up in one so that I don’t know whether to feel stupid or proud.

Maybe you can’t see it, but that is those old people. They’ve been cobbling and fixing for more years than any of us–they’ve done better at holding their dusty frames together whether because of what they’ve been given, or what they’ve done. And that broken lawnmower is life, too. Everything is broken, and us, and we don’t have the ability to put it all back together right. All we have are those few broken pieces in our hands.

I fixed that mower in my own way and I thought to myself, “Yep, that’s me and that’s how I’m going through life.” But really that’s how we’re all going through life. Some of us are just better at hiding it under a cover of fresh paint. We’re all broken things in a broken world with broken pieces in our hands. And we can either throw away the pieces in despair, curse as we try to fix what we know we cannot rightly fix–or else maybe, just maybe, whistle a tune and take a small pleasure in fixing what we have as best we can with what we have been given.

We can either howl in frustration at the brokenness of what is, or bind up what can be bound with that which we have been given and see the beauty in that which has been given fresh strength to carry on. But more than that. For if we fix with our feebleness in the certainty that all will in the end break with no final repair then there is no hope, only futility, and beauty becomes despair. The beauty of a feeble repair can only be seen in its sufficiency to last until the new comes. Only then is it beautiful, apt, and hopeful.

In the end, that is all we have been given in this life. Nothing we do will last unbroken. We tend gardens of life where flowers pass quickly, and repair machines feebly with the knowing that one day we won’t be able to repair any more. But we can do what we do in the hope of knowing one day the flower will not stop blooming, and the broken machine made new.

The confidence of that is much the same as my confidence that the old mower will be replaced with new at the proper time. My brother will do it, in due time. Because that is who he is. He is faithful and conscientious. That is his character, and I know that.

Which brings me to the strange contradiction in my life. I can happily fix a broken mower knowing my ludicrous repair is the sufficiency for the moment and beautiful in that. I can gladly tend a garden even knowing that the plants therein will die, and die again. Yet somehow I feel unable to carry that to where the true meaning lives. I wish I could see so clearly, and feel so cleanly, when the brokenness is flesh and heart and soul. Instead I feel a heavy heart when I should feel a greater hope and joy in what will come. The things we bind in this life are of infinite more value than flowers or machines.

I wish I had an answer to that fault in me. I wish I could fix my own brokenness where every day my thoughts and feelings are at disjoint from the truth of what I know is, and what will be. But then if I could fix myself I wouldn’t be broken and wouldn’t be in hope waiting for the fixing which removes all sorrow. It’s a contradiction, and in the end I guess I know that’s right where I need to be.

4 Responses to Of Aging, Fixing, Breaking, and Hope

  1. Brian says:

    I have been pouring over these same thoughts lately, especially in regards to why friendships go awry, why people can not seem to be honest with one another, and why I can not be honest with myself. Why does the human experience have to be so complicated? Thanks for your writings.

  2. rundy says:

    You’re welcome! I’m glad you appreciated it.

  3. What a broken, strange, and beautiful analogy for life. I’ve been pondering the phrase carpe diem (seize the day) as this season of my life comes to a close, and this fits in perfectly with the rest of my rambling thoughts.

    In regards to aging, I watched this ( today, and despite the fact that it’s stereotypical and it’s country I found some depth to it.

  4. rundy says:

    That link hit the same general emotional theme. True about time passing quickly and valuing the right things, but kinda wish he had made a little more point than “Don’t blink.” But it is country after all. It reminded me of the song “Turn Around Slowly”

Comments are closed.

Walking for Creative Thinking

26th April 2014

I already did one post today, and I usually try to avoid one line posts, but I just thought this was so true I had to share: Boy o boy do I pace when I am trying to work through some writing. It is to such a degree sometimes I feel driven a bit crazy by myself because I wish I could just sit down and finish typing it out!

I Will be an Emu Farmer

26th April 2014

You know Spring is in full force when you start dreaming of all the projects you want to do–reasonable or otherwise. At present I am not in a place in my life where I can do any of my dreams, which means my imagination has all the more free range. Today I decided I want to be an Emu farmer. I jest, a bit. More accurately, I decided it would be cool to take a try at raising a few emus. In the imagination such an idea easily grows into a farm.

It all started when I wondered this morning how much it would cost to purchase a decent egg incubator. Emus were not on my mind. First step was to get over my brain seizure where I sat in front of the computer and tried to find the right word; “I want that thing which warms up eggs. It’s about this big, and is used for hatching. We owned one before. Good Lord, I’m losing my mind already I can’t remember the word.” Face in hand for a few seconds. “Ah! Incubator! I remember now.”

Then I searched, and found this website:

Two decent models appear to be this and this

Then the wandering effect of the internet took hold. I saw a link on the menu titled “Hatching Eggs For Sale” and I clicked on it. I am reading down the page and thinking something like, “Blah, blah, blah–wait, I can buy and hatch Ostrich eggs and Emu eggs? No way! You’ve gotta be kidding me! Isn’t that illegal or something?” (As anyone knows, all of the most fun things are always made illegal.) Turns out it is not illegal, and so sprang to mind the vision of a bunch of Ostriches and Emus running around in my back yard. What could be more awesome than that.

In my dream world I would have lots of ostriches and emus because that is just plain cool, but I try to pretend that I am slightly more grounded in the imaginings I actually consider. So I saw that ostrich eggs were quite a bit more expensive than emu eggs, and it seemed the emus were probably the more interesting bird, so I conclude I should just pretend that in the future I will raise emus.

If you want ostrich or emu eggs:

Next question: Can emus survive in the climate around here? Answer: Yes, and there are farms in the area which raise them. I found two on this list:

Some pictures and information on Emus:

Article on raising them:

Some more notes:

Interestingly, both Emu and Ostrich meat is said to have an red appearance like lean cow meat. I am curious how it would taste, and then I ask myself, “How would one go about killing an Emu or Ostrich? Chickens are easy with some form of decapitation, but I imagine a dead flailing emu or ostrich would be pretty dangerous, so I’m guessing homestead butchering is with a bullet in the head. I haven’t researched that yet.

Also interesting, leather products are made from both the emu and ostrich hide. That made me curious. And according to wikipedia ostrich hide makes the strongest commercial leather. That was even more interesting.

When I was a kid I thought ostriches were so cool–which may account for why I have an ostrich like creature in one of my novels. So raising emus or ostrich has a very strong element childhood fantasy fulfillment. But then, why stop there? Why not go on to pea fowl and every other sort of rare bird and just start a farm called, “Purdy Rare Birds.”

Yeah, okay, that’s one of my springtime dreams. What’s yours?

5 Responses to I Will be an Emu Farmer

  1. Emus are exciting. Did you know their eggs have different colors at different layers? They’re highly prized by craftsmen. Just something to add to your entrepreneurship dreams. ;)

    Peafowl are sad-making as they don’t get their adult plumage very quickly, and lay very few eggs.

    Right now I’m waiting on a couple of Turken chickens and a couple of Sumatras in the mail. These are two breeds that fascinate me, plus work well in my climate. I’ve got a rooster of each breed, and am trying to get some hens. Look up the Turkens…I think you’ll be suprised.

  2. rundy says:

    I love the color of the Emu eggs–it is only more awesome that they have different layers of colors. However, that awesomeness will just be in my imagination for now.

    Does your comment about peafowl mean you have raised some in the past, or just based on reading research?

    I have known about Turken chickens for many, many years. The Turken’s with black feathers look too much like vultures for my taste. The Sumatras on the other hand, are beautiful. I think once, a long time ago, we might have been given a half-blood Sumatra based on my memory of the tail feather’s of a particular rooster we were given.

    Do you get your chicks for some place fairly local, or mail order? We’ve always done our interesting breeds through MurrayMcMurray.

    P.S. the second half of the email is almost done. Really. But at this point it is beyond apologies. It just will get there when it gets there :-/

  3. I haven’t raised peafowl, but I have a relative who does and learned that from her.

    I’ve gone both routes (getting chicks locally or from Murray McMurray). Getting locally is my preferance, but there is less variety. This year we’re going together with a friend to order from Ideal, so we shall see how that goes.

    Don’t fret about the e-mail. I’m super busy at the moment, and wouldn’t be able to respond for a bit even if you had sent it on time.

  4. Deirdre says:

    This is technically part of the backyard chickens forum:

    Are Turkens the one with no feathers on their head or neck, or are they the ones with no feathers at all?

  5. rundy says:

    Turken’s have the naked neck.

Comments are closed.

Paul, Socrates, and Keith Green

17th April 2014

This week I happened to engage in a cursory refresher on Socrates. It is recorded that the oracle of Delphi said that there was no one wiser than Socrates, and Socrates considered this a paradox because he did not consider himself wise. He realized the oracle was correct when he understood that knowing that he knew nothing made him wiser than all those who thought they knew something when in fact they did not.

I guess this percolated in my mind for a day or two until I connected it with Paul’s statement in 1 Corinthians 8:1-2, “we know that ‘all of us possess knowledge.’ This ‘knowledge’ puffs up, but love builds up. If anyone imagines that he knows something, he does not yet know as he ought to know.” Socrates lived and died hundreds of years before the time of the apostle Paul, but the teaching of Socrates was still known and impacting Greek culture and schools of thought (and thus certainly in Corinth to which Paul was writing). It thus appears very compelling that Paul, aware of Socrates teaching, was turning the words of the Greeks’ own philosopher back to rebuke them. This is not particularly surprising since in two other occasions in Paul’s writing he explicitly references cultural writings of the day.

I am sure many people have made this connection between Paul and Socrates before. (After it occurred to me I have the faint thought that maybe I had already read it before–there is the tendency to read things and then have it shuffle back to the subconscious until it later bubbles to the surface again and you think it is a “new” thought.) Still, I think it is interesting, and gives a little more context and nuance to the rebuke Paul gives to his readers in Corinth. But what I think is most interesting is the final comment Paul appends:

“But if anyone loves God, he is known by God” (v. 3). This is going beyond Socrates. The Greeks were obsessed with knowing things. Paul tells them that being puffed up with knowledge is not the way to go, but takes it even further. Loving God, Paul says, indicates that such a person is known by God. Present tense. It is not “Love God and then you will come to know God” which would fit the Greek idea of “Do something and gain something.” This is a profound reversal. The Greeks were all about reaching up to grasp–whether it be the god(s), wisdom, philosophy, virtue, or whatever. Paul has turned it around and gently reminds his Christian audience that unlike the pagan grasping Greek philosophers who were ever trying to reach up and grasp the god(s) that in fact God had reached down and grasped (known) them. The term “known” is what is used of God’s special relationship, and choosing, of Abraham.

So Paul is re-orienting his Greek Christian audience away from being puffed up in knowledge (and a sense of one’s own accomplishment) and toward a right attitude: That it was not them who grasped God, but God who grasped them and made Himself known in their lives by giving them a love for Him–and such (Paul goes on to say in the rest of the chapter) should lead them on to have a love for their brothers. From the prideful Greek thinking Paul turns his Christian readers around to loving humble service to their brothers.

I delight in seeing how deftly Paul works his rebuke, teaching, and admonishment.

Now, Keith Green.

Somehow, I got onto his music today. Keith, I know you’re dead man, God rest you, but you really weren’t the greatest singer. Tried to go a little high in some of those songs, and some of the tunes are a bit flat. But man, you had some really, really, good lyrics. I don’t know why someone hasn’t come along and sung those words in a little better key, and with power.

Grace By Which I Stand Lyrics – Keith Green

Lord, the feelings are not the same,

I guess I’m older, I guess I’ve changed.

And how I wish it had been explained, that as you’re growing you must remember,

That nothing lasts, except the grace of God, by which I stand, in Jesus.

I know that I would surely fall away, except for grace, by which I’m saved.

Lord, I remember that special way,

I vowed to serve you, when it was brand new.

But like Peter, I can’t even watch and pray, one hour with you,

And I bet, I could deny you too.

But nothing lasts, except the grace of God, by which I stand, in Jesus.

I’m sure that my whole life would waste away, except for grace, by which I’m saved.

But nothing lasts, except the grace of God, by which I stand, in Jesus.

I know that I would surely fall away, except for grace, by which I’m saved.


That is raw. True.

And maybe it doesn’t have anything to do with Socrates, but what Keith Green sings in that song sure has something to do with Paul’s words, “But if anyone loves God, he is known by God”

Such is my random flitting thoughts today. Sorry if I didn’t make all of the connections well for the rest of you. I’m just thinking aloud, not writing a thesis.

2 Responses to Paul, Socrates, and Keith Green

  1. Interesting…this sounds a bit like something Chesterton says in his book Orthodoxy. I don’t have the exact quote at the moment, but it goes something to the effect of that pastors should not feel competent to be pastors. If a pastor doesn’t feel competent to be a pastor then he is, and vice versa.

    As a random side note, I like the Keith Green lyrics, but I suspect I view what he is saying slightly differently than you do. ;)

  2. rundy says:

    Chesterton, having a good classical education, was surely quite familiar with Socrates so I am not surprised that he reused the saying. I’m sure he wasn’t the last.

    I expect you do have a different take on the Keith Green lyrics. :-) And we don’t even *know* if Mr. Green meant them as I do, seeing as he is not around to explain himself. I will say that in my limited reading he was a bit of a contradictory man (aren’t we all) so what different things he thought, or put into his songs, is hard to say.

Comments are closed.

The Years of Things

31st March 2014

floccinaucinihilipilificate: (colloquial) To describe or regard something as worthless.


My younger brother Owen likes odd words. If he was not the family inventor of the word “bibbage” he was at least an enthusiastic user of the term. “Bibbage” and “bibbageful” were words coined by younger siblings in the family, derived from a playful combination of “broken” and “garbage” to describe something worthless or trifling and yet perhaps amusing. When he grew older Owen took up the term “trundle” with approval. He likes to go on long trundles, not walks. Somehow, I imagine J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis would approve. It seems like a word for the British view on a method for appreciating nature.

We celebrated Owen’s birthday on Saturday, though his actual birthday wasn’t until Sunday. On the year he was born, the 30th of March was Easter. It snowed that night and the roads weren’t good the next morning when Dad went to visit Mom and the new baby in the hospital. He hadn’t even left our street when his car slid off the road and into a snowbank. This March has felt unreasonably cold, and slow to admit Spring is coming. Such memories remind me that this year is not the only year of late snow.

Owen asked for home made ice cream for dessert so I spent part of my afternoon outside running the ice cream machine to freeze a batch of chocolate ice cream, and a batch of peanut butter. I’ve been freezing ice cream for years and I think these batches ended up as the two best batches I have frozen, as measured by the consistency of the final product. Both batches came out very smooth, with even and fine crystallization. Not the flavors I would have picked, but that doesn’t change my judgment on how well they turned out. Making ice cream is more art than science and a good batch churned to perfection is inordinately pleasing. It makes me feel like a good form of employment would be to simply make artisanal batches of ice cream all day.

It would quickly get boring, really. But the sentiment is there.

For supper Owen requested Philly cheese steak sandwiches. I don’t know that anyone in our immediate family has actually eaten a cheese steak sandwich from Philadelphia PA, but we have our own version. It is a make-your-own-sandwich affair where strips of meat, cheese, sautéed onions, peppers, and mushrooms are heaped in desired amounts. All very tasty.

The cooking was not without its excitement. While Mom was sautéing the mushrooms on the stove the electric burner shorted out on the bottom of the large frying pan. Everyone agrees there should have been no way for the burner to do what it did. But it did what it did, and in dramatic fashion. I was across the house in the gym emptying the first batch of ice cream out of the mixing canister and what I heard from that distance was something which sounded like a cross between someone welding very loudly and someone running dried beans in a food processor. If you have never heard the distinctive Kaaak-Kaaak-Kaaak! of a welding rod, then you probably can’t imagine the sound very well. But it was indeed something like that, only many times louder.

Grandma O’Keefe saw what happened and she said it looked like an explosion. Dad saw the end of it, and said that what looked like a baseball sized spark shot toward the ceiling. Perhaps that was a blast of metal plasma. Mom fell over backward onto a bench. Then the circuit breaker tripped. But not before part of the electric burner on the stove vaporized, and in the process melted a hole through the bottom of the pan. It all happened very quickly, and was as impressive as it was unsettling.

Fortunately we have a propane stove in the basement so meal preparation went on.

Nobody cares to think about what would have happened if Mom had been touching the pan with a metal spoon at the moment the burner shorted out. It is also discomforting that the burner in question was only a little over a month old, having been a recent replacement. Needless to say Mom doesn’t really want to use the electric stove ever again.

It was dark and raining when Grandma and Grandpa O’Keefe left. When Grandma pulled out of the driveway she drove into the ditch across the street. The car is a tiny little thing and lurched to one side with one front wheel hanging over the ditch and a rear wheel dangling up in the air over the road it looked like a pathetic machine lost and out of place on a back country road. Several of us boys grabbed the front of the car and lifted it out of the ditch.

The temperature was still above freezing when I left late Saturday night, and remained moderate Sunday morning. Then a severe local snow squall moved through late Sunday. On the way home from church Arlan helped push a pickup truck and a van out of the snow. March is not leaving quietly, as it did not those years ago.

When you are nearly the oldest of twelve siblings you have the privilege of feeling old before your time as one by one the little children grow up. The memories leave their odd feeling when they slip through heart and mind. Is it fondness and sadness mixed up together and confused? Perhaps the word is bittersweet.


lacrimae rerum: The “tears of things”; the inherent tragedy of existence.



2 Responses to The Years of Things

  1. Well, I hope all twelve birthdays aren’t that exciting! At least no one got hurt.

    The collage is really well done. :)

  2. rundy says:

    Yeah, if the propane stove malfunctions like that then you’ll be reading about us in the newspapers….

    Credit for the collage goes to my sister Cadie. I ripped it off her Facebook wall :-P

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The Many and Fine Holes

27th March 2014

Back in the day when Teman and I were still young and spent most of our time goofing off–an activity elsewhere called “being homeschooled”–we spent a good share of our time browsing through old copies of Fine Homebuilding magazine. Well, I would browse, look at the pictures, and read the funny disaster story column in the back. Teman probably read them cover-to-cover like he read encyclopedias. They were a legacy of our father, a subscription probably started around the time he was in trade school and likely stopped when he finally reconciled himself to the fact that life was taking him down a different path. Anyhow, it was here in the pages of these magazines–some of which were printed before we were born–that we penniless paupers dreamed of the houses we would someday build.

I think Teman was a little more systematic in his dreaming and planing. Me, I looked at pictures. Today, we are much older. I still spend probably too much time looking a pictures, a bit more time reading and maybe not enough time writing. I’m still the penniless pauper. Teman has a decent paying job working in a power plant at a local state facility. Neither of us can yet afford to build our dream house, but I’d say Teman has a better shot at it some day. But before that day one has to start with small dreams. And one small dream Teman had was radiant floor heat.

We first saw radiant floor hearting in one of those old Fine Homebuilding magazines. For those of you who didn’t spend part of your youth drooling over old construction trade magazines, I will explain. In the original radiant heating, steam or hot water is piped through radiators along the wall. This was more heat efficient than forced hot air, and more healthy (no dust blown around). However, radiant heat was more expensive to install than forced hot air. New radiant floor heat takes everything to the next level. The radiators are built directly into the floor, a grid of tubing underneath all the floor. The method of installation depends on the type of floor–in concrete the tubing which holds the water is buried directly into the concrete pour, in wood construction the method is different and varied but the end result is the radiant heat is between the sub-floor and the finished flooring. Radiant floor heat is more expensive to install than the old radiator heating, but since the heat is evenly distributed throughout the floor it is more efficient and makes a more comfortable environment. It is considered one of the ultimate (if not the ultimate) method of residential heating.

Way back when radiant floor heating first came out it was only designed for new construction. It was Teman’s dream to have this in the house he built. Sometime not too many years after radiant floor heating was invented they started designing methods to retrofit an installation in old construction. Basically, clips are used to attach the pipe to the bottom of the sub-flooring and the pipes are run between the joists. It isn’t quite as efficient as the new construction design, but it is still good.

When our family moved into the old farmhouse in Oxford, Teman saw the opportunity to install radiant floor heat. If anyone asked, it was all about the oil forced hot air furnace being old, and the oil fired hot water heater, and how between the two of them they cost quite a lot in the oil heating bill. So in the long run it would be cheaper to install radiant floor heat. All true. But I remember the boy who was dreaming of using radiant floor heat.

So, over the last several weeks we have been running the lines for the new radiant floor heat. The disaster column was my favorite part of the Fine Homebuilding magazines, and I suppose it is thus fitting that my construction life often resembles those columns in some measure. I helped pull two of the lines, but my job has mostly been to drill the holes necessary for running the heating lines while other siblings followed behind and pulled the plastic pipe throughthe holes. My job required a minimum of two holes in every joist, and some required double that number of holes depending on how many zones were passing through. In other words, a lot of holes needed drilling.

Teman had borrowed a powerful right-angle drill and bought an expensive one and a half inch spade bit so most of the holes were easy to drill. But there were a few problem areas. The first problem was drilling through the main center beam under the house. The house is an old post and beam construction so the center beam is a good twelve inches of solid wood. Back in the day when we lived in the old house in Triangle and I was but a youth, Dad had to drill through just such a beam and I remembered the experience well. Let’s just say that one or two broken spade bits later Dad use a chain saw to make the hole he needed. I was looking to avoid that conclusion this time.

I had a better spade bit than Dad used all those years ago, and I tried to take it slow to keep the bit from binding, but it was still hard on the bits. The drill could take the work fine–it had enough torque to snap the bits without trying–and that was the problem. By the time the drill gave any hint that there was a problem it was too late. I had to estimate when I had to back out and clean away the saw dust, and if I mis-guessed at the bit bound up in the hole I could have a broken or bent spade bit.

By the end of the project I had snapped the base off two bits, bent one bit, bent one extender, and snapped the head off another extender. This wasn’t all on one hole–there were several holes that gave me trouble. But these were expensive bits, and extenders. I was lucky to have brothers who could afford to purchase replacements as needed. I wouldn’t be suprised if all combined north of fifty dollars were spent on bits and extenders. But, on the plus side, we got all the holes drilled without resort to a chainsaw.

The second difficult point was when I had to drill holes over the old cistern in the basement. It is empty of water, but the original joists over cistern were so rotted that a previous owner had sistered boards on both sides of several original joist. This made a much thicker piece of wood I had to drill through, and in several places it didn’t even leave me enough room to get a good angle when I started my drilling. It was a frustrating and cramped place to work. But a kinda cool and creepy holding cell for any naughty children.

The final difficulty–and this was the most difficult–was when we ran the line out to the gym. Technically this is the attached garage that we finished and made into a living space, and which holds two spare freezers and a spare refrigerator, along with a computer, and exercise equipment. Also, technically it isn’t going to be radiant floor heat out there because the floor is a concrete pad so there will be a transition to wall radiators.

The concrete pad was a big obstacle because we faced the hurdle of trying to drill a hole through the concrete to get the line out of the basement and into the gym. We were saved from attempting this (and in hindsight surely failing short of using a jack-hammer) when I lit upon the idea of feeding the line through the tiny space under the attached bathroom and out through the floor of the bathroom and under the sink in the gym. It was as convoluted a path as it sounds, but it was a path that didn’t appear to need a jackhammer to use.

There was no possibility of crawling up in the tiny space under the bathroom floor and drilling out through the sill plate into the gym, so I had to drill into the crawl space from under the sink that was in the gym. I was painfully aware that I was drilling blind with a very sharp bit into a tight space filled with plumbing. The bit could easily puncture one of the copper water lines and start a spraying wet disaster in a space that would require us ripping up the entire bathroom floor in order to reach and fix. It was the sort of situation where everything could suddenly go south, very fast.

Cue the disaster music.

The first hole I drilled hit some metal object. It was either a stud plate or some lag or re-bar attaching the sill plate to the concrete. After giving up on the hole I moved to a slightly different location under the sink and drilled again. This time I got through, and hit the PVC drain line that served the sink in the bathroom. I took a chunk out of the pipe as big as the end of my finger nail before I pulled the drill bit back. This wasn’t as bad as hitting a pressurized water line, but it was still a problem. Any time the sink was used water would leak out the hole. Under normal circumstances this would have been an easy fix–but I hit this drain line right where it butted up against concrete and stud in a wall underneath a sink. There was no space to access the line and properly patch it.

This is where a simple job gets really complicated. The sawzall entered the picture and I cut away as much wood and sheet rock under the sink as I could. Then I got out the stone chisels and the short-handled sledge hammer and began widening a hole in the concrete block. All this work had to be done under a sink, which meant either lying painfully on my side on top of the cabinet frame, or else effectively standing on my head whilst trying to work. I alternated. The former made my side heart, and it was nearly impossible to breath when I was trying to do something in that position. The latter position of standing on my head was more comfortable and allowed free breathing, but that position gave me a headache.

Picture tools and debries scattered everywhere.

To make a very short story out of a lot of work, I managed to clamp a piece of rubber gasket over the hole in the drain line which fixed the leak. This looks incredibly stupid, but cutting out the damaged section and patching the line properly really would have required tearing up the entire bathroom floor, so this alternative was gladly accepted. After that I slightly widened my hole through the concrete block sill and then we pulled the first line up through the the narrow space using a wire drain snake.

It all sounds rather mundane and easy, but I am most proud of the trick we managed to pull off getting the radiator line into the gym. I’d have been happier if we had avoided the whole hitting-the-drain-line incident but that little mistake aside it was a rather clever, and difficult, feat to manage to pull the line up the way we did and was by fair the most technically difficult part of the project that we did ourselves.

Today I am helping Teman with the last bits of radiant line that needs to be run. It should be pretty easy. The only problem is that we need to keep ahead of the man Teman hired to set up the actual boiler who is hooking everything up and check for leaks. If you want to see real fancy work, you’d have to see what that man did setting up the boiler and zone controls. The zone controls have enough valves and levers and pipes to satisfy the imaginations of boys reading through old Fine Homebuilding magazines. That, at least, is state-of-the-art and a job done right.

Sometimes childhood dreams become a reality, after a fashion.

3 Responses to The Many and Fine Holes

  1. Teman says:

    In my defense, even I don’t pretend that this is economical if you only concern is replacing like with like. But if you want endless hot water and heat to the upstairs, the extra cost of radiant heating is just a rounding error :).

    Sadly, I don’t believe either one of us will ever build our dream house. One of the saddest parts of growing old is realizing all of the dreams that you will never be able to make come true in this life.

  2. Teman says:

    Also, I really really hate oil.

    If I never have to work with oil again I will be happy. That is another dream that likely will never come true for awhile. But at least I got it out of the house.

  3. rundy says:

    I should add for the record that the patch I did on the drain line in the above post still leaked so further attempts are in progress.

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Savage March

16th March 2014

There is the over-worn saying, “March comes in like a lion and goes out like a lamb.” I am convinced that optimistic description was not created in these climes, nor does not apply to these Northern locations except for a unusually balmy March. While around here the end of March is typically better than the beginning, I wouldn’t say we reach lamb-like weather until April. A more appropriate saying would be that March comes in like a dragon and goes out like a lion. March is savage.

But really, if we’re going to talk about the month of March we could call it a bi-polar month and stop there. March doesn’t make a nice progression from nasty to nice. It careens all over the place like a person with mental issues who can’t decide if they are happy or angry. One day the weather is glorious, the next it feels like the pit of winter. And good luck predicting what tomorrow will bring.

To survive March in these parts you need to have an even keel. In the depths of winter you need fortitude because the weather is unrelentingly dreary. But in March you need that even keel to survive the swing from “Yaaaa! It’s sunny out! Let’s go enjoy the weather!” to “Oh my gosh! It’s so cold! Look at all the snow falling!”

The whiplash between the extremes can be severe, and this week was a great example. On Tuesday this past week it warmed up to a sunny afternoon high in the fifties (F). I went out on a bike ride in a short sleeve shirt and it was glorious. Then on Thursday morning the day started out at 7F and the wind howled. Oh, how the whined howled like some savage nasty creature. When I went out for my bike ride on Thursday I had to bundle up like it was December or January. This was only two days apart. It felt insane.

I think for someone who has not lived in these parts the weather of March can be very unnerving. The reaction can range from, “How can the weather be so crazy?” to “Will it ever end?” But as one who has lived all my life here, I can just smile at March. (Though, I admit I wasn’t smiling on Thursday when the wind was blowing so hard I almost couldn’t pedal the bike forward.) I know that all the crazy weather in March is a good sign. The sun grows strong, winter is losing its hold, and spring is coming.

2 Responses to Savage March

  1. This–”A more appropriate saying would be that March comes in like a dragon and goes out like a lion. March is savage.”–is funny, mostly because it is SO true. I don’t mind the shifting back and forth too much. As you said, I know summer is coming. Also, I think I dislike mud as much as snow if not more. :/

  2. rundy says:

    Yeah, the mud can be a pain. Around here the ground is still too frozen, but the mud is coming.

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5th March 2014

When lifting or carrying a heavy object, there is an acute awareness of gravity. When carrying a very heavy object down a flight of stairs, this awareness multiplies. So it was that as stood beneath the piano on the stairs I was very sensitive to the work of gravity on me. I was balanced on the knife edge of going somewhere I didn’t want to go, and going very fast in the direction.

I am strong for my size. I am not fat, but I am somewhat bulky for my size. But “my size” is only five feet seven inches tall, which falls decidedly on the short end of the scale and definitely limits both my strength and weight. There is only so much you can pack on a five foot seven frame, and those limitations are felt in a pressing way when the weight of a piano is bearing down on you. I was able to comfortably pick up and carry my end of the piano, but once on the stairs I couldn’t escape the reality of how much more the piano weighed than I did. I had the unmistakable sensation that my weight was not sufficient to keep my shoes firmly planted on the stair tread, and shortly my feet would start sliding backward off the stairs, pushed by the inexorable weight of the piano.

I ended up on that staircase, with that piano, because I was helping my aunt and her family move. I was not the only adult male present, and I certainly wasn’t the tallest or the heaviest. But I might have been the strongest, and I was sure of my capabilities–unlike the bigger but somewhat rolly-polly alternatives. It is no good if you are big and heavy but don’t have the hand strength to hold onto the piano and so drop it halfway down the stairs, breaking your shins and ending up in a bloody heap at the bottom. Ideally a bigger person would have been better suited, but since they were unknown quantities which I had met scarcely more than five minutes ago, I opted to take point. At least then I knew what I was getting into.

When my Aunt Marianne and family moved into the second story apartment my brothers Teman and Lachlan had helped them move in. Both Teman and Lachlan are stronger than me (by a good bit in some measures) and had managed, between the two of them, to get the piano upstairs. However, they were not available to help for this move. But they had told me the story of their travails, and how it had required every last ounce of their strength, and how Lachlan had almost blacked out from the effort of lifting the piano up over the stair rail at the bottom.

Lachlan had told me (rather breezily) prior to the move that he thought I could do it because he had been “much weaker” back then. This did not comfort me. Regardless of whether he was weaker back then or not, Lachlan has a tendency to underestimate the difference in our strength and to forget the full implications of the fact that he is several inches taller than I am, and a good twenty-five pounds or more heavier than I am. On top of that, Lachlan had lifted to piano over the stair rail at the bottom of the stairs before exerting himself to carry it up the stairs. I, on the other hand, would be lifting the piano over the stair rail after I had made the taxing journey down the stairs. Except, unless God blessed me with the strength of Samson, I doubted I would be lifting the piano over any stair rails.

I had an alternative plan. My aunt’s friends from church were at the upper end of the piano, but my several male siblings were behind me. They couldn’t help me carry the piano down the stairs because of space constraints, but once we reached the bottom I intended to pass the point position to them. I figured two or three of them, with a bit of extra help from me if necessary, could get the piano over the stair rail.

But first we had to get down there. That was the tricky part.

As anyone who has carried a heavy object down stairs knows, the weight of said object increases exponentially if you are on the lower side. As the object tips downhill nearly all of the weight is transferred to the lower person and those on the upper side carry a much lighter portion of the weight and are primarily responsible for stabilizing and guiding the heavy object. If the man on the lower side looses his grip, or his balance, there is little those on the upper side can do besides try to avoid tumbling down the stairs as well.

So I started backward down the stairs and as I descended nearly the full weight of the piano came down on me. The two or three men on the uphill side scrabbled and gripped the piano as best they could, but I knew if something happened to me I was on my own. And I could feel that I did not weigh enough to counter the downward pressure of the piano against my chest as it sought to answer gravity’s hungry call. It didn’t matter if I had enough strength to hold the piano up if I didn’t have enough weight to counter it’s push.

“Brace my back! Brace me!” I hastily instructed my brothers behind me. With several hands pushing against my back I felt like I finally had enough force countering the piano to keep me on the stairs. I continued my careful descent.

The staircase was curved so it was not easy going. About halfway down, one of the men above me got stuck and we had to stop until he could free himself and get out of the way. As anyone knows, the longer you hold a heavy object the heavier it feels. The piano was not too heavy for me, but the longer we dallied on the stairs the heavier it became.

“Wait, wait,” the man said. “I’m stuck. I need to get free.”

So I stopped, and waited. Breath. Just breath. Hurry up, guys, I can’t hold this forever. I didn’t say that aloud because they were trying to correct the situation as fast as possible and commentary wouldn’t help, but every minute felt exceptionally long and every second reminded me in a pressing way that I did not have an infinite amount of strength to draw from and oh, by the way, this is starting to feel heavier and heavier.

The stuck man extracted himself and we made it to the bottom of the stairs. It didn’t actually take that long but by the time we reached the bottom the muscle fatigued in my arms was such that I wasn’t sure if I could, in the moment, lift my own arms over my head much less a piano over the stair rails. At that point there was the hasty switch over as my planned transfer took place and two or three of my younger brothers maneuvered the piano up over the rail.

That piano was the hardest part of the entire move. The rest was pretty much child’s play in comparison.

5 Responses to Gravity

  1. Having witnessed and been involved in several piano and organ moving expeditions myself, I can visualize all this well. Large instruments aren’t made (I think) with thought for moving. Glad you didn’t get hurt in the process!

  2. Titi says:

    I have pictures, Rundy, if you want them. . .

  3. rundy says:

    Titi, I’d like to see them, yeah. I didn’t know someone was taking pictures, seeing as I was a bit preoccupied at the time. If they seem fitting I could add one or two to the post.

  4. rundy says:

    Veronica, I think they are in particular not made for moving up and down staircases!

  5. Teman says:

    It was not Lachlan who almost blacked out it was me. And he was much weaker back then than you were/are. He was not lifting weights at the time and he was not far from the back boneless spineless fool stage of his life. I can very clearly remembering wishing that you where there instead of him.

    I was going to school at the time after work at the time so I was skipping workouts a lot and eating way more than I should have (going until almost 9 without supper on a regular basis made me pig out). So I was both fatter and weaker than I am now.

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Elsewhere . . .

28th February 2014

Sorry for the protracted silence, readers. I hope to return next week with some meaty posts (well, at least one). In the meantime, for your interest I will share some of what I’ve done elsewhere.

I wrote a guest post over at the DR Power Equipment blog:

Then, over at my professional website I have been intermittently creating quote pictures. That is what I call them–I’m sure you’ve seen the sort of thing all over the Internet; some picture with a quote attached to it. For my own amusement I decided to take a hand at creating some. Most are quotes from other people which I put with some photo. However, one is a quote I invented myself–a tongue in cheek “inspirational” exercise quotation. Please repeat that one regularly to your friends so that I become famous:

That will have to keep you until next week. Stay warm!

Snow for All

7th February 2014

Overnight from February 4th 2014 on into February 5th it snowed. I have seen much worse storms, but it was the biggest storm of the year.

Open the front door:

Snow to the door

For a few more photos, I added a short album:

And just to put life in perspective, here a some photos from a very cold place on earth where people live:

2 Responses to Snow for All

  1. Yep, that’s how it looks here too.

    Everything is almost blinding in the morning since it looks like a Christmas card after the frost. The trees and standing weeds sparkle too. It is absolutely beautiful!

  2. rundy says:

    Yeah, though by this point the sparkle of freshness has worn off over here.

    But never fear, more snow is on the way tomorrow!

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The Moderation of Good Judgement

28th January 2014

A break today from my usual more long-form writing. This article ( presents a good critique, and could be applied to many more similar cases. A bit of truth far oversold is the currency of t0day. I wrote about it previously myself ( That is still worth saying, now four years later.

One Response to The Moderation of Good Judgement

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Packing and Moving

22nd January 2014

On January 4th a passel of my family moved my mom’s parents (Grandma and Grandpa O’Keefe) from Syracuse NY to the local small town of Greene. Since we also moved them up to Syracuse from Plainfield NJ nearly ten years previous, the two different moves were unavoidably compared. The move ten years ago was across 240 miles, and from a large house to a three bedroom third floor apartment. The move this time was across 67 miles from that third story three bedroom apartment to a small house. The first move was a significant downsize in space, the second was an increase in living space. All of this to say the move this month was much easier.

But still, the recent move had its trying points. In the previous move we had the advantage of more planning. Prior to the summer move last time, Titi and I had gone down to NJ in April and did a decent amount of pre-packing, and staging of material. Then when the summer move came four of us went down to NJ several days in advance of the move and carefully prepared everything for the actual day of moving. When the day of the move arrived I had devised a packing strategy, we had stuff staged and the plan rehearsed, and I fitted everything from a full large house into a 26 foot moving truck–a feat that I admit to being a bit proud of. I like to think all the years I spent stacking hay for farmers paid off.

We had to pack the house in NJ in one day and drive up to NY state the same day. The second day we drove to Syracuse and unloaded the truck into the 3 bedroom apartment. Packing and moving the stuff, and then unpacking it into a small apartment was a great logistical challenge and quite a logistical achievement considering how well we pulled it off.

There were not the same logistical problems this time. The journey was much shorter, and we were moving from a small space to a larger space. But the move was not as easy as it could have been because this time we compressed everything into one day. We had one day to pack everything up into the boxes, load the truck, travel, and then unload the truck. This time it wasn’t a challenge of logistics, but rather a challenge of time efficiency.

I arrived at the apartment on Saturday at 10:00 AM with the rest of the crew following soon after. About the only thing packed when we arrived was the fine china, and such breakables. The rest of the apartment was as it was lived in.

The problems began immediately. The 26 foot truck that had been rented in advance could not be started that morning by the rental agency because of the very cold weather. So we were given two 16 foot trucks instead. When Teman and Arlan went with Grandma to pick up the trucks, Grandma had difficulty finding the rental location. The trucks did not reach the apartment complex until around noon, but in the meantime the rest of us did not sit around waiting. We were frenetically packing, staging boxes out in the hall, and then making a large stack of them in the living room. When the trucks finally arrived, we had plenty of boxes to start loading.

One of the great things about our family working together is that we are very effective. Jobs are divided up naturally, and we know that everyone will do the job assigned to them. We can work in a good rhythm. On moving day some people were filling boxes in rooms while other people were moving boxes back and forth. I had the duty of loading the truck, while other people brought the stuff down to me.

Everything had a good flow, except there was one problem. The rate of stuff coming down from the apartment was too slow. The first 16 foot truck was loaded, and the second started, but the day waned late. Darkness was starting to set in and I got the feeling we would run out of day before we finished packing. So I decided the speed of things needed to be kicked up a notch from “brisk” to “crazy.” Instead of waiting at the truck for the other people to bring down stuff for me to load, I joined in on bringing stuff down until I had a large collection ready for packing. I quickly discovered–as others already had before me–that the elevator to the third floor was very slow, and a lot of time was spent standing around waiting for the elevator. So I reverted to using the stairs. And, feeling our rapidly closing window of time, I began running up and down the three flights of stairs with the stuff I carried from the apartment. It is even faster to go up the stairs if at the landings between flights you are going fast enough to grab the rail and use your moment to swing yourself around pendulum like, and skip the landing, along with a stair or two.

Working full-out like that, we managed to finish cleaning out the apartment at nearly 9:00 PM. Then it was time for the drive back to Greene.

On the journey home I got us lost. Well, not truly lost. We were trying to get on the highway, and we knew exactly where the highway was located, but my directions to the on-ramp were not working out. I am terrible with directions, and I should never have taken the lead, driving by myself and following directions as I tried to navigate in the dark. I was not thinking very clearly because of the long day, but I had thought it would be easy, and fool-proof since I had gone that way once before. But that had been years ago, and when it wasn’t dark. If I had been by myself, it would have been no big deal. You make a wrong turn on a back country road and you correct by simply turning around. But in our caravan I had two 16 foot trucks following me as we journeyed on the sometimes snow covered and icy country roads, and I knew “turning around” was a much more difficult procedure. Soon as I was certain that I had messed up my directions I pulled over and let Titi in the pickup, who had Evan with a phone with GPS as copolit, take the lead.

The journey to the highway was still a bit of a comedy of errors. By this point Cadie (who is even more of a worrier than I) was getting anxious from her point at the back of the convoy and callied Evan to say that she was concerned that her car might run out of gas before we got un-lost. While he was talking to Cadie, Evan failed to keep an eye on how well Titi was following his directions and so she accidentally turned into a trailer park. Since she was leading, we all followed. Thus our five vehicle convoy ended up driving on what was practically a snow covered wheel-barrow path through the back hills of upstate NY after dark. I watched Titi fish-tail the truck slightly in front of me, and glanced in my rear-view mirror behind, and fretted about how if somebody got stuck in the snow here we would really have a fun time.

Fortunately, nobody got stuck. After we all successfully navigated our little journey around the trailer park and made it back onto a real road everything straightened out. Once we reached the on-ramp for the highway it was a straight shot home. We arrived at Grandma and Grandpa’s new house at nearly 10:00 PM. Unloading the trucks into the garage progressed rapidly. I left before everything was unloaded because I had another 45 minute drive back to Grandma Purdy’s place, but basically we did the entire move in 12 hours. It wasn’t pretty, and it wasn’t neat, but to both pack and move in that amount of time is a success, I say.

Doing that type of work for so many hours uses the body, but it also uses the mind. If you are going to do it well you need to be subconciously thinking about a lot of stuff. There is a lot of time and spatial management that has to be going on while physically working at the same time. I didn’t realize how much my mind had got into the groove until When I went to bed that night I still had images of packing flashing through my head. it felt a little weird to go to bed and still be thinking in pictures, “Packing…packing…packing.”

4 Responses to Packing and Moving

  1. Cadie says:

    oh geez, I didn’t realize my (or actually Justin’s on my behalf) phone call is what caused that mess-up. I had a feeling I shouldn’t have called, but Titi had said to let her know if I did decide to stop and get gas.

  2. rundy says:

    I didn’t know it at the time, either. I thought the GPS was just being clever sending us through the trailer park. I found out the truth only after we arrived at Grandma and Grandpa’s house. It’s no big deal, anyhow.

  3. Yay adventure! Boo adventures that require organization and planning. :)

  4. rundy says:

    Haha, yes, organization and planning do take the spontaneity out of it all.

Comments are closed.

A Bit Like Jonah

3rd January 2014

But he answered them, “An evil and adulterous generation seeks for a sign, but no sign will be given to it except the sign of the prophet Jonah. For just as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the great fish, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth. The men of Nineveh will rise up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it, for they repented at the preaching of Jonah, and behold, something greater than Jonah is here.” (Matt. 12:39-41)

Miracles are interesting things. Like with the Pharisees’ demand for a miracle, so often those that God works are not what we want, what we expect, or even what we would admit as a miracle. One of the marvelous things about miracles is that they so often make people hate God.

When I saw the story of the man who survived three days on the bottom of the ocean in a sunken ship, that caught my attention. Below are some excerpts from the story:

LAGOS, Nigeria – Entombed at the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean in an upended tugboat for three days, Harrison Odjegba Okene begged God for a miracle.

The Nigerian cook survived by breathing an ever-dwindling supply of oxygen in an air pocket. [...]

As the temperature dropped to freezing, Okene, dressed only in boxer shorts, recited the last psalm his wife had sent by text message, sometimes called the Prayer for Deliverance: “Oh God, by your name, save me. … The Lord sustains my life.”

To this day, Okene believes his rescue after 72 hours underwater at a depth of about 100 feet is a sign of divine deliverance. The other 11 seaman aboard the Jascon 4 died.

