Tuesday, December 23, 2014

CHRISTMAS IS NOT EASY

When I was a kid, Christmas was as easy as falling out of bed and running to the tree and doing this head swiveling survey to see just what was there.

After those carefree self centered days, it became more of a set of expectations and though the pageantry and the emotion of it all remained, it was more of a family gathering and a confirmation kind of thing. Here we are gathered up one more time. I never see a Christmas tree that I don't see Christmas trees of years past, and that doesn't always bring joy and celebration. Often it is hard work.

The past is your teacher but not necessarily your friend. Teachers are not there to be your buddy, but to teach. To bend your mind. The past is always saying as if a voice in the wind: Grow up! Accept change and move on. It's just another day - right? Not really. But it's special because it hits you in the face everywhere you turn. Your past is what hits you in the face harder than anything.

Christmas is like that. Mother and Dad are no longer there. The set of friends and family who gathered then are gone or scattered to the four winds. The boundaries of my life have moved so many times as to defy the surveyor's transit.

One year, in another life, we decided not to have a Christmas tree. We hung some little lights on a rubber plant in our TV room. That did it. We swore not to do that again. Even though we had presents around the plant it was a rubber plant! I mean, what did we expect?

CA and I usually go out somewhere and cut down a live tree and bring it home and do he whole thing, going through the heroic recitation of the provenance of each ornament. Talk about the past invading the present. It was fun. It was, for me, tedious at times. But deep down inside, it was - forgive me, I promise not to throw this one out many times - A TRADITION.

This year we are alone and have a small table top tree that is already decorated and wired and looks lovely sitting in the East window of the living room. It's enough. It really is.

We'll do what we always do on Christmas day. Open gifts. Hang out on the telephone for a while with distant family and eat. Then in the evening we will go to China Rose for our dinner. We've done that for years when we are in Maine. Sometimes, in the afternoon, we will drive out to Popham Beach. It's specially nice and full of silence, power and ever changing dunes. It's special. It's our way of being in the moment. The sea is a most eloquent teacher.

The Sea always says to us: MERRY CHRISTMAS.

Sunday, December 21, 2014

A SEASONAL MESSAGE

Much has been said and is being said about the appropriate way to address the Christmas season. Happy holidays. Merry Christmas. It seems like one of those Congressional gridlock issues. You are some kind of abhorrent heathen if you say "Happy holidays" instead of "Merry Christmas". First of all, it is a holiday. Get over it. The word originally meant "Holy-day". Christmas as a day of remembrance didn't happen for more than three hundred years after Jesus lived, died, and came back to life. The particulars are lost in antiquity but the best we can deduce is that somewhere in the fourth century CE, or AD, if that makes it easier, an actual Christmas observance became an historical fact, as much as can be known about historical facts at the time. A case can easily be made for the celebration of the birth Christ to be called a Holy Day. So the word has changed after a long while to sound like "Holiday".

Then consensus arose in the organized church - such as it was at the time - that since Christ's conception took place on March 25 then his birth must have taken place on December 25? Right? I mean, do the math. I'm not sure how we figured all that out to the exact date – but there you go.

I'm not trying to be flip about the Christmas season, but not to put too fine a point on things, Christ was never in the Christmas we now see all around us at this time of year. In latter times, it became a great shopping idea and then there is the Christmas tree, gifts, the office party and Santa Clause.

Just so happens that the Jewish Festival of Lights, Hanukknah, falls within an acceptable range of December 25 enough to be considered part off the "holiday ( Holy Day ) season". So what's the big deal? Happy Holidays! You want to make it Merry Christmas, great! You want to make it Happy Hanukkah, great! You want to be right and everyone else wrong? I hear they are taking new members over at the Taliban headquarters.

HAPPY HOLIDAYS to each and everyone of you.

Friday, December 12, 2014

WE WANT TO KNOW

I've got three unanswered questionnaires on my desk from three different health care providers wanting me to give them some feedback.  One of them wrote me a week later asking me to get off my butt and do it.  I go to see my primary physician and three days later I get this multipage questionnaire to fill out about my experience.  What's going on with this?

I go to my favorite Apple Store and purchase some widget or other and before I get home there is an email wanting me to respond to this "important" document so they can make their service TO ME better.  Order something on-line and before you get off their "page" you are asked to spend only a moment to answer a few questions about your experience.  It's a corporate disease.  Well, it's one of them.  It infects businesses all over.  We want to know what you think.  What you think is important.  Ya think?  

It's marketing, pure and simple.  I could stop here, but of course, I won't.

Here's how it goes.  You receive a service, buy a widget or a new pair of socks and overnight get this questionnaire in the mail or via email because they really want to know what you think about their performance.  Here's the hook: you really want to believe they want to know what YOU think, and that they have a room full of analytically trained people waiting to read what you say about their performance, and who have the power to change things you want changed.  Right!

The marketers, aka, customer manipulators, know this about you and believe that even if you had a bad experience, IF you return your questionnaire with all negative answers, you will probably come back anyway to see if they fixed anything.  Gotcha!  The whole idea is to keep you connected to their shop.  They couldn't care less what your reasons are just so you  return.

Another way of seeing this amazing phenomenon is to recognize it for what it is: data mining.  I don't care what you do when you have an experience with anyone in the public sector someone is collecting data about you to use "against" you.  Well, maybe against is too strong a word but never in history are the words, LET THE BUYER BEWARE, more relevant.

there is only one way to make sure your personal dedicated information stays that way when you go shopping: bring cash.  I'm giving this plan some serious thought.  Recent items in the news about personal records - including credit card numbers - being stolen from your favorite retailer should be giving us all pause about this broken system that lays us all open to fraud.  It's so easy to use a credit card for everything and pay one bill a month.  Every time you swipe that sucker the great dark digital money troll licks her lips and whispers in her sinister soto-voce, thank you very much.  And she ain't talking about money.

There is one bright spot on the horizon.  It's called the Near Field Communication payment system, (NFC).  To use it to pay for something you hold some device "near" the terminal and probably jump through some other hoop and Cha Ching!  They have your money.  No credit card is even touched.  However in some of these systems the customer must yield some piece of identifiable data.

The latest iteration of such a process is called Apple Pay.  As far as I can determine, it is the most secure of all the present systems.  Banks are so "up" for it that they are assuming all the risk for any fraud that may occur.  Here's the funny part about that: many retailers won't authorize Apple Pay and use some twisted English to justify such a bizarre position, claiming that they are more interested in some alternate process that will more fully increase customer satisfaction.  WHAT THEY REALLY WANT IS CONTINUED ACCESS TO MORE OF YOUR PERSONAL INFORMATION AND IDENTIFIED BUYING HABITS.  It's data mining folks.  With Apple Pay there is no data to mine and therefore the resistance.

Like I said - bring cash.  Refuse to give away your zip code, telephone number or email address.  A guy at Radio Shack told me once that he needed my phone number or he couldn't complete the "cash" sale.  I turned to leave and he caved in, of course.  He was lying.  

Before long there will be cameras at checkout positions with face recognition capabilities and you will have to wear a mask to keep your private information private.  

So here I am out here on the internet with my bare face hanging out.  Groan!





 

Saturday, November 22, 2014

GIVING THANKS

It felt so strange coming to Tampa on Wednesday from freezing temperatures in Maine only to find morning temperatures hovering around the 39 to 40 degree mark. Not exactly what one thinks of when thinking of running off to the Sunshine State in fall and winter. The sweatshirt I brought came in handy as we sat about in the evening. It's Saturday morning now and it's already in the mid 60's. That's more like it.

Happily on Friday, which was my birthday, we had balmy and sunny conditions suitable for tee shirts and shorts. Yea! I think the weather gods are promising more of the same today with perhaps a little rain, which, as we all know, must fall into each of our lives.

Birthday began with a brunch at a lovely place called Daddy's Grill over in or almost in Clearwater. It was just CA, Michelle and I, as the kids were all in school and Michael was working. We had three of the most wonderful Benedicts - one plain, one Florentine and one Western. They also knew about coffee. I didn't think I could eat it all. Guess what?

The evening began with a Friday Night Fish Fry (a regular occurrence here at the club house) and then presents. It would have been difficult to improve on the day. I am overwhelmed with gratitude for the privilege of reaching the grand old age of 83. I'm pretty sure it's just plain luck. And I still feel as well as I did at 82!

Here I am filled with gratitude and Thanksgiving is still almost a week away. But then, that's the point - isn't it? To live daily in the spirit of thankfulness for life itself and it's attendant gifts, then on Thanksgiving Day to come together to express our gratitude for each other. Sometimes, with the hard work of every day living, it's difficult to keep such lofty thoughts in mind. Well, it is for me.

The two college boys will be home this weekend and that will add energy to the mix. One is a freshman at UF, Gainesville and the other is a senior at FSU, Tallahassee. As you probably know by now, there was a shooting at FSU that has caused considerable adjustment in life there. Our Ethan is fine but he reports the school is visibly shaken.

