Choose Your Irritant [on DR Thursday]

The snowplow just scraped down the street. They keep the streets clear of snow but create great heaping snow-walls at the end of every driveway. Some people grumble, especially the early morning shovelers. I’m sure it’s disconcerting to clear the driveway only to have the snowplow block the egress. I’ve seen people shake their fists and curse at the plow drivers. We work from home so have the luxury to sip coffee and wait until the snow stops and the plows finish their great-wall-creation. Only then do I venture out with my big green shovel and clear the way.

Dogga is getting older. While the coffee brews in the early morning he goes outside. He used to race out the door, excited to chase away the squirrels. Now, he lopes. Lately, he locates the geographic center of the backyard, plants all four paws, and barks-and-listens. He is desperate for a return bark. It’s a pooch call-and-response. We’re up early enough that the other dogs are not yet out so he listens and barks in vain. After several disappointing attempts at rousing the troops, he lopes to the back door and barks at me to let him inside. It’s uncanny; his morning ritual takes the exact amount of time for the coffee maker to complete the brew. Sometimes I think he hears the final whoosh of steam. Back inside, he leads the way as I bring my-errand-of-mercy-first-cup-of-coffee to Kerri.

Although I drink less coffee than I once did, it remains the thread that weaves together the fabric of our day. We start our day with it. The last thing I do before retiring at night is to set up the coffee. “I love that smell,” Kerri says, as she turns out the lights.

During a recent visit, my doctor insisted that coffee is an irritant. His timing was curious because I was, in that moment, thinking the same thing about him. However, in that moment I was certain that, given the choice of spending 15 minutes with him or with a cup of coffee, I’d choose the coffee. One must be picky about the irritants they choose to embrace.

It’s still snowing. There’s no sense shoveling for a while. I guess it’s time for a second cup.

read Kerri’s blogpost about COFFEE

greet the world © 2011 david robinson

Share Appreciation [on Not So Flawed Wednesday]

“I’ve got an old mule and her name is Sal
Fifteen miles on the Erie Canal”

~Low Bridge, Everybody Down, music and lyrics by Thomas Allen, 1913

She’s a donkey, not a mule, yet I couldn’t help but appreciate the collision of power sources present in this photograph. From donkey to solar.

I’ve read that the innovations of the industrial age were meant to spare humans of muscle-toil. If an engine could power it, a human didn’t have to. The innovations of the information age are meant to spare us mental and sense toil: why stress to parallel park your car if the car can do it all by itself? Why add the numbers if the spreadsheet does it for you? Why look up information if Siri or Alexa can bring it to you? What does it now mean to stay in touch? Text and facebook and tweet and email and zoom and facetime and slack and chat and…call.

Oil, coal and gas are the energy systems of the past. They are donkeys and mules standing next to renewable energy sources like wind and power. It takes time for an infrastructure to be built. It takes time for people to wrap their imaginations around a different way. Do you remember the loud resistance in the early days of the credit card proclaiming that plastic would never replace paper money? That was not so long ago. There were similar angry voices declaring the auto-mobile was a flash-in-the-pan. “Nothing will replace the horse!” Our local supermarket just installed banks of electric car charging stations. Energy systems are slowly moving away from grids: the power source and the property will (mostly) be one and the same.

Industries, like people, either adapt or die. Most retail chains that came late to online shopping are going or already gone. Many have said that they didn’t see the change coming. Or that they couldn’t imagine a world in which people bought stuff without first touching it. Cars are in vending machines. Isaac Asimov would have loved it!

Did I mention that the solar panel in the photograph senses and moves with the sun? As it turns out, the donkey does, too. Much for the same reason. Only, for the donkey, the heat of the sun feels good and I doubt the solar panel cares or feels anything. Sensing and feeling are still on opposite sides of the change-line. At least so far. There may come a day in the not-so-distant-future that the donkey and the solar panel share appreciation for the heat of the sun. The donkey will wag its tail. The solar panel will stretch and sigh. The stuff of children’s books or sci-fi. At least for now.

read Kerri’s blog post about DONKEY & SOLAR PANEL

Consider The Donkey [on Not So Flawed Wednesday]

What you can’t see are the barriers and signs on either side of the wet cement declaring, “Sidewalk Closed!” I took a break from work, came down the stairs and Kerri said, “Some a**hole just walked across the wet cement.”

