Today

Just Checking In…

Today. It has been most of a month since I last posted. This post is mostly just a “state of things” post. I have homework to do for my relational database course and for my C++ data structures course, so I’ll keep things brief. This semester is almost done– woohoo. I also have tutorials I want to watch for work so I can keep working on learning how to develop web applications using Java, Spring and Maven– learning never ends. While they may be a tad outdated, I am learning Java server pages.

Learning About Relational Databases

“In a third normal form relation, every non-key attribute must depend on the key, the whole key, and nothing but the key, so help me Codd.”  If you understand this,… well you know what I am talking about. I have been trying to relate aspects of relational databases to everyday things and experiences. For instance, an update anomaly is an update of a single data value that ends up requiring multiple rows of data to be updated. To my mind it is kind of like buying a whole new wardrobe after too much pie. The whole point of normalizing data is to reduce redundancy and deal with the various anomalies that could happen.

C++ Pointers

In C++, pointers are a programmer’s best friend. Being able to keep track of the pointers without a scorecard is a handy skill. I have been practicing. It is like doing drills.

Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving is over. I have a strange relationship to Thanksgiving, so I will focus on the gratitude part. I don’t understand a holiday celebrated by eating to excess and then spending excessively the day after. When overconsumption is killing people and the planet, Thanksgiving as it is celebrated in my opinion feels off.

Also, I am vegetarian.

Thanksgiving equates with turkey and no sculpted pseudo-turkey from whatever protein substitute quite cuts it. It is ok to let the notion of turkey go if you are vegetarian. I think Thanksgiving lasagna might be a good new tradition to start. Or just have pumpkin pie. The absurdity of those massive inflated balloons bouncing down the streets in the parades make me giggle.

Gratitude

I am grateful for many things, people, situations, opportunities, etc. in my life. Things are off and on again very challenging. I am tired often. That is just the way of things. But all of this is good because it means I am learning.

Practicing violin is magnificent because I love the feel of the violin in my hands. I like the sense of accomplishment when I move through the scales and hit the notes with precision. I am working on songs.

When my classes are over, I will do some sewing. I bought fabric earlier today. I am grateful to have money to buy fabric. The textures of the fabric and the colors please me greatly. Booker, who keeps me company while I work on homework, daily makes me smile.

Christmas is coming

We put up the Christmas tree yesterday. I am not Christian so I have a very uneasy relationship with Christmas too. Yup, most holidays I annually spend trying to figure out how I relate to them. Examined life and all that. Giving things to people I adore, please me. I like the lights. And cookies. I usually give myself a 12 cookie limit for the whole season and then spend my cookie allotment wisely.

Next time, I’ll post something with more substance. Maybe Java naming conventions because that stuff really isn’t trivial. Or how to set up a Java programming environment and just get started. Time to put my head down and work through the next few weeks. If you can spare the positive vibes, send them my way to help me get through finals.

Happy Day of the Dead

Happy Day of the Dead!

Happy Day of the Dead

Remembering the Dead

It is November 1, 2015. I remember back to November 5, 2012 when my mother died. And my grandmother passed in the fall several years ago. While not being of Mexican descent, I appreciate a holiday that is about remembering and celebrating the people in one’s life who have died.

My great grandparents took care of me when I was little. I remember pretending Christmas with my great grandmother. She would wrap empty boxes with paper and I would pretend to sleep until “morning”. I think this was a way to get me to take a nap in the afternoons. Her molasses cookies I have never been able to replicate.

My grandmother was a business woman. She was never allowed to go to college, but she managed five restaurants on her own. Her intelligence and strength still inspire me.

My mother wrestled her own demons. She lived fully, but in the end she succumbed to lung cancer.

An Ordinary Day

I am one small being in a vast universe and my time on this planet is very limited. Humbled by this notion, death at moments existentially flattens me. And other times, it focuses me and makes life sweeter.

