…still a little shaken.

Thank you all for hanging in with me during this dry spell. It’s been difficult to find the motivation to do anything creative after taking not one but two tumbles down the stairs. I will be eternally grateful that bumps and bruises seem to be the worst of it all but to be  honest I am not nearly as brave as I was when I was younger so it’s taking me a little longer than expected to get back up to speed.

A Painful Lesson

Eight months ago I moved my studio from a shoebox sized sitting room off the kitchen to the much roomier bonus room on the second floor. There were several reasons for the move, not the least being the good vibes I get in sitting in a room resembling my attic loft back in Sterling. The move also forces me to negotiate a set of stairs at least four times a day, providing the exercise that is too easy for me to avoid given the chronic pain I deal with.

Sometimes the stairs provide more than exercise. When I went to visit the second-floor bathroom this afternoon I found that there was no tissue to be found anywhere, which prompted me to head downstairs for the hall bathroom. I had no sooner started down the steps when I slipped/tripped/mis-stepped which caused me to fall down the rest of the flight. As I was bouncing between the banister and the opposite wall I kept waiting for that avalanche of pain that accompanies a fracture but evidently judo and jump school taught me how to fall correctly and so far the only damage I’ve found is some pretty ugly bruises.

I’ve been murmuring continual quiet prayers to myself – this could have gone SO badly for me but so far the only damage is to Jaybug’ s eardrums when I set a record for consecutive “son of a bitch” utterances. The incident also taught me one very important lesson:

“Always keep the upstairs bathroom stocked with toilet paper!”

2019: A Fond Farewell for the NDB

Flight training entails the use of several items of clothing and equipment not normally issued to a young lieutenant, and while I readily understood the purpose of the SPH-4 aviators helmet1, and my flame retardant Nomex® flight clothing, other items like the E6-B flight computer2 baffled me. Fortunately I learned my very first day on the flight line that my single most important piece of equipment was my stick buddy – another student I was teamed up with. We sat in class together, studied for exams together, and when we transitioned to the UH-1 we flew together. We alternated between actually flying the aircraft and sitting in a jump seat just aft and between the student at the controls and the instructor pilot who was situated where he could observe. Then we’d swap places and learn from our mistakes.

I was fortunate to draw Scott the Former Cadet as my partner, and while as a rule he was a great guy to work with, there was one time when I questioned his sanity. I was at the controls, but out of the corner of my eye I could see his head slightly rocking, and I began to wonder if he had some sort of nervous tic brought on by the stress of flying. It turned out that he was in fact “rocking out”. Drawing on his background as an electronics maintenance officer he’d figured how to listen to music simulcast over an NDB at the same time he listened to the instructor pilot’s calm, thoughtful, and insightful commentary on my performance3 that day.

So what was an NDB? It was a “non-directional beacon”, an almost-gone old-tech radio aid that used outmoded technology differing a bit from other newer aids to aerial navigation. The NDB’s signal had no inherent locational information but in fact was the instrument flight version of a lighthouse giving a relative bearing to the transmitter with no reference to north or south. Finding your way with an NDB was a multi-step process: you had to find the transmitter’s location on a chart, and after some number crunching, figure out where you were and where you were going.

Recently the FAA announced plans to drop questions about non-directional beacons from the written exam for instrument flight certification, a move that bothered me because as outmoded as they are these NDBs had their benefits. For example in one flying area where I logged a lot of hours the terrain was such that the newer and more sophisticated beacons were less reliable than the older versions. NDBs also had a longer range at lower altitudes and as a bonus could give notice of unknown thunderstorms when electricity released by lightening would “crackle” on their less distinct signal.

For most of my life I’ve had a circle of friends that functioned much like a system of NDBs, a group of people with a wide range of age, background, faith and gender whose positive examples helped me navigate the moral terrain of my life. I started out with most of them being home-grown Alaskans from my youth, but other “flavors” came along during my travels as a student, missionary, soldier, design professional and teacher. These friends – combined with my board of directors4 – formed a network of moral NDBs to guide me in life the same way the actual beacons gave directions for flying without visual reference.

