Happy Easter

Easter is the cornerstone of the Christian faith. That has always been both its strength and its scandal. The notion of resurrection is so radical that unless one encounters in some fashion “the Risen Christ”…well, then all the rest is merely a nice story. A bit bloody around the edges, but a lovely myth.

Christmas gets the most notice, but it is a nighttime story and tangential to the center of Christianity. The celebration takes place at midnight, deep in the northern European cold. That story gets the children through the hard winter.

Easter though, is intimately connected to Passover. Without Passover, there would be no Easter. No glorious sunrise, no empty tomb.

Since I didn’t come here to argue but merely to celebrate this beautiful Easter morning, I’ll simply let C.S. Lewis take the stand to make the case for Easter.

You can find this essay here: God in the Dock .

In the twelfth piece from this collection, the one used for the title of his book, Lewis puts Jesus on trial so that reasonable men — and we are, all of us, “reasonable men” — can have a say in this very old argument:

…[The] problem is to reconcile two things. On the one hand you have got the almost generally admitted depth and sanity of His moral teaching, which is not very seriously questioned, even by those who are opposed to Christianity. In fact, I find when I am arguing with very anti-God people that they rather make a point of saying, ‘I am entirely in favour of the moral teaching of Christianity’ — and there seems to be a general agreement that in the teaching of this Man and of His immediate followers, moral truth is exhibited at its purest and best. It is not sloppy idealism; it is full of wisdom and shrewdness. The whole thing is realistic, fresh to the highest degree, the product of a sane mind. That is one phenomenon.

The other phenomenon is the quite appalling nature of this Man’s theological remarks. You all know what I mean, and I want rather to stress the point that the appalling claim, which this Man seems to be making, is not merely made at one moment of His career. There is, of course, the one moment, which led to His execution. The moment at which the High Priest said to Him, ‘Who are you?’ ‘I am the Anointed, the Son of the uncreated God, and you shall see me appearing at the end of all history as the judge of the universe.’ But that claim, in fact, does not rest on this one dramatic moment. When you look into his conversation you will find this sort of claim running throughout the whole thing. For instance, He went about saying to people, ‘I forgive your sins’. Now it is quite natural for a man to forgive something you do to him. Thus if somebody cheats me out of five pounds it is quite possible and reasonable for me to say, ‘Well, I forgive him, we will say no more about it.’ What on earth would you say if somebody had done you out of five pounds and I said, ‘That is all right, I forgive him? Then there is a curious thing, which seems to slip out almost by accident. On one occasion this Man is sitting looking down on Jerusalem from the hill about it and suddenly in comes an extraordinary remark — ‘I keep on sending you prophets and wise men.’ Nobody comments on it. And yet, quite suddenly, almost incidentally, He is claiming to be the power that all through the centuries is sending wise men and leaders into the world. Here is another curious remark: in almost every religion there are unpleasant observances like fasting. This Man suddenly remarks one day, ‘No one need fast while I am here.’ Who is this man who remarks one day, ‘No one need fast while I am here.’ Who is this Man who remarks that His mere presence suspends all normal rules? Who is the person who can suddenly tell the School they can have a half-holiday? Sometimes the statements put forward the assumption that He, the Speaker, is completely without sin or fault. This is always the attitude. ‘You, to whom I am talking, are all sinners,’ and He never remotely suggests that this same reproach can be brought against Him. He says again, ‘I am the begotten of the One God, before Abraham was, I am,’ And remember what the words ‘I am’ were in Hebrew. They were the name of God, which must not be spoken by any human being, the name which it was death to utter.

Well, that is the other side. On the one side clear, definite moral teaching. On the other, claims which, if not true, are those of a megalomaniac, compared with whom Hitler was the most same and humble of men.

And indeed, Jesus’ own mother had her doubts. According to the New Testament his family sought to grab him and haul him off. He was obviously the black sheep in their family, and as black sheep are wont to do, he stayed two steps ahead of them. I do wish C. S. Lewis had pointed that out.

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Another Day, Another Blizzard

Here we go again.

We’re in the midst of our third major winter storm so far this March. About four inches (ten cm.) of snow is on the ground, and it’s still coming down. It’s supposed to continue for several more hours.

Snowstorms in March (or even April) are not all that unusual at this latitude, but usually they’re light, wet, and very temporary. This, on the other hand, looks like a January storm. It’s much drier than I would have expected.

Below are two views from our kitchen window:

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We’re Back!