Today, I am up early because the clocks were set back an hour and instead of being 7:30 am, it is 6:30 am. It is ok. I have work to do. Always work to do. I’ll make some coffee and get busy on learning how to design a relational database, how to program a java web application, and how various binary search trees look based on which logical sequence is used. I worked on all of this yesterday. Last night while my youngest played video games rather than go trick or treating, I read through my notes on creating databases. Maybe later I’ll go outside and put away the hoses, the lawn furniture cushions, and the gardening tools that are still out. Maybe I will plant some daffodil bulbs and drain the gasoline from the rototiller.

Happy Day of the Dead!

Invisibility

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Invisibility

The Fox in Colorado

When I was in Colorado, I lived near a field. Looking out my back windows, I could see the Rocky Mountains. I watched a herd of elk move through the field. Once, I saw a mountain lion cross the grass. Near the end of the time I was in Colorado I started to catch glimpses of another creature. The fox in the summer blended with the tall grass and moved stealthily. While in winter, the fox was invisible.

The elk, the deer, the eagle that would drop rabbits on the roof, the magpies, the mountain lion, or the coyotes that ranged up and down the valley never piqued my interest as much as the fox. Sometimes, the fox would play a game of peek-a-boo with me as I walked down the road. I began watching for the fox when I went to my car, came home from work, or went for a walk. I would see him in snatches, flicks of a tail, or ears and a nose hiding in the grass.

Research

Because I watched closely, I learned the fox had a family. As a result of learning this, I did research on foxes. They often mate for life and where you find one, there is frequently a second one. My fox had a vixen and pups. Further, the fox family was always there, hunting the rodents in the field, and moving among the snow and grass, but largely invisible.

I found myself relating to the foxes. Researching deeper on totem animals and I found that the fox were associated with invisibility. Maybe I was just silly, I began to be distressed about my seeing the peeking foxes and my relating to them like a spirit animal. I did not want to be unseen. I did not want to be invisible. Invisibility is not desirable when you want to be a published author or an artist, when you want to be loved, or when you want to do great things.

The Fox in Michigan

That was three years ago. I am in Michigan now. I have gone through much. It has made me question who I am, my beliefs, my worth, what I expect from others, what I expect from myself, whether I have anything to say or do that is worth saying or doing, what I enjoy, what I want the meaning of my life to be, and more. I saw a fox in my yard the other day. It stood and looked at me before trotting off.

The fox is a koan.

Live Like There is Only Today

It has been more than 3 months since I wrote on this blog. I have been slammed by things and had to work my way through a bunch of events.

My friend Deforest had several chronic illnesses and he chose daily to stay in the moment and to not let any of his illnesses rob him of his life as he was choosing to live it. He was amazingly supportive of other people, magnificently creative, and an absolute inspiration. In July he went to the hospital with appendicitis. He was recovering and due to be released from the hospital. He passed away. Since his death I have been examining my way of being in the world and how I relate to other people. The legacy that we leave are the kindnesses we extend to others. Be quietly inspiring. Live like there is only today.

My mother died on November 5, 2012. She had been very ill with cancer that started in her lungs and progressed to her bones and lymph nodes. My aunt and I sat with her during her last days. She was weak and had difficulty breathing. She was in a tremendous amount of pain. If there are people you love, tell them. Tell them everyday. Do kind things for them. Make sure they know that you love them. Accept them for who they are and recognise the way they express their love for you. None of us lives forever and it is too easy to think that there will be time enough. Live like there is only today.

Another person I know thought he had a chest infection. It was not responding to antibiotics and a scan revealed he had an enlarged spleen. He has since been diagnosed with a rare and far more serious illness. Don’t take anything for granted, reality is what it is and has little to do with what we might imagine. I may think I will live to be 90 years old, but reality may be different. I might have a heart attack tomorrow.  Live like there is only today.

I moved from Colorado to Michigan. Moving gives you a different perspective on material goods and what you really need. It is effort to move the stuff we take for granted and it is definitely a first world problem if you have too much stuff. It is too easy to get caught in the stuff that we accumulate and to not live. I am purging and getting rid of things. My mother got rid of most of her possessions before she became seriously ill. Books to be read, projects to be done are psychic and physical burdens. Live like there is only today.