Unfortunately I am now in the 55-to-dead demographic and both the state of the world and my own situation brings to mind the words of British foreign secretary Sir Edward Grey on the eve of the Great War: “The lamps are going out all over Europe, we shall not see them lit again in our life-time”. My personal NDBs are getting fewer and fewer as time goes on: some are passing away, some have succumbed to the ravages of different forms of mental impairment but sadly there are those who’ve lost their way and have been unable to keep their principles while becoming lost in a social overcast of catchphrases, buzzwords and political correctness.

Before the term “fix” took on its unfortunate drug overtone, the word was used in navigation as a reference to a point where two star-sightings or radio beams intersected and provided a location on the map. Getting a fix is OK, but what you really want is a “good fix” – three beams intersecting and giving a much more precise location. As I lose more of those moral NDBs it gets harder and harder to get a fix much less a “good fix” as I navigate on my journey through life.

Make no mistake – in my lifetime I have been witness to forms of prejudice and injustice that were sorely in need of redress, and while great strides have been made there is still much to be done.

However, there is something inherently flawed in the way both sides of the political spectrum are addressing these problems. As I listen in on the dialog about those unsolved problems it is especially distressing to hear that chilling maxim “the end justifies the means” uttered most often by those who do not know the source of the adage, namely Niccolò di Bernardo dei Machiavelli, a 16th century Florentine government functionary and philosopher who first used the words as justification for manipulation and duplicity in his political treatise The Prince.

…and then I wonder if they’ve also missed the work of Georges Santayana when he wrote that “ those who do not learn history are doomed to repeat it” and are clueless as to how quickly political chaos can devolve into totalitarianism? Only ten years separate the Beer Haul Putsch 1923 from the German government’s national boycott of Jewish business which put the Holocaust in motion. Think about it – ten years ago for us now was 2009, the year that Micheal Jackson died, Barack Obama was sworn in and the Great Recession ran out of steam.

Doesn’t seem that long ago, eh?

As I get older I find that navigating perilous socio-political waters takes a lot more out of me, and just leading a good life doesn’t seem to be enough anymore. Instead we’re called on to prove our “goodness” by negotiating a series of steps that seem to change in mid-stride, but just as the effort is more tiring the emotional response remains the same. My own set of values are well established, so I’ll continue on the moral path I have chosen…

…but it gets kind of lonely sometimes.

 


Notes

  1. AKA “brain bucket”
  2. Nifty slide ruler with a frosted  Mylar(R)  window that allowed you calculate airspeed, ground speed, fuel consumption and the myriad ways the wind could screw up your flight plan
  3. Please engage your sarcasm filter for this sentence.
  4. See Board of Directors Part 1: Richard Bird

Wheels!

Big day for my Star Pupil yesterday. Our next door neighbor Wes very graciously bought a bike for him at a local yard sale and the little guy has been in wheeled-transportation heaven since then.

It’s had me thinking back to my first bike and the incredible sense of freedom it gave me – my hunting grounds quadrupled in area by late afternoon of day one. It’s quite a different world now so I don’t think we’ll be quite was hands-off as my folks were, but it will still be interesting  to observe the impact two wheels and a chain bring about in Jaybug’s life.

Square Peg 2.0

My sister Robin and I both spent most of our teens out of step with our own generation.  I’ve never been able to figure out exactly why that happened – it could have been the frequent moves, our parent’s influence or our own inclination – but at the end of the day it worked out simply that we had more in common with our parents’ generation than our own.

It made for some interesting experiences in the classroom and I’ve often wondered what life would have been like had I fallen in line with the rest of my fellow post-peak Baby Boomer peers. I wonder about that because I see the same thing happen with my Star Pupil AKA my grandson Jayden. He gets more time around grandparents than most kids – a slightly skewed experience that will be even more skewed because of my own square-peg-round-hole experience.

For example – his experience with personal electronics differs from that of his friends. Oh, we still have to use a crowbar to peel him away from phones and tablets, but he also has plenty of non-digital influences surrounding him. Case in point is his tool kit. He’s intensely interested in my activities so in an effort to preserve my own tool kit I’ve made up a set of his own, to include a hammer, pliers, some odd combination wrenches and both types of screwdrivers. I’ve also prepared a two-by-four with pre-drilled holes and several screws of both standard and Phillips flavors.