Teh Intertubes were disabled for us sometime overnight. It was a widespread outage, and the Powers That Be phone company resolved the issue fairly quickly, all things considered (their estimate was tomorrow).

Many thanks to Vlad for posting the outage notice, and to Henrik for moderating the comments.

Normal service will resume shortly — as soon as I go through all the $#!!&?*$*! accumulated email.

Saint Patrick’s Day Snowed Out… or In, Depending

The days of attending parades in South Boston are long past, but still… this snow stuff is getting old. In our part of Virginia no one drinks green beer or sings malty songs, unfortunately. Instead, March 17th is the traditional day to plant peas and onion sets, and put in lettuce plants if you have them. Otherwise scatter seeds and cover them before the birds can see what you’re doing.

Yesterday it was seventy degrees [21°C] and we worked in the yard, removing winter debris.*

Today it is thirty-six [2°C] and what began as rain is finally sticking on the trees and grass. No mention of ice, faith and begorrah. Just six to ten inches of snow starting “sometime” tonight and continuing into tomorrow afternoon.

So will we be here? Definitely.

Will the electricity remain on? Probably. But we’ll fill the bathtub anyway. Just in case the ice moves a bit west.

Are they predicting ice for Schloss Bodissey? Just “a trace”; thus what starts in Richmond should oughta stay there in Richmond, in our humble opinion.


* It was so mild and benign we stayed out pruning and weeding for an hour…
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The Eye of the Beholder

I returned from the retinal specialist’s office a little while ago, having undergone the latest installment of my bimonthly treatments for macular degeneration in my left eye. As you all know, each treatment involves an injection through the sclera into the vitreous humor of the eye.

It’s not a fun process, to say the least. Nevertheless, it’s surprising how much it has become a matter of routine. I drive to the doctor’s office and wait a few minutes. Then the technician checks my eyes and puts drops into both of them. After that I wait a while as they dilate, and then each eye is scanned using a sophisticated electronic device. Another wait, more drops (disinfectant this time), and then a few brief agonizing moments while the needle goes in.

Yes, it blinds me in one eye for a minute or two, and then leaves my vision blurred for a few hours. And tomorrow my eye will be sore, and the next day, too, to a lesser extent.

But I’ve gotten used to it. It’s not really that bad. And rest assured, it beats the heck out of the alternative — full-blown macular degeneration. It’s been a year now, and I’m still euphoric about how much my eye has improved. It will never be quite as good as it was — there is residual scarring — but it’s close. I’m pleased to return to simply being extremely far-sighted. Severe hyperopia is something I’m quite used to.

One of the occasional side-effects of the treatment is a temporary floater in my left eye, which is created when the needle leaves a tiny air bubble behind in the vitreous humor. I’ve got one of those tonight, a dark amoeboid blob about 20° off-center to the south-southwest in my field of vision. It jumps around and twitches as my eye instinctively moves in an attempt to focus on it — just another little entertainment to liven up an otherwise dull evening.

But, hey — at least I get to use both eyes while sitting at the screen! Last spring I didn’t have that privilege; I had to use an eye patch.

There weren’t any effective treatments for macular degeneration as recently as a decade ago. I’m a lucky guy.

Waitin’ for That Train

As you may have noticed if you tried to open this blog during the last two or three hours, Gates of Vienna was down for a while. The hosting service has been working on the problem, and just brought the site back up.

At the moment we don’t know what caused the outage. But, thanks to our generous readers, we now have a more robust service package that mitigates these outages (whether caused by DoS or other problems), reducing both their frequency and duration.

So we’re back on the tracks once more…

Looking Back, Looking Forward

The Winter Fundraiser ends here. Instead of a bang or a whimper, let’s go out in full voice with hope for the future, whatever it holds…

We ran out of time before we ran out of Odd Jobs. Interesting ones remain, but I’ve asked the Baron to save the best of them for another time. The tale is worth the telling, but we’ve past the right time — the kairos moment — to pass it on. However, it could well serve as the foundation for another theme in another quarter — closer perhaps to Christmas.

Looking Back One Last Time

We also ran out of time before I was able to adequately ‘end’ my own recitation of Odd Jobs. We (rightly I think) focused on the enormous changes which occurred when the Baron’s good friend invited him to do real work — you know, the kind where you dress up in business clothing and go to an office to work with grown-ups? This new job required new clothing, and even where men’s attire was concerned, discovering what they now wore had a learning curve. Many years before, when this same friend got married, the Baron was woefully ill-dressed for their wedding; our friends always had great forbearance. They could have said, “Hey, you know those two paintings we bought at the last show? How about you take some of the proceeds and get some threads for our wedding, dude… oh, wait. Maybe not “threads”. He was already wearing those. But you get the idea.