If I back up far enough to see the whole world, it is plain that much of the world has little for which to be thankful. I think about that, and what those of us who are more fortunate could do about it. Whatever the answer is, it's the textbook definition of a great people.

I think I'll go out for a nice long walk. Got to do something about all that birthday indulgence.

May each of you have a wonderful Thanksgiving, if possible with someone.

Some say love travels great distances. I tend to believe this. Open your window - here it comes.

Jerry Henderson              Odessa Florida


GB Henderson
Mail to: treetopviews@mac.com
Blog: http://www.growingoldwithoutgrace.com
Blog: http://treetopviews.com

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

VETERAN'S DAY



WAR IS NOT THE ANSWER. Ask any veteran. Do not confuse the act of honoring the men and women who served in some politician's war with the act of war itself. Do not confuse the execution of armed conflict on foreign soil with the defense of America. 11/11/11 was an Armistice that was to end all war. That war was terrible beyond imagination. But imagination has grown and improved since then. The horror of modern warfare is beyond imagination. War today is a video game - unless you are actually there. Vote no to war. Vote no to the bellicose politicians who want to send someone else to die. Vote for peace. Vote for the people who have never wanted war. Happy Veteran's Day everyone.

Saturday, October 25, 2014

SMOOTS TO THE RESCUE

I saw a reflection of myself as I walked up to this huge glass door the other day and I was shockingly reminded of just how bent over I had become in these latter years.  The combination of cervical fusions and an arthritic backbone have become formidable obstacles to standing ramrod straight - a characteristic for which I was regionally famous in my younger days.

I can still remember standing straight in stocking feet as my mother penciled in a mark on the door jamb in the kitchen of my escalating growth record for "all time", as it was commonly noted.  Well, that door jamb is long gone as is the house in which it stood.  For that matter so is the neighborhood, which is only a fixture of memory for those few of us who remain.

I always wanted to be at least six feet tall.  Alas, such a dream was never realized.  As we all know, close only counts in horseshoes.  I got close, but I'm no horseshoe.  Five eleven and some in my prime.  You got it - even as an adult, I continued the measuring game just in case I made the jump to that hoped for goal.  I'd measure in the morning, when, as I was told you are tallest.  Standing up and walking around all day tended to compress the joints in the back enough to shorten the total length of the body.  At least that was what those who should know were saying.

One day when I was into my middle years, several colleagues and I were sitting around in my office and, though I can not recall the reason, we decided to measure our hight.  First we all had to guess our own hight.  I, of course proudly stated my stature at five feet, eleven and a half.  As this was late afternoon, I confidently mentioned that if this were early in the day I am sure I would be a full six feet.  After the laughter subsided, the measuring began.  Everybody was spot on in their guesses except for me.  I came in, after decades of daily running and standing around, at five ten and a half.  A whole inch!!!  In a rare moment of candor, I have to admit that that number was probably right all along.  Sloppy measuring had been boosting my ego all these years, and I'm not sorry.  My ego, fragile as it is, has always needed all the help it could get.  Please, those of you who may have another opinion about my ego, just keep the hell out of this - OK?

Then there was the glass door reflection episode.  That's when I realized that ego, though an important part of one's personality, is not a substitute for reality.  In reality I can not stand ramrod straight, and that's just one of a number of things I can't do very well, if at all, any more.  So I suppose that makes me at best a reluctant realist.

So, nowadays, my actual measurement is a paltry five feet ten.  It sounds so mundane, so common, so uninspiring. There must be tens of millions of others - men and women - that tall and more.  Then I discovered after some casual research, that my little five feet ten translated into 1.04477612 Smoots.  Rather technical sounding, don't you think?  (It's the actual hight of a short MIT freshman who was laid end to end to measure the length of the Harvard Bridge)  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Smoot  Now that's a number I can be proud of.  Well, maybe proud is not the best word for it, but it's definitely different.  I just like the sound of it.  Just thinking of it, I seem to be standing a bit taller.  Hello EGO, come to Papa?

I'm Jerry Henderson

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

THE COMPLETELY SATISFYING EXPERIENCE OF PLANTING GARLIC

In the various gardens around the house there are a few phlox still sporting a blossom or two and the horizontalis is full of red berries.  Our ancient burning bushes are starting their fiery transformation in to themselves, and chipmunks can be seen scampering about in their branches stuffing their cheeks with those little berries that are now ripe for the taking, but much of everything else has "gone by" as it is said.  Even the grass has stopped its steroidal growth pattern for the year - I'd hate to be wrong about that.

The big thing is the leaves that are drifting down steadily so that in some places the ground is covered.  I'll make a final pass with the bagged lawnmower and suck them up to be piled up for mulch.  Anyway, that's what I say about that.  I don't recall ever using that for actual mulch but this time I think I will look at the possibility of using it to insulate the garlic after the ground freezes.

GARLIC!  We purchased some "new blood" this year at the Common Ground Fair.  Probably got a bit carried away for it was enough for two beds of it - at least one bed farther than we usually plant.  If we have basil like we did this year and the garlic makes like it did this year I will be forced to lay in a supply of pesto for those moments when nothing else will do - which moments seem to occur more frequently in the frozen parts of the year, which, by all accounts is supposed to come early, bring lots of luggage and stay long.  

Now, this has nothing to do with anything, but have you ever noticed how willpower and judgement seem to weaken during the colder months? I know I find myself saying things like: It's so damned cold, I think another glass of wine would make it all better.  After all, I may not make it through until spring.  Or it might sound like this: No use in that piece of chocolate just laying there, or, even more deadly - what the hell it's macaroni and cheese tonight and regardless of what the food police say, I'm adding Spam to it, by God.  I'm sure there is a graduate student in some second tier university drawing up a proposal at this very moment to study this phenomenon.

Now back to planting garlic.  So I've got the beds prepared with just a touch of 5-10-5 and some compost, with a light sprinkling of powdered seaweed mulch freshly worked in.  I have a little 5/8" wooden dowel sharpened at one end to make holes into which I drop the cloves.  I usually plant 4 to 5 inches apart and about 3ish inches down.  Anyway that plan has worked for years.

We purchased three different varieties and I thought the names of these different varieties was noted on the tags but it isn't there.  How about that?  Well, I couldn't tell you the name of last year's variety either - so there!

I sit on the edge of the planting box out in the garden and break apart the bulbs piling the cloves to the side.  A steady breeze is blowing the tissue like material that holds everything together as I peal it off.  Little flakes of it covers the ground and me as well.  It is quiet except for a pileated woodpecker off in the back woods yelling about something.  Even so, it seems so peaceful.  This close work in the garden is a part of gardening that I love dearly.  Well, harvesting, of course, but for a fall activity, there is nothing to compare to planting garlic.  I guess you could say the activity pretty well defines the concept of hope.  Maine winters are nothing to laugh about yet we believe in the life force of garlic to survive and bring joy to our hearts come next summer.

Some of the cloves are quite large while most are of average size.  I think, as I push them into their homes for the winter - I can just taste the goodness your children will add to my pasta sauce, or the scampi I love to make - and eat!  And also - and this is the secret of growing good garlic - the first thing I do when I harvest garlic is to brake open a bulb and peal a big clove, pop it into my mouth and eat it right there in the garden, dirty fingers and all.  My eyes almost tear up just thinking of it.  I don't quite know how it's connected, it's one of those "spiritual" things, but that little ritual at harvest time is big Mojo for next year's crop.  Don't question it.  Just do it and you will see.  Tell 'em I said so.

GB Henderson

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

IS THERE A DOCTOR IN THE HOUSE?

I've been thinking. I know it's risky, but sometimes it just happens without me even thinking about it. Whoops! See what I mean?

OK, here's the deal: I have this stable of MDs (medical doctors), a few of whom I see on a more or less regular basis throughout the year. There is, of course, my primary physician, who I see for a regular examination once a year and who I call for those unscheduled acute experiences that go "bump" in the night from time to time, for which she will schedule me to come in or refer me to another doctor that specializes in that particular "Bump".

There are specialists I see regularly who monitor those standard, reoccurring bumps that have become routine in my life.

For instance, there is a dermatologist, an attractive woman for whom I must undress - "You can leave your underpants on." I'm always certain to wear my best Jocky snug fitting boxers with breathable panels. There are so many "points of interest" on my skin - the largest organ of the body - that she has resorted to calling them "barnacles" many of which can be burned, frozen, scraped or cut off, while others we just leave alone to become a fixtures of my persona.

Then there is a cardiologist who keeps a watch on my circulatory system with special attention to the anterior coronary artery which contains a little sludge. He is quite happy that I have lost a bunch of weight. I figure as long as he is happy I will be happy.

Everybody should know a gastroenterologist. I always have something for them to do when they are looking into my gut. I know this pleases them for they always ask me back. This time I go back in only a year. Interesting stuff in there she said. Can't wait to see if there is more, she said. Well, I'm glad someone is having fun.

While I am on the "nether" regions, I might as well mention my urologist. He's he one that is concerned with how many times I go to the bathroom and the size of my prostate. Just the other day he scraped out a polyp in my bladder. I'll see him more frequently now for a while. He's the nicest guy. I look forward to seeing him, but just thinking about what has to happen for him to "see" what's going on in my bladder gives me pause. Oh well, moving on, now.

