Falling Into Winter

Note: This post was a “sticky” feature that was published last Monday and stayed on top all week. Scroll down for more recent material, including Jews in the AfD, clips from the Brexit demo in London, Jihad for Justice in Alabama, right-wing extremist hair braids in Germany, Dr. Turley on the Danish “Gitmo”, and many others.

Winter Fundraiser 2018, Day Seven

The Baron’s Sunday Update: A Winter’s Tale

Well, here we are at the final day of our quarterly bleg. After I finish writing this update I can catch up on my sleep, and then write some more thank-you notes tomorrow.

Tip jarAfter my worried remarks the other night, y’all really stepped up to the plate: the donations came pouring in on Friday, making it one of the busiest fundraising days we’ve had for a while. Many thanks to all of you for your generosity! The week isn’t quite back to normal, but it’s getting close. And it’s now clear that we’ll be able to make it through to the spring thaw.

It didn’t hurt that WRSA posted a link to our bleg — we really appreciate that. It’s easy to tell when donors are being referred by WRSA, because the gifts come in from Idaho, Wyoming, Arizona, and other deplorable states that we don’t otherwise see much traffic from.

All of this makes me ponder our peculiar business model. Most websites monetize by selling advertising, but we do it by soliciting modest gifts from our many readers. It’s a weird form of crowdfunding, but somehow it works — every quarter we receive just enough to keep on going.

It helps me maintain my enduring sense of gratitude…

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This morning’s weather-related story is going to be longer and less lighthearted than my usual tales. I’ve never actually written this material up before, and I expect it to be hard to type out.

So… for those who want to skip this part and go straight to yesterday’s donor locations, here they are in advance:

Stateside: Alaska, California, Connecticut, Florida, Indiana, Michigan, Minnesota, New Hampshire, New Mexico, New York, Oregon, Texas, Virginia, and Wyoming

Far Abroad: New Zealand, and the UK

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The photo at the top of this update was taken in February of 2003. It shows a snow overhang outside our bedroom window here at Schloss Bodissey. The tree in the foreground is none other than the Fig Tree of Doom, which caused Dymphna so much grief two and a half years after the picture was taken.

This morning’s reminiscence was prompted not by that particular snowfall, but by my earlier account of the first fall and winter I spent here (scroll down for that story; it begins with the photo of the turtle).

That was a cold and snowy winter, and after Christmas I just hunkered down to wait it out. Since I couldn’t go outside to paint landscapes, I busied myself with what I could create indoors — mostly geometric designs and scenes from my imagination.

But late in January I got an opportunity: a major snowfall was predicted. That was before the Weather Channel, but the radio and the newspaper were in agreement that we would see about eight inches (21 cm) of dry snow.

So I stocked up for the occasion. I made sure I had plenty of coffee, beer, and other necessities so that I could sit it out. In those days the house was heated by a woodstove, and I had an ample supply of firewood, so it didn’t matter all that much if the electricity went out. And I didn’t have any reason to go out, so I would be able to spend a delightful few days looking out the kitchen window at all that lovely snow — and painting a picture of it.

When I woke up that morning, the snow was right on schedule — three or four inches of it on the ground. I set up my easel in the middle of the kitchen floor (this place has a large farm kitchen, and in those days I possessed virtually no furniture) and started a composition based on what I could see out the window, and the area immediately inside it.

Snow in the city gets ugly pretty quickly, what with all the salt and sand from the roads, soot, and vehicle exhaust. But out here in the middle of nowhere it stays pristine for a long time if the temperature remains low. Tracks from birds, deer, dogs, squirrels, and raccoons. And maybe my own when I walk out into the middle of a flat space to stick a yardstick in the accumulation. But nothing to make it look nasty — I knew I would be able to take my time and make that painting look just right.

When I moved out here from the city I deliberately didn’t get a phone, because I didn’t want anyone bothering me. I also used general delivery for an address that first year, to assure my isolation. The postmistress was puzzled, but she let me do it, and forwarded my mail out here to the RFD box.

I expected to have a wonderful few days, working on my painting and enjoying a snowfall in a way that I hadn’t had a chance to since I was a kid.

Ah, but the best-laid schemes o’ mice an’ men gang aft agley…

When I had last been to see my parents, just after New Year’s, my father had been suffering from some sort of stomach bug. A low-grade fever and some pain in his lower tract: most likely the flu, my mother said.

Late that snowy morning, as the blizzard was tapering off to flurries with about seven inches already on the ground, I heard a rumbling on the driveway, and then a banging on the front door. It was my neighbor Jimmy Mawyer, who had driven down the driveway through the woods in his four-wheel-drive pickup.

When I opened the door Jimmy said, “Your mother called the post office. Your father has cancer. He’s in the hospital, and she says wants you to come home as soon as possible.”

So it wasn’t the flu after all.

Jimmy and I discussed the logistics of how I could get out of there. I had an old rear-wheel drive station wagon (a 1971 AMC Hornet, for the car buffs among you). I could have filled up the deck with cinderblocks or something, but still, it was going to be rough getting out of there.