Divers sent to the scene were looking only for bodies, according to Tony Walker, project manager for the Dutch company DCN Diving, who were called to the scene because they were working on a neighboring oil field 75 miles away.

The divers had already pulled up four bodies.

So when a hand appeared on the TV screen Walker was monitoring in the rescue boat, showing what the diver in the Jascon saw, everybody assumed it was another corpse.

“The diver acknowledged that he had seen the hand and then, when he went to grab the hand, the hand grabbed him!” Walker said in a telephone interview Tuesday.

“It was frightening for everybody,” he said. “For the guy that was trapped because he didn’t know what was happening. It was a shock for the diver while he was down there looking for bodies, and we (in the control room) shot back when the hand grabbed him on the screen.”

On the video, there’s an exclamation of fear and shock from Okene’s rescuer, and then joy as the realization sets in. Okene recalls hearing: “There’s a survivor! He’s alive.”

Walker said Okene couldn’t have lasted much longer.

“He was incredibly lucky he was in an air pocket but he would have had a limited time (before) … he wouldn’t be able to breathe anymore.”


Okene’s ordeal began around 4:30 a.m. on May 26. Always an early riser, he was in the toilet when the tug, one of three towing an oil tanker in Nigeria’s oil-rich Delta waters, gave a sudden lurch and then keeled over.

“I was dazed and everywhere was dark as I was thrown from one end of the small cubicle to another,” Okene said in an exclusive interview after his rescue with Nigeria’s Nation newspaper.

He groped his way out of the toilet and tried to find a vent, propping doors open as he moved on. He discovered some tools and a life vest with two flashlights, which he stuffed into his shorts.

When he found a cabin of the sunken vessel that felt safe, he began the long wait, getting colder and colder as he played back a mental tape of his life — remembering his mother, friends, mostly the woman he’d married five years before with whom he hadn’t yet fathered a child.

He worried about his colleagues — 10 Nigerians and the Ukrainian captain including four young cadets from Nigeria’s Maritime Academy. They would have locked themselves into their cabins, standard procedure in an area stalked by pirates.

He got really worried when he heard the sound of fish, shark or barracudas he supposed, eating and fighting over something big.

As the waters rose, he made a rack on top of a platform and piled two mattresses on top.

According to his interview with the Nation: “I started calling on the name of God. … I started reminiscing on the verses I read before I slept. I read the Bible from Psalm 54 to 92. My wife had sent me the verses to read that night when she called me before I went to bed.”

He survived off just one bottle of Coke, all he had to sustain him during the trauma.

Okene really thought he was going to die, he told the Nation, when he heard the sound of a boat engine and anchor dropping, but failed to get the attention of rescuers. He figured, given the size of the boat, that it would take a miracle for a diver to locate him. So he waded across the cabin, stripped the wall down to its steel body, then knocked on it with a hammer.

But “I heard them moving away. They were far away from where I was.”

By the time he was saved, relatives already had been told the sailors were dead.

Okene kept faith with the psalm he recited, that promises to “give thanks in your name, Lord,” at a service at his Redeemed Christian Church of God.

The particular article I excerpted above was from Fox News ( Other versions on the Internet are much truncated. Comments on the event, cover the spectrum. “Lucky man” some say. “God saved him,” others answer. “And so God killed the other 11 who didn’t survive?” is a sneering response. “What kind of God is that?” Then National Geographic chimes in to say, “Turns out that an air bubble was Harrison Okene’s savior.” (

The comments speak for themselves, in more ways than one.

If you want an abbreviated video, the AP version is here:

A long version is here:

To me, it is marvelous beyond words that we should be given the opportunity to be witnesses the grace of God shown to this man.

2 Responses to A Bit Like Jonah

  1. Yes, I had seen this news article before. It’s remarkable. I wonder how one would reevaluate the important things in life after such a trauma?

  2. rundy says:

    A good question. I think I can safely say that if we were living rightly we wouldn’t need to reevaluate the important things in life. If a person is living totally for Jesus then repeated near brushes with death would not phase that person, or cause them to value things differently in life. If only we all lived with such whole-hearted devotion!

    Going back to the example of Jonah, Scripture doesn’t paint a stellar picture in answer to your question through the person of this prophet-man after his near brush with death. This is a guy who flagrantly disobeyed a direct command of God to go preach His word to a city. Jonah deserved to die for that gross and willful disobedience, but God mercifully and miraculously preserved Jonah’s life. One would think that such an experience would cause Jonah to re-evaluate things and come to a different attitude and perspective. But no, next thing we have is Jonah getting all pissy with God because God had mercy on Ninevah and spared thousands upon thousands of people. Boy did Jonah not get the picture even after all he had been through. Which indicates how all of us can come to the very mouth of the grave and be snatched back, only to continue on living as we did before.

    May we tremble at the hardness of our hearts, and the contempt we show in our lives for the riches of God’s grace. We are not all so visibly snatched from the maw of death as to be pulled up from the bottom of the sea, but in each of our lives–in big ways and small–God continually shows His long-suffering mercy to us, and we show are willful blindness and stubbornness toward him in continuing on in the attitude and desires of the days before.

    (Preaching at myself here. I had a bad attitude all day today, and I really need to reflect on this truth, and how much in even the petty things of my life I act like Jonah.)

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Winter Exercise

16th December 2013

On Saturday we had the first real major snow dump for this winter season. Traveling home Saturday night from my weekend visiting was an experience. For some reason nobody was paying the snow plows overtime, so the roads were effectively not plowed at all, which meant I was plowing through the snow on the journey back to Grandma’s. It could have been much worse. I actually had the forthought to leave my car at my parents and borrow my sisters 4WD vehicle, which is all that made the trip possible.

In honor of the winter weather coming upon us in full force I decided to dig up a comic I drew a few years ago about the joys of exercising in the winter. More specifically, bike riding. Because, of course, I don’t stop just because the weather takes a turn for the worst.

(Click on image for larger version)

It exercises the mind and body!

As a bonus, this Calvin and Hobbes comic pretty well sums the situation up as well:

Calvin and Hobbes comic

Long may the crazy bike rides live.

4 Responses to Winter Exercise

  1. When I can no longer get my car down the road biking is out for me. Rundy, on the other hand, sees joy in torturing himself and appearing to be as ludicrous as the roof-sweeping woman.;)

  2. rundy says:

    Exactly! You’ve hit the nail on the head. Though, there are limits. If I can’t get my car down the road then I can’t get my bike anywhere either. Past a certain point if you have no traction you can’t go anywhere–the bike wheels just spin in place.

    But I do like to think I am doing my neighborly duty by giving the street residents their entertainment. I won’t forget the winter–was it two years ago?–when I was out biking in a snow storm and an older gentlemen and lady stopped their car to offer me a ride. When I assured them I was fine the lady said, “You’re like the indominable snowman!”

    Also, after I posted this entry I thought this song would make a good sort of silly / sort of ironic track to go along with it, just replace “run” with “bike” :-P

  3. Deirdre says:

    Wait…… The comic you made looks awfully familiar……..

  4. Deirdre says:

    Oh…… yeah…… of course, its an old comic

Comments are closed.

Thirteen Pies

2nd December 2013

A table full of pies

If you went to any family gathering, wherever you went there would probably be some dish that stood out in particular. In one family the special dish might be the stuffing, or the goulash, or any number of other things. At a Purdy family gathering there are many good and tasty foods, but the place of preeminence belongs to pies. If we tried to decide what kind of pie deserved the place of preeminence we might have an ugly family feud, so the situation is amicably resolved by having many kinds of pie.

This year we had thirteen pies. I think it was eight different varieties–blueberry, cherry, apple, pumpkin, peach, pecan, chocolate cream, coconut cream–with the extra being duplicates. This didn’t come up to quiet a half a pie per person, but it was pretty close. Not that everyone managed to eat their fair share, mind you, but just to give a sense of the scale.

As all of this probably tells you, the meal proper at a Thanksgiving feast around here is simply a salivary gland warm-up for the truly serious exercise of eating pie. Dinner is merely a tactical skirmish to see who is foolish enough to dull their appetite more so as to be able to eat less pie. Plates have been scarcely pushed back from the meal proper before the cry goes up, “When are we going to start serving the pie?”

And so we ate ourselves nearly sick and silly on pie. It was a most delicious selection, and I wish I could have consumed more but I am not a champion pie eater. I bomb out early. But overall the occasion can pretty well be summed up by one aunt, who on tasting a particularly fabulous blueberry pie exclaimed, “This pie is dynamite! It is so good it makes me want to dance!”

That is good pie for you.

Oh yeah, and I guess we all socialized too. There was talking, taking a walk, watching a movie, and some playing of Dutch Blitz among cousins, which involved a good deal of shouting, exclaiming, cries of anguish, and table pounding because we might just be a competitive family. Basically a typical Thanksgiving around here.

Delicious pies

4 Responses to Thirteen Pies

  1. Mom says:

    You left out raspberry, which an aunt brought and a certain uncle had the lion’s share of.

  2. I am now very hungry, no thanks to you.

  3. rundy says:

    Haha, Veronicah. Lots of pies, delicious pies! Millions upon millions of pies! And none of them where you can eat them.

    Cruel teasing aside, do you have a particular flavor of pie you like best, or are you in the camp of “All pie is good pie, now give me the pie!”

  4. So much cruel taunting! ;)

    To answer your question…I’m not big into berry pies, but I’ll go for coconut, lemon, lime, pumpkin, graham cracker (there’s an amazing lady at my church who makes those), and apple.

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Down the Drain

26th November 2013

I am a bit of a historical disaster collector. I don’t know if it is the story-teller in me who is drawn to the narrative and drama of real life stories, or if it is just the morbid part of me which finds it slightly riveting to read about how everything came unglued and went down for other people. The truth is probably a bit of both. Many of the stories are of unremitting tragedy, some are streaked through with heroism, and on the rare occassion the tragedy verges on being a comedy. I came upon one in that latter category recently.

When I read the story, it sounded like something that would happen to me.

Our little story is about Lake Peigneur. This titular lake is located down in Louisana, and perhaps that explains our whole story. The explination would be that country hicks were doing the oil exploration, and when you have a bunch of country boys doing anything it immediately explains any and all disasters that occur. But I am getting a bit ahead of myself.

In our story the Diamond Crystal Salt Company operated the Jefferson Island salt mine under the lake. I figure that would be a bit of a concern seeing as the people would be mining a water soluble producted with a large body of water over their heads, but I don’t think this is the first time that such was done. The problems started when a Texaco oil rig started drilled down from the surface of the lake searching for petroleum. Immediately, this sounds like a very bad idea and I wonder who approved such a dubious venture. “Oh, sure, you can drill for oil in the lake! There is a mine beneath it, so just be careful not to hit the mine, but I’m sure you’ll have no problems.”

We all can see what was coming, and somehow it doesn’t entirely feel like just the benefit of hindsight. On November 20th, 1980, due to a miscalculation, a 14-inch (36 cm) drill bit entered the mine, starting a chain of events which turned the lake from freshwater to salt water, with a deep hole. To put it another way:

It is difficult to determine what occurred, as all evidence was destroyed or washed away in the ensuing maelstrom. One explanation is that a miscalculation by Texaco about their location resulted in the drill puncturing the roof of the third level of the mine. This created an opening in the bottom of the lake. The lake then drained into the hole, expanding the size of that hole as the soil and salt were washed into the mine by the rushing water, filling the enormous caverns left by the removal of salt over the years. The resultant whirlpool sucked in the drilling platform, eleven barges, many trees and 65 acres (260,000 m2) of the surrounding terrain. So much water drained into those caverns that the flow of the Delcambre Canal that usually empties the lake into Vermilion Bay was reversed, making the canal a temporary inlet. This backflow created, for a few days, the tallest waterfall ever in the state of Louisiana, at 164 feet (50 m), as the lake refilled with salt water from the Delcambre Canal and Vermilion Bay. The water downflowing into the mine caverns displaced air which erupted as compressed air and then later as 400-foot (120 m) geysers up through the mineshafts.

It isn’t funny, and yet it is. This is a classic butt squeezing, heart stopping, feet running “Oopsie” moment. It is exactly the sort of miscalculation that disasters are made of. The amazing thing is that nobody died, and there weren’t even any injuries. All 55 employees in the mine at the time of the accident were able to escape thanks to well-planned and rehearsed evacuation drills (lucky them), while the staff of the drilling rig fled the platform before it was sucked down into the new depths of the lake (and they probably kept right on running). Leonce Viator, Jr. (a local fisherman) was able to drive his small boat to the shore and get out before everything went down the drain. The only casualties were apparently three dogs.

In some kind of absurd finish to the whole disaster, days later, once the water pressure equalized, nine of the eleven sunken barges popped out of the whirlpool and refloated on the lake’s surface.

The final aftermath of this event consists in the lake having salt water after the event, not as a result of salt from the mine dissolving into the water, but from the inflow of salt water from the Delcambre Canal and Vermilion Bay, which are naturally salty or brackish. The event permanently affected the ecosystem of the lake by changing the lake from freshwater to saltwater and increasing the depth of part of the lake. Oh, and the drilling company, Texaco and Wilson Brothers, paid $32 million to Diamond Crystal and $12.8 million to nearby Live Oak Gardens in out-of-court settlements to compensate for the damage caused.

Today, since 1994 AGL Resources has been using Lake Peigneur’s underlying salt dome as a storage and hub facility for pressurized natural gas. There was concern from local residents in 2009 over the safety of storing the gas under the lake and nearby drilling operations. Yeah, some of us can see the potential for another disaster story.


Most of us probably know of the novel Moby Dick and probably nearly all of us haven’t read it. I flipped through a copy once. It looked huge and interminably boring. Maybe I just have bad taste. But the story which inspired Herman Melville’s tale is most certainly not boring. I could write a more gripping fictional story based on the tragedy on the Essex. Maybe some day I will, just to prove a point.

The story of the sinking of the Essex is a bizarre tragedy, but even before the crew reached the point of having their ship sunk by a whale events were already taking an ominous and absurd turn.

Due to the need to fix a serious leak, the vessel first anchored at Hood Island on October 8. Over seven days they captured 300 Galápagos giant tortoises to supplement the ship’s stores. They then sailed for Charles Island (now known as Floreana Island) where on October 22 they obtained another 60 tortoises.While hunting on Charles Island, helmsman Thomas Chappel decided to set a fire as a prank. Being the height of the dry season, the fire soon burned out of control and quickly surrounded the hunters, who were forced to run through the flames to escape. By the time the men returned to Essex almost the entire island was burning. The crew were upset about the fire and Captain Pollard swore vengeance on whoever had set it. Fearing a whipping, it was to be some time before Chappel admitted to being the culprit. The next day saw the island still burning as the ship sailed for the offshore grounds and after a full day of sailing the fire was still visible on the horizon. Many years later Nickerson returned to Charles Island and found a black wasteland, “neither trees, shrubbery, nor grass have since appeared.” It is believed the fire contributed to the extinction of the Floreana Tortoise and the near extinction of the Floreana Mockingbird which no longer inhabits the island.

And all this occurred after the ship had nearly been sunk earlier in the voyage in a squall. This is not exactly a good start. Then came the whale hunting, and the ill-fated fight, which ended thus:

The whale crushed the bow like an eggshell, driving the 238-ton vessel backwards. The whale finally disengaged its head from the shattered timbers and swam off, never to be seen again, leaving the Essex quickly going down by the bow. Chase and the remaining sailors frantically tried to add rigging to the only remaining whaleboat, while the steward ran below to gather up whatever navigational aids he could find.

At this point the story still isn’t over. The crew is stuck out in the middle of the ocean with only three small whale boats. They must make it to land, and civilization. The following journey is filled with starvation, death, and cannibalism. Miraculously, in spite of all the circumstances, some of the crew survived the ordeal.

And Melville just wanted to write a story about some nut hunting a great white whale.


On lake Peigneur: For more on the Essex:

2 Responses to Down the Drain

  1. And situational irony abounds…

  2. rundy says:

    If I had a lot of spare time, I would draw a series of comics to bring the story of Lake Peigneur to life just cause the story would fit so well to being told in that format. Unfortunately, I don’t have that kind of spare time.

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Finishing Business

14th November 2013

A little over a month ago I wrote about the unfinished business that writing can leave–the history of drafts that never quite make it to the birth of a finished story. Some stories are better left stillborn. For a malformed work of art death before life begins can be a mercy on all involved. No novelist grieves over the story which did not make the light of day and which if it had would have caused burning shame until the authors own death. Some things are better buried on a cold dark night, or used as kindling to warm oneself on even colder ones.

But not all stories die for such deserved reasons. Apathy, loss of energy or ambition, or the thwarting of time and obligations kills many an artistic muse that could have otherwise lived a long and happy life. For years my novel, The Vishkalli Conspiracy languished, a breath short of publishing birth. By circumstance the breath became years, and often years are enough to finally kill many creative projects. Times changes us all, and what we thought and would write before is not what we think and write now. There are plenty of stories to tell, and if one is not told in its time another will take its place. So The Vishkalli Conspiracy nearly died before it was born. But it didn’t die. At least not yet, anyway.

You see, it bugged me back in the far corner of my mind that the story had not reached its final day in the sun. If I had finally, at long last, decided, “The story is not fit! Away with it, may no one lay eyes on it again,” then all would have been good. At least as good as anything can be when a creative endeavor comes down in shambles. But I never reached that conclusion–I never determined to abandon the project. Life simply caught up with me and washed me away. And yet, the bound draft copy of the novel still sat on my desk, year after year, reminding me of that unfinished business.

I didn’t come back to it all at once. The creative pull isn’t always like that. Sometimes it is a whisper, an itch in the back of the mind which at first is idly scratched before it rightfully comes to attention. Returning to The Vishkalli Conspiracy was like that. Maybe the first thing I did was pick it up after years and start reading it again. Then the thoughts about changes. Next the decision on what would be done. Last, finding the courage and determination to start. When you have been away from a book for years that is printed at 640 pages, beginning the work again can be the most daunting step.

Perhaps what surprised me the most, and spurred me on in a desire to complete it, was how well The Vishkalli Conspiracy held up over time. It is not so unusual for me to go back to some old writing of mine and blush (ever so slightly) at my work. Sometimes the embarrassment is more than slight. But coming back to this old story I found it held up. Yes, if I were to write it fresh today I would certainly have written differently, but for what it was and what it meant to be I felt it solid and true even now returning after years away. I felt that reaction said something for how much work I had put into the project, and that such was reason enough to finish it. If I could leave a work of my own and come back to it years later and not blush at the result then it deserved a place in official history. It deserved to be published.

That is not to say I picked up the book and thought it perfect. The story has its ludicrous elements. The world and its cultures perhaps not entirely believable, and characters over-large. But looking back through the window of years I did not find those obvious weaknesses to sting like the flaws of a broken story. This story was meant to be that way–large, grand, and painted with over-bold colors. And I found the emotions I had meant to paint were still there, and the turn of dialog still pleased my ear (and that, I think, can be a hard thing to manage). What I did see needed changing was not because of weakness in the story’s own core, but because the larger dream behind the novel was dead. Once I thought this novel would be the first novel in an epic series of gigantic proportions. To fit that grand scope, I had narrative threads in the novel that weren’t strictly required for the present story but were written to begin the spooling out of a far greater meta-narrative which would span the entire series. Oh yes, I had great dreams. Looking back with the weary eye of experience, it is clear that I haven’t enough life left to write even half the series at my current rate of production. Such will never be, and so rather than viewing the novel as the beginning of a huge story I realized I needed to see it for what it was: a story by itself.

The passage of time had allowed me to not hold the story too close. When I had left the novel the parts of it were the way they were because they had to be that way for the Great Story. Now I came back with a clinical eye, and asked myself, “What needs to be here to make this story good?” The answer was rather simple. A change in the beginning and the end, and ripping out all the narratives which basically served no purpose except to lay groundwork for future books. The end result was a slightly smaller, more focused, and better story.

I did all that work while I let the draft of The Sea is Wide sit. It is good to let writing cure for a while because it can give you a fresh view. So while I let The Sea is Wide settle, I worked on The Vishkalli Conspiracy. Now I am back to working on The Sea is Wide and the novel is now ready for reading eyes. The wheels of writing turn slowly, but eventually I will be sending the novel out to agents to see if any might express interest.

Back in October when I last wrote about The Vishkalli Conspiracy I mentioned how big the story had grown at its largest–369,611 words. But from that bloated size I had been cutting it down significantly even before life forced me to abandon the project. The printed copy I had sitting on my desk for years was down to 283,537 words, a trimming of over 80,000 words which is not small reduction. Some full length novels are 80,000 words in their entirety, and the number of months (or perhaps years) of my own work which I discarded in those many thousands of words is enough to make a mind reel if capable of adequately comprehending the destruction of one’s own labor. Compared to that, my most recent cutting was much more modest. The final document I now have is 253,174 words, a drop of merely another 30,000 words. The total reduction of the story from its largest to its current size is then 110,000 words, which to give you a sense of scale is about the size of The Sea is Wide as it currently stands.

While one might congratulate me for the fortitude I demonstrated in eliminating so much of my own writing, the story is still overly large by modern standards. By today’s sensibilities a modest novel is 100,000 words, large would be 150,000, and if a writer goes over 200,000 the publisher is either sure you are blazingly famous, or nuts to expect them to publish something that large. It costs a lot of money to publish a big book. For a idea of context, both of my York novels were about 90,000 words each. So The Vishkalli Conspiracy at 253,174 words is bigger than both my York novels combined, and is nearly as large as three such novels!

In the end, will anything come of it? For today, that was not the question which mattered. After having put so much time and energy into the story, and after having determined it deserved completion, the issue was first about finishing that which deserved completion. It was about finishing business. I would like to think that some day the story might stir some hearts, but an artists first job is to finish that which is worthy of completion.

4 Responses to Finishing Business

  1. I too know what it’s like to trash work after letting it cure, but only recently have I had a moment to go back and see something worthy of completion. It shall have to sit a while longer though…till I can find the time.

    You’re making me curious. I want to read this lovely large book of yours when I find the time too. Remind me, what genre is it? I think you have kind of hinted at it before on here, but I always manage to forget things when I want to know them.

  2. rundy says:

    I can’t remember if I explicitly mentioned the genre or not, or simply made the vauge statement that it was the reverse of the York novels. In any case, it is a reverse in all senses. My York novels were fantasy, this one is science fiction. The York novels were short and light-hearted, this is long, gritty, and rather violent. The message was passed along to me that after my youngest sister read it she told Titi that I was “a good writer but that it was a gruesome tale.” I’ll take the compliment of the first half of that statement and concede the second point. :-)

    I think I did mention somewhere that I wrote the first York book when I was still in the process of working on this novel–both as an antedote to my bleaker story, and also as something shorter and easier to write. I imagine it would be a bit surprising to some people to discover I am the author of both because the tenor of the stories is so very different. But anyhow…

    Just so I don’t leave the wrong impression, I call The Vishkalli Conspiracy science fiction because there is space travel in the story universe and all that, but this story itself takes place on a backward world so all the gadgets of science fiction don’t get much explicit story time. A bit, and it is an important bit, but much of the story has a flavor of a hi-tech medevial cowboy western. Dang, that almost makes my story sound cooler than it actually is. I’ll have to remember to use that phrase when I pitch it to the agents ;-)

  3. Hmm…Rundy and science fiction don’t seem to mix, but if it’s not too many gadgets I guess I can see it happening. Anyways I am always enamored with sad books (as I remarked last night after finishing one for the second time “Sad books make me happy.”

    I think I shall allow myself to ask to read this after I finish the essay that’s been hanging over my head.

  4. rundy says:

    Wait a minute, are you saying I’m too provincial for science fiction? Are you suggesting I am too much the backwater ignoramus to appreciate technological sophistication?

    The horror. I’ll have you know I’ve read Star Wars novels.

    All joking aside, just let me know when you are ready to read the book.

Comments are closed.

I See A Darkness

5th November 2013

We’ve officially hit it. We’ve crossed the line and entered the dark time. Four months, my friends. There is nothing to do but slog through, and make it to the other side of this blackness.

People who live down south, they think it is the cold which makes it tough to live up in these northern parts. Maybe for some people that is the trial, but not I. No, it is the darkness. There are few surer ways to end up fighting a darkness that is internal than to face an early sunset, and a lengthening night.

I don’t know the precise number of daylight hours which marks the break between tolerable and not, but I do know I started noticing it with painful sharpness not long before the time adjustment at the beginning of November. Before was bad enough, but time moving back an hour accentuated it. In an alignment of bad timing, on the very Sunday in which time changed the weather was gray and dreary. That day it felt like the sun never rose.

The was only a taste of the rest of the winter. This morning I thought about how daylight sun has the winter feel–weak, and only half there, like a remembered dream. Four o’clock in the afternoon feels like eight. Now night approaches before the afternoon has satisfactory died, and for the next four months daytime will feel as if it hardly escapes the shadow of evening. I sit here writing at eight in the evening, and by looking out the window I cannot tell the difference from midnight.

It is a yearly cycle, and I’ve learned to live with the emotional descent. But that doesn’t mean I like it. Three or four in the afternoon comes around and I can feel the irritation and edginess. It is like an impatience, a chafing. Why is it getting dark already? Why does it feel like everything is closing in around me? An ill-defined malaise hangs over the days and months and the sickness that isn’t quite a sickness won’t go away until the sun peeks out again.

The four months are like walking on the edge of a dark cold lake whose depths I don’t want to contemplate. I don’t like it, but perhaps the experience is good for me. A seasonal walk on the outskirts of this darkness reminds of the far greater darkness that waits, and is cause to remember thankfulness for being kept from there. The seasons in life mean something, even the dark ones, if only we would listen.

2 Responses to I See A Darkness

  1. First, I would advise you not to move to Alaska. ;)

    Second, I shall say that I kind of empathize, but I also kind of don’t. I agree in that the darkness coming early makes me miss the light. I feel the difference. I realize how much I didn’t treasure summer, but that doesn’t mean I hate the darkness. My Mom and I have often spoke of how so many people dislike night. We don’t have that intense dislike. The night is beautiful. Yes, some nights may be long nights of fighting, but the sharp silhouette of leafless trees against a whitened sky is not something to dread, but rather another thing to treasure.

    Bottom line: I don’t think I dread the physical darkness as much as you do. You point out that these months are good because of learning, but almost begrudgingly. Unlike you, I like to contemplate the depths of this lake, though the living may be hard.

  2. rundy says:

    Yeah, I was looking at a family friend’s photos from Alaska just today and commented that I would love to see Alaska but doubted I could stand to live there.

    As far as night, it needs to be specified that it is not the darkness of night that bothers me, but the length. I am perfectly happy with the night so long as it stays within its prescribed number of hours, thank you very much ;-) Going for a walk on a starlight or moonlight night is very peaceful and can be a great time for reflection and contemplation, especially in the cool of early autumn or late spring. I very much appreciate it. What is unnatural is when the night begins before the day has had a chance to properly finish.

    Some people dislike the night because they are afraid of the dark, but that is not the issue for me. While seasonal issues is one angle, I think for me it may also have to do with my sensitivity to circadian rhythms. I do not tolerate very well (at all!) working during the night and sleeping during the day while there are some people who seem immune to the effects of an inverted wake-sleep cycle. But all that is boring scientific stuff, so I went with my more poetic post. :-)

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When You Don’t Die Fast Enough

31st October 2013

Three years ago Grandma was told she was going to die. We’re all going to die someday, but the doctor was more precise. She had a “hole in her heart” as he explained it in layman’s terms. In medical terms what he meant was that she had psuedo aneurysm in the left ventricle of her heart. (This: contains an excellent illustration of the problem.) A series of medical emergencies had her in the hospital repeatedly, and the doctors observed that the ballooning of the aneurysm had grown from the size of pencil eraser to around the size of the top of a fist. That is quite the incrase in size, and at quite a rapid rate, especially in the space of a month or so. Grandma was told that she could undergo open heart surgery to attempt a repair, which she had only a chance of surviving, or going home to wait for the aneurysm to burst. The doctors said it could be any day, but gave her three months.

Grandma didn’t want any more surgery, or even another day in the hospital. So we went home and had her admitted to hospice.

That was nearly three years ago.

The fact that Grandma has survived so long is nothing short of a miracle. God has our lives in His hands, and He does as He wishes, even when doctors say we will die within weeks. But medically speaking, there is no explanation and as far as staying on hospice that was a problem.

Hospice is for people who are dying. Specifically, it is for people who have a life expectancy of six months or less. You can stay on hospice longer than that if there is documented evidence that you are still declining. But if you have been on hospice for longer than six months and it can’t be documented that you are still declining (that is, dying in a hurry) then you can’t be on hospice.

So after nearly three years of being on hospice, Grandma was discharged last week.

Now you might say that is great news–and the fact that she has lived an additional three years is great news. But when I say it is a miracle that Grandma has lived this long, I don’t mean that God has miraculously healed her from her ailment. There have been times in this last three years when Grandma was doing so poorly that it looked like she might die within the week. After the first six months on hospice there must be documented cause for renewal every sixty days. Grandma wasn’t renewed all those times in the last three years because she was always feeling peachy. And she is still in poor health now. But she managed to come back from those very bad times, and for a number of months now she has been stable.

In other words, she is not dying fast enough for hospice. She still has a fatal medical condition–heck, she might still die tomorrow from it, but she isn’t showing the neat decline in health that the rules require. So off you go. If Grandma were all healthy, this would be no problem. Since she is still in fact not healthy, this has been a bit of an issue.

To be fair to the people working in our local hospice office, they did everything they could to keep Grandma on hospice. But after several tight renewals, they had run completely out of options. The government makes the rules. And the rules are the rules.

Thus we are now off hospice.

Since Grandma is currently not in the middle of a health crisis, this has not caused an immediate problem. The transition off was very stressful–a trip to the doctor was required for a renewal of her medicine scripts and Grandma health is not great for going out of the house–but with everything that needed to be done, we managed. We are on our own now, and we are managing. So long as nothing changes, we can manage.

The looming dark cloud is that things won’t stay the same. Grandma has had very bad spells in the last three years, and unless she dies suddenly there will be bad spells in the future. Her decline is an unknown, and it is harder to manage such things alone. Of course hospice told us that when Grandma is again showing signs of decline we can reapply. I don’t know if Grandma will want to, having gone through this once, but in any case even if we did reapply we would need to face at least something on our own before then.

So there is reason to be worried about the future. And yet, there isn’t. The very God who has kept Grandma alive for three years when the doctors said she would die in three months is the same God who is still with us, and will be with us through whatever comes.

But such times as these are reminders that people won’t always be there for you. Only God will.

Blood Blister

28th October 2013

A blood blister

If I had a little more time I would write a more interesting blog post. Maybe I will manage such later this week. For now I offer you a curiousity. In this case, that curiosity is a picture of my hand with a blood blister. I got the blood blister Saturday afternoon when I was attacking a tree stump with an ax. The blister appeared after not too many minutes of chopping because I wasn’t wearing gloves and I was hitting the stump very hard, causing significant energy transfer up the handle. (It sounds so scientific when I say it that way.) All of that is not the curious part. The curious part is how bright red the blood blister was, even in the picture which was taken several hours later. Most of my blood blisters (and I had a pair on the other hand from an earlier project) appear as a very dark red. My best explanation for why this one was so bright red is that it was a cross between a blood blister and a regular blister, and somehow the fluid that collects in a normal blister causes the blood that was mixing with it to stay bright red.

I did start wearing gloves after I got the blister. It was pretty apparent I was going to tear the skin right off my hands if I didn’t put some gloves on. I was concerned the gloves might make the ax handle too slippery in my grasp, but I managed all right. After I leveled a few stumps to the ground with the ax and pick-ax I took out the brush mower and tried to finish mowing the field for the second time this year. I made it a good way through the mowing before a stump I decided to tackle with the brush mower ended up being too much and I bent the deck blade. That was the end of activities for the day.

2 Responses to Blood Blister

  1. Wow, that is really red compared with the ones I usually get. Your theory is interesting. I think you might be right.

  2. rundy says:

    It popped, so we’ll never know how the experiment would have turned out :-P

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xkcd Time

17th October 2013

If you have a passing acquaintance with internet nerd culture you may be aware of the web comic xkcd. If you are part of that nerd culture, you probably follow xkcd. If you are in neither of those two groups, xkcd probably just looks like some weird spelling error, and you have no idea what I am talking about. If you are in that last group I will say that xkcd is a stick figure comic about math, science, programming, and technology…mostly. That makes it sound incredibly boring, and I suppose for most normal people it is. But I am just enough of a nerd that I “get” a portion of the comics. Most of them are of the “smirk and forget” variety, but there have been a few which have really stood out.

For a long time I checked the comic only intermittently, but I became a regular follower when the RSS feed for the comic came installed by default in my most recent RSS reader. What I find most engaging about the comic is the creator’s obvious boundless curiosity and energy for discovering things and converting the knowledge to an artistic format. The blending of geek and creativity is somehow inspiring. I will never be one who creates nerdy comics, but as a some times comic drawer myself, the artistic flights of xkcd can inspire the comic artist in myself. And the mania for details can leave me in awe.

I recently stumbled upon a blog post by Randall Munroe (the creator of xkcd) were he talked about a particular comic he created titled, “Time.” It so well encapsulates what I find intreguing about xkcd that I decided to point it out. I probably saw some version of the comic earlier, but I was enlightened when I saw this post: That post gives you a hint at both the brilliance and the insanity involved.

For the full story you can read the blog article above, which describes the weird nerdy alteration of the comic. In short, Mr. Munroe drew 3,099 panels for this little creative event which took months to unfold. Now that it is over, you can go to third party sites and scroll through it like a flip-book animation.

If you would like to scroll through the story yourself, you can find it in its entirety here: It is a slow meandering story, part geek and part philosophy. From a narrative perspective I think it could have used a stronger story arch, but it was an interesting curiousity nonetheless.

There is also an article over at Wired covering the event:

The following is totally unrelated to the Time comic, but it is a previous comic by xkcd charting radiation dosage and the dosage from a banana is on the scale: It is a fascinating chart, and I include it because of my recent comic playing around with the fact of banana radiation.

3 Responses to xkcd Time

  1. And I thought I was weird!

  2. rundy says:

    Mr. Munroe likes math, so we can never be as weird as him ;-)

    If you’d like to see a more interesting example than the Time comic, check out the Click and Drag comic. You have to click and drag on the large frame.

  3. Haha. So true.

    That one’s very interesting…and addicting…and huge. I did find the end of the world though!

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A Different Kind of History

10th October 2013

We all have our pasts, and our memories. Most of us have snapshots, pictures from the past which call up memories. But as a writer I leave another kind of history. I leave a trail of words. The writer who keeps a journal leaves a trail of words about their life and thoughts. That is intimately personal. As a writer of books, I also leave a trail of words that marks the history of my craft. Sometimes this can leave me with a peculiar feeling.

Recently I went through some old drafts of my writing. From one perspective it is stupid to keep old drafts of the books I have written. Once the book is finished, nobody is going to go back and read an old unfinished copy. Not unless you become famous, in which case after your death people might read your old drafts and try to come up with profound reasons for the things you changed. For the rest of us, old drafts mostly just take up space.

But I find it hard to throw out my old drafts. To me they are reminders of where I have been, and what I have been through. They are reminders that though there is a long slog, and a difficult haul, there is a far side. They are reminders that when things seem the worst on a project, I can pull through. They are reminders that the finished product didn’t come easily. So, in a way, my old drafts both keep me humble and give me hope. They give me a sense of the history to my old writing. I flip through the stacks of paper and I see the old notes, the scrawls, and the corrections and it brings me back.

When I look at those old drafts, sometimes it is hard to know what I think. It can be an odd mixture of feeling overwhelmed, and amazed. Overwhelmed when I re-live the work, amazed that I made it through. And sometimes…sometimes those old drafts can be reminders of unfinished business. Recently I took a look at an old draft of mine, and it was a bit of all of those things.

There were two boxes. One had old drafts for The Stuttering Bard of York. I was trying to clean up, so I convinced myself I didn’t need to save all the drafts from that novel, and threw out enough so that it would fit in the same box under my bed that held the old drafts to The Stuttering Duke of York. With the drafts for both of them fitting in one smalllish box, I didn’t feel so bad about saving them. The other box was much larger. It contained one full draft of a novel, plus a additional chunk of material I had printed out in duplicate to rework a particular section. Another thing about old drafts is that they can reflect the changing story in their title. The title of this draft was Narhom, a story which went through several titles over the years and currently goes by The Vishkalli Conspiracy. It was a very big draft.

You see, when I was fifteen I decided I wanted to be a novelist. Filled with the vigor and ambition of youth, I wrote a novel which was supposed to be one in a series. After I finished the novel I realized I needed to go back to the beginning of the series instead of writing in the middle. So I set that complete novel aside, and went back to write what was supposed to be the first epic novel in the most epic novel series you have ever seen.

It turned out to be epic all right. If by epic we mean staggeringly long. I am not entirely certain which draft captures the story at its greatest length. I quickly flipped through the draft in the box, covered in dust, memories of long hours of work. The last page was 1,183. Yes, it was doubled-spaced, but still, over a thousand pages. The memory dims with time, but I remember. When it was that long, it took me over a year to work through a draft. I wondered if that was the longest draft copy and a few days ago my curiousity got the better of me and I dug around on my hard drive and opened the file of what I thought was probably the longest draft version. The file said 1,329 pages for a total word count of 369,611 words. I am not completely certain that was the longest draft, but it probably was.

A story of that size and length breaks every rule that a young new writer ought to follow. And I suffered for it.

The complexity was one problem, but the sheer size of it was madness. This is what I mean about feeling overwhelmed and amazed when I look through old drafts. Overwhelmed to relive the memory of sitting down with a thousand plus page manuscript and knowing that I needed to read through it, correct it, and then enter all the corrections into the computer. And the corrections were not all minor, but rather a lot of serious corrections and alterations to the plot, along with digesting a lot of criticisms on the story and trying to understand how to fix the problems. And knowing that all of this would take me more than a year–a span of time in which I would recieve no feedback, commentary, or praise. It would be just me and a stack of paper, and my doubts and imaginings.

Overwhelming? Yes, at times very overwhelming. In a way, I don’t know how I did it. Youth, I guess. Determination. Pig-headedness. Mostly just sitting down and getting started. It would be nice to think there was some reward for all those years of labor.

I am a bit amazed to say I actually corrected and finished that 1,329 page draft. More than that, I pushed on, and I made more drafts. I cut stuff, I rearranged material, and I wrote. I had to change a lot. But the size–the size defies all measures of sanity. Why did I have to make my second novel so long? Artistic muse, I guess. I didn’t exactly set out to do it. The story just came out that way, with all of its far too many plot threads and winding story. Looking back on those drafts, a part of me wishes I had written a different story, something easier, something that didn’t take so many years of my life. But the rest of me doesn’t wish that. Probably I couldn’t have written anything else at that point anyhow. Age, experience (or lack thereof), and creative muse all have their play in what unfolds. And for all of the hard labor I put on myself by creating such a giant story, the effort and the suffering did teach me things. Persistence not least.

I have grown, in no small part, into the writer I now am from the fashioning of those history of drafts.

In the end, the drafts of that story reminds me of unfinished business. That novel never recieved the final stamp of “finished.” Not yet. I reached the point where I had a bound draft copy made–and then it languished. I began caring for Grandpa, and with that in my life the idea working on the opus of a novel was too much. And, I think, I was also becoming burned out. After years of fighting and improving the epic novel of a lifetime, it was hard to see the story straight, or clear. Did I love it? Did I hate it? In a way I was scared to finish it, to say “This is the end of years of work, now judge it.” And maybe a part of me was so sick of it I didn’t want to finish it.

The novel languished, for years. And the drafts remained, reminding me of all the years of work I put into that story–only to leave it to never see the light of day. That was history. Would that be the end of it?

2 Responses to A Different Kind of History

  1. Old drafts do stir memories, don’t they? Most of mine are more unfinished than yours. I feel more accomplished reading my journals, or notebooks full of poetic muse, than my stories. I love stories, but they never were my forte. I doubt I ever reached 100 years, let alone 1000.

  2. rundy says:

    We all have different seasons in our lives. Just because you aren’t currently prolific doesn’t mean you won’t be one way. And, I might add, amount is not a measure of quality. My volume, far from being a measure of my genius as a writer may well be a measure of my poverty. But be that as it may, I still write.

    P.S. I know it was a typo, but I’m still gonna pick on you for that “I doubt I ever reached 100 years, let alone 1000” It is just too funny a typo. That is, I am older than you, but I’m not that much older. :-P

    (“Pages” she says, “I meant pages!”)

Comments are closed.

The Uncanny Valley in Advertising

3rd October 2013

The term “Uncanny Valley”(1) is used to describe a sense of revulsion elicited by something that appears almost, but not quite, human. Most of us have probably experienced this at some point in our lives–seeing something that looked just human enough to be creepy. I have decided there is a corollary in advertising. This is when an automated, computer run advertising event becomes intelligent enough, or sufficiently reactive, that it begins to unwittingly provoke an uncanny sense of malevolent behavior from the presentation of advertisements.

Government spying on the internet is big news right now. I hate to break it to you, but businesses have been spying on us on the internet for a long time. The most ubiquitous method is “cookies” where a tiny bit of information is stored on your computer by a website so that website can track your travels on the internet, and remember who you are. Cookies can be useful not only for business, but also for us as users. If you use a website where your login is remembered for you, that is because of cookies. Basically every website has been using cookies for years. We are tracked, every where we go. Because of new privacy laws, and all sorts of public hoopla over privacy, a lot of websites now have a pop-up message telling people that their website uses cookies and if you don’t like it then “blah, blah, blah.” Perhaps this makes some people feel better but it mostly just annoys me because I already know everyone uses cookies and if I cared enough I would start scrubbing my computer of cookies.

Which I might just start doing, and not because of those annoying pop up messages informing me that the website is using a cookie.

A big users of cookies are advertising companies. Ad syndicates are companies that run the advertising campaigns for businesses, and they use cookies to track what ads you have seen, and where you have been on the internet, to as much as possible tailor the ads they display on the web pages you see to be most appropriate to what they think you might be interested in. In general, I have felt there is much to commend this. If I am going to see ads I would rather it be for something I might, possibly, have some use for–not the last web dating website, or some such.

But this is starting to get out of hand.

As these ad syndicates have grown larger, or been bought out by larger companies, or started by behemoth companies–Google runs a huge ad network–the amount of data available to these ad syndicates has become massive. And this is multiplied when third party sites share information with the ad syndicates they work with. The massive amount of data on users which is now available to ad syndicates, and the increasing sophistication of tailoring ad presentation, has started leading to instances where I have felt the uncanny valley of advertising.

I probably noticed it in some vague sense for a while and tried to brush off what I was seeing, but I remember the occasion when it became undeniably present and distinctly creepy. Some back-story so you can appreciate what happened:

The first (and to date most successful) book I have published is one I did not write. The first book I helped assemble and published was written by a neighbor friend who was a quilt artist. It was a book on making portrait quilts. Recently I went to Amazon to check the reviews on the book. Then I went over to Youtube to watch some video. The video had absolutely nothing to do with books, or quilting, and yet what did I see on the Youtube sidebar except an add for portrait quilting books from Amazon, with my book prominently featured as one I might want to buy. It was at this moment I went from knowing that websites track me everywhere to feeling distinctly like I was being stalked by someone.

I think I had seen incidences of this before where I looked at something and then found said thing following me around the internet in ads, but before this occasion the thing in question was always so generic that I just told myself the business in question was running a far reaching ad campaign and I was just noticing it because I had actually happened to look at the product recently. But not this time. Portrait quilts are a small subcategory of quilting, which already itself isn’t a big advertising field. More than that, a book featuring prominently in the add was one I had published and I knew I wasn’t paying for any advertising campaign. So it was very clear that Amazon had told Google “Pssst, this guy just looked at a book in this category, but he didn’t buy anything. So run an ad for me asking him if he would really like to buy a book from that category.” On the one hand that is some slick technology use. In the space of time it took me to go from looking at a book on Amazon to watching a video on Youtube, Amazon got a specially tailored ad delivered right to me. If they wanted to close a sale they hadn’t quite made, that was the way to do it.