I see an ophthalmologist twice or more times a year to monitor glaucoma and other transient issues with my eyes. I have been seeing an ophthalmologist longer than any other specialist. I suppose that's because when there is a vision problem you "see" it immediately. When I think about it, the procedures I have had done to my eyes are mind boggling. There was a time in the past, when, by now, I would just be blind. We're on a first name basis.

I've been seeing a pulmonologist for over a year now and I am still having the issue that brought me to him - a near constant wad of crud in my bronchial area and larynx. Finally he directed me to see an otolaryngologist. Commonly called an ENT (ear, nose & throat) specialist to see why I am loosing my voice. Well, whew!. It's not cancer and it's something we can deal with over time. That "dealing" has to do with a speech therapist. I thought I "spoke" rather well. So what do I know? I can see it now - yodel in the morning, yodel at noon, yodel in the afternoon. Not if I have anything to do with it.

Mr. Spock's greeting, "Live long and prosper", is nice, but long life without health is no fun. We all love a long life, but sadly there are some trade-offs. I think luck has a lot to do with it. What luck can't deal with a team of great physicians is a handy thing to have.

Well, I gotta go. I'm getting my flu shot today and having my cholesterol checked as well. Nothing by mouth now for twelve hours. After the shot and blood draw, I'll be at Panera just around the corner from my Primary's office. They have great carbohydrates and strong caffeine. Just what the doctor ordered!

Monday, September 29, 2014

THE MAGIC APP

Here we go again. The miracle app of all miracle apps has arrived. It's called TALKO. I mean, why not? Sounds adolescent and even childish but this is the digital age after all and much of that is indeed childish. In the digital age, a talented programer can make anything "seem" possible - but why would he or she?

Talko is supposed to be, according to the hype - and I love this phrase - a game changer. The sub-text reads something like this: It's going to change the way you put your socks on. It will revolutionize your relationships. Talko will - and to be honest, this is the main point the creators are making - revolutionize the way you "talk" to one another.

Imagine as you talk to someone you see them, send them pictures and videos and text messages - all while a real conversation is going on! You can bring into the conversation groups of friends or colleagues. You can even bookmark the conversation and to back to that point later since the whole thing is being recorded. And stored somewhere, using precious data and network space.

While reading about this magical app, an interesting thought came into my otherwise unoccupied mind. What about pen and paper for communications? Storage is no problem and you can always go back and find exactly what was said. You want to send pictures? Just put them in the envelope! What an idea. But finding people who can still write a complete sentence, or for that matter, who want to write anything, is the problem.

Maybe this is the magical app after all. Maybe I'll try it. Now if I can just find someone who wants to "talko" to me in real time while doing all that other stuff - that's the problem. Wait a minute: do doctors count? They could see just how bad I feel. I have half a dozen or more on my speed dial.

I'm Jerry Henderson

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

HOUSEKEEPING

Several of you have asked how to follow my blogs without following a link on FaceBook.  It's easy.  Just scroll down the sidebar on the left side of the page and there is a box where you can follow by email.  Just enter your email there and you will get the blog in your inbox as they are published.

Of course you can also bookmark the site in your browser and just click on that link to see if there is anything new.

Thanks for your interest.
                                             Jerry Henderson

I WISHED AN OLD HIGH SCHOOL CHUM A HAPPY BIRTHDAY

I don't have everyone's birthday set on my calendar but I have some.  One of those is an old Istrouma High School classmate named Nelson.  When I think of Nelson, I see this fresh faced kid who always seemed to smile at me - but then I think he smiled at us all.  There are dozens of friends from those years that I would love to send birthday greetings to but after 65 years, and a couple of thousand miles connections grow corroded and most of the time slip into that memory "cloud" where all memory seems fixed in time.  

Nelson used to publish a web site on which he posted pictures of a regular luncheon of our class.  That was painfully informative.  I would look at those faces and then compare what I was seeing with what I remembered.  Have I mentioned "painfully informative"?  I can remember finding an old photo of myself taken my Mr. Handly (I think that's the spelling), our physics teacher, and held it up beside my face as I stood in front of the bathroom mirror.  Painfully informative just about covers the wave of emotion that swept over me at the time.  That wrinkled effigy staring back at me couldn't possibly be me - could it?  Uh huh, it could.  Being older is mostly about such reality checking.  It ain't what it was and it will never be that way again.  After that it's much easier.

Nelson responded to my birthday greeting and told me of a bi-monthly meeting of half dozen of our classmates who presented him with a slice of cake and a candle at the restaurant.  His comment about listening to a table full of geezers singing "Happy Birthday" was, again, instructive.  I would give a lot to have been there.

Then I think: what would we all talk about.  Those guys have remained in the home town for their entire octogenarian lives.  They have volumes to talk about.  What I have in common with them are a few years that ended 65 years ago.  There is one thing you can say about memory that old: it's cloudy at best and no two people remember it the same way.  Yet, I'd still love to hang out at one of those breakfast meetings.  At best, it would be a happy reunion.  Then at the worst, there really might not be anything to talk about.  


Thursday, September 4, 2014

I SOLD MY CAR

I sold my car.

That in itself is no big deal. Millions of people sell their cars every day. I have sold or traded cars all my life. What's different this time is this: I don't plan to replace my trusty Volkswagen. CA and I have decided to become a single car family.

Since I was seventeen, I have not been without my own personal transportation. I just sold the last in that line of vehicles, beginning with a 1947 Chevy Club Coupe. $995 it cost me. It was my first bank loan. It had a rear seat in which no normal human could comfortably sit, but, nevertheless, there it was for anyone to see. It had a vacuum assisted shift on the steering column. All you had to do was touch it in the direction of the gear you needed and it went there. I think that was the only year that feature appeared in the Chevy line. Just another good idea that didn't find a market. The Edsel comes to mind. Anybody remember the Hudson?

I had a number of cars over the years. One that stands out in my mind is a '63 Comet. It was compact and red. it was an accommodation to our need to drive something a bit more economical than the "guzzler" we had been driving. I remember picking it up in Ft. Worth and there, right next to me in the dealership, was John Connally, the governor, who sat in the same car that carried John Kennedy to his death. We nodded but didn't speak. We were not in the same social circle, you might say.

I blew the engine in that Comet somewhere between Manor and Elgin, just east of Austin, after grocery shopping in the "city". As you might guess, I didn't go for another Comet.

So, we have only one car now. That means we have to have a conversation now and then to manage our transportation needs. That has to be a good thing. How many decades have passed when there was only one car in the family stable? You get only one guess: a bunch. We'll get used to it.

There is a much larger issue at work here. It's the matter of paring down the outgo to fit within the limits of the income as one reaches deeper into those inevitable latter years. Consider registration, insurance, a new set of snow tires, regular maintenance and the unpredictable. I can afford the standard stuff. It's the unpredictable that bothers me. That VW is happier now in the hands of a young man who really needs it rather than in my garage most of the time, essentially un-needed.

The ultimate issue here is change. I'm not fond of it. It would be just fine with me if things just stayed the same. Alas, that's not reality. There are times when I wish reality would just leave me alone.  But, that's crazy-talk, isn't it?  Reality wins every time.


Sunday, August 24, 2014

ONE MORE WORD ABOUT ROBIN WILLIAMS

Why I think I might have anything to add to the hundreds of comments, eulogies, editorials and speeches about the death of Robin Williams, is a mystery to me - until I realize that there are few things that happen in this world about which I do not have something to say. Forgive me. It's a congenital and un-fixable condition.

There have been two comments made that for me are significant. One is that Williams seemed to be able to "see" the truth in all the noise and chaos of our world and put it in such a package as to make us not only laugh but also to see or face that truth at the same time. It has been said that all good humor speaks the truth. Sometimes, it is only through laughing eyes that the most painful truths can be seen and endured.

For me the clearest example of this is the movie GOOD MORNING VIET NAM. Here is a wise cracking DJ saying what was the truth about that war in a funny way because to say it seriously would be gross insubordination. His goal was to temporarily take the soldier's mind off the horror of his daily life, and the truth he saw all to clearly. He wanted to let them all know that someone else saw it and through outlandish humor could make the sting less hurtful, if only for a moment.

The other group of comments about the death of Robin Williams center around the why of it. Pundits abound who seem to know all the answers and have the books, scholars and endless footnotes to back them up. Ultimately, when it comes to the issue of someone taking his or her own life it seems to me that truth is on the side of ignorance. How can I know what goes through the mind of someone at that moment when that step is taken that can not be taken back? It has been said suicide is the ultimate act of selfishness. I'm sure that can be applied in some cases: a get even stroke that can not be returned. I have written elsewhere about a man with end-game ALS - Lou Gehrig's disease - who found a way to end his life while he still had the ability to lift that deadly cup.  How can one argue with that?

Who's to know? Google it: famous people who have killed themselves. A few on that list you would have killed yourself. For many, as in the case of Robin Williams, I lament not having more of what they gave us during their richly creative lives.

