Monday, July 3, 2017

Big Blend Radio

Waxing Gibbous Moon

I did another interview last Friday on Big Blend Radio with my sound wave friends Lisa and Nancy from Tucson AZ. The topic was Community Parks and Trails and, as usual, I rambled on and on in my dust-choked old man voice about whatever came to mind. It was fun for me, but most likely it's rather long for most people's busy schedules. You can try it out for yourself by clicking on Big Blend. Just bear in mind it lasts over an hour.

Preview

Plans are shaping up for a slam bang Fourth of July gala potluck in the Big Barn here at Mission Farm RV Park. Victor the Grill Master will be charring chicken, pork ribs, and tri-tip. Everybody else is fixing side dishes and icing down their favorite beverages in anticipation of a wild west hoedown.


Fire danger is too high for fireworks, but nobody I know cares about making a lot of noise anyway. Disturbing the peace is not big on the senior citizen bucket list in these parts.

I hope you have a safe and pleasant holiday. Stay vigilant and live free.


Peace, Love, and Ribs,
Jim

Friday, June 23, 2017

Age Limit



New Moon

I had good intentions. There are three miles of hiking trails at my local state park that need attention. Winter rains made the oat grass, poison oak, and thistle crowd out the tread in places to the point that it was covered. I knew what to do - get a group together on the summer Solstice and knock that stuff out.


So Wednesday at 7:30 a.m., I was waiting in the parking lot near the Valley View trail head in Fremont Peak State Park just like I said I would be when my friend Mel drove up. Mel would be the only other volunteer to show up that day. I'm 65. Mel is 69. We ain't exactly trail crew summer Solstice/spring chickens. We are both pretty fit as old codgers go, but as we were about to find out, trail work during a heat wave is for kids.


We took turns. One of us would use Mel's plastic-bladed weed eater to slay the brush while the other raked the trail clean and lopped overhanging branches. It didn't take long to get sweat-soaked and a little woozy. That kind of work is different from my usual walking or bicycling or calisthenics. There is a different stress level and it's noisy. You use different muscle groups. Old muscle groups. Possibly lost muscle groups. By ten o'clock, we had cleared about an eighth of a mile of Carmen's Trail and we were toast. Very soggy toast. You gotta know when to fold 'em and that's just what we did.


The newly cleared part of the trail looks really nice if I do say so myself, but to finish the job, I'm going to need more bodies (younger bodies!), more tools, and hopefully, a brush cutter like this one.


So next week I will try try try again, and eventually, I will get this sucker done.

If you want to keep up with my "Walking San Benito" series on BenitoLink, the fifth article came out today. They can all be found on the "Features" page. Click here.

Peace, Love, and Pace Yourself,
Jim


Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Cuba

Full Moon

Here in my town of <1,800 people, opportunities to hear mind-expanding speakers from other countries are infrequent at best. Last Saturday, though, was different. At the San Juan Bautista Public Library, aka the Luck Library, named after a generous donor and historic resident, a man and his wife visiting from Cuba came to tell us their story.


Mario Armas and his wife (I did not hear her name) are in their early eighties, having lived through years of poverty and restrictions imposed by the Batista and Castro regimes. In Spanish, they spoke of their experiences through Marcia, a local resident translator from the non-profit foundation Voices of the Children

Following an introduction and some beautiful Latin music played by a skilled trumpet soloist, Mario described his early life as a musician and a director of a clothing factory as mostly successful. After the revolution, though, times were harder. The Soviet Union provided some resources and services, but mainly those things went to the political leaders, not to the common people. While all these changes were occurring, Mario became dissatisfied with his life and began searching for meaning. He converted to Christianity when he was fifty-three and devoted himself to building a modest church and serving as the pastor of  his village's congregation of about 1,500 worshipers. 