I had parked facing out, so Jimmy backed up his truck to just in front of the car while I packed a bag with my necessities. He hooked a chain onto the frame behind the front bumper, and when I was ready, he had me let out the clutch while he pulled me down the driveway. I kept gunning it to try and keep from fishtailing, and we somehow made it to the road without whacking me into any trees. He stopped on a straight stretch, unhitched the chain, and wished me the best of luck. Then I set out for Maryland.

The most direct route out of here goes up and down some major hills before crossing a creek. When conditions were slick — and especially in a rear-wheel drive vehicle — I used to take what I called “the flat route”, a roundabout way that stuck to the ridgelines and avoided steep gradients and sharp curves. It added about ten miles to the trip, but it made it possible to get out. The road hadn’t been plowed yet; all I had were the tracks of the four-wheelers to help me out.

My memory of that trip is of a blurry nightmare. I remember that I came across a fellow motorist who had slid into the ditch about a mile from my driveway. It was on a slight downhill grade, so I eased off the gas and touched the brake very lightly as the car coasted to a stop. I got out and helped him push his car out of the ditch, and then got back in the station wagon and started down that hill oh so carefully, and then up the other side.

When I arrived at the main road, it had been plowed, so conditions were better. But there was still a packed sheet of glaze on the pavement, so it was nerve-wracking. You go thirty miles an hour and do your very best to keep from ever touching the brake.

The most frightening moment was when I was still on the two-lane state road, before I got to the major highway. As I rounded a bend I saw a big dog walking across the road in front of me. It took all of my willpower to leave the brake alone, accelerate to bring my center of gravity forward as I swerved, and remember the mantra: “Turn in the direction of the skid.”

Somehow I got past that dog without wrecking or ending up sideways in a ditch. After that it was easier — I got to the main highway, and although it was in bad shape, it was better than anything I’d been on before. As I went further north the snow got deeper, and the plows had left larger snowbanks on either side. The snowfall had ceased soon after I left the house, and I remember the sky clearing at sunset as I crossed the Potomac.

A trip that should have taken three hours took almost eight. I arrived at my parents’ house after dark, parked on the street, and trudged through the drifts to embrace my distraught mother.

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I stayed at my mother’s for several days and went to see my father in the hospital a few times before returning to Virginia to keep the pipes from freezing (they did freeze once during that period, but fortunately it wasn’t serious). I kept driving back and forth to Maryland every few days as my father’s condition worsened.

He had a galloping form of abdominal cancer, and it was just over three weeks from the day he was diagnosed until the day he died. He seemed resigned to his fate — his own father had died of cancer, and it was what he had always feared. He was a few years younger than I am now, and otherwise in good health. But it was his time.

He was in terrible pain for the last couple of weeks. In those days they didn’t give cancer patients opiates, so all he got was Demerol, which barely even touched the pain of what was eating away at his bowel.

I had been a few days at my mother’s house for the death vigil when the call came in at three o’clock in the morning — doesn’t it always happen at that time? — that my father had died. The following night it snowed again, this time a foot (31 cm) of the stuff. But it warmed up afterwards, and we were able to shovel the cars out and arrange the memorial service a few days later.

That winter was a rough patch for me. I was in my late twenties, so it wasn’t as bad as it would have been in, say, my teens. But, still… I hadn’t expected to lose my daddy so soon, and it was hard.

The following spring, when the weather was warm and beautiful, we carried his ashes up to Yankeeland and interred them in the family plot. As a side effect of that trip, I met Dymphna, and you all know how that turned out. But we’ll leave that for another story in another fundraiser.

There was so much snow that winter that I had no trouble finishing the painting. It turned out fairly well. When I look at now — I never attempted to sell it — a bittersweet aura hangs over it, the memory of a time that had promised to be one thing, but turned into something else.

Many years ago a good friend of mine wrote a song that included this lyric:

Jesus said it came to pass.
He didn’t say it came to stay.

I guess I’ll leave it at that.

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That’s it for our winter fundraiser. We’ll be back in the early spring to do it all over again, except the weather will probably be nicer. A big thank-you goes out to everyone who participated.

Dymphna’s Saturday Update: Nor’easter or Plain Ol’ Blizzard?

Okay, y’all, we’re rounding the curve and headed for the end of this Quarterly Fundraiser.

If you’re reading this and haven’t yet donated, please do so. Think of it as your contribution to the pushback against Ugly and Loathsome Events. We can’t prevent them yet, but we can squish ’em some. But not without your generous help. (You can use this new link.)

As long as our donors continue their largesse, we continue to avoid ads on our pages. All the majors and many of the minors are chock-a-block with scripts and moving ads now. They make my eyes jump, and Ad Block has become of limited help. On my laptop I’ve taken to using a piece of card stock to cover the ones that are distractions.

Save us from this awful fate!

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To paraphrase the Middle English round: Winter is icumen in.

All the birds have fled, but the shortest day of the year isn’t quite here yet. You can sure enough feel its cold breath on your neck, though.

Every year people predict that this here particular winter will be the worst. There are indeed some “worst” ones, but like real estate, it’s all about location, location, location. Some years we get buried repeatedly; other years we never even need our road plowed.