When the waterline to the house broke, when the process of fixing it became complex, when the heavy machinery arrived and the crew size doubled, when the guys from the city arrived to observe and inspect, the first thing the big machinery did, before digging the very-deep-moat, was to break out the sidewalk. And then they broke out the sidewalk to the porch. And then they trenched. And then they drilled a hole through the foundation of the house. That’s when the new pipe was installed. Those guys worked into the night. They were stalwart and steady.

The next day dawned and we saw in the light of day the destruction the fix caused.

Our front yard looks like a giant gopher dug a tunnel from the house to the street. We’ve considered finding a giant inflatable gopher but rejected it as “over-the-top.” Sometimes we have standards. A giant gopher is a step too far. The theory beneath the inflatable gopher is sound: if you can’t do anything about it, lean into it. We put a round-a-bout sign in the backyard when it became apparent that our dog was a secret velodrome maker and nothing we could do would stop his capacity to carve circles. It helped that he almost always circles in the same direction so the sign makes some sense. To us.

“We’re those people,” Kerri said, hands on hips, surveying the front yard damage. The grass is gone. Straw and mud are our new normal. “We look like a stable,” she said.

“Maybe this is the moment to get that donkey you’ve always wanted,” I replied. She really does want a donkey but the timing of my suggestion must have been off. She huffed, gave me the evil eye, and went inside. I counted to ten before following. Sometimes my brilliant suggestions take a few moments to penetrate and it’s best if I’m absent during the revelation.

The footprints across the concrete was too much to bear. That little patch of temporary concrete was the only new and unblemished area of the front yard. It’s as if our giant sore thumb had a nice and newly polished nail. The cement-stepper made certain that the destruction was complete: blemish, blemish everywhere. Giant gopher, old (donkey-less) stable, with a touch of marred cement.

The new permanent cement will come in the spring. “We’ll put up better barriers,” I said.

“We’ll sit out there with big sticks and a bad attitude,” Kerri replied.

Our reputation is certain to grow. “We really are those people,” I smiled. The evil eye – twice in a few short minutes – wiped the grin off my face. “I think I’ll go back to work,” I said and headed up the stairs, saying, “Think about the donkey.” Sometimes it takes a few minutes and a little prompting for the brilliant penny to drop.

read Kerri’s blog post about WET CEMENT

Eat And Evolve [on Merely A Thought Monday]

DogDog actually sat still long enough to don antlers and have his picture taken. This is progress. Our Aussie pup rarely sits still and is known for his committed resistance to headwear. He is, however, responsive to the promise of treats and the real story of his antler success is Kerri’s ability to juggle the antlers, the camera and the waving of a treat – all in one balletic gesture. I suspect we are not so different from DogDog: all evolution is probably snack driven.

More than once we’ve made the 45 minute drive to Lake Geneva to buy a single piece of flourless chocolate cake. In pre-Covid times we’d stay awhile and visit the shops or walk part of the path around the lake (it’s a 21 mile loop), but lately, we grab our cake and go. I also want to confess that, in our recent drive to Denver, we went through Lake Geneva and, not only did we buy a piece of cake but also an entire loaf of freshly baked Turkey Red Rustic bread. And a brownie. It was all gone before Kansas. I am certain that decadent cake and warm bread are signs of incremental evolution. We are slightly better people for having indulged our food fantasies. We are slightly bigger, too.

It’s the holidays. I know this because my dog is wearing antlers. I also know it because people are making plans to gather and have meals together. There will be singing and gifts and other events but mostly there will be food. Cookies. Pies. Hams. Yams. Kerri asked Jen for a recipe in our evening Zoom happy hour. Yesterday, the grocery store was packed with enthusiastic shoppers carrying lengthy lists, racing through the aisles, all to hunt and gather the ingredients necessary for evolution to continue.

