Gingerbread village

Sometime after the Twelve Days of Christmas end on January 6, we take our gingerbread decorations outdoors for the wild critters to discover and devour.

Here’s part of a village inserted into a pile of snow on a tabletop.

Looks like it belonged there all along. The squirrels, however, will soon be scampering off with the pieces.

Looks to me like a little ski village.

 

Abundance versus scarcity in my life

Perhaps you’re familiar with the abundance versus scarcity question. You know, do you feel you’re blessed with enough – or do you instead feel you’re always lacking.

I’m programmed from early childhood to feel the latter. My parents were children of the Great Depression, after all, and handed the attitude down.

It tends to make me something tighter than frugal. Generosity doesn’t come easily, I don’t open up to others easily, either – not even to ask for help. It’s a long list of negatives.

As I returned to this concept recently, I’ve been feeling a lot more sense that I have more than enough in many ways, even on a very limited budget.

So much for material goods.

Curiously, it’s time where I’m feeling the scarcity kick in. There’s just never enough. Not for what I’m trying to do.

I’m realizing, often after the fact, how much that outlook crimps my relationships.

This is, ultimately, a spiritual matter. The one place I find time opening up is within the hour of mostly silent Quaker worship. Not that it’s always easy, not even after all of these years I’ve been doing it. But it is always refreshing and renewing.

To think, I started meditating to get naturally high, as in stoned. But somewhere along the way it became a practice to simply get natural – to breathe and get grounded again.

Oh, but I’m still on the internal clock, even there. How on earth am I supposed to cope with Eternity just around the corner?

All under Cassia’s spell

I keep thinking of What’s Left as “my latest novel” or “my newest,” even though other works are appearing after its publication.

I don’t mean to be creating confusion, but here’s my take.

One way or another, my earlier novels addressed the hippie era, which I still believe remains misunderstood and misrepresented. It’s too important for that. And, yes, it’s still hard to define.

What’s Left started out to put those stories in a broader perspective but, revision by revision, the book moved in a much different direction. Quite simply, Cassia and her generation took over.

It became the most difficult writing project I’ve ever undertaken and forced me to completely rethink my approach to fiction. Remember, my career was in “just the facts, ma’am,” journalism topped by Beat-era literature.

Unlike the earlier works, in drafting this one, I had a structural model I wanted to pursue – one that remained intact.

What I hadn’t anticipated was how much the focus would shift.

Many of my favorite parts were created in the final revisions, especially as other members of her generation became fully fleshed out characters, as did the Goth side of her mourning through her adolescent years.

That also meant ripping out a lot of other material, which either became background for my own understanding or was vastly condensed by the final version. The Red Barn’s been quoting heavily from those discards, just to add to your own understanding of the project’s scope.

Whew!

Unanticipated? The paranormal fourteenth chapter is one of my favorites, even though I’d never done a ghost story before. By they way, they wrote it, not me. I simply recorded the dialogue.

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Found in translation

Now on the sixth day:
bulls eight, rams two

– Numbers 29:29
Everett Fox translation

Sounds like a National Football League forecast, apart from the improbability of the score itself. Besides, it’s set for a Saturday, not Sunday.

Still I was amused when that line popped out at me from the page.

Now, for a little perspective, here’s how Robert Alter renders the text:

And on the sixth day eight bulls, two rams, and fourteen unblemished yearling lambs.

It’s all part of a series of proscribed daily sacrificial burnt offerings.

Any Chicago or Los Angeles fans out there?

So what’s so special about Iowa?

It’s not Ohio, for one thing, even though a surprising number of people don’t know the difference. And it’s really quite distinct from Idaho, out in the Rockies further west. It doesn’t even have a big-league sports team.

But thanks to its unique party caucuses for presidential candidates, the Hawkeye State is back making headlines, at least for now. It makes for a big diversion, now that the crops are in.

Here are some quick perspectives.