When I lived in North Carolina we called those rare winter storms with a foot of snow and lots of wind a “blizzard”. But when I moved to New England the term “nor’easter” was the usual designation for the white-outs into which only a fool or someone with a life-or-death situation would venture out into with his rear-wheel-drive car. Chains helped a little.

I was a snow newbie back then, so the New England designation intrigued me. In the days before the internet, the reference sections in libraries were a good place to learn. I intuited that the frenzies of snow must have something to do with the Canadian cold weather systems endemic to the area (they made for wonderful New England summers to my southern-parched soul) but it wasn’t until I read about — and remembered again — the Gulf Stream, which hugs the eastern coast and makes its way around the world, that nor’easters finally made sense. They are born of the clash between extremes of weather systems created by those two factors: the cold jet stream pushing down from Canada meets the warm waters of the Gulf Stream hugging the eastern seaboard. It makes you wonder what god the Greeks would have assigned to such titanic clashes.

Having lived through some fearsome winters, the nor’easters seemed to me to be winter hurricanes, but of course, they weren’t, not really. Hurricanes smashed houses, ripped up thousands of trees, and disappeared small towns and barrier islands. They caused the Spanish to abandon the colonization of Western Florida. Hurricanes carry their victims out to sea; nor’easters and blizzards bury them in snow. The frozen stuff is wicked, but hurricanes are evil. The Florida panhandle will be years recovering from Michael’s devastation this year. They’ll probably retire his name. And Sandy wrecked the coast along New York, not to mention the long-term damage from Katrina in 2005. New Orleans is below sea level to begin with, so that whole area is still affected more than a decade later.

The Wikipedia entry provides the simple explanation for us non-meteorologists:

Nor’easters develop in response to the sharp contrast in the warm Gulf Stream ocean current coming up from the tropical Atlantic and the cold air masses coming down from Canada. When the very cold and dry air rushes southward and meets up with the warm Gulf stream current, which is often near 70 °F (21 °C) even in mid-winter, intense low pressure develops.

In the upper atmosphere, the strong winds of the jet stream remove and replace rising air from the Atlantic more rapidly than the Atlantic air is replaced at lower levels; this and the Coriolis force help develop a strong storm. The storm tracks northeast along the East Coast, normally from North Carolina to Long Island, then moves toward the area east of Cape Cod. Counterclockwise winds around the low-pressure system blow the moist air over land. The relatively warm, moist air meets cold air coming southward from Canada. The low increases the surrounding pressure difference, which causes the very different air masses to collide at a faster speed. When the difference in temperature of the air masses is larger, so is the storm’s instability, turbulence, and thus severity.

The nor’easters taking the East Coast track usually indicates the presence of a high-pressure area in the vicinity of Nova Scotia. Sometimes a nor’easter will move slightly inland and bring rain to the cities on the coastal plain (New York City, Philadelphia, Baltimore, etc.) and snow in New England (Boston northward). It can move slightly offshore, bringing a wet snow south of Boston to Richmond, Virginia, or even parts of the Carolinas. Such a storm will rapidly intensify, tracking northward and following the topography of the East Coast, sometimes continuing to grow stronger during its entire existence. A nor’easter usually reaches its peak intensity while off the Canadian coast. The storm then reaches Arctic areas, and can reach intensities equal to that of a weak hurricane. It then meanders throughout the North Atlantic and can last for several weeks.

North America is a huge continent. There is no “safe space” from weather extremes. Generally, in Virginia we get weather from the west, though hurricanes are an exception; they can come up from the Gulf inland (not usually so bad, though Camille was a mortal exception) or more commonly the Atlantic versions that barrel up the coast. Not having lived through the spring and summer tornadoes of the Midwest, I’ve no great desire to experience the real thing. We have an occasional one in the summer here, but they are more likely to be short-lived, narrow micro-bursts rather than the Kansas-sized monsters that ride over the plains. Don’t you wonder how native Indians survived them? It’s not as though they had tornado cellars.

Europe is more fortunate in its climate. Snow and rain, yes, but few disasters. I always thought that might be the case, and the wiki entry above agrees:

In Europe, similar weather systems with such severity are hardly possible; the moisture content of the clouds is usually not high enough to cause flooding or heavy snow, though NE winds can be strong.

So… is Europe a meteorological safe space?? Will our snowflakes move there?

I’d say my interest in weather phenomena was a function of getting older, but the myriad ways the winds blow has always fascinated me. However, it’s much more interesting to read about events rather than live through them. Definitely a spectator sport.

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Lots of donations blew in yesterday. The B keeps careful track of their origins:

Stateside: California, Connecticut, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Illinois, North Carolina, Oregon, Tennessee, and Virginia

Far Abroad: Hungary, New Zealand, and the UK

Canada: Newfoundland, and Ontario

Australia: Australian Capital Territory, Queensland, and Victoria

He’ll be back for the final update tomorrow.

The Baron’s Friday Update: All the Leaves Are Brown

We’ve hit a rough patch in the fundraiser.

This has happened from time to time in the past, and we’ve always weathered them before — things eventually pick up.

