Christmas Gift

Although I truly believe that giving at anytime is a good thing, I guess there are certain occasions that are more “giving oriented” than others. Birthdays, Valentines day, anniversaries, graduations, weddings, etc. This time of year the occasion, of course, is Christmas. I have to admit my gift giving load is very light compared to other folks – I only have one person to consider – my wife, Regina. Even though that may seem like a light load, believe me, it is a daunting responsibility.

I will apologize in advance for tooting my own horn, but this year my gift to Regina was sort of awesome. (Yes, she has already received it).

But first, some background.

For several years, Regina has been interested in doing tapestry weaving. She has taken classes from several different artists, both in their studio and on-line, and has done some very nice work. This past year, she applied to the American Tapestry Alliance to be accepted into their mentoring program. Not only was she accepted, but she was assigned to a mentor for whom she had already developed a deep admiration.

As she worked with this mentor, it became more and more apparent she would benefit from using a different type of loom for her work – a vertical rather than horizontal oriented loom. She searched and found the type of loom she wanted, only to discover they are no longer being built. Even the web-site that supposedly had some for sale, became a virtual dead-end.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch, I had contacted her mentor to request assistance in determining some gift I could give her that would make her tapestry work easier or more productive.

Then came the e-mail from her mentor, who asked, “Would you be interested in building a vertical loom for Regina? My partner Don has built several, and has the original plans for the exact loom in which she is interested.” WOULD I? YES! YES! YES!

Actually the original plans were in Canada, where they had been living, but they were in Mexico at the time. No problem. Don would send me drawings and measurements and instructions.

Scan                                Scan 1

As you may know, I am a woodturner and am not real comfortable with “flat work”, but have some equipment in my shop that can be used for that type of woodwork.  A wonderful by-product of this project was the necessary purchase of two additional power tools for my shop – a planer and a belt sander.

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So, I went to the hardwood lumber yard to purchase some hard maple. This stuff is really hard, but necessarily so for such a project.

I love this place. Tons of wood.

I love this place. Tons of wood.

I planed, cut, sanded, finished and assembled according to Don’s drawings and instructions. Some of the steps were easy, some were a real challenge, but I love a good challenge. There were a bunch of questions and answers e-mailed back and forth. Some steps I had to work out at three o’clock in the morning as I lay awake in bed, but what the heck, it had to get done.

Parts being dried after oil finish

Parts being dried after oil finish

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The result. A vertical floor loom for tapestry weaving. Thanks Don and Elaine. Merry Christmas, Regina.

Loom being set up for warping

Loom being set up for warping

 

 

 

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Columbus Day – The Ultimate Insult

When I was a kid in elementary school, I was required to memorize a poem about Christopher Columbus. I’m sure a lot of you learned the same poem. In case you have forgotten, it starts like this:

In fourteen hundred ninety-two
Columbus sailed the ocean blue.

He had three ships and left from Spain;
He sailed through sunshine, wind, and rain.

The poem goes on to describe the hardships and triumphs of the voyage, and ends with a couplet I had forgotten:

The first American? No, not quite.
But Columbus was brave, and he was bright.

Seriously?

For years I believed that Christopher Columbus discovered America. The truth, however, is that Columbus never even set foot on the North American continent. He actually landed first in the Bahamas, and on subsequent journeys landed on various other islands of the Caribbean, and finally landed on the South American Continent.

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There is proof that the first European to come to the North American Continent was a Viking named Leif Erikson. It is believed that he landed on the continent 500 years before Columbus missed it. By the way, did you know that there is actually a Leif Erikson day that is proclaimed by the President each year on October 9?  Me neither.

My dictionary defines discover as 1: to make known or visible 2: to obtain sight or knowledge of for the first time. Since Lief was here earlier, millions of indigenous people had already been here for more than 10,000 years, and Christopher Columbus was never here, it is probably not accurate to say Christopher Columbus “discovered” America.

What is accurate to say, is that Christopher Columbus introduced slave trade between the New World and Europe, killed thousands of indigenous people, and allowed his men to rape and plunder freely. And for that, we honor him each year with a federal holiday, and teach our children about an event that never happened.

killing

The federal holiday in question was established by President Franklin Roosevelt in 1934, after intense lobbying of the Knights of Columbus, a Catholic fraternal organization, and New York City Italian leader Generoso Pope. Anyone else see the connection here? I’ll give you a hint – Columbus was an Italian Catholic. Yes, he was working for the Spanish King and Queen, but he was born Italian.