Unfortunately for them, with all the slick information they had compiled and shared, they still didn’t know the real reason for my checking on the book and so all their advertising efforts were wasted. Except, now the advertisers had blown their cover, and I was on to them.

It made me really uncomfortable–not only with the amount of detailed information that Google and Amazon were clearly sharing on my activities, but also uncomfortable with the very active sense I felt of being pursued. I am already very careful how I use Facebook because I have long known of their invasive tracking methods. Apparently this is now becoming a universal norm. I am seeing this kind of ad tailoring and tracking again and again.

My Mom’s parents are considering moving into a house and one of them was asking about stair lifts. So yesterday I looked the device up on-line out of curiosity, and checked out a particular company’s website. After that, every where I went on the internet I was seeing ads for that company’s chair lift. It was another instant where the product was unusual enough that the sudden saturation of ads for it in my browsing was very noticeable. Yesterday I also researched pedestal sinks, and later when I was reading a news article on world events and there right in the middle of the article was an advertisement for pedestal sinks shining forth. Was I sure I didn’t want to partake in a special sale?

Now, I am technologically knowledgeable enough to know there isn’t really some pervy human out there who has developed a particular interest in my browsing habits and started feeding me special ads based on that. I know it is just very slick computer algorithms that take my cookie data, feed it into their ad sever, and spit out the results on the web pages I visit. But I call it the uncanny valley of advertising because all of this has become sophisticated enough that it feels like I have some hawker following after me. It is like I am browsing through a bazaar and every time I look at an object and then move on the hawker follows after me saying, “You sure you don’t want to buy it? The price is excellent! I can make you a deal–special sale today. Come on, you know you want it! Please. Please?”

I have my own pervy stalker hawker. At least, it is starting to feel like that.

What were once faceless ads with no personal meaning to me have become personal assaults by someone who is personally haranguing me and who won’t stop harassing me. No, I don’t want to buy your product. You don’t even know why I was looking at your product. Now leave me alone!

The day has come when the internet has become too interactive. I search for something on Google and a little message box pops up: “Did you find what you were looking for on this page?” Yes, Google, I know you want to improve your search results so that Bing will never surpass you, but I am not interested in sharing anything with you. Please do not barge into my browsing experience again. Now go away.

Years ago I installed ad-block software on my browser. I stopped using it at some point because it became too much bother to keep updating the software and finding the new best plugin that was most effective and least annoying. And I guess for a time ads on the internet were a little better about not being quite so obnoxious and annoying. But I think all of that is changing again. If this “I’m going to stalk you with ads for things you looked at” is going to continue, you’re going to find me locking my computer up tight as a drum against this new wave of advertising. It isn’t even so much that I care that the little advertising monsters out there knew what things I had looked at–it is that now they are using that information to actively harass me. They will make no friend in me with that.

The government has a lot of money behind it, so I wouldn’t be surprised if the NSA has the most raw aggregate info stored away on its big racks of servers hidden away in some desert. (Though, I don’t think it is a forgone conclusion that they have more data on us than Google. Just sayin.) But regardless of who has the most info, I am pretty sure businesses have been more creative and effective in leveraging their rate of return for what information they do have. I’ll know government has caught up with the business sector when ten years from now I purchase some ammunition for target practicing and the government triangulates the information and launches a drone missile to wipe my butt off the face of the earth as a suspected terrorist–and then my next of kin gets a prompt apology card in the mail for the mistake.

Until then, I’ll have my imaginary contest of wiles with the pervy little advertising hawker I think is stalking me.


1. For more on the uncanny valley, see: For a very good example of the uncanny valley, check out these “reborn” dolls: They give me the willies, and not just because of the reasons some people want one. Ugh, just looking at the face of that first doll makes me think of some horror movie.

5 Responses to The Uncanny Valley in Advertising

  1. Been there, done that (or rather had it done to me). It is rather creepy, isn’t it.

  2. rundy says:

    Yep. The ad for the chair lift is still stalking me ;-)

  3. cynthia says:

    Yes, I looked at walk-in shower or walk-in tub installations because of the possibility of my 90 yr old dad moving in with us, now the advertisements pop up everywhere. Then I got a PHONE call!!! I finally told the guy – if I want this product, I’ll call you! I am not a fan of this type of pursuance!
    It is extremely creepy and annoying. I do not like it!

  4. 4thguy says:

    Usually I just install the following addons:

    Adblock Plus (I also tick the allow non-intrusive advertising, because I want to support advertisers who aren’t assholes)
    Ghostery (they may sell data to ad networks, but it’s an option that’s disabled by default)
    HTTPS everywhere (open all websites in HTTPS by default, when available)
    Self-Destructing cookies (destroy all cookies, needs to be configured per site)
    Smart referer (removes the number of “hey, the user came from site X!” messages when browsing between sites).

    There are also other addons that I use, but they’re the equivalent of using a jackhammer to drilling a hole to lay a 1″ pipe. ;)

  5. rundy says:

    4thguy, thanks for the links. I am familiar with Adblock Plus, not so much the others.

Comments are closed.

Banana Reactor

26th September 2013

(Click on image for larger version)

Banana power is the power of the future!

I was eating a banana recently when this idea came to me. Obviously this has disturbing implications for how my mind works, so I advise you to not consider this fact too closely. Just satisify yourself with the conclusion that I have–apparently–never grown up and leave it at that. We won’t consider what other odd and twisted ideas pass through my head on a daily basis–but those of you who know me probably have a good idea.

But, bananas really are radioactive. They even have a name for the amount of radiation, calling it a “Banana equivalent dose” ( Of course, there are many natural products around us daily that give off low levels of radiation. And if you wanted to amuse yourself by eating a radioactive food Brazil nuts may be up to five times more radioactive than bananas.

Apple Delight

19th September 2013

This year has produced a bumper crop of apples in New York state. Perhaps that is even a slight understatement. Plentiful rain has helped all, and back at the old homestead even our old apple trees which usually lose their blossoms to frost and produce nothing at all went to the opposite extreme this year. The trees were loaded with apples, and last Saturday we picked out two of the three trees. A good time was had by all.

I have a love for all trees, but apple trees have a special place in my heart. I like the flowers that apple trees make, I like the shape of the trees, and I like the fruit they produce. When I was living at home back at the old place, I was the one who pruned the apple trees every year. It was a labor of love more than common sense because most years a frost would kill all the blossoms and there would be no crop of apples. But even if I often didn’t get “something” from my labors in the sense of tangible harvest, I did get a satisfaction from seeing the trees grow right.

For several years I managed to prune even when I was not living at home, but it couldn’t last. The last year I pruned I tried to get a younger sibling into the trade but he wasn’t as able to tolerate the physical and emotional strains (if you are slightly nervous about heights then dangling from a precarious position in an apple tree can be trying) of the work and did not have a love for the labor. I think the pruning was done for one year after I was no longer able, and then for the next several years the trees went untended. The apple blossoms were destroyed by frost, there was no fruit, and so nobody really noticed. Then this year was different.

The trees were loaded with apples.

I wasn’t certain anything would be done with all the apples. Most people are very busy this fall, and turning a bunch of apples into something capable of long term storage (like applesauce) takes time. But people agreed that we couldn’t let a once in a decade harvest go to waste so a half dozen of us took a bunch of feed bags and went back to the old house to do some picking.

For me it was a bit sad to see the neglected state of the trees. It would have been an even more phenomenal harvest if the trees had been properly tended, but even now after several years of neglect it was still a staggering crop. If left to its own devices an apple tree will choke itself out with limbs and put out such an abundance of apples that they will all become miserable knotty little pieces of fruit. Tending an apple tree is a bit about teaching it moderation in all things. Untended, our trees had started back down that wild path but they had not been left so many years as to have completely forgotten their former cultivated days. There were a lot of apples, and they were pretty good quality.

There are places in the Bible which talk about the joy of harvest and as we were picking apples I thought about how so much understanding of that has been lost in our modern culture which is largely divorced from the agricultural process. We can all read about the harvesters rejoicing and in some sense understand that it is a good thing to bring in the harvest. But it is another thing entirely, something you can’t really fully explain in words, when you are out there bringing in a bountiful harvest. Then you don’t just know it is a good thing, you are rejoicing. The difference is between reading about a harvest in written words, and sitting up in an apple tree, perched on a limb, eating a juicy sweet crunchy apple that you just picked. Except, even that doesn’t quite capture it all. When bringing in a bountiful harvest, there is the ever-present sense of having been freely given a good thing. In a visible way one sees something of God’s grace.

So we picked apples, and picked more apples, all afternoon. When it was time to quit we had used up all the old feed bags we had brought along and pretty much picked out two of the apple trees. We had about nine hundred pounds of apples picked in one afternoon.

That is a lot of apples.

With the lesser amount of the last tree factored in the harvest of apples this year from three full sized trees was well over a thousand pounds. What doesn’t get made into apple pie, frozen, or made into applesauce will be turned into cider on the 28th. It is a harvest to be remembered and I doubt we will have one like it for many years.

2 Responses to Apple Delight

  1. We’ve had a bumper crop here as well. My family doesn’t own any apple trees as (our attempts to have some were squandered by our goats a few years ago despite our attempts at fencing them off) but there are a LOT of wild apples on the trees along the roads. I can’t wait for fresh apple cider.

  2. rundy says:

    We had some damage to apple trees years ago from escaping goats, but fortunately our trees were full grown so it was not serious. There are “wild” apple trees at the new place with tons of apples too. It’s like I see tons of apples everywhere.

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Wherein Nobody Falls Off The Roof

9th September 2013

The weekend before last we re-roofed the old house. A roofing story is boring if nobody falls off the roof, and nobody fell off the roof during this project so I suppose there is no point in you reading the rest of this story. Just so you know. But if you’re up for reading a boring story about all the other travails we had (short of falling off the roof) then continue on.

The project was a bit of a trip back in time for me–not only because for some twenty odd years, up until two years ago, the family used to live there, but also because about seventeen years ago we re-roofed the place for the first time. I was a lot younger then.

Last time we roofed the place with shingles. That project was something of a disaster–for a multitude of reasons and as a result of a confluence of problems involving weather and issues of trying to re-roof a very old house. Different story, not for today, but some day I will tell a very funny rendition of it. Point being for today, the re-roofing last weekend was done with metal sheeting and by comparison it was much less of a disaster than the previous time. Still, we had our problems.

Our number one problem–much like last time all those years ago–is that the house is very old. By that I mean well over a hundred years old, in the range of one hundred and fifty years old. With age what was once straight and true becomes crooked and sagging. This makes roofing a problem. The roof had so many dips and sags that we couldn’t simple slap the metal sheeting on over the old shingles. The purlins under the sheet roofing had to be shimmed to get a more even base for the metal roofing so it wouldn’t buckle as badly. And by shimmed I mean the roof dipped so badly in some spots we had to put 2×4 pieces under the purlins.

At first Arlan wanted to get everything nice and straight–or really close to that–but by the time I showed up around mid day everyone had decided that getting the lay of the purlins to look good by the eye was the best that could be done. While the end result looked less than perfect that concession to the reality of the roof allowed the project to move along instead of becoming stagnated in endless attempts to make everything right.

But, of course, that wasn’t the only problem. Shortly before I arrived the house lost power. Mysteriously. We had power to the house, and then we didn’t have power to the house. And by that I mean there was no power even coming to the braker panel. But the neighbors had power. This could have brought an untimely end to the project except Teman has a nice portable generator. A trip back to the new place to fetch the generator put the project on track again.

Then there was the weather issue. By an act of God the weather did not become a problem right at our location. But the weather was bad everywhere else. While we were on the roof we could see dark storm clouds all around, and hear the distant thunder rumble. Locations very near to us suffered torrential downpours throughout the day, but we didn’t get rain at the work site until 7:00 PM as we were quitting for the day. If rain had come earlier that would have brought a premature end to the project.

If all of that wasn’t enough, human error and equipment problems also had their time. I was asked to pick up a piece of rental equipment for cutting the sheet metal. That malfunctioned. The back-up plain was to use an abrasive blade on the circular saw to do the cutting. When the first abrasive blade wore out Arlan went to pick up a second one. Returning from the store he pulled up the driveway and ran over the circular saw with the truck. Good news–the saw wasn’t totally destroyed. Bad news–it mostly was. But we managed to cobble the saw back into working condition to finish the project. Then, on the very last cut on the project I cut the sheet metal wrong.

While this may all sound like a tale of woe, it isn’t really. I do tend to remember projects by the highlights of when trouble occurs, but it all could have been a lot worse. We could have been rained out. We could have not had a generator. The circular saw could have been utterly destroyed. We could have not had a spare sheet of metal to make up for the one I mis-cut. But for each problem we found a solution and the project was finished on time. Not only did nobody fall off the roof, but nobody cut off any major body parts. So this was a good project.

4 Responses to Wherein Nobody Falls Off The Roof

  1. cynthia says:

    I agree with your assessment! It is always a good project and a good day when nobody falls off the roof! It reminds me of an old book that was turned into a movie with Greer Garson. The book is Mama’s Bank Account ( and the movie was I Remember Mama ( I suppose the reason these came to mind is that in the story, it was always a good day when the family didn’t “have to go to the bank” or in your case, fall off the roof!! Sometimes success rears its head in atypical ways.

  2. cynthia says:

    oops! Not Greer Garson – it was Irene Dunne as mama in the movie version!

  3. Your family is more dedicated than ours would be, but equally (I think) apt to jimmyrig, and be hard on tools. It’s always a good thing when they don’t totally gibe out ’til the end.

  4. rundy says:

    Cynthia, it definitely also is a very good day when you don’t have to go to the bank!

    Veronicah, a book could be filled with tales about being hard on tools. But I hold (and I think most people who are hard on tools would agree) that you aren’t really working unless you’re being hard on your tools. Of course, running them over is a bit extreme…

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Worn Edges

29th August 2013

By 7:30 PM the sun sets behind the hill. It feels early, and yet the season has grown late. Summer is over, August winds down in its last days. The worn edges are showing. Autumn is coming.

I heard that some parts of the country were hit with a heat wave in August. No so around here. The end of August did warm up from the beginning of the month where it seemed autumn had begun a month early, but it hardly matters. Now the change has begun in earnest. The green in the leaves has lost it’s edge, the colored dulled. In places you can already see the hint of change. If you look you can find a few leaves have fallen, harbingers of the storm.

I like many things about autumn. I like the smells, the colors, the brisk wind. Simply put, there are two things I don’t like about autumn: the decreasing sunlight, and the season that follows. And if the sunlight didn’t decrease the season that follows wouldn’t even be so bad. But as it is, my enjoyment of autumn is always tainted by the drums of doom for what follows. Doom doom, they go. Darkness is coming.

How the sun slips away so tiredly at the end of the day. It has seen a full summer. It is ready for a rest of short days and long nights. But I don’t want it to go.

And I do miss the leaves on the trees. It’s funny, but sometimes I dream about trees, and the dreams feel more meaningful than many dreams that have people. A psychologist would make something of that. I know I sometimes dream in color because there have been dreams where I thought the color of the leaves on the trees were beautiful. In one dream I came upon a valley where the trees on the slopes were in full autumn color and I thought it was the most beautiful thing I had seen and I woke exhilarated. Other times the dreams have been upsetting–the times when I dreamed the tree leaves were turning color, and the leaves had only just come on the trees. Where had the seasons gone? It was too soon for autumn. How had winter come already? And in those dreams I feel anguish that on waking seems entirely out of proportion for the changing of seasons.

But I guess the moving of seasons touches me in some deep way, and finds its symbol in the turning leaves. Leaves blaze in hues of yellow, orange, and red. Then they are falling, falling. In my waking moments I might say it is not a thing of sorrow, only the turning rhythms of life. Maybe.

Even so, in my dreams they haunt me.

2 Responses to Worn Edges

  1. Poeticness and autumn are an unbeatable combination. Beautifully written, my friend.

  2. rundy says:

    Thank you! I’m glad you liked it :-)

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The Artless Art of Synopsis

23rd August 2013

One thing I did this week was send out a query for my book on Grandpa. (Hereafter referred to as “The Sea is Wide.”) A query, for those not up on writing lingo, is basically a “Hey, you interested in reading my book?” except it is written in a much more complex way because, after all, this is writing and publishing we are talking about. I think I’m getting pretty good about writing the query letter. Maybe not fantastic, not yet, but decent.

Unfortunately, this particular agent wanted more than a query. But it wasn’t the first chapter that was the problem either. I was glad to include that. I would have rather included the entire book–after all, I’m trying to get said agent to read the book. The problem was the submission guideline statement that said a synopsis should be include. More than that, a short synopsis. Yes, this was a problem.

You see, I loathe writing a synopsis of my own writing. I write a book because I want you to read the book, and I could find no shorter way of conveying my information. I can write a query letter introducing you to my book. But if I thought the material of my book could be accurately condensed into a synopsis I would have saved myself the effort of writing the whole long book in the first place and just wrote a synopsis. The request for a writer to synopsize their own book is requesting that they either (a) make their own writing stupid by summing up what cannot be accurately summed up, or (b) proving to themselves that they really shouldn’t have written the book because the information can be adequately conveyed in a synopsis.

There is no good outcome.

I am being a little dramatic. Some types of books can be effectively synopsized. If you are writing a book about building a log cabin, constructing an airplane, or some such topic then the logical construction and progression of such a book could be rightly synopsized. But a work of art cannot but accurately synopsized. Ask a painter to synopsize their painting. They would likely want to throw their brushes at you. If what they were trying to convey in their painting could be synopsized they wouldn’t have bothered to make the painting in the first place. If you ask a painter to synopsize their painting you are to some degree asking them to make a mockery of their own work. You are asking them to strip away all the subtlety and beauty of their work and somehow reduce it to raw facts.

In the process of working on my synopsis I went online and did some looking around and it appears that writers almost universally dislike creating a synopsis of their book. This isn’t because writers don’t like to write. And for a good many of them it isn’t because they are confused about what their book is about. It is because defacing one’s own art is against the nature of every writer.

Nonetheless, there it is. Write a synopsis. Write a short synopsis.

They lived and they died. They laughed and they cried. The end.

If my book was about building an airplane I could synopsize it easy. If my book was about killing the bad guys and marrying the pretty girl I could do a fair job at a synopsis. But this is a book about dying from Alzheimer’s. The progression of the story is in the nuance, not in connecting bolt A to nut B, or in overthrowing the evil king by sneaking in through the water grate in the dungeon. The Sea is Wide does not accommodate easy synopsizing unless one wants to descend into clichés.

So most of the time spent writing my synopsis was actually spent trying to not claw out my eyeballs and throw myself from the nearest window. The rest of the time was spent trying to write some very short document full of platitudes and trite phrases that gave the gist of the story. My goal in writing the synopsis was something along the lines of “First, do no harm” in the hopes that whatever I wrote to “synopsize” the story would at least not make the agent run away screaming so that they would actually pick up the first chapter and read it and say, “Hey, this is gripping and unique writing that can’t be condensed down into a few pages of synopsis. I want to read the rest of the book!”

That is my hope.

In any case, I flogged myself over the synopsis, loathed it, and sent it. Maybe it wasn’t as bad as it felt. Maybe it was worse. The agent’s website said expect 6-8 weeks before a response. For the time being, I will try to forget this ever happened.

2 Responses to The Artless Art of Synopsis

  1. Hmm, I pity you. That is a hard book to summarize, and waiting for answers is hard. But then, who am I to speak as I’ve made you wait for answers too?

  2. rundy says:

    Waiting for an answer is hard, to a degree, but I’ve become a little used to that. The worse part is being able to stew over the possibility that if only your synopsis/query had been better then the submission would be successful. Waiting isn’t as bad if you know you’ve done your best. It’s the tormenting oneself with second thoughts that’s the real killer.

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Butt Therapy

14th August 2013

An early childhood memory I have is walking with my Dad and him commenting that I was very pigeon-toed. I had no idea what that meant, and even after he explained the issue was still fuzzy to my child’s mind. It had not occurred to me up to that point that there might be a right way to walk, and on thinking about it the difference between having your toes point in or out hardly seemed important. Besides, my way of walking felt normal. Dad might have commented that I could have problems later in life, but at the time that was the end of it.

Then I grew up. In my teen years I took up jogging, but doing that for about a year I began developing leg problems. Shin splints are common when someone first starts running and does too much. I had shin splints that developed after a year of running. Though they would subside with a break from jogging they came back as soon as I returned to the activity. The problem was worse in my left leg. I decide to see if I could just work through the discomfort and let things resolve themselves. This didn’t work. The problem continued to worsen to the point where it was making my left ankle weak. I reluctantly concluded that my problem was being caused by my pigeon toed feet. I switched to bike riding for exercise.

A few years later I realized I was bowlegged. This discovery came because I continued to have ongoing intermittent discomfort with my left ankle and so I kept trying to figure out what was wrong. Finally one day I was looking at my legs and noticed that they weren’t exactly straight. I said to myself, “Boy, it sure does look like I am bowlegged.” For a number of years I was satisfied that I was bowlegged and this was the cause of my ankle pain from running. For the sake of quantifying it, according to Medline Plus ( a person is bowlegged if “Knees do not touch when standing with feet together (ankles touching).” When I stand with my ankles together there is approximately two inches of space between my knees. This is not severely bowlegged and when I am wearing long pants I doubt it is even noticeable to the casual observer. Nonetheless, I expect this contributed to my problems with running.

Visually it looks to me like my left tibia is more bowed than my right but if this is true it would make my bowlegged atypical (and possibly indicate I might have some variant of Blount’s disease). The possibility of my left tibia being more bowed is noteworthy because my left ankle and shin always bothered me far more than my right side. Also, based upon shoe wear patterns and other methods of self-diagnoses it is clear my left leg is shorter than my right. Whether this is caused by the left leg being more bowed or the epiphyseal disks failing to make the bones in that leg long enough is an open question. If I am correct that the left tibia is more bowed then that probably is the cause.

All of this is just a warm-up to my real problems.

Around this time I also began to notice back problems. Except, it turns out, the problem wasn’t actually my back. I have sacroiliac joint dysfunction. It took me years to figure this out, and more years to learn how to effectively cope. It is hard to talk about sacroiliac joint dysfunction because most people haven’t even heard of the sacroiliac joint. To most people there are hip problems and back problems and they don’t know there is a third category. This video gives a very quick overview:, and the Wikipedia page gives a good summary:

For years I had what I thought were back problems until my dad was diagnosed with sacroiliac joint dysfunction and then by comparison I realized I probably had the same issue. And, that Grandpa had the same issue, and two of my brothers had some version of the same problem. Evidence seems to point to some genetic component in our family. Even then I didn’t comprehend the extensive and all encompassing nature of the sacroiliac joint dysfunction as it related to my nearly chronic pain issues. I thought I had sacroiliac pain and other back problems. My lower back could hurt in all sorts of places and I just figured it was my lot in life and so went on with things as best I could. But the problem was chronic and progressively worsening. I started having bouts of nearly debilitating pain. The breaking point finally came around the beginning of this year when I had my worse episode yet. I was getting desperate to find some kind of solution.

In retrospect I now know there can be two causes of pain from sacroiliac joint dysfunction. First, if the sacroiliac joint moves it can pinch a nerve and cause pain. Second, if the joint is loose the muscles surrounding the joint can also tighten in an attempt to stabilize the region and those tightening muscles can pinch nerves. This is a separate source of pain. This can lead into the first source of paint because if muscles trying to support the sacroiliac joint become over taxed they can become too tight and then start exerting pressure on the sacroiliac joint which may eventually pull the joint out of alignment in a different way.

In short, when a sacroiliac joint is dysfunctional many different things can hurt in many different places ranging from the lower back to the butt to the thighs, even down to the knees. But initially I didn’t understand that. For years I just thought various things would start hurting on me at various times and that was just the facts of life. It sucked and you lived with it. After my sister Titi went to school and became a physical therapist assistant there was a little more technical knowledge in the family and when I had severe problems Titi would trouble-shoot my situation. Eventually we worked out a system to move my sacroiliac joint back into place when it slipped out.

It helped when I knew how to move the sacroiliac joint back into place. However, at this point the over all pattern was still a mystery to me. I had chronic pain issues and I had acute pain. I thought they were different issues. Acute pain was when the sacroiliac joint went out, and my chronic pain was something else entirely. So I thought. And so it seemed that without rhyme or reason my sacroiliac joint would go out and leave me in agony until I could get it back into place. It was debilitating, and by that I mean debilitating. When I am functioning normally I can comfortably squat with 300 lbs stacked on my back. When my left sacroiliac joint goes out badly it can be nearly unbearable to put my own weight on my left leg. I end up limping when I try to walk. When everything is in place I am very flexible for a man and can easily touch my nose to my knee. When my left sacroiliac joint is out it can be agony simply to get out of a chair. The difference is that extreme.

When my sacroiliac joint is out it hurts to sit, it hurts to stand, and it hurts to lay down. It hurts to stay still. It plain hurts to be alive. The best analogy I can give to someone who has never experienced it is to imagine that you dislocated your shoulder–except in your butt. Not only was it incredibly painful but it was very discouraging situation. When I was at my worst I felt as functionally capable as an 80-year-old. I could reach that state in the space of a few hours after my sacroiliac joint went out. It made me feel feeble.

In late December of 2012 or early January 2013 I had my worst bout to date. I had noticed low grade pain in my “back” for a week or two prior to the sudden incident of the sacroiliac joint going out. Afterward I understood that was not unrelated, but rather a direct warning sign that all was not right with my sacroiliac joint. It took days, if not a week or two, for me to get the sacroiliac joint moved back into place after it went out. But afterward I found I was still dealing with significant pain. I would go to bed feeling okay and by the middle of the night I would have such bad back pain I could barely get out of bed.

I thought it was clearly symptoms from my sacroiliac acting up, and yet when I checked my left sacroiliac joint it was still in place. I was puzzled. Finally one day I was poking around and happened to notice that the muscles along my Iliac crest were tight and really, really tender and incredibly sore. In fact, all the muscles and tendons in the sacroiliac region were one tight mess of pain. It hurt so bad to message the muscles but at that point I was pretty sure I had figured out the mystery. It felt like my back hurt, but it was in fact referred pain from my messed up butt.

All sorts of people like to talk about how their back is messed up, but who talks about their messed up butt? Leave it to me to be different. My back is actually find–sound and sturdy. It is my butt that wants to fall to pieces. Sometimes it feels quite literally that way. When my sacroiliac joint is out and I try to pick up something heavy it feels like my hip bones will fall apart. It isn’t true, but when the joint is ever so slightly out of place and the nerves are being pinched it sure feels that way. And let me tell you, it is a very uncomfortable and disturbing feeling.

It took some searching but I found that not only were certain exercises needed to keep the sacroiliac joint in place but there were other exercises required to keep the muscles surrounding the sacroiliac joint in a relatively happy state. I discovered that an ideal method for keeping those muscles loose and agreeable was to use a tennis ball for therapy. Truly, the humble tennis ball is key. The following video gives a quick summary:

The tennis ball butt message has given me profound relief from my pain. Unfortunately, it isn’t a one time fix. Since daily life is constantly putting strain on the sacroiliac joint and my muscles must compensate, the muscles in my butt are constantly fighting a state of tension.

Every morning I do what I call “butt therapy.” Since I don’t have a nice table like the therapist in the above video, I have to lay on the floor but the principle is generally the same. I lay on top of the tennis ball and work it over all the muscles in my bottom. Any muscles that are tight in any given day (and there are always some) are worked at until they loosen up. It isn’t fun. It is usually uncomfortable, and it can be very uncomfortable if I have been doing a lot of physical work. Then I know exactly what muscles were used to keep my sacroiliac joint in place. But besides being uncomfortable it is also boring to spend at least a half hour every morning laying on the floor staring at the ceiling and applying butt therapy.

But you know what? I always feel much better afterward. It is hard to realize how tight and out of sorts everything was until after I get it all set back to rights. By keeping on top of the problem in a daily basis I only have a fraction of the chronic discomfort I faced in years past. Equally important, the sacroiliac joint hasn’t gone out since I started this routine. Of course I do more than just loosen up tight muscles I also do a lot of muscle strengthening exercises to make all the muscles and ligaments around the sacroiliac joint as strong as possible. But between the strengthening and the therapy I have made my sacroiliac joint dysfunction very manageable.

Which is the point of this story.

A lot of people have some type of problem with their sacroiliac joint–maybe not as bad as mine, or maybe worse. Probably the majority of people don’t realize it. Having gone through a lot of pain (and needless pain at that) I would like to spread this knowledge as far and wide as possible. People are living with undiagnosed (or misdiagnosed) sacroiliac joint pain. I haven’t covered all of the various subtitles of the issue or the many things you can and should do to help manage the problem–but let me leave you with one simple piece of advice. Find yourself a tennis ball, lay on your back on the floor on top of the ball, and slowly roll over the ball so it works all of the muscles from the top of your thigh all the way to your lower back. Make sure you hit all the muscles in the side of your butt and hips as well. Now do you find any tenderness, tightness, or pain? If you do, see if some “butt therapy” helps. And consider the possibility that you might have some larger issues that need to be addressed. You might just find that your life can get a little less uncomfortable, a little less painful, than you realized.

Some day I am going to create a big page with all the information I have learned on this topic. For right now my own story will have to suffice. I will be happy if it helps someone.

It should be noted that I have not been medically examined or diagnosed for anything, nor do I have expertise, blah, blah, blah. All that being said, I have this theory: If it hurts like a particular problem and the solutions for that problem fix the issue you’re having then it probably was that problem. Makes sense, right? But remember, you get what you pay for and you paid me nothing. Caveat emptor.

The Ultimate Pizza Toast

6th August 2013

This past Saturday we celebrated Lachlan’s birthday. Family tradition is that the birthday person in question gets to chose the supper meal and dessert, so of course it is always good. Sometimes supper or dessert can be an involved affair, depending on the taste and fancy of the birthday person. Informally a habit has developed to attempt to make something decent for the birthday lunch as well when the situation warrants and permits.

Lachlan’s supper and dessert request was a fairly simple affair. He wanted pesto lasagna for supper and home made ice cream for dessert. Evan agreed to make supper and I agreed to make dessert. The funny thing is, lunch ended up being the big project.

Lunch started out with the usual, “Oh, what can we make good for lunch?” The end result was an extravaganza.

After the question came the decision, “Let’s see what we have around.” There was some spare chicken, and a package of bacon. One or the other? Maybe both.

Somehow, it was decided that mega pizza toast was in order for lunch. That meant both the chicken and the bacon would be cooked, spread on slices of home made bread which was basted on the bottom with herb flavored olive oil. This would then be topped with mozzarella cheese and tomato sauce and the entire concoction finished off over the grill. I don’t think such a pizza toast has ever been made before in the house, and let me tell you it was unmatched. Heady food. Fabulously delicious–and it required enough work to constitute supper.

Let me tell you, when I was growing up pizza toast was cheap store bought bread with American cheese. How times have changed.

Then I spent part of the afternoon churning 6 quarts of home made cookies and cream ice cream, and six quarts of blackberry ice cream. Pesto was made from scratch by Evan and the lasagna assembled. Everything came out great. But the bacon-chicken pizza toast was truly the culinary exception.

Hmmm. It suddenly occurs to me there may be room for improvement on this wondrous invention. Maybe I should have homemade bacon-chicken-meatball subs for my birthday. This idea deserves consideration.

4 Responses to The Ultimate Pizza Toast

  1. Teman says:

    And I missed it all. Sob.

  2. Wow. We have the same tradition (birthday person gets to decide on a meal) but ya’ll take it to extremes. I’m telling you. Your extremism is making me hungry.

  3. Arlan says:

    Well, we don’t ALWAYS make Teman go without. We’re not THAT extreme.

  4. rundy says:

    Haha, Veronicah, there are many culinary stories I could share which would make you hungry. :-) But that lunch was certainly an exception.

Comments are closed.

Pictures of Stone Walk Construction

31st July 2013

Starting to unload stone

Finally got up some pictures from the stone work on the walk. Check out the whole selection here:

Stone Puzzle

23rd July 2013

The path project, on hold for weeks, finally took a step forward this past weekend. The split blue stone from the quarry arrived last week, three large pallets worth. The stone came in a variety of thickness and sizes, from half an inch thick to three inches thick, and from one foot in diameter to three feet. Weight ranged from 30 lbs for the thinnest and smallest to around 300 lbs for one or two monster stones. This was the material for the surface of the walk.

Starting this stage of the project was a little overwhelming. Not only were all the stones of different sizes but they were also all of many and varying irregular shapes. Somehow, we were supposed to sort through all the pieces and find the ones that would fit, in the right order, in the path. It was like putting together a puzzle, except many of the pieces weighed over a hundred pounds.

There were several of us working on this stage of the project and there was a bit of dispute over exactly how to get started. Stones were scattered all over the yard and the fact that none of them were magically fitting together became painfully obvious. Finally it was decided that we would start on the end of the walk against the house and I set a few stones down to get it started. From there it became a process of everyone hunting through the many remaining stones and trying out various pieces to see if they fit the emerging design.

After four or so hours of work (with a break in the middle) we were about halfway through laying out stones and decided it was time to quit for the day. We had reached the point where our tiredness was such that we were looking for the lightest stones to use (rather than the best stones) and were telling ourselves that the fits were “good enough” when really we knew they weren’t. A man can dig a ditch until he is ready to fall on his face from exhaustion, but you can’t work that long if you need to keep your artistic and aesthetic eye.

It was decided that rather than have all the remaining rocks scattered across the lawn for the next week that instead we would try to finish the “stone puzzle” on Sunday day. Teman volunteered to come down and stay with Grandma so I could come up and lead the project. On the way to Grandma’s on Sunday he picked up a diamond tipped stone cutting blade for the circular saw. With saw blade in hand I went home. Lachlan and I spent the afternoon finishing the task of laying out the stone.

The goal for the walk design walk was to have a natural looking border to the stones so I tried to avoid cutting them as much as possible but as the project neared completion and my selection of stones, and available space, grew more limited I had to resort to some cutting to make things fit. The stone cutting blade worked remarkably well (I did wet cutting, not dry) and it was, I admit, pretty cool. Look Ma, I’m cutting stone!

By the end of Sunday afternoon Lachlan and I had finished laying out the stones for the walk. The puzzle was complete. The project isn’t complete at this point because now finely crushed gravel (or sand) needs to be carefully spread under each stone to make them all exactly leveled to the same surface. This will be an incredibly painstaking procedure, but at least now the walk is in the general shape it will be so there is no great rush in the final refining step.

I somewhat wore out my butt and my right wrist in the course of hauling stones, and I nearly destroyed two pairs of pants, but I enjoyed working with the stone. Doing the project reminded me that I really enjoy working with stone (and wood, but that wasn’t involved in this project) and now I know that I also enjoy cutting stone. Cut stone has an entirely different effect than rough stone, but each has its place. Maybe some day I’ll have a chance to do more of it.

Pictures to come when I get them from Mom.

4 Responses to Stone Puzzle

  1. Hmm, I’m interested to see if how I’m picturing this in my head will line up with the pictures.

  2. rundy says:

    Hopefully I’ll get the pictures when I’m home on Saturday!

  3. Hi Rundy,
    I came to your blog, and have now figured out you are Kathy’s son. At least that’s what it looks like. I enjoyed seeing the photos on her blog. What a lot of work! It will be awesome when it’s finished.

  4. rundy says:

    Yes, you are quite correct. I am her son.

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A Mother’s Love is Blind

14th July 2013

My littlest sister–who loves ducks and chickens, but ducks more–put some duck eggs under a broody hen. This idea has a long history (as this circa 1920 farm video shows) and last week the gambit payed off. Four ducklings hatched, and they now live under the attentive care of momma hen. If she realizes something is wrong with her children, she isn’t showing it. And the ducklings, for there part, love to ride on mom.

My second sister took the following video, which is very cute, and you might enjoy:

2 Responses to A Mother’s Love is Blind

  1. Cool! We’ve never tried this, but I’ve had friends do it before. One friend said it was really funny when her ducks took to the water-their ‘mother’ was standing on the bank scolding them!

  2. rundy says:

    Haha, yes, reports from home inform me that this mother hen is doing exactly the same scolding.

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Lost in My Ear

9th July 2013

I first started wearing earplugs to bed about eleven years ago. I can date it so precisely because that is when my baby sister (not so much a baby anymore) was born. She had great difficulty sleeping through the night so there was much crying in the dark hours when most people rest. The walls to our old farm house were thin and muffled noise from the nursery not at all. In an attempt to get some sleep I began using earplugs at night. I may have tried them intermittently previous to this time, but I don’t like things jammed in my ears under the best of circumstances and certainly not while trying to sleep. But a baby crying at night, every night, is enough to make a person desperate. I was desperate. It reached the point where I found ear plugs the lesser of two evils (the other being not sleeping at all) and from that point forward I became a regular user. Even when my sister was no longer a baby crying at night I discovered that any night there was a bit too much noise from some cause (neighbors, other people in the house, traffic, etc) starting my night with ear plugs allowed me to get to sleep faster. Of course I sleep even better if it is so quite I don’t need ear plugs, but in a less than perfect world I have learned compromises and wear the ear plugs as needed.

Ideally I prefer to wake up briefly an hour or two after I initially fall asleep–just long enough to take out my earplugs and go back to sleep. Wearing earplugs all night is a bad idea because it can irritate the lining of the outer ear canal. But sometimes my ear plugs come out by themselves in the night and I can end up rolling over them, smashing them, or losing them behind the bed. Wearing ear plugs at night is rough on the ear plugs, and over the past decade I have gone through numerous pairs. Being frugal, I use one pair until it is falling apart before I buy a new pair. If I wake up one morning and find the disintegrated remains of an ear plug I know it is time to get a new set.

This past weekend I was cleaning my ears after a shower and in the process of cleaning it felt like I blocked my ear canal with ear wax. The ear in question seemed to regularly produce more wax than the other ear, so while annoyed I was not terribly surprised by this development. To rectify the situation I began a daily routine of cleaning the ear with hydrogen peroxide and flushing it with water along with a nightly application of heat in the hopes that I could loosen the ear wax and clear everything up. On the one hand the problem wasn’t a big deal, but on the other hand it was annoying because my hearing was significantly impacted on that side and it even felt like it was giving me a bit of a headache.

Yesterday I was standing at the sink performing another ear flushing session with the bulb syringe when something came out. A-ha, I thought. Finally got the wax build-up out. Then I looked down in the sink and saw a little round object that most certainly wasn’t ear wax. It took me maybe a second to recognize the end of an old ear plug. At that point I felt a dawning mixture of horror and amazement. I had lost the end of an ear plug inside my ear and didn’t even realize it. Not an old pair from a few days ago, or a few weeks, or even a few months. That thing had been in there at least about a year, maybe more, depending upon exactly which old pair this came from. I vaguely remember waking up one morning to find an ear plug on my bed with its top missing but I can’t place it in time.

I am appalled that I had such an object rattling around in one of my orifices for such a long time and I didn’t notice. Clearly I have quite a bit of empty space up there. I have jammed ear plugs and q-tips in that ear for months on end in the course of daily activities and detected nothing amiss. Well, that isn’t entirely true. I noticed things–things like it seemed like I got water trapped in that ear a lot more, a had more wax production in that ear, and sometimes my hearing wasn’t quite so good–but I never attributed those facts to some foreign object lodged in my ear. Since the problems would come and go I figured it was wax build-up or else congestion in my inner ear. After all, if you lost the end of an ear-plug in your ear you’d have really bad hearing all the time, right?

Strangely not. At least, not in my cavernous ear.

It gives me the willies to think of that thing lost up in my ear for the past year or so. It’s annoying enough to wear ear plugs for a few hours. I pity my poor ear for having a chunk lost up in there near the ear drum for months on end.

Oh well. It is out now and my ear is much happier and seems none the worse for the wear. Rest assured if I ever again wake up some morning with only part of an ear plug lying on my pillow I will have both my ears checked for the remainder. And, I suppose, as a positive this provides a great basis for all sorts of jokes about my empty head.

Ear plug

Ear plug on left is an example of what I currently wear. Piece on right is the end I flushed out. Pen is for scale.

One Response to Lost in My Ear

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Field at Dusk

1st July 2013

Field at Dusk

The above photo is a picture of the finished work on the “field.” Yes, it is rather small for a field, pathetic even, perhaps. But one must start somewhere. Looking at that mowed area it wouldn’t seem like a lot of work. Flat area, mowed, no problem, right? Well, for context, at the beginning of last year that area looked like the brush covered area you can still see beyond the mowed area. Yes, what you see in the background as overgrown scrub is how the mowed area used to be. That’s how much clearing was done. That is why it was hard work.

2 Responses to Field at Dusk

  1. So, what do you plan to do with it? All that work means you must have some plan, right?

  2. rundy says:

    Well, I don’t have any personal fixed plans for the area seeing as I don’t currently live at home. The brush doesn’t do anything for anyone other than the wild birds so any change is a step toward future usability. My goal is to clear the area down to the “pond” (not even yet in view in the above picture) so that when one is sitting on the back deck the pond can be seen from the porch. If wildflowers and field grass were growing there, the expanse would look very nice.

    Somewhat I amuse myself cleaning the area up just because there is a certain pessamistic streak in the family that “nothing can be done” with all that useless scrub covered land. I figure if in 5 years all the scrub land is field it will at least look better than in impenetrable mass of scrub and something will have been done in spite of the nay sayers.

    If I were at home I would be inclined to plant things or put animals in any field that appeared. Perhaps someone else will have such inclination. Current talk has only been about expanding the chicken yard to cover some/all of the area currently cleared.

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Brush Clearing

27th June 2013

Last Saturday I started mowing the area which is becoming a field. A very small field, but we must start somewhere. Except, mowing is a bit too gentle a term for what I undertook. Last year with chainsaw and 18.5 HP walk behind DR Brush mower I cleared out the majority of the area that is planned for the first field area. My work last year came to an end when I broke the clutch cable on the mower. (That was the first time. I did it again this year in the chicken yard.) The part was eventually replaced but I never got back to the work last year. I recently picked up where I left off, cleaning up a bit more with the chain saw, moved some boulders, and then on Saturday finally started mowing again.

The brush mower can take a variety of attachments. We have a heavy duty brush deck that is rated for cutting through 3 inch trees, a regular mowing deck, and a snow blower/thrower deck. I seem to end up as the only one who uses the brush deck much–maybe because I’m the only one willing to take my life in hand to such a foolish extent. The thing is a monster and even I don’t like using it, but it is the most efficient and effective thing we have for clearing out an overgrown area so I try to not complain too much.

It is very stressful mowing–or brush clearing as the case may be–an area that has never been cleared before. No matter how much I traverse the area in advance on foot, or clear out the larger obstacles with the chain saw, I don’t really know everything I will mow in the midst of all the weed and brush. I will never forget–and never stop telling to my grandchildren should the day arrive–what happened one of the first times I was trail mowing back at the old place with the slightly weaker 15 HP mower. I was mowing a path area that seemed fairly clear and safe when I hit a boulder that was mostly buried in the ground. The whirling heavy steel blade connected at full speed with the rock and the resulting explosive impact shook the entire machine, blew the air filter right off, and instantly stalled the engine dead. A plume of rock dust wafted sky-ward. An IED before the terrorist thought to even them.

Oh no oh no ohnoohnoohnoohno, or something like that runs through my mind once I’ve found my brains and my heart.

After checking myself to make sure I still had all my body parts, I checked the machine to make sure it was in one piece (sans air filter). Everything seemed okay, generally speaking. It was kind of amazing, in a sickening sort of way, to see rock dust wafting out of the air intake pipe. Seeing such a thing made me contemplate the strong possibility that I just killed a brand new machine. What a mood killer for the day. After I put the air filter back on I checked what I had hit and found the mostly submerged boulder had been split clean in half. The blade was still in one piece. I was a bit stunned, and all the more so when the mower started back up and went cheerily on its way.