It’s like the snow we had on Wednesday (or the snow that’s predicted for Sunday): for a while it’s a real blizzard, and then without warning it all fades out, with just a flake or two drifting by.

The ebb and flow of donations is a stochastic process. It’s not easy to determine what causes the sudden shifts.

Maybe we should call it “Schrödinger’s Tip Jar”…?

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Twelve Inches and Counting

UPDATE: from the weather forecast at 11:00 p.m.

Heavy snow has ended, however, periods of light snow or
freezing drizzle will continue overnight, mixed with sleet at
times. Additional snow accumulations of an inch or two, along
with a light glaze of ice.

Hope our electricity continues…

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Snow on the driveway, December 9, 2018

No, this isn’t an anatomy lesson.

That foot of snow is the level of our current snowstorm – deceptively gentle, almost no wind at all. But it’s a heavy snow and it may snap our connection to civilization, which means we won’t be able to moderate comments. Those lines coming down the mountain are probably sagging by now.

This is one we won’t be digging out of quickly but will have to wait a few days for the warmer air to bring the depth down to plowable levels (our snow man’s plow is dependable up to about six inches).

Tragedies so far: a missing snow cap and a discarded snow broom. How was I to know that raggedy ol’ thing was what the B needed because it didn’t scratch the car?

Grateful, Too, for Sunlight on the Garden

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!

The future Baron is home for the holiday, and we’re going to dig into a feast a little later on in the day. But for moment I’m catching up on some work up here in the Eyrie — there are no real holidays in the Counterjihad.

Having to deal with nasty stuff all day long — and this is increasingly true of most news that comes out of Western Europe — should have made me crabbed and embittered by now. But that hasn’t happened yet: I’m sitting here in a warm, well-lit house, looking out the window at a yard covered with fallen oak leaves. There’s a dogwood by the trunk of the big oak with just a few red leaves still hanging on, lit by watery autumnal sunlight. It all induces an inexplicable sense of calm gratitude.

Thank you, Lord, for putting me here at this time and place to do this unpleasant but necessary work.

Thank you also for the many generous donors whose modest gifts keep Gates of Vienna going. (As a matter of fact, we’re a couple of weeks overdue for our Autumn Fundraiser. It should have happened by now, but circumstances — including my visit to D.C. — intervened to delay it. It will be a LATE Autumn fundraiser by the time it gets going.)

Thank you also for sending us all the tipsters, contributors, and translators who allow us to pack this blog with a cornucopia of useful information. And especially for the translators — they’re all volunteers, and they do a difficult job with cheerful aplomb and astonishing productivity.

And thank you for our readers, who pass our stuff around the Web and leave interesting additional information in our comments section.

During my last trip to D.C. I was once again surprised by the reaction of people I was meeting for the first time. I’d introduce myself and say I was in charge of the Gates of Vienna website, and they’d look surprised, and say, “Wow, so you’re the one who does all that — good to meet you.” That’s a gratifying response.

Thank you, Lord, for giving our work the breadth and reach that it has achieved.

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I’ve posted the following poem before on Thanksgiving, but that was a number of years ago, so here it is again. It was written in the late 1930s; hence its atmosphere of grim foreboding. It seems appropriate for our own time, even though the prodromal period before the 1939 cataclysm was considerably shorter than our own: our clock has been ticking for more than ten years, and we’re still counting down.

This is about gratitude in dire circumstances:

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Sturm Und Drang

The long drought is over!*

We’re having thunder and lightning and wind and heavy rain right now, and you all know what that means: our Internet connectivity could be flushed away without warning at any moment. So if we disappear from view for a while, you’ll know why.

It could also be full of sound and fury, but signifying nothing — you just never know.

*   Residents of the Piedmont and coastal areas in these parts understand the irony in that statement. We haven’t gone more than 36 hours without rain in the past two months. The rivers are swollen and the ground is sodden. We’ve had at least fifteen inches (40 cm) of rain since the beginning of September, which is probably four times the average for the whole month.

I can’t imagine what those folks in coastal South Carolina are going through right now.
 

Gremlin Attack

Late last night, when I was just starting to put together the news feed, our Internet connection was suddenly attacked by gremlins. Or it may have been djinns, or even kobolds — I get all those species of imps confused.

Anyway, our Internet connection mysteriously disappeared. There was no wind, no lightning, no rain, no ice storm — nothing that you would expect to affect the connection. Maybe a skunk sprayed the phone company’s server box. Who knows?

We waited awhile to see if it would come back, and then gave up and went to bed.

That’s why there was no news feed last night. Rather than try to compile it this morning, I decided to collect any material left over from yesterday and put it into one big news feed, which will be posted tonight.

If the gremlins don’t come back.

Stormy Weather

UPDATE: The mighty darkness and storm rolled through, shutting off the lights momentarily. Disconnected our wifi. Left over three inches of rain in a half hour or so. And then moved due east, even as it faded…

Ah, August rains. My flowers thank you, but ask for a morning drench instead. Me, I’m happy for what we got.

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It has gotten quite dark, even Lear-like, outside. The storms are coming down from the direction of our electric company in the next county.

