An aggressive spring routine

I'm not posted at the normal rate and the reason is quite simple: spring is here! 

Last year I hoped I would be able to make some major improvements in the yard and the exterior of the house, but erratic weather patterns and a host of other distractions not only kept me from achieving my goals, it caused me to fall short of basic maintenance in many respects.

This year is quite different.  While things didn't go as I wanted, I was able to make some gains and I am able to springboard off of that this year.  Perhaps the biggest one was getting the garden re-established.  While my harvest was disappointing, the work of breaking up soil, putting up the anti-critter defense and the experience gained in irrigation has got me in a much better place.

I also picked up an electric roto-tiller, and I think this thing is going to be a game changer.

The trees along the back boundary are also coming along, which means a lot of the weeds are going to shaded out.  During one of the mid-winter thaws, I also stole a march on cutting back the wild raspberries as well as cutting down brush. 

In other words - I'm away from the keyboard more than usual.  Once I get the soil prepped, the seeds planted, and other trimming and pruning done, I'll likely have more time

The best Christmas in years

This post is a bit late simply because there is so much going on at Chateau Lloyd.  A pair of toddlers is more than enough to keep one's hands full, especially when they are wired on sweets and toys.

Taking it all in, the family has agreed that this has been the best Christmas since 2019 - that is, before the Plague Year.   Indeed, this is the first time that everyone was present for the holiday.

Alas, my parents are not included in that number.  Though both are still alive and alert, travel is a challenge, and kids having sniffles is enough to deter them.  As I noted a year ago, Christmas is never the same because we are never the same.  Christmas at 22 may not be that different from 23, but it certainly is at 32 or 42. 

With children, the differences are more stark, especially the transition from infancy to school age.

I know many people find this time of year difficult, and there are certainly moments sadness, particularly when I recall people who can longer join us.  I miss the big get-togethers with my aunts, uncles and cousins at the homes of my grandparents.  Because I'm an only child and my wife's kin are far away, we'll have to wait for marriages and more grandchildren to fill things out.

That anticipation is somewhat offset by the realization of my own mortality - and that of my parents.  How many years do they have left?  A friend of mine's father is over 100, a remarkable lifetime, and one that is no doubt likely to end soon.

This also causes me to treasure these moments.  I do this not just for myself, but for the children and grandchildren so that they also see Christmas as a happy time, devoid of the drama and regret that so many people feel at this time of year.

I'm not going to close with belated Christmas greetings because Christmas is still in progress.  We won't wrap the season up until January, so Merry Christmas to you all!

The weird world of collectibles/antiques

Classical economics teaches us that the price of an item is based on the conjunction of supply and demand.  Of course, in the real world other factors come into play, such as the cost of production, which is in turn influenced by scarcity of materials and effort/skill needed to make the thing.

Thus: the reason why aged wines are so expensive is in part because it takes so much time and effort to produce them.

That being said, the demand for the given item is usually the decisive element in price discovery.

One thing I've learns in collecting antiques (including firearms) is that in a lot of cases, supply is irrelevant in determining price; demand is what matters.

Perhaps the most obvious example of this can be found in the prices for M1 Garand rifles and M1911 pistols.  These things were made by the millions, yet demand for them remains strong enough to make them far more expensive than much more rare (and therefore collectible) firearms.  I can think of a couple of firearms whose production total was a full digit less than either of these, some maybe two digits less (that is tens of thousands vs millions), but since no one knows, no one cares. 

It's like vintage cars.  More than a decade ago I saw an AMC Pacer in perfect condition driving to a summer auto show.  It was the first one I'd seen since the 1970s, and I bet that if it were possible to do an actual tally, Corvettes or Firebirds form the same period would absolutely outnumber the surviving Pacers.

The thing is, who wants a Pacer?  Demand matters more than supply.

The same is certainly true of sports card, books and anything else one wants to collect.  The comic book bubble is a great example of what happens when demand suddenly collapses.

The lesson to the discerning collector is to buy based on what you want, not on what you think someone else will want later.

Turning over a new leaf: Toxic Masculinity Tuesday

For a while I would note when various items posted over at bleedingfool.com, but I got out of the habit because they were becoming fairly common.

However, I'm making an exception because I've been invited to participate in a new features called Toxic Masculinity Tuesday.  The tongue-in-cheek title is a reference to the unabashed macho character of the films under discussion, and through a series of remarkable coincidences, I ended up penning this week's offering.

For those unwilling to take the click bait, I chose the 1991 Disney Beauty and the Beast, because it features multiple men who demonstrate strongly masculine traits, and these are taken as a matter of course.  Gaston is of course a bit over the top, but of all the Disney villains, he's probably the most liked by other people in the film.  He's actually a popular guy, he just takes things too far.

I intend to do deep dives in my entry, focusing on film noir and Golden Age movies.

Anyhow, it keeps me engaged in the absence of a new book project.

I'm thankful for a year of growing faith

The other day I was talking to one of my kids and we agreed that the last "normal" year for us was 2019.  Since then, it's been crisis after crisis.  Some of this is related to world events (such as the pandemic), but other aspects are functions of poor decision-making and what would otherwise appear to random personal events.