Sworn enemies find a path to peace when breaking bread together. A community knows it is prosperous when none of its members want for food. The same will be true of the world. Peace and enough to eat are bedfellows. We have a ways to go in our evolution.

When this world really wants to break bread, might I recommend Simple Bakery in Lake Geneva. The Turkey Red Rustic has always brought us great peace and I’m certain the same will be true for the bevy of committed enemies the world round. In the meantime, it’s my turn with the antlers. Kerri has promised me a treat and a sip of Bailey’s Irish Creme if I am good boy and sit still. Let’s just say that DogDog and I share the same sitting-still-for-headwear gene. I love evolution though I fear the photo. I suppose there’s always a price to be paid.

read Kerri’s blog post about EVOLUTION

Lose The Rant [on Not-So-Flawed Wednesday]

I wrote a post and decided not to publish it. I was deeply disturbed by the news. A parade. More violence. Senseless. More and more. And more. Jim wrote that he was going to chisel into his sidewalk the now ubiquitous (to us) phrase: I just can’t believe it.

I wrote about my escape fantasy. A quiet place. A place where people know how to hold differences of opinion as a constructive force for good instead of a destructive pout to be right.

This weekend, people gathered at the gallery to see art. To experience art. Painting and sculpture and photography. I have not been in a crowd since the pandemic began and I was both wary and encouraged. I wonder about the new normal.

After the opening we made dinner for 20. Kerri’s inner composer broke through and we saw, for the first time in a long time, the light and warmth of her artistry lift and shine. She turned up the sound and asked us to listen. The music soared. I cried. It was nice to see her again.

Tomorrow is the day – just a day – isn’t that odd – that is set aside for giving thanks. I am thankful to have had a glimpse of the composer. The artist. The lift of her music. I am thankful for people who gather to share art. I am thankful for a dinner with 20, laughter, and our shared nonsense. I am thankful for Mike who finds a way forward against all odds. I am thankful that Bruce passed this way and stopped to say, “Hello.”

I am thankful that I believe that the people of the world are better than the news leads us to believe. I am thankful that I did not publish my rant. I am thankful for my escape fantasy, my quiet place.

read Kerri’s blog post about THE PATH

Reboot [on Flawed Wednesday]

I’m not going to lie. Yesterday was textured and difficult. Because our internet connection was spotty – and because our work depends upon a reliable connection – we called our provider to upgrade our service. And, rather than an easy upgrade, we lost our service altogether. And, as I write, almost a full day later, in a world brimming with messages of fast-and-easy, we are still in the internet no-fly zone. After eleven hours, a full five hours on the phone, a trip to the store to get new equipment, ethernet tests on everything but my heart, after a series of pleasant but not-very-helpful service representatives, after the fifteenth (not a joke) suggestion that we “reboot one more time just to see,”we gave up for the night. 

Giving up looked like this: “The problem is on our end,” a pleasant tech offered when there was still light in the sky. “There’s a ticket and our engineers are working on it.” Later, much later, after being passed to two of the engineers-that-were-working-on-it, we heard that they had no idea what the problem was. “We could try to reboot one more time,” he said. “Just to see.”

Kerri looked at me, exhausted, and said, “I can’t do it. Not again.” A battle to be waged another day.

Surrender. I’ve learned this lesson again and again in my life. Sometimes it is best to give over. It is best to stop pushing. Sometimes, there is no solution. Time and a bit of sleep, a new day, will bring another point of view. What was impossible yesterday will resolve today.

In surrender, we sat in the quiet night and talked of our day. The quiet. Nothing dinging or binging or pulling at our attention, nothing notifying us of another message. Nothing trying to keep us hooked for the sake of being hooked. The static was gone. The incessant, “Look at me,” of news apps and Facebook and Instagram and… Life as perpetual “Breaking News.” Within the constant pull, the only thing breaking is our focus. We sat and enjoyed a moment when nothing was breaking.