Happy ending to the story and all that, but the point being its a monstrous machine of nearly unbridled power and so it makes me nervous. It’s uncomfortable enough for me when I’m chewing up large wooden object that I can see–the unseen objects that might explosively interact with the machine really put me on edge. Thankfully, on Saturday I didn’t have an explosive, machine stopping, meeting with any large boulders. I had some minor run-ins with various sized rocks (which makes me peevish because they dull the blade fast) and had one or two machine stopping run-ins with stumps that were a little beyond my three inch capacity, but over all I came, I saw, I conquered. That is, until the shear pin snapped and the pulley for the blade belt came flying off. At the point I decided I was pretty tired anyhow and decided to call it quits.

The machine is supposed to make brush clearing easier–and it does–but it is still hard work. The mower does not gently consume brush on the larger end of the spectrum. Hitting a tree with a trunk of 3 inches with the blade going at full velocity transfers some of the impact force back into the machine. Meaning, in short, everything shakes like crazy while I hang on for dear life. On top of that, while the machine is self-propelled it does not maneuver itself delicately so when I am working in difficult circumstances–like trying to avoid hitting certain large objects–I end up being required to do I lot of tight manual maneuvering, hauling back, or turning the machine. It gives a real shoulder work out, to say the least. I’m very glad I can do that, but since the machine weighs a good bit more than I do it takes a good bit of strength and energy to wrestle. After several hours of wrestling with the contraption I was starting to feel my power wane. When the shear pin snapped it was a good excuse to stop.

It was a hot day, and with the hard work I was sweating pretty freely. Since I was preoccupied with trying to keep myself alive and the machine in one piece I didn’t really notice how much I was sweating until that night when I took off my shirt and noticed the white streaks in my dark shirt where the sweat had evaporated to leave behind salt deposits. Being a somewhat (occasionally) scientific fellow it started me pondering how many teaspoons of salt I had to excrete out of my pores to leave extensive deposits on my shirt. I conclude it was probably a good idea if I ate something salty the next day to make up for whatever sodium deficit I had created.

I managed to mow about half the area I had set out to clear. With another few spare hours I think I can finish the job, presuming nothing unexpected crops up. I will be glad when it is done. The first mowing of a new area is the hardest–it is then that you find all the stumps that are too big, and all the boulders you hadn’t found before. The next several mowing are still a bit rough but it is probably 50% or 75% easier, and less nerve wracking, than the first time.

Some day I’ll have to get a video of the mower chewing up something big. It might do a better idea conveying the nature of the experience.

3 Responses to Brush Clearing

  1. Teman says:

    It certainly was a dramatic sound.

  2. That all sounds like a good bit of work…not very fun even for a workaholic like you.

  3. rundy says:

    Yeah, it’d get really wearisome if I did too much of it.

    Finished mowing the section this Saturday. Hope to get a picture or two up in the next few days.

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24th June 2013


Part of today was spent paying bills, and another part of today was spent fighting with my word processing program trying to force it to display photos properly. Both activities are inclined to make me slightly peevish so I decided to skip my longer post for this evening and share a photo of a billy goat instead.

It is a very awesome picture of a billy goat.

The goat’s name is Noah, and he has been dead for a good number of years now. You may find it hard to believe by looking at him, but he was a very nice goat. Especially for a billy goat, who are not, as a rule, known for being nice. He rarely thought to use that impressive rack of horns on anyone else, though he was not aloof to hammering his head against various hard objects for the amusement of it all. His biggest problem was that, like all billy goats, he thought the finest form of cologne was to piss all over his face. And he stank in the way billy goats stink in the most virile and reeking sort of way. So, in spite of him being a pretty darn friendly fellow you generally didn’t want to be all busom buddies with him.

Unless, of course, you were looking to get all stinky just so you could offer stinky hugs of annoyance to other family members. Just sayin.

And lastly, a bit of unrelated drive-by humor to lighten anyone elses slightly cranky day: Reckless driving video I must warn you it is terribly stupid humor, though I think half the humor is imagining all the people getting indignant because they can’t take the joke.

That’s all for today!

4 Responses to Noah

  1. Nasty numbers and uncooperative computer programs stop up your writing life? Sounds like my life.

    That is quite the candid billy goat picture. So much easier to enjoy the moment when you don’t have to endure the smell! That’s one good things I noticed right away about rams (that is, as soon as we got them): they smell nicely lanolin-ish as opposed to disgusting.

  2. rundy says:

    It is amazing how much lanolin a person can get all over themselves wrestling with sheep for shearing time. It’s slightly…odd…thinking about how it is sheep grease but certainly leaves the skin feeling smooth. And, as you say, it doesn’t smell nearly so bad as goat stink.

    Btw, did you get the goat pictures I sent with my reponse to your last email?

  3. Yep, I did. Very cool.

    By the way I haven’t responded to that yet because I wanted to finish up the letter, but it’s done now (I’m hoping to get it out today) so hopefully I shall respond soon.

  4. rundy says:

    Ok, that’s fine. I kind of figured that was the case, and that is perfectly fine. I just had the niggling concern that somehow the email was lost and you were still waiting for me to respond to your previous one

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Summer Solstice

19th June 2013

The summer solstice is this Friday. It comes too early in the year, every year. It doesn’t seem fair that the sunlight should peak in June and then go downhill for the rest of the summer. Just when I’m starting to get comfortable with all of this daylight.

So I feel a tad bit melancholy. That melancholy–it’s something like a down payment on winter.

Course, that’s not until Friday, so I have two more days of increasingly sunlight. Not quite over the hill yet, but it comes so quickly.

It can make one philosophical. Flowers and sunlight, two things which pass so quickly and fade away. Life, too.

I reached the end of the book draft today, so I think I’m a bit melancholy for that reason as well. The whole “someone dies at the end” is a bit rough on me still. I think it shouldn’t be, or maybe I just don’t want it to be. When I’m working on a piece of writing like that I need to get into the mindset that the writing is supposed to embody and, well, suffice to say it isn’t a jolly mindset in this case.

So, anyhow. Summer solstice. Time passing. Age. Death. Make your narrative.

This was suppose to be a happier post before my writing of the day got me on the wrong track. I was coming back from visiting my family on Saturday and as I drove over the country hills and watched the forest and fields pass by I was thinking about how much I love this time of year. This June has been on the cool side, (which I don’t mind,) and a bit on the wet side, (which can be a bit of a damper, but not much,) and I have really been enjoying the month. I want to be outside, and I want to be doing things. Saturday I was out cutting brush and moving very large stones. I’ve moved on from the chicken yard and I am now trying to clear a brush lot into a field. Plenty of work there, and you know what? I like it. Hard work does a body good. It does me good, excepting when I put myself out of joint heaving and hammering too much. I get easily carried away.

The work makes me happy.

Which, I’ve come to realize, puts me in a bit of a minority. Apparently most people don’t care to expend themselves in hard physical labor. But as for me, if the sun is shining and it isn’t too humid I’m quite happy to keep going until exhaustion catches me. It’s like playing except it looks a little more productive and respectable.

Sort of.

A bit.

In any case, working out in the back scrub field under the sun and the watchful sentry of the trees is a pleasure of summer. It doesn’t last long, so I savor it while it is here. The solstice comes, and then it goes, and soon enough the green of leaves is dulled and an amber hue begins to edge the trees, and life.

3 Responses to Summer Solstice

  1. Teman says:

    I think the brush lot that you are trying to make into a field is more like a swamp, but that could just be a result of it being so wet this year.

    You are lot like Kevin. He was splinting wood with me on the boys’ graduation party (and no one called us for supper, you can tell we were the life of the party). He no longer has the power but he still has the energy and the desire.

  2. Why did you have to break my happy oblivious bubble? Now I’m in a melancholy mood too. The summer (and this month in general) is going way too fast.

    And I think your diagnosis of your liking work being weird is quite correct. Working the ground was supposed to be a curse, remember? But then working outside does make me feel happy in a roundabout way because getting things done makes me feel accomplished instead of aimless.

  3. rundy says:

    Teman, there is some similiarty between Kevin and I, but I wonder he much he does it for fun, and how much for him it is some version of OCD or such.

    Veronica, I like to think the curse was weeding the garden. ;-) I don’t like doing that, either.

    More seriously, I think your comment on a sense of accomplishment is part of why I enjoy it as well. I sense of activity and creativity also play a part. Any kind of outdoor work which seems to serve no purpose makes me peevish so its not like if you gave me a rock and a hammar I’d be happy to pound all day.

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Of Strawberries and Summer

10th June 2013

Tis the beginning of the season of strawberries in these parts. It is a brief season, so quickly past and so quickly lost. The strawberries come in the greatest abundance here in mid June, and in my mind they epitomize early summer–sweet, fresh, vibrant. And quickly gone, too. Two weeks is about the span of the strawberry season. Both early summer and strawberries must be enjoyed while they are here.

My thoughts were recently turned down memory lane and I recalled a summer of strawberries from many years ago. I don’t recall exactly what got it all started, but somehow that year we decided to grow fruit. In our family nothing is done by half measures, or in anything less than a grand, overly ambitious, utterly unrealistic scale, so when the fruit growing impulse came it was in just such a fashion. We decided to plant fifty blueberry bushes, and five hundred strawberry plants.

Yes, all in one spring. All of it by hand. All by ourselves.

Why? As best I can figure out, just because it seemed like a grand and jolly idea.

Now, if we had a tractor or some other sort of machinery to get the blueberry bushes and strawberry plants in the ground and assist in cultivating them this kind of endeavor would have been reasonable. But in our case we only had our own arms and legs to work with, along with the sweat of our brows, and so to this day I am a bit surprised that we managed to get all of those plants into the ground after they arrived in one large load from the delivery man. True, getting everything in the ground involved working long days, and late hours until even after dark, but we got everything into the ground. Sure, the planting may not have been in the most ideal fashion–but we got everything into the ground. When talking about fifty blueberry bushes and five hundred strawberry plants that is not a small accomplishment.

Those five hundred strawberry plants made quite the garden. I wish we had pictures, but that was before the days when everyone had a camera. But I wil tell you there was row after row after row of strawberry plants. All those plants were supposed to be fertilized, weeded, and watered. Here is where the first cracks showed in our wild plans. By some fit of frenzied activity we had managed to get all of those plants into the ground–now we were supposed to care for them for the rest of the summer.

Maintaining that level of frenzied activity all summer looked quite a daunting task.

Of course we didn’t manage it. Some of us gave it a good try, at first. My older brother Teman and I hauled wheelbarrow after wheelbarrow of manure up into the field to spread between the rows. Before the summer was out I think we managed to spread manure over the entire strawberry garden. Buckets of water were hauled and the plants were watered (just) enough to get them established–and that was plenty of buckets of water. Fortunately, strawberry plants are hardy things (at least the variety we bought) and the summer was not exceptionally dry, so the strawberry plants took root. Weeding–ah, well, that wasn’t quite so successful. I don’t think the strawberry garden was ever weeded all the way through. A game effort was made for a time but it quickly became apparent that we probably could spend all day weeding the garden and by the time we reached the end of the garden–perhaps after a week spent weeding–it would be time to go back to the beginning of the garden and start over again. Five hundred strawberry plants makes for a lot of weeding if you are doing it all by hand.

In short, the strawberry garden was given up to nature. Events would take their course. And so spring passed, and the strawberry plants grew. They would have grown more if we had tended them, but even so they grew and they spread. Then the last days of spring came and the strawberry plants flowered. Then we have a huge garden–nay nearly a field–of strawberry flowers. It could have been even more abundant if we had cared for those plants properly, but as it was it was glorious.

The flowers became berries and the strawberries grew. Soon the strawberries were ripening, and do you know how many strawberries can be produced by five hundred strawberry plants which have multiplied themselves by twenty-fold? Yes, lots. We had thousands of strawberry plants, poorly tended, but even in their poor state they were producing thousands of berries.

Here the full irony of our undertaking came to fruit. We had bought far more strawberry plants than we could have ever hoped to properly tend, but even in their dismal state of care those plants produced far more strawberries than we could have ever hoped to consume. Not wanting what hard work we had invested to go to waste (and there was quite a bit of hard work invested) we picked and picked strawberries. And still more strawberries were rotting on the plants. We picked and we chopped and we ate and we froze strawberries until we were utterly sick of strawberries. And still more strawberries were wasted than we harvested.

I really don’t know what we were doing planting five hundred strawberry plants. The project was certainly a testament to grandiose thinking–and probably a monument to our poor grasp of reality. I can’t say that we were under-rewarded for our efforts, but by the time that strawberry season was finished we had strawberries (proverbially) coming out our noses. Everyone was sick of seeing strawberries.

That was our strawberry summer.

Afterward, as those things go, the strawberry garden was given over to complete neglect and soon became as much weeds as strawberries. Eventually, the next year or later, the whole place was mowed and in time returned to a field like any other. Now that strawberry garden is only a distant memory. But when strawberry season comes around every year, I still remember and somehow it still makes me smile.

Perhaps some day I will grow strawberry plants again. But next time I don’t think it will be five hundred.

5 Responses to Of Strawberries and Summer

  1. But what happened to the blueberries? (That’s my first question after reading this.)

    Around my house we have some sparse wild strawberries, but mostly we have gobs and gobs of wild blueberries that we pick each year, and then freeze so that we can have blueberry pancakes every other week all winter long.

  2. rundy says:

    Haha, yeah, I realized when I finished the post that the blueberries were an unanswered question. :-P

    The blueberry bushes survived and continued to produce over the years. Some years we even managed to mow around them, but they were never tended in such a way as to make them produce as much as they could have.

    Do you have wild high-bush or lower bush blueberries? At the old homestead we have a decent amoung of wild strawberries and low-bush blueberries but the berries on low-bush wild blueberries are so tiny it takes a lot of picking to make a usuable amount. I think once we might have picked enough wild low-bush blueberries for two or so pies. Mostly the wild blueberries on our property were eaten on a first kid first serve basis. Most of our blueberry needs (which are primarily for pies, lots of pies) are filled by the U-pick blueberry locations in our area. 100+ pounds of berries can be picked on an industrious year.

  3. Cynthia says:

    As I was reading, I kept thinking….just weed and take care of a manageable portion and let the rest go! Hindsight always kicks me in the rear! Maybe 10 plants would be reasonable and always keep you wanting more!

  4. Cadie says:

    Yeah, Mrs. Phillips – we always seem to do things “all or nothing” in this family. Seems to be a weakness of ours. Either GUNG-Ho, the whole way or not at all.

    I wonder how long ago this was, because it is a very vague memory for me. I do vaguely remember the unpleasantness of being out in the heat of the sun, in a weedy strawberry patch picking endless berries. It went on and on. For some reason, I wouldn’t have minded so much if they were all nice perfect juicy strawberries :P, but my memory is so many of them being bruised or yucky.

    Nowadays, I like strawberry picking just fine. Thinking back to what it felt like to me back then, I can relate better to some of my younger siblings not liking to pick strawberries.

  5. Well, that’s a relief to know.

    We have both high and low bush blueberries, so we get a variety of sizes. The first kid first serve basis happened a lot around here a few years ago when we had less berries. We still joke that my brothers eat twice as many as they pick for use. Oh well.

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On Conversations

3rd June 2013

Three Brothers

This past Saturday my Mom’s family came for the yearly reunion. It was held, as last year, at our place. It seems to suit everyone well–our family because we don’t care to travel much, and the extended family because it is a relatively central location spacious enough outdoors and indoors to host a large assembly. I think the event went well.

Afterward I was pondering the nature of conversation. I am nigh incapable of making small talk–either I talk about something or else I don’t talk at all. The art of talking about nothing is one I haven’t mastered. There is the added problem that I don’t have much to talk about with most people. I have tons I could talk about with a few people, but with the average person I cross paths (or the once-a-year relative) I haven’t much to talk about. I am glad to listen. I enjoy sitting and listening in on conversation–but then, if I’m listening I’m not carrying on much conversation.

I really should have asked all my relatives what they had been up too. It shows my lack that I didn’t manage that basic level of . . . I guess “engagement” might be the word I’m looking for. I would have been happy to hear about any interesting recent activities or life events, but I guess since I don’t much care to be subjected to the drive by questioning, “So what have you been up too?” I don’t immediately leap at the opportunity to subject others to the same treatment. I always find that question rather bothersome. Typically what I have been up to is getting up every morning, going to bed every night, and picking my nose in-between. I mean, there is a little more to it than that, but not much. I suppose for people in the high octane world of business deals or in the occupation of saving the world the question “What have you been up too?” can provoke all sorts of interesting stories. My life, by contrast, is rather routine, and I prefer it that way. If I have stories of trips to the emergency room or other exciting events it probably means I’m rather stressed out.

To make it even more difficult, it’s hard to talk about writing. It’s kind of like talking about the process of painting. “First I painted with red, and then I dabbed on some blue…” The activity doesn’t translate well into conversation. “I’ve been sitting on my butt hitting the keys on a keyboard. It’s grand stuff, trust me. You’ll get to read it someday and then you’ll understand.

“What have you been up to?” they says.

“Not much,” I says, and realizes how lame that sounds. “Writing mostly,” I add, wishing that sounded more productive and worthy of my time.

“What about?” they says.

“About my time taking care of my grandfather.”

“How is it going?”

I try to think of some recent dramatic or gripping event that I struggled with in the writing process and come up blank. What can I say? “Pretty good, making progress.” It sounds as lame as ever.

Then I try to get lost.

It’s not that I think my writing is boring, but I don’t know how you talk about writing that someone hasn’t read, especially when it is your own. It feels awkward to say good things because then it sounds like self-flattery, and talking about problems feels like asking for sympathy over the poor little problems of the creative life. The woes of work is so much easier to talk about when there are other people involved, tormenting you with their stupidity–or something like that.

So I try to skip the whole thing.

All of this is to get around to the fact that I found it interesting to observe the different types of conversations that took place. My brothers, many of them being gainfully employed, could talk at length about the travails of life and the duties of jobs. I had absolutely nothing that I could add to such conversations. It was interesting to listen to, but I was a spectator. On the other hand, if you found me talking it was with old people about the sickness and problems of old age. Or else it was talking to slightly younger people who had old people in their lives, and discussing with them the travails of taking care of old people.

It is rather obvious to say that we talk about what we know. What struck me is that in “what I know” I’ve skipped to the end of the conversational spectrum. When you’re young and hip you’re supposed to talk about cool things (whatever that is) and with maturity you talk about jobs and that sort of thing. Old age brings conversation around to ailments and their trials. I’ve never been a great conversationalist, but on top of that life has now dealt me an odd hand in the conversational deck of cards. What I can talk about, extensively, and in detail, are topics only normally found in the conversation of the general populace.

I found it an interesting observation, with an important conclusion. I had better not have the duty of starting conversation at your party or we might end up with a discussion about the difficulties of incontinence. You see the problem.

6 Responses to On Conversations

  1. Cynthia says:

    An interesting observation, but I think that I could carry on a quite lengthy conversation with you. Maybe that is because I’m what my family calls – a prober – meaning I just keep probing till I hit the right topic! My hubby has much of a similar mindset as you on “party conversation” or group gatherings! He said he has always felt like the ball in a pinball machine – popping around hitting objects rather aimlessly! What I have noticed that he now does is that HE ASKS the questions and lets the talker, well, TALK! He gets to do what he would prefer to do – LISTEN – but usually to a topic of some interest to him. ;)

  2. Cynthia says:

    And I should have added, but I think you already know, you are who you are and that is what makes you unique! :D

  3. rundy says:

    In your case Cynthia I doubt you would have to do much probing–we both have a lot of experience with the elderly (you with your mother and father and your work in hospice) so we quite naturally would have plenty to talk about.

  4. Cynthia says:

    Yes, we would find ourselves a nice out of the way corner and get lost in conversation!

  5. Hmm, I’m different than you. I can do small talk, but I really don’t like to. But, no one wants to talk about deep issues so I usually end up talking about nothing, since we rarely have much in common. Conversation is very tricky for being so common of a thing.

  6. rundy says:

    Yeah, conversation is a very tricky thing for being so common. I cant do a bit of small talk with people who I already know but mostly I’ve learned the trick of “smile and nod” in the place of small talk. This leaves people with the impression that I am a great conversationalist because it allows the other person to talk about themselves/their topics and leaves the impression that I was quite engaged with their conversation. But I have a hard time managing even that with someone I have just met and don’t have an immediate point of shared conversation. The whole idea of a “slow warmup” does not seem to be accepted. Simply listening for an hour after meeting someone without being required to offer any kind of reaction is not allowed.

Comments are closed.

The Helpful Chicken

27th May 2013

On Saturday afternoon I decided, spur of the moment, to clean the rocks out of the chicken yard so that it could be mowed. When the family moved to the new place a section of over-grown scrub had been apportioned as the new chicken yard. A provisional brush clearing at that time had not brought the ground up to mowing standards. The area needed a rock clearing. A very extensive rock clearing.

The property as a whole is rocky even in the best of places, and the chicken yard is not the best. As far as rocks are concerned, it is the worst. This is not a bad thing. If you must make some use of the worst land you have, making it into a chicken yard is a good use. Chickens don’t care about rocks, and if you can get grass to grow that is about all they care. We haven’t yet made it to the place of much grass growing, but I think we can manage it with time so making a chicken yard of the space is the best use for this very rocky slice of land.

The area was, and remains, unnaturally rocky. I can say with confidence that the area was either once a stone foundation to a building or else a collection of rock piles heaped up from clearing the rest of the land. I go with the rock piles theory because I think I can still make out the humping quality of the area which hints at the former piles of rock. Well, not former–the piles of rock are still there, they’ve just become slightly subsumed under greener growth. But only slightly.

My goal was simply to take all rocks that might pose a hazard to a mowing machine and pile them in one easily avoidable heap. There were two classes of rocks that needed removing: (a) Those lying on the surface of the ground, and (b) those which were partially, or nearly wholly buried, but with enough poking above the surface to warrant removal.

There were a lot of rocks.

With the aide of four brothers who happened to wander by and decided to join in, I set to work. By the time we stopped for the day we had amassed quite a heap of stones in one corner of the chicken yard. I wish I had a picture to share, (and eventually I may, since the stones aren’t going anywhere,) but on Saturday I was too preoccupied with the task at hand to do any photo-documenting. I can’t speak for the rest of the crew, but I was rather enjoying myself. Cleaning up the rocks tapped into the obsessive-compulsive side of me and I felt some great satisfaction in cleaning the ground of all the rocks that weren’t supposed to be there and putting them in a proper rock heap. Everywhere I looked there were more rocks to be picked. Picking rocks was like fighting a battle and winning. Sure it wasn’t easy, or quick, but no great battles ever were.

Fun or not, it was labor intensive. We were facing stones (small) rocks (large) and boulder (huge). Of course at least half of the boulders were mostly buried so that only a toe of the massive shape stuck above the ground, threatening the mowing machine. Removing these required the application of a steel bar, and removing some required the application of two steel bards and a good bit of muscle. They were heavy. Backs were nearly broken, and other things were broken. When I flipped one large boulder into the plastic bed of the wheelbarrow the back of the wheelbarrow snapped like a plastic wheelbarrow would snap. Yeah, Mom, that’s why the wheelbarrow is sort-of broken. They don’t make wheelbarrows like they used too.

It was hard work at times, but we had help. At least, I had help. Valiant midget help.

We were working in the chicken yard but most of the chickens avoided us. Most chickens don’t care for hurling and heaving, huffing and puffing, stomping and smashing. It puts them on edge. But there are exceptions. Call those exceptional chickens particularly smart, or perhaps particularly dumb. Whatever you call these particular chickens, they realize that when humans are scuffing up the earth then all sorts of worms and bugs appear for easy pickings. These chickens make sure they are on the scene and ready to snatch up any available delicacies.

One hen in particular attached herself to me. I’m not entirely sure why. Maybe some chicken-ish part of her brain sensed that I have a fondness for chickens. Or perhaps she liked my hat. Whatever her reasons, she singled me out and followed me around in my rock hunting. Over the course of the many years in which we have owned chickens many have sought to poach worms and bugs from my labors, (as if I was digging just to feed them,) but in all of those years I don’t think I’ve met a chicken so exuberant as the one that followed me around on Saturday. She always had to be looking under exactly the rock I just lifted. This led to an almost frantic peering when I was picking up a bunch of smaller stones.

But that wasn’t enough. She also had to pitch in and help with the worm and bug hunting operation. More than that, she couldn’t help in just any old place–she had to help exactly where I was working. This meant that as I was trying to gather up stones she was on top of my hands going scrabble-scrabble-scrabble with her feet trying her best to get those stones out of the way so she could continue “our” hunt for worms and bugs. Most chickens who look to profit from my labors are quite content to let me do all the work. Never have I had a chicken so exuberantly and unhelpfully attempting to pitch in on the work exactly where my hands were trying to work.

She thought we made a great team.

Not only was this hen rather clueless about the idea of scrabbling some place other than where I was scrabbling, but she also had no conception of personal safety. She was constantly sticking her head in places not safe to stick her head when rocks were being pried out of the ground. The pinnacle of that was reached when she joined us in removing a boulder. Her contribution was to stand examining the huge rock right where it was about to fall (having been upended by us out of the earth). She would have been squashed quite flat except someone finally picked her up and moved her out of the way.

Generally speaking you don’t want chicken help even if they are most eager to help because it doesn’t end up being help at all. But if you can put up with the unhelpful help, then it is good for a nice laugh. And at least I had an appreciative audience of one.

I think the chicken finally wandered off some time shortly before I nearly dislocated my thumb.

Maybe I did dislocate my thumb, I’m still not entirely sure about that. I was prying away with the large steel bar attempting to dislocate a particularly reluctant rock. Preoccupied with my goal, I forgot self-preservation and began heaving away on the bar without properly considering what would happen if the bar suddenly sprang free from the rock. A person should always keep in mind what will happen if the steel bar springs free when heaving away with all their might–unless they want to end up a eunuch, disemboweled, or with a good many teeth missing. I am pretty good at keeping those things in mind–at least half the time–but in the moment of determination to heave the boulder free I stifled that warning voice in the back of my head.

Then I heaved back one final time and the steel bar sprang free and bent my thumb back in a way it is not supposed to be bent. It hurt, yes. Even more pressing on my mind in that moment was the sensation that my thumb had done something it really should not have done. Instinct was to grab the injured hand and squeeze it, crushing it between my legs, and hope that the thumb started feeling like it was back in the appropriate place. After a few minutes I decided I had better find out what kind of damage I was dealing with and so released the injured digit to attempt some movement. I found my thumb still moved, and even in the proper way. That was heartening. While feeling rather out of sorts it did not seem that my thumb was out of place, and for that I was thankful.

Still, my hand felt much the worse for the violence done to it, (and still my thumb and entire forearm are not entirely happy even as I write this on Monday,) so I decided that was as good a time as any to stop fighting with the rocks, at least for that day.

Leaving sundry brothers to finish off a few more rocks, I pulled out the brush mower to give it a go at mowing the chicken yard. The area was so overgrown I knew we wouldn’t find every rock before I made an attempt at mowing. I braced for the worst, but it actually went well–to start. The remaining rocks weren’t too excessive, and I only killed the machine once on a stump. But then, on the second pass around the yard, the cable to the clutch snapped. With the clutch out of commission, the brush mower couldn’t move.

The cable didn’t even snap because of a rock, or anything. It just broke. Oh, the irony.

So the chicken yard still isn’t mowed. But we’ll get there. Eventually.

10 Responses to The Helpful Chicken

  1. Mom says:

    Plastic wheelbarrows weren’t made for hauling big rocks. They were made for middle-aged people who don’t have the strength to push a heavier metal wheelbarrow around. There is a sturdier wheelbarrow in the garden shed but it needs tires fixed on it. Please don’t bust the other old-fogey wheelbarrow. Just get one that’s meant to take the abuse you want to dish out.

  2. rundy says:

    There are some plastic wheelbarrows which were made for hauling rocks–we had one, years ago–but that one certainly wasn’t. It had me pondering the different grade plastics. But rest easy, your wheelbarrow is still able to haul around the sundry grass and pebbles of middle-age wheelbarrowing.

    P.S. Teman was the one who got the wheelbarrow invovled, so blame him….

  3. Caleb says:

    Me and Deirdre often go around the chicken yard lifting up rocks to let the chickens get at the yummy things underneath. By now we have trained one chicken to make sure she is always the first to get at them. I’ve had her do the same things to me, too.

  4. I frequently bring my house chicken out and tip old logs for her to eat under while I hang up the laundry. It took her a while, but she finally caught on.

    You know, another thing chickens really like is acorn innards.

  5. rundy says:

    Veronicah, when you say “house chicken” do you mean a chicken you keep in your house or simply your personal pet chicken?

    I did not know that chickens really like acorn innards, but it makes sense now that you mention it. Acorns are very nutritious. Deer eat them. I think I have heard of ducks eating them. Only makes sense that chickens would eat them too. Handy that we have a huge oak tree out front.

    Speaking of acorns, what kind of success has your family had using the acorn tanning method? (I’m guessing this is how you ended up with a lot of acorn innards?) The acorn tanning method really appeals to me because you can use stuff readily at hand.

  6. Teman says:


    The duck eat acorns in our front yard.

    And those wheelbarrows handled rocks just as well as anything else. It was that boulder that got dropped in a little too heavily that broke it a little bit.

  7. rundy says:

    I thought I remembered someone saying our ducks ate the acorns but I wasn’t entirely sure that was where my memory of ducks eating acorns had come from.

  8. We keep her in the house (basement) and she is also my personal pet chicken. I paid $15 for her a couple of years ago at a show, but she’s really friendly. I can walk around with her perched on my shoulder.

    We’ve actually only tried the acorn method for tanning once. At that time we were being ambitious and had decided to make acorn flour. We never actually got to that step, but we did end up with a nice cluster of small oak trees by the front porch. Unfortunately the goats got to those before they got too big. As far as when we did try that method we decided that it did more dying than tanning, but that was probably because we didn’t have enough.

    Bark tan (a kind of tanning we do frequently) actually does the same thing due to the tanic acid. You can use young sumac leaves and bark for that (though we don’t usually), we have done that multiple times before. The biggest problem is that if you don’t get the solution strong enough the hide will rot.

  9. rundy says:

    Your comment about the ambitious intention of making acorn flour (which only ended with oak trees out in front of the porch) reminded me of some various grand plans of my families past which had equally…..unfulfilled conclusions.

    I shall have to tell the strawberry story on this blog sometime soon, especially since it is strawberry season.

  10. Deirdre says:

    That chicken always “helps” me, whether I am trying to clean the coop a little, or lifting stones, or digging.

Comments are closed.

Earth Hugger

23rd May 2013

Sod carrying

I am an earth hugger. Yeah, you meet a lot of people who claim that, but they don’t mean it so literally. Not like me.

On May 4th I started working on a front walk for my mom. A lot of earth hugging was invovled, and a good bit of dirt busting as well.

It was fun. I am one of those strange people who enjoys hard work, espeically if it is outside and in good weather. (Working in the rain is not so much fun.) I didn’t entirely finish the job that day, but you can head on over to my May 4th photo album and see the pictures for what I did accomplish.

Draft 4

13th May 2013

Today I started working on the fourth draft of my book about Grandpa. Starting a new draft is always intimidating–or at least discouraging. If I am starting a new project from scratch I can imagine that everything will turn out wonderful. Such delusions are a constant affliction of writers. But when working on a draft revision I have problems that need fixing. Real problems staring back at me in black letters. More than that, the stack of paper (and problems) can look rather high. The crushing realization that I’m not perfect can be nearly life shattering. When I start working on a draft revision the mountain before me looks very high indeed.

In some ways it is better this draft. The number of problems I need to resolve feels less than in previous drafts. Other than a bit of polishing, I feel that the first half of my book is solid. This means I only have to fret about the latter portion. Even the latter portion of the book is improved, so I don’t need to fret about that as much as I have in previous drafts. Still, the second half of the book gnaws at me because I feel that something isn’t quite what it should be.

In other ways this draft is more wearisome than previous. I have reached the point where it is time to be picky about the little things and so I must take pen in hand and ponder each sentence. I also need to gather up all the comments I have received from other readers and distill them down to one set of corrections. This does not stretch the mind like earlier drafts where I was still trying to wrestle out the form and content of the story as a whole. And line editing does grow tedious. By this time in the writing process I have read my own story several times over and in a way I am starting to feel a little bit sick of it. I have to fight against the tendency of my eyes glazing over–or alternately becoming stuck anguishing over some particular sentence that doesn’t seem quite right. My delusions have been quite dispelled on the glories of my work and real life feels so dull in comparison.

I have set myself the goal of four chapters each day for a total of sixteen chapters each week (I don’t have enough free time on Friday with grocery shopping to get in a normal schedule of writing). It seems quite doable, but halfway through my alloted amount today I was already chafing. I wanted to do something more mentally stimulating. I find myself wondering if maybe the mail has come, or perhaps I need to move a load of laundry to the dryer. Anything to avoid remaining in my seat. But high-ho nose to the grind stone.

The worst drag is that at the beginning of the draft the end seems so far away. To complete this draft I need to first carefully go through and do a line edit on the paper copy, and then go back through and enter all my corrections (and the corrections of my other readers) into the digital copy for a fresh new draft. The math adds up. There are approximately forty chapters, and at four chapters a day for four days a week that is about two and a half weeks to go through the draft once. Going through the draft twice means I will take five weeks. By then it will be the middle of June. I want to be done now! (Whine, whine.)

It doesn’t help that in reality I won’t go that quickly. Something always comes up so that I don’t get as much done each day as I want and so finish dates are always pushed back. That is the reality of life, but I always feel like I deserve an exception from the realities of life. I get peevish when I don’t. There is a reason writers are so often the peevish sort–it is those gnawing problems at the end of their drafts and the thwarted deadlines. We have such trying lives.

3 Responses to Draft 4

  1. Cynthia says:

    The only encouraging words that I have to offer – this needs to be heard – it is THAT good! Somebody’s waiting to hear this!

  2. Revisions are icky, but as Cynthia says your story is worth it. Hard things like those that are in your book need to be heard. Keep fighting through!

  3. rundy says:

    Thank you both for the encouraging words. A little more progress comes each day!

Comments are closed.

Crumbs on The Path

2nd May 2013

Whenever I write on a serious topic I could write twice: once about the topic and then again about what I wrote. There is the counter-point left unsaid which I could write, or the root behind the idea, or the explanation. These could make a second paper. Most of the time it is better to leave the second half unsaid. To cover everything in words leaves no space for thoughts. In short, it can be poor form to write about your writing.

I break that rule today by taking up A Subtle God to comment upon it. I suppose I am only half breaking the rule because I will be half commenting on my on previous writing, and half stepping beyond it to explore where I am today.

The deliberate irony of A Subtle God was that in summarizing the ignorance of my past presumptions and predictions the meditation then rounded off with yet another declaration about my future. If my past declarations turned out so abysmally wrong, what was to make this most recent one any different? That was the point. Well, a point among several. I really was no different in knowing things at that point than I had been before and the declaration was to leave the reader with as much a question about me as an answer.

We want answers, but sometimes the answer is that we don’t have answers. I am always trying to find the narrative of my life, but the reality is I don’t have the narrative, nor control it. I felt the things I expressed in A Subtle God, but at the same time I could look back over my past and see that I had felt many things, and thus acknowledge that how I felt, and what I thought I saw and thought I understood in no way limited or defined what God was doing, or would do. He is greater than my smallness, and that is a comforting thing to meditate on when it feels like your life is in pieces.

At the time I wrote A Subtle God I wrote it solely to myself–not only to express what I was feeling and thinking at the time, but even more importantly to function as a witness. The past easily becomes forgotten or shaded and reinterpreted by the present. I wanted to clearly mark in writing where I had been and where I then was, like bread crumbs marking the path of life, so that in future times I could recall that time and reflect on what God had been doing at that time, and since. For those who have a glimmer of how foolish our present selves will seem in the future there is a tendency to want to keep quite about what you are thinking and feeling in the moment so as to not immortalize one’s own foolishness. In writing A Subtle God I took the exact opposite approach and tried to write out as clearly as possible in short form the foolishness of my past life, and then the foolishness of my then present thoughts, attitudes, and desires. I wanted it to be a clear testament in future times to my folly and God’s faithfulness.

This purpose added to my reluctance to share because deliberately making public pronouncements that I know will be seen as foolish at a later time is not something I relish. It is one thing to talk about it to myself, another thing entirely to throw it out for the world. Second, I think it is easy to mistake A Subtle God as actually being a pronouncement of having “finally figured out my career/life” or some such, when in fact it is a statement of the opposite and in that a meditation on the faithfulness of God. Since the subject is my life, having people misunderstand the writing (in particular people I know from personal life) could be embarrassing or awkward. “So glad to see you’ve finally figured out what you’re doing with your life.” Well, actually not.

I have, in the end, shared. On the one hand it seemed good to besmirch my pride a bit by airing my foolishness. In a more positive sense I thought that perhaps from time to time some reader might come along who could see my meditation for what it was and find some encouragement from it as I did. Writing is, after all, an act of casting your bread upon the waters. A third reason to dig this piece of writing up again and give it a fresh airing is that I, like a vulture circling round for a second meal on the rotting carcass, find myself at this place in life again. So I shuffle the pages, and I stare out the window, and I think.


The proper thing is to say you’ve learned so much in the years since. It’s different now. You’ve moved on. You’ve settled all of that. Life has reached the next stage. Yes, that is the proper thing–to close the chapter of your life neatly and call it “Progress.” But it wouldn’t be honest to play at that. I’m back to where I was . . . or perhaps I never left. You’re supposed to have moved on, but I’m still waiting. Still waiting right where I was. And it can be frustrating. Sometimes a bit scary. Sometimes tempting.

About six months after I wrote that meditation to myself I wrote a blog post like any other blog post, hit the publish button, and thought nothing more about the matter. My Mom, as she sometimes does, shared the post with some friends. A friend shared it with another friend who just happened to be visiting that day and who wrote a blog on aging for the New York Times website. Next thing I knew I was being contacted by this writer at the NYT who wanted to do a profile. After she ran the post profiling me I received a deluge of comments from people touched by my writing about the care giving experience. Not only that, but an agent contacted me and asked if I would like representation for a book proposal, and an editor for Little, Brown contacted me and said she was deeply moved by my writing, and did I by any chance have a book I was working on?

Six months previous I had written in A Subtle God about how it seemed all my writing dreams had turned to dust. Now I had this dropped in my lap. Talk about unexpected. Talk about a complete reversal. You try so hard to get yourself noticed, and then when you’re doing nothing at all suddenly, unsolicited, you have it. Nothing like having your wildest dreams handed to you–an editor writing to you and saying, “I’m an editor at Little, Brown publishers in New York, and I’ve been deeply moved by your blog. I’m sure you’ve had lots of queries from editors and agents, but if you are interested in developing a book, I’d love to be put on the list” Sure, Ma’am, I have editors just clawing over each other to get in my door.

But, of course, that wasn’t the end of the matter. The short story is that nothing came of all that. It fizzled. The crowds went away, the economy turned sour, and the agent had no success.

What a let down. A part of me felt, a bit peevishly, that God was jerking my chain. I hadn’t gone looking for it, but He had dangled it in front of me–only to snatch it away again at the last moment. What was I to make of it all? It was very perplexing. Was God chiding me for thinking writing success was impossible? One thing was sure: it clearly demonstrated that if God wanted me to become published He could move heaven and earth in the most amazing set of “coincidences” to cause it to happen. Or He could move heaven and earth to mess around with my head, too.

In retrospect from this point in time I can see that working on a book publishing deal while caring for Grandpa would have been difficult at best, and more likely horrible. It was a mercy on me that nothing went forward at that time–but then why bring about the whole little show in the first place? The questions pile up when you try to ponder out God’s reasons.

The years passed, and Grandpa passed. What to do with myself now? Prior to suddenly coming into the position of caring for Grandpa, I had not imagined nor so much as dreamed of working in the health-care field. The idea never entered my mind. But by time I wrote A Subtle God it had entered my mind that perhaps the recent change in my situation was a sign from God. By the time Grandpa died my experience had made it clear to me that I had some gifting in caring for people. That, however, did not equate with divine revelation on what I should do with my life. There are many ways one can care for people in both a professional and non-professional capacity.

I struggled a lot with life, depression, aimlessness, and discouragement. I felt I had ability and desire to help people but at the same time I felt no desire to work within a traditional health-care setting and I questioned whether I even had the ability to do that. Finally, after much prayer and thought I concluded that I was supposed to step forward in faith without having that question resolved. I determined that I was supposed to go to school for training in the health-care field and that in good time God would reveal whether I should actually work in that environment, or not. I felt that God was saying that at the present point what needed to be answered was not what I would be doing later on down the road, but whether I was willing to step out on an uncertain path and trust God to sort things out at the proper time. This was not an easy conclusion to reach. I fully expected going to school for health-care training to be a very unpleasant experience. I had no desire to subject myself to that, and in particular I was adverse to going through such a trial if (to fleshly eyes) it would serve no purpose in the end. If God gave blazing certainty that I was to be a nurse, then yes, it was easy to say I would go to nursing school. But go to nursing school while being utterly uncertain as to whether I should become a nurse? Go to nursing school to torture myself only to have God tell me to walk away from it all in the end? That was the question. Was I willing to do that?

I went to nursing school.

I went, and I told myself that I might walk away from it all in the end, but I would do that if it was God’s will. This placed a particular internal tension on all my experiences. It is easier, or at least bracingly clarifying, to feel like you can say “Hoo-Rah! I know where I am going, I know what I want to accomplish, and I know how I’m going to do it–so bring on the challenges!” It is an entirely different situation when you are not sure at all where you are going or what you want to accomplish. There was the tension of “I want to but I don’t want to” and that tension of reality was not contained to my thoughts. Before I was admitted to the License Practical Nurse program I was interviewed by the head of the department and it went something like this:

Department Head: “Why do you want to be a nurse?”

Me: “I spent three years caring for my grandfather who was suffering from Alzheimer’s. That experience showed me I have a gift for helping other people, and I want to develop that.”

Department Head (looking at my test scores): “Why aren’t you going to become a Registered Nurse? You have excellent scores. You could easily do it.” [Edit: RN requires more schooling but is higher up the ladder and pays better.]

Me: “I am not certain nursing is where I should be so I wanted to start with a lower level.”

Department Head: “How well do you handle stress? Do you think you can handle having an ever changing census of patients under your responsibility and being required to answer to different doctors throughout the day and handle multiple responsibilities and resolve issues with both difficult patients and doctors?”

Me: “That sounds like the sort of job I am least equipped to handle. That sounds like my personal hell.”

I didn’t actually say that last line. I was slightly more politic and said something along the lines of “I don’t know if I could handle it, but how I would try to handle such situations is to prioritize what was most important…” blah, blah, blah. But my thought was in essence, “What you just described is my personal hell.”

In that dialog between myself and the department head, how was I to reconcile my first answer with my last? I couldn’t escape the conclusion that something was terribly wrong in the equation because everything was not adding up. And yet I felt I was supposed to go through with this without being able to explain why, beyond it being an exercise of faith.

Being mindful that faith is not about making everything add up by the use of your own understanding, I went forward with nursing school. I was under no misconceptions about how the experience would feel. In the weeks leading up to school starting, I dreaded it with an awful dread. I knew the following year would be unpleasant, nay excruciating. I found it suffocating to even imagine going through with the project, enough to provoke despair and the thought that I couldn’t surive. I prayed that God would see me through, that it would be over quickly.

The experience was every bit as painful as I expected. I found no surprises there. My misery on clinicals in particular was such that I think a number of my fellow students pitied the psychotic person that I was. Why did I need to afflict myself with such emotional agony rather than just chill like the rest of them?

This would be where the reader might expect me to admit that I made a mistake in going to nursing school, but to this very day I remain convinced that I did what God wanted me to do. I didn’t go because I thought it would be pleasant–not hardly!–so having it turn out exactly as I expected and anticipated did nothing to change my view of the endeavor. I dreaded going, and every day was some form of misery with some days so trying I didn’t know how I would make it through the week. It was misery, misery, misery. But through it all I did not doubt I was supposed to be there no matter how unpleasant.

I survived, apparently. In the end I graduated valedictorian. And at the end of the congratulating line at graduation there was God standing waiting to shake my hand, the plan for the next stage of my life all prepared–right?