…will we lose our connection? It remains to be seen…

If all goes quiet, it means (the) Gates are closed for the moment. We’re home, but disconnected.

Taking a Breather

Most of you already know that we just wrapped up our summer fundraiser. As promised, here is the final tally of places from which donations came:

Stateside: Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Idaho, Illinois, Kansas, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, North Carolina, North Dakota, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia, West Virginia, and Washington

Far Abroad: Denmark, Estonia, Finland, Germany, Hungary, Indonesia, Ireland, Israel, Luxembourg, The Netherlands, New Zealand, Sweden, Thailand, and the UK

Canada: Alberta, British Columbia, Newfoundland, Ontario, and Saskatchewan

Australia: Australian Capital Territory, New South Wales, Victoria, and Western Australia

The amount was a little thinner than usual, but we’ll definitely have enough to squeeze by for another three months. And the number of gifts was considerably higher than it normally is, with a lot of first-time donors in addition to the usual suspects. There were just lots of modest donations, and those add up. The turnout pleased me, because it means we have a robust, distributed funding base.

Anyway, now I can relax for a few hours, and maybe catch up on my sleep…

Dymphna and I are very grateful to you all for your generosity, both the recidivists and the first-timers.

We’re Not Dead, Just Doing the Backstroke…

Our internet connection failed sometime Saturday night. It was the culmination of a week-long community event, with lashings of rain turning this plateau into a swamp.

All that water eventually moved down toward the river, leaving behind drowned server boxes (or whatever they’re called, those boxes dotting the landscape here and there, some of which can be seen from the road). Whatever genius designed this beta model of internet via phone lines planted those boxes smack dab on the ground, thus ensuring heavy rain would drown them. At least that’s what we suspect.

So we can keep our phone service during heavy rains… but the internet goes down in the deluge.

“How much water?” you ask. About five inches in the course of two days or so. But before that, it had been raining steadily for a week so; by Friday the runoff was impeded by the previous soaking. That box just drowned for a while.

[Due to some other glitch, we were without phone service for five days last week…yes, we’re a captive audience out here, ain’t no competition to improve this system. Satellite internet is too unreliable and expensive. The electric cooperative is working on a version that would come through their wires, but what with lines failing due to snow accumulation or trees falling on them, they go out of service right much during the winter, so probably not.]

We did try to have someone log on here and leave a notice, but our proxy firewall prevented their access. And also prevented the bad guys from using us for target practice while we were outside in our wellies, measuring the rainfall.

Anyway, we’re baaack! The sun is shining as though that grey wet week never happened.

Thanks for your patience, dear readers.

Did I Miss the Fundraiser?

This post was a “sticky” feature that was first published on April 2 and was on top for a week. Scroll down for more recent posts, including the first part of an essay on the AfD by Hans-Peter Raddatz, a fake ID scam at the Nigerian embassy in Rome, Viktor Orbán’s election victory in Hungary, a thwarted terror attack in Berlin, a Russian report on Malmö, and Algerians busted for gang-rape in Prague.

Spring Fundraiser 2018, Day Seven

Update from the Baron: Gratitude

This is the final update for this week-long fundraiser. Tomorrow morning I’ll take this post off “sticky”, and it will gradually scroll down the page and into the archives of oblivion.

Tip jarAt the end of this quarterly bleg, I feel a profound sense of gratitude. Gratitude that it’s over at last — Fundraising Week is a grueling, sleep-deprived time — but more than that, I’m profoundly grateful that so many readers have shown up to indicate their generosity by hitting the tip cup on our sidebar.

[If you haven’t yet made that cup clink yet, there’s still time! It’s just to the left of me here; you can’t miss it.]

Our theme this week has been Virtue, and since last Monday we have discussed various virtues, in our own idiosyncratic meandering fashion.

Gratitude is a virtue, to my mind. Or more fully: maintaining a sense of gratitude as one’s basic approach to this veil of tears we were born into. Remembering that every moment is a gift from the Lord, in all its glory and fullness.

It’s difficult to maintain a sense of gratitude on a routine, quotidian basis. I know I struggled with it for decades, but mostly failed. What changed my attitude fully and finally, however, was the onset of wet macular degeneration in my left eye, which happened just over five years ago.

Those first few weeks were horrible. I had to fashion a makeshift patch to put over the left lens of my glasses, to keep the ugly, animated blob in the middle of my vision from interfering with my work and my daily routine. Reading anything, but especially the printed page, became a nightmare if my left eye remained uncovered.

It’s my habit to make coffee using our espresso machine when I first wake up in the morning. Normally I’m by myself when I do it, which is good, because I love mornings, and being able to enjoy the quiet smell of coffee and the light through the kitchen window gets my day off to a good start.

During that grim time in March and April of 2013, I noticed that my eye wasn’t bothering me much during the coffee-making ritual. I didn’t wear the patch then, because I didn’t have to read anything. And I could just kind of drink in the colors of things, and the reflections from the window, and the pleasure of executing the small tasks involved with making coffee happen.

And I was content.