I started a new job in August working as a Kindergarten teacher in a former Detroit Public School that had been taken over by the Educational Achievement Authority of Michigan. Yesterday was my last day. After everything, I realised walking with my class in the halls that while I care very deeply for the children for me all of these events have taken a toll and changed my perspective on things. There are some exceptional people such as Latoya Webb-Harris, Mollie Carney, and Ryan Molnar working in the school and I applaud their efforts. They are heroes. Anyone who says that teachers don’t work hard enough has not worked in a public school. For me I realised that I needed to pause and care for myself. I needed to find my joy and health again. Rather than putting off until tomorrow what I could do today to be kind to myself, I resigned. It has felt the last two days like I am falling off a cliff and Thursday afternoon I physically shook off and on all afternoon. I am trying to live like there is only today.

This business of really living is frightening when you think about it. Each of us is dying, each of us makes choices that we may regret, each of us may miss love. We can move like sleepers through existence or live like there is only today.

Connections to the Other

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This morning I watched a fox across the field. Its silhouette stood dark against the white snow. It turned and looked up at the window where I stood. It paused and trotted away.

I saw a brown rabbit scramble over a snow hillock and then sit serenely.

When I arrived home, there was a lump of brown in my car parking space. I stopped the car short of pulling fully in, stepped out of the car, and looked at the small body. A still mouse lay near the front of my car. It made me sad to think that it had died in the cold and without its mouse kin. Perhaps it chose the company of humans? Perhaps it has been living in my car and crawled out to die?

If the sky is clear tonight there will be falling stars. Even when I think I am utterly alone, there is always someone else. Do you ever wonder if another person wishes upon your star? And what kind of connection does that make to the other?

Super Chicken!

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Okay, so we all have heard the existential joke– Why did the chicken cross the road? And yes it is an existential question.

But what if the question were altered?

What if the question became: Why didn’t the chicken cross the road? What might the answer be then? Maybe it is an unambitious chicken. Although in my limited experience with the birds they are dumb as dirt and I don’t see ambition as an aspect in the personality profile of most chickens. However, when I was growing up there was a local radio station that used to broadcast a fifteen minute radio program called “Super Chicken”. Super Chicken was very ambitious and he rescued people. That’s a pretty amazing chicken that can rescue people. I saw a promo advertisement once for Super Chicken and he looked like Superman complete with a red cape and a massive chest. Super Chicken looked like he could jump tall buildings in a single bound.

Which leads me to a recent discovery at the grocery store. I am a vegetarian. I cannot eat anything with a brain or nervous system. But I live with one slathering carnivore and two rather polite meat eaters who demand the flesh of once living creatures who may have had intelligent thought. And yes chickens count because you never know if maybe the chicken world had their own Einstein. Like the one that may have considered the existential question I started this post with. So give all chickens some credit for the possibility of intelligent thought.

Anyway, I was at the grocery store and saw the chicken breasts.

Golly whiz bang Batman– what happened to the chicken population? Those were some pretty busty birds. Dolly Parton would have been envious. I mean last time I seriously considered the size of a chicken breast– and no I am not some Gonzo fetishist with a thing for chicken love– they were much smaller.

These breasts…

Well, triple D? E? F? G? I don’t know. But they made the chicken breasts of the past look like Barbie’s little sister Skipper compared to Barbie.

Imagine if all the women of the world suddenly had breasts that had grown to the same ratio from past to present like the chicken’s breasts.

Wait.

Stop.

Don’t go there.

Just don’t.

But still. If the breasts get too big…. Well, there are problems with back and neck pain and lugging them around becomes an issue. Poor chickens. Imagine if almost half of your weight were on your chest, you probably wouldn’t be able to walk. You’d fall over.

Most of the chickens that are raised in the US (the world’s largest poultry producer) are raised by poultry farmers who have contracts with one of the four big meat and poultry processing companies. The chickens mature excessively quickly and grow to be something like a 5 pound bird in a record 2 months. They are not allowed to roam around and are raised in a close space and fed feed with hormones and antibiotics so that they grow fast and and don’t get sick. But even if they wanted to with those massive breasts they couldn’t go out and strut chicken stuff.