For a moment during the madness, I looked out the window of my office. The day before yesterday the leaves on our tree were still green. It’s late in the season. Yesterday, in a seeming flash, they were vibrant color. They changed overnight. I was taken, as I always am, by the recognition that the best way to learn color is to go outside, take a walk in nature. See. If there is ever a question about, “Does this color work with that color?” – go outside. Look around. The answer is right there. Crimson and dusty grey. A bit of sage green. Charcoal. Polka dots are not a human invention. The patterns are there, too. Texture. See it.

This morning, while we await the visit from our tech who-will-fix-everything, we’ll go outside. We might play in the leaves. We’ll certainly enjoy the moment without the bings and pings and tech-sounds of made-up-importance. We’ll kneel and coo over the polka dots and salmon pink, the electric yellow and revel in the rare simple moments that a good surrender brings.

[*a hefty thank you to Matt the technician who just spent hours sorting out and fixing what ailed our internet. This post is proof positive that we are, at long last, out of the internet-no-fly zone]

read Kerri’s blogpost about POLKA DOTS

Glance Sideways [on Not So Flawed Wednesday]

It came as quite a shock. Our beloved plant, Snake-In-The-Grass, was hosting a community of Gnomes and Faeries. We haven’t actually seen the Gnomes and Faeries – they are notoriously hard to spot. They are not fond of human beings since we are famously territorial and also so easily eschew our imaginations. Fearing all things “wild,” we generally erect fences and street lights, build dams and make management plans for “nature.” If we could see them, I suspect we’d notice how often they roll their eyes at us.

When I was playing the role of consultant in public school systems, I took note of a central mandate of the adults, playing the role of teacher or administrator: clamp the imagination of the young people, those imaginers playing the role of students. The students would enter the system with wide-open imaginations, free from limitation, and the oldsters found it necessary to kibosh or contain that wide-open meadow. This is not meant to disparage those actors playing the role of adults; when young, they’d been recipients of the imagination whammy, too. They were simply carrying on the tradition. The imagination is apparently considered a wild-thing so necessary of damming.

Dammed imaginations do not die, they distort. Imagination, as a wild thing, will run in circles when put in a cage. It will gnaw its leg off when caught in a snare. It will invent monsters and madness as it paces to-and-fro. It will get angry as it descends into madness. You might say that millions of Americans are gnawing their legs off, angry at the swirl of dark imagining run amok in their caged craniums, seeking reasons and someone-to-blame for their dark imagining. The caged imagination will lead all the lemmings over the cliff with the shout, “Where we go one, we go all!” It seems that we are awash in imprisoned imaginations howling to be freed.

I took it as a positive sign that the Gnomes and the Faeries took up residence in our house under the good protection of Snake-In-The-Grass. While the world outside our doors goes deeper and deeper into the cage-of-its-own-creation, the world inside our house seems to have become a refuge, a safe haven, for those beings still alive in their imaginations.

David recently wrote that he was dedicating himself to being a better artist. He’s been making art with his son again, a wild imaginer that has pulled his daddy (and me, too) out of our cages and into the open meadow. I can’t wait to see what David will do next. Who he will now become. What role he will shed. He’s already a great artist so the possibilities are…wild.

I confess that I regularly wander into the sunroom and glance sideways at Snake-In-The-Grass. Sideways – so they say- is the only way we humans can catch a glimpse of the Gnomes and Faeries. I want them to know that I’m looking.

read Kerri’s blog post about TINY MUSHROOMS

Enjoy The Return [on Merely A Thought Monday]

It’s back. Pop Goes The Weasel, in an incessant cycle, playing as background accompaniment to the birdsong. The truck circles the neighborhood, the sonic equivalent of water torture on wheels. I’ve spent too many hours pondering how the driver, the seller of ice cream, sitting in the epicenter of the looping Pop refrain, retains their sanity. I couldn’t do it. It’s low on my list of aspirations. I’m certain my assignment in hell will be the ice cream truck driver.

