Happy New Year!

BBC Symphony, Chorus & Singers

Sacred Music Friday: Hallelujah

King’s College Choir, Cambridge performing Hallelujah from Handel’s Messiah

returning of the light

Both Tahoe Mom and I have been known to reflect on how it is no coincidence that Christmas comes four days after the Winter Solstice, the shortest day of the year. We celebrate the coming of the Light just as the light is starting to return. I love that image, and it is a central part of my observance of Christmas every year.

This year that spiritual dimension is coupled with a very practical dimension. Since we had our solar energy system installed we rely on the light of the sun to help us reduce our dependence on the power company for electricity, and, I hope, make our small contribution to the environment. I am happy, therefore, to report that on the Solstice, which was also in large part a wet, rainy day, we produced a respectable amount of energy. We can now expect to see increased energy production as the days get longer. That’s not to say that our smallest energy production would be on the Solstice. Sunday was so dark, wet, and rainy that we actually generated far more power on the Solstice. But on whole, we look forward to increased production.

Form a spiritual perspective and from a practical perspective, those are both good things.


My friend Tahoe Mom wrote in her blog about a friend of hers who quoted this statement on Facebook: “I would rather have a mind opened by wonder than one closed by belief.” He actually went on from there, and Tahoe Mom took her blog entry in a different direction, but I focused in on those words.

The season of Christmas is, after all, one, among other things, of wonder. In addition to that, the statement made me think of Loren Eisley. Remember Loren Eisley and his books on the wonder of nature? I read most of them. Strangely, I don’t have a single Eisley book today. I think I read most of his books while on break when I was working at B. Dalton Bookseller in the 1970’s and 80’s. But I always loved his willingness to have a sense of awe and wonder in his experience of nature.

I miss that style of writing, which also makes me think of Annie Dillard’s early (first?) book Pilgrim at Tinker Creek.

Any recommendations for contemporary authors in that genre?

Joy to the World

Merry Christmas!

Merry Christmas!


Secular Music Friday: Neil Diamond – Happy Christmas (War Is Over)

A marvelous Neil Diamond rendition of the John Lennon classic. And as unrealistic as it might sound, we can hope and pray for the end of war.

And believe it or not, as daring as it may seem
It is not an empty dream, to walk in a powerful path
Neither the first not the last great peace march
Holly Near

And Happy Solstice for those who so celebrate. Though the song is about Christmas, it somehow seems appropriate for the Solstice as well.

quality (and when it’s not there)

I’ve been a die-hard fan of In-n-Out Burger since my college days. I ate there when I was able on my lean budget of that era. I missed it during my sojourn to Texas and Oklahoma, as I did in my days when I first came to Northern California. I took the opportunity to go there whenever I was in Southern California. When Terry and I were commuting, In-n-Out was usually a part of our weekend on my trips down there, frequently right after we got out of the airport.

When Terry moved up here and we were living in Mountain View, there was an In-n-Out built down here in Gilroy. We would make the 50 minute drive from Mountain View to Gilroy just for an In-n-Out burger. Now, we’re spoiled since they are all over the Silicon Valley area.

Something may not be quite right, however. Last time our nephew Race was home from Annapolis, he said his In-n-Out burger was not as good as before. And when Terry was recently down in Southern California in the high desert, she said that it tasted as if the meat in the burger she had was not the same quality she was used to.

Now I can deal with it if the quality of the meat in my San Francisco Burger (Frisco Burger, really, but I refuse to call it that) at our local Marie Callender’s is not up to par. But In-n-Out? That’s a different matter. I’ve been fortunate not to experience that, but the anecdotal evidence is troubling.

Were I one to believe in such things, I might well consider declining quality at In-n-Out to be a sign of the apocalypse.

Remembering Roger

As I was going through the mail yesterday I saw that one of our Christmas cards had been returned. There was a handwritten note with an arrow pointing to our return address that said, “Deceased – return to sender,” along with the standard USPS yellow label, “ATTEMPTED – NOT KNOWN – UNABLE TO FORWARD – RETURN TO SENDER.”

The card was for Roger, whom I had known since my Oklahoma City days in the 1980’s. We were both members of the First Unitarian Church of Oklahoma City, and we were both part of the Sunday evening Personal Growth Group, which I later coordinated. Roger was a postal service employee who chose to retire early to avoid the stress of the system. The tradeoff was that he had to lead a highly frugal lifestyle to make ends meet, getting about on a motorcycle rather than owning a car and renting a modest place to live. The upside was that he spent his days living the life He wanted to live. He borrowed and read books from the library, sat in coffee shops (the old-fashioned kind, not where they served lattes and cappuccino) debating matters of import with friends, watched PBS, and hung out at the Unitarian church. Not a bad life, I have to say. Everyone liked Roger. You can see why.