But wait. I just figured it out. The engineers at Tyson or Perdue or Conagra or Cargill, they are trying to create Super Chicken because they know that we have made a mess of our environment and we need a hero. A chicken hero with a massive chest and a red cape. So far they have the massive chest down.

Too bad the poor chicken cannot cross the road because he falls over due to his massive breasts. Do you think he thinks existential thoughts and wonders what an alternate reality might be? Like one on the other side of the road.

Bacon, Lettuce, and Tomato Sandwich– Ooo Baby!

I have been looking at a book of superstitions this evening and they really are quite remarkable. Here are are a few examples just from the “B” section.

Did you know that bacon is sometimes associated with healing? I don’t think it did any good for the pig, but it is supposed to cure warts. Further, bacon’s powers are enhanced by being stolen. And it cures everything from fever to constipation. My personal favorite for bacon is that if it curls while being cooked, in Devon, this is supposed to signify the arrival of a new lover.

I am a vegetarian. Does this mean I have to eat meat to get a new lover?

There are many superstitions around baking bread. For instance leaving any bread dough uncooked is supposed to ruin the loaves and counting the loaves as they come from the oven will spoil the batch and they will go stale sooner. A loaf that emerges from the heat with a cracked crust is a sign that a stranger will arrive to share the loaf.

Maybe break out that rasher of bacon, cook up some bacon sandwiches, and see what happens? Do you think vegetarian imitation bacon might work? Of course hope that no one dreams of yeast, because dreaming of yeast is supposed to signify pregnancy. Of course, I know everyone dreams of yeast. I am sure it is right in line with flying and being chased and arriving too late at a test with no clothing on and the object of one’s desire is waiting to wish good luck on the test.

Anyway.

Still in the “B” section. Under “bedwetting” the book (Cassell Dictionary of Superstitions by David Pickering) says, “Superstition is quite clear about the best way to eradicate the problem of persistent bedwetting by a child. The remedy is to roast, fry, or boil a mouse and to feed it to the child concerned baked in a pie.” Yup. You read right. A mouse. In a pie. I bet that would cure the horrified child of bedwetting. This is like a recipe straight out of the psycho parents manual for ruining children for life because if the mouse pie doesn’t work then the next step is to collect a bunch of rat poo and put it in a bag around the child’s neck and if that doesn’t work the parents are supposed to take the child to a graveyard at night and have them urinate on the grave of an opposite sex child.

I like that the Scots discouraged children from playing with fire.

Those crazy Scots. Being all protective and caring.

And you probably think that it is to keep the wee ones from getting burnt. Nope. Playing with fire intensifies the problem with bedwetting– so one shouldn’t allow their child to play with fire because they might wet the bed.

Going deeper into the book, did you know that tomatoes are a scandalous fruit? The English Puritans actually prohibited the tomato in their communities because it was considered an aphrodisiac. The list of aphrodisiacs is VERY long. There are exotic things like mandrake root, human hearts, bulls’ testes, and semen that are used in love potions. I am not sure that once the bulls’ testes are removed that they really continue to do much good in the sexual department much as bacon wasn’t a healthy development for the pig. Other things that have been given powers as purportedly being aphrodisiacs are things like apples, artichokes, cabbage, leeks, lettuce, asparagus, parsnips, truffles, and turnips. Sounds like an odd salad to me.

There are also superstitions around anaphrodisiacs– passion killing preparations to get rid of old affairs and thoughts of acquaintances. You know for when one wants to be rid of the of the guy whose testes should be cut off for whatever reason rather than the poor hapless bull. For whatever reason. You can fill in the blank– I am actually kind of groovin’ on the guys I am in communication with these days.

Mice and mouse poo make another appearance in the listings of anaphrodisiacs. So the same deterrent is used for bedwetting as getting rid of bad lovers– except the person wanting to get rid of the bad lover is not the one to wear the bag of mouse poo. I guess both are bad habits and bad lovers probably do sometimes deserve the bag of rat poo although it seems a bit harsh even for that and besides how would one get them to wear it. I guess if your lover hands you a bag of mouse poo then you know things are over. Probably better than poisoning by way of poppy seeds though, which is another anaphrodisiac.