The start of that job was an abrupt right turn in the Garden of Forking Paths and it happened just in time. The future Baron’s college expenses loomed, and there was that last piece of high school tuition to get through. I am still amazed at the way things seemed to just ‘happen’… even though, in hindsight, each step of the way seemed to follow naturally from the previous decision.

I was still working in town, but it was getting harder and harder to make the drive. I began to fall asleep at the wheel. Sometimes I would get to a job — a big house to clean — haul in my equipment and then sleep on the floor for an hour before I could start. Running up and down the stairs with my favorite heavy vacuum cleaner became harder and then it became impossible. I finally had to tell all my customers goodbye. I saw this as temporary and had no idea what was wrong except that I was sooo VERY tired. I couldn’t get enough sleep.

The exact order of things is gone now, but it probably took about seven years until we understood what was wrong. I began to have strange body aches and my doctor referred me to physical rehab. The exercises made my condition worse, so I’d sleep it off. By then our son was driving himself to school and the Baron was home twice a week to spend the night before returning to work. He had moved on from that first contract to consulting work in Richmond so it was easier for him to stay with family than make that long drive each day…

… After long months of fatigue I began to feel a bit better. Garden work before the weather turned very hot seemed to help, though I noticed I was losing my depth perception and even my proprioception. So I tripped over my own feet. A lot. If I remember correctly we went on vacation several times with friends but I mostly slept while they went out and did things. Thus began my years of “I’ll feel better tomorrow”…

The doctor nagged me to get a mammogram and they found a lump. Not a small lump, mind you, but one big enough for its own zip code. Within two weeks I’d had a full mastectomy, “just to be sure”. There was no hormonal involvement and no the nodes were free of any cancer cells. They tried to shoehorn me into a series of radiation treatments but I refused. I knew the chances of leukemia down the road if I were to agree to their “gold standard” of treatment. When I mentioned my concern about leukemia, the radiologist left mad, slamming the door behind her. I did reluctantly agree to chemotherapy and I regret doing so. In cases like mine, it’s a scam. In others, it might help but the whole Breast Cancer Awareness hype gave me the creeps. Chemo permanently altered/poisoned my brain and my ability to perceive. I never fully recovered from that “treatment”.

But to the extent I did recover, I wanted to try working again. This Odd Job was advertised in the paper — imagine, a job the old-fashioned way. The Drop-In Center for the chronic but stable mentally ill adults was looking for a case worker. Any previous mental illness would be considered a plus… I almost fell off the chair laughing. These people were going to love my PTSD.
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More Like a Snowy Air

Before dawn this morning I heard the liquid climate change pounding on the roof, but by the time I got up, we had passed through pelletized climate change and entered a phase of powdered climate change. So, at the moment, it looks like we probably won’t lose our electricity.

There are four or five inches of snow on the ground, and it’s still coming down hard. NOAA says it will continue this way all day, so there will be nothing to do but make hot drinks and watch the whiteout through the windows.

Last week, when the temperature rose into the 60s (c. 18°C) and the remains of the earlier blizzard had almost entirely melted away, I thought we were done with all this nonsense. Oh yes, I know readers in Norway and Finland are probably laughing at us for being paralyzed by such trivial amounts of snow, but you’re at what? 60°N? 62°N? We’re at 38°N, for crying out loud! In other words, further south than Lisbon, Naples, and Athens.

This is supposed to be, as Wallace Stevens put it, “the end of winter when afternoons return.” Instead it looks like this afternoon will be pretty dim and powdery.

Below is the “world of white and snowy scents” on the grounds of Schloss Bodissey, out by the gnarled old Pawlonia tree:

Wallace Stevens’ poem is quite appropriate for a day like today. For those who are interested, it is reproduced in its entirety below the jump.

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Hark! The Iceman Cometh For Another Round

When we woke up this morning it was sixty degrees (Fahrenheit) and the stone steps were warm under my bare feet. The second day of Spring had indeed showed up to say “How y’all?” and I responded, “Mighty fine. Thanks for coming by!” Since yesterday was the first day of spring (according to the meteorologists’ scripture) I figured it was just Ma Nature making herself at home bright and early.