A calm settled over me, and I was grateful for what I had, what was in front of me. Not angry that my field of vision would go SPROING! whenever I turned to look at something complex or patterned. Not resentful that ill-fortune had sabotaged my eyes.

Just glad that I could still see the early green of spring peeping through the window, and watch the reflections dance on the water in the pitcher in front of me.

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The Planet of the Skunks

Peace reigns once more at Schloss Bodissey. But it sure took a pile o’ money to secure the borders and enforce The Peace.

Our readers may remember that our crawl space was breached by various wild critters. It could have been worse — at least our invaders were small. They also simply holed up for a bit, rather than hibernated.

We posted about all this foofaraw last November, as you may recall. That was when we became aware of the extent and seriousness of our skunk problem.

This mess began earlier than we knew: a woodchuck (a.k.a. groundhog, and known in the local dialect as a “whistle pig”) dug the hole under the footer, running from under the side porch into the crawl space. Had a skunk not come in through the hole made by the woodchuck, we might have gone on for quite a while without knowing about that hole underneath the foundation. But once the skunk joined the party and started feeling a little anxious, the upper part of the house began to fill with noxious fumes.

The B was upstairs in his office when the odor hit, while I was directly above the skunk spray. Suddenly awakened from a sound sleep, my first incoherent thought was that there was a fire in the kitchen, that somehow rotten garlic bulbs, dirty gym socks, and coffee grounds were blazing away on the gas range. But the kitchen was quiet and empty. Evidently the smell had yet to make its way to the stairs leading to the B’s study, so I did what I customarily do in such situations: I went to the bottom of his stairs and yelled “Nnneeeddd!”, which always sends him hurtling down the steps. At that moment he could smell it he identified it: skunks in the crawl space.

Our question at that point was whether the skunk’s residence was temporary, or whether this was momma skunk who had a den of babies to care for under our house. The second question was how to make sure she left and didn’t return.

So began our saga of animal-proofing our underneath. We called an exterminator, but found out he only did post-damage clean-up; the fellows who could capture whatever was under there had to be registered. Wouldn’t you know it: another government regulation! But he referred us to the man who came out to make sure he captured any stray wildlife under our house. If it was a momma, he had a trap. And if there were babies, he’d be going in to get them. He and his mean came and set up the trap, showing the Baron how to check it, and also came by every morning to check the trap themselves.

The skunk must have lit out for Dodge that first night, because the only critter he caught was a feral cat, one so hungry it ate the whole peanut butter sandwich in the trap — three or four nights in a row. The final trap — a “cage trap” — caught the poor creature. That morning the man opened the trap door and the feline made a beeline for our woods.

Thus concluded the job of the skunk-trappers. Enter the Crawl Space Wizard.

The contractor we had called first returned to the scene of the crime. He and his crew inspected the area underneath the house and declared it empty, though they said the woodchuck hole had been there under the steps for a good while, since there was much evident damage to insulation and our HVAC ductwork. The latter had been torn in various places. Plus a lot of urine and feces — but the less said about that, the better.

The contractor, who specializes in sealing crawl spaces, suggested that we opt for a full encapsulation. That meant:

1.   Cleaning out the old plastic liners and removing roots and various detritus before leveling the ground surface.
2.   Removing the insulation, both the skunk-compromised parts and the undamaged parts.
3.   Cleaning the mold that had formed on the wood above the insulation.
4.   Treating the joists and the floor to prevent new mold from forming.
5.   Replacing the damaged ductwork.
6.   Repairing and improving the shoddy, makeshift parts of the cinderblock walls that enclose the old part of the house.
7.   Lining all of the walls with thick foam insulating panels, with no gaps.
8.   Sealing the floor and the support pillars with two-mil vinyl sheets, and burying animal-proof wire baffles underground along the walls.
9.   Installing lighting, new crawl space doors, and a new dehumidifier.
 

We signed the contract. Work got underway in mid-January. During the worst weather of the year, which delayed everything.

Then, when they got to the front part of the house, they discovered that the part that had been jacked up 25 years ago needed to be jacked up again — the old cinderblocks had settled into the dirt, and in some places they no longer made contact with the joist they ostensibly supported. So we had to agree to an amendment, which meant additional expense.

However, as you can see from the photos below, the final result (completed in late February) sure was worth it:

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An Equinoctial Blizzard

Well, it’s not really a blizzard. But still…

Spring arrived last night, but you wouldn’t have known it by looking out the window this morning here at Schloss Bodissey. We’ve had snow-covered daffodils quite a few times in the past, but not usually so much, nor so late in the season.

It was quite warm at ground level as the snow came down, but the temperature up there in the empyrean was frigid, so the snow was actually dry until it hit the ground. Nevertheless, by lunchtime it was melting rapidly. As I write this it’s still snowing fitfully, but melting faster than it accumulates.

From what I read in the news, people to the north and west of us got it much worse. I read one prediction saying that Garrett County, Maryland might get as much as two feet (60 cm) of the stuff. Ugh!

Bad Moon a-Risin’

Looks like we’re in for nasty weather.