I think he may come out of my youth a little more “handy” than most kids his age.

JaydenTools1

 

Velma Howell 1935-2019

(It seems like the punchline to an old Henny Youngman joke, but I actually was asked to deliver the eulogy at my mother-in-law’s funeral over the weekend.)

Leading the way into any endeavor involves what we referred to as “spiritual growth” in the mission field and “good training” in the Army, both of which are innocuous terms for an experience that will terrify or put you through an emotional wringer. Being the first to marry into the Howell family brought on plenty of spiritual growth for me. The first time Velma laid eyes on me was at the gate in Dulles Airport twelve hours before I was to marry her oldest daughter Lori and I think the prospect of relinquishing her eldest to some wild man from Alaska was causing some concern.

She was quite vocal about the situation and would cycle through admonishing, questioning and teasing me, which was beginning to wear thin when it all came to a head a week later here in Huntsville. We were out buying paper goods and plastic ware for the reception and as we were driving around town Velma decided to share her philosophy on family relations. She said ” I like to think that I have gathered my family into a shiny bubble away from the world and its influences, where we are all happy all the time and nothing bad ever happens.”

As I sat in the back seat all I could think was “This chick is nuts”

It was an understandable reaction, given all the wisdom and insight I’d gained in my twenty-four years on earth as the oldest son in the family that put the “fun” into dysfunctional. Most of my family experiences involving shiny things also included pop-tops or lines on a mirror so I had no way of knowing that what Mom was really saying was

  • She loved her family and wanted the best for them.
  • She loved the Lord and wholeheartedly embraced every aspect of the Gospel

That was the pattern for her entire life. She was born and raised in southern California first San Bernardino then Colton where her family first met the missionaries when she was quite young – a trend that continued until she was almost twenty-one when she snagged one particular missionary by the name of Elder Howell as he was headed home. As a young lady she worked awhile as switchboard operator but once she was married her life’s work was being an excellent mother for her five children and supporting or serving alongside her husband in his callings as stake president, mission president and counselor in a temple presidency.

Outside of her family the Gospel was her whole life and she led a life of worship and devotion that is an example to us all. Look up the term “stalwart saint” in the bible dictionary and you’ll probably find her picture. Sometimes that degree of devotion can cause a person to become overly serious with that stern Bruce R. McConkie eagle-eyed look but Mom was able to keep a pleasant demeanor – and laugh.

She loved to laugh and could be quite a tease – but there were other things she loved as well.

She loved:

  • ice cream,
  • quilting
  • flowers
  • ice cream
  • birds
  • kaleidoscopes
  • Ice cream.

More than anything else she loved her husband Parley and was at this side whenever she could  be there…. in fact the words Parley and Velma Howell should be just one word “PARLEYANDVELMAHOWELL”.

I will miss her laugh and I will miss her.  Regardless of our faith we all have that inner Cro-Magnon straining to howl at the separation of death. But because of that faith we know that Mom is blessedly free from pain and much happier now that she was in the shiny place she always sought in life.

So…Run free Mom. We love you,

 

 

Life is Eternal / Like A River

 

My Beautiful Saxon Princess lost her mother early yesterday morning. Lori was particularly close to her mom and while I want to say that Velma has gone on to happier place there is still that inner Cro-Magnon that wants to howl at the separation of death. I think I am also coming to grips with losing my own mom two years ago – I wasn’t able to attend the funeral so there was no closure. I do remember how hard it was to emotionally process the loss of both Mom and Dad so I am doing my best to provide emotional support.

These two songs helped me a lot and I am hoping they will do the same for my BSP…or for anyone else coping with loss for that matter

What I Looked Like Once Upon a Time

I wish I had a better copy of this photo. It was taken at Ricks College in the autumn of 1973 during the most successful semester of my collegiate career, but like most of my undergraduate semesters I was flat broke and couldn’t afford any of the photo print packages. This image was scanned out of a yearbook published back when color printing was a luxury rather than the rule.

This is the first time in forty-six years I’ve looked at this closely, and as I look it over two questions come to mind:

  1. Who wrote “Wow!” along the left-hand margin?
  2.  At what time  in those intervening forty-six years did I learn how to correctly fold down my collar?