So, on Monday, October 12, 2015 the Federal Government will be closed, banks will be closed, no mail will be delivered, many schools will be closed and there will be hundreds of Columbus Day Sales, so that we can pay tribute to this false hero.

What is wrong with us?

 

 

 

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Being Inside the Music

Music is a very important part of my life. I like to think of myself as a musician. Not necessarily an outstanding musician, but a musician nevertheless. My earliest memory of music in my life is being a member of the “largest booster band in the country.” That designation was the invention of the director of said group, Aunt What-Ever-Her-Name-Was.

For those of you who are unfamiliar with the term “Booster Band,” allow me to enlighten you. This band consisted of a group of kids ages 4 to 6, who played various musical instruments (mostly percussive) and sang cute little songs about God and Jesus. The band I was a member of was formed and nurtured in the First Baptist Church in Garrison, Texas, of which my father was Pastor.

Next on my musical journey was a music class in elementary school, where I learned to play the tonette, a small plastic version of a recorder. The natural progression from there was clarinet, and eventually bass clarinet, played in junior high and high school. From there came college, singing in the choir, and eventually becoming a high school choir director.

I have performed in several musical comedies, and have sung professionally, but never achieved real professional status as a singer. And now I am learning to play the banjo. My musical tastes are totally eclectic – from Gregorian Chant to Mozart to Bluegrass. I love them all.

When I drive in my truck, my music is always playing. When I am working in my shop, I have ear plugs connected to my i-pod. I cannot imagine my life without music. Some may say I play my music too loudly, but that’s how I like it. I like to become a part of the music. I want the music to engulf me. As Plato said, “Music and rhythm find their way into the secret places of the soul.”

But enough about me. The thing that thrills me most about music is watching performers become a part of the music they are playing or singing. Itzhak Perlman, Yo-Yo Ma, Barbara Streisand, Roy Clark, Andrea Bocelli are a few of those performers who live inside the music.

Last weekend, I was fortunate enough to be able to participate in a Banjo Camp in Dahlonega, Georgia. Regina gave this opportunity to me for my birthday. (Yes, I am very blessed). The organizer of the camp, Geoff Howald, lives in Atlanta, but owns a small cabin outside of Dahlonega, in the foothills of the Appalachians. As you might imagine, the setting was beautiful, and the weather was even better.

There were five students and three instructors.  At the end of each evening jam session, the instructors would treat us with an impromptu concert. Each of the instructors could play multiple instruments, including guitar, banjo, mandolin, fiddle, bass, and dobro, which they have been playing for 40+ years.

As I sat in awe the last night, it dawned on me that as these musicians played, they were no longer in this realm. They had transcended into the music itself. As their fingers moved at unbelievable speed on the strings, they were totally unaware of the surroundings of reality. They were literally inside the music. It was a moving experience.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Poems & Prayers & Promises

As is my habit, I was listening to music from my i-pod this morning while I was doing my weekly yard work of mowing, edging and trimming. I had selected a group of songs by John Denver (his birth name was Henry John Deutschendorf, Jr.).  I can remember seeing him in concert during the 70’s when he was at his peak as a performer. I liked his music then, and I still do.

Incidentally, I just discovered during my research that he attended Texas Tech at the same time I was there. He was just a year younger than I. Of course, I didn’t know him. He was in the engineering department, and I don’t even know where that was. Nor was he anywhere close to being famous in 1962.

Anyway, where was I? Oh yeah, I was listening to songs such as “Grandma’s Feather Bed” which is a nostalgic song about visiting relatives and sleeping in the giant feather bed that used the down from “forty-‘leven geese” and a “whole bolt of cloth for to tick.”

Then there was “Rocky Mountain High” which was inspired by the Perseid meteor shower, as observed from his home in Aspen, Colorado. (When he changed his name, he actually borrowed the name of the Colorado city by the same name.)

But the song that rang my blog post bell was “Poems, Prayers, and Promises” written in 1971. The lyrics talk about reflection on life past, present, and future. The chorus talks about sitting around the fire at the end of the day with his wife and some friends, where they “talk of poems and prayers and promises and things that we believe in. How sweet it is to love someone, how right it is to care. How long it’s been since yesterday, and what about tomorrow. And what about our dreams and all the memories we share.”

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We don’t do that very often, do we? We text and tweet and e-mail, using half words and symbols instead of real words. No wonder we have spelling problems. Most kids, and some adults, don’t know the difference between your and you’re, because they use “ur” for both. We may even Skype, but sitting down with a friend or family member just to talk about stuff, seems to be a thing of the past. I’m not sure the younger generation has ever experienced the joy of real, face-to-face communication.