Then the Baron went to church where there are real people who watch the weather on TV and even as they told him the details of the Karma Dude’s upcoming joke, he noticed the sky begin to cloud over…

The sun was hidden by this:

Regional Radar

I didn’t put the image up because it’s better to see it in full bruising color in order to appreciate the varieties in this comic tragedy. It’s a comedy if you stay home where it’s warm. It’s a tragedy if you ignore the warnings and venture out on the glassy roads.

Here are the dramatis personae in this mass:

Green is for rain.
Yellow is heavier rain (my guess is there’ll be increasing amounts of yellow as that mass moves closer).
Pink is ice.
Snow is blue and/or white.

On the lower left of that image you’ll see the button for animating the map. Click that and watch the iceman head our way. He will be pushing that green mass with its mixture of heavier yellow rain. Lots of rain, but not England-type floods, thankyouverymuch. And there don’t seem to be any red spots, indicating the possibility of tornadoes. Maybe it’s just not that kind of storm.

Here’s the place where it may affect y’all. The cold air pushing that mass toward us will likely turn our green world pink. As it gets nearer to Schloss Bodissey the temperature will continue to droop…err…drop. And so will the tree branches droop and drop, burdened as they are likely to be with ice. Up in the mountains those tin cans holding the wires together will rattle loudly. But who knows, they may hold on and all will be well.

If that’s the case we’ll be here with you…since it all depends on March, and we know by now she’s a most unstable kind of girl. The glass is up one minute, down the next and you can hear her howling outside that she can hold her liquor. Sure she can.

If Gates of Vienna is all lit up but it looks like no one is home, you’ll know the iceman arrived and dumped his sack o’ slush. We’ll get out the candles (a menorah works well) and fire up the gas cooker. We’ll put some ham hocks on simmer with a bay leaf, a splash of vinegar and some coriander seeds (an old trick for making hock taste more like ham).

Maybe if Vlad is awake he can come by and let the comments in to warm up. He knows our rules. On the other hand, with his ADD (similar to mine), maybe not…I’ll ask.

Never Turn Down an Opportunity

Winter Fundraiser 2014, Day Six

As you all know by now, Dymphna and I are discussing odd jobs during this week’s fundraiser. We’ve been reminiscing about the things we’ve done to get by over the years. If it paid the bills and put food on the table, we did it.

Tip jarThe weirdest job I ever had was as a Kelly Girl. It was back in the early 1980s, during the same period I was working as an itinerant math tutor. In those days they had just stopped calling them “Kelly Girls” — the company now billed itself as “Kelly Services”. But when people asked me what I did, I got a charge out of telling them: “I’m a Kelly Girl.”

I answered the ad in the paper one winter when we badly needed money. I thought I could do an occasional bit of clerical work. My typing was no good, but I had organized filing systems in the past and done other clerical odds and ends in previous jobs.

As it turned out, that sort of work was strictly for the chicks. Despite their rebranding themselves as Kelly Services, the corporate ethos was sexist: they put guys into guy jobs. So I was sent out to demo a foot-massaging device at J.C. Penney stores. The thing was made out of varnished wood and had little rollers. I had to take off my shoes and show customers how I soothed my tired insteps with the thing.

Well, it beats digging ditches.

I was also sent out to supermarkets and country stores to hand out samples of Diet Dr. Pepper. This was in the earliest days of aspartame, and the Pepsi company was marketing it heavily to get people accustomed to the taste. Nasty stuff — I wouldn’t touch it myself; they had no worries about my drinking up all the inventory. But I had to pour it into tiny little paper cups, smile at people, and say, “Would you like to try the new Diet Dr. Pepper?”

That sums up Kelly Girls. Before I move on to more interesting odd jobs, I need to put in a plug for Vlad Tepes.

If you’ve been to our fundraisers in the past, you know that we tithe what we get here to Vlad. His video work is so important — it’s absolutely crucial for us to keep him going. He’s like us; he lives hand-to-mouth most of the time.

So, if you like what he does — video or otherwise — I recommend that you visit Vlad’s place and clink his tip cup with just a little bit extra.

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The first odd job I got after I threw away my career and started painting pictures involved painting flowers and text on the sides of ceramic cups.

It all began when I was sitting on the sidewalk in a small town near where we live, painting a view of the street and the tree-shaded houses. A woman came up behind me and watched me working. After a while, she asked me if I wanted a job painting cups.

Years later I codified my response into a general motto: “Never turn down an opportunity.” When an offer comes along for something that you can do, and that provides income, take it. This was the first such opportunity: the next day I showed up at her house, ready for work.