I went into nursing school feeling that I was gifted in caring for people, but with no desire to work in an institutional setting and no personal equipping to do that either. I had anticipated that God would use my experience in nursing school to clear up the matter by removing one half or the other of this irreconcilable equation. Instead, I found nursing school strengthened both halves of the equation. My experience in school only increased my loathing for working in an institutional setting and confirmed to me that I have a gift of caring for people. Far from school resolving this quandary in my life, it made it worse.

Here is where I went off the rails. You anticipate that if you follow God’s leading things will turn out a certain way in the end and when they don’t you start thinking about “fixing” things. It is amazing how in the moment of trail and temptation we can forget and unlearn the very things we learned before. It is as if life is the process of learning the same lessons over and over again. I’m not proud of it, but it was at this point that I broke the very lesson that I had previously learned and carefully recorded in A Subtle God. Therein I wrote about the past occassion that,

The impact of this incident was formative in my thinking, and in ways not easily expressed. When viewed from the perspective of all the sorrows and trials of life, this disaster was very small indeed. But I find the size of it, or true severity of it, hardly the point. Standing in the rubble of my plans, I saw God teaching me a needed lesson, a foundational lesson. I found myself instructed on how I ought to live my life, a lesson I pray I don’t soon forget. I think what God revealed to me about myself and how I ought to live is key in understanding how my life has unfolded, and the choices I have made, since.

Compelling me forward, ever driving me through this disastrous event, had been a motivation to do what I ought to do, what I needed to do. It was the smart thing to do. It was the logical thing to do. It was what I was supposed to do. I deluded myself with all sorts of explanations and rationalizations. I convinced myself of the necessity by my reasoning and my assumptions of the future and the means to get there. I determined my goal, marked my path, and used my wisdom to accomplish the ends. And with all that wisdom of the world about what one ought to do, and how one ought to do it, I ended with complete failure and misery. I had tried to figure everything out, plan, and anticipate the future. It was what plenty of people will tell you is the smart thing to do. It is the path and method that the world commends.

It was at that point I realized I wouldn’t be living my life like the rest of the world. I had the dawning realization that wherever I went in life, I would be going by a different path and different reasoning than the rest of the world.

The lesson I learned was not that it was wrong to go to college, or wrong to take a job. The lesson I learned is that why we are doing something, and what is motivating us, matters. God judges the heart. I went forward in my own strength after my own plans and desires, not in faith and reliance upon God, walking in His will and His peace. I was uncertain, uneasy, and uncomfortable with many things, but I plowed on ahead, fixated upon what I had to do, convinced this was just the way life was, and I would have to get used to it and I would manage it. Instead of listening to the small voice inside of me, instead of saying, “Wait–I don’t feel comfortable. I’m not going forward in this until I have a peace that it is God’s will,” instead of saying, “I don’t care if it seems impossible to go a different way, I don’t feel right about this so I’m not going this way,” instead of trusting in the Lord, though I couldn’t see where it would lead, instead of simply waiting, instead of listening to and considering the prompting of God inside me–instead of all that I pushed on ahead with my preconceived goal and methods, drowning every hesitation in the dreams and delusions of success.

I reaped what I sowed.

When all the dust had settled I realized I needed to stop measuring myself, my method, or my goals by worldly standards. It didn’t matter how other people lived their lives, or how they went about things. It didn’t matter what was the smart way to do things or the successful way to do things. What mattered was that I recognize God had a plan for my life, He had a path for me to walk, and it was my place to shut up, be still, and seek His face and His will, and leave the matter of the wisdom and success of that way to His hands. Instead of going forward on my time table, instead of trying to measure what I was doing by the metrics of logic and success of the world, I was to seek to live in the peace found in obeying the leading of God, (however unfathomable,) and leave the rest up to Him. Instead of being caught up in grasping for the outward things of what I wanted, what I liked, what I thought was good, or what seemed necessary–instead of that I needed to look inward to the spiritual leading and teaching of God.

I am ashamed to admit that I discarded all of that. Yes, I drank the Kool-Aide as they say. Public schooling–well, public life in general–is geared toward reinforcing how the world thinks. You make a plan for your life, and you set out on that plan to accomplish success and prosperity. You don’t even think about it–the fact is just presumed. Everything in nursing school was geared–both implicitly and explicitly–toward making us a success. We all were going to graduate from nursing school, get a good job as soon as possible, and advance our careers and education beyond that. We were going to make the school proud, make our teachers proud, and make our families proud. And so on. The more successful you are the higher heights you are expected to ascend. And I was very successful. Of course I would go on to make my teachers proud. It was said by some (half in jest) that I should go on to become a surgeon or doctor because I was so smart and capable. So, of course, I would make something of myself.

Nobody gave me lectures. The facts were simply and utterly presumed, and the force and weight of that presumption–by all my fellow students and teachers, weighed heavily. I kept my thoughts to my self and I tried to choke those thoughts into silence as best I could. And the weight of expectation put its subtle pressure to muddle my thoughts and bend my convictions. That weight is a sly, slippery, thing.

It is a curious thing how those who do not know our thoughts can see us more clearly than we see ourselves. That isn’t quite right. Better said, it is a curious thing how those who are not blinded by our own self-delusions can see us more clearly than we are willing to see ourselves. It was near the end of the school year when the fellow student who had befriended me the most asked me out of the blue one day, “Are you going to go on to get a job after school?” The question caught me a little off guard. Wasn’t the answer to that presumed? What else would someone do after having suffered through all of that schooling? But something inside myself nagged. I wondered, did it show?

I said I guessed I was going to try to get a job. I asked her why she asked. “I dunno,” she said. “I guess I sort of have a hard time seeing you getting a job. I don’t mean it like that,” she added, knowing how such a statement might be taken. “It’s just . . . you’re different.”

I wasn’t sure what to say to that, or what to make of it.

Later in the day she called me a rogue nurse. “What do you mean by that?” I asked, quite puzzled. If there was anything I was known for in school it was my excruciating tendency to try to follow the letter of the law. Being a rogue flippant rule breaker was the last thing I projected.

“You know,” she said. “You’re going to go off where there are no doctors or nurses. You’re going to go rogue.”

It shocked me how precisely she described my feelings. I had been very careful to not share those sort of feeling publicly and for her to off-hand (and somewhat flippantly) state that left me a bit non-plussed. What was showing that I didn’t know was showing?

But still, I was determined to be a good boy. I made up my resume like they said we should in class. I lined up my references and my recommendations. Oh, you’ll get a job easy, everyone said. We graduated, and I dutifully started looking for a job.


Because it is what you do when you go to school and graduate. What, you think you go to school just to throw it all away, dumb-ass? What idiot goes to school, graduates valedictorian, and then says he isn’t sure what he should do next, and so he will just wait? No one says that. You do that and you throw away everything. What kind of stupid person does that? That’s just wasting everything you’ve just tried so hard to accomplish.

All of those thoughts and more were there and they came with a heavy load of guilt and shame. I am not talking about the good guilt that comes from God to convict us of wrong, I am speaking of social guilt and shame when we feel acutely that we might not live up to the expectations of others. I felt very acutely the reality that I was the poster-boy for the school, their pride and joy. I was the epitome of hard work and success. So I was going to show everyone what hard work and success accomplishes–right?

Ostensibly, I held to my avowed convictions before the school year began. I told myself that if it didn’t work out I would walk away from nursing. When people asked me if I was going to go on to RN school like the rest of them and advance my career I said I would wait and see. I said I would wait and see if I could tolerate an LPN job before I went and spent more time and money on becoming an RN. I told myself I was holding fast to my convictions. But really, I moved the marker. I fudged it. Instead of completely waiting on God’s leading and His peace before doing anything–instead of being ready to walk away from it all at square one–it had become I would get a job and then see how it worked out. A little fudge. A little change. A little accommodation to the expectations of the world.

It is an all too typical temptation.

God came down and personally promised Abraham a child through his barren wife Sarah. It seemed impossible, but God promised. And Abraham believed. But then the years passed with all of the waiting and waiting. Then the thought came–maybe God needed a little help getting that promised son around and so the plan was hatched to fudge things and produce a son by proxy. Anyone who knows the story of Ishmael knows how that sad tale turned out.

It is one thing to believe God. It is another thing entirely to start fudging the details because simply trusting God is starting to get uncomfortable.

That is what I did. I started fudging the details and moving the lines just a little bit because keeping everything crystal clear was just too ridiculous and uncomfortable. Was I going to just say I didn’t feel comfortable about going forward? Well, come on, nobody said life was all about being comfortable. What about being mature? What about being intelligent? What about doing the smart thing? Suck it up, don’t be a baby. Life isn’t easy street.

If I was being honest with myself then I couldn’t have looked you in the eye and said I knew it was God’s will for me to get a job. I could have told you all about how I was supposed to get a job (because it is the smart thing to do and I shouldn’t waste my schooling) but that would have been a supposed for the world, not God. I probably would have told you how I should look for a job in faith and if a door opened then I would pray about it and see if I should take the job. That sounds more spiritual. But the plan fact was, really, deep down, I didn’t even have any peace about looking for a nursing job. Honestly, looking at the job listings was misery for me. I would look at the job listings and tell myself lies about how it wouldn’t be so bad and I could make it work. Of course I didn’t think about it like that. I told myself I was weighing the pros and cons and trying to make the best choices. But hindsight sometimes gives you clarity, and the truth is in telling myself I should apply for this or that job I really was blowing a load of smoke. I dreaded looking at the jobs, and I dreaded applying. It wasn’t the “I have peace about this but dread the pain” sensation. It was “I dread this right down in my gut, but it is what the world expects and it is smart and reasonable thing so we need to be tough and ignore that feeling.”

If I had stopped and taken stock of myself you would have thought I would have realized the plain reality. But that would have involved acting in an amazingly foolish way. That would have invovled making a decision to conciously do what would have appeared to be folly. Sadly, I didn’t want to be a fool in my own eyes, or the eyes of other people. So I kept trying to be wise, and in that I was the worst fool. Really, deep down I still didn’t have peace about going down this career path, and the truth was I was just trying to make things work, and telling myself things would work out because that was what was supposed to happen. God was supposed to give me an answer after I finished nursing school and so I was going to force His hand into giving me an answer!

And my boundary lines kept moving. It started out I would apply for this and that kind of nursing job, but never work at a nursing home. But the jobs I convinced myself I could tolerate didn’t want me and so–feeling the obligation to make things work and get my career and life on the road–my personal lines inched. Next thing I knew it was autumn and I was looking at working at a nursing home, trying to convince myself that it wouldn’t be so bad.

How the towers we build so quickly crumble and fall.

It is a wondrous thing that no matter how many times we wander away from what we have been taught that still God shows great kindness and mercy in dealing with us wayward fools. The path I was hurtling myself down was one certain to end in disaster. In spite of knowing better, I was trying to “make things work” by my own ability and reason. The tumult in my heart and my unsettled spirit when I searched for jobs should have been enough, but when I ignored that God sent more gentle tuggings. I had at least two siblings question my great rush into getting a job. That nudged my thoughts, but still not quite enough. Then I found myself looking for employment at a nursing home and the moment of realizing how my lines had moved shook me. Finally, after I had tortured myself through a summer and half the autumn with my misguided attempts to manufacture some direction to my own life God did me the great kindness of opening my eyes to see that where I needed to be right now was taking care of Grandma. I needed to stop trying to figure out my future and where I would go and what I would do in days to come and instead be where I was meant to be today, and do what I was meant to do today.

It was at that point I finally stopped looking for a job. When Grandma is gone you can revisit the issue, I told myself, and I shelved the matter. It was after my jets had cooled that I began to reflect on what I had done and tried to do. God gives us one step, and we so quickly presume on steps two, three, and four. Why? Because we don’t like it when the answer is out of our hands. And we don’t like waiting. We don’t like to acknowledge that it is utterly and totally outside our knowledge and control.

I still don’t like it. I don’t like it that the questions still hang over me, completely unresolved. I don’t like it, but I know I am supposed to wait. I know I need to learn something in the waiting, and first in that list is to learn peace in the face of my uncertainty and lack.

But it’s not just the waiting, it is the not knowing. It’s not just the not knowing, it is facing the reality of what seems to be impossibilities, and impossible contradictions. I have gone through nursing school, and I cannot look you in the eye and tell you that I know I should be a nurse. I cannot look you in the eye and say I know I should not be a nurse either. It is a question completely unanswered–for now. How can that be? Something rebels in me against that, still demanding an answer right now.

All I can say with confidence is that I do not function well within the institutional health-care setting. Perhaps that puts it too softly. Something deep in my gut tells me that such a work environment will break the person I am. The feeling, the reality, is as simple and complex as that. It seems, then, that there are three possible outcomes. (1) God may grant me special grace to work in such a situation. (2) God may open a door to allow me to work in some different environment with my gifting. (3) Or God may actually not have me work in any kind of nursing (or care giving) situation. There are more ways than in earning an income that such a gift can be used.

If all that were not enough, it is even more complicated. I am bifurcated between writer and care giver, and I cannot escape it. I had imagined that in going to nursing school I would resolve my dilemma. If the trumpet of heaven sounded for me to charge down the path of nursing then clearly the door of writing is shut. But no such trumpet sounded. Neither door has, of yet, been shut. And yet, so also of present neither door has been opened. I am caught, suspended between two possibilities, with no answer.

This feels like a horrible problem. Life moves on and we need to get our career on the road. Stop wasting your life and your talents. You could do wonderful things if only you would grow up. Yes, it feels like the worst sort of problem. But it isn’t. It isn’t a problem because God has a perfect plan, and right now I need to be right where I am. In due time doors will be opened and closed. For today I must wait and accept that my future is in the hands of a loving God who can bring jobs and editors to your doorstep at a moments notice.

The future is not to be my concern. My concern is to live today as it is given. Right now I can write and I do so gratefully. I do so and hope that it might yet be some measure of my future. Perhaps the time will come when in some manner that door will be opened as God has shown He can open that door. Or else the time will come when the other door will be opened. But it is not my place to know those things. It is my place to live today.

So I am utterly puzzled and confounded. My life doesn’t make any sense and I have no answers. I freely admit it. I try and I try and I can’t work it out. I find no logic, no reason, nothing in which I can boast to you of my plans or what great things I will accomplish. It all looks like failure and disaster to me. I stand with each of my feet on two entirely different life paths and I can’t reconcile them. It is madness and folly. And yet there is a God who can reconcile them, and all things. So I keep putting down the crumbs on the trail and take the next step forward. Those crumbs will be there in future days to remind me of faithfulness past, and faithfulness yet to come.

2 Responses to Crumbs on The Path

  1. No answers, no definite direction, no bows…sounds like my life.

    It struck me though, while I was reading this that a part of your conviction that the elderly should be cared for at home may be based on your gift. Just like I don’t understand people who hate reading because I have the ‘gift’ of reading. That may be a poor example, but hopefully you get my point. Not to say that you aren’t at least partially right. That’s just a thought. For me, being at home all the time would be the Hell that you talked about.

    It’s always interesting to hear how God is leading different people. People’s backstories are always interesting, and I’ve enjoyed reading yours.

  2. rundy says:

    I am certain my giftings and my flaws both influence my thinking and how I see the world–both for good and for ill, for truth and for error. So in measure you are certainly correct in your observation about me.

    But that leaves open the question of whether my convictions touch on a larger truth that is greater than I, or if I simply reflect my predilictions.

    Thanks for commenting. I’m glad you’ve enjoyed this “series.” Sometimes writing these sort of things feels a little too much like gazing too long at ones own navel.

Comments are closed.

A Subtle God

23rd April 2013

Note: This was originally written a few years ago as a private meditation. I decided to share.

The Beginning

“I am the most ignorant of men;
I do not have a man’s understanding.

I have not learned wisdom,
nor have I knowledge of the Holy One.

Who has gone up to heaven and come down?
Who has gathered up the wind in the hollow of his hands?
Who has wrapped up the waters in his cloak?
Who has established all the ends of the earth?
What is his name, and the name of his son?
Tell me if you know!

“Every word of God is flawless;
he is a shield to those who take refuge in him.

Do not add to his words,
or he will rebuke you and prove you a liar.

“Two things I ask of you, O Lord;
do not refuse me before I die:

Keep falsehood and lies far from me;
give me neither poverty nor riches,
but give me only my daily bread.

Otherwise, I may have too much and disown you
and say, ‘Who is the Lord ?’
Or I may become poor and steal,
and so dishonor the name of my God.

(Proverbs 30:2-9)


When I was young, I didn’t want to grow up. The real world was a scary place, full of uncertainty, and I wanted to hide in the simple comfort of youth, and those safer places of imaginary worlds and games of my own mind. I fled from growing up, I resisted it, but time and age have a way of winning that battle–if not all at once, then by months and years. Somehow, somewhere between thirteen and eighteen, I grew up. Oh, I didn’t reach my eighteenth year full of maturity and wisdom–far from it. But somewhere leading there my childhood was left behind.

I suppose I’m still not happy with the world my childhood left me to face.

At some point in our early life we all start thinking about what we will do when we grow up. Some people start very early, maybe deciding to be a fireman our ballerina at the age of four. Other people get a late start on such considerations, perhaps not turning a thought to the matter before the age of twenty-four.

I can’t remember if I ever thought to be a fireman. I do remember one day drawing a picture of a baseball player and announcing that I wanted to be a baseball player when I grew up–my mind filled with the glories of being out on the field with all those crowds watching, the very center of attention. I was older than four when that thought crossed my mind, but probably not many years older. It didn’t take too many years for me to discover that no part of that little fantasy truly matched my desires or personality, and such a career–if accomplished–would have been absolute misery for me.

I have thought stories, I have told stories, and I have lived my stories in imaginary games for as long as I can remember. Before I could write (truly write) I was dictating stories to Mom, and I could have my siblings spelled-bound by the stories I would tell them. So it is no surprise that my first real pursuit of any skills or interests were in the direction of creative endeavors. I had things inside my head, and whether by writing or drawing, I wanted to share.

Knowing what we like to do, and knowing what we will do to put food on the table are not the same thing. The transition, or distinction, between the two is usually not clear, especially in our earlier years. I don’t know how many different career ideas passed through my mind in various degrees of serious contemplation, but that dream of becoming a baseball player was quickly left behind and replaced by thoughts of becoming a cartoonist, artist, writer, or some such thing. If what I would be was not clear, the direction of my interests was rapidly becoming so.

I don’t remember how old I was when I saw the advertisement. I think I was around thirteen, perhaps fourteen. It was an advertisement for a computer game creation system. By that time there had been a computer in our house for a number of years, and computer games of some form for just as long. As I had grown older I had become increasingly enamored with computer games. Yes, they were fun to play, but the more I grew cognizant of computer games and the elements that went into making them the more I began thinking about how I would make them. Computer games became more than an object of fun–they were an opportunity for creativity.

When I saw the advertisement for the computer game creation system it was like a dream come true. My desire of becoming a game creator was suddenly and miraculously within my grasp. Except that, for a boy of very limited funds, the price of the software was exceedingly high. I longed for it, saved for it, could not afford it, until finally (with the help of another similarly infatuated sibling if I remember right) I had the money to purchase the long desired software.

So began my first concerted effort at doing something with real seriousness. I had sunk nearly all my money into this thing, and I threw myself into the work of game creating with zeal and determination–if not great wisdom, maturity, or understanding. What I didn’t have in understanding I tried to make up in effort. Oh, the hours I spent slaving in front of the computer, punching pixels to create the graphics for my imagined worlds. For that is what this really was. This was the imagined worlds, the stories of Rundy, come to the technological age where they would be brought to life for everyone to see. No longer was I limited to words that would evoke images in the minds of my listeners, no longer was I limited to static pictures drawn on a piece of paper. I could bring worlds to life with action and sound that would powerfully draw the audience in. They were heady dreams, those days.

And dreams they were, as it began to come clear. It also became clear that my real desire was not to create games as such, but to use them to create an interactive story. What I really wanted was to tell a story, my story and was trying to use the medium of a game to do that.

I started small with my game creation, first becoming accustomed to the software I had purchased and exploring its possibilities. My first games were very rudimentary–simple and short attempts. But as I became more confident my vision and desire expanded.

I began pushing myself and the software further. The length of time required to complete my games grew longer and longer, and as I reached ever higher into my dream of stories I began to reach beyond what one person could do, or what my software was meant to do. The truth finally came crashing down on me. What I really wanted to do in creating a game, I couldn’t do by myself. What I really wanted to do, my game creation software couldn’t do. And, even short of what I wanted to do, what I was straining myself to accomplish was such a great labor that it would take me months and months if not years to accomplish–and still be far short of what I was reaching for.

I don’t recall exactly when this realization began, and it took some time for the truth to become fully and finally fixed in my mind. To truly create games requires working with other people. Game creation, of the true sort, is done by teams and committees. How a game will develop is controlled by companies and . . . and the nature of a game isn’t the product of one person’s vision. The appeal for me in creating a game was found in the expression of my thoughts and my ideas. You don’t write a story by committee. You don’t create a painting by consensus. When I recognized what computer game creation really was–a team and company product in slavery to profit and public want–I realized I was not interested one little bit. What I wanted to accomplish couldn’t be found there. The truth of what was required to create games was as far from my desires and personality as that baseball player of many years ago. That way held only delusion and false dreams, just as surely as the vision of a baseball player.

It took me years, I think, to become completely reconciled to this truth. On rare occasions even now I have briefly dreamed about–if the world was different–what games I would create. The idea of conveying stories in games still intrigues me, and the theoretics and mechanics of creating games and computer simulated worlds as well. But now those are only the idle passing thoughts about a world that I know is not, and will never be.

Before I reached this firm conclusion, the summer of my fifteenth year was a time of great frustration. I was just beginning to wrestle with these realizations and I faced despair, disappointment and frustration. If I couldn’t make the story games that I wanted to make, what was I going to do? What should I do?

A Decade in The Middle

My soul finds rest in God alone;
my salvation comes from him.

He alone is my rock and my salvation;
he is my fortress, I will never be shaken.

How long will you assault a man?
Would all of you throw him down–
this leaning wall, this tottering fence?

They fully intend to topple him
from his lofty place;
they take delight in lies.
With their mouths they bless,
but in their hearts they curse.

Find rest, O my soul, in God alone;
my hope comes from him.

He alone is my rock and my salvation;
he is my fortress, I will not be shaken.

My salvation and my honor depend on God;
he is my mighty rock, my refuge.

Trust in him at all times, O people;
pour out your hearts to him,
for God is our refuge.

Lowborn men are but a breath,
the highborn are but a lie;
if weighed on a balance, they are nothing;
together they are only a breath.

Do not trust in extortion
or take pride in stolen goods;
though your riches increase,
do not set your heart on them.

One thing God has spoken,
two things have I heard:
that you, O God, are strong,
and that you, O Lord, are loving.
Surely you will reward each person
according to what he has done.

(Psalm 62)


One day I picked up a library book that was laying around in the living room. It was called, Is There A Book Inside You? Previous to this point I had taken various attempts at writing stories, and had in fact finished a few short stories and had at least two novels in the tentative stages of beginnings. But this book on writing appeared at the juncture where I was disillusioned with what I was doing, and looking for something else. Is There A Book Inside You? was an inspirational, you-can-do-it sort of book aimed to convince the reader that they too could write a book. I was struck with that inspiration. Why struggle to create game stories that required so much labor creating every one of the images, sounds, and actions, when I could simply write the stories out as stories?

That, I thought, was my true calling. I had been going about it all backward. Why hadn’t I seen it before? In writing stories I could be a one man team, an artist and storyteller saying what he wanted to say and doing what he wanted to do without answering to a company, corporation, or team.

Some years later I got Is There A Book Inside You? out of the library again, and was rather embarrassed to discover it exceedingly naive and childish. But on that summer of my fifteenth year, I was all fired up. The world was full of opportunities for my success. I immediately sat down and began typing what would become my first great epic. I can still remember the thrill and exhilaration of writing the prologue to that story on the first day. It was so real and vivid to me as I wrote about the wind whipping through the tricopter blades and the brave men rushing through the jungle of some distant planet.

That night in the sticky heat of August I came out of the den and informed Mom that I was writing a novel, and I thought it was turning out really good. Perhaps it was ten years ago that I had drawn that picture of the baseball player and informed Mom that I was going to be one.

In the days and weeks that followed I continued to work steadily at my new novel with the same zeal I had previously given to my computer game creation. I dreamed of myself as the next great novelist. Fame, glory, and riches, before the age of twenty! I would be a writing prodigy, the marvel of the literary world. Or something like that.

While I had written before then, I mark that August evening as a beginning in my writing career. It was the time when I turned my attention and effort toward writing and said “I will do this.”

A lot has happened since then, more than can be easily condensed into a few words, or pages. Ten years of life, with many struggles and hard lessons learned. Ten years, with much change. Somewhere along the line I realized I wasn’t going to be that published and famous author at sixteen. Or eighteen. Or twenty. There came the truth that my life wasn’t going to be an easy success for me. I wasn’t on some special path, so different from the rest of the poor saps who tried to write.

It has been ten years of hard lessons, ten years of broken dreams. Ten years of, well, growing up. But, for all of the failures, for all of the disappointment and lost dreams, still I wrote. Still I write. Which, to me, suggests that while I may have been misguided in my dreams of writing glory, I did touch, however blindly, on something that was true about me. For a day I wanted to be a baseball player. For a year I thought to be a maker of computer games. For ten years I have written, and the fire and trial of those years has shown me that I have the gift for writing–even if I do not yet see how it is to be used, even if I am never successful at writing as the world names it.

It has been ten years since I started down this path of writing, and I find myself now sober and reflective. I can remember where I was at in editing my first great epic when I gave “the good confession” and told my family of God’s recent work of salvation in my life. It is an event which has nothing, and everything, to do with my writing.

When God steps into your life in the visible and immediate presence of the revelation of His Son, your relation to your own life changes. It can be subtle, even imperceptible, at first, but how you look at things and pursue things, begins to change. Instead of just the question of, “What would I like to do?” or “What can make me happy [by making me successful, rich, or famous]?” There is the more pressing question of, “What does God want me to do?” and “Where does He want me to go?” and “Am I pleasing him?” which overshadows all else.

And so, we begin to approach what this pondering is all about. This isn’t really about the things I have done in my life. This is about looking behind and beyond those things to what God has said, has done, and is doing in my life. It is about how faith teaches us to see the world, and live it.

Sometimes, the lessons learned in coming to know, recognize, and obey the leading and teaching of God in our lives are very painful. The summer of my seventeenth year began one of those lessons.

It all began because I had become frustrated during the past school year. Now that I was serious about writing, and trying to devote as much time as possible to it, I found the general and unfocused nature of my home schooling unsatisfactory. I wanted to pursue writing, and when my home schooling failed to take that into account it began to feel like an impediment to the advancement of my life. I discussed the matter with Mom and she suggested I find some way to pursue my writing interest through my own path of education, perhaps by taking a college course. This appealed to me. I was beginning to grow sensitive to the imperfections in my writing, and stepping out in the world had the allure of broadening my horizons, giving me more experience, and perhaps (in some way undefinable,) start me on the path to success that I had so far not managed while writing away in my own little corner.

It seemed like the smart thing to do.

With what seemed the smart and logical progression for my life and chosen career fixed in my mind, I began down the path that led from one thing to another until its final end. First, I had to get accepted into the program where high-school students were admitted to take the college courses. Then I needed to figure out how I was going to pay for my course, how I was going to get to the campus, and what else I would do. I was young and inexperienced, and those days were full of uncertainty, fumbling attempts, mistakes, stress, and learning. But the biggest lesson was yet to come.

There were so many things that I had to plan, and that cried out for doing. It felt like I was growing up in the space of a few months, and had to figure my life out in the space of weeks. I needed to get my driver’s license, and I would need money, so I needed to get a job and . . . and so grew the entire edifice of things to do and accomplish in order to build the structure of success that rose in my mind.

In the end, it all came crashing down.

At first it appeared everything was going right. I was admitted to the college program. I got my job. But being admitted to the college program didn’t mean I had gained a spot in any particular course. Here the unraveling first became visible.

As a result of my ignorance and inexperience, I ended up without a class. I ended up in the absurd position of (figuratively) being inside the school but outside the classroom–a place that had required a lot of work to gain, but would do me no good. All was for naught. Worse, as part of my great plan that hinged around my foray into college writing, I had taken a job and now that I didn’t have the college course the job was entirely pointless. In seeking to further my writing ambitions I somehow had ended up walking in completely the opposite direction. I had never wanted a job (it made pursuing writing–which is what I wanted to do–difficult if not impossible), had taken the job only because it was part of the big plan for making money to further my writing advancement. Now I discovered that my writing advancement was but vapors and folly. Further, I absolutely hated the job I had taken and it kept me from writing.

How could things be any worse? All that I had attempted ended in total and complete failure. I had accomplished the opposite of my intentions. I have never (yet) been more miserable and humiliated, or felt more incompetent and stupid. My great dreams and plans had come to nothing, revealed for the folly they were. I had been wrong, and done wrong.

I quit the job and returned to square one.

The impact of this incident was formative in my thinking, and in ways not easily expressed. When viewed from the perspective of all the sorrows and trials of life, this disaster was very small indeed. But I find the size of it, or true severity of it, hardly the point. Standing in the rubble of my plans, I saw God teaching me a needed lesson, a foundational lesson. I found myself instructed on how I ought to live my life, a lesson I pray I don’t soon forget. I think what God revealed to me about myself and how I ought to live is key in understanding how my life has unfolded, and the choices I have made, since.

Compelling me forward, ever driving me through this disastrous event, had been a motivation to do what I ought to do, what I needed to do. It was the smart thing to do. It was the logical thing to do. It was what I was supposed to do. I deluded myself with all sorts of explanations and rationalizations. I convinced myself of the necessity by my reasoning and my assumptions of the future and the means to get there. I determined my goal, marked my path, and used my wisdom to accomplish the ends. And with all that wisdom of the world about what one ought to do, and how one ought to do it, I ended with complete failure and misery. I had tried to figure everything out, plan, and anticipate the future. It was what plenty of people will tell you is the smart thing to do. It is the path and method that the world commends.

It was at that point I realized I wouldn’t be living my life like the rest of the world. I had the dawning realization that wherever I went in life, I would be going by a different path and different reasoning than the rest of the world.

The lesson I learned was not that it was wrong to go to college, or wrong to take a job. The lesson I learned is that why we are doing something, and what is motivating us, matters. God judges the heart. I went forward in my own strength after my own plans and desires, not in faith and reliance upon God, walking in His will and His peace. I was uncertain, uneasy, and uncomfortable with many things, but I plowed on ahead, fixated upon what I had to do, convinced this was just the way life was, and I would have to get used to it and I would manage it. Instead of listening to the small voice inside of me, instead of saying, “Wait–I don’t feel comfortable. I’m not going forward in this until I have a peace that it is God’s will,” instead of saying, “I don’t care if it seems impossible to go a different way, I don’t feel right about this so I’m not going this way,” instead of trusting in the Lord, though I couldn’t see where it would lead, instead of simply waiting, instead of listening to and considering the prompting of God inside me–instead of all that I pushed on ahead with my preconceived goal and methods, drowning every hesitation in the dreams and delusions of success.

I reaped what I sowed.

When all the dust had settled I realized I needed to stop measuring myself, my method, or my goals by worldly standards. It didn’t matter how other people lived their lives, or how they went about things. It didn’t matter what was the smart way to do things or the successful way to do things. What mattered was that I recognize God had a plan for my life, He had a path for me to walk, and it was my place to shut up, be still, and seek His face and His will, and leave the matter of the wisdom and success of that way to His hands. Instead of going forward on my time table, instead of trying to measure what I was doing by the metrics of logic and success of the world, I was to seek to live in the peace found in obeying the leading of God, (however unfathomable,) and leave the rest up to Him. Instead of being caught up in grasping for the outward things of what I wanted, what I liked, what I thought was good, or what seemed necessary–instead of that I needed to look inward to the spiritual leading and teaching of God.

Either you have experienced and known this in your own life and can understand what is meant, or else it all sounds like mystical nonsense. There are plenty of people who scoff and say that God gave us reason and common sense so that we will figure out our ways for ourselves. But that is wrong. It is true that He has given us the ability of reason and common sense, but we are never to put our trust in those things. He has given us those things to use them in submission to His will. Sometimes that means laying down the very things He has given us, and going in a way that appears folly and madness because God has commanded us to go.

I have come to learn a great respect for the quiet working of God inside me. It is not something that can be analyzed, justified, or explained. How do we define conviction from God? How do we articulate the prompting of the Spirit? I think each of us recognizes the touch of God in our lives in ways unique to us, and only we know where that wind blows in us.

In my own life I consider it something like this: I think many things are wise and prudent, and many other things are unwise and foolish. But I have found the greatest of my wisdom lacking. I desire many things, and fear many more things, but I have found the emotions of my heart fickle and untrustworthy, my desires as fleeting as a passing mist. So I say that if I think with my head and feel with my heart, God speaks to me in my gut. At the end of the day it is not what I think is most wise, or feel is most desirable, but it is the sense deep inside me that comes after thought, prayer, and struggle–that is the conviction God has given. It may not seem wise by my reasoning today, it may not seem desirable by my wants today–but I have learned that following my wisdom and desire leads only to disaster. So by faith I follow wherever God’s Spirit leads.

The attempt at the fall semester ended in disaster. On the spring semester I tried again. I didn’t try as I had before, with grand schemes or big plans. If God wills it, I determined, He would provide the way–in the funds and anything else I would need.

And He did provide. He provided for me to successfully take and complete a spring course, and then He provided the funds and ability for another course the following autumn. My grand dreams and schemes for what would come of the college courses were gone. I took the courses not with any great plans as to what I would do or I would accomplish. I took them to see what would happen, and what God would show me, and where He would lead me in them.

I enjoyed the courses very much, I considered the possibility of taking more–and felt the answer was no, that was not the way for me to go anymore. So I went on with my life. College was left behind, sliding ever further into the past, remaining only as a monument to what I cannot do, and what God can do.

What Next, The End?

What came next?


I had determined to follow wherever God led, whatever apparent futility or madness it might involve. And that conviction was put to the test, and is still being put to the test this very day. For the next five years I wrote–and accomplished nothing. Nothing, that is, according to the standards of the wisdom, and the measure, of the world. I spent five years doing what appeared to be little things, meaningless things, and struggling with writing that seemed as if it would never bear fruit, and never, ever, bring about a successful career.

It was a struggle, and sometimes I searched myself hard, but all through that time I had greater peace, confidence, and happiness–through all those five years of nothing–than what misery I lived with in the few months I had thought to seize my future. I let go of my great plans, I let go of my impatient striving that said I would accomplish things in my timing. I labored, but I labored with an enduring waiting. Though all the wisdom of the world would rise up and condemn me for having wasted those five years accomplishing nothing, I have no regrets. The more I look back on those years, the more confident I am that in all the lack of money and accomplishment–that in all of the apparent futility I was doing the will of God and accomplishing what He willed, though even now I may not see it fully, or understand it fully.

That time in my life came to an end, quickly, suddenly, and through no planning or intention of mine. After five years of waiting, the human mind might think it was time I received what I had waited so long for. But God is not some puppet to our desires. He works out His secret will in our lives. I waited–waited and worked to see what God would accomplish. And when God acted, He acted quickly. In a day my life became entirely different. But rather than being catapulted into writing success, I was lead down a different path–one that appears even further from writing success than the one I walked before (and that path was already far enough from apparent writing success!) Now, ten years from the beginning of my writing career, my feet walk a different path than I expected, and I find myself pondering where I have been, and where I am going.

If you think I have written all of this to conclude how confident I am that God will make me a successful writer, you have missed the point. The point is that I am confident that God is working and leading, but in that I recognize how little I know, and how much God works in ways beyond our understanding. I thought to be a baseball writer once, I thought to be a computer game designer for a time, and I have thought to be a writer. But God’s ways are higher than my ways, and His thoughts higher than my thoughts. Just because He grants us gifts or desires does not mean He will grant success. Sometimes faith means walking in apparent futility. The lesson I see in pondering my life is that I must learn to submit myself to God’s will, and recognize and confess that His way is far greater than my mind can imagine, and to manifest that submission by joyfully and obediently following wherever God leads.

That is easily said, and not so easily done. I have wanted, and still intensely want, to be successful at writing. But I don’t serve two masters. I serve God, not my writing or the dreams wrapped up in it. If there was a lesson for me in my short lived dream to be a computer game creator, and if there was a lesson in my attempt to make a future for myself at college, I also sense a lesson in my present circumstance caring for Grandma and Grandpa. In that I see, or think I see, the sign of a departure looming. It seems to me that this time of caring for Grandma and Grandpa foreshadows what is to come, what my life will be. And leading to that, a time will come when I must die to what I want and go forward to do what God would have me do.

I think we often mistake a way for an end and I am beginning to suspect that is the case with my writing career. God was pleased to have me write for these ten years as the way to teach me and prepare me–but not for the life of a successful writer. It was to prepare me for the next thing He had in store for me. I liked the way He led me, but I must be careful to not worship that way instead of the one who is leading me in it.

I cannot see my life or future clearly, and we must be careful to not presume that we have figured God out, or His will for our lives. But I think He does reveal things in the shape and path of our lives–things the discerning can see, and understand in part. I do not think I know the future–I have imaginings and dreams which so often prove false. But what I think I am beginning to see is one thing that will not be. That thought is based on what I see of God’s work in my own life.

I now feel convinced that I will not become a successful writer.

One could express this in a number of ways. In one articulation, I want to be a writer. I want to have a nice, quiet, successful career. I don’t like the outside world with all of its depravity, wickedness and strife. I want to avoid all the trials and sorrows of the world, have that perfect quiet writing career that provides me with just the money I need, that quaint little house in the country far back in the woods, the lovely wife, and perfect family.

Somehow, this reminds me of the little boy who didn’t want to grow up. All of this sounds like what would please me and make me satisfied in this life. But God isn’t in the business of filling up our affections for worldly things and worldly comforts. He leads us in His ways, and teaches us to set our eyes on heavenly things. The very promise of God that we will see sufferings and trials in this life seems to exclude my idea of my successful writing career.

Of course, God could have me write for my bread–but do it in a very miserable or difficult fashion, or some other variation that is quite different from what I dream for and desire in my flesh, and which would teach me to set my eyes on Christ Jesus and not the things of this world. I have long observed that my particular dream of a successful writing career conflicts with what God has declared this life to hold for those who follow Him, and have known that whatever reality I was heading toward it certainly wasn’t going to perfectly match what I dreamed, and might be nothing even closely resembling. I could acknowledge that in the abstract, but still I always thought maybe there was some way I could get–if not my ultimate dream–a pretty decent and pleasant life–one much better than that of everyone around me, almost as if I would negotiate with God. In any case, I still clung to the thought that I would have a writing career of some sort.

My thoughts have moved a step further recently. I guess I have been feeling the inscrutable nature of God, and my own smallness. God is a subtle God, and the moment we think we have figured out our path and they way we will walk in our lives is the day God leads us in a different direction. In particular my recent turn from free aspiring writer to caregiver for the elderly has made me ponder how much I do not know, nor have considered, how radically different the path of my life may be from what I aspire or think. We become so sure our life is going one way, only to find it going another. This has caused me to look at my life and consider things a little differently, and ask, “Am I ready and willing to give up what I have spent ten years building? Am I ready to give up everything?”

Instead of my life being a lead-up to a career as a writer, perhaps it has all been a slower unfolding of that short lived career as a baseball player and game designer. Perhaps all this writing has been a lead-up to something different. Perhaps the seeds of my own “failure” were there at the very start, present in the person who I was (and am) and the convictions I have.

Nothing, absolutely nothing, I have done in my writing has been an act which worldly wisdom would say brought me closer to monetary success. The fiction I chose to write, and the way I chose to market it, have gone completely against reason. I have done so, feeling that I was led to do so, and knowing that God could make me successful if He so chose. But perhaps the entire point is that God did not so chose, and in doing what He had led me to do I would not be successful at writing, but rather led down a different path that God had set before me, but which I could not see. Walking by faith doesn’t mean we always end up where we expect.

Looking back, what strikes me as a definitive moment is the summer of 2006. Then I was at a point of decision. I had tried to submit both The Stuttering Bard of York and Narhom to publishers–with no success. At that point I was asking, “Where should I go next? Should I keep sending the manuscripts around to more publishers, should I try to get an agent, or should I try to publish myself?” Wisdom said one of the two former, and by far the wisest was to get an agent. But after prayer and wrestling in thought, I chose to publish myself. Not because I was convinced of the worldly wisdom and greater chance of success but because my gut leading said to go self-publish. Not because I felt I was given a guarantee of success. No, only because it felt right.

That fall I was called away to care for Grandma and Grandpa.

I am still convinced that my writing, and decision to self-publish, was what God desired me to do. I think that, in contrast to my misguided delusions for success at college, I choose rightly this time. But in doing so I think I also (as it were) spit in the face of my dreams. Rather than reaching out to grasp the success, fame, and logical way that the world holds out, I went the way that appears to have no chance of success.

Considered from another perspective, if we are going to talk about outward signs pointing toward a future without success (as the world defines it) I need only look at the example of my own father. It is folly to use the life of another as the measure for your own, but I do think we can find warnings, signs, and examples (good or bad) in the lives of others. As the apple does not fall too far from the tree, my father is the natural place to look when reflecting on myself.

One of the things that I notice when I consider my father’s life is how he went from one “failure” to another, and one dead dream to another. He bounced from one thing to another until he was past thirty years old! Only at the age of about thirty-two did he begin working at the place of employment that he has continued since. Seeing his life, I realize I should not assume that at my young age I am done wandering around in my life. In fact it can be asked if we are ever done wandering around this life, going from one failure to another. I can see the hand of God at work in all the events of my father’s life, leading him onward in God’s perfect will–and God does use our personality, personal convictions, and weaknesses to direct us in the path He has set for us. When I look at my father and then myself, I see similar idealists. The idealist in Dad thwarted every possible success, driving him ever onward, and I see the same idealist thwarting my every possible writing success. The idealist, and the man of stubborn convictions, and the weak man who can’t sell himself like he must to become successful with the work of his hands.

When judged soberly, my personality is much like my fathers. Do I think my path will turn out so much different? In worldly things my father was a failure, and I think I will be a success?

But there is another side to that matter, and perhaps this gets to the heart of my contemplation. If I see my life (in a general sense) following the same arch as my father, this then leads me to consider the outcome. While the fruit of my father’s life I find commendable–and I attribute it to obediently following the path of failure that God had called him too–I find some attitudes not commendable. Throughout Dad’s life his dreams have died time and again, his hopes and ambitions forced into the distant future of maybe-never. And the trials, disappointments, and troubles of life have made him at times angry, bitter, and with perhaps the strongest feeling being a sense of disillusionment.

If I don’t get to be a writer, will I be bitter? Will I come home every day and stew about how my life is frittering away? Will I spend my time thinking about how my job is only keeping me from doing the things I really want to do? I cannot look at my own life and say I see a better man in me than my father. How easily it is to grasp angrily at the dreams God has moved out of our reach. So, seeing the vision of a life of futility ahead of me, I pray for the grace to accept it with peace, thanksgiving, and joy in Christ. I pray for the faith and the strength to walk that difficult road rightly, because I cannot walk it alone.

I have the feeling that my present troubles and labors are only the warm up for what is too come. The observation is perhaps too obvious. Does not what comes before lead to what follows? But my thought centers on how my present circumstance embodies life, and, I feel, in some way foreshadows (though I know not how or what) my future. In embodying life, it is the tension between what we want to do, and what we must do: I would want to spend my life writing, but what I do spend my life on is caring for Grandma and Grandpa. The names and places change, but that is the story of all our lives. If left to our own devices, we would all be self-centered. But in obedience to God we must daily give that up to do what He has called us too. Will we do it with a right heart, recognizing that we are serving God as He wills, or will we do it with a bitter heart?

People say I am good at writing, and I will say it is true. Not the best, but good. Good enough. But so? My father was skilled at carpentry–not the best, but good enough–but because of his personality and his choices, and what happened in his life, that became nothing. My father was highly skilled in analyzing writing, but because of his personality and choices, and the events in his life, the career of teacher or college professor became nothing. I am beginning to see the same trajectory in my life. In my personality and choices it is beginning to look as if I have killed the very career I am chasing, and that realization makes me very sober and reflective.