  1. Dubuque, the state’s oldest city, grew out of the arrival of Julian Dubuque in 1785, shortly after the Revolutionary War. He was a French-Canadian lead miner working the bluffs along the Mississippi River, and Iowa was still claimed by France.
  2. Cedar Rapids-based Quaker Oats is the world’s largest cereal company.
  3. Wright County has the highest percentage of grade-A topsoil in the nation.
  4. The St. Francis Xavier basilica in Dyersville is the only Roman Catholic basilica in the United States outside of a major metropolitan area. The pope is supposed to hold forth there whenever he’s in the area.
  5. In key social justice advances, married women received property rights in 1851. Women were allowed to become lawyers in 1869, making Arabella Mansfield the first female attorney in the U.S. “Separate but equal” schools were outlawed in 1868. Prohibitions against same-sex marriage were struck down in 2009, making Iowa the third state to allow gay marriage. On the other hand, the state was also a leader in prohibiting alcohol sales: bars were outlawed in 1851, followed by a strong prohibition law in 1855, and a constitutional amendment in 1882 made Iowa a “dry state.” According to one version, women wanted their men to stay sober. The Women’s Christian Temperance Movement was big in Iowa.
  6. West Branch native Herbert Hoover was the first U.S. president born west of the Mississippi River. His mother was a Quaker minister.
  7. Iowa State University is the nation’s oldest land-grant college.
  8. The device for creating sliced bread was invented by Iowan Otto Frederick Rohwedder in 1912. He wanted his bread to fit into the toaster more neatly.
  9. The state has the nation’s highest concentration of wind-powered turbines. The towers produce nearly 40 percent of the state’s electricity.
  10. There are more hogs than humans – 21.2 animals to a tad over three million people.

~*~

Ever been to Iowa? What can you add to the list?

On thin ice

Contrary to the petroleum-industry pawns in public office, there’s no shortage of evidence of global warming – or climatic instability, to be more precise.

In the 20 years I’ve lived and gardened where I do, we’ve moved a whole growing zone ahead – out of 11. In effect, we’ve gained two full frost-free months.

For perspective, consider a friend who recently moved to town. He took cuttings of one shrub in his new yard to the local nursery and asked what he could do to assure their flowering next year.

Nothing, he was told. Our weather’s now too warm for that species to bloom.

~*~

Which brings me to January.

It’s typically the coldest month of the year, the one where we get subzero temps and freezing water pipes, if we’re not vigilant.

What we’re not supposed to be getting is readings up into the 60s, as we are now. Not 6 or minus 6. Sixty-three, yesterday.

We haven’t even had many single-digit numbers this season. A few in the teens.

It’s scary.

We remember the warm spell a few years ago that killed all that year’s peaches in the Northeast. Or, more accurately, the seasonally appropriate deep cold a few days later did.

~*~

Snowfall is another matter. Usually, much of January is too cold for it to snow. Instead, we got a half-dozen inches after Christmas, then followed by a slow, misty rain, which then froze solid. The white’s still there, but you have to be careful. You walk on top of it and slide, rather than sink inches into it. It’s treacherous.

Or was until yesterday. Our neighbor was out in his shorts and a T-shirt to finish shoveling his driveway, the part that his monster snowblower couldn’t quite handle.

I was able to get out on my cross country skis a few times in December, for the first time in three or four years. But after that I didn’t dare on this stuff, there was no way to control my movement. At my age, a fall could put me in traction. Banish the thought.

Meanwhile, I hear that the ice on our lakes is too thin for the ice fishermen, who usually populate the expanses with their colorful bob houses this time of year. Nope, not so far this one. Look, there’s a whole subculture devoted to that practice, and I’d bet the majority of them keep voting for the villains. It’s insane.

~*~

Well, the prophets of all this were poobahed back in the ’60s when their scientific projections saw it coming. And the self-interests of the oil industry have continued to decry it, shifting their stance along the way from “It’s phony” to “It’s just a normal fluctuation” to “It’s inevitable and we can’t do anything anyway.”

Doesn’t anyone else see how they’re on thin ice, just just as ignorant as the innocent polar bears caught up in their greedy blindness?

And as for the rest of us? I mean, if our temperatures here are running 20 to 40 degrees above normal, I hate to think about summer. How hot would that make it where you live? Maybe they’re hoping to rake in on our increased air-conditioning bills, too.

How about you?