Louise and her husband Bill ran a small business out of their garage, which they called “the cup factory”. They had three kilns, a series of molds, drums full of slip, glazes, and all the other paraphernalia required to produce ceramic cups.

Louise’s cups were for kids, and featured a gimmick: each one had a little ceramic animal attached to the bottom of the inside. The creature in the cup motivated the kid to drink his milk, or his ovaltine, or his absinthe, or whatever, so that he could get to see the animal.

The outside of each cup had a picture of the same animal — a bunny, a teddy bear, a ladybug, a dugong, or maybe a three-toed sloth — and some flowers. My job was to paint the eyes and other details on the animals, then the outline, and put the pink blossoms on the flower stems.

Then there was the lettering. Some were generic cups, which just said, “Who lives in this cup?” Others were custom-ordered cups, where the child’s name was included: “This cup belongs to Jennifer” or “This cup belongs to Theophrastus”. That’s how I learned the popular names for children born in the early 1980s: Jason, Joshua, Jared, and Jonathan for the boys; Jennifer, Jessica, Amy, and Tina for the girls. Hundreds, maybe thousands of each.

I used colored glazes to paint on the outside of unglazed cups that had the design stenciled onto the raw slip. After the other cup-painter and I were finished, the cups were fired overnight. The next day they were covered with a final coating of clear glaze, fitted with a previously glazed and fired animal, and then fired again. Bill packed up the finished cups and shipped them off to toy shops and specialty stores.

I have no doubt that I worked in a hazardous environment. The glazes were poisonous, and the slip dust was full of silicates and whatnot. I’m sure we were violating OSHA regs by not wearing masks and rubber gloves. But the whole enterprise was under the table, anyway — officially we were piece workers, no W2s for us — so it didn’t really matter. We were paid less than minimum wage, but we didn’t care, because without the big federal bite, the take-home pay wasn’t all that bad.

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A Kaleidoscope Instead of a Career

Winter Fundraiser 2014, Day Five

Y’all may have noticed the increase in the number of the Baron’s posts the last day or so. That’s because the initial rush of the fundraiser has died down, and he no longer needs to stay at a dead run to keep up with acknowledgements and such. So he has more time to actually write or edit things.

Each fundraiser teaches me something about this oddest of jobs as proprietress of Gates of Vienna. At our wrap-up I’ll share the one I’m learning this time… if I remember it. One this is for sure: it was worth it to climb up here to take the long view back down to our beginnings before the beginning of the blog. While I can no longer imagine what we’d be doing if we weren’t here, I still find it hard to credit that we’re still here…

Tip jarOne of Anne Tyler’s books opens with an old lady lying in bed thinking over her life and her improbable children. She recalls an incident in which her grown daughter is looking at some photographs with her. The woman remarks that it’s a picture of herself and the daughter disagrees vehemently, repeatedly. Finally the old woman sighs and says, “All right then. It’s not me”…Sometimes I look back at the years I describe below (with so much left out) and think, “That’s not me”. Another part of me surrenders and sighs, “All right then. It’s not me…”

Turn the kaleidoscope, Harry.

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Where was I? Oh right, chasing those cows away from our bush peas.

Life in the Country

As I was to learn, an elderly neighbor’s cattle often escaped her pasture and made their way down the power line to our grass. And our herbs and vegetables, too. She was always apologetic, as were the owners of the escaped pigs who dug up the grass looking for grubs. What an unholy mess! I huffed righteously to the Baron that the owners should “pay for the damage those stupid pigs caused”. He looked at me patiently: “Those people are as poor as we are. Do you think they’d have pigs otherwise?” He had me there. I felt ashamed at first, and then as the season wore on and I saw the vast improvement in our “lawn” — it was green and lush — the lesson sunk in even more deeply.

After a period of rest and recuperation it was time to look for work. The first thing I learned was that there was no work, at least not locally. If I wanted a job it meant a commute into the university’s Human Resources Department. I was given an appointment for a typing test (never my strong suit) and spent some time practicing on the Baron’s manual typewriter. I figured it was an advantage to use the manual and then take the test on an IBM Selectric. I’d be in like Flynn for sure.

The day before the scheduled test, I spent some time mowing the yard. As a kid and then later living in the suburbs, I was always the designated mower of lawns; it was work I liked. Or rather, it was work I liked until that moment, when suddenly I was being stung repeatedly by bees. Oh the pain! I dropped the handle of the mower and ran for the house — and darned if those creatures didn’t follow me inside, continuing their attack. They found their way inside my clothes and their loud buzzy anger was every bit as bad as the repeated stings. I’d always thought bees only stung once.