The end has not become clear, yet. God is a subtle God, His ways beyond searching out. Until God calls me to a different path, still I write. To me, now, it appears certain to not succeed, but who knows–it may be God’s will to show me how impossible it is for this to succeed, only to give me the success He wills, and lead me in a different path than my father. But even now as I look over my folders of story ideas, my scribbled notes and great plans, it is as if I see them through the veil of many years. Looking back I see them as the careful notes of a would-be carpenter, or the notes of a slightly older would-be professor, and I see that which was never meant to be. In the end all that we do is dust and ashes, and all that remains is what God was doing in us. What seems so important now fades so quickly with the passing of years, and is revealed for the passing things of no worth that they truly were. I observe, and consider how I ought to hold my dreams and ambitions lightly, ready for the call of God to wherever He is leading.

We must not presume on the will or plans of God. I may write for a few more years, and then be called away from the dreams of over a decade. May I go, if I am called–readily, and willingly.

I do not know the future. But I must ask, what is God showing me, and how should I react? Oh, that I might accept the future God gives in faith, rejoicing in Him who is truly faithful.

One thing is sure: I do not know my future. Two things are certain: God is good, and He is in control.

And so one thing I ask, two things I request: That I may dwell in the presence of the Lord all the days of my life, and serve Him always. Only that way brings true peace that leaves no regrets.


The LORD is my light and my salvation–
whom shall I fear?
The LORD is the stronghold of my life–
of whom shall I be afraid?

When evil men advance against me
to devour my flesh,
when my enemies and my foes attack me,
they will stumble and fall.

Though an army besiege me,
my heart will not fear;
though war break out against me,
even then will I be confident.

One thing I ask of the Lord,
this is what I seek:
that I may dwell in the house of the Lord
all the days of my life,
to gaze upon the beauty of the Lord
and to seek him in his temple.

For in the day of trouble
he will keep me safe in his dwelling;
he will hide me in the shelter of his tabernacle
and set me high upon a rock.

Then my head will be exalted
above the enemies who surround me;
at his tabernacle will I sacrifice with shouts of joy;
I will sing and make music to the Lord.

Hear my voice when I call, O Lord;
be merciful to me and answer me.

My heart says of you, “Seek his face!”
Your face, Lord, I will seek.

Do not hide your face from me,
do not turn your servant away in anger;
you have been my helper.
Do not reject me or forsake me,
O God my Savior.

Though my father and mother forsake me,
the LORD will receive me.

Teach me your way, O Lord;
lead me in a straight path
because of my oppressors.

Do not turn me over to the desire of my foes,
for false witnesses rise up against me,
breathing out violence.

I am still confident of this:
I will see the goodness of the Lord
in the land of the living.

Wait for the Lord;
be strong and take heart
and wait for the Lord.

(Psalm 27)

4 Responses to A Subtle God

  1. This is a wonderful blending of trust, life, and reality. Yes, a bit long ;), but I am glad that you shared. As I ponder my dreams and my future this a wonderful lens cleaner to aid my perspective.

  2. rundy says:

    Thank you! Yeah, it was long reading for a blog post (or is this where I protest that it actually wasn’t very long because it wasn’t book length ;-) ) and I thought originally to post a link to a pdf file for those who would perfer it. But then I got too lazy.

    In the near future I intend to post some follow-up thoughts to reflect the present day. Probably not quite as long :-D

    By the way, I managed to get down to the library on Wednesday and pick up some of the books. (The Ordinary Boy title was supposed to be on the shelf but could not be found so I’ll have to inter-library loan.) I picked up both Savvy and the sequel Scrumble, and a bunch of the Squire’s Tale novels. You should feel terribly guilty because I then wasted all of my productive time yesterday reading Savvy and the first Squire’s Tale book–and it is all your fault, you inciter to book reading laziness. It is all your fault! (Are you feeling guilty yet?)

    I am being a better boy today . . . for now. Maybe this evening I will indulge in finishing of Scrumble or another Squire’s Tale book.

  3. It did seem a bit incomplete. I’ll be looking forward to that next blog post.

    I don’t feel guilty in the least. After that little trick with your despicable touch the book and be held to the agreement thing? Apparently you don’t care about wasting my time. ;) lol

    But Savvy and the first Squire’s Tale book in a day? That is quite a bit. Oh, and when you review them you should let me know what you think of about Scumbled vs. Savvy. I like both, but they both have different feels. It is an interesting sequal.

  4. rundy says:

    I guess if I worried about wasting your time I’d write shorter things, right? :-D

Comments are closed.

Spring Is

17th April 2013

Spring is many things. It is wringing your socks out in the tub because you were utterly soaked on the bike ride. And it is also the flowers growing from that rain, the brown grass turning verdant in a splendor as if touched by magic. Spring comes with gray clouds and pouring rain, but it is also the azure sky that follows, clearer and brighter than crystal. The sun sweeps that expanse sure and high once more.

The greeting of spring is early dawn, an eager sun peaking through the trees of the horizon with cheery glee, and birds still more eager and cheery in their calls. Spring is an afternoon that feels fresh and young in its coolness. It, too, is evening in the blue-gray of twilight with the peepers coming on in their chorus. They sing from the wet watery places, and when night pulls its veil still the peepers continue their symphony of delight. So spring is sitting in bed looking out the window when you’re supposed to be going to sleep, listening to the peepers, thinking about life, everything, and sometimes nothing, because the peepers let you do all of that.

The duty of spring brings a saleswoman to the front door trying to sell lawn spraying services to rid your life of pests. She was nice, which meant that she smiled and said, “Well, if something changes give me a call,” when I told her we were low maintenance with our lawn and only mowed. She took no more than thirty seconds of my time, but perhaps it helped I answered the door in ratty clothes. I amused myself by thinking it ought to be clear that anyone with a gravel driveway is not concerned about spraying for pests in the lawn.

Gravel driveways bring their own spring duty. A winter’s worth of gravel must be picked from the lawn where it was shoveled with the snow. This starts as a pleasant task under a pleasant sun but begins to annoy when it seems there is no end to the gravel.

Sometimes spring becomes heading out to pick up a prescription for Grandma at the pharmacy and realizing at the door that you are still wearing you stained and fraying jeans which sort-of have a hole in one knee and both knees are definitely muddy from picking gravel out of the lawn. Then you decide that for five minutes in the store it isn’t worth changing and at the store you see a young woman wearing stylish ratty jeans and you think that perhaps you might cleverly pass for stylish until you realize that stylish doesn’t include mud stained knees. Then you realize you are just you, or at least I am me and that means not being stylish, not caring, and perhaps not caring quite enough about looking respectable in public. I did quickly feel over my butt to see if my back pockets were starting to tear away to leave indecent holes. I was good–just so you know I do have some standards.

Spring is nearly getting sun burned from working a short time out in the sun because you are so white from spending winter inside. It is also the peculiar itchy feeling your arms get that first day under the new sun of spring. And so too spring is bare feet and dozing on the front steps because the sun feels so nice, and day dreaming about the things you might do, and the things that might happen.

Yes, spring is here and I am glad for it.

2 Responses to Spring Is

  1. Yes, spring is finally here, despite the fact that the nasty weather last week had me tricked for a bit. Last night was the first time I got to hear peepers here at home. Very exciting. And bare feet have been the going thing on and off for a month here at our house. It’s still a bit on the muddy side for them though.

    By the way I hope to respond to your reviews sometime this week. Life has been a bit hectic lately though, so it may be later rather than sooner.

  2. rundy says:

    Take whatever time you need for that response. I can wait. Also whenever you get the time you can send those three book recommendations my way. No rush, just whenver you have some spare moments.

    The post office said the consignment form should arrive on Wednesday. If they’re late at least it should get there by Thursday.

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Pliny the Younger and Trajan discuss killing Christians

15th April 2013

I stole this from Letters of Note, whom I presume correctly copied it from their source, who correctly translated the material from the original source: (

To the Emperor Trajan

It is my custom to refer all my difficulties to you, sir, for no one is better able to resolve my doubts and inform my ignorance.

I have never been present at an examination of Christians. Consequently, I do not know the nature or the extent of the punishments usually meted out to them, nor the grounds for starting an investigation and how far it should be pressed. Nor am I at all sure whether any distinction should be made between them on the grounds of age, or if young people and adults should be treated alike; whether a pardon ought to be granted to anyone retracting his beliefs, or if he has once professed Christianity, he shall gain nothing by renouncing it; and whether it is the mere name of Christian which is punishable, even if innocent of crime, or rather the crimes associated with the name.

For the moment this is the line I have taken with all persons brought before me on the charge of being Christians. I have asked them in person if they are Christians, and if they admit it, I repeat the question a second and a third time, with a warning of the punishment awaiting them. If they persist, I order them to be led away for execution; for whatever the nature of their admission, I am convinced that their stubbornness and unshakable obstinacy ought not to go unpunished.

Now that I have begun to deal with this problem, as so often happens, the charges are becoming more widespread and increasing in variety. An anonymous pamphlet has been circulated which contains the names of a number of accused persons. Among these I felt that I should dismiss any who denied that they were or ever had been Christians when they had repeated after me a formula of invocation to the gods and had made offerings of wine and incense to your statue (which I had ordered to be brought into court for this purpose along with the images of the gods), and furthermore had reviled the name of Christ—none of which things, I understand, any genuine Christian can be induced to do.

Others, whose names were given to me by an informer, first admitted the charge and then denied it; they said that they had ceased to be Christians two or more years previously, and some of them even twenty years ago. They all did reverence to your statue and the images of the gods in the same way as the others, and reviled the name of Christ. They also declared that the sum total of their guilt or error amounted to no more than this: they had met regularly before dawn on a fixed day to chant verses alternately among themselves in honor of Christ as if to a god, and also to bind themselves by oath, not for any criminal purpose, but to abstain from theft, robbery and adultery, to commit no breach of trust and not to deny a deposit when called on to restore it. After this ceremony it had been their custom to disperse and reassemble later to take food of an ordinary, harmless kind; but they had in fact given up this practice since my edict, issued on your instructions, which banned all political societies. This made me decide that it was all the more necessary to extract the truth by torture from two slave-women, whom they call deaconesses. I found nothing but a degenerate sort of cult carried to extravagant lengths.

I have therefore postponed any further examination and hastened to consult you. The question seems to me worthy of your consideration, especially in view of the number of persons endangered; for a great many individuals of every age and class, both men and women, are being brought to trial, and this is likely to continue. It is not only the towns, but villages and rural districts too which are infected through contact with this wretched cult. I think though that it is still possible for it to be checked and directed to better ends, for there is no doubt that people have begun to throng the temples which had been almost entirely deserted for a long time; the sacred rites which had been allowed to lapse are being performed again, and flesh of sacrificial victims is on sale everywhere, though up till recently scarcely anyone could be found to buy it. It is easy to infer from this that a great many people could be reformed if they were given an opportunity to repent.


Trajan’s response:

You have followed the right course of procedure, my dear Pliny, for it is impossible to lay down a general rule to a fixed formula. These people must not be hunted out; if they are brought before you and the charge against them is proved, they must be punished, but in the case of anyone who denies that he is a Christian, and makes it clear that he is not by offering prayers to our gods, he is to be pardoned as a result of his repentance however suspect his past conduct may be. But pamphlets circulated anonymously must play no part in any accusation. They create the worst sort of precedent and are quite out of keeping with the spirit of our age.

The year was AD 112.

I pray that when the day comes I will answers, “Yes, yes, and yes,” and go to my execution for the stubborn and unshakable obstinacy of not denying my Lord. Certainly such will not be based upon any bravery on my part.

Very sobering letter.

4 Responses to Pliny the Younger and Trajan discuss killing Christians

  1. I am familiar with these letters. I read them as a part of one rather intense Bible class that I chose to do this year. (Usually I don’t do them because I disagree with the teacher, and everything is ridiculously un-deep. They are sobering. And I ask myself: “Would I go to the grave for my faith.” And I would like to say yes, but I do not know.

    Another piece that has struck me this way in the recent past is the Jesus Freaks book by DC Talk. It is composed entirely of martyr’s stories. Have you perchance read that as well?

  2. rundy says:

    I threw the full book of Pliny’s letters on my “I want to read it someday” list. I suspect my Dad has a copy somewhere on a bookshelf but if so I don’t know where.

    I’m not familiar with the book Jesus Freaks, much less having read it. I just looked it up online. I admit I am leery of books on martyrs written for a popular audience. My (limited) exposure to them has made me feel that they tend to sensationalize. If I am reading on this topic I prefer to read the original historical accounts or at least a compliation of a time period or conflict with a more scholarly point of view. It is not fair for me to comment on Jesus Freaks since I have not read it, but I suspect I would get more value and thought out of reading the sourcematerial DC Talk used to write the book rather than reading the book they wrote. That’s just my hunch.

    But I am willing to take a look at the book if someone recommends it. I could be surprised. Are you recommending, or were you just curious?

  3. Personally, I didn’t think they sensitized things much which, I will admit, surprised me a bit. I suppose it could be a reccomendation, but feel free to take it any way you want. I do have a list of three new books more along the lines of your Stuttering Bard of York line to reccomend whenever you would like. Oh, and off of that I’ve been meaning to ask you if you’ve read The Princess and the Goblin by George MacDonald?

    Also, something else that came up at writer’s meeting last night which I wanted to ask you about before I e-mail you next week… We have a writer’s conference coming up, and if you would like to mail some of your books to me before it happens the lady in charge (a friend of mine) said she could put them out on the for sale table. It’s your call, of course

  4. rundy says:

    Ok, I’ll put Jesus Freaks on the “half-recommended” list :-P

    Recommend away! I am interested in hearing your picks and I should be able to find some spare minutes to fit in some reading.

    I have seen The Princess and The Goblin by George MacDonald. I say “seen” because I can’t recall that I read it straight through. I remember portions from it, and I remember the copy I saw had illustrations. I think I read the majority of the text at least, but I was young at the time so my memory of it is a bit fuzzy. I’d have to read it again to give you an opinion. Guess I’ll get it out along with your three other recommendations.

    I have a book that I think you might find worth reading that incidentally covers suffering for one’s faith…it isn’t the point of the book per se, but the issue is heavily intertwined with the central topic of the book. Not going to throw it out there until you let me know you’ve caught up on what other reading you want to do and are looking for fresh material. (It is non-fiction, just to be clear.)

    Thank you so much for thinking of me for the writer’s conference! I appreciate it very much. I would be glad to send some books. I will send you a quick email for details.

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A Taste of Haldol

8th April 2013

Last autumn I determined Grandma was too ill to be left alone in the house. When I came to that conclusion, I stopped looking for a job. This time in my life will pass, but for now here is where I am needed. Sometimes I get anxious about the future, but I remind myself I am not uncertain about where I should be today.

Before I came to this conclusion, I was looking at various job opportunities for a LPN nurse. To anyone who asked, I declared that the last place I wanted to work was at a nursing home. There are a number of reasons, which I tried to keep simple for those who asked.

It’s amazing how conviction can waver in the face of drought. Times get hard and the situation looks uncertain and you begin to question your decisions. You look for another way, an alternative that won’t seem so difficult, so unreasonable, so impossible. How quickly you forget.

Shortly before I stopped looking at jobs, I was considering working at a nursing home.

The months of summer had passed without even a hint of a job offer in the places I had applied. In that lack of employment, the nursing homes beckoned. I knew I could get a job at a nursing home in a heart beat. Nursing homes are always desperate for nurses. Everyone says that is the place you have to start as an LPN nurse. And so I started to waver.

I told myself I wouldn’t work at just any nursing home, but perhaps I would find the very best nursing home a tolerable place to start my career. I reasoned to myself that I could find a place that wasn’t that bad. Having thus fudged my previous hard line position I began entertaining a possibility or two, and ended up reading the latest state safety survey of one of the highest rated nursing homes in my area in preparation for putting in an application.

It was a depressing read. The tenor of the entire report was the dry legalism, finger pointing, and blame shifting of an institutional organization. First it was this problem, then that problem with the patient with burns, and on it went. There was the urge to roll my eyes over the residents not being informed about available snacks or the poor hygiene practices with the glucometer. It was more teeth gritting to read about the blame shifting over the stage 4 pressure ulcer and the finger pointing over exactly who was at fault for the failures with the wander guards. By this point I was feeling pretty down about this best of the best nursing home.

Then I came to the section on, “Each resident’s drug regimen must be free from unnecessary drugs.” Only six patients were checked in the whole facility (rather small sampling) and one was marked as being administered Haldol without sufficient documentation. For those of you not familiar with the medicine, Haldol is a common trade name for the drug haloperidol. This drug is an older antipsychotic used in the treatment of schizophrenia and acute psychotic states and delirium. Haloperidol is noted for its strong early and late extrapyramidal side effects. Let me parse that for you. Extrapyramidal side effects (EPS) are various physical impairments, foremost being akinesia (inability to initiate movement) and akathisia (inability to remain motionless). In common parlance, this medicine often makes you uncontrollably spastic, or alternately a person of vacant-faced immobility. In either case, at least you won’t have any intelligible thinking behind your movement. It is a powerful drug, and that is why it is often used on difficult patients–it is an easy way to drug them into compliance.

The resident was diagnosed with Alzhiemer’s, dementia, and delirium. Oh, by the way, my own little addition here: A multiple-year UK study by the Alzheimer’s Research Trust suggested this drug and other neuroleptic antipsychotic drugs commonly given to Alzheimer’s patients with mild behavioral problems often make their condition worse. But never mind that. Haldol was ordered for this resident as needed for “severe agitation.”

The resident in question was described by staff as refusing medications, resisting showering, and repetitive with speech. It was said that the patients behavior was a “catalyst” for other residents’ behaviors because they responded to the resident. Thus Haldol was given when the resident was agitated. When the resident stayed awake all night Haldol was given “to take the edge off.” Staff described the resident’s behavior as yelling/singing out, being physical with staff when they bathed the resident. Calling staff derogatory names and such behaviors were worst on shower days as the resident strongly disliked being wet. It was stated that the Haldol was needed for “screaming out” and being “anxious.”

All of the report prior to this made me wearied and slightly disgusted by the entire environment portrayed. This section with the Haldol brought me up short. To say it distressed me feels like an understatement. To say it made me sick seems more appropriate, though not literally true. It struck so close to home because in all the behaviors described I could see my own grandpa with Alzheimer’s so clearly. Those are not strange or unusual behaviors or problems for someone with Alzheimer’s. And so are we to conclude that the standard treatment for Alzheimer’s patients is a strong antipsychotic drug? The mental image of dosing my grandpa with Haldol made me recoil.

It’s not that I don’t understand the reasons why these things are done. I understand. I really do. I understand that the resident was being difficult. I understand that having one resident shouting can upset the other residents. I understand that there is not enough staff to go around so the quick solution is the solution you use. I understand all the steps that lead up to using powerful mind and body altering drugs to dope the elderly into a state of complacent oblivion.

I understand why, but that doesn’t make it right.

Every fiber of my being rebels against drugging our elders into complacency. When you have made that course of action the required course of action by the nature of a situation, shouldn’t that be a sign that something is wrong with the situation you have created? Yes, it should. Something is deeply wrong.

I fully understand that the staff probably felt they had no other choice. The pressures of a nursing home environment force you to follow certain paths. When you shove a bunch of old sick people together in tight quarters you need a medicated equanimity. Nobody gets to rock the boat. You do, and you will get this little pill, comprehend?

Haldol dosing is extremely common in nursing homes for troublesome patients. It was even more common in the past but it was so exceptionally prevalent that it became something of a scandal. Now it is not supposed to be done except under extreme necessity. This means is that staff are supposed to document more justification so that all usages fall within the metric of extreme necessity. I knew the worse nursing homes prescribed Haldol freely, but I thought this better nursing home wouldn’t. I imagined it would be different.

I tried to pretend.

Then it all came crashing down again as I read this report. The Haldol incident showed what a farce a “good” nursing home still is. You can’t escape the wrongness of shipping off the elderly to live like sardines in a can. It wasn’t how they were designed to live. It wasn’t how any of us were designed to live. To manage an unnatural situation, you must use unnatural means. It is the law of the jungle.

You might try to say this Haldol incident was a strange and isolated incident which does not accurately reflect the larger principles of the organization. Nice line, but it doesn’t work. If you have a doctor who is willing to write a PRN (as needed) script for Haldol, then they are rolling off his pen at a drop of the hat. PRN means don’t bother me, it’s not important enough. PRN the resident with Haldol, don’t bother me. PRN the resident with Haldol, don’t let the resident bother anyone else.

Haldol gives me the power to shut you up.

Have a taste of Haldol, it makes society work so much more smoothly. It dulls the fears, it dulls the pain, and it dulls the longing. It dulls the living and reduces you to a shadow and shell. But then, it doesn’t matter–you’re only an old annoying person anyhow. You don’t count.

How do I forget so quickly and easily? How could I imagine that it would ever be different? I know the rules by which those places function. I know how the cogs in the wheel grind, and I know just as surely I cannot grind the grist of the elderly that way.

Dosing a difficult resident with Haldol would be an act of unlearning everything I learned about care giving from my time caring for Grandpa. People would say that what I did for Grandpa was exceptional. It’s too idealistic. It doesn’t work like that in the real world. “You have to make compromises,” they say. “You have to make sure everything runs smoothly, and nobody rocks the boat.” And so, inch by inch, day by day, you come to rely upon the almighty pill. Make a deal with the devil–it’s how things work, don’t you know.

But no, I don’t accept that. I don’t accept that we must compromise the principles that make us who we are. If I am going to go into a nursing home and start treating patients by those rules then I might as well flush all my past years of experience down the drain. I might as well destroy all the good I learned in those years. If I go work at a nursing home and subject myself to their rules and their vision of life and care then I will become the antithesis of what I want to be.

Haldol upsets me so much because it is a form of chemical restraint. That is such a technical name for such an ugly thing. If you see a person with extrapyramidal side effects you will know how ugly a thing. It physically twists them, damages them in ways you can see with your naked eyes. This is not a drug to ease your high blood pressure or tend your ailing body. No, this is a drug to control your mind and body. There is a reason Soviet Russia used Haldol on dissidents. There is a reason that up until recently Haldol was used on deported immigrants in the USA. During 2002-2008, federal immigration personnel used haloperidol to sedate 356 deportees. If accurate–and not under-reported–this is only a small fraction of the thousands upon hundreds of thousands deported without Haldol. Even so, it is like saying the government only made 356 people deliberately drunk. It might not be a lot, but even one is not right.

The reason for Haldol’s prevalent usage is because it is a very effective tool for control. How nice. I suppose you can do it if you tell yourself this is the way it has to be. Or if you just don’t think about it. I certainly tried to avoid thinking too much about the drugs I gave people on clinical.

I didn’t sign up to be a nurse so I could control people.

Chemical control via Haldol and similiar drugs is not my only problem with nursing homes, but this exercise of control over others stands as a potent symbol for all that is wrong with nursing homes. When you become a patient in a nursing home, you lose your autonomy and your rights. When you work at a nursing home, you take a role of control over the residents.

On paper, that statement is not true. On paper, it is all about the rights of residents. I can show you reams of paper loudly declaring patient rights. People talk a great talk about resident rights. Oh, they’ll carry on about all the rights that residents have. It all sounds positively utopian. But you should always wonder about the existence of something when it is so loudly and insistently declared. Methinks thou doth protest too much.

The lie of it all becomes clear pretty quick. On my LPN clinical I had a person in my care who was not supposed to be allowed to drink water. The person was elderly, and somewhat disabled (requiring a wheelchair to get around) but was in their right mind. It was determined that this person had a swallowing difficulty and so it was decreed by those in authority that this person was not allowed to drink water, or similar thin liquid, because it would be a danger to their health. This decree is fairly common in nursing homes.

I understood the theory. We don’t want anyone with aspiration pneumonia. We don’t want liability.

I also understand someone in my care looking at me with clear eyes and saying, “I’m thirsty, I would like a drink of water.” What you are supposed to say is, “Drinking water isn’t safe for you. I can get you a thickened drink if you would like.” To which the resident replies, “I hate that stuff. It doesn’t do anything to satisfy my thirst. I want to drink water.”

That person is not out of their mind. That person isn’t unaware of the risks. But that person has made a choice contrary to the rules. And it is then you find out you have no rights, or choices, if you don’t choose rightly.

I felt an awful sense of shame over how I was mandated to treat this person. They wanted a glass of water, and I was supposed to refuse them for their better good. Technically, I was supposed to do everything in my power to keep them from getting their wheelchair in the bathroom because the resident would try to sneak in there and get a drink for themselves–either with a cup or by whatever other means possible. Such were the rules, but I mostly tried to look the other way, and worried about getting in trouble for not keeping the resident from drinking in the bathroom.

Is it only me, or does this seem terribly distorted to you too?

It was grudgingly allowed that the resident could have just a little water to moisten their mouth. So I was allowed to put a bit of water in the cup. The resident said, “More, more! Fill it all the way up! Do you realize how dry my mouth feels? It’s horrible.” and I would feel like some vile person when I had to say, “I am only allowed to give you this much,” and I would slip in a little more.

How strange things are when “giving a cup of water” in care (Matthew 10:42) has become withholding water from the thirsty. It’s for their better good, don’t you know. We know what is better for other people.

How this physical inversion speaks for such larger truths!

Let me tell you something. If you can’t get a cup of water to drink when you are thirsty, then you have no rights. All you have are privileges that can be revoked on the will and whim of those in authority. And don’t think people don’t realize the truth in spite of all of your fancy talk about their rights.

The resident had problems with depression they said. I wonder why.

It made me feel filthy to treat the resident like I was supposed to act. Respect–in this world–was supposed to be given to the laws of the facility, not the living breathing person before me, or the reality of what I had been taught all my life. In this strange twisted world respect for a person meant being nice while you disregarded their wishes and obeyed a dead set or rules handed down by men on high.

Incidents such as these made it quite clear to me that if you are working in a nursing home you are not the servant of the people in your care. No, you are the servant of those in authority–the doctors and administrators who run the facility. These people in authority expect you to effect their rule of law, not the wishes or desires of the residents. Never forget this reality.

Therein lies a problem. I don’t want to be the lackey who enforces the reign of drugs, manipulation, and thirst. I don’t want to be the one dishing out that taste of Haldol. I hope I remember that when the time comes to look for employment again. I hope I remember what I so easily forget when the future seems uncertain.

2 Responses to A Taste of Haldol

  1. This is quite poignant and helpful. I am still (perhaps vainly) holding out hope that there is some middle ground between these horrors and the exhausting twenty-four hour care that you graciously gave to your Grandfather, but this is quite clarifying. I will see the issue of elder care in a different light now.

  2. rundy says:

    I’m glad you found it helpful.

    It needs to be stressed that my particular situation should not be held up as the situation to which everyone should aspire. My situation was far from ideal, and I can envision better situations than mine (and worse). So, yes, since some people will have a real option of a better situation one could call that a middle ground. But not everyone has better options. What needs to carry us is that no matter what options we have in our life and particular circumstance we should be guided in our choices by love and faith. The circumstances of each of our lives is different, but love and faith are held out to all in Christ Jesus.

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Chicken Mounted Camera

5th April 2013

I want to be this kind of inventor. I really do:

It is so awesome, not the least because I like chickens.

Linking this one just cause chickens are funny things:

One Response to Chicken Mounted Camera

  1. That’s just neat! His videos are fascinating. They make me think.

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Sharing the Past

1st April 2013

Back at the old farm house there was treasure in the dirt. If you dug, you found things. True, most of it was broken class or bits of rusted metal. But there were whole bottles if you dug enough. Even some pretty ones, if you were lucky. And a few odd marbles, too. Back in the day there was no such thing as going to the dump–your back yard was your dump. So it was as children we dug up the rubbish of past generations, a memory of the past marked in the things discarded.

So it was when I recently stumbled upon a video of a treasure hunter I was reminded of my childhood. We were treasure hunters, us children sitting out in the hot summer sun. This man was little more–he had a metal detector and he collected whatever odd rubbish he discovered. True, he was located in Germany where history runs deep. More than back yard trash heaps, war had sprinkled his hunting ground liberally. He found old WWII coins, spent ammunition, and more.

“There are points you must grow up and stop being childish,” he says. “I’m not very good at finding those points.” I have some sympathy for those words, and can see at least one brother of mine therein: (Only need watch to the 15:14 mark.)

I love old houses. I don’t think there is any rational reason for it. Old houses are not square or straight. Things are cobbled and more things are always breaking, or rotting. Old houses are a pain. Any reasonable person would love a new house, which will give him no trouble.

I guess part of the allure is because I like history. I like stories. Old houses are full of stories. The stories are seeped into the wood and embedded in the worn lintels. But I also love the beauty that went into some old construction. Even where there is no carefully wrought craftsmanship, still in the oldest of houses their remains a beauty in the old wood itself. Old wood has a beauty all its own.

At the old place we had a great old barn. It was deteriorating when we moved in, and only grew worse as the years passed. The barn’s great size made repair (without wealth) an impossible task. Eventually, with great regret, we tore the barn down. Mostly, I tore it down. I know the barn had to go. The rotting boards and beams, the buckling foundation, all attested to that truth. I know without a doubt what I did needed to be done, but still when I recall the memories of that great old barn, and tearing it apart inch by inch, I feel sadness. It was a great old building with massive timbers. If the old wood had been reused there might have been some consolation in that. We dreamed of reusing some of it, but in the end time has consigned it all to flames or rot.

Many more majestic old barns have gone that way before, and many are following. The old houses, too, are passing on.

All of which is to say that when I came upon this video in the backwoods of Youtube I saw myself as perhaps I would have been if my life were different:

I enjoy working with my hands. There are more things that I would like to learn to do then I will probably ever have time to accomplish. Probably? Nay, certainly. But even if I will never learn some things myself, it can be enjoyable to watch someone else learn. That was about my reaction when I cam upon this video of three people being taught some blacksmithing basics:

Those vidoes are all a bit on the long side so most of you will not be able to watch all of everything. But you can take a look and if something captures your interest you can watch until it no longer does.

4 Responses to Sharing the Past

  1. Very interesting. You’re right, I wasn’t able to watch everything, but what I did watch I found enjoyable. I’ve always been interested in old houses/barns/artifacts as well. My Mom has one of those miniature pistols that you see in westerns, which my Grandpa found in a cornfield. I could go on… There’s an old house in our woods, and it’s been interesting hearing the stories behind it, as well as sad seeing it deteriorate over the years.

  2. rundy says:

    Cool. What is the condition of the pistol? Was it badly rusted almost to the point of being unrecognizable or still in pretty good shape? Your comment brought back the vague memory that I think someone also dug up a pistol in our back yard–but it was so utterly rusted that it was pretty impossible to determine if it had been a true weapon or a metal toy.

    Old houses in the woods are fascinating. There was at least one in the woods where my Dad grew up. Sadly, I never saw it–or at least if I did I was too young to remember well. I’m not sure if anything remains now.

    Another thing that amuses me are old abandoned roads that have been given back to the wild. In this area there are more of them around than you might imagine. There is a road that comes off from where my parents live that Google Maps claims goes over the hill–but if you switch to satellite view you can see the road visibly ends and becomes forest. A good reminder to not blindly follow Google Maps ;-) or you might end up driving into a tree. It makes me very curious to go up there in the forest and see what history has been lost there.

  3. Dee says:

    The first video clip brought back so many memories. My dad used to take down old barns and houses and recycle the boards and beams, and we kids helped. We’d basically live in Ohio during the summers, tearing down barns and old houses. Dirty, veeeeery dirty. The video doesn’t show the incredible amount of dust stored up in those old places. :)
    The amazing thing was that we never got hardened to taking old buildings down. It was always with a little pang of regret that you left a property that used to have a barn on it, open and empty now.
    My dad actually saved some complete buildings for our use. An old slave cabin (from VA) that we rebuilt on our property beside the pond, as a storage barn/boathouse.
    I’ve always lived around wood. :) Splinters were a way of life, and I’ve stepped on my fair share of nails.
    Like I said, lot’s of memories….

  4. rundy says:


    That sounds like a fun job! Interesting story you have. Sounds like a lot of good memories.

    From old house and barn work I’ve done, I know all about the loads of dust and dirt! When I gutted out the upstairs to our old house, I wore a respirator to keep it out of my lungs but I got it in just about everything else. :-)

Comments are closed.

The Great Book Giveaway

24th March 2013

When I published my novels it cost less to have them set up for printing if I bought a certain amount of the books up front. This is not a bad thing because you are supposed to have a few books on hand to sell personally, and also plenty for promotional giveaways, review copies, etc. The problem is that I have done little of any of those activities. Well, none of those activities, excepting a few I have sold to family members.

As a result, boxes of my books have sat in my closet for many, many, months. Since the start of this year and my resolution to get off my writing laurels I have been meaning to begin giving away copies. Here we are at the end of March and nothing has happened. So this past week I pulled all of the boxes out of my closet and now they sit scattered on my bedroom floor. I figured tripping over them daily would encourage me to get the show on the road.

That is the lead up to say I am happy to announce the first great book giveaway. My goal is to eventually give away some books on LibraryThing and Goodreads (if possible) and I would like to even get a few blog reviewers into the mix. The goal is to gain at least a tiny bit of exposure to my novels. And clean up my bedroom. But first I wanted to offer a giveaway to my faithful readers of this blog.

This is a giveaway, not a contest, so it is operating on the method of first come, first serve. I give them away until I have given out all I intend to on this site. I will sign the copies for those who would like. You are not disqualified from receiving a free copy if you bought one previously. I imagine if that is the case you will be giving away your old copy so I still benefit. I am giving away both The Stuttering Bard of York and the sequel The Stuttering Duke of York. If you are interested, you are welcome to a copy of both. If you are interested in the novels but would prefer to read them on your Kindle or Nook, I would be glad to send you the appropriate digital files instead of a physical book.

There are no strings attached. Favorable reviews and recommendations are not required. Consider this a loyal reader reward. That said, if you have enjoyed the books at any time then a review on your blog, a review on Amazon or Barnes and Noble, or a mention on your Facebook account or whatever social media would certainly be appreciated. But I am aware that such reviews are not appropriate for all blogs or social media presences so I don’t expect it as some kind of due. Please note that if you do happen to review on Amazon or Barnes and Noble and you have read and appreciated both books please leave a review on each book. At this point The Stuttering Bard of York has a handful of reviews while The Stuttering Duke of York has none.

If you would like to claim your giveaway, either leave a comment below with your request, or email me directly. If you claim via comment, make sure you have a valid email address associated with your commenting profile because I will contact you back via that email address.

This offer expires 11:59 PM March 31st 2013 or when all the allocated books have been given away, so claim yours now!

5 Responses to The Great Book Giveaway

  1. Kevin Beachy says:

    That’s too good to turn down. :) I’ve read the Bard online, and have started the Duke, but possessing hard copies, even signed hard copies (please?;), would make them even more (if possible) enjoyable.

  2. rundy says:

    Certainly! I will be getting in touch with you via email in the near future.

  3. Count me in! I started one of them (the first one) on the computer, and it did hold my attention, but there are too many people in my family to have time to read a book on the computer. That said, my little brother started to read it too, and really enjoyed what he read. So, you may attain another homeschool family of avid fans. E-mail me for the address, and thank you. I am very excited!

  4. rundy says:

    Kevin & Veronica -

    Sent you both emails.

    Veronica, I can understand the difficulty of reading on the computer, especially when the computer must be shared. Glad to be able to send you a printed copy!

  5. 4th guy says:

    I started reading The Stuttering Bard of York as a pdf, but it wasn’t too comfortable to read it on a computer.

    Also, kudos on having solved your layout problem. :)

Comments are closed.

A Dutiful Boy

21st March 2013

The middle of March has slipped past so it is high time I gave my faithful readers an update on how I am progressing with this resolve to be more professional in my writing. I have good things to report, and not so good things. I will start with the good news.

I diligently contacted the literary agent prior to the deadline I set for myself in March. Said agent responded and asked for me to send her the manuscript, which I did. Now for some not-so-good news. I haven’t heard from the agent since. This Monday I sent a follow-up email, but nothing yet. Agents are busy people, and I am a small fish in a very big pond, so that is not conclusive yet. Next Monday could bring an email from the agent with profuse apologies for having not responded to me more promptly. Or . . . a less cheery conclusion.

In any case, I have upheld my goals in that department.

On the matter of instilling myself in the social media platforms pertinent to writers, my grades are only fair. I have an account on LibraryThing, and now also an account on Goodreads. But I haven’t done anything with either, and I still haven’t signed up for Shelfari. An interesting development in this area is that recently I was made aware of another website–Authonomy–and I have signed up at that website, and upload my first novel. The idea here is that people read each other’s manuscripts, comment on them, “vote” on them, and every so many days the five best go to the editor’s desk at HarperCollins.

I joined Authonomy only last week so the jury is still out. I am trying to give it a decent chance, but admit I am already starting to feel a bit wearied. It is all so . . . so political and social. Yeah, the social part is the point, or at least half the point, but people are so needy, so fixated on “You scratch my back I’ll scratch yours.” I’m trying to be social (a bit) but I have this feeling that in a month I’ll have walked away saying, “Call me if my book gets to the editors desk, but otherwise I have better things to do than play the games.”

That’s not very social of me.

At this point I have gained one honest-to-goodness new fan from putting my book on the site (he/she actually went out and bought the Kindle version of both novels) and a lot of other people offering empty praise or dubious and nit-picky criticisms on the hopes that I will then comment on and advance their books.


The other problem is that when I do find a book by another author on Authonomy who I feel deserves a comment on their manuscript I end up devoting far too much time into writing thoughtful and lengthy feedback. This gets reactions like, “Thank you very much for your full and insightful comment. I don’t think I’ve had one quite like it for either of my books here. It’s a lot to take in, and I appreciate it.” . . . which makes me feel warm and fuzzy inside but is that really enough for the hour or two I sunk into writing the feedback (not to count the time spent reading the manuscript)? I don’t think I know how to “play the game” on Authonomy and I am afraid my earnest nature may end up making it an incredible time sink.

So the jury is still out on Authonomy. As far as a social network geared specifically for authors I haven’t seen one better than Authonomy–I’m just still not convinced on how well, or healthily, I can wade into social media. I suspect I have a far too intense an engagement level to effectively patronize the masses.

But I’m trying.

Okay, more goals.

By April 16th I want to have my Goodreads account fully set up, and the Shelfari account likewise. By that date I want to have begun my first giveaway (probably at LibraryThing). Before that point I want to do a giveaway on this website. More on that within the next week, hopefully. By April 16th I want to also have begun serializing my first novel on the Creative-Vapors website. I am running a bit behind on that.

A little bit more long term goal is to have the next draft of my book about Grandpa done by May 31st. That is actually a very tight deadline for myself since I haven’t even got the draft back from commentary, but I am going to use it as a goal to shoot for. I also want to get a few people outside my immediate family lined up to read and comment on the book. I have one, and I think two, already lined up, but it would be good to get a third. I will have to make inquiries.

One thing I am not certain about is whether I would like these new readers to see the book before the next draft completion, or after. The perfectionist in me strongly wants to wait until after I have another draft revision complete–but the other part of my mind says that if I wait until it is completely finished then further feedback will be too late. So I am still wrestling with myself on that matter.

There are plenty more things I would like to be working on as well, but those are enough goals for the present. I try not to give myself too many opportunities to fail.

4 Responses to A Dutiful Boy

  1. Hey, good for you! You’re getting somewhere with your writing, and that’s more than I can say. Every time I read mine to other writers (like I did at writer’s day as I mentioned in my new post) they always tell me to try and get it published. I’ve tried, but it’s a discouraging business. So you’re being dutiful, and I’m not, though for the record this encourages me to try.

    Authonomy sounds interesting, and weary at the same time. It sounds like another site called inkpop that I’ve heard other bloggers mention. Oh, and by the way I’m still up to reading any drafts you might have if you would like. Star Girl still hasn’t come in at the library, and I’ve been reading quite a bit lately.

  2. rundy says:

    Well, maybe I am getting somewhere in my writing, or perhaps I am running madly in place and trying to tell myself that I am moving. With writing you never know which it is until everything is all over and done.

    Being told by others that “you should try to get it published” can be very frustrating. It is a nice sort of compliment on one hand (though a compliment very easily given) but on the other hand doing that (getting published) is very hard. The compliment is like someone saying “Well, what you did is nice, now why don’t you go do something very hard, frustrating, and discouraging [attempt to publish] as a reward?” And then there sometimes is the implication that your writing is so good–why aren’t you published already? (Come on, people! It’s hard work!)

    I wish I could tell you that very shortly it will stop being discouraging, but I can’t honestly say that. I have been writing and trying and wanting to be published for a long time. I certainly haven’t been doing it as well as I could, but it continues to be discouraging and difficult. But the good things never come easy.

    Yes, you already are one of the two people (in my very short list) for those to read the manuscript next. Expect an email on that in the near future (next week or so).

    Authonomy is also potentially very dangerous for a writer. On the site people freely give corrections and opinions on how they think writing should be improved–and a good deal of such free advice is very subjective, often nit-picky, and sometimes contradictory. Worse, criticisms and opinions for corrections are almost universally given by people who have read (at most!) a few chapters in a larger piece of writing. A writer who is not careful could easily end up discouraged by constantly trying to correct various perceived errors to make their writing satisfy the critiques of every passing critic.

    I’ve been around the block enough times that I take it all with a large grain of salt, but seeing it all I did have the thought that if I were a bit less seasoned in writing I could easily find it paralysing to attempt to make my writing style conform to every reader’s taste and opinion.

    By the way, I will mention that if you ever think it would be helpful I would be glad to take a read of your writing and offer some thoughts.

    Also (completely unrelated) I have requested the three books you recommended. One came in the library on Friday.

  3. You’ve hit the nail on the head. It’s discouraging to try and do something with it, but I can’t stop writing, so I just keep getting more and more… at least I have the blog as an outlet now. On top of that what I write is very rarely on the most often published list.I have a novel done a good ways through, but I’ve reached a stalemate, though I plan to pick it up sometime this summer. But besides that most of it is poetry, or short prose, or reflections on life and such.

    I tend to stick to real life critique situations where people say things to my face, and then the rest of the group interprets it as well. Though, I’ve no objection to online sites like Authonomy. I probably lean more towards not changing my work enough for people than changing too much.

    Honestly, I don’t have much of my un-blog writing typed up, so there isn’t much I could give you to critique right now, but I’ll keep that in mind, and I may take you up on that later.

    As to the books. Yay! I’m gonna be nosy and ask which one. I’m be anticipating hearing your honest opinion/response when you’re done. ;)

  4. rundy says:

    It isn’t an requirement to be published, and if you are published it isn’t a requirement that it make you rich or famous. An idea you can consider is creating a collection of short-form/essay writing and publishing it as an ebook. I don’t suggest this because I think it could be your first step to riches and fame (it won’t) but because I think it may be helpful to your growth as a writer. Analyzing your own various pieces of writing and selecting those that share a common theme and organizing them in book form is a good exercise to develop better awareness and critical thinking in regards to your own writing. At this early stage in your development as a writer that exercise itself is worthwhile–even if not a single person bought the resulting “book.”

    Not saying you currently have enough writing available to undertake such a venture, but it is an idea to keep in mind in the future. Sometimes the thing to think about is not what will make you famous (so to speak) but what will develop you as a writer.

    One of my goals (which hasn’t made it on the official list because I don’t want to overwhelm myself with projects) is to go through my oldest blog posts and attempt to sort and refine them into essay form, and organize them by “books” just as I suggested to you. The idea is both exciting and intimidating.

    I requested all three of the books you recommended at the same time. Since you recommend them I don’t think it is nosy to enquire about them ;-) “In High Places” was the one that came in–not sure why the others are taking longer, but I’m sure they will arrive soon enough. I haven’t decided yet if I will wait until I have read all three and send you one big response, or do each book individually as I finish them. I suppose that will depend on how far apart the books come in, and how much I have to say on each :-D

Comments are closed.