I think I'll watch a couple of my favorite movies: GOOD MORNING VIET NAM and DEAD POET'S SOCIETY to celebrate the priceless gift of Robin Williams again.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

BREAD OF HAPPINESS

IT WAS SOMEWHERE IN THE MID-SIXTIES that I realized I could make a loaf of bread that was as good as anything I had ever tasted.  I remember it being potato bread in which I used some leftover mashed potatoes.  It has a nice crumb and made quite memorable toast. Then there was a long hiatus in my bread-making activities until somewhere in the seventies when I discovered this book put out by some Buddhist (I think) monks in California that described how they made their bread by a triple rising method. Bread making Buddhist monks in California - let's see, should that be one long word?  Anyway, I thought I could set myself apart from the regular heard of bread makers by using this method.  This ultimately proved to be a bit too involved to enjoy the process so I ditched that method, and moved on to the regular main-stream Pillsbury Cook Book for my bread making.

Note:  Bread making is not some arcane mystery known only to your great aunt, bakers with foreign sounding names and bald headed monks in California.  It's simple chemistry 101.  If you have flour, yeast and water you can make bread.  A touch of salt might help, as well as some oil or butter and perhaps a dollop of something sweet.  If you want to hide some leftover meatloaf or vegetable salad, that can be worked into the dough as well.  Very few things make me feel like I have actually done something good as making a loaf of bread - with my hands.  I have a trendy bread machine with a difficult to pronounce name, which, I think is supposed to impress me.  It makes a credible loaf.  I don't even have to wash my hands.  However, getting my hands in the dough is a whole other world of bread making.

Once, in another lifetime, I was working in a mental health clinic that ran what was called a Day Hospital.  it was a program where people who were usually on some potent psychotropic medications could spend the day and have community and do some occupational therapy activities.  It was popular with these people.

I got a phone call from the woman who ran that unit and she said she heard that I made bread - with my hands.  Yes, she added those last three words.  I said I did and I washed my hands thoroughly every time.  She asked me if I would consider teaching the people in Day Hospital how to make a loaf of bread. Yippee, I said.  That sounds like fun.  Great, she said, when can you come over and meet them - about ten of them?  Tomorrow?  Done.

Well, here's what happened.   I think there were about eight of those people who wanted to participate.  There was a completely outfitted kitchen in the unit and we met there every day for a week.  These were all women, none of whom had ever tried to make a loaf of bread.  It took me a moment to get past that sad fact.

We went through the basic principles of bread making and then we made bread.  We made Anadama bread, which has butter, cornmeal and molasses in it.   Each person varied the ratio of brown to white flour so they could see the difference it made.  Every body got their hands in the dough and before anyone realized it they were all laughing and having the time of their lives.  Well, they were having a good time at that time.  No one was "cured" of anything, but everybody had fun and that is cure enough for most people.

Saturday, August 16, 2014

THE HOPE OF PLAISTINE

A 91-year-old Dutch man who was declared a Righteous Among the Nations for saving a Jew during the German occupation on Thursday returned his medal and certificate because six of his relatives were killed by an Israeli bombing in the Gaza Strip last month.

Only should Tel Aviv lie beneath the rubble under which Gaza lies now will Israel understand what they have done to the Palestinians. How does such action find justification in the simple mantra of: we have a right to defend ourselves? No one is arguing that. But to destroy a complete society and thousands of innocents is beyond justification.

There is no honor bestowed by he state of Israel that is worth an ounce of Palestinian dust. I can only hope that my country, the US, ceases its support of the state of Israel, the Jewish lobby in this country notwithstanding. If you think my sentiments are anti semitic, you are simply not paying attention to what is going on. Someone must lay down their arms and say, it is enough. Enough blood has been shed. Enough prejudice and apartheid has poisoned the world.

History can not be rolled back but history can be made. That is our hope.

Friday, August 15, 2014

A LIGHT SHINING IN THE DARKNESS

Ever notice that it seems the grossest and most primitive amongst us always get the headlines and somehow seem to define, at least in part, who we are. It's the troglodytes and trolls living in the remotest hollows, darkest woods and scariest neighborhoods who somehow keep alive the idea that practitioners of evil and the dark arts roam freely among us.

Many think that if we could just educate everyone that the dark shadows in our world would disappear. Alas, there is no evil like smart evil. Education is surely needed but It's more than the basics that is needed. A strong dose of culture and exposure to the wider world would help. But that's also education. So how is that accomplished when most education dollars go where the dollars are to begin with. That happens not to be in the dark hollows and remote enclaves.

I often wonder what kind of generation would appear were education funds and resources distributed equally to all children no matter where they lived. Of course, that would mean that we cared for each other and were willing to be responsible for the education of children we might never know. It also might mean giving up a few sacred cows such as the local control of education in our various communities. Certainly, local people should be involved and have a direct input into the system but the fundamental curriculum and standards for students, teachers and the distribution of resources should be administered at a higher level than a local school board. This goes for funding as well.

That brings up a second sacred cow needing to be put out to pasture. That would be the obviously dead ended funding of schools by a regressive property tax. We get this idea from a time in Merry Old England when everything was owned by the rich and landed class. Of course their land was taxed. Owning land and wealth were synonymous.

In modern times owning property, as in a house or a small parcel of land is not synonymous with wealth. So the idea of making adjustments for those who do not have increasing incomes that make it possible to pay increased taxes seems appropriate. Seniors living on limited incomes should not be expected to pay the full value of their property. If they sell to someone else then that person can be assessed the full amount. Age considerations are appropriate but so should health and other factors be considered when assessing real property. A system that sees each tax payer equally without any consideration as to different situations, is unjust by default.

I am a simple man, incapable of complex thought but I can not see why public education can't be funded with the same abandonment as, say that new stretch destroyer up in the ways at Bath Iron Works. Or perhaps that grossly huge hidden budget of the spooky NSA and the CIA.

Well, if we can dream of the moon, mars and rebuilding the Afghanistan infrastructure at astronomical cost, then why not dream of an education system that can shine a little light on those wonderful minds living in the remotest hollow and darkest enclave - an education system that can think beyond a local tax base?

Saturday, August 2, 2014

THE DANGERS OF OLD PHOTOGRAPHS

Nothing makes one feel one's age like an early photograph.  I know - it has to be among the choicest self promotion stunts to post a baby photo of one's self, but I have not seen this for years.  The original is a hand tinted black and white photo - real color photographs had not yet become commercially viable.  I made this sepia toned print and gave it to my children many years ago.  It comes back to me in my Google+ account through my son David.  I think I'll try and post this on Google+.  You never know - it may be the next place to be.


Pretty much the same, don't you think?  I mean, there is the hair thing, but the rest. . .  OK.

Now I am caught up in this swirling life vortex of memories that I can't seem to stop.  The country was in the throes of a deep depression that never seemed to reach me personally.  We ate out of a garden all year round.  My grandfather was the gardener and he and my aunt lived next door and we leaned upon and supported each other, sharing the cooking and often eating together.  

When I let myself think about our house - the way it really was - I am amazed at how simple, small and incredibly cold it was during our brief winters in South Louisiana.  There was no insulation and the water pipes hung out in the air beneath the floors.  It was my job to go outside and turn the valve that drained the system when freezing was predicted for the night.  As I recall, the process worked well enough.

Privacy was something other people had in their much larger homes.  There was only one bath and there were two doors, one to each of the two bedrooms.  You could lock the doors but the locks were primitive and often failed so that often you looked up to see some relative, who was just passing by and needed to use the toilet, enter the room.  I remember dreaming of privacy.

Don't be mistaken: I loved our house.  I loved my space in it.  Sometimes, when I let myself "go there" I get so wrapped up in memories that I have to get up and make a pot of coffee or if evening shadows are long enough, make a stiff drink.  Today there are no shadows.  Hmm, I wonder what that means.






Monday, July 28, 2014

Another Walk in the Woods

Walking in the woods again.  I know this is not news, nor is it some kind of unique attribute of mine to be able to do this. It's just that I've been in some kind of blah zone lately having the concentration of a fruit fly.  I don't want to do anything.  When CA suggested that we go climb the mountain, an idea that usually causes me to jump into high gear, I mumbled a feeble, "Oh, I guess so", and off we went.

We had chosen a trail on the south side of Bradbury Mountain that is a steady climb until it reaches the shoulder of the mountain and then comes to the Boundary Trail.  We got all the way to the top without having to stop to catch our breath - a pleasant surprise.  It's a beautiful walk and the sense of being "away" is immediate.  I knew that I was into it and I smiled with the  realization that a walk in the woods is not only a special privilege, but a powerful balm for the soul, not just the body.  It never fails.

I began to think of other walks in other woods at other times in my life as far back as my memory goes, all the way to Louisiana.  It really feels like I am connecting with my roots - no pun intended - the "who" that I am, when I am in the woods.

The woods: If there is a place where Spirit dwells, it is there.  If there is a place where solitude is found, it is there.  If there is a place that doctors the soul and points to your true north, it is there. 

