Tuesday, May 29, 2012

I’ve been putting off my gardening. That wasn’t a matter of choice. The warm weather we’ve been having for some weeks has been conducive to getting out and putting seeds in the ground. In some ways I thought that somewhat premature so I held off and, lo and behold, we did get a late snow. Some people, I understand, lost a portion of their gardens because of that. I didn’t. I didn’t have any garden to lose. But the last few weeks I really wanted to get started on planting and then everything began interfering with that—more important things, deadlines, meetings, rain. But last weekend it was nice weather, a bit hot, but nice, and I set aside time to work outside.

The final impetus for planting occurred Saturday a week ago. My son, Joe, came down for my book signing and he brought me a present, two raised bed garden frames. The lot on which I live is very wet and I have been intending to try raised beds to avoid having to plant only rice. I intended to build my own frames and had scheduled a trip to the lumber store to buy material. The book signing took priority, however. I’ll take care of getting material right after the book signing, I vowed to myself. And then Joe showed up with the raised bed kits, two double frames approximately 4’x 8’ each. Serendipity.

I undertook the assembly of the kits last Saturday. It was a hot day—approaching 90 degrees—and I knew I’d have to take it easy. I did that, working for an hour or so and then taking a break. I worked that way all day and I surprised myself by getting both frames assembled and filled with dirt, ready for planting. Moreover, I felt pretty good. No exhaustion as had been known to occur on other days requiring physical labor and as a bonus I got some other projects completed.

Now I’m really enthused. This summer I’d like to have: a successful, if small, garden; more herbs; an area with ground cover and a few stepping stones and maybe a bench; and a rain garden to utilize the natural wetness of this location. I’d also like to transplant a few things, plants that are really nice but simply located in the wrong places. Maybe that’s a bit ambitious for me. We’ll see.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

The book signing for “The Finding of the Blue Feather” was held Saturday afternoon. Thanks to all of you who came to make it a success.

Book signings are a lot of fun for me. That’s a change. A few years ago I was in mortal fear of any sort of public appearance in which I had to have any part, no matter how small. What changed that situation I’m really not sure. Some of it was practice—just getting out and doing it, but a bigger part, I believe, was a change of attitude. I’m a bit less self-conscious, a bit less serious, a bit more willing to let the whole affair be fun. Where did that come from? I don’t know. Maybe it’s just a natural part of growing old.

Anyhow, the book signing was fun—and enlightening too. To prepare for it, I had to go over the book and select readings from it to give people a sense of what the story line was and who the characters were. That gave me a chance to re-introduce myself to the book and, as a consequence, see it in a new light. I found things in it I had not noticed before. I had my Pennycat books there, too, and read a few selections from them and had a chance to revisit every one of them.

When I finish a project, lay it aside and move on to something new, I put all my energy in the new endeavor and tend to forget about the old one. When I again pick up the old project it’s, in many ways, like seeing it for the first time. The best part of that is it starts me thinking, giving me ideas. I think of other ways I could have done the old project and how I can better do the new one. It sometimes starts me thinking about a continuation to the old project—a sequel. A poet once said something to the effect that a poem is never finished; it is simply abandoned. I think that is true of any form of writing as it is true about any phase of life. Life never ceases. A book never does, either. There is always more to be said. The only choice to be made has to do with how that is done and the merits of the various ways of doing so.

So at the book signing I sign the book. I use the signature to mark the end of that book, the finish of one project, of one phase of life, and then move on to a new one, or to a continuation of the old in a brand new form, whatever is the course that is calling.

Monday, May 14, 2012


I’m having a book signing this coming weekend. It will be held at the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Ligonier Valley, which is located at 1724 Route 30, just east of the town of Ligonier. For those familiar with Ligonier, it is the first large building past Ligonier Beach.

The signing is for release of the first volume of my book “The Finding of the Blue Feather – A Trilogy.” “Feather,” as I call it, can be labeled a fantasy but it is more than that. It is the story of a land—a dream world—where the people possess psychic powers that we in this world glimpse only occasionally in our fellow humans. What would life in such a dream world be like? What would happen if a person from our world were transported to this strange psychic “dream world”?

This first volume, titled “Once Upon A Time in Reality,” takes on the task of exploring just such a happening. Two other volumes, “Back to Reality” and “Beyond Reality,” both finished but not yet ready for publication, further explore the two worlds and the dangers and benefits of their contrasting life styles.

The book signing will take place from 1:00 to 3:00 PM. There will be “munchies,” copies of my previously published book, “A Matter of Time,” and also a selection of my own Pennycat Books, which is now expanded to eight titles, including the latest—“Jeremy Willikins’ Adventures in the Land of Little.” You’ll hear, too, about my plans for my next book, which is really a dream because it exists, as yet, only in my mind.

I hope to see you next Saturday.

The other day I decided to cut the grass. Actually, the decision was forced upon me. Bright sun as opposed to the rain of previous days gave me no excuse and the tall grass that resulted from those rain-filled days an urgent need. Actually, I don’t mind grass that’s a bit taller than it “should” be but other people do and, since I live in rental property, I feel an obligation to comply with custom. Anyway, my intentions were good. But the mower wouldn’t cooperate. It refused to start. I struggled with it for a while and finally gave up. My next door neighbor is really handy with things mechanical so I enlisted his aid. He checked the oil and the gas—basic routine—said, “Stand back,” gave a good hard pull on the starter rope and—the mower started at first pull. “How’d you do that?” I asked. “I dunno,” he answered.