We have lost the skill of listening, because electronic communication doesn’t require any listening, and without listening, there is no communication. One of my favorite quotes about communication comes from George Bernard Shaw. He said, “The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place.”

Have you gone into a store lately where a young person is behind the counter, requested a certain list of items, only to have it repeated back to you totally wrong? Frustrating, isn’t it? They don’t know how to listen.

Luckily for me, Regina and I do have actual conversations. I obviously need to work harder on my listening skills, but practice is important. Road trips are especially fun for us, not only because we get to have a Starbucks along the way, but also because we spend a lot of time talking about stuff. If you haven’t tried it lately, I highly recommend it.

 

 

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Save The Animals

There have been many words spoken and written regarding the killing of a “famous” lion in Africa. Even though I am opposed to the senseless killing of animals for trophy or for sport, this will not be the emphasis of this post. There has been quite enough said. I would like, rather for you to take a step beyond this senseless killing, and look at the responsibility we have for the quality of lives for all animals, especially those we have domesticated and personally chosen to “own.”

deer                                  lion

Please bear with me as I “toot our horn.” Regina and I do not claim to be the best animal owners in the world, but we do strive to provide a safe and comfortable environment for those animals for whom we have accepted responsibility.

POLLY
We chose Polly from a rescue organization at a home show in Dallas. She had been abandoned in an apartment in the middle of the summer, with no food or water. She turned out to be crazy as a loon, but lovable as any dog we have ever owned. As her health began to fail in later life, Regina would take her to Starbucks for a frappuccino. Polly would devour her small portion with great enthusiasm. It was just the right thing to do.

Scan 15

ISIS
This cat developed multiple health problems. At one point she had to have dental work done, which resulted in a broken jaw. While her jaw was wired together, she had to be fed with a syringe for many weeks. Because of the toll on her system, she also had to be given sub-q fluids three times every day. She survived for several years after that.

Isis

Valentine
This was my horse when we went to shows. She was one of the sweetest horses we have ever owned. She and I spent a lot of time together. She foundered one spring and never recovered. She had to be sequestered, and given injections twice a day. It didn’t work. Finally, and much too late, we had to put her down. I wept like a baby over her body. To this day I regret that I waited so long to make the decision. She suffered too long. Lesson learned.

Valentine

SAM
This beautiful German Shepherd showed up at our place, along with a funny little mut we named Buddy. Unfortunately, Sam came with heart worms. That meant he had to be treated in order to kill the worms, and then had to be kept in a cage and walked on a leash outside for many weeks. The danger of heart worms, after they have been killed, is that they must be absorbed into the blood stream so they will not enter the lungs and suffocate the dog. Any strenuous exercise could kill him instantly. I hated keeping him from being the dog he was, but his life was in our hands. We didn’t choose him, he chose us.

Scan 5

ZELDA
Zelda is a chicken. Yes, I said chicken. All of our chickens have names chosen from an inexhaustible list of queens. Collectively, they are referred to as the Gypsy Queens. Zelda is one of our original three chickens. Originally these ladies lived in a pre-fab storage house, that eventually had a covered yard and a larger uncovered yard. When our chicken population grew, we found it necessary to convert a green house into a chicken house, and provide a larger, covered yard.

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Zelda has recently developed a problem with her vision, and has become a victim to the other, more aggressive chickens. Yes, there is truth in the term “pecking order,”  and you don’t want to be at the bottom of that order. So, the old chicken house needed to be repaired in order to house Zelda and a friend of hers, Natasha. The refurbished house is now called the Gypsy Queen Retirement Home. The repairs entailed adding new chicken wire in certain areas, building a ramp to facilitate moving from yard to house, and cutting the legs off the old roost for easier access. You just do what you need to do.

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I could go on and on with stories of necessary efforts on our part to provide an adequate quality of life for those animals for whom we have taken responsibility. With almost 40 domesticated animals in our care, not to mention the wild geese and ducks that are fed daily, we are well aware of the enormity of our responsibility. In most instances, when a condition presents itself, Regina first turns to herbal and homeopathic treatments. Sometimes the problem is more than those treatments can handle, so we progress to veterinarian remedies. But we usually stop short of what we call “heroic treatments.”