There’s a nor’-easter coming up the coast right now. We’re not in the crosshairs for the snow and heavy rain — Boston and New York will get those — but we are supposed to get strong winds tonight and tomorrow, with gusts as high as 50-60 mph (60-95 kmh). I can hear the howling starting outside the window even now.

The weather alert is warning about widespread power outages, so if we disappear from view for a while tomorrow, you’ll know why.

Blow, winds, and crack your cheeks!

Saint Valentine’s Day

My first blog, The Neighborhood of God, has been defunct for some years now. Occasionally, however, I go back to it to reclaim an essay. This one, on the history of Saint Valentine’s Day, was written in 2006.

If you visit the original, you can see the Baron’s card to me that year. [This year he gave me a Burma Shave card he drew up in his office where mere mortals do not tread.]

During the latter part of the third century A.D., Claudius was Emperor of Rome — Claudius II, that is. In what has to be one of the dumbest edicts ever devised, Claudius decided to outlaw marriage, thinking it would be more efficient to raise troops if he didn’t have to tear them away from their families.

On paper, this decree must have looked good to Claudius, and it’s doubtful anyone was willing to tell him how sand-poundingly stupid his idea really was. After all, what happens when you outlaw normal human behavior? Of course: normal human beings sneak around the corner and do it anyway.

Thus, young couples started showing up at the Bishop’s house — this was in Interamna, now Terni, Italy— asking to be married. The news quickly spread and Valentinus was called before Claudius to explain himself. At the time, Christians were not considered persona grata, so Claudius wanted to deal: if Valentinus would renounce his faith and his bishopric and stop this marriage business he could escape unharmed. Needless to say, Valentinus wasn’t having any.

Claudius ordered the Bishop to be martyred in three stages. I will spare you the details. While awaiting execution, it is said that he fell in love with his jailer’s daughter and that his love cured her blindness.

There are at least two martyrs named Valentinus, so parts of the legend probably have some fact. One of them is buried on the road to Rome, and one of the smaller gates leading into the city was called for many centuries St. Valentine’s Gate. It has some other name now.

Eventually — about 200 hundred years later, a brief period in ecclesial time — Valentinus was canonized. He was made the patron saint of lovers, of epileptics (he perhaps suffered this disorder), and a regular grab bag of other ailments or past times. He is, for example, the patron saint of beekeepers — no doubt because of pressure from the beekeeper’s lobby.

Saint Valentine is not only the patron of lovers; originally he was appealed to as the savior of troubled love. The old people swore he could save marriages. Hmmm…

Maybe when it ceased being Saint Valentine’s Day and just became candy and flowers…maybe then, the divorce rate began to rise?

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Bracket Creep Fundraising

Early Winter Fundraiser 2017, Day Six

Today is the final day of our quarterly fundraising week. For those who have been tardy about clinking the tip cup, there are still 24 hours left! After that, your carriage will turn into a pumpkin drawn by voles.

On my good days — which come and go — cooking and gardening are my favorite activities. With December coming in, my time outside is more limited, though I’m still planting spring bulbs. The skunks don’t eat bulbs, thank Heavens, but the voles sure do. So one of the things I do is bury each one with bone meal (for the bulb) and a healthy dose of cayenne powder in the hole to discourage the voles. Doesn’t hurt the bulb, but it sure does cause the voles some pain. Liberal sprinklings of powdered coyote urine also make them feel unwelcome.

As for cooking, it is the one thing I can do with almost no effort. I’ve been the supper cook in my house since I was ten years old: my mother worked, so I cooked. It was a matter of self-defense, because otherwise she’d come home and fix poached eggs. It wasn’t long before I was doing the weekly shopping. It was a long, hot haul from the grocery store to home.

The B claims I can take a pickle and a glass of water and make a meal for six. Okay, that’s hyperbole, but it’s also the reason why I chose this cartoon: I like to celebrate unlikely food. In this episode, Fat Freddy’s Cat knows darn well his Furry Friends don’t like mouses — he’s releasing them for his own future dining entertainment.

[Remember the late B. Kliban’s cats? My favorite was the one who did the BB King imitation, here. After reading the legalese on that site, it seems one daren’t quote it directly, but that’s still one of my favorite little ditties on cats’ favorite food. It must be the juxtaposition of the lyrics with that BB King-esque blues guitar.]

Tip jarThese quarterly fundraisers are much on my mind when I make my grocery list. How well we do in a given quarter decides the menus for the coming three months. But I’m used to that: being married to a starving artist taught me to make do. In fact, one of our first arguments was in a grocery store: living on very little (I was job-hunting then) meant watching every penny. So we came to the crucial moment of deciding whether to classify parmesan cheese as a necessity or a luxury. The Baron thought it was something we could live without, while I made the case for: “What is the point of living without parmesan for flavor?” Neither of us can remember who won that ‘discussion’. Probably moi — the B is ever a pushover for women’s wantings. Smart man.