Of course, the musical assault is accompanied by – no, much more, it inspires – the delighted squeals of children, excited-to-a-frenzy when hearing the tune, begging coins from their parents, and running to the truck to get their treat before it disappears around the corner. The happy squeals bring instant forgiveness to my hardened heart for the Weasel drumming of my brain.

It’s the solstice. The ice cream truck, like the position of the sun in the sky, is a sure sign of summer’s return. On a walk by the lakefront a few days ago, the truck bellowed passed us, looking a bit worn and tired. It stopped. The neighborhood kids scrambled, parents’ pockets were emptied, purses turned upside down, skinny legs and clenched fists raced toward the paint-peeling truck.

Forgive my brain but I was suddenly overwhelmed and duly impressed at the chain of innovation that, although it now appears old and ordinary, went into making this dilapidated truck and the joy it invokes possible. Refrigeration. Pasteurization. The waffle cone. Ice cream on a stick. Recorded sound. Speakers. Not to mention the internal combustion engine.

As the kids swarmed the Weasel, I looked around at all the older faces, those folks with newly emptied pockets, watching their kids and grandkids enjoy the ritual that they once enjoyed when they were the young enthusiastic pick pockets. Every face was smiling. Even mine. Add that to the chain of innovation. It might be the most important of all the innovations in the chain. Bringer of joy. Inciter of happy memory. It certainly should be the point, the aim of all invention. Better life. No one needs to read a business book when an ice cream truck is circling the neighborhood. It’s all right there.

Bird song. Children’s squeals of delight. Pop Goes The Weasel. Hot days. Melting ice cream. Summer.

read Kerri’s blog post about GOOD HUMOR

Turn And Take A Hard Look [on Flawed Wednesday]

Systems are living things and like all living things will fight to the death when threatened. It is, I believe, what is at play in these un-united-united-states.

I love the irreverence of the questions taken from a mock conference agenda, published in the October 2017 issue of Real Simple Magazine. Who bears the bulk of moral responsibility and what’s the appropriate punishment? Beneath the humor, the real question is made clear: why are women expected to mold their bodies, often in torturous ways, to fit an impossible ideal? It is a centuries old phenomenon.

There is a very telling photograph from 2017 of an all male White House task force discussing health benefits that included women’s health issues. This photograph is nothing new. The ideal represented within it, is ubiquitous. A headline from The Guardian reads “These 25 Republicans -All White Men – Just Voted To Ban Abortion In Alabama.”

A system is a living thing. It will fight to the death when threatened.

This paragraph from Rolling Stone Magazine [May 17, 2019] captures the essence of the fight, the core of the system that is under threat: The Republican movement behind forced-birth bills is truly ignorance allied with power, as James Baldwin once warned us about. The rhetoric may be more vociferous and reckless now than it was when the religious right was first revving up, but it is no less cynical. Even if it escapes the lips or is written or signed into law by women like Governor Kay Ivey of Alabama, the primary goal of that revanchist talk has always been to take America back to a time when the word of white men went all but unquestioned.

“The unquestioned word of white men.” The system as designed is now being questioned. And so, ignorance allies with power. The Big Lie. The Republican party is afraid to investigate-and-talk-about what happened on January 6th because of what an investigation will reveal. Ignore-ance.

Taking America back to a time when the word of white men went all but unquestioned. We never actually left that time but had certainly broached the subject of progress toward the promise of equality for all. And so, the system is fighting. It is threatened like never before so it is fighting like never before. Voter suppression laws. The legal assault being mounted on a woman’s right to choose. Fearmongering BLM rhetoric like Ron Johnson’s inanity.

Black Lives Matter. Women’s Rights. Voters’ Rights, Civil Rights…all embodiment of the ideals that we espouse and yet, all are threats to the system. All ask questions of the unquestioned white men.

