A Break in the Clouds

Long, long ago in a freshman philosophy class at the University of Washington I was introduced to Plato’s concept of the Golden Mean. Surprisingly that became one of the great “Aha” moments of my life. Surprisingly because I was notorious in my family for my uncontrollable temper, not for an even temperament. At times I despised my boring, mundane life, longed for the dramatic life that so many favorite authors and poets had lived.

Nevertheless when I read that part of Plato’s The Republic, I knew that it was an absolute Truth and that it would become a guiding principle of my life — which is not to say that I instantly lived up to that standard. I like to think that it helped me to avoid some of the excesses of my generation, but serving in the Army, particularly in Vietnam, tended to lead to excesses, not restraint.

I’ve definitely mellowed over the years, not least of all because of those experiences in Vietnam. At 76, I’ve learned that there is always going to be more than enough suffering in the world, that bad will follow good, just as surely as good will follow bad. I’ve learned to look for good things even in the worst of times and not to allow the bad things to block the good moments out.

For the last month or so, one of the good things has been Lael’s high school swim team. After years of struggling at sports, Lael found her niche in swimming almost as if a gene had passed directly from my father to her. Throughout the season Lael has managed to improve her best time in every race she’s been in. As a freshman she qualified for Districts in all the events she could.

The competition got much tougher at Districts, but she improved her times both days of the event while managing to have a good time even while waiting for her events.

Though she was worried that she wouldn’t qualify for the second day of Districts when the field was cut in half, she again qualified for all of her events,

though we had to wait for the last event of the day, a relay, to see her get to the podium.

She didn’t qualify for the State Tournament but did go as an “Alternate” for her school’s Relay Team. I’ll have to admit she exceeded my expectations. Though neither of the schools I taught at had swim teams, freshmen seldom made it to Varsity in other sports, much less to Districts in individual events.

Blogger’s Block

Not sure anybody has noticed but I haven’t been blogging lately for far too many reasons, with one excuse quickly spilling over unto another. The family health crisis, though far from over, has become an ongoing issue rather than an immediate crisis with all we can do is offer occasional help and wishes for the best.

Winter has almost set in and the weather makes it challenging to get out birding on a regular basis. It doesn’t help that there aren’t too many birds out there even when I do get out. Hopefully, the birds that overwinter in Puget Sound will begin to return in greater numbers when it gets colder up north. I am just now beginning to see the Horned Grebes in Port Orchard and have yet to see a single Goldeneye or Merganser.

Long term, I’ve shifted my personal focus from ideas and reading to immediate tasks like renovating the garden and remodeling the house. Lael and I spent most of the 2017 summer tearing out our backyard lawn, making raised beds, and rebuilding the fence. That renovating continues to today. I’m in the process of replacing the blind at the end of the deck. Gavin and I spent a recent weekend replacing the front deck.

I spent most this summer fixing up my woodworking shop in the garage so that I could build new bathroom cabinets to go with the Ikea medicine cabinets and track lighting that I installed at the beginning of the summer. I spent time learning some new tools like a Leigh Dovetail Jig and a Mortise and Tenon Jig. I replaced all the drawers and cabinet doors before hiring someone to replace the countertop and the sinks. That left me with the task of replacing faucets and the under-the-sink plumbing. Accomplishing those tasks reminded why you don’t see too many 76-year-olds still working as contractors.

One of the greatest dangers of remodeling is that once you discover how much you like your new ______ you see other things that could benefit from a quick refresh, things like a shelf between the Ikea medicine cabinets to match the new cabinets below. When it came to replacing the dingy shower — been there, done that— I decided it was time to call a contractor. Kohler will be putting in a new shower between Thanksgiving and Christmas. I have to do some more research before deciding if I want to put in a new bathroom fan or have a contractor do it for me.

Once I finish the deck divider I’ve said I will build a new cabinet for the TV that matches the cabinets I built while living in Vancouver a lifetime or two ago. When I built those cabinets I couldn’t have imagined having a large-screen TV. Now it’s hard to imagine not having one. A new smart TV is a pretty good incentive to make sure I have the cabinet completed faster than might otherwise have been possible.

Many years ago I discovered that gardening and woodworking offered a respite from teaching high school English. The most frustrating part of teaching is that you hardly ever get to see the results of your work. It’s difficult to know if you are doing a good job or a bad job, and it never seems like you’re doing as good of a job as you want to do. Gardening and woodworking offer concrete proof of how successful you’ve been.

I’m no longer teaching, but maintaining this blog sometime feels a little like teaching or, worse yet, talking to myself. I never regretted teaching, though I left the field as soon as I could retire and have never looked back or considered substituting to supplement my retirement, and I don’t regret blogging. It has introduced me to some of the most interesting people in my life, people I share common interests with. I have no interest in or intent of giving it up, but writing has a lower priority right now, and it might take a while for me to rediscover the joy I once took in sharing my readings or my outdoor experiences.

Way Back Then

Our trip to Santa Rosa seems like a distant memory, but I realized yesterday that I still hadn’t unpacked my camera gear or downloaded the pictures we took at the Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge — probably because there really wasn’t any shots that I was in love with. I knew before we stopped that it was too early to see many birds, but I find it hard to drive past without stopping. We saw a lot of birds in the distance, like these Black-necked Stilt,

but the only birds we saw up-close and in large numbers was the Greater White-fronted Goose.

And this was the only shot that I really liked.

Unfortunately, we’ve been dealing with a family medical emergency and haven’t had time to get out birding and probably won’t manage to get out in the near future, either.

Moments like this remind us just how easy life normally have been since we’ve retired and will make us appreciate it once again when this crisis has passed. Until then, posts will continue to be reserved for moments like this when I’m sitting home waiting for a package to arrive so I can get back to doing what needs to be done.