Which brings me to the main idea of this piece: I am coming to believe that machines have minds of their own and that each possesses a will and an ego, some a penchant for belligerence or mischief and some a sense of humor. In other words, they exhibit human traits. Nonsense, you say. Why? I answer. Animals do. But, you say, animals have some intelligence and therefore could be expected to have emotions, basic and rudimentary as they might be. Ah, there’s where modern quantum physics comes into play. Evidence has come to light that there is intelligence in electrons. If electrons are intelligent and everything is made up of electrons then it must be that there is intelligence in everything.

And so it falls to reason that there must be intelligence in machines. This explains a lot. It is the reason I am subject to rebellious behavior from my lawn mower, from fits of temper from my weed whacker, why my car is so reluctant to start on cold mornings, why my computer and printer are able to drive me crazy. Machines are endowed with intelligence and are thus capable of fiendish behavior, just like humans. The final proof of all of this is the ultimate in skullduggery—the machines have kept this fact a secret from us so far. But I have uncovered their monstrous plan. It is now my task to counter their wretched activity and further the progress of man. How I will do that I’m not sure yet. But I’ll find a way. I’m a human being. I can be just as devious as any machine.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

What are you going to be when you grow up? How many kids have been asked that question by their parents, grandparents, relatives, family friends? My wife, Mariellen, and I asked our kids that when they were small. At least Mariellen did. She spent a lot more time with them when they were young than I did and she had the opportunity to converse with them. I was mostly out “earning a living” in those years and had little chance to learn about them. I heard about their hopes, dreams and fears second hand.

So, I heard from Mariellen about their answers to the “what are you going to be” question. I learned from those answers a bit about the unique qualities our two boys possessed. Neither of them had the usual cowboy, policeman, fireman sort of ambition. Joe, the older of our two boys, decided that what he wanted to be was rich. His logic was that if he were rich there would be nothing to stop him from being anything else he wanted to be. Chris, the younger, had an even better idea. He decided that it was best to be God. That way he wouldn’t have to depend on anything as uncertain as money to plan his life.

But why do we ask such a question of our children? Why do we ask them what they want to be? We may get some amusing answers from them and we may consider it a first step in starting them thinking about planning their lives, but are those the real reasons we ask that question? Isn’t what we’re really doing beginning a process of programming them into fitting into society—into occupying some acceptable niche where they can be safe and secure, where they can gain the approval of the rest of us, where they can be “happy?” But why do they have to work toward being something in order to be successful? Aren’t they already something? Isn’t that something a basis for happiness?

Each child—each person—is a unique individual. Each possesses distinctive talents and abilities that are exactly what are needed to live a full and happy life and through which each can provide the maximum benefit to society. None of them has to become anything other than what he or she already is. Each is already everything that he or she has to be. It is our responsibility to see that each of them has the opportunity to develop so that the fullness of that being can be expressed.

To ask our children, “What do you want to be?” is erroneous. Rather, we should ask them: “What gift have you brought us? What do you bring to us to satisfy a need, the nature of which we, perhaps, are not yet even aware?” When we can seriously ask those questions of our children and just as seriously listen to their answers, then we will be a civilization truly worthy of the name.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

A friend of mine borrowed my cell phone the other day to make a call. Unfamiliar with the phone, she asked, “How do I dial it?” After a moment, we both realized how inappropriate her question was. We both laughed. How long has it been since any of us have dialed a phone? How long has it been since we have wound a watch?

Times change and we have to change with them. Doing that is sometimes difficult. Things that have been ingrained in us over a good part of our lives are hard to let go. Most of the time we are able to do that because the changes make sense to us. Sometimes we fight them. I remember many years ago telling a friend of mine who was working in the programming of computers, “I’ll never use a computer!” How wrong I was in thinking that. I could never do without one now.

Some things, however, still don’t make sense to me. One of those is the headlong rush to dehumanize our world. Take the telephone, for instance. The friend who was working with the programming of computers once told me, “There’s one thing we can’t do and that’s teach computers common sense.”  These days, electronic devices are employed by just about every company to handle telephone calls. Often I have gone through long minutes listening to “menus” that seem to contain everything I don’t want and nothing I do want. I long, during those minutes, to hear the voice of a human—someone with common sense.

Another field in which there are changes I find somewhat difficult to grasp is the food industry. The other day I was reading the contents on the side of a container of fat-free half and half. Half and half was devised some years ago as a less expensive—and less rich—replacement for coffee cream. That I accepted. I also accepted the fact that modern technology has devised a process of making the product “fat-free,” though I can’t imagine how. Still, I was surprised to note on this particular carton of fat-free half and half the following message: ALLERGY WARNING - CONTAINS MILK. What is one to suppose it would contain? The consideration of the alternatives makes me uneasy.

Closely related to this are the various categories of “cheese” that are available in the super markets. Some are labeled “Cheese”, some I’ve seen, at a lower price, are labeled “Cheese Food”, others at an even lower price, “Cheese Product.” Is the last product not even worthy of being referred to as a food? I’m going to stop writing here. I don’t want to go any further.