The Baron knew what had happened so he helped me take off my clothing, bugs and all. He threw it outside and had me stand under a tepid shower while he methodically found each of those demons — many of them were jammed up against the windows since they’d lost scent of me. Having assured me those evil creatures were gone he coaxed me out of the shower; we dabbed each wound with dilute ammonia and then applied wet baking soda. Aspirin for the pain and inflammation and Benadryl to slow the emerging allergic reaction. If welts began to appear on my body or if my throat began to swell, I knew I’d be in trouble so far away from medical help…fortunately the swelling remained localized, though it made my fingers fat and stiff and feverish. How can you have a fever in your fingers? Or your toes? Those things pierced my canvas shoes easily.

Guess who didn’t pass her typing test? With nine wounds on my puffy hands, my speed on that Selectric was as lame as my gait walking on swollen feet stuffed into shoes that were now painfully small.

Those bees? It turned out they were yellow jackets; the underground colony I’d run over with the lawn mower was quite large. That day I was stung the Baron began what would remain a summer ritual right down to the present. When they came after me, he had no scent the disturbed insects could detect so that made it safe for him to move the lawn mower. As evening approached he sat in a chair near where it had been and watched the insects coming home. In increasing numbers they’d spiral down into the hole and disappear. The Baron carefully marked the spot and when night fell he returned to the spot with a can of gasoline. He poured its contents carefully and thoroughly through the area, letting it soak into the ground. The next step was to throw a lighted match as near to the hole as possible and then haul ass run like crazy to the safety of the house. The next morning there might be a few listless insects hovering over the remains of their home —perhaps they were stragglers who’d arrived back at the ranch after the conflagration. But except for them, that particular area was yellow jacket-free.

But that doesn’t mean they didn’t lurk elsewhere. Oh so many elsewheres. Every summer there is at least one time when the yard surrounding our quiet cottage is punctuated with loud profanities and stomping feet as the Baron flees to the house throwing off his clothes along the way. Sometimes I can be of help since that particular batch o’ bugs is focused on his particular pheromones… Or fear-a-moans, as I’ve come to think of them. In that moment those little monsters want him and I don’t exist. Later, after the Baron’s adrenalin levels have dropped we’ll have the satisfying evening Fire Ritual, followed by the next morning’s Post-Mortem. Over the years, my (literally) far-sighted husband has often spotted incipient trouble. If he’s working in the yard and happens to notice a few of those characteristic spirals downward, he’ll quietly mark the spot. He returns at dusk to see if there’s an evening rush hour — the buggers’ homeward commute after a long business day.

The Baron doesn’t like to kill insects; he figures they all have their place in the order of things. But he makes exceptions for yellow jackets and house spiders. Besides, he’s a guy: for some reason a lot of guys enjoy setting things on fire. Huge house spiders merely give him the willies so he dispatches them. I prefer a vacuum cleaner for such jobs if he’s not around. If he’s home, the best spider removal is to yell, “Baron, eww! There’s a spider in the kitchen.”

Work in the Town

So I failed my typing test. Oops. Certainly my undergrad degree in philosophy wasn’t of much practical help. I quickly learned there were dozens of professors’ wives from which to choose. They possessed the same skill set but it came with a lot more connections.

If I had my druthers working in a plant nursery would have been just fine but after talking to a few managers I learned that the jobs were seasonal and my flimsy credentials — many years of creating my own home gardens — weren’t terribly impressive. I was simply part of a growing statistic: middle class women who’d signed the usual contract: stay home and raise the kids while husband goes out to make the money. At one time I even thought it was a good deal: while my children’s father was in school I’d written all the ‘humanities’ papers while he took the business courses. It was fun. I hadn’t seen the trap or read the fine print, though.
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Phoenix Rises From the Ashes, Looks for Work

Winter Fundraiser 2014, Day Four

For a long time the Baron has been voting for this theme — “Odd Jobs” — of our checkered careers as a good choice for these week-long fund raisers. After all, if our readers were going to fund part of this undertaking, they deserved some information on the proprietors. Besides, I think he’s rather proud of his perseverance. He’s entitled, methinks.

I’m not sure what made me hesitate; probably my reluctance to face the fact that I’m not healthy or robust enough to ever rejoin the ranks of workers or volunteers in tasks that formerly brought such pleasure. And frankly, I’d rather talk about his work than I would my own. It was not only more varied, but his temperament — an optimism which permits him to live in the sunlight — was less fraught than my own experience.