Under Castro, education was free all the way through University and literacy rose to 100%, but that did not translate to economic prosperity. Opportunities for women in the work force were comparable to those of men - which is to say pretty dismal. The average wage was and is $11 per month plus a monthly food booklet used to stand in line for staples like beans and rice and bread. Health care was and is free, except for prescriptions, which were and are generally affordable. After years of school, the salary for doctors and other professionals climb to $15 per month. Try to wrap your head around those numbers. 

How do they survive? Many people have relatives who managed to escape to America by boat and find work. Money sent from abroad helps families meet their needs. Ever since the collapse of the Soviet Union, conditions for the average person have grown even worse, although with the death of Fidel Castro has come a slight lifting of some of the more restrictive economic burdens. 

Getting by consumes everyone's time in Cuba. For this couple, their renewed faith has helped them overcome these challenges and establish deep bonds in their community. They became acquainted with Voices of the Children through their missionary work and obtained permission to travel here as a result of that connection. They expressed their amazement at the great bounty in the farm fields surrounding San Juan Bautista. The amount of resources and variety of merchandise in America are admittedly a little overwhelming. Listening to their impressions of San Juan Valley reminded me of how lucky we are to live here. It was a little bit embarrassing to tell the truth. 

I found these peaceful, kind people to be refreshingly honest and interesting. I didn't get very good photos, but that's Mario on the left at the head of the table. 



This unexpectedly riveting Saturday morning library program was sobering, inspiring, and humbling. I am so glad I went.

Peace and Love from the Land of Plenty,
Jim

Voices of the Children works world-wide to advance the lives of young people. From their web site:

OUR STORY
We believe everyone should have a platform for self-expression.  All youth should have access to resources that develop creativity while bridging cultures.  Our goal is to empower future generations to realize a voice is a powerful tool for creating change in the local and global community.  Connections through the arts can tear down walls, encourage tolerance and foster cultural understanding.

Voices of the Children is a registered nonprofit, 501(c)(3) organization based in the United States. 
​#respectfullycoexist

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Periodontics Revisited

New Moon

Last Saturday I was minding my own business, having my usual afternoon snack of plain yogurt with sliced banana, when a screw fell out of my head. That's right, a screw. Fell out of my head.

This requires some explanation. It was not exactly a screw, more like a tiny bolt, with one flat head screw end. Technically, it is called a "healing cap" in the heady, mouthy world of periodontics, but I sure didn't know that. I figured that the cow bone somewhere up in my sinus region had a hissy fit and kicked out my expensive new implant. Because...yogurt?

So I had to wait in suspense until Monday morning to call my superstar periodontist in Monterey to find out what the heck to do about it. That meant a day and a half with a hole in my head leading straight to my eye socket, I supposed. I figured with each passing moment my odds were greatly improving of contracting a nasty sinus infection or perhaps going blind. It's a good thing I don't give a sh*t or I could have been really stressed out.

The sweet office lady on the phone wanted me to come in right away to forestall any possible brain-eating bacterial infestation. So off I went in Spugly the Pope-Approved Palomino Transporter over the mountains and to the sea. I gambled on taking  the narrow, potholed county roads to avoid chronic construction gridlock on our crowded, potholed state highways.

It all turned out fine, as all things usually do. I got there in an hour, Doc showed me his brightly colored plastic mouth model with gums and perfectly straight teeth and titanium implants and screw-bolts and removable old school bridge structures. He loves that thing, a 3-D teaching tool. I had seen it before but I was sky high on anesthetics then and I had forgotten its significance to my own real, funky mouth.

Turns out the cow bone and titanium implant are solid as a rock, right where they are supposed to be. The temporary healing cap, which is what the screw-bolt thing is called, had simply wiggled its way loose and splashed down in my yogurt. No biggie. He disinfected it, numbed my gums a little, and screwed it back on like he was replacing a spark plug in a rickety old sedan. I was actually laughing as he did it, partly out of relief that it wasn't going to cost me any more money or time and partly because I felt like one of those animated goofball cars in a Pixar movie. The whole deal lasted about five minutes. Superstar.