After Ruth and I moved to the Bay Area in 1985, I kept in touch with the Unitarian church in Oklahoma City, and for a while they listed me in their directory as an out-of-area member. It was by that means that Roger found me and started sending me his annual Solstice letter. (He was an agnostic or atheist – I think the former, but I really don’t recall.) I reciprocated with my whatever-I-was-sending-out-that-year. Roger’s frugality paid off and he was eventually able to buy a house and a small car, something along the lines of a Honda Civic. While I had gone through seven addresses in the intervening years, Roger had two.

Roger got up to speed, fairly easily it seemed, on the Internet and email, and I would occasionally get his musings that way rather than by postal mail. He set up a Facebook account and managed to upload a photo of himself, but beyond that never really got the hang of FB. When I checked yesterday his FB account was gone.

Having not heard from Roger for a while I was saddened but not terribly surprised to see our Christmas card returned. Indeed, I had a premonition along those lines when we were doing them. But Roger lives on. There is an element of the population in Oklahoma City who will keep his memory alive, as will I.

Rest in peace, Roger, and as now an Episcopalian, I will add, even if it doesn’t fit your theology, rise in glory.

Aunt Miriam and Uncle Johnny

Writing about worrying, I made reference to my Aunt Miriam. That got me thinking more about her and Uncle Johnny, who Terry and I both miss. I thought it was time to pull out this blog entry which I originally published on 6 July 2009. I hope you will indulge me.

Terry was wearing her San Francisco Giants sweat pants the other evening, and it made me think of Aunt Miriam and Uncle Johnny.

Guess you need some context for that.

Uncle Johnny and my maternal grandmother were brother and sister. Uncle Johnny married Miriam. There was one other sister, Marjorie, who married Willard. That of course made Johnny and Miriam my great uncle and aunt. This was the source of many jokes about “Great” Aunt Miriam, mostly from my dad.

Johnny and Miriam were always the black sheep of the family. While everyone else lived in Southern California, they lived in Northern California. While everyone else had kids, they had none. And then there was the fact that while Johnny was a quiet, mild-mannered sort of guy, Miriam was one of those people who never bothered to turn the filters on before speaking.

I always liked them, and I always liked Aunt Miriam in spite of her quirky ways. One time we were visiting them when I was four or five. I asked if I could watch Jack LaLanne on TV, and her response was “Only if you do the exercises.” I kept fretting as to whether we would make it to San Francisco to ride the cable cars as promised. She gave me her Worry Bird, which I have to this day. It originally  came with a card, lost long ago, which said, “Don’t be sad, and don’t be blue, ’cause I’m the bird who’ll worry for you.”

But mostly, Aunt Miriam always treated me as an adult, even when the other aunts and uncles and cousins were still treating me like a kid.

That affection continued into adulthood. When my first wife Ruth and I moved to Northern California, Aunt Miriam and Uncle Johnny were very hospitable. We spent more than one Thanksgiving at their small farm west of Petaluma, to which they had moved some years back. When Ruth died in 1989, I spent a day with them. Uncle Willard was there (we had lost Marjorie many years before). Miriam was fixing lunch and Uncle Johnny, Uncle Willard and I were watching a baseball game in TV. Miriam shouted, “Lunch is ready!” to which Willard responded, “Oh, no, we’ve got another three innings to go.” You don’t do that with Miriam. But Uncle Willard always loved yanking her chain.

When Terry and I got married in 1994, we were in Northern California and our wedding was in Southern California. Miriam and Johnny had by this time moved to Southern California with the rest of the family. Miriam was right there helping my sister-in-law make sure all went smoothly. It did. Or at least any glitches were kept from us until afterward.

Uncle Johnny and I were both baseball fans: Johnny the Giants and me the Dodgers. I ultimately switched loyalty and became a Giants fan after having been in Northern California for several years, and after the O’Malley family had sold the team. One fall when the Giants where tight in the pennant race, Johnny called me just to talk about how well they were doing. That was a nice surprise.

One time they were making a trip up here and we arranged to see a San Francisco Giants game with them. We took CalTrain to the stadium, and Uncle Johnny pointed out many of his haunts from this Northern California days as a United Airlines mechanic. Our seats were not nearly as good as I had anticipated, pretty much nosebleed seats on the left field side. But they didn’t complain, and said they liked the seats.

It was a chilly day and Terry was wearing shorts. I took off to the souvenir shop and found her a pair of Giants sweat pants. It took me about three innings round trip. That’s where the sweat pants and the memory came from.

Uncle Johnny died in 2005 and Miriam in 2007. I miss them and think of them often.