Tip jarSo let’s begin with our differences in talent and temperament, since those are basic to who we are no matter what we’re doing.

Perhaps this part should have come first, before describing any of the various jobs we had. But after digging through our memories of those times, it now seems important to point out how this most unlikely proposition called the Baron and Dymphna @ The Counterjihad came to be. That means differentiating the components. Even as I write, I feel the Baron ducking as he has to edit this later, and I hear echoes of “too much information” from some of our readers, but c’est la guerre, y’all. For our readers who would rather not know, it’s easy enough to move past this post and on to less Alice-in-Wonderland essays. For the readers who are mystified by some of the glosses I used to save making this any longer than it is already, feel free to ask questions.

Consider this post the basement for a structure from which you can see more coherently the reasons and seasons for the life we built together, a life which improbably ended up as mere prelude to Gates of Vienna. In order to have you standing there on the first floor, first I have to dig the foundation, put in a few joists to hold the thing together, and only then can we get back to all those unlikely jobs.

Beginnings

The Baron describes his family of origin as “boring”. By that he means no dramas, no secrets, no flouncing out of the room or the relationship when the ship hit turbulent waters. His mother went to college, working briefly at a local paper and then as a history teacher before she married his father. The Baron’s dad missed out on college: that pesky Depression meant there was no money to attend Williams College, where his own father had studied. And then the war came along and sent millions of men scattering in new directions, at least the ones who survived. For his dad, the army decided, in its infinite wisdom, to send him south, to Virginia, and based on his aptitude tests, to put him in a new division of military work: intelligence-gathering (or more specifically, cryptography). The Baron never knew exactly what his father did except that he couldn’t talk about it to his family. The job required that the family move to England while when the B was set to begin high school. Once stationed there, his parents decided their son should attend a local school rather than the alternative American version.

Their family took annual vacations which he remembers fondly; his father and the Baron enjoyed sharing the Guardian crossword puzzle and other brain-teasers. His mother liked being a wife and mother in a period when that was an acceptable ‘job’. She also liked bird-watching and sewing.

On both sides of his family the Baron was American back to the beginning. His father’s New England forebears were not penurious when they arrived straight from England. The family lived for generations in Massachusetts; some still do, and he has the variously updated genealogy books to prove these antecedents. His mother’s family, Virginian to the bone, had once owned slaves — not a proud fact, but for most old-time Southerners it’s a reality. The family also included Civil War heroes and a mixture of German, Scots, French, and Lord-knows-what-else — all safely WASP, however. Well, maybe not so safely A-S, with those annoying Celts and Franks and Teutons — but definitely no Papists in the mix.

I believe he did find a maternal cousin, once removed, who was known to have had a “problem with drink”. And if I have the story right, a great-grandfather ran off to West Virginia to run a casino and acquired a common-law wife. In a small Virginia town, that must’ve raised some eyebrows — though this rake continued to support his real family, of course. Things were different then.

The B finished his A-Levels in Yorkshire before returning to America to William and Mary, the same college his mother had attended. He says he missed honeysuckle and turtles and lightning bugs too much to have seriously considered Oxbridge or a deeply academic life.

In that we are similar. I’m an “intellectual”, but graduate studies were stifling, though I did consider it before divorce and the ruination of my first family left me destitute and eventually disabled. Continue reading

Getting With the Program


Winter Fundraiser 2014, Day Three

Our focus during this week’s fundraiser is on “odd jobs”: how Dymphna and I came to take this particular odd job, and all the other odd jobs we’ve had to take over the years to keep going.

The unusual thing about this particular job is its distributed paymasters. We don’t have one boss; we have hundreds of them. By holding these quarterly blegs, we’ve crowdsourced our income — a most peculiar situation. That’s what makes this the oddest job of all.

Tip jarThe crowdfunding process gets a bit tricky when we need a raise, which is the position we find ourselves in this quarter. As I mentioned on Monday morning, the costs of keeping this blog going rose substantially after DoS attacks and increased traffic forced us into a more robust type of hosting. This is a not unexpected consequence of prominent Counterjihad activism, but still, it makes for a financially anxious lifestyle.

The first two days of the fundraiser are evidence that our readers paid attention to our need for a raise. The response has been swift and generous, and we are grateful to all of you, the issuers of our paychecks.