To make my day even more pleasant, I drove over to Asilomar State Beach in Pacific Grove and walked for an hour or so. It was foggy and sort of cold, like it frequently gets there, but just as beautiful as ever. Healing cap fallout is a sweet excuse to walk on one of my favorite beaches.

Peace, Love, and Torque Wrenches,
Jim

















Friday, May 19, 2017

La Conquistadora

Waning Crescent Moon

You never know who you are going to meet on your daily walk. Today I met a group of beautiful pilgrims trekking from San Juan Bautista to Carmel to honor Our Lady of Bethlehem. I didn't know anything about this particular version of the Virgin Mother before today. Now I do.

This is what her statue, which resides at the mission in Carmel-by-the-Sea, looks like. What she stands for is either beautiful or terrifying, depending on your world view.


The folks I met were really nice, mostly Boy Scouts, almost all from Sacramento. They were true believers, on their 7th annual pilgrimage. I didn't really engage in anything substantive with them, sensing that we were not much alike, but I treated them with respect like I would do with anybody else who was friendly to me.

Their leader allowed me to take a quick photo of most of their joyful group. I was honestly happy to meet them.


The statue itself has a long history which to me is very spooky if not totally crazy, but to the true believers, it is sacred and worthy of reverence. They believe that Our Lady of Bethlehem was sent with Father Junipero Serra back in the 16th century to prevent Russia from taking over Alta California from the Spaniards. You know, the Spaniards who just showed up, "discovered" it, and said it was theirs in keeping with papal edict - that whole "build the missions and convert the indigenous people to make it look like the place is settled so the Russians will stay out" thing.

The statue earned the name of La Conquistadora for her psychological role in conquering Alta California, repelling the Russians, and supposedly mystifying the "uncivilized" inhabitants.

If you are sufficiently interested, open the link below and read the very one-sided old school Catholic version of the story. Their point of view is violently us-versus-them and as such, it defies my understanding of the teachings of Jesus. 

While I admire the dedication of the amiable pilgrims I met today, their singular lack of awareness and continued blindness to the enslavement and murder of the original Californians in the name of their Lord puzzles and offends me. Our Lady of Bethlehem.

If you are interested in what I think is a pretty convincing counterpoint, read: The doctrine of Discovery, Manifest Destiny, and American Exceptionalism.

I am not against faith and/or religion as long as it does not involve hate and war and hypocrisy. Unfortunately, history has shown that it very often does exactly that.

Peace, Love, and Superstition,
Jim

Saturday, May 13, 2017

Self Improvement Continued

Waning Gibbous Moon

Following the Indian Market, I traveled south to Santa Barbara to catch up with my brother and a few other long time friends for a few days. On Tuesday night, I joined my old volleyball buds Craig and Don to attend a lecture at U.C. Santa Barbara's Campbell Hall. The speaker was Chip Kidd, a famous author and graphics designer who specializes in creating state-of-the-art book covers for New York Times bestsellers.

This guy is good. He spoke for over an hour about the process of creating a dynamite cover, presenting it to the author and/or the business side of the publishing house, experiencing both rejection and guidelines for improvement, and then finally succeeding. Kidd was smart, irreverent, funny, informative, and he engaged the audience of about 400 people for the entire lecture. His comments about the use of color and space and finding the right hook to coerce someone browsing in a bookstore to actually stop, pick up the book, and look inside were insightful but surprisingly simple.

My favorite cover that he featured was also the most basic. He was given access to the archives at the Charles Schultz Museum in Santa Rosa to research a book he was writing about the famous Peanuts cartoonist. Schultz read all his fan mail and answered every bit of it using stationery of his own design. He signed each letter "Charlie Brown." At the bottom of the stationery was a drawing that showed Charlie Brown in his iconic tee shirt sitting to the left of Snoopy's doghouse with Snoopy laying face up on top and a trash can on the right with Charlie Brown's kite sticking out of it. Sort of a typical C.B. day, right?