Happy Chickens

18th March 2013

I don’t make it a habit of visiting the website. It carries a lot of political and social material that doesn’t fit my tastes, to say the least. But I stumbled upon this tonight:

Some of the demand for flavoring is related to how plants and animals are grown and raised. Wright urged me to try a taste test at home if I was so inclined. Take three different whole chickens, she said — an average, low-priced frozen one from the supermarket; a mass-produced organic version like Bell and Evans; and what she termed a “happy chicken.” This was a bird that had spent its life outside running around and eating an evolutionary diet of grass, seeds, bugs and worms. Roast them in your kitchen and note the taste. The cheap chicken, she said, will have minimal flavor, thanks to its short life span, lack of sunlight and monotonous diet of corn and soy. The Bell and Evans will have a few “roast notes and fatty notes,” and the happy chicken will be “incomparable,” with a deep, succulent, nutty taste. Wright, as you might imagine, prefers consuming chickens of the happy variety, which her husband, who is also a flavorist (he works from home as a consultant), is generally the one to cook.

Full article:

The “happy chicken” statement made me grin. I have seen happy chickens, and they are happy things. That aside, the point being made can be expanded even further. Not all happy chickens taste equally good. A breed of chicken bred to gain weight very quickly (I am thinking of a what is–if I remember right–a Cornish cross that has all white feather’s and grows very quickly, and whose exact name escapes me at the moment) has less taste than a chicken of more typical genetics and grows at a normal rate. Both chickens may be equally happy, but their taste will be noticeably different.

I say this from personal experience. We have raised and consumed various breeds of chickens, and also the mass produced variety. Happy chickens are a good thing, but I am constantly amused by how people in refined civilization are discovering (with some sense of amazement) facts that us people living a little closer to the earth have known for a long time. Ah, well. Soon they will discover that growing normal plants in normal soil is more nutritious than hydroponics or mass agriculture with gentically bloated produce. Who would have thought. Oh, wait, I think they did just “discover” that recently…

2 Responses to Happy Chickens

  1. Otto Rood says:


    Oh, dear. You pluralized feather with an apostrophe ess? Tsk-tsk.

  2. rundy says:

    Ah! There is no excuse. I have slapped my hand.

Comments are closed.

Compliments to the Author

13th March 2013

Sometimes something unexpected can happen, which though small and seemingly insignificant, can brighten your day and put a little spring in your step and grin on your face. For some it is the smile and greeting from a stranger on the street, for others a kind inquiry from a co-worker. For a writer, it can be the unexpected kind review of his writing. I recieved just such a little ray of sunshine at the beginning of this week.

Long time blog reader Dee (I guess you count as “long time” once you’ve been around for at least a year) took the time to write a very nice review of both my novels on her blog. It is not exactly a traditional review in its format, but that may be why I enjoyed it. Having a bunch of younger siblings myself, I can picture the type of interaction she describes. It doesn’t give you an outline of the book, but it does give you the sense of why the reviewer enjoyed the books.

Being a writer, I can’t help analyzing people’s reaction to my writing. Thus analyzing Dee’s review, I was very happy to find that the reactions to the books were exactly the type of reactions I hoped to provoke. Success! Of course I thought the books were funny, enjoyable, and endearing when I wrote them. Yes, I even laughed at my own jokes. (Does that make me pathetic?) But as a writer you always wonder if you’re just some deluded crazy person and it is funny and interesting only in your own head. So it was nice to be reminded that it isn’t all just in my head. Well, it is coming from my head, but it still makes sense and other people can enjoy it when it is out of my head and in black and white on paper. That transition is more intimidating than you might think. Sharing your madness with the world is a scary thing.

Some analyzing is really pointless pondering–an attempt to extract meaning for the insignificant confluence of events. Writers are mad that way too, you know. See, an interesting thought occurred to me on reading Dee’s book review. Way back when I first released The Stuttering Bard of York I was contacted by a homeschooler who told a story strikingly similar to the one contained in Dee’s review. This homeschooler had read the story, loved it, shared it with her younger siblings, they all loved it, and they named a pine tree in their front yard after Ernie because they thought it looked like him. And so on.

I should point out that I did not personally know this homeschooler, nor was she even remotely from my area, so my book did not come to her by any homeschool connection. Likewise, I don’t personally know Dee and I don’t think she stumbled upon my blog through any homeschool connection. I don’t think this pattern of homeschool reaction to my books can be attributed to any personal connection on my part. Now I suppose two incidences don’t really make a trend, but it does have me wondering. Why are the only true hard core fans homeschoolers?

I didn’t set out to write a “homeschoolers novel.” I don’t read my novels and then think it is obvious that a homeschooler wrote it (though I claim the title of homeschooler in the author bio at the back). Did I somehow subconciously write two novels that mostly only appeal to homeschoolers? It’s possible, I suppose. My stories are not exactly Hunger Games/Twilight Saga material so maybe it is too far outside mainstream for most young people to appreciate. I did hear about one (public schooled) reader who found it a bit difficult that I used big words. That caught me by surprise. I used big words in the book? I didn’t recall using any difficult language. Then I thought, well, maybe I used a few sort-of big words. But that was part of the fun of the story. So maybe I assume too much enjoyment of words and language for the average reader. Perhaps.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m glad–thrilled–that evidence indicates homeschoolers really enjoy my two novels. It shows they have good taste (haha). But if I have written novels that only homeschoolers can enjoy, then indeed I have a limited audience. I wouldn’t rewrite the stories to make them more popular–they are true to my vision and so will stay as they are–but if nobody besides homeschoolers can appreciate them I’d better stop waiting around for a large following.

However, I prefer a different take. I prefer to think that everyone can enjoy my novels but only homeschoolers are fanatics. Only homeschoolers are fanatical enough to enjoy books that much, and actually let the author know. After all, everyone knows homeschoolers are fanatics, right?

4 Responses to Compliments to the Author

  1. Dee says:

    Of course we’re fanatics! I think it’s an intrinsic quality of being a homeschooler. More power to us. May we learn for life and our bookcases never grow less!

    But this is all very fascinating…
    Here’s my hypothesis on the psychology of this all.
    Perhaps all homeschooler backgrounds share enough common values, threads, curriculum, dreams, whatever, that your writing two novels that incorporate some of the aforementioned qualities, is enough for it to resound more strongly with homeschoolers than a reader from a different background.

    *ahem* I don’t think I understood that myself. Please excuse the momentary lapse into analytical behavior. And jumbly, run-on sentences.

    I laughed over the pine tree incident. Perfectly brilliant of them, though it makes me exceedingly curious as to what the tree looks like. Ernie, I guess.

  2. rundy says:

    your writing two novels that incorporate some of the aforementioned qualities” You may be on to something though if so it was entirely subconscious on my part.

    The Ernie tree made me curious as well, though I never was sent a picture. I was told it looked like Ernie hunched over carrying a big sack.

  3. Dee says:

    Right, that’s what I meant. Because those qualities are a part of you, your thinking processes, humor, etc., then it might connect with others, “subconsciously”.

    My siblings’ responses to my hypothesis: “Duh! Homeschoolers are awesome! They have imaginations!” Can you tell we maybe might possibly be a little tiny bit biased? :)
    N said that he’s sure there’s lots of other people that would enjoy the books, don’t worry.

  4. rundy says:

    You can tell N I appreciate his confidence. We’ll see where things go!

Comments are closed.

Laura Story: Blessings

10th March 2013


(Listen to this song on Youtube:

We pray for blessings, we pray for peace
Comfort for family, protection while we sleep
We pray for healing, for prosperity
We pray for Your mighty hand to ease our suffering
And all the while, You hear each spoken need
Yet love us way too much to give us lesser things

‘Cause what if your blessings come through rain drops
What if Your healing comes through tears
What if a thousand sleepless nights are what it takes to know You’re near
What if trials of this life are Your mercies in disguise

We pray for wisdom, Your voice to hear
We cry in anger when we cannot feel You near
We doubt your goodness, we doubt your love
As if every promise from Your word is not enough
And all the while, You hear each desperate plea
And long that we’d have faith to believe

‘Cause what if your blessings come through rain drops
What if Your healing comes through tears
What if a thousand sleepless nights are what it takes to know You’re near
What if trials of this life are Your mercies in disguise

When friends betray us
When darkness seems to win
We know that pain reminds this heart
That this is not,
This is not our home
It’s not our home

‘Cause what if your blessings come through rain drops
What if Your healing comes through tears
What if a thousand sleepless nights are what it takes to know You’re near

What if my greatest disappointments or the aching of this life
Is the revealing of a greater thirst this world can’t satisfy
What if trials of this life
The rain, the storms, the hardest nights
Are your mercies in disguise

I have mentioned in the past how some songs I like because of their musical quality completely unrelated to the actual words of the song, and other songs I like because of what the words say, regardless of how well it is sung. This song by Laura Story is in the second category. She isn’t a horrible singer, but I find her voice and vocal craft unremarkable–not bad, but not something that would make me stop if I heard it on the radio.

What I do like about this song is the lyrics. We don’t want to think about the possibility (nay, reality) that what is best for us in our lives is so often contrary to what we think is best, and what we explicitly pray for. There is a very strong idea in many Christian circles today that goes something like this, “Pray for what you want and God loves you so much He will give it to you.” But Jesus prayed, “Father, your will be done.” We are told quite clearly in the New Testament that if we ask with wrong motives we most certainly will not get what we ask. And the great mystery that Laura Story’s song touches on is that what is for our good so often confounds us.

What if healing comes through suffering?

That is a paradox of Jesus.

3 Responses to Laura Story: Blessings

  1. Fulfill it prayers, and strength…yes this is a good song. Though it may be unremarkable it is one of my favorites of the ones that have been popular on Christian radio lately. I think, however, that my favorite song in this genre/subject bracket is Better Than a Hallelujah by Amy Grant. That one gets me every time.

  2. rundy says:

    I confess I am rather out of the loop on popular Christian radio lately. I haven’t listened in a number of years, so I am dated and most of my exposure to recent songs comes by means of other people pointing them out–which was the case with this Laura Story song. I haven’t heard the Amy Grant song you speak of (at least as best I know) so I will have to check it out.

  3. rundy says:

    Ok, found that Amy Grant song on Youtube. It’s interesting, listening to it I was reminded of a version of Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah. Same word (Hallelujah) same thematic ideas, but coming at it from a different direction. If you want to check it out:

    *Edit* Leonard Cohen isn’t a Christian. That is obvious to anyone who knows him, but he is probably outside your musical experience so I thought I should clarify. But not having a saving knowledge of God and His Son doesn’t mean you can’t say true things about God, and Cohen makes interesting use of melded Old Testament passages of Scripture in that song.

Comments are closed.

Making Knives

3rd March 2013

A while ago I posted some videos on making wooden bowls. In the same line of make-it-yourself, here are some videos on knife making.

This first video follows a man making a carving knife blade from a sawzall blade. He is not terrible careful with his fingers, and I cringed several times imagining how he could injure himself. But he didn’t. It is a professional looking knife when he is done.

The second video shows the same gentleman making a cleaver from a chop-saw blade. Pretty crazy. He admits its a little thin (and the large cleaver we own is definitely thicker) but says it works great.

Those previous two videos show someone doing what might be called a “cobble job.” He is using materials any old country boy might have on hand. This last video shows a more professional job. This man uses an actual steel blank, and a forge for tempering. Very cool. It would be fun to have this kind of equipment to fool around with.

Finally, this last video is not strictly about knife making but is in the same spirit of craftsmanship. This is a video of a man carving oak, and the beautiful results: As an added bonus that video has very nice music.

I start looking at these crafty videos on Youtube and its hard to stop. There are so many things I would like to do!

Hope you get as much enjoyment out of them as I did.

3 Responses to Making Knives

  1. I’ve only got a chance to watch the first of these, but it is really cool. I have to say I kept seeing him slipping too though!

    Also, did you get my fairly leangthly comment to your last post? I can’t figure out why it hasn’t appeared. :/

  2. rundy says:

    Oh no . . . thanks for mentioning your previous lost comment. Somehow it never came through, so I had no idea you commented! I looked through my spam folder back past the date of my last post just in case it somehow was put to spam (though since I have approved you as a safe commenter it shouldn’t go there!) I didn’t find it in spam, I didn’t find it anywhere. Best I can figure, your comment got lost in space somewhere between your web browser and my website.

    I am so sorry. It is very frustrating to have a comment disappear (especially a long one!). If you every have to time to write it out again I would like to read it. I suppose if you are paranoid you could save it in a window outside your browser to make sure it posts.

    By the way, as I said, your comments should always appear immediately since I have approved you. If you comment ever doesn’t appear as soon as you hit “submit” you might be able to save it in the future by hitting the “back” button on your browser. It might bring you to the screen where you wrote the comment, and thus you could save it. I learned this from the experience of losing comments in the past.

    Hopefully it never will happen again, but you never know. Sometimes the sever my website is on goes down for a short period and that could make your comment get lost too.

  3. I shall repost it. It actually may have been my fault that it was lost. I posted it rapidly as I was heading out the door. Never a good idea…but I liked you topic and I was trying to make time. Sigh. Oh well, it will probably be more articulate this time anyways.

Comments are closed.

The Other Way

27th February 2013

If you stick around long enough, you are going to hear me say very negative things about nursing homes. While there are a lot of hard-working and caring people employed at nursing homes, they cannot undo the many and fundamental problems with the institution. If you get me going, I could list many discrete problems, but they all come back to one thing: It wasn’t meant to be that way. Staying at a hospital, staying at a nursing home, and staying at a prison are all distinct experiences, but they share one thing in common. None of those places is a normal place to live.

I was surprised to read an article in the newspaper today about something different in Chestnut Ridge, NY. It was striking enough that I wanted to share it, and so I found it online–in the process discovering that my local newspaper carried an abbreviated version of the article. Here it is in full, with some particular noteworthy points highlighted by yours truly in bold:

For the aging, a commune-like alternative in NY

CHESTNUT RIDGE, N.Y. — At the Fellowship Community’s adult home, workers are paid not according to what they do, but what they need; aging residents are encouraged to lend a hand at the farm, the candle shop or the pottery studio; and boisterous children are welcome around the old folks.

It’s a home for the elderly in a commune-like setting, 30 miles from Manhattan, that takes an unusual approach, integrating seniors into the broader community and encouraging them to contribute to its welfare.

“It’s a great place to live, and I think there’s probably no better place in the world to die,” says Joanne Karp, an 81-year-old resident who was supposed to be in her room recovering from eye surgery but instead was down the hall at the piano, accompanying three kids learning to play the recorder.

The 33-bed adult home is at the center of Fellowship Community, a collection of about 130 men, women and children founded in 1966 that offers seniors — including the aging baby boom generation — an alternative to living out their final years in traditional assisted-living homes or with their grown sons and daughters.

At most adult homes, a resident in decline would eventually have to go to a hospital or nursing home. But Fellowship has an exemption from state law that allows dying residents to stay there because “people have wanted to stay, and we have wanted to keep them,” said administrator Ann Scharff, who helped found the community.

“We provide a space in which people can prepare to die in a way that is accepted and nourishing to them and fraught with meaning,” Scharff said. “It’s not something you run away from, but it’s part of the whole spectrum of life, just as birth is part of life and is prepared for.”

Situated on a hilltop in suburban Rockland County, Fellowship looks a bit like a village out of the past. Besides the farm and the pottery and candle shops, there are a dairy barn with 10 cows, a print shop, a metal shop, a “weavery” and a wood shop.

The 33-acre farm goes beyond organic, running on “biodynamic,” or self-sustaining, principles, as much as a small farm can, said Jairo Gonzalez, the head gardener. Solar panels sparkle on the barn roof, and cow manure becomes compost.

Most of the adult home workers live in buildings surrounding it, as do about 35 independent seniors who don’t yet need the services but plan to live out their days in the community. At meals, elders, workers and children dine together.

“We don’t subscribe to ‘Children should be seen and not heard,’” Scharff said.

Caring for the elderly is the main activity, but all the workers also have other responsibilities.

“In a typical work week, someone will be inside helping the elderly, meaning bringing meals, bathing, meds,” said Will Bosch, head of the community’s board of trustees. “But they’ll also be doing building and grounds maintenance, planting, harvesting, milking.”

Organizers decline to call it a commune but concede the spirit is similar. The philosophy behind it is called anthroposophy, “a source of spiritual knowledge and a practice of inner development,” according to The Anthroposophical Society in America.

Elder care is practiced in somewhat similar fashion in at least two other anthroposophy-inspired communities: Camphill Ghent in Chatham, N.Y., and Hesperus Village in Vaughan, Ontario, near Toronto.

The area around Fellowship has several other organizations with ties to anthroposophy, including a private school, a bookstore and a co-op grocery that sells some of the community’s crops. Fewer than half the adult home residents at Fellowship Community have any connection to anthroposophy, at least when they enter, Scharff said.

“We’re an age-integrated community built around the central mission of care of the elderly,” Bosch said. “The members want to be of service. They come because they know this is a place where they can contribute.”

So Karp, the 81-year-old, teaches music and entertains the community at the piano.

“I think the reason people really appreciate this place is because they can be active and they can contribute and there’s always something that needs doing,” Karp said. “And it’s nice when kids are glad to see you.”

Other residents, or members, as they’re called, have found similar niches.

Gwen Eisenmann, 91, a retired poet, leads poetry discussions and also likes to set the table before meals. Larry Fox, 74, a psychologist, treats patients at the Fellowship’s medical office and said, “Where could I be at my age and be so happy to get up in the morning and look forward to the day?”

It’s difficult, Bosch said, to find people to sign up for the communal life and work. It appeals to “people who are dismayed with the materialism of the world and are trying to get above it,” he said. “People who are interested in an alternative lifestyle , not based on pocketing the most money they can for the least amount of work.”

When elders come in, they pay a “life lease” of $27,500 to $50,000, depending on the space they will occupy in the adult home or the “lodges” surrounding it. In addition, they pay $700-$1,500 per month in rent, and up to $3,000 a month for care, depending on what they need.

Revenue from the adult home provides 60 percent of the nonprofit Fellowship Community’s $3 million operating budget, with the rest coming from donations and the sale of produce, milk and crafts, home officials said. Donations completely fund the capital budget, make up any annual shortfall and subsidize the adult home.

The adult home is licensed and inspected by the state and is in good standing. It doesn’t accept federal or state aid. Workers are paid according to need, and their housing, food and transportation — there are community cars — are included.

“Two people doing the same job might get very different stipends,” Bosch said. “One might have children, one might not.”

Matt Uppenbrink, 44, a former businessman in the fashion world who now lives at Fellowship with his wife and two children, is on the community’s “financial circle” but also does his bit in the adult home.

“When I got my MBA, I didn’t think I’d be helping somebody to go to the toilet,” he said. “But years ago, with Grandma and Grandpa in the house, that’s how it was done. What we do here is like helping a friend or helping a loved one. My dad is in a nursing home, and I wish he had this instead.”

Rachel Berman, a 47-year-old former New York City teacher, lives at the community with her 10-year-old daughter.

“We cook, we farm, we care for the elderly,” Berman said. “I was in the Peace Corps, and I lived for a while on a kibbutz in Israel, so community life was important to me.”

The workers “get to see the stages of an elder’s journey, different approaches to the end of life,” Uppenbrink said. “You get to see the process happen. It gives you something to work with in terms of your own future.”

Commune living is not quite my thing, and I certainly don’t hold to anthroposophy, but I present this as far better than the nursing homes of today in every respect, and by every measure. The most natural, healthful, and right place to live out life is with family, being part of family, and cared for by family. But if that is not possible, the example of Fellowship Community shows a far better alternative to today’s nursing homes. The nursing home model is a product of the modern age and is utterly broken and woefully inadequate. The nursing home mentality stands as a testament to the failure of the modern ethos.

Everything about Fellowship Community is antithetical to the modern sensibility. Self-sustaining? Having the elderly “work”? Functioning independent of state or federal funds? If you pitched this idea people would tell you it is an impossible fantasy. And yet, here it is. The problem with this method is that you can’t mandate it. The government cannot conjure this type of living up by throwing any sum of money at people or writing any number of rules or regulations. The existence and functioning of Fellowship Community requires a deliberate ethical choice by the members which involves real, personal, sacrifice by the members.

That is not the modern way. Most people today are not willing to pay the price required by that kind of life. And so we have the modern way–massive expenditures to care for the elderly in an institutional setting which for all of the funding is still under-funded and still provides often appalling care. It will only get worse. The system is broken. Welcome to the future.

When I get on this rant I suspect people want to ask, “Well, what would be your alternative?” and that is why I have provided this article. There is an alternative. Society as a whole has turned away from the alternative, but it exists.

Read more about Fellowship Community here:

10 Responses to The Other Way

  1. cynthia says:

    A resounding yes to family care and care that is not based on warehousing our elders!

  2. First, I shall say that this is a very interesting, and relevant topic to me. My Mother actually used to work in a nursing home, so I’ve heard many stories. Plus I’ve been in and out of them due to my siblings’ musical talent, church functions, game nights, etc. Also, I should mention that I have a fascination with commune living. I don’t know quite how it started, though I suspect it may have something to do with the level of enjoyment I get out of the rondezvouses I’ve attended.

    Now, as to my opinion. I agree with Cynthia that we should not warehouse our elders; we have much that we can learn from them, and we are depriving both them and society when we do that. I cannot imagine living without purpose as they must feel that they do. But I hesitate to say that housing them with family is the ultimate answer either. Why? The Mother of a friend of of mine works in a nursing home. She also cares for her Mother-in-law who lives in her home. These two factors have contributed greatly to her health problems to the point that she almost never feels good, gets little time with her children, and is constantly under stress. (Interesting thought: this could relate to our other conversation. The topic of woman vs. man as provider is a difficult one. But, back on track…)

    I firmly believe that most, if not all people, revert as they get older to a more childlike state. The Mother-in-law makes life very difficult for her in keeping with this. She hates her, though she only yells at my friend’s mother behind her husband’s back which has strained their marrige.

    I’m running out of time (again) but let it suffice to say that I don’t believe living with family is always the answer. Nor do I believe nursing homes to be right. Often the reversing role of child and parent strains relationships to the breaking point. I do find this interesting, and it is something I would consider being involved in. I’m interested to hear your thoughts on the situation I mentioned above.

  3. rundy says:

    Well, this is a pretty big topic!

    First, allow me a bit of a clarification.

    If I were to be more precise in what I said in the post above, I would qualify by saying Ideally “The most natural, healthful, and right place to live out life is with family, being part of family, and cared for by family.” We all know life is less than ideal. Sometimes it is horribly less than ideal. Elder abuse is far too common. Husbands, wives, children, and caregivers do unspeakable things and commit terrible acts against the elderly within the home environment. Someone could point to those things and say, “Isn’t a nursing home better than that?” But then, terrible abuse is also common in nursing homes as well, with the same crimes being committed there.

    My point is not that always the home environment is better, but that the home environment at its best is always better than a nursing home at its best. At exactly what point a home environment becomes worse than a nursing home can be a tricky question, and a grey area. So I agree, family is not always the answer because the world is broken in a multitude of ways.

    Now, I would like to take a bit of a right turn and address this topic from a spiritual perspective.

    The topic is complex because value judgement are being made. What do we mean by “best”? Best for me, or best for the elderly person. And best by what metric? Most cost efficient? Causing the least amount of suffering to the most people?

    In the story you recount I think it is safe to say that the daughter-in-law would have a better quality of life if the mother-in-law was shipped out. On the other hand I suspect it is pretty safe to say that for all the ill treatment this mother-in-law hands out, she is experiencing a better quality of life than if she was stuck in a nursing home. Whose well-being is paramount? How do we make those decisions?

    All people without exception are sinners–unkind, ungrateful, mean, violent, and uncaring. The list could go on. What do people deserve? Does that unkind mother-in-law deserve to stay at home? Does that daughter-in-law deserve to suffer such things?

    As Christians we know that for our sins every one of us deserves nothing less than hell. But we also know that God in His grace shows mercy to all the undeserving in this life, and–to those He has called and chosen–also in the life to come. So as Christians our view toward life is not about what we (or others) deserve, but how God has called us to live.

    We are told “God is love” (1 John 4:16). Whatever else may be said of hell, it is a place where God’s love is absent.

    Two subsidiary points from that:

    (1) As a loose analogy to that ultimate reality, life between people in the flesh is better where love is present.

    (2) As God has sacrificially loved by sending his son to die, so we are called to sacrificially love.

    Now as to application:

    We could talk about the advantages of home family care over nursing homes by looking at the statistics of quality of life, lack of sickness, longevity, and so on. But all of those things are really just outward manifestations of an inward truth: Where there is a loving family, life is better than where love is (more) absent–say in a nursing home. If a family is without love for one another, the care there is no better (and may be worse) than that given in a nursing home. Whatever advantage there is in home care is not because of abstract facts, but because God in His mercy has given some measure of love to families as a blessed and God ordained reality of this creation. God created families to love and care for families.

    This first point is universal. The world may not recognize the implications, but familial love is a “common grace” (to use a particular theological term) given to all people, both Christians and non-Christians and it bears fruit in the statistically better quality of life within the home as compared to an institution.

    Now, the second point I make (that we are to live out love following the example God has given in Christ) has particular application to Christians. A Christian can hardly expect an unbeliever to follow the example of Jesus. But we who believe understand that by faith we are called to live sacrificially–and being by faith that means often this path of living may not seem “best” to our eyes.

    If we balance on the scales of our own reasoning, it hardly seems best to keep the aged at home. It has huge cost to us, and for what gain? The aged are still sick, and they will still die, and often be completely ungrateful in the process.

    What is best?

    When I moved to take care of my Grandpa it was a solution, but not by any means an ideal solution. By and large, the entire load of caring for Grandpa fell upon me–and I do not think it is ideal to have such a burden rest entirely on one individual. But even more, I left behind my dreams, and ambitions to provide care all day every day (and night!) for a man losing his mind. I lost my autonomy. I lost my community. My life was given up to caring for him.

    Think of it–I was a young man with all the opportunities of life ahead of me, and I gave it all up to take care of a dying man. How was that best? The end of that deal left me with nothing be a load of grief, no job, and no future. Wouldn’t it have been better to put him in a nursing home (however bad that might have been) so that I could have continued on with my life?

    It wasn’t fair for me to carry that kind of load.

    It wasn’t right.

    It wasn’t best….was it?

    Now, I can certainly tell you that by worldly logic it wasn’t best–not at all. In worldly logic it would have been far better on the “grand scale” of things for Grandpa’s comfort to be sacrificed for my betterment. After all, he had lived a full life. I had all of my life before me. Sacrifices have to be made, and going to a nursing home is the sacrifice Grandpa should have made for the good of the rest of the family.

    So the thinking goes.

    When we talk about “best” and “sacrifices” we are making value judgements. By what are we measuring best, and who do we decide must make sacrifices?

    By any worldly measure I made the wrong choice. It was exceedingly foolish to give up everything to care for an old dying man. I don’t argue that point. But I believed it was right, and so I did it.

    I say that not to elicit pity, or admiration, but to illustrate that when I say family is best I do not mean it is “easiest,” or “most pleasant.” But I do believe that sacrifice in every area of life is what God calls his people to live.

    Now sacrifice takes many forms and shapes. A single mother who has lost her husband and has two young children to feed must work outside the house to keep a roof over her family and food on the table. If her elderly parents need care, quitting her job to care for her parents will put her family out on the street without food or shelter. Far from improving the situation of her parents, such a decision would make the situation worse for everyone.

    That is a rather obvious example where at home care is not the best. But most of reality is far more nuanced than that, and for such reasons I prefer to address the broader social issues and avoid passing judgement on individual situations. I don’t know the details of those situations, or the hearts of those involved. Some people carry incredible loads of misplaced guilt over the “failure” to do something for a parent and I would not want to add to that burden. On the other hand, there are people who ought to feel guilt over how they have mistreated and abandoned their parents and they seem to have not a care in the world about it. But God will sort them out, not me.

    Whatever the many and varied situations we find ourselves facing in relation to our families we ought to be guided by faith (that God will provide) and love (living and serving as Jesus did).

    For the sake of some practical pondering, let’s go back to the outward working of things.

    It is a bit difficult to attempt a practical illustrative application because the picture of family has become so broken and distorted in the modern world. I have already agreed that if a family is not caring for a family member in love it is no better than a nursing home.

    But we can go further in our general observations. It can be hard to grasp how family ought to function when Western/American culture has drifted so far from the ancient norm that it is no longer recognizable. As a result of this even where love is present in a family today, the crippling effects of the brokenness of the family unit makes the practical cost of love so much higher. The story you shared story may be an example of this. Another example could be a family broken by divorce. Such a family would have that much harder time caring for an elderly parent.

    But it goes much deeper than just that. Today most American’s think of family as a small autonomous unit. A generation ago it was the “nuclear” family, today it is the broken family, the single parent family. But before the “nuclear” family, it was the extended family, where family was large, extensive, and knit close together. Everyone took care of everyone (to some extent–obviously different people filled different roles). It wasn’t one family member caring for the aged, it was a group effort. This is still much more common in cultures outside America, but the closest one might find in America to this as a cultural movement would be the Amish, where the aged are cared for within community and family in what is perhaps the closest to the outward fleshly “ideal” I speak of. An Amish husband and wife work their farm with their children, and when the parents grow old the farm is run by the next generation. It is generational and family, not individualistic.

    Community living is how God created people to live. I am guarded about “commune” living (the Fellowship Community in the article being only one variety of many) because from my observation communes often (typically?) are an attempt to create community where it otherwise wouldn’t exist. In other words, communes are unnatural constructs which eventually fail because they lack the strong bonds that community contains. Community naturally sustains itself by the common bond (whether it be blood ties, or some other shared thing). Communes have rules and regulations and stipulations which are all there to keep people together who would otherwise go their separate ways. Communes eventually come unglued when hard times strike, or else they become cultic–held together by the glue of some charismatic leader until he either dies or goes utterly off the rails and the commune then implodes.

    I say commune living is not quite my thing not because I am adverse to community living but because in my observation commune living consists of a gathering trying to fake community and not realizing they lack the vital ingredient. I don’t want to come across as too critical of the Fellowship Community since I think they are doing a better job of caring than most. As I said in my comments in the article, the people living there are making a real ethical choice–it is coming at a cost to themselves. But while community is harped on in the article, becoming part of that “community” still requires a significant outlay of cash. Ultimately money (not common bond) forms the basis of that institution. It is because Fellowship Community sits just outside of NYC (with plenty of affluent people nearby who are able to pay the money required to join the commune and with rich associated donors) that it is able to function. If you dropped Fellowship Community in the middle of rural, impoverished, upper New York state or Pennsylvania then sustainability would be a different matter entirely. I am not saying a mutually supporting community couldn’t function in those areas–I am saying that a commune where membership requires an initial outlay of $27,500 to $50,000 with additional monthly outlays of $700-$1,500 is not something that most of America can afford. As nice as everything at Fellowship Community is, ultimately it is all held together by money–not grace or love. Among the poor–in true community–something other than money keeps you glued together because you have no money.

    My point is that in the ancient days, even into Pioneer America, and even in other cultures yet still today a large extended mutually supporting family was the reality of family. It was not just one wife/child/whoever taking care of the infirm, and being required to bring income for the family as well. Everyone shared the burdens of keeping the larger family unit afloat and so no one was left carrying an unbearable load.

    That larger family structure is alien to America today. I remember last year sitting in nursing class while other people in the roomed talked in voices of such shock and horror about how immigrants from other cultures lived in the city in big family units–everyone together. (The horror of it.) My fellow students and teachers had to grudgingly admit that those families had an amazing closeness and mutual support–but it was just so weird. Autonomy is the name of the game today, but autonomy comes with a price.

    Something I think you are unconsciously (or perhaps consciously) getting at is that a “typical” family today of two children with a mother and father working outside the home cannot healthily or effectively take care of an ailing older person in the home. You are quite right. When I said at the end “The system is broken. Welcome to the future” I looked to not just the brokenness of the nursing home system, but the brokenness of society in which those nursing homes exist. The social order is coming unglued and the nursing homes are only one manifestation of the larger problem. Of course your friends mother is having a terrible time caring for her mother-in-law because she is trying to both work outside the home and manage the home (and it sounds as if she has little help). That isn’t the way it was supposed to be. This daughter-in-law (or I should say the husband/son) ought to have a bunch of siblings assisting in caring for their parent, and the husband and wife ought to have a bunch of children assisting in caring for their grandparent. In this imagined situation there would be so many children and grandchildren pitching in that it wouldn’t be this one daughter-in-law trying to heroically both hold a job and take care of her mother-in-law.

    That imagined reality of a large supporting extended family is a dream (or nightmare) to most of America. Have all of that family? Heaven forbid! And so people have to muddle through situations without the familial support that ought to be present.

    You ask, “Is family best?” Well, do we mean as family was meant to be, or as “family” exists today? I whole heartedly say as family was meant to be in God’s creation family is the best. God created family to be a unit of love, lovingly supporting and caring for one another, sacrificially serving one another.

    But today we do not have family as it was meant to be. Instead, hearts continue to grow cold. I would weep for those living out their last days in nursing homes–and I do have great sorrow in my heart when I see those caught in nursing homes–but I also realize they the majority of those people are living out the adage “You make the bed you will sleep in.” The old people in the nursing homes today were the young people of yester-year who decided to have only a few children so they could live the easy life, and taught those children to chase after money instead of God and to seek wealth and riches. So now those old people have nobody to care for them, because the few children they had now live across the country chasing well paying jobs, and those children have even fewer children than before. And now we have a new generation rising up where marriage and children themselves are both doubtful propositions. Soon it won’t be a question of whether an enfeebled family structure is the best way to care for the elderly–soon their will be no family structure at all!

    The commune living of Fellowship Community is a faint echo of what family used to be. Most American families of today are only a faint echo of what family used to be. Family–as it was meant to be–is the best place for the elderly to live out their lives. But by and large the families we see today are not anywhere close what they were meant to be, and so the best place for an individual elderly adult to live out their last days ultimately comes down to, (as it were,) “time and circumstance” (Ecclesiastes 9:11).

    Please don’t mistake me–I am not saying a large family is some nice panacea to the tough problems of end of life care. My Dad’s parents had six children, and among those six children there were 25 grandchildren. But with all of that my Grandpa came close enough to a nursing home himself–the reasons being a bit complex. My point is not that a large family is the solution to the problems of life. It is true that the disintegration of the family unit is a manifestation of a deeper problem, but the solution–whether it be your friends family problem, or any other family problem–is faith, hope, and love, but the greatest of these is love. That is the answer no matter how big or small, broken or whole, a family may be. The reality of the outworking of that faith, hope, and love will be different as each situation manifests.

    Family is not the answer–God is. It would be wrong for me to say that family is the ultimate answer. Where family fails (for whatever reason) God can still work, bless, and redeem–not only the lives of the young, but also the lives of the old.

    I cannot speak to every individual situation, and I would be a fool if I thought I could. When I said, “The most natural, healthful, and right place to live out life is with family, being part of family, and cared for by family” I was looking to how God had originally created family, and to what family should be. What family is remains another question.

    That leaves us with this thought: If family was the original structure God created for the care of the elderly, should we seek to have and live a family that realizes in some measure that God ordained ideal, or should we look for some substitute?

    I would suggest that Fellowship Community and places like it are well intentioned attempts to recapture something of the essence of “family” but that since it is not ultimately family as God created it, such institutions will ultimately fail when hard times come. If a Great Depression came like in the 1930-1940s all the funding of Fellowship Community would dry up, and then where would the people be?

    So, yes, for those people whose families have become so broken as to be no families at all, places like Fellowship Community offer some solace for a time. If that is your point I certainly agree. But I think those who imagine it to be an ultimate answer to the loss of family, (even, ultimately, the loss of God,) will end up sadly mistaken. You cannot buy with money that which your heart has lost.

    All of that was a rather long and rambling answer. I am not confident I clearly answered your question at all, but I hope you feel comfortable continuing the discussion if you like.

    I will probably discover all sorts of horrible errors in what I wrote tomorrow morning, but I shall press the publish button tonight anyhow… [Edit: I did fix a few bits in the light of a new day]

  4. I will agree with your first two paragraphs: ideally the family situation is better than the nursing home one. There is a grey area, and I for one definitely don’t have enough knowledge to narrow it. Also, I will take the time now (before I forget) to ask your opinion on assisted living for people who don’t have a plethora of needs. Many older people don’t want to rely on family more than they have to, and are perfectly happy to, or in fact would rather, live with some assistance than rely on their family. In short they would rather be independent, and I can respect that. Again though, where the lines are between assisted living, and a nursing home is sometimes hard to tell.

    Your examination to the word ‘best’ is very interesting. I am also drawn in by your discussion of what we deserve. Again, there is much grey, and I will not claim to know what is best, although a part of me thinks that it would be my first though-that it is best if one person suffers versus a whole family. At the same time though, I realize that we are called to both sacrifice, and to respect our elders as Christians. Another point I would bring out regarding best, and the situation I described is that it would probably be best if the daughter-in-law’s relatives would help. Again, the ideal situation. But they have all tried, received wrath, and given up, or flat out refused to take the mother-in-law back. We live in a fallen world.

    I agree with this: “God created families to love and care for families.” Yes, and I think that can be extended to say that God created people to love and care for people. It’s interesting how much of this can be pulled back to ideals versus reality: what things were created to be and what they are.

    Again, you’re pushing me to deal with this ‘best’ logic. Perhaps much of this rests on personal conviction? If God tells or calls you to care for someone, then obviously it would be a sin not to.As you said “I believed it was right, and so I did.” But then it could also be said that (1.) weather or not you are called depends on your relationship with God and the closeness of it, and (2.) that we are all called to this through God’s Word, and His commands to care for the elderly. Also, on that vein we could get into weather or not the church is following the Bible’s call to elder care and to care for widows and orphans for that matter.

    Faith, love, and service are so easy to talk about, yet so hard to do. And, for the record, I do admire, and respect you for what you did for your Grandfather. There are so many broken families (as I realized more and more personally in my ventures to the public school) that it is good to see a family, or at least a person functioning in a family as it should be. This is also an area where I can respect, and agree with the Amish tradition, though you know I struggle with many of their other practices.

    Commune living…yes, I think that part of the reason that I am so attracted to it is because that which I have seen (although it perhaps technically doesn’t fall under this heading) has been a true-and not a forced- community. I do have something against forced community living. One thing that I could never do would be to live in a gated community. I can’t get over the whole thing of gating yourself off from the world, and living only among people like you. It just seems silly to me.

    The pioneer America that you speak of is what I meant when I said that I embrace commune living. In some ways that is recreated in yearly reenactments. I’ve camped in forts where everyone watches everyone’s children, and there is a close family fellowship between all. Not to say that that is perfect, however. Everything has it’s drawbacks.

    As you pointed out the trouble is that the system is broken, though I will say that in the situation I described there two children who help tremendously despite the fact that they are in a hard position. The fact that the next generation has been taught to seek money, and have few children is one (though obvious) that I had not considered much. As the song Cat’s in the Cradle points out well, this is a fatal flaw in our society which has come to backfire on the older generation.

    Yes, a large family is NOT the epitome, or grantee of happiness, etc. But the disintegration of the family unit is displayed there, especially so as we see people forced to have less children, as in China. I like that you point out that each situation is different. Indeed, in some situations the commune you discussed may be the best option. I will, of course, also agree that God, not family, is the solution. And if we did come to God as a nation I would venture to say that it would take several generations to undo what we have done.

    Your question: “If family was the original structure God created for the care of the elderly, should we seek to have and live a family that realizes in some measure that God ordained ideal, or should we look for some substitute?” is a valid one, as well as a hard one with the state of things. Obviously, we should not seek a substitute, but follow God’s original plan as closely as possible., but what that looks like may vary from one situation to another. I was certainly not saying that communes such as Fellowship Community are the answer, and I was saying that God is, in fact, the answer, but by the same token we live in a broken world. Though God is the ultimate answer sometimes we must work with the brokenness.

    You answered my question well, for the record. I wanted to know (slightly more exactly (lol)) what you felt on this issue since you said I was sure to encounter your strong view at some point if I had not already in my readings of your blog. As you, I am sure I shall find many errors in this when I look at it in the morning, and unfortunately unlike you I will not be able to edit (I’ve never figured out why they don’t have an edit button on blog comments) , but I shall be brave, and press submit.

  5. rundy says:

    That was a nice thoughtful reply. I’m going to address what you brought up slightly out of order. At the end you said, “I wanted to know (slightly more exactly (lol)) what you felt on this issue since you said I was sure to encounter your strong view at some point if I had not already in my readings of your blog.” In particular I was referencing a post I wrote back in the Spring of 2011 titled “Not Hamburgers” regarding my experience in the Certified Nursing Assistant program which I took prior to the Nursing Program. (I think that was well prior to you following my blog.) Also, my comment was looking forward to some stuff I plan to post. In particular I have one post tentatively titled in my mind “A Taste of Haldol” which to some measure will reprise the themes of “Not Hamburgers.” I have never liked nursing homes, but my clinical experience working in them for both my CNA and LPN training were deeply upsetting to me on an emotional level. However, it is a little…awkward, I guess, to talk about how nursing homes affect me because I know a lot of fellow students who now work in those institutions and I know they are earnestly trying to do their best. I also know plenty of people have unwillingly and reluctantly put loved ones in nursing homes because they had no other choice. So I try to maintain some balance of showing grace to those involved in an unhappy situation and not seeming to cast aspersions on them while at the same time not papering over what is truly a horrible experience.

    I will be exploring those thoughts and feelings more in “A Taste of Haldol” if I ever stop procrastinating and write it so I’ll refrain from repeating it all now. Suffice to say that because of what is on my mind I posted the above story we are commenting on as something as a contrast and/or prelude to further thoughts.

    Now, returning to your opening paragraph, “Also, I will take the time now (before I forget) to ask your opinion on assisted living for people who don’t have a plethora of needs. Many older people don’t want to rely on family more than they have to, and are perfectly happy to, or in fact would rather, live with some assistance than rely on their family. In short they would rather be independent, and I can respect that. Again though, where the lines are between assisted living, and a nursing home is sometimes hard to tell.

    First, I don’t think it is right to drag some elderly relative off to live with us when they are kicking and screaming because they don’t want to go. I hope I didn’t come across as implying we should man-handle the elderly into living with us because we might think it best! Our sanctimonious ideas of what is best is not something to lord over the lives of others. If some elderly person wants to go live in some hell hole of a nursing home rather than family, then family members have no right to stop them. My Grandmother on the other side of the family (my mom’s) has said she doesn’t want to be a burden to anyone, and that she will enjoy living in a nursing home. Once she is no longer able to live independently she fully intends to move into a nursing home. Having seen nursing home conditions first hand, I cannot understand that choice, and I think she is both ignorant and naive in her idea of how life will be for her in a nursing home. But I certainly am not going to forbid–much less even argue–with her on the matter. Grandma is in her right mind, and no matter how poor I think her choices may be, they are hers to make.

    So on this particular matter I don’t think it is a gray issue at all. If an elderly person makes a deliberate choice based upon their own desires and values to live in a nursing home, or assisted living, that choice should be respected–simple as black and white. We don’t–or I should say shouldn’t–force other people to live by our values. (Of course, there can be a problem if said elderly person can’t afford a nursing home or assisted living and wants someone else to foot the bill. But that is a different question from respecting an elder’s choice to live where they want using their funds as they desire.)

    In regards to assisted living I will say that in my opinion there is a huge difference between assisted living and a nursing home. I might say the difference is like that between night and day. In most assisted living facilities you are, to a large degree, still independent. You get to choose when you get up and when you go to bed. You chose when you will eat and when you will bathe, etc. It is quite natural for people to want to maintain their independence and I find nothing offensive in the idea of assisted living–though in reality not all assisted living facilities are created equal, and some are not worth much.

    The difference, in my mind, between assisted living and a nursing home is stark. When you move into a nursing home there is an almost total (if not total!) surrender of autonomy. You are captive to the will of the institution. You bathe when it is your turn to bathe. You eat when the meal is served, and you are roused out of bed when it is time to get up whether you like it or not.

    Good assisted living is like living in a more “high maintenance” apartment. I wouldn’t want to live in an apartment any time in my life. Myself, if I live to grow old I would rather sit out on the porch of my old farm house and watch the chickens and the grandchildren play in the yard. But for many who have lived in apartments all their lives, or who are of different temperament that I, assisted living is a nice way to extend their years of independence.