Skimming through the book, there are superstitions around everything. Ants, ashes, astronauts, bells, boots, cards, cups, ears, haddock, hydrangea, lemons, mince pie, pictures, rolling pins, shirts, shoelaces, umbrellas, violets, walnuts, yarrow,….

I think that human beings like magical thinking and imbuing things with meaning. Imitation bacon, lettuce, and tomato sandwich? And you know what that means, right?

Bears

I am new to the Aspen area and I have been hearing all sorts of stories about bears.

Now, the first story that I heard was told to me supposedly as reassurance. I was told by Mark my neighbor not to worry about the bears. To just make myself as big as possible and scare it off. Unless it was the BIG ONE.

I did wonder what “big” meant because size is a relative thing.

I was told the big one is the one that jumped up and down on top of the steel dumpster until the lid caved in.

Then about a week ago I was talking with one of my co-workers and she told me that bears can open doors and I should keep my doors locked at night. I stopped, a cold shiver went up my spine, and visions of the BIG ONE coming in to the house and helping himself to the refrigerator ran through my mind. I didn’t have a key to lock my doors for the first few weeks I was up here. The humans are perfectly trustworthy and the nicest community of people I have ever met.

The bears?

Well, let’s just say they are a little like Crazy Ole Uncle Joe who is mostly harmless and every once in a while gets a bit destructive. They are a colorful addition to the community. Which leads me to yesterday’s news in the Aspen Daily, a bear decided to sit up in a tree in downtown Aspen and cause a bit of a stir. The bear snuggled up into a pine tree in the alleyway at the corner of Hunter Street and East Hopkins. The Colorado Division of Wildlife was not called because the bear wasn’t really causing a problem. It was just hanging out. Downtown Aspen is a pretty cool place.

This morning I woke up at 4 a.m. for no apparent reason that I could discern other than that something woke me up. I learned this evening that one of my neighbors had two bear cubs on her back porch this week and they were knocking on the door. Maybe the bears woke me up? I thought about going for a run but it was still dark and I was a bit nervous about the prospect of running into a bear. When I got to work, I told one of my co-workers about being awake at 4 in the morning and that I didn’t go for a run because I was worried about the bears. He told me not to worry because the bears leave people alone if the people leave the bears alone.

Then he asked me where I live and I told him. He grimaced and told me not to go for a run when it is dark out. The bears are perfectly harmless, but the mountain lions like a good runner for breakfast.

Have you ever really considered what you eat?

Have you ever really considered what you eat?

Our dietary habits place each of us in a particular niche. Our need for nourishment is one of the things that taxes our environment in terms of not only having arable farmland to produce crops, but also to raise livestock, to transport food stuffs to market, and to process and package food. Simply growing food requires water, fertile soil, and the labor necessary to plant, tend, and harvest crops. Even if one considers that often cattle are raised on land that is not suitable for growing crops and that cattle forage and turn grasses unsuitable for human consumption into nutrient-dense food, it still takes something on the order of two and half pounds of grain and over 400 gallons of water to produce one pound of beef. And these are not statistics taken from one of the environmental or vegetarian activist sites. This is taken from a web site: http://www.beeffrompasturetoplate.org/mythmeatproductioniswasteful.aspx

which is working to dispel the arguments for vegetarianism.

My aim in this post is not so much to make the argument that others should switch to vegetarianism, my aim is to get people to consider what they eat. The consumption of food is necessary for life, but in an age when the production of food stuff to feed the ever burgeoning population of our limited planet may tip our environment over into collapse, when energy needs compete for the same corn as nutritional needs, and when our unconscious and unbeknownst political decisions are entwined in a free for all of wasteful conspicuous consumption– we need to examine and make more informed decisions about how we will feed humanity. Simply unthinkingly going to the large, brightly lit super market many transitions points removed from where food comes from is not an activity that promotes good resource management and the longevity of our species.