Kidd called his book Only What's Necessary and he wanted to capture the essence of Schultz's art on the cover. Here is what he came up with. I think it's masterful.



Another favorite cover is the one for Haruki Murakami's novel Men Without Women. The silhouette is that of the author. The puzzle piece is an adaptation of the Japanese language character for woman. Men take note: don't try this at home.


For this one, The Mind's Eye by Oliver Sacks, Kidd utilized a standard eye chart like you see at an optometrist's office and blurred it a bit to give it a flavor of the subconscious. Pretty cool.


Although Kidd didn't feature these covers in his lecture, he created them, and I'm including them just because I really liked these novels by Stieg Larsson. Highly recommended. Much better than the movie.


Going to this lecture reminded me how great it is to live in a place where you have access to a major public university. Events like this are stimulating, even if the topic isn't really something you know or isn't of exceptional interest to you.  Listening broadens your mind.

At the end, Kidd fielded questions from members of the audience who approached the stage and used a microphone so everyone could hear what they were asking. Most of the questions were serious and drew appropriately informative responses. 

But in true Santa Barbara Gaucho fashion, one lovely Asian co-ed with long flowing hair that reached the back of her knees, came forward to say: "Hi. Is a hot dog really a sandwich?" 

To which Mr. Kidd replied, "Uh. no." 

And that concludes our program for tonight, ladies and gentlemen.

If you want to experience an e-version of one of Mr. Kidd's lectures, there is one available as a Ted Talk. It is not as engaging as being there in person, but nevertheless, it gives you an idea of the enthusiasm he brings to his craft.

Peace, Love, and Learning,
Jim



California Indian Market

Waning Gibbous Moon

The 33rd Annual California Indian Market and Peace Festival was held last weekend, May 5th and 6th, on the school soccer field in San Juan Bautista CA. This festival celebrates native culture and art, including booths with juried (authenticated) jewelry, pottery, and crafts; delicious Navajo tacos; and indigenous dancers from around the continent. The event is orchestrated by local resident Elayne (Laynee) Silva-Reyna, a decorated U.S. Air Force Korean War veteran. Prominent in the Sunday line-up is a presentation of colors honoring the many sacrifices of Native Americans and all veterans to the defense of the United States.

Laynee is also an award-winning artist and author and she happens to live right down the street from me. Her book Wolf Dreamer of the Longest Night Moon "illustrates the exquisite beauty of nature and expands awareness for readers to respect the nobility of wolves." I have read it three times and will most likely do so again to experience the meditative flow of her writing and to enjoy the beauty of her story. Laynee was kind enough to sponsor me for the weekend. In exchange for working her booth, I was allowed to sell copies of my Palomino and the Dream Machine alongside "Wolf Dreamer." Plus, I got to eat some of those scrumptious blue flour Navajo tacos. Yum!


Saturday was cold, overcast, and windy, but Sunday the clouds went away and it was a perfect setting for the ceremonial dances and vendors. Local and Bay Area people came out to support the event and take part in the dances, including a few of my former students: Adrian, Ben, Cody, Monica, and one other whose name I simply could not remember. Old age. It's getting to me, slowly but surely.

The best part of the day to me was the performance by the Aztec dancers. The drumming was powerful and the Aztec plumage and costumes were fascinating. To witness this kind of authentic cultural pride and dedication to their craft is an exercise in expansive self-improvement.





I'm not sure there will be a 34th celebration next year. Laynee is talking about retiring and I don't know if anyone else is capable of pulling this event off. That woman is a force of nature. If there is a festival, you should be there!

Peace, Love, and Respect,
Jim

P.S. I am writing a series of short articles in the BenitoLink (local online news) features section called Walking San Benito to promote health and recreation in my home county. They will come out every other Friday for the next several months. So check them out if you are interested :-)