In a speech yesterday, President Joe Biden said that America is based on an idea. “It’s the greatest idea in the long history of humankind. An idea that we’re all created equal in the image of Almighty God. That we’re all entitled to dignity, as my father would say, and respect, decency, and honor. Love of neighbor. They’re not empty words, but the vital, beating heart of our nation.

Division is the control-mechanism designed into the system to keep the word of the white men unquestioned. Colonists everywhere installed the same mechanism in their colonies. Powerful women, powerful citizens of all colors and sexual orientation, united, are a threat to the system. And so it fights. It lies. It blocks scrutiny. It screams that Black Lives are a more dangerous threat than a white insurrection on the capitol. Antifa! Socialism! Fear! Divide the people. Keep them fighting each other. It’s a strategy that’s worked for centuries.

It is more than time that the idea of America, at long last, punch through the wall of the system and fulfill its promise, its highest ideal. What is there to fear in equality?

Pre-torn jeans made of elastic. Who bears the bulk of the moral responsibility? Beneath the humor, the real question comes clear: do we have the capacity, at long last, to stop molding ourselves in tortuous ways to fit an impossibly conflicted system? Can we turn and take a hard look at our empty words and fill them with the promise, the beating heart of the idea? Equality. United.

read Kerri’s blog post about Pretorn Jeans

Run Through Norway [on Not So Flawed Wednesday]

DogDog is a very vocal pooch. He sings his body electric, he gives full voice to his soul. There are times that I, with great delight, watch him run fence to fence, barking for the simple pleasure of making sound. He is a vocal hedonist.

Sometimes he barks and listens. He wants some dog out there to bark back, a pooch call-and-response. There is no better gift for DogDog than when one of his neighborhood pals barks in response. Pure pleasure, he runs circles around the yard. When his call does not evoke a response, he waits a few minutes and tries again. He is an eternal optimist.

DogDog knows when he’s NOT supposed to bark. Inside the house is a no-bark-zone. When Tim, the neighbor gets in and out of his car. When Lucky, the dog that recently showed up in the yard behind ours, comes to the fence. When we are in the car, going on errands, and he sees another dog; his body quakes with full-bark-desire but he knows better. Kerri taught DogDog a bit of Norwegian. “Hold Kjeft,” she says, when we he winds up for a good bark-in-the-car. DogDog hears Hold Kjeft and he moans and whines and complains. He performs a melodramatic Medea until something else captures his attention.

Initially, she didn’t use the phrase in any other situation. Norwegian was reserved for the car. Hold kjeft, in translation, means shut-up but for us it has become a preemptive command, “no bark.” Norwegian was so successful in the car that it has now spilled out into all other situations. She never has to raise her voice. She simply opens the back door, says, “Hold Kjeft,” and all barking turns to enthusiastic circle-running. It’s magic. It’s Norwegian.

It doesn’t work when I use it. For some reason that I can’t explain, my “Hold Kjeft” elicits howls of laughter from DogDog. He looks at me and, as if to make a point, “Your Norwegian is no good!” he barks in reply. And then, to sear in his criticism, he barks again. I revert to my Frankenstein English “No Bark!” DogDog immediately complies. “That’s more like it,” he wags and runs for the back door.

Language is a mysterious and magic beast. Lately, I’ve noticed, that when I am whining and complaining and feeling like performing my version of melodramatic Medea, a tiny voice in the back of my mind whispers, “Hold Kjeft!” So taken aback by the sudden whoosh of Norwegian, my performance is short-circuited. My mind shuts up.

I look to Kerri to suss out whether that tiny voice is hers or coming from some other mysterious source. She always appears to be innocent and asks, “What?” to my inquisitive stare. “Nothing,” I reply and look to DogDog, who wags and rolls for a belly-belly.

I suspect that, rather than DogDog, it is I who am being trained. Belly-belly. Hold Kjeft. I am suddenly suspicious about my overwhelming desire to wash the dishes. What is going on here?

There is only one thing of which I am certain: my path to inner quiet runs through Norway. Hold Kjeft! On me, Norwegian works.

read Kerri’s blog post about HOLD KJEFT!