    But when you step into a nursing home you have entered a life which is a strange cross-breed between hospital ward, mental institution, and prison.

    Now as to the question of best you said, “Perhaps much of this rests on personal conviction? If God tells or calls you to care for someone, then obviously it would be a sin not to. [...] (1.) weather or not you are called depends on your relationship with God and the closeness of it, and (2.) that we are all called to this through God’s Word, and His commands to care for the elderly. Also, on that vein we could get into weather or not the church is following the Bible’s call to elder care and to care for widows and orphans for that matter.” Yes, absolutely, absolutely, absolutely! I agree. That sums it up. And now you’ve got me on a rant on that topic…

    I know church groups “mean well” when they go to nursing homes to minister to the elderly but it bothers me (a lot) because I see it as a way to take the easy route of “service.” I don’t mean people doing such things aren’t good intentioned or that some good doesn’t come of it. But it seems to me that kind of activity is avoiding the true pinch–the real pain–of sacrifice and service. You can go and tend the elderly in the nursing home at your convenience and on your schedule. Helping members of the church body care for their elders at home requires huge inconvenience of people. Help is needed at the most bothersome times. Real service require real, painful, sacrifice. Going to nursing homes can become a nice way to say a few prayers, pat a few hands, and then say “Go, I wish you well” (James 2:16 paraphrased).

    I am not saying the church should just abandon those in the nursing homes. But I do think a ministry in nursing homes without a concerted effort by the church to keep the elderly members of the church in a better situation actually serves to condemn that church. By ministering in the nursing home they acknowledge it is a bad place to be, but do nothing to keep their fellow believers from such a plight because they don’t want the inconvenience and muck of the difficulties and dirtiness of life.

    Like larger American culture, the church at large wants a sanitized life, and a sanitized, neat, faith and Christian walk.

    I know there are some churches who do make a concerted effort to keep their elderly members in their own homes and cared for. And, in spite of the best efforts of any church people will still end up in nursing homes. So I don’t want what I have said to be seen as a universal condemnation of every church in this regard. But it is far, far, too common in churches.

    I find it intolerable how it has become so common to focus on making church “fun” and “attractive” to the youth population and so every effort is put into all sorts of youth group “good times.” Where are the commands and teaching of Jesus in that? If the church wants to teach Jesus to the youth, then the church should teach service to the elders–the unpleasant jobs of cleaning the filthy houses of those unable to clean, or pay for cleaning. It is washing the sick, clothing the naked, and feeding the hungry. And if that kind of “church” is not fun enough for the youth then they should get out of the church.

    The way the culture of our day treats its elders is a condemnation of that culture. But it is equally true that the priorities of the church at large in this day, and how it treats and values its elders, is equally condemning of the church today. Jesus is not going to come back and praise people for their summer camps while the elderly have languished abandoned.

    Deep breath. You’ve got me going here. Getting a little excited. Deep breath.

    Okay. A little more calm.

    From a Christian perspective, our actions need to spring from love and grace. When we face these kind of choices in life as Christians we need to ask ourselves, “What is love, grace, and faith calling me to do?” I do not want to lay law or guilt on anyone because that is not what spurs service pleasing to God. What I do want to do is point them to the example of Jesus and encourage them to consider what that example would have them do. Whether we are youths or middle aged parents with elders that need care, the same call of Jesus applies to us all.

    As far as the Bible is concerned, Paul said in 1 Tim. 5:4-8 “if a widow has children or grandchildren, let them first learn to show godliness to their own household and to make some return to their parents, for this is pleasing in the sight of God. She who is truly a widow, left all alone, has set her hope on God and continues in supplications and prayers night and day, but she who is self-indulgent is dead even while she lives. Command these things as well, so that they may be without reproach. But if anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for members of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.” Paul didn’t say “Anyone who puts their grammy in a nursing home is going to hell,” but Paul does give a very strong positive injunction for showing care and an extremely negative condemnation for not showing care. Given the weight Paul places on this matter people ought to seriously consider their conduct. Not only children in regards to the care given to their parents, but all of us in how we care for others.

    What is giving care? Paul didn’t give a four point check list. So what do we do? We have to examine our hearts.

    I can’t tell people what is best. Life is so very varied. But I can say, “A nursing home is horrible. Can you really do no better?” For some, the answer may indeed be yes for a multitude of possible reasons. Then, other people will excuse themselves and justify their selfish choices–but it is God who judges such motives of men’s hearts, not me. I can only say that a nursing home is a horrible place to be.

    Faith, love, and service are so easy to talk about, yet so hard to do.” Yes, and also it is easy to become controlled by guilt in these matters. I haven’t really addressed that, but it can become a huge issue. When peoples’ eyes are opened to the need and brokenness they begin to feel a responsibility to answer every need and fix every problem and then feel horrible guilt that they aren’t doing enough. Guilt is no better than apathy. Faith is recognizing that we are limited, but God is unlimited, that God has given us specific gifts and calls and that we are not equipped to answer every need. The world is needful, but we must rest in peace in God, even as we labor in the measure He has given us.

    And, for the record, I do admire, and respect you for what you did for your Grandfather. There are so many broken families (as I realized more and more personally in my ventures to the public school) that it is good to see a family, or at least a person functioning in a family as it should be.” Thank you. I appreciate that. I do want to stress, however, that I was not some lone heroic figure making my way against the tide of opposition. Everyone in my immediate family agreed on the need and the best solution–but some God called to other deeds, and some were not gifted in the same way. It wasn’t that I was better than all my brothers and sisters. Truly in this situation I was the one equipped for the particular task of service. My siblings have been given other gifts so I don’t want any mistaken ideas that I am better than others for what I did. Some of us God calls to be hands, other to be feet, eyes, or mouths (to use the body analogy).

    Returning to the topic of “best,” I think my recent post of Laura Story’s song “Blessings” is an addition to the pondering. Sometimes taking an elderly person into our lives is the most painful and unpleasant thing we could do. But what if that is best? What if (in the thought that Laura Story shares) those tears we will suffer are the very blessing God would give?

    Tough things to wrestle with.

    Good discussion, even if I am getting a little excited and opinionated!

    I am very sorry your friend and her family are going through such a difficult experience. I wish I had some nice advice and solution but knowing so little first hand about their particular situation there is little I can say. Unfortunately such interpersonal problems are very common, and even I had to face some ugly situations during my time of care. It can be a very difficult burden to carry.

    As you, I am sure I shall find many errors in this when I look at it in the morning, and unfortunately unlike you I will not be able to edit (I’ve never figured out why they don’t have an edit button on blog comments) , but I shall be brave, and press submit.” Yeah, I really wish I had the option to edit my comments on your blog. I live in the perpetual fear that some day I will forget to close a html formatting tag and half of a comment will end up in bold text or something and I won’t be able to correct it.

    However, I’m glad you brought this point up because I realize now that I can do something for you on my blog. Since this website is run on my own host, I can to do what I want with the software I have set up.

    Today I created a user account for you. To log in either scroll down to the bottom of the page and click the “WordPress Admin” link in the lower right corner. (Alternately, put in your browser address bar, which takes you to the same place.) At the login screen put your first name (well, your “pen name” first name!) in as the user, all lowercase, no caps. For the password, put in the first word from your blog title, all lowercase. If you have problems, let me know.

    Once logged in it should look fairly similar to the backend interface for your blog. Unfortunately, user permissions are a little buggy (I spent waaay to much time today trying to figure out how to tweak user permissions) so as it stands you can actually create posts on my blog with your account and edit other people’s comments–but I trust you won’t put graffiti all over my website ;-). You can poke around–on the profile tab you can change your personal info and add anything if it strikes your fancy, change the password associated with your account if you like, etc. I put my email address in for your account because one was required. You may want to change that, up to you–any password recovery or password changes you implement will send an email to the address associated with your profile.

    The main thing that you want is the comment editing available from the dashboard where you should be able to see the last twenty-five comments written by anyone. There you can edit comments (links should come up when you hover over the comment) and the comment editing screen actually has some nice formatting options not available from the normal comment writing screen on the blog (weirdly enough). I wanted to make it so your account could edit comments by using the comment menu on the side, but in the limited time I spent this afternoon I couldn’t figure out how to enable that without giving you administrator privileges. Perhaps some future upgrade in WordPress will give me finer control of account privilege tweaking. For right now what I’ve done should enable you to correct any embarrassing comment errors you have made, or will make in the future.

    If the account is too much bother and you have no intention of using it, let me know and I’ll remove it (no point in having unused accounts). If you appreciate the ability to go back and correct your most recent comments consider it a free feature of being a regular commenter!

  6. Yes, that was prior to my following of your blog. But I’ve read it now, and have a deeper appreciation for, and understanding of your point of view. I am looking forward to your future post with interest.

    That said, I have come to the conclusion that we agree for the most part, as usual, but are just coming at it from different angles. You say if someone wants to go you will not stop them. I agree with that. Not that we agree entirely, mind you, just mostly. I can definitely agree that we shouldn’t force people to live by our morals.

    I guess the reason that I see the difference between assisted living homes, and nursing homes as vague, is because the nursing home my Mom worked at was technically an ‘assisted living home’ but ended up being pretty much a nursing home based on the needs of the people placed in it.

    As to your rant on church groups. I can relate. I suppose taking the easy route to service is better than nothing, but then again maybe not because then we are misrepresenting God and the Church as a whole. At the same time I see where those visiting people are coming from. I think I have a less realistic view of sacrifice than you do. To them visiting is sacrificing time from their busy lives. Time that they could be cleaning, or sleeping, or… And the opportunity to pray with the elderly is a revolutionary experience. It is, I suppose, an introduction to witnessing.

    On sanitized culture, and youth . . . YES! Sanitized neat faith is especially repulsive to me at the moment. Our compartmentalized “Christian walks” are so inconsistent and hypocritical. My youth leader has repeatedly told us that if we want ‘fluff’ we need to look elsewhere. At the same time though I don’t think we need to com across as a grim somber group. It is important to have fun too.

    You said “Jesus is not going to come back and praise people for their summer camps while the elderly have languished abandoned.” I suppose. I guess that hit me particularly hard because there is a good chance that I might be working at a summer camp this year. You also said “When peoples’ eyes are opened to need and brokenness they begin to feel a responsibility to answer every need. . .”and I must say yes; I’ve been there. The frustration of not being able to save the world is hard to deal with.

    And, now to letting me into adminship so I can edit my comments. . .Wow. I didn’t see that one coming. I tried to do what you said, and it didn’t work, but even so, what an honor. If you would like to continue to pursue this feel free to e-mail me (I’m assuming my e-mail shows up in your e-mail when the notice for my comment comes in) so you don’t have to have it online for anyone to get in.

    And, if you ever want to edit one of your comments on my blog (if your nightmare of all the thingies that make things bold and stuff comes true) feel free to e-mail me the revised copy, and I’ll just edit the new version into your comment. I would let you into adminship, but I’m not tech savvy enough to do that.

  7. rundy says:

    That said, I have come to the conclusion that we agree for the most part, as usual, but are just coming at it from different angles.” Yes, I guess I never really thought we had come to the point of disagreeing on this topic. I had taken it more that we were just discussing ideas and bouncing them around. I certainly didn’t mean to come across as adversarial to you, though I realize I could have done so unintentionally.

    I guess the reason that I see the difference between assisted living homes, and nursing homes is vague, I guess, is because the nursing home my Mom worked at was technically an ‘assisted living home’ but ended up being pretty much a nursing home based on the needs of the people placed in it. Ah, I see. That definitely muddies the difference between the two.

    As to your rant on church groups. I can relate. I suppose taking the easy route to service is better than nothing, but then again maybe not because then we are misrepresenting God and the Church as a whole. At the same time I see where those visiting people are coming from. [...]” As is typical, when I rant I am not careful in what I say. I didn’t mean to imply there is anything intrinsically sinful about visiting old people in nursing homes. I can affirm that a person can very much please God by doing so. But I was trying to get at the issue of heart motivations.

    There is nothing wrong with giving your old clothes to the clothing bank so the poor might use them. But it is wrong to then pat yourself on the back and congratulate yourself that you have such great concern for the poor because you gave them your old clothes. Again, there is nothing wrong with giving your pocket change to a beggar on a street. But it is a sin to do so and then walk away congratulating yourself for your deep concern for the poor and disadvantaged.

    At the same time, if you give a bizillion dollars to the poor and think you have bought God’s favour by doing so that too is a sin, because you have thought you could buy righteousness. It isn’t the outward things which are most important, but rather the heart.

    You said ‘Jesus is not going to come back and praise people for their summer camps while the elderly have languished abandoned.’ I suppose. I guess that hit me particularly hard because there is a good chance that I might be working at a summer camp this year.” Perhaps you slightly misunderstood my point. Let me try to clarify with another example. If I had said “Jesus is not going to come back and praise people for how much money they made at their job while the elderly have languished abandoned” my point would not have been that having a job (or earning money) is a sin itself, or that we should all abandon our jobs so we can care for the poor. I suppose some people might misunderstand me in that way, but the point is about where we put our value and importance. Money is not a sin, and having a job to earn money is not a sin. But when we value money or jobs above caring for our brothers, sisters, and elders–that is a sin. Likewise, going to a camp (or working at a camp) is not a sin itself. The problem is when those things begin to make us value and prioritize things differently than God does.

    So my point wasn’t to make people (you, or anyone else) feel guilty because they have, or will, work at a camp–any more than I seek to make people feel guilty for having a job and making money. But I certainly hope we are all careful to keep our priorities in line with God’s.

    I hope that is a more clear and balanced statement. I will try to be careful about allowing myself to rant in the future :-)

    At the same time though I don’t think we need to com across as a grim somber group. It is important to have fun too.” Right. I spend a lot of time having fun, (I think sometimes too much time) so if you knew me personally you would know I wasn’t against that!

    What bothers me is when people are self-deceptive or deluded, and calls things something that they are not. It is self-deceptive when people go out to watch a movie, go to the bowling alley, or whatever they do to have fun and then go home and congratulate themselves on their good deep fellowship with their Christian brothers. By all means, let people enjoy their time at the bowling alley, movies, or whatever. But let things be called what they are, not dressed up in “spiritual” words. Such self-deceptive thinking makes people blind to their own shallowness and spiritual infantilism. We should eat, drink, and be merry in the plenty and blessings God has given. Just don’t confuse sleeping with study, or dancing with hard thought. Each has its place, and each in measure.

    I’m really not quite so fire and brimstone as I can sound–I just think it is important for us to be honest and real about what we are doing, and why.

    And, now to letting me into adminship so I can edit my comments. . .Wow. I didn’t see that one coming. I tried to do what you said, and it didn’t work, but even so, what an honor.” Well, it’s not quite that big a deal. The account I created for you doesn’t have the role of an administrator–Thus, you can’t nuke my blog :-) There are a lot of possible account privilege roles in WordPress–Subscriber, Contributor, Author, Editor, and Administrator. If I wanted, I could set it so everyone was required to log into an account on my site before they could even post comments (I don’t because it is too much bother and then spam bots keep trying to create accounts).

    I will email you with further details on logging in here to the email address you use when leaving comments on this website. Let me know if the email doesn’t arrive.

    I haven’t fooled around with but it might be impossible for you to add other users to your blog. They might have restricted things so you can’t have multipule users on a free account. I have the wordpress software installed on my own server so I have a lot more functionality than you do. Basically, and I are running the same software, so I can set up as many blogs as I want and grant as many users privileges on those blogs as I want (much as is done by the professionals at

    If I ever do make a big mistake in a comment on your blog I will take you up on the offer of corrections–if it is just a failure to close a html tag you should be able to correct that pretty easily. And I am sure I will make such a mistake eventually, it’s only a matter of time….

  8. cynthia says:

    Interesting and important discussion. I tend to come off very cut and dry on the subject of nursing homes. I’ve been there and I’ve seen the underbelly of several nursing homes and it is vile. I also know that there are some incredibly caring aides, nurses, and administrators who try their very best to be comforting. So I will concede and try not to judge people who HAVE to make the decision when there is absolutely no other alternative. Rundy, may remember when I posted on facebook the simple comment: If there is ANYTHING better that you are able to do, don’t send your loved one into a nursing home! Whew! did I ever cause an uproar with a few folks! But we need to be talking about these things before the moment of decision happens.
    This discussion reminded me of a study that came out in the 90′s where day care centers were under scrutiny by a top ranked university. (Don’t even get me going) After a long, exhaustive study by some university (cannot for the life of me remember which one – Harvard, Tufts?? – anyway, the conclusion was: WE SHOULD MAKE DAY CARES MORE LIKE HOME! Really! That is what they said with a solemn, straight face!
    So the point that Rundy made about this being a bigger problem that just about nursing homes rings solidly true with me also. “I looked to not just the brokenness of the nursing home system, but the brokenness of society in which those nursing homes exist. The social order is coming unglued and the nursing homes are only one manifestation of the larger problem.” There are many!
    I firmly believe that without the glue that binds a marriage, a family, church, and society at large together, we will continue to see more and more manifestations of brokenness spiraling ever downward. As Veronica pointed out, even “if we did come to God as a nation I would venture to say that it would take several generations to undo what we have done.” Yes, God forgives, but we often still live through the terrible consequences. One of my hospice patients who wound up in a nursing home told me that she fully regretted NOW her decision to put her mother in a nursing home. She said, “If I had only known then…….I guess it has all come rolling back to haunt me!”
    So what is the answer? Make nursing homes more like home? I think that we all realize that home is the key – it is just that a Godless society has torn itself apart from the only source able to sustain viability! And we languish as we send our elders off to a place where strangers provide the very minimum to sustain them till they breathe their last breath! Very sad indeed!

  9. rundy says:

    Cynthia, I do remember that comment you made on Facebook! You know I agree with you about nursing homes (and I have at least one more post coming on that topic) but I was a little surprised back when you threw that “firebomb” statement out into Facebook world. Quiet ol’ Cynthia stirring up the world. Who woulda thought!

    I don’t know if on statistical average the nursing homes down in Texas where you are are worse than up here in New York (I probably saw some study on it once) but my sense is that larger metropolitan areas generally have worse nursing homes because of the over-crowding understaffing issues so given your locale I am sure you have seen the utter dregs. I’m sure you have seen worse than I–things I don’t want to see.

  10. cynthia says:

    Yep, I even prefaced my comment with – “this is going to be controversial!” It certainly was! I got a LOT of private messages! Some were very angry! I also heard from a few who felt extremely guilty but said that they had no other choice. That is when I had to step back and say – okay – I am not the judge. You must do what you think you must do!
    I’m so thankful that my husband and I agree on this matter and so far our parents have been spared the ordeal of a nursing home. Only my father remains and he is almost 90 and still lives in his own home with one of my brothers checking on him regularly. But it may not be too much longer until he needs more care and it will be in our home. We know that there will be tough times and some sacrifice, but it will also be a huge honor! I would be curious to know Japan’s take on nursing homes considering their very strong view of elder respect!

Comments are closed.

Collecting Quotes

24th February 2013

Some people collect quotes on their websites. Some people just collect quotes. At times I have the thought that I ought to start such a collection. It occurs to me that it might be fun to share interesting or witty bits of writing that I have stumble upon in the course of my reading. A more useful aspect is that a properly attributed quote can remind you of a piece of writing that you might want to refer to, or re-read, at a later date. This, in my mind, is the more convincing reason to start a quotation collection. It is a useful form of reference.

Anyhow, the three quotations below are not ones I have taken out of their original source. These I found in someone else’s collection in the Internet and they caught my fancy.

“Elves seldom give unguarded advice, for advice is a dangerous gift, even from the wise to the wise, and all courses may run ill. But what would you? You have not told me all concerning yourself; and how then shall I choose better than you?” ~ Gildor Inglorian, The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring, Book I, Chapter III

The following is something of a re-saying of a Biblical proverb:

“The fool doth think he is wise, but the wise man knows himself to be a fool.” ~ William Shakespeare

The last is quite true of how so many people think today:

“People are so ready to think themselves changed when it is only their mood that is changed.” ~ George MacDonald, The Lost Princess, Chapter III

7 Responses to Collecting Quotes

  1. Dee says:

    Quotes make me happy. :) I remember that one from ‘The Fellowship of The Ring’. It’s a keeper. Those books are full of them. I especially like Sam’s reaction to finding himself awake and saved in the end of ‘The Return of The King’.
    “How do I feel?” he cried. “Well, I don’t know how to say it. I feel, I feel” – he waved his arms in the air – “I feel like spring after winter, and sun on the leaves; and like trumpets and harps and all the songs I have ever heard!” -Sam Gamgee, The Return of The King, Book Six, ch. IV, pg. 931 (at least, in my book)

    A fun way to collect quotes is to have a designated ‘quote wall’. I used to print out or write out quotes I stumbled upon, and taped ‘em to a narrow wall that otherwise was blank. Visitors liked it; a great conversation starter. :)

  2. rundy says:

    I like the passage from The Hobbit where in the beginning Bilbo goes off like a steam whistle because he is so stressed out by all the plains for adventuring. I am not stating it precisely, but perhaps you remember. Some day I am going to work that passage into some post I write!

  3. Quotes are one of my favorite things. I’m wishing I had one to add, but none come off the top of my head. Thanks for sharing the ones you found. I’m curious, what blog did you get them from?

  4. rundy says:

    Veronicah, I “stole” them from The blog has interesting parallels in some thoughts with though I think the author of the former is not as careful as Bailey in phrasing some thoughts and opinions.

  5. Dee says:

    Oh, yes. He falls down on the mat, if I remember correctly. A humorous part, to be sure. :) All those dwarves piling in earlier… I think I’d have been stressed too. Maybe that’s why I remember that part, because I can identify with the feeling of pressure building up inside, til it HAS to come out. :)

  6. rundy says:

    Dee, yeah that occasion with Bilbo rather reminds me of how I want to deal with life’s stressful occasions. In many ways I find a hobbit’s sensibilities about life and adventure much mirrors my own. Some days it feels like quite the bother that life requires us all to take a trip to our own version of Mount Doom (or Smaug).

  7. Dee says:

    And the next morning after a good breakfast we change our minds and jump into it. And are never the same…

Comments are closed.

Ancient Stone Bank Barn

20th February 2013

I love stonework. Dry stacked (no mortar) can be particularly impressive. So it was no surprise that I thought it beautiful when I came across these two pictures of an ancient stone bank barn in England.

Upper view of stone bank barn in England

Lower view of stone bank barn in England

The skill in construction is amazing. I must also find the non-uniform pattern of stones particularly asthetically pleasing. A brick structure does not have the same beautiful appearance to me.

2 Responses to Ancient Stone Bank Barn

  1. Dee says:

    Wow. That’s just about all she could say. Wow. The work and thought that those pictures represent…

    The door lintels or whatever they’re called, are especially impressive.
    And the roof, is it slate?

  2. rundy says:

    Yeah, the roof appears to be slate as best I can tell.

Comments are closed.

Finished Draft and Facebook Page

13th February 2013

I finished the third draft of How to Say Goodbye the middle of last week. My feelings are a bit mixed. On the positive side, I am glad it is done and that I finished it in fairly decent time. I am also confident that it is an improvement on the previous draft. This is all good stuff.

However, I found myself wrestling with a sense of peevishness at my own writing as I neared completion on the draft. It is, of course, far from the complete draft so a certain sensitivity to the weakness of the current iteration is warranted. But what I felt (feel) most is some ill-defined unhappiness with my writing, that on large it feels like I am not living up to the eloquence this topic deserves, that by and large I am making a mockery or a travesty out of what could be a truly great book. I feel rushed, and not all together on top of things. I need to slow down, so it feels. I need to take more time to get it right.

Like, say, fifty more years.

Which is to say I recognize that some of my unhappiness is not warranted, and is due to that elusive desire for perfection. By that measure I will never be “happy” with this book, nor any of my writing. The point is not to reach the state of nirvana perfection but simply the place where you let it go to live or die, and move on with your life.

At least, so I tell myself. But then, I also find myself heaping often vague and inarticulate feelings of scorn on certain portions of my writing that I feel are not up to snuff and feeling that if this is the best I can do I ought to shelve the whole thing until I have better literary brilliance to handle the passage in question.

It is what it is, and I will keep pushing myself forward.

Speaking of pushing myself, I continue to follow my resolution of becoming more professional in my writing by taking small (baby) steps down that path. I have published a Facebook page for myself. As a professional writer, I am now out there on Facebook in all my glory. Aren’t you proud of me.

Yeah, on that subject…my deepest inclinations are always working at cross purposes with that whole professionalism thing. This is evident on both the macro scale as already mentioned previously (being reluctant to make a FB page in the first place, not wanting to finish my writing, etc.,) but it is also evident on the micro scale. Like, say, what cover photo I put on the said professional Facebook page.

I can’t help myself. I like it and I thought it was funny. But even in putting the image up I knew deep down it would have to go. As my dear mother later confirmed in a message to me, “If you didn’t have that pencil up your nose in your cover photo, I would tell my friends to like your page. But I don’t think that is their kind of humor.” So, yeah, that is the problem. It is not actually a photo of myself with a pencil up my nose, but rather a comic consisting of four drawn images of myself in the various stages of my own relation to my writing: (a) Happily writing (b) Perplexed (c) Frustrated (d) Put to sleep. Still, it doesn’t really work for the gravitas and weight one ought to project for a writer working on a memoir about his time spent caring for his dying grandfather.

But I like it. It captures the essence of my relation to my own writing in a way that just about makes me giggle.

But it does have to go. That pesky being professional thing. So for about a week you have the limited time opportunity to go look at my Facebook page ( and seeing the completely unprofessional cover image I used. You can take a look even if you’re not a member of Facebook, though unfortunately if you are not signed in FB covers part of my image with a login box. After this approximate week of time I am going to switch to some more respectable image, which gives the writing craft a good name. And then my Mom can tell all her friends to like the page.

And I will have to create a page on my website for my comics and use the unprofessional pencil in the nose header image there.

The next big hurdle for me will be telling people to like my Facebook page. Such an act will not make me rich or famous, but it is a form of self-torture that professional people are supposed to partake in. Some actually enjoy it, I’ve heard. It’s supposed to show that you have what it takes to go and flog yourself before a real audience. The problem is that it mortifies me to think about suggesting that people go and like my page, so it’s extra painful. Well, if you happened to stumble upon it and happened to like it then well, gosh, gee, it would be nice if you liked it in fact. But to be so forward as to suggest that someone like the page–gasp, perish the thought!

Except, that is exactly what is involved in being a professional writer, only on a much grander scale. Yes, you have to imagine, nay think, nay even more act upon, the idea that a publisher would want to actually publish your book, and people actually want to read it. Actions far more painfully bold and brash than suggesting people perform the rather meaningless act of “liking” a page on Facebook.

Ah well. I think I’ll give myself a few weeks to work up the fortitude of suggesting that the limited pool of people I know like my page. One must be careful not to progress too rapidly into this idea of professionalism. It might give me a rash. Though, I suppose I could work myself up to it by starting with the five or so people who read this blog. Yes, you–go like my page on Facebook.

Now excuse me while I go find some way to atone for the sin of being so forward and egotistical as to suggest that.

2 Responses to Finished Draft and Facebook Page

  1. I think all writers struggle with that some. I know I do. The knowledge that I simply have not done the subject justice even though it was ‘pretty good’; the fact that a piece lacks emotion irks me. I’m always measuring my writings with each other, and I don’t think it’s necessarily a bad habit, but it can be.

    I’m with you; the being professional thing is a pain. I did enjoy the pic though. And asking people to ‘like’ my work or some such things is also a difficult thing. For the record though, I would like yours…if I had a facebook. The way you asked here is good, though. Humor makes it easier.

    It’s a good post. You shall have to let me know when your draft is made public. I would like to read it.

  2. rundy says:

    Thanks. I may take you up on the draft reading in the near-ish future, if you still have the available time at that point.

Comments are closed.

A Thread of Society, Choices, and Conviction

5th February 2013

It is odd how some days you can read several different things and they all seem related. By different things I mean words written about what seems entirely different topics, from different people in different lives. And yet I see a common thread.

We begin the thread with a story of in extremis. A family in Russia leaves society and lives in the remote tagia of the Russian wilderness, alone. They had no contact with outsiders for over forty years. It is 1978 when they are found again. The entire article is facinating and worth reading over at the Smithsonian Magazine ( That was a family living their convictions, as they saw them.

So we read:

His death shook the geologists, who tried desperately to save him. They offered to call in a helicopter and have him evacuated to a hospital. But Dmitry, in extremis, would abandon neither his family nor the religion he had practiced all his life. “We are not allowed that,” he whispered just before he died. “A man lives for howsoever God grants.”

When all three Lykovs had been buried, the geologists attempted to talk Karp and Agafia into leaving the forest and returning to be with relatives who had survived the persecutions of the purge years, and who still lived on in the same old villages. But neither of the survivors would hear of it. They rebuilt their old cabin, but stayed close to their old home.

Karp Lykov died in his sleep on February 16, 1988, 27 years to the day after his wife, Akulina. Agafia buried him on the mountain slopes with the help of the geologists, then turned and headed back to her home. The Lord would provide, and she would stay, she said—as indeed she has. A quarter of a century later, now in her seventies herself, this child of the taiga lives on alone, high above the Abakan.

She will not leave. But we must leave her, seen through the eyes of Yerofei on the day of her father’s funeral:

I looked back to wave at Agafia. She was standing by the river break like a statue. She wasn’t crying. She nodded: ‘Go on, go on.’ We went another kilometer and I looked back. She was still standing there.

She still live there to this day: That article is a Google translation from Russian, so it reads a little rough.

Having read that, we now cross oceans and decades to our present country, and present time, where someone writes about a dying culture ( There the words are said:

And if you get to know the men who love rural culture, you will hear them regret that there is no one for them to pass all their skills to. They express the wish that they could go back and do things differently. They are horrified that that they are aging and facing death and there is no one to carry on after them. They loved the patriarchal ideal of being men in a community of men, but now they find themselves facing the most horrible of the patriarchal curses. They have no descendants.

Having read and pondered that, we then move even closer to home in a thoughtful piece ( wherein this place is aptly described:

God surprised me. In the August following graduation, I was hired to work as a special education teacher in a little town called Bainbridge, N.Y.

With two gas stations, three antique stores, a Dollar General, and a Great American that’s gasping its dying breaths, Bainbridge is not unlike many rural towns. In the spring, the maple trees lining the streets are tapped, spicket-plugged, and bucket-hung. In the fall, I step out the door of the school and inhale the pungent, earthy smell of smoke from a woodburning stove.

This area cannot be solely defined by its quaintness, however. It has other faces that can be described with words like poverty, neglect, abuse, addiction, apathy: all words that are a nagging whisper in a number of my students’ lives.

If you read those three perhaps you too can see a common thread, or several. In each there is a tale of something good, and something bad. They are stories of people, their choices, and society . . . living–or dying.

If I were being neat, I would stop there. Those three articles form a fitting survey, each taking in society, the individual choice, and conviction. But I saw one more thing today which felt related, to me. The connection, perhaps, isn’t quite so obvious. But perhaps you can see the same thread of the good, and the bad.

I close with Team Hoyt:

Rick Hoyt was diagnosed with cerebral palsy at birth after his umbilical cord became twisted around his neck, which caused the blockage of oxygen flow. As a result, his brain cannot send the correct messages to his muscles. Many doctors encouraged the Hoyts to institutionalize Rick, informing them that he would be nothing more than a “vegetable.” His parents held on to the fact that Rick’s eyes would follow them around the room, giving them hope that he would somehow be able to communicate someday. The Hoyts took Rick every week to Children’s Hospital in Boston, where they met a doctor who encouraged the Hoyts to treat Rick like any other child. Rick’s mother Judy spent hours each day teaching Rick the alphabet with sandpaper letters and posting signs on every object in the house. In a short amount of time, Rick learned the alphabet.

At the age of 11, after some persistence from his parents, Rick was fitted with a computer that enabled him to communicate and it became clear that Rick was intelligent. With this communication device, Rick was also able to attend public school for the first time.

Rick went on to graduate from Boston University in 1993 with a degree in special education and later worked at Boston College in a computer lab helping to develop systems to aid in communication and other tasks for people with disabilities.

Team Hoyt began in 1977 when Rick became inspired by an article on racing he saw in a magazine. Dick Hoyt was not a runner and was nearly 37 years old. After their first race Rick said, “Dad, when I’m running, it feels like I’m not handicapped.” After their initial five mile run, Dick began running every day with a bag of cement in the wheelchair because Rick was at school and studying, unable to train with him.” Dick was able to improve his fitness so much that even with pushing his son, he was able to obtain a personal record of a 5k in 17 minutes.

As of November 2011, the Hoyts had competed in 1,069 endurance events, including 69 marathons and six Ironman triathlons. They had run the Boston Marathon 29 times. Also adding to their list of achievements, Dick and Rick biked and ran across the U.S. in 1992, completing a full 3,735 miles in 45 days.

They also compete in triathlons. For the swim portion of the triathlon, Dick uses a rope attached to his body to pull Rick sitting in a boat. For the cycle portion, Rick rides on the front of a specially designed tandem bike. For the run portion, Dick pushes Rick in his wheelchair.

Rick turned 50 in 2012 and Dick turned 72. As they speak and travel more, they are racing less. At the beginning of their career, they participated in 50 races per year but now aim for 20-25 races per year. They still say they don’t see an end in sight yet. (

For each of us life will be the refining fire. There our choices, and our convictions, will be tested to show what they truly are. Those who follow their convictions often go alone–perhaps not in the taiga wilderness, but alone nonetheless.

2 Responses to A Thread of Society, Choices, and Conviction

  1. Interesting. I actually came across that first story recently, and this was quite the enlightening way to expound upon that. It’s true, I often see threads of consistant thought throughout the blogging communities, etc. that I view online as well.

  2. rundy says:

    As far as expounding, I really kind of cheated on that because I mostly just linked to other writing instead of providing much analysis myself. But I was busy that day, so I took the shortcut and provided some hints at the social and personal tensions one might tease out of the story.

    An idea I didn’t even hint at, but which actually preoccupied my own thoughts more was the tension between faith and fear. I don’t know the hearts and minds of that Russian family so I can’t presume to speak for them, but their lives leave open the question of how much they were motivated by faith and how much they were motivated by fear. Certainly one could see things mentioned which seemed to speak of fear and legalism rather than faith and grace.

    Regardless of where their hearts were at, the story brought self-reflection to me. The thought comes, “How much are the choices and conduct in my life motivated by fear and legalism and how much are they motivated by faith and grace?” Whatever the value in their motives, the Russian family willingly made huge sacrifices for their course which prompts the further question, “How much am I willing to sacrifice for what I believe is right?”

    In reading these type of stories it is easy to exalt such people, or else to patronizingly look down on them. I think either does a disservice to the reality of their humanity and their brokenness, just like the rest of us. The article had the strange effect of leaving me both sad and impressed. If I had more time I would have tried to tease those thoughts and feeling out into a more artful, extensive, and thoughtful piece of writing.

    As it is, I kind of punted. Perhaps another day.

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The Fire’s Warmth

3rd February 2013

Bright wood stove fire

The warm spell has fled away and normal winter temperatures returned. The chill makes the warmth of a cheery wood stove fire much appreciated.

At the beginning of the year I mentioned how I wanted to be more professional in my writing. One step in that process is regularly updating my professional website ( In an ideal world I would post a new, freshly polished, essay at that website every week. In reality, I can’t manage that kind of output. Instead, I set myself the goal of a weekly post at the website pointing out things of interest found on the internet, and mentioning anything I have been working on so as to keep my untold number of fans up to date on my work. There may end up being some overlap with the links I post here from time to time, though my aim at present is to keep the linkage at the other website aimed more at the art/writing/publishing topics, while here I post whatever weirdness crosses my brain.

You may find find some of the stuff interesting. For a two week sampling, check out this and that for the two most recent weeks.

Also, I will mention that now both The Stuttering Bard of York and The Stuttering Duke of York are available as free pdf downloads on that website. The first book has been available as such for some time. I just finally uploaded the second recently. The first book is available here, the second book there.

2 Responses to The Fire’s Warmth

  1. Dee says:

    I see someone else likes fire photos. :)

    Hooray for pdf downloads!!!! Evening reading material coming right up…

  2. rundy says:

    Yeah, I like fire photos. It was surprisingly hard to get that photo to come out well. I took the picture through the glass front of the stove, and had a hard time getting a good angle and steady shot.

    Hope you enjoy the story!

Comments are closed.

Crisp Air

28th January 2013

Saturday morning I took a walk. I was home visiting the family and decided to make a jaunt around the property, stretch my legs, get some air, and see what I could dream up for spring. The crisp air, still and blanketing, hung around me as I started through the trees. The sun shone cheerily, but the cold snap of the previous week still clung to the world and froze everything solid.

Twenty years at the old place meant I knew the lay of the land there, and every marker of tree and bush, nearly in my sleep. Perhaps you could say in my sleep, since the land has a way of invading my dreams. Not so the new place. The family has lived there scarce more than a year, and myself not at all. One previous trip around the property had given me a faint idea of the border and lay of the land, but little more.

The old place ran in a thin ribbon of land back up a hill, field to forest in progression. The new place at ten acres is a few smaller than the fourteen of old, and decidedly more square and as of yet lacking a cleared field. While the old place ran back up a hill facing an open valley, here the property sits at an odd place in the lay of the land. It rests in a crook of the hill’s shoulder, so it seems when you stand there you might be situated within an small enclosed valley. The reality is you are perched near the top of a hill and if you fought you way through the scrub and trees to the western rise nearby you would find in due time the land falls off quite sharply, and steeply, to open on a vast valley, far greater than you would expect. But that, or the descent to the north if you follow the creek, are both well beyond the ten acres. Here, with all of that unknown, it seems you stand in a small dish of a valley, the hallow of a hand sheltered from the bigger world.

It is quiet here, quiet in the chill of a mid-winter morning, but quiet also in the summer. Apart from the occasional rumble of the odd car on the road beyond the trees the only sound is the crow of roosters which echoes clearly even when I am well beyond them. Halfway through the walk the stillness is broken by a red squirrel falling out of a tree. A rattle and clatter of branches turns me in time to see the little fellow tumble to a lower branch of the pine tree, legs flailing. He scampered back to hiding with my laughter following him.

We had trails running through the property at the old place, running up the border, cutting through the woods and back down the middle. Are they gone now, overgrown in a years time? There are none here, except for skinny deer trails through the brush, and–when I first start out–a few pieces of marking tape where someone thinks a trail ought to start. The trails will come with time, but for now I slink through the brush.

At the southern end of the property sits a pond, or what might be called the memory of a pond, now mostly silted in. This time of year it is frozen over, looking bigger in a sheet of ice than it does in summer weeds. This is Glen Road Brook, the stream of water retaining a name the road lost years ago, when someone of importance thought the road needed a new name. To the north, beyond our property, when the land falls away steeply the stream becomes a running series of cascading miniature waterfalls tumbling among trees and moss covered rocks. It is a shady cool retreat–at least in warmer weather. Now all is cold, and at the pond all is still, flat, and frozen. I cross the frozen water easily and continue my circuit around the property.

Once this had been farm land. Much has been lost in time and dirt, and much remains only a memory. On the flat near the pond you know it was field once because though the scrub is thick and tall, rising above my head, it is still only scrub, without trees. Twenty years ago it would have been field just gone to seed. Half a century ago perhaps cows still meandered here.

I reach the far corner of the property and begin the journey back, continuing the circuit. Here I find the deer. I had been idly noting some bobcat tracks as I made my way through the thin snow cover. Then the tracks–and I–came upon a deer leg. The hoof lay there in the snow, upper leg stripped down nearly to the bone. A short distance away I found the hide, then the head.

I can’t say I was shocked, but I felt some mild surprise stumbling upon death there in the middle of that cold January morning. It was such a pleasant morning. But then, death makes itself known even when we least expect it, in the crisp air and sunshine as often as the dark. It felt out of place, and yet it wasn’t. Death waits on no season, time, or place.

The remains were well preserved, but with the cold the deer could have been dead a week, or even more. The decapitated head and frozen heap of hide clearly marked it as the remains from a hunter. I felt some mild disgust that the hide had been discarded. I suppose most hunters do nothing with the hides from the deer they kill, but it seems wasteful to just throw it out in the brush. I had a momentary thought of taking the hide back–quickly dropped because I didn’t know if it had begun to spoil before it froze solid, or how well it had been skinned, and finally I didn’t have any supplies or tools to clean or tan it. Thoughts turning from the practical, I considered bringing home the head as a gift for my little sister. You know, that’s just what older brothers are supposed to do. But I decided not, left the deer remains for the scavenging bobcat, and finished the trek home.

4 Responses to Crisp Air

  1. It’s been a long while since I’ve taken such a walk. You wet my appitite to begin that tradition again.

    Death does find us at the weirdest places doesn’t it? As to the hide I know a good deal about hide tanning. Have you ever heard of braintan?

  2. rundy says:

    I don’t take such walks as often as would be good for me. The busy-ness and obligation of life gets in the way. Laziness too.

    I have heard of braintan. I know it is a method that was used by the Native Americans. If my memory serves me right, it produces a very supple hide. As to the nitty-gritty details regarding method of application, time of curing, etc, I must confess ignorance. Can the braintan method only be accomplished with true organic material–that is, does one require a constant supply of brains for processing (gosh, this seems like the place to make a zombie joke)–or can something off the shelf be used for the same effect?

    The one goat hide we cured when I was growing up we used the Alum tanning method. Well, we cured it using the Alum method. We didn’t really do anything more after that, so the hide was quite well persevered, but stiff as a board. It looked really nice though–a very pale white hide. I have a deer hide that my Grandpa got from a hunter. I’m not sure what method he used to tan it.

  3. Your memory does serve you right. Braintan produces the softest leather that there is. And, no brains are not the only way to work the necessary oil into the hide. Eggs are actually the most popular substitute, although they generally create a more creaky hid (that is, it makes noise when you pull it). Both substances to do work, however, though it may be easier to aquire brains than you might think. Most local butchers are willing to give you anything but cow brains (because of the mad cow disease) pork brains may be a good choice.

    Haha. Zombie jokes do go well with this topic. I hadn’t thought of that. Also, this pun-ish phrase: It takes brains to tan a hide.

  4. rundy says:

    I have heard that in medieval times (and perhaps even more recent) eggs were used as a hair enhancement product for lustre and shine, I don’t think I have ever heard of them being used for hide tanning. Will have to remember that if a hide ever comes into my possession and the chickens are producing too many eggs.

    It’s funny how certain things stick in your memory. When I was a boy I read some novel about the civil war where the young man/boy was making himself a leather jacket with braintan and boasting that the jacket would be so smooth thorns would slide right off it.

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Remember Those in Prison

21st January 2013

It is easy to grumble about our lot in life. It is easy to think about how “bad” we have it, and how things could be better. How easily we forget the greatness of our blessings, and what it means to suffer.

Then, sometimes, a whisper comes carrying but an echo of a reminder, if I would listen.

The regime has stepped up the campaign against Christians in recent years. It trains police and soldiers about the dangers of religion and sends agents posing as refugees into China to infiltrate churches. Sometimes the agents even set up fake prayer meetings to catch worshipers, according to the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom. Kim Jong Eun’s announcement last month of a nationwide effort to crack down on “rebellious elements” undoubtedly targets Christians, among others.


Persecution of Christians seems to be on the rise world-wide, from Pakistan to Egypt, Nigeria and beyond. Yet North Korea remains the world’s worst persecutor of Christians, according to Open Doors’ annual survey of religious liberty world-wide.

Being a Christian in North Korea isn’t just dangerous. It is also lonely. An American who has made frequent visits to North Korea recalls a secret prayer meeting with a local Christian. Tell the world “that we are part of the body of believers,” the North Korean pleaded. “Don’t forget us.”

The entire article is here: It doesn’t go into a lot of detail but it is worth a read as a reminder. Life can be lonely, and difficult, for all of us. But there is a special loneliness that comes with persecution. Remember those who who are suffering.

Remember those in prison as if you were their fellow prisoners, and those who are mistreated as if you yourselves were suffering -Hebrews 13:3.

2 Responses to Remember Those in Prison