I am lucky.  All I have to do is walk out my back door and I am in the woods.  There was a time when most of us Americans lived near or actually in the woods.  Slowly we migrated toward more urban environments and soon many of us found ourselves living out of easy reach of woods or wilderness.

When you think about it, central heat, electricity, paved roads, WiFi and that magic called "access" all add up to a powerful incentive that seems to overwhelm our sylvan roots.  Personally, I think it's important to retreat to the wilderness from time to time to unplug, to see, to listen and to walk in gratitude to the rhythmic metronome of your heart.

Monday, July 7, 2014

NO REGRETS

There are times in those fragile morning hours that I entertain a passing regret for failing to yield to temptation. It would serve no purpose, aside from the puerile, to catalog such remembrances and besides, those regrets are indeed passing. More substantive regrets arise from those times when I did "yield unto temptation", just to see, I suppose, if the rumor was true about the sweetness of forbidden fruit. Though I would love to revise a few of those scripts, a pleasure not accorded in this life, forbidden fruit is, indeed sweet, and brief. "For what is your life? It is even a vapour, that appeareth for a little time, and then vanisheth away." (KJV, of course) Such is the pleasure of forbidden fruit. Or, any fruit at all. "For what is your life...."

I have regrets. The man or woman who boldly declares having no regrets has never lived, or, has descended from heaven spotless and pure to the bone. I have met a few people who seemed to believe themselves to be such beings, but in reality were, or needed to be, on serious medication.

Any discussion about regrets always seems to me to be an exercise in semantics. So, would I rather  not have those memories? Those experiences? No. Those memories and experiences are who I am. The healthy person must weave them into the warp and woof of his/her life.

Yes - I would love to recall that ill chosen word, or that misguided relationship or that quite stupid decision that nearly wrecked my life. However, I do not dwell upon those things. Regrets dwelt upon are poison to the soul. Regrets acknowledged and then put aside are just the stuff of one's history. Move on!

Now that I have that cleared up, I regret not having made a rhubarb pie tonight. It's the season and that season is like the verse above says...."It is even a vapour, that appeareth for a little time, and then vanisheth away." This is one regret I can fix. If I hurry up, that is.

Be well and Stay tuned

Jerry Henderson

Thursday, June 26, 2014

DOWNSIZING

I was reading this piece in the paper about this fellow who is building his future home in the form of what is called these days a Tiny House. It's a minimalist idea that seems to me to be like putting on your house like you would a large coat and wearing it. You have about as much room to move about in one of those places as you have in the coat.

Some years ago, I owned a 20' self contained travel trailer. I always felt I could "do this", so to speak, as a primary home. While staying in campgrounds and meeting other people who were "living" full time in their travel trailers, it became obvious to me that there was an entire sub-culture out there doing this, and some of them were doing it in style in expensive and quite comfortable units. Small and compact but not exactly minimalist. I always dreamed of a 27' Airstream. While not exactly a Tiny House experience, it was nevertheless compact and efficient. My twenty footer was not as elegant but had all the necessities including thermostat heat.

I was a lot younger then and spent some time sleeping on the ground in a tent so I felt it would be no big deal to downsize from the four bedroom ranch, in which I lived at the time, and live in a nice self contained travel trailer. Well, I don't sleep on the ground anymore, nor do I dream of traveling around the country in a self contained "house" on wheels, but, put such a thing in the right place and I think it would be just fine.

I am convinced that for two people to share a real tiny house experience there would have to be "adjoining" tiny houses. It seems to me to be a single person idea. However, I guess I would have to admit to having met a person or two along the way who had so few personal boundaries that they could live happily "cheek by jowl" with someone else. Neither of us find that possibility appealing. We need our private spaces. And this is the issue: downsizing and preserving privacy. How far down can the sizing go before it gets to be a problem?

We're so used to this sprawling place and the three acres of outside in which to wander around. It's difficult to visualize the scenario that would meet our various needs, when finally we turn that page.

Meanwhile, it's a rainy day schedule today, just right for the quieter pursuits. There are several options for where to spend time and do things in this rambling house. Truth is: I don't have any interest at all in downsizing. Truth is #2: My interests and what actually happens are not necessarily the same thing. Truth is #3: There are times when I just hate the truth.

Friday, June 20, 2014

SUMMER SOLSTICE 2014

It's that time again when the morning sunlight comes in a window that faces northeast and the evening sunlight comes in a window opposite that faces south west. This phenomenon only occurs for a couple of weeks on both sides of the summer solstice.

I notice this piece of meteorological shuffling while sitting in my easy chair most mornings, where I make a transition of my own from actually lying down to actually standing up, while nursing a couple of cups of steaming hot darkroast coffee. I'm sure I can begin my day without this gentle ritual, but I can not think of a single rational reason to do so.

In some form, I have enjoyed this morning routine since childhood when I would sit with my grandfather on his back porch next door sipping that same darkroast with real cream and enough sugar to qualify the concoction as a confection.

May summer bring to you fruition and warmth at last - and I am sure it will. May summer bring reunion with loved ones. May summer bring you to an ocean overlook - a rock perch on a quiet pond - a mountain top vista - a woodland grotto - or a place in your own heart of peace and joy as you close the day with your own concoction of choice.

Love -

HAPPY SOLSTICE

Jerry Henderson

Friday, June 6, 2014

D DAY

I was 12 years old. The times were frightening, thrilling and filled with foreboding. We hung on every word in the news broadcasts and our eyes searched each frame of the Saturday MovieTone News at our local movie house.

I woke up that morning to the smell of bacon and the voice of Martin Agronsky reporting from a landing craft approaching the Normandy coast. No one spoke. Each of us - mother, father, my brother and I went about the business of beginning our day with a subdued, almost reverent attitude.

It was Monday morning, and the subject of conversation at home, in my father's barber shop and even at school had been decided. We sensed, hoped, that it was the beginning of the end.

It was the beginning of a week, by the end of which we were reminded that the machine of war moved slowly and at great cost. It seems such a clear message, such a profound lesson: and we have yet to hear or learn from it all.

Peace . . .

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

A DREARY MORNING

It's a dreary morning made more so being preceded by a series of beautiful sunny spring days during which we have hustled around to get the gardens in shape. We got a late start but it seems we are in a good position to see some success.

The grass is looking healthy too. A bit too healthy. It'll be handled soon but it seems a bit damp to try just now. I'll get over it.

Over the years, we have tried growing just about everything in our garden. We have filtered out much that would be nice but ends up not doing well or not at all and the cost benefit thing makes us come to conclusions like: we can buy the stuff and plant something that works.

I like to plant the fun stuff. Tomatoes, peppers, carrots, squash (delicata and zucchini), leeks and onions, herbs and my favorite - garlic. The tomato gods, however, have frowned upon our efforts lately so we are doing most of them on the deck with a couple of Beefsteaks in the garden. And although we have made every effort in the past to adhere to organic principles - and we intend to keep to that high road principle in so far as it is practical - we intend to fertilize and augment with whatever works, by all the gods that care about such things.

I am reminded of our last sojourn to PEI where we stayed with the Elizabeth and Doug Borman in Cable Head on the north shore. She was a gardener and everything she grew looked like the examples in the slick magazines. We walked out to her patch of cultivated red dirt and there were her tomato plants laying all over the place - not a stick or cage in sight - with grapefruit sized tomatoes glowing like the setting sun all over the ground. I couldn't believe it.

I quizzed her at breakfast about her secret. After some prodding she admitted to using commercial stuff to feed her garden. Read: Miracle Grow! There are other things but she adamantly refused to use chemical weed treatments or other toxic substances to retard insects. She minded her crop manually.

I grew up in a garden with my maternal grandfather, Shug showing me how to pick those horned tobacco worms off the tomatoes with my bare fingers. He did this daily. He did the same thing with squash bugs and other pests. I also remember Shug applying some grayish powder fertilizer, that he purchased down at Hebert's Hardware, on the roots of those tomato plants at certain times. The results were memorable.

Well the clock is ticking on the garden of 2014. I'll let you know what happens. Don't hold your breath.

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

A PARABLE OF LIFE

It isn't much of a secret that CA and I have recently completed a three month "vacation" in the south. This was a retirement honeymoon - a celebration trip - a fact finding excursion and a reunion with family. We are keenly aware of the phase of life in which we live. Gears are shifting, breaks are squealing, the numbers are totaling up faster than we can count. It's fun and it's sobering. Bartender - can I have another? 

As I write this, the sun is setting at 7:30 and shafts of evening light are cutting through the woods in the back, bouncing off one tree and then another until all is in shadow. Evening time. A parable of life as I know it.

I have tried to come up with a meaning for it all.  It's what I do, you could say.  So far I have come up empty.  The entire trip was, as I have said, a celebration of retirement. That's as close as I can get, and I am satisfied with that. A friend asked me if I had kept a journal of the trip. I was sorry to say that I had posted a few blogs but had not kept a daily journal. I always keep a journal of sorts but did not do that on this trip. 