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As I mentioned in the first post of this series, by the time I left college I had decided to become an artist. I tried it for a year after I graduated, and failed miserably. Not at painting — I painted some pretty good pictures during those months — but at making enough money to stay alive. I remember buying A&P Tudor Premium beer at $2 a sixpack; that’s how desperate I was. I used to say that after the first two or three, you didn’t care how it tasted.

So the following summer I moved back in with my parents and got a job. Two of them, actually: driving a taxi (during the daytime) and working as a sales clerk in a tuxedo rental store (in the evenings). Those jobs were a temporary holding pattern until I landed a position in my field of expertise, which was mathematics. That fall I took a job as a mathematician/programmer at the VA hospital in Washington D.C.

I’d only had a two-hour course in computer programming when I was in college, but that was enough to get me the job. Those were the early days of the computer boom, and the demand for programmers was fierce. A bachelor’s degree in Math and a working knowledge of FORTRAN was all that was needed to find a good job in the field.

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A Learning Experience

Winter Fundraiser 2014, Day Two

When the Baron suggested “Odd Jobs” for our theme, it made me smile in remembrance. So many creative ways to keep the wolf from the door. Or, in our case, the coyotes, since they are becoming more common in our area. They must be attracted by the hordes of white-tailed deer.

Who would’ve thought all those years of doing varied temporary work would have been the perfect preparation for riding the intertubes on Gates of Vienna? Had we not gone through decades of economic uncertainty, living by the Baron’s sheer persistence and optimism, would we be able to do this now? I don’t know for sure, but I suspect those years prepared us for this incarnation. Who could ever have guessed?

When I met the Baron and moved to Virginia, it was a culture shock. No central heat or air conditioning, isolated from the busy-ness of the city, living among people who’d been here for endless generations… I was a long time coming to terms with a new way of life. Heck, I was a long time figuring out what people were saying!

The Baron chose the Middle of Nowhere and I chose the Baron so that was that. What impressed me back then still does: his optimism, his complete integrity and his persistence. All of those qualities would end up serving him well when we began this blog. However, when we started it was meant merely to serve as a distraction for me and as a connection between us while he was away at work during the week. Never did we intend it, ten years later, to have become our daily center of gravity. Sometimes it feels as though Gates of Vienna is a child, an eternal child who grows and changes but will never be able to get around without a guiding hand.

Tip jarWe’ve described before how we got here, now the time has come to talk about how we managed to stay and even to prosper after a fashion. This part of Virginia is a good place to be if you want to scrape by while you spend your time doing something you want above all else. For the Baron, that was painting landscapes — dozens and dozens and dozens of them from the age of seven until his eyes gave out. In the beginning he kept careful records of each one, when it was painted and where it went after it was sold. I’m not so sure he was that meticulous at the end, when he knew his sight was changing. [Note from the Baron, who did the final edit: Yes, I kept complete records right up until the last painting.]

The Baron always (or nearly so) painted on the scene; he wasn’t ever interested in studio work. So when it became too cold to paint, he turned his attention to making enough money doing something else to get by till the warm weather returned.

And that was my intention also: I didn’t want to set the world on fire, I simply wanted to keep bringing in enough fuel to keep the home fires lit. My jobs were, for the most part, pedestrian. I did enjoy working as a chef until the owner started pitching small tomatoes at me during some tense times in the kitchen. And I loved community work — being invited in to teach small groups about the Nurturing Parent Program and how it was designed to reverse and eradicate child abuse. It was easy to be enthusiastic about a program actually designed to create a practical, workable peace, one (formerly damaged) family at a time. No utopias, thank you. Meeting the founder, Dr. Bavolek, was a turning point in my life. Had my mother not been forced to come to live with us, I’d have stayed with his program continuing to teach facilitators how to implement this life-saving program in their communities.

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Perhaps it would be best to back up a bit and start with the academic or teaching jobs from early on. Those two words aren’t always synonymous, but in ideal circumstances they work synchronously. While the Baron’s time doing this didn’t play a large part in our lives, during the years they lasted the experience gave us enough background to choose home-schooling when our turn came to educate our own son.

I think this era began when the Baron saw an ad for a company that sent out private tutors to people’s houses. Given that the academic year mostly coincided with his non-painting time, it was a good fit. His academic skills were valuable, particularly in Math, where there is a perennial shortage.

Sometimes he found the jobs and sometimes they found him. These ‘academic’ assignments were a string of referrals, though I don’t quite remember how they were sequenced. I’ll let him remember that. At any rate, he’s a patient teacher and was always skilled at math. Later on, when the tutoring group folded, he went solo for a while. Some of those students were indeed Missions Impossible.

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