 

Ricks19730015

A Time and A Season for Everything

“May you live in interesting times”. 

It’s allegedly an old Chinese saying and has been alternately described as a blessing or a curse, but in this case it’s more of an observation. This past year has been interesting but I managed to survive and learn a little bit. I’ve inched up the scale on my  cripple-ometer but the new upstairs studio continues to be a blessing and losing my job at the college has turned out to be a much better development than I anticipated, if for nothing else than all the URI’s (upper respiratory infections) I’m NOT getting.

My blog-world has changed for the better as well with many more followers and some genuine friendships into the bargain so I’d like to extend a gift of sorts in return

The four symbols below were developed as a feature of a deck of cards designed in grad school years ago.  Instead of the traditional heart/club/diamond/spade designations I divided my deck into winter/spring/summer/autumn suits. I also designed the royalty figures (king/queen/jack) to age from suit to suit – spring: youth, summer: adolescence . autumn: adulthood and winter: elderly. (I’ll show the art another time.)

The images from those new suits can be found below and I’m sharing with you all today as tattoo patterns – if you read this blog you’re welcome to use them in that manner. Some of the solid black areas have washed out a bit (perils of using designers’ markers on unfamiliar vellum)  but they’re still great patterns to work from. There’s no need for any kind of payment – all I ask is that you keep karma in mind when you do use them i.e. don’t steal credit for their creation, don’t take unfair advantage using them for profit and don’t use them for something other than tattoo art.

I’d be happy to answer any questions and I’d love to see photos as long as they’re in good taste. I’d rather not have to explain a tramp-stamp to my grandson.

CeltWinterLogo

CeltAutumnLogoCeltSummerLogoCeltSpringLogo

Lonely Nights….

Good morning mister sunshine, you brighten up my day
Come sit beside me in your way
I see you every morning, outside the restaurants
The music plays so nonchalant

Lonely days, lonely nights.
Where would I be without my woman?

It was several years before the Brothers Gibb switched to size small jockeys and started shrieking “Ah-ah-ah-ah stayin’ alive” that I first heard their earlier song Lonely Nights. It was the middle of an Alaskan winter, I was a senior in high school in between girlfriends and feeling lonely as only a seventeen-year-old can know…and I had no idea that there would come a day where I daily dealt with an even deeper state of alone-ness.

Please excuse the pun but I am not alone in this matter. The 11 January issue of THE WEEK magazine contains an article that hit very close to home for me, an article entitled:  “An Epidemic of Loneliness”. It cites multiple studies from around the world that all conclude that a LOT of us are lonely and it doesn’t do us one bit of good.

Connections have been found between loneliness and:

  • Mental issues like insomnia, depression and
  • Physical issues like increased risk for heart attack and weakened immune system
  • Social issues like increased political polarization.

There are plenty of reasons for this increased state of isolation to include the breakdown of the family unit, the often-transient nature of work and the emotional pitfalls found in social media. I’ve seen it in my own life – thirty years ago in addition to my family and local friends I had a circle of about twenty people I would routinely correspond with but now contact from anyone other than my Beautiful Saxon Princess and one or two friends is very sporadic.

I’m not going to snivel about how lonely I get slaving away in my studio, but I would like to suggest that you take a moment each day and think about those friends and relatives that might be shut-in or otherwise isolated. We live in perilous times and while so many of the terrors that lurk in our lives seem insurmountable (taking away my old aerosol cans won’t make a bit of difference to the ozone layer) this a problem that individually we can actually do something about.

It brings to mind a story I heard of  a man who’d walk along the beach at low tide to pick up stranded starfish and throw them back in the water. He was told “ You’re just wasting your time – there are thousands of stranded critters! Do you really think you’re making any difference?”  to which the man replied (after replacing yet another starfish):

 “I made a difference to that one!”

OK – so my inner hippie is showing, but please, please pick up the phone, tap at your keyboard or write a letter to that invalid uncle, your old room-mate who’s now a single mom, your high school buddy who’s now a widower – anyone that you know who’s fighting to get through each day alone.