One of our intentions - other than enjoying the ride - was to "see" if living in Florida was a viable choice for us. The answer to that question came up soon into the journey.  No, it is not a viable option. More exactly, we just don't want to do that now. But there is a fundamental lesson we have all learned a long time ago: time changes everything. Never say never.

Meanwhile, we drove to the very tip of he country in Key West, a mild disappointment, which I have spoken of elsewhere.   CA swam with the dolphins at Grassy Key.  Her swim partner was a direct descendent of the original Flipper. This was #1 on her bucket list.  #2 is to ride a mule to the bottom of the Grand Canyon next summer. Oh boy!

We toured Savanna, drove the Blue Ridge Parkway and the Shenandoah Skyway.  We walked beneath the "Natural Bridge" - the most commercialized natural feature on the continent - and touched the Viet Nam Wall on Memorial Day.

If there is a pop quiz today, I would have to say that the meaning of it all is that I am glad to be home in Maine where most of the garden is in, and most of the grass is cut. I mean, how good can it get?


Sunday, June 1, 2014

LUNAR-WIFI

Here's the latest: WiFi on the moon!  (http://america.aljazeera.com/articles/2014/5/30/wireless-wifi-moon.html)  And just in time for the summer tourist season.  The only hang-up I was having about our reservations at the Hotel du Lune on the Sea of Tranquility this summer was wondering if it's free.  I mean the cost of the ticket should include free wifi, you'd think.

Just a week ago I was in this fancy hotel in Falls Church, Virginia and the wifi was not free! We've been in a number of hotels for the past three months and the wifi was always free.   OK, you usually have to put up with their pushy sales pitch just to log on, but it was free.   Not at the Marriott on Fairview Park Drive.  If you want connectivity in your room it's $15 a day!  I think it's blazing fast, but for that price it should be.

I have to confess, we were getting a rate way below the sticker price for the room.  We were part of a wedding group for which a block of rooms had been set aside.  Still, it kind of rubs you the wrong way.  Yet it must be said that the wifi fee would still have been less than we have been paying for places like the Holiday Inn Express.  It's just the idea, you know?

I still managed to get online without their pricy connection.  I just plugged my iPhone into my laptop and used the fast LTE phone signal to get online.   Worked like a charm.

I still haven't heard back from NASA about the "free" wifi at the Hotel du Lune.   If I don't hear back soon, I'll cancel and sit under my own umbrella instead.  Besides, we have the best food, fastest wifi and the most liberal happy hour in the solar system.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

FOLLOWING THE NORTH STAR

Today we begin seriously packing up for the northbound journey home. It will be a couple of weeks yet before we cross the Piscataqua river but it's a good sign, nevertheless.

We have been gone too long. That being said, I must add that it has been a wonderfully pleasant visit and we have done everything we planned to do and more. I will miss knowing I can get in the car and drive to a beautiful beach and absorb it's tropical luxury. I will miss roads that are so smooth that I think sometimes they were built by a furniture maker. I will miss the Florida weather which, no matter what you've heard, is made for human habitation. I know this because it seems every human on the planet is here.

I will miss the gentle breezes into the late evening on the lanai (aka. back porch) by the pool. I will miss the excited hugs and kisses of two little children who call me Grampa Jerry. I will miss seeing the developing stages in the lives of the three older children: a freshman at Sickles High School, a sophomore at the University of Florida, and a senior at Florida State University. And I will miss the truly amazing hospitality of Michelle and Michael who make me feel special - like family. There is no set value on such a gift. And at the same time I truly miss my Maine home.

In Florida I am required to relax and have little in the way of responsibilities. In Maine I have grass to cut, a garden to try and rescue, wood to stack and an endless list of things to do. Even so, I want to go there and do that. I'm homesick.

I also know that after an hour or two of stacking wood and a session walking behind a lawnmower and driving down a road better navigated in a tractor, I'll be completely caught up and ready for another holiday. I know that. It makes no difference. I still want to be there.

Be the weather so unpredictable; be the list of chores an endless demand; be the roads a challenge for the best destruction derby driver; there is no place like home.

Thursday, May 8, 2014

THE PLACES YOU FIND TO EAT

One of the nicest things about travel are the places you find to eat.  But first a word about hotel breakfasts.

If all it takes for you to get on with your day is some dry cereal and milk, then you're covered.  It's when the hotel thinks it can do up an egg or a piece of sausage that it gets to the gag level.  We stayed at a Holiday Inn Express in a couple of places and they served the same little omelette-like creation with a slice of faux cheese in it that was so uniformly made that it had to be machine made.  If dropped, I'm pretty sure they will bounce.  With enough Tabasco and black pepper it almost resembles the taste of egg. 

The sausage scene is not much better.  First of all, sausage is, ideally, ground up meat that is seasoned.  This was turkey sausage.  Perhaps it was.  I have to say it tasted not only bland but it required great leaps of imagination to come up with the idea that you were actually eating meat.  OK, it got the job done but only minimally.  And I tasted the whatever it was for several hours after.  I'm quite sure my system is still trying to figure out just what it was I ate.

Twice there was cream sausage gravy and hot biscuits.  Whoa there, I shouted.  I love the stuff as it fosters wonderful memories of that same menu at my great aunt Ora's kitchen table as a child.  I would go out and run it off quickly, but driving all day to the day's destination is not going to run anything off.  Biscuits (very likely made with lard) slathered ladles of hot cream gravy becomes a brick in one's digestive tract if sitting on it is the plan.  It was the plan.

Dinner was another story.  We were in Ft. Myers and were in a Pier 1 Imports looking for real glasses for our evening libation.  Why hotels provide those awful Dixie cups is beyond me.  No it's not: it's cheap and that's that.  After finding this pair of excellent and cheap $3 glasses that I was sure were more money, we chatted up the person waiting on us and asked her where we could go for a good meal with some atmosphere.  Without batting an eye, she said Bonita Bill's.  She said it would not be fancy, the food is great and inexpensive and there is no better atmosphere.

Hmm, a local recommendation like that is hard to ignore.  She was right on every count.  Here are a couple of shots from our table.

As the sun faded the evening turned gold.

Check out the napkin holder.

A sampling of the crowd.

To get here you went like you were going over the bridge/causeway to Sanibel Island but you turn off at the last minute and meander through this back street neighborhood and then drive under the bridge and find a huge parking lot with not a parking place to be had.   As I made the loop - as luck would have it - and I don't know what I'd do with out luck - a guy pulled out of an ideal spot just as I approached.  I parked and CA was saying things like, "This is it"!

The place was packed.  We strolled in and I saw this table right down on the water and it was empty.  I said, "What's wrong with that one?" and a guy standing nearby said, "Not a thing.  Go get it."

That was about it.  We hung out there for the better part of two hours.  Everybody there seemed to know ten other people.  I truly think we were the only patrons from "away" so to speak.  These people locals.  There was music and dancing too.  Well, a good time only goes so far.  I couldn't hear the music and I passed on the dancing but the beer was cold and the food was great. . . . .  Go there.

Monday, May 5, 2014

The Myth of Key West

Key West is one of the more hyped destinations in the country. The hype is all in the history and geography. It used to be a great port. It used to be home to Earnest Hemingway, and Tennessee Williams had a home there. Though they were there at the same time they only met once. I wonder what that was all about. It used to be the Summer White House for Harry Truman. My guess it was used mostly in the winters. Jimmy Buffett began there years ago, and is likely wandering around looking for that lost shaker of salt. The tour guide kind of went over the top to point out the original Margaritaville location. I thought he was going to dislocate his elbow as he pointed to the exact spot. Sloppy Joe's welcomed Hemingway frequently. Well, Sloppy Joe's is not where it was then and of course Earnest is long gone. Only the stories remain and I am sure they benefit from a few embellishments.

Geographically, Key West couldn't help being located at the tip of a chain of little islands - "keys", which sounds more Caribbean - and ending up being the most southern point in the continental US. The rest of can't say that. So it's unique. If you're into that, go there. I once saw the sunrise at the most eastern point in the North American Continent. There was not a bar or coffee shop, for that matter, in sight, but I was there. I guess that's the point.

It is said that there are 360 liquor licenses on Key West. About 135 of them are on Duval Street. Also on Duval Street are straw hats, tee shirts, sandals, "art" that you would never even think of purchasing at home but in Key West.... and on Duval Street? There probably isn't a better or easier place to drink yourself blind while wearing a tee shirt with the logo of your bar of choice on the back. I don't know what I expected of Duval Street, but it didn't come close to any thing I had in my mind. I am quiet sure that if I were 22 and foot loose I'd find something to be excited about about Duval Street. Actually, if I were 22 and footloose it wouldn't matter where I was. I'd be hysterical! As it is, I wasn't too impressed. The phrase, "Tourist Trap" comes to mind. You can consider the source.

We were not able to be there in the evening. We looked for lodging for the night but couldn't bring ourselves to pay such obscene prices for it so decided to stay on Marathon and drive in for the day. I'm happy to have gone there. I wouldn't do it again or recommend it to someone I liked.