I love the things Americans often consider the nasty bits — you know… those tasty entrails. For years I didn’t cook tongue or kidneys or sweetbreads because family members would flee. Now I cook ’em when I can get em’ while still maintaining a standard diet for the Baron and assorted relatives/friends. I love braunschweiger, and I know the difference between it and liverwurst; no one else will eat either one. Oh, well — more for me. Chicken foot broth, anyone? Actually, I prefer to combine the feet with the stripped carcass of the chicken; it makes for a more deeply-flavored broth. I’ve never had prairie oysters, but I’ll bet they make good eating, too.

It was too cold today to work outside so I stayed by the stove, making oxtail soup and pondering this post, this fundraiser… Pondering is a by-product of food preparation in my experience. When the broth was done, I removed the bone and gristle, skimmed the fat for other uses, and made a beef vegetable soup, roasting the vegetables first.

As long as I remove the bones and gristle, the Baron likes it just fine. I saved half the broth to make sweet and sour cabbage later this week. That’s one dish the B really likes, and it’s always better the next day. Once a guest of ours said, with tears in his eyes, that the sweet and sour cabbage I’d served for supper was as good as his Bubbe’s. I was touched by his declaration but made him promise never to tell her that; what grandmother could forgive such a betrayal?

Of late, the flavors of Indian foods don’t appeal as they once did. I’m returning to the comfort food of my childhood, which means that oxymoron, Irish cuisine — or what passed for middle-class food in Ireland when my mother was growing up. Back then, “Irish food” was cabbage, ham, lamb stew, beef brisket. Or shepherd’s pie [these days, I cut the starch by blending mashed potatoes with pureed cauliflower]. We seldom had roasts; they were too expensive. But my mother could wax eloquent on the size of the roast in her childhood. Or her mother’s recipe for trifle.

One time her youngest brother, my Irish immigrant uncle who lived with us for a while when he first came to America (my mother was his sponsor), brought home a steak and asked me to prepare it. I cooked it the same way I did every other piece of beef: braised in a thickened broth. In other words, a flatter version of stew. Ummm…it wasn’t a culinary hit; I’d committed the sin of “ruining a nice bit of beef”. To his credit, my uncle ate it anyway and the next day he came home with another steak and showed me how to prepare it properly. My first taste of rare beef! Who knew such a bloody thing could be so good?

Though she was an indifferent cook, my mother took to American foods with gusto. We could (and did) get buckets of fresh shrimp for ten cents a pound. And she loved collard greens with fatback. Grits with eggs and bacon on Sunday mornings. The point of ketchup was lost on her, though. Since it was decidedly American she’d buy a bottle…and after a year or so in the Florida heat it would gum up and turn dark so we’d throw it away and she’d buy a fresh bottle. To this day I’ve never figured it out either; I only use ketchup to make the red seafood sauce the Baron likes. The commercial kind has way too much sugar and high fructose corn syrup.

It must be hard for families today to maintain supper routines. Often both parents work, the kids have sports activities, everyone is connected to a device of some kind. I hope (and literally pray) that children are learning the loving routines involved in breaking bread together every day. Those habits are the mortar that will cement their lives as they grow up and look back fondly at the family of their young years.

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Saturday’s generosity came in from:

Stateside: Alaska, California, Colorado, Georgia, New Hampshire, New Jersey, Tennessee, and Texas

Near Abroad: Dominican Republic

Far Abroad: The Netherlands, New Zealand, Sweden, Thailand, and the UK

Canada: Ontario

Australia: New South Wales

The Baron will post a wrap-up of the week (featuring a full list of the places donors came from) sometime tomorrow.

Saturday’s update from the Baron:

Continuing with the Furry Freak Brothers theme, the image at the top is the famous poster of Freewheelin’ Franklin with his big fat doobie.

In my senior year in college there was a guy in our dorm who was a dead ringer for Franklin, right down to the hair and hat. But his schnozz wasn’t quite as big as the Freaker’s.

Those were the days. Sigh…

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After long acquaintance with the New Testament, especially the Gospels, it becomes clear that some of the parables that Jesus told must have been quite humorous to an audience immersed in the language and context of first-century Judea. For example, consider the Parable of the Unjust Judge, as told in Luke 18:2-8 (New International Version):

“In a certain town there was a judge who neither feared God nor cared what people thought. And there was a widow in that town who kept coming to him with the plea, ‘Grant me justice against my adversary.’

“For some time he refused. But finally he said to himself, ‘Even though I don’t fear God or care what people think, yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will see that she gets justice, so that she won’t eventually come and attack me!’”

And the Lord said, “Listen to what the unjust judge says. And will not God bring about justice for his chosen ones, who cry out to him day and night? Will he keep putting them off? I tell you, he will see that they get justice, and quickly. However, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth?”

The widow and the judge were probably both recognizable character types in the context of the time. Widows had very limited rights under Jewish law in those days; that’s why the judge didn’t have to rule in her favor. So she would have been portrayed as pushy and loud-mouthed, and the judge was probably vain, pompous, and haughty.

Who knows what facial expressions and hand gestures Jesus used to mime this story? Did he put on the voices of each character in turn?

It was probably quite a hoot for those who heard it; that’s one of the reasons it was remembered and passed down. But it had to migrate from the original Aramaic into spoken and then written Greek, losing its original flavor in the process. And we English-speakers get yet another translation.

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