I love blueberries. I grew up in Western Michigan where blueberries thrive in the sandy, acidic soil close to Lake Michigan where forests of conifers for centuries dropped their pine needles to compost and create the perfect soil for blueberries. Growing up, I picked blueberries in July and August for money for school clothes. Blueberries are only in season in North America in July and August. I have bought blueberries that were fresh in February. I can tell you that those blueberries were well traveled blueberries and that they were picked before they were ripe and that they were ripened using gas. Did I need to have blueberries in February? No. There was no dire necessity in that decision– just I saw the berries and had the impulse to buy them. Was this a good conscious choice? Not really. In a time period when fossil fuels will be running out and the environment is so incredibly taxed buying out of season blueberries shipped from somewhere in South America is not a good conscious choice.

Small farms have been in demise for the last few decades. Agricultural products in the US are so plentiful that many farmers cannot compete with the large agri-business farms and they are going out of business. More and more farmland has been becoming the suburban sprawl of our urban centers. Some localities are seeing the necessity of preserving local farms and are creating ordinances complete with tax relief or are out and out subsidizing farms. Local farms not only preserve a certain character of the surrounding area, they produce local food stuffs. This is food that does not need to be picked before it is ripe, gassed to ripen, or transported hundreds or thousands of miles. It is food that would be available to the local population if there was a collapse in the global markets or if the transportation of food from other continents became prohibitive or restricted. Eating seasonally and locally produced food helps to keep local farms in business, is environmentally a better choice (for more than the reasons stated here), and is long term savvy.

Tomatoes and zuchini. Have you ever grown zuchini squash? The vines take over the garden and produce more zuchini than you could ever imagine. I remember my mother once upon a time trying to convince me to eat zuchini by making scalloped zuchini. Like scalloped potatoes. In Michigan in late summer, you cannot get rid of the zuchini fast enough. People sneak up on one another’s porches and leave the stuff. Tomatoes also. Tomatoes ripen very suddenly and while one week they are green and hard on the vines– the next you will have bushels of them. I read somewhere that if we just processed all the tomatoes that are grown we could produce some phenomenal amount of tomato sauce, but every year tons of tomatoes go to waste.

How many people have planted anything since they were in Kindergarten and pushed those marigold seeds into the potting soil in a small paper cup? How many people have sprouted bean seeds since they were in elementary school? We make certain choices about what plants we want in our landscapes. Acres of green lawn are considered desirable, but this uses a huge amount of water resources. Grass thrives in cool and wet conditions. What if we planted the areas around our public buildings with indigenous plants that could be used as food? What if we planted fruit and nut trees, berry brambles, perennial herbs and other plants that could be used for food in our yards instead of grass? Imagine all the food that could be produced with the same resources that we are currently using for nothing more than lawns and ornamental plantings of little value beyond aesthetic appeal. What if we all switched are consideration of what should be planted and made it a requirement that every plant planted have multiple reasons for being planted?

What resources have been used to produce the food that you are eating? What unconscious political allegiances are you making with your choice of what you buy and consume?

I AM AT WORLD CON!

Today was a day of movement and travel. A day of shifting time and space. I traveled over a mountain range flying into the rising sun. The mountains became little more than patterns of shifting color and contrasting values. I landed in Denver airport with its Dr. Seuss-like peaks (that is the second image above). The sun and I crossed paths and I lost two hours from my day when I arrived in Montreal.

Traveling is a sensory experience. I love the sensation of being pressed back into the seat on take off. I love closing my eyes and feeling the subtle motions of the aircraft as it defies gravity and uses the power of air to lift its too solid and heavy frame above that which is lighter.

I traveled from Montreal airport in a taxi. We weaved in and out of downtown traffic in smooth fluid curves.

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I am in my hostel room four floors above the busy street. From my window I can see the balconies of the building across the road. The grand vistas of Woody Creek where the magpies fly and you can see forever are gone (the upper most image is from Highway 82 on the way to Aspen, CO). The language here is French but not Parisian French. It is the French of Quebec.

Traveling is a reorientation. It highlights both the familiar and the unfamiliar. I think traveling to go to a convention focused on the fiction of ideas doubly expands the experience. I am looking forward to both the convention and to Montreal.

The image below is the Palais des Congres de Montreal where the convention is to being held.

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