Confession time. On the way down we stopped off at a visitor information center on Key Largo. The guy there convinced us to purchase at a discount, of course, a trolly tour ticket. Parking for that was free and parking in the heart of where we wanted was either non-existant or expensive, he said. Sounded like a deal to us. We could get off and on the trolly all day. As with many such "deals" it sounded much better than it turned out to be. Take my advise: if you go there drive down town and pay the outrageous fee for all day parking and you will have more fun, see more, and not worry about catching the trolly at the designated stop. I mean how often are you going there anyway?

Here's the thing: I had all these expectations. I've never been so disappointed in anything. I should have known better. What others say bout a place is nice but it is not superior to your own experience. By that same measure, don't take my word for it - go see for yourself and pay for the parking. And NO, that was not necessarily a recommendation.

Thursday, May 1, 2014

A MARATHON EVENING

Last evening we were sitting at an outside table at a lovely restaurant by our hotel enjoying a wonderful evening of seafood and the warm ocean air of the Florida Keys. It would be hard to top this specially as the latest report from our Maine home is 38˚ and threatening. You could say that's why we are here. You could actually say that, but that's not the real reason we're here, but it fits. OK - - it's the real reason we're here.

Toward the end of our dinner, a guy at the next table said something to CA about having seen her earlier as they came into the hotel on their bicycles, and that began an hour long conversation between him and his companion and us. He said they were from Birmingham and I said I had breakfast there once. We all laughed and then we began an enjoyable evening of story telling and sharing of experiences. The two of them - old friends - were biking the keys. They were doing it right. Riding one way and shuttling back. Even I could do that perhaps. Very perhaps.

We were all "mature" people and as is the case when mature people meet up, the conversation turns to past experiences and other stuff older people talk about. They were very likable, even though confessed Republicans. I'm sorry, something just came over me and I couldn't resist that.

The two of them and CA were about the same age and I was their senior by about ten years, which meant we could all remember many of the same things. We had a marvelous evening of talking about careers, retirement, writing and places to get a good meal in the Keys.

It was one of those experiences that demonstrate the connection we all have to each other. One of them was a writer who loved the process as much as the content and that resonated with my own ideas about writing. The other person was a graduate of LSU in my home town and we shared memories of that experience as well as some from our New Orleans days. I mean six degrees is not a lot of separation after all.

I am always amazed when I find some kind of connection to total strangers. It has happened many times. Could it be that it's a sign of hope for an implied kinship between all humans? That's pretty grandiose, I agree, but humanity is worth the effort. Wouldn't you agree?

Today, CA goes swimming with the dolphins at the Dolphin Research Center. She would include dolphins in that group of kinfolk with whom we share some important characteristics and gifts. That's probably not grandiose at all.

Friday, April 25, 2014

The Paperless Age?

I remember during my early years of using a computer - the early '80's - how I printed out copies of my emails and other documents gleaned off the internet to file away in the same way I did before computers. One day It occurred to me that due to the volume of all this paper, I would soon need to install a new file cabinet to hold all this paper, which is the very thing a computer was supposed to eliminate. Well, as anyone will tell you, the digital age has not even come close to eliminating paper but it has changed the way we think of storage, file retrieval and simply looking something up.

At one time I had a library. Four walls full of books, and more. The answer is no. I did not read them all but I knew them all and could look up anything I desired - in a book. I have lightened my book load somewhat since then but there are still several thick and tall volumes down on a dusty bottom shelf waiting for my inquiry. I haven't touched one of those things in years. I do what you do: I Google it.

Here's the thing: the computer age came along because it was time and it could be done. It's almost a fairytale kind of story. It was supposed to eliminate the use of paper in all our transactions, communications and even storage. The people saying all this were engineers. That's important. Engineers are good at engineering. If they find that they can do something they do it. It's what engineers do. In their minds that is progress. Sometimes they are right. When it came to paper, they were wrong. Nobody asked me if I wanted to give up paper. I didn't.

I write something every day. After I started using a computer, everything I wrote started out with a pencil and a notebook. I have stacks of those old journals and notebooks. I would "finish" up on the computer, of course, specially if someone else had to read what I wrote or I wanted to email it or just mail it. It was a two tiered system.

As time moved along I found I could think as well while typing as I could with a pencil and pad. (What "thinking well" actually means is a whole other story). This was a revelation to me. I felt guilty about abandoning a life long passion for scribbling with a pencil on paper. I mean, history was on my side. I nurtured this romantic idea that the "Muse" would be more available in the wee hours by candle light on a bare table with a clean sheet of paper and a pencil or a pen dipped in real ink. What a croc...

I also read all the time. I am a member of the Freeport Community Library and have a couple of their books on my night stand constantly. It's all about paper, clean typefaces and the tactile communication with a familiar medium. Yeah, I also like the smell.

I have recently acquired a Nook device on which I read "E" books. This is a recent addition to my digital life, and one that I really didn't plan on. I said things like, "I'll never do that", and, "Give me a real book any day".

I now read about a third of what I read digitally. I even have a Nook App and a Kindle App on my iPhone. And yes, I have read a couple dozen books on my phone. It works. Now as phones are getting bigger screens, the difference between the phone experience and the actual book size reader will become clouded. I have several books in my shirt pocket all the time for that moment when I have time to read but don't have an actual paper book in my bag.

I have witnessed amazing developments in personal computing in the past 30 years. If that is any indication of what's to be expected in the next 30 years, I am simply unable to imagine it. One thing seems certain: words on paper will diminish while words on a digital device will increase. But, of course, that's been said before.

While you are reading this piece, some young engineers in a college dorm will decide to make the next new thing that they are sure will further transform our lives. They could be right. They could be wrong. Either way, they're going to do it. We'll read about it in the paper. The digital version, of course.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

THE SEARCH FOR ENLIGHTENMENT

I have, on occasion, sought to touch the truth stone, to find that condition, that place, that formula that opened a special portal into the realm of peace, insight, enlightenment.

I have used various means to do this, from expensive weekend experiences at some mountain top retreat, to the many books of the blessed.  For a little while I would feel something, but I was always feeling something.  I think that was an unaddressed issue for me.  But workshops, retreats and the books of the blessed are signs that the desire is present, not evidence of the condition unfortunately, or we would have enlightenment for a price.

I grew up in a tradition that put great store in burning bushes, parting waters, blinding lights and the transmogrification of water.  There was always something good going to happen to me tonight. Hope was a palpable element in my life.  My maternal grandfather, we called him Shug, had a way of demystifying things.  He used to say, "Hope in one hand and spit in the other and see which one fills up first."  He wasn't much for religion and would not claim enlightenment, but he had a clue.

Sometimes I think enlightenment is opening one's eyes and seeing what's there.  Of course, that means not seeing what's not there.  That's the hard part.  Western religions took a faith born in the desert east and organized and corporatized it until the simplicity of it became obscured in dogma, professionalism and flashy robes.

I am moved by the stark simplicity of Buddhism.  But one thing seems to stand out for me and it is this: enlightenment in that part of the world seems to be a minimalist idea. As in the flame of a single candle, the monotony of a simple mantra, being without things or "being" with an empty mind, or at least a mind focused on one thing at a time.  It would seem that it's difficulty lies in it's simplicity.  Its product is supposed to be simple kindness, compassion and peace.  You would think that would be the aim of all religions. You would think.  

After all these years, a few drops seem to have distilled out of all the confusion that help me, on a personal level, to deal with the imponderables.

First and foremost, I believe that truth does not carry a brand.

Secondly, if you believe that you are right and everybody else is wrong, there's medicine for that.  Get help.

The competitiveness and exclusiveness seen in much of modern religion is itself evidence of having missed the point - in my opinion. 

Yet, I'm not doing much better.  Here I am wandering around in the darkness with my little MagLight running on petered out batteries.  I keep thinking that other than the natural world, there is just us folks out here who need each other more than we ever imagined.  Now there are those who threaten to dissolve the world order in an ocean of blood all in the name of religion in a kind of "My god can whip your god" version of the search for enlightenment and peace.  It blows my mind.

The truly tall souls of our day are saying that whatever the truth is, its vessel is compassion.  If there is no compassion, there is no truth.  I wish I could point to my life as an example of this.  I can not.  But I know it when I see it, and I know it when I feel it.  We all do.

Compassion is the Holy Grail.  Drink from that cup and there is hope.  It seems so easy.  Yet it eludes me too much of the time.  First, it seems to me that I have to lay down my sword and shield, and I love my sword and shield.  I'm pretty sure nothing much will happen until I am disarmed.  

I have heard the words, "Be ye kind one to another", all my life.  Could that be  the light that shines in the darkness?  Could that be the hope of the world?  Could that simple dictum be the answer?  Could that be all the theology anyone ever needs to know?