Our responsibility not only involves the provision of care, but also the decision of when to end a life of suffering. That is never an easy decision. In most cases, the animal will let us know when it is time. In the end, we just try to do what is right. Senseless killing is not even in our vocabulary. Please join us in saving the animals.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Selfless Acts

The impetus for this post came from a quote by a character in “The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel.”  If you have not watched this movie and its prequel, “The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel,” I would highly recommend both for your enjoyment. They are about beginnings and endings, changes and starting over, but most of all, they are about not giving up.

Not only are they delightful movies, but they also star two of my favorite actresses, Judi Dench and Maggie Smith. The only thing that could make them better would be the inclusion of Helen Mirren. Regina would probably say the inclusion of Richard Geer in this sequel was enough for her.

Hotel

The quote came toward the end of the movie, and was a line from an investor, played by David Strathirn. He had come to “check on his investment.” He said to Maggie Smith’s character, “There’s nothing I respect more than someone planting trees under whose shade they may never sit.”  Now, that is some powerful stuff!

As I reflect on all that is wrong in our world, I often fail to acknowledge all the things that are right. There are people in our world who are giving and sharing on a daily basis. The problem comes from the fact that the media doesn’t usually feature those acts of kindness. Strife, conflict, hate, and pain are a much better “sell.” It is also a fact that, if those acts are done in a selfless fashion, they just don’t show up on the radar.

A good example of this sort of selfless act is the mentoring program within the American Tapestry Alliance, a totally volunteer organization. Regina just got paired-up with a mentor from that organization. This lady is a professional tapestry weaver who teaches workshops and sells commissioned artwork to private collectors. She is willing to mentor Regina for six to twelve months for no fee. Additionally, her work is a perfect match for Regina’s focus at this time.

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The Emeritus College program, in which I participate through The University of North Texas, is another good example. Through this program, knowledgeable persons share their expertise and experience with members of the organization. The lecturers are not paid for their participation. Sharing is its own reward.

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These are two fairly large examples, but there are countless others of which all of us are aware. Many of us perform these selfless acts frequently, if not daily, and we never really know what impact they have at the time, or may have in the future. We should all endeavor to find those opportunities as often as possible, and act on them without any thought of reward, other than knowing we may have planted a tree that someday will provide shade and comfort.

 

 

 

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Prejudice & Bigotry

My Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines prejudice as: n. 1. : DAMAGE; esp : detriment to one’s rights or claims : an opinion made without adequate basis. The definition of bigot is just as hard to swallow : : one intolerantly devoted to his or her own prejudices or opinions syn fanatic, enthusiast, zealot. Let those thoughts and images roll around in your mind for a moment.

I have held my tongue long enough. I wanted to put some time between this post and some of the events that have occurred recently. I speak of the shooting of humans in a church in North Carolina, of course, but I also speak of the outcry following the Supreme Court decision regarding same sex marriage. But these are not the only concerns I have. The examples of prejudice and bigotry are far too numerous to enumerate in one blog post.

Allow me to set the record straight from the start.
1. I am opposed to prejudice and bigotry, and the actions they spawn.
2. I believe that prejudice is not a natural, but a learned behavior. People are taught prejudice.
3. I acknowledge the fact that I have my own prejudices, but I try not to be a bigot.

I will not try to identify all the teachers of prejudice. You know who they are, and they know who they are. The problem with bigots is they don’t see themselves as the problem. Prejudice is taught through organized religions, political agendas, cultural mores, community standards, parental attitudes, the media, and school curricula, but we all have the right to choose whether or not to accept the lessons being taught.

My simplified understanding of prejudice, and resulting bigotry, is that it starts with lack of understanding. What we don’t understand, we fear. What we fear, we hate. What we hate, must be eliminated. Prejudice makes us feel powerful, and superior to other people. It gives us a sense of control.

When prejudice causes a person to injure or kill another person, it is easy to say he or she was suffering from mental illness. Of course they were! However, that does not excuse their actions. They must be held accountable for the decisions they made.

One elected official made a statement following the Supreme Court decision indicating his belief that this was the “Darkest day in the history of the United States.” Wow! I thought the assassinations of presidents was right up there at the top of the list. Or how about the Civil War, where brother fought against brother? Maybe the events we refer to as 9 11 should be considered above the courts decision that gay people have the right to be married. In my opinion, there have been many events that are darker. Bigotry tends to take us to extremes.

I could go on and on, but you probably get my point. We should make sure that our own lives are filled with love, acceptance, compassion, and integrity before we start judging other people. As stated earlier in this post, I have my own prejudices, and one of my biggest ones is stupidity. As comedian Ron White says, “You just can’t fix stupid.” Amen!

 

 

 

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