Monday, April 7, 2014

LIVING WITH MARGINALIZATION

I think a lot about aging.  Probably too much.  This really began to happen a few years ago, when I retired,  I began to see the attitude others had toward me take an interesting turn.  It was as though there was a collection of assumptions about my life that automatically became a part of my reality.  It almost seemed like  patronization.  Society was taking care of me whether I wanted it or not.  A new definition was attached to my life and I was given special names to make sure I was "marked".  Senior Citizen.  Retiree.  Or just a simple "Old Guy".  My input was not solicited.  I just got old.  At that point the system kicked in and I became - Mr. Senior Citizen.  This may all be in my mind.  So what - that's a real place.  It can't be ignored.  Just today I got a letter from my gastroenterologist.  I am, it seems, too old to have a regular colonoscopy, my favorite invasive examination.  I suppose if I have a budding colon cancer somewhere in there, I just don't have enough time left to make treatment cost effective.  The actuarialists are running the world.  

I don't mind being old.  As a matter of fact, I rather enjoy it.  However, it takes some rather intensive adjusting - not only to being old, but also to the subtile little shifts in attitude the world now has toward me and my contemporaries.  I didn't see it coming.  More accurately, I didn't want to see it coming.  One day I found that I had moved into this alternate universe: the world of being an old person, a retiree, a person with a major history.  I began to feel marginalized.  A different set of rules now apply to me and I don't like it one damned bit.

To be marginalized is to be socially excluded, treated as unnecessary, unneeded, past tense - was, rather than is.  Growing old is by definition a kind of marginalization in itself.  Age, at some point, for all of us, brings with it a collection of diminishing abilities.  We just ain't what we used to be.  In this sense, aging is itself a degenerative condition.   The situation is amplified by a seemingly growing list of famous-name degenerative conditions such as, arthritis, Alzheimer's, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease ( my current favorite ), diabetes,  Parkinson's, atherosclerosis, heart disease, inflammatory bowel, prostatitis, osteoporosis and, of course, everyone's favorite: cancer - just to name a few, several of which I am coming to terms with.  All of these common accompaniments to aging tend to become agents of marginalization.  Guess what?  It's unavoidable.

For most of us, should we be so lucky as to live long, we will be gifted with one or more of the above conditions and because of that will no longer be able to run fast, jump high, lift heavy or step lightly.  Just dealing with that reality is what aging is all about.  It's making do with marginalization.  It's adjusting and being happy about what is possible and not spending the late night hours pining away in despair over lost stamina, Superman/Wonder Woman strength, a movie star profile or the pleasure, often unrealized at the time, of planning a long life.  It's a learned skill. There isn't as much stamina or strength, and God knows the profile is history, but it is what it is and not what it's not.  

It seems to me that that's the lesson of aging.  I deal with it every day.  I'm sure we all to to varying degrees.  It's tempting to focus on the past.  There is so much of it.  For me the key is to make some plans.  Do something.  It's about making one's self necessary.   It really doesn't matter much what it is, just be with what you're doing.  Cut the grass.  Plant those peas.  Fix something.  Help someone.  And, for the good of us all, stay in touch.  Hanging out at the margins of life is someone else's idea.

Jerry Henderson

Thursday, January 16, 2014

EXCUSE ME - WOULD YOU REPEAT THAT

One of the most difficult things for me to acknowledge is that I am truly old fashioned. I mean I am connected, on-line, Twitterized, FaceBooked and podcasted, but deep down I am living in the late thirties and forties. The radio days. At least, in part, what I am saying is that my values lie there while all the glitter, pizzazz and speed of present day technology simply give me the chance to run out my outdated values on the unsuspecting friend, family member and the occasional "everyone" who stumbles across my electrified  threshold. Caveat Emptor. Translation: Watch your step!

Some years ago while living in Southeast Texas, and while I still had an active interest in flying small airplanes, I used to read Flying Magazine and a columnist in that magazine named Gordon Baxter. His column was called THE BAX SEAT. He described himself as a "pasture pilot" and had a homey way of expressing himself, even about the technicalities of flying small airplanes. He had a radio program which he produced from his back porch at his home on Village Creek, a sometimes robust little stream that I paddled and camped upon many times.

On his show, he talked about whatever seemed to catch his attention. It presaged Jerry Seinfeld's show about nothing by about 30 years. It really was about nothing in particular. He rambled in a most interesting way. You could hear birdsong and a creaking screen door occasionally. His voice was well modulated and I could understand every word. It was quite popular. I'd get to the office and someone was likely to ask if I had heard Baxter that morning, and we'd talk about that. I don't think today's fast talking, hurry up media would give him the time of day.

A friend of mine once told me after listening to one of my podcasts, that I talked too slow and had too many long pauses. Well, I said, that's how I talk. We laughed and he still listens. I think. And I still talk slowly.

I have listened to many programs where someone is supposed to be telling a story or interviewing someone and all the while there is music, or other "environmental" noise (on purpose - by design because we live in an age where noise seems to be the only thing that keeps us from going conscious of our reality) and I am unable to hear the actual content of what the person is saying.

I should pause here and say something like, that's my opinion. And that's the opinion of a person wearing hearing aids which makes it difficult to make sense of noisy environments. And if the truth be known, if you want to communicate real information, every effort should be made to make that easy to do. Right? Well, you'd think so. Hearing aids or not.

So it's my problem. I'm OK with that - I have to be. But I resent being cut out of the process by the process itself. You can observe this going on in just about all media today. So-called realism in broadcasting seems to mean that environmental noise is as important as content. I can just see this sound engineer pushing the slider up on his sound board to increase the noise of the big diesel passing by so it's impossible to understand what is being said. Exciting huh? After all - it's the truth. It's what's happening.

A few years ago there was this guy on NPR's morning classical show who also talked slowly and it became a kind of joke. I could understand his every word however, even if it kind of infuriated me at times. I sometimes wondered whether the guy was somnambulant. Now, I really miss his kind of "delivery". If you have something to say, say it so others can be assured of understanding it. It's communication - get it?

Walter Cronkite, Ed Morrow, Erving R. Levine, Martin Agronsky, where are you guys when I need you masters of every syllable?   God, how I love every syllable.

Saturday, January 11, 2014

TRANSITIONS

There comes a time - at least, I assume it does - in most of our lives, when the specter of moving into a new and completely different phase of life confronts us. It comes up to consider the possibility of leaving the cherished home site or situation and moving into something more manageable, for instance.

There will come a time when we must move on and leave this treasured spot on the edge of the woods. In gentle preparation for that moment, we have begun culling out those obvious items that are purely meaningless and hauling it off to the dump. It's actually a so-called "transfer station", but nobody is keeping score. But the heavy lifting is yet to come and it could take longer than we imagine. It's the kind of activity that we both dread to do and are anxious to do. I suppose that is the nature of transitions.

The thought of moving on curdles my blood and also heightens my sense of adventure and being alive. The reality is that there will come a time when we will not be able to take care of this place. It's part of the natural rhythm of life. Oh, if one of us wins the big one, we will be able to just hire the work done and be as mobil as we want to be. I read those headlines about someone winning mega millions and think - it's just a matter of time until my number comes up. Yes, I know. There are balms available that can calm such specious thinking.

There are hundreds of books, CDs and cassette tapes. Give them away, I hear you say. Take them to one of those places where they accept boxes of such stuff without a word. Don't do a close inspection of every single book. Actually, I will hold onto Baugh's Literary History of England. About two and three quarter inches on thin paper - it does not miss a point. I'll keep the poetry - a few other volumes that remind me of the loftier aspects of the human experience. OK, I'll probably hold onto some pulp as well, just to keep me honest. God, how I love a mystery.

Around this rambling house are nooks and crannies into which is stuffed every imaginable piece of useful, useless and unused "stuff". There are kayaks, bicycles, snowshoes, badminton sets, bows and arrows, a chainsaw, a wood chipper, a table saw, all kinds of battery powered tools and there is a photographic darkroom - just to give you an idea. Actually, the darkroom equipment is not useful anymore except to a scant few holdouts. If you want it you can have it. This list is only a "symbol" of what is actually stored around this place.

So the task is laid out before us and, as I have said, we are beginning to hack away at it. It's the mechanics of transition. It's not easy work, but it should reveal something important about us. Something I am actually anxious to discover. I really think I already know what it is, and it is this: You can go farther with a lighter load.

There was a time, back in the searching 70s when meaning was attached to everything, that in the middle of a warm night I hauled the contents of a large storage space in my building to a huge dumpster. I needed to make a break and rid myself of stuff, the possession of which, I could no longer justify, and which simply did not hold meaning for my life anymore and needed to be jettisoned into the night sky. It was transition time. I needed to lighten my load.

There was as many as a dozen suits, kitchen ware that drug my memories back decades, dozens of sundry items that filled boxes upon boxes - like rocks and mementos collected from places once visited and which had no function except to remind me of things I did not want to be reminded of and so should be let go. It was one of my finest "grownup" moments.

This cleansing took most of the night. It occurred to me then as it does now that this kind of purging is best done beneath the covering of darkness. It is best not to have too bright a light shine upon every once prized artifact of a past life as it tumbles into the rubbish bin. I think that's the key: begin at midnight and work until dawn.

When my storage room was finally emptied, I felt light of heart, energized and quite hungry. It was time for an early breakfast at the Pig Stand on I-10 where I celebrated with three of my most faithful friends: grits, sausage and egg.

I'm Jerry Henderson Be well and stay tuned.