The upshot is that we take nothing for granted, and our family continues to deepen its faith. 

It's interesting how - to outward signs - we used to be more faithful because every Sunday, the bunch of us dutifully trooped off to Mass.  Now, it's a rare thing for everyone to go, but that's more a function of logistics and physical limitations that lack of faith.   Back then, the kids went because we made them.  Now they go because they want to.

No pressure was applied to get people to see the relics of St. Jude the Apostle.  Interest was keen and the experience was profound.  This in turn strengthened our faith even more.

That growth in turn renders us less troubled by events in the world.   It's a wonderful thing.

I hope you and yours have a wonderful, and faith-filled Thanksgiving.

An early end to my hunting season

Today was Opening Day for firearm deer season in Michigan, and I spent the day out in the woods, waiting for a deer to pass my way.

It didn't happen.

What did happen was that I learned a lot about how antiquated and broken much of my hunting rig was - some of it actually dated back to the 1980s!

This was a needed reminder that sometimes failure isn't a failure - it can be an important learning experience.

Despite my disappointment in terms of tasty venison, there is a lot to be said sitting in a glade and watching the shadows move across it.  I try to limit my screen time, but it took me a while to slow my mind down and focus on the movement of the birds, the light on the leaves, even the sound of the leaves hitting the ground.

While I didn't see a deer, a friendly mouse came into my blind, no doubt seeking a warm pocket to chill in.  I'm not fond of rodents, so I sent the creature on its way.

I also took the opportunity to say a Rosary, which is quite pleasant out in the woods.

All in all, a long day, but a worthwhile one.

Veterans Day as a civilian

A year ago I was preparing for my final Veterans Day observance in uniform.  I had a fresh haircut, shaved and showered, and played "Taps" at the Veteran's Memorial west of the state Capitol.

When I go today, I will still wear my field jacket, but it has a "retiree" patch added to it.  I will also have a beard.

My military retirement was not something I thought about much.  It always seemed over the horizon, something I would deal with when it got closer.  As I reached my 20th year of service, I realized that it was closer than I thought, and began to think about when I would leave.  I began some tentative planning, but the military's illogical (and illegal) reaction to Covid forced a rapid acceleration of my plans.

Hence the repeated applications.

I'm becoming used to civilian life.  I particularly enjoyed the lack of drill requirements during the summer and fall.   I finally cut my hair in September, and growing it out was partly a rebellion against grooming standards, and partly curiosity to see how much I still had left.  Turned out, it was more than I thought.

It was a strange sensation, and for much of this year I felt as though I had awakened from a long (and not entirely unpleasant) dream.  Retirement was something of a time warp - you get in as a young man and come out old.  My children have no recollection of me being a civilian and for the vast majority of our marriage, my wife has been a military spouse.

Almost a year later, we're mostly settled in to the new routine.  Today marks one of the last "firsts" in the retirement calendar, which is entirely appropriate.


Hunting finds strange new respect

I'm hoping to go deer hunting this year.  I'm not sure it will happen because I take nothing for granted.   I've got a plan, have lined up some dates, but one never knows.

I'm old enough to remember when there was a strong anti-hunting movement centered on the notion that it was a form of animal cruelty.  This was always a false.  All animals will die, the only question is how it happens.  There is no reason to believe that a lingering death by starvation or disease is better than being shot.  Highway collisions can likewise be instant or debilitating.  Last winter I saw a deer with three legs - the forelimb likely torn off by a passing vehicle.  It was ravenously hungry (eating shrubs the other deer left alone), and struggled to keep moving.

And then there are predators, who will not hesitate to start their meal before the prey has died.  Being eaten alive sounds a lot worse than being shot, no?

I'm increasingly seen people talking about hunting as a humane, sustainable and natural way to obtain organically-fed meat.  All of this is true.   Taking a healthy buck provides a bounty of nutrition, connects people with nature, and it opens space for the next generation of deer to grow.  Far from being Elmer Fudd, the modern hunter is acutely aware of proper safety techniques and is deeply concerned with shot placement and minimizing animal suffering.

I think people are also realizing that eating fake meat - made using energy-intensive processing techniques to create a strange simulcrum of animal tissue - is not the big environmental win it was assumed to be.  Every year a certain amount of game animals need to be culled in order to maintain the ecological balance.   Why let that nutrient-rich food feed people (removing pressure from production agriculture) rather than simply decompose on the roadside?

To date, I've taken one deer, and that was with a late-model sedan.  Here's to hoping for something more humane.

Halloween for adults

This year marks the first Halloween when there are no children in the house.  Everyone is now 18 or older.

Okay, that's not technically true - the grandchildren will be over, starting the cycle anew.  Still, this fall has been quieter than any in more than a quarter century - no back to school, no marking periods, parent meetings, report cards or dances.  It's very relaxing.

Autumn is a nostalgic season, and a year ago there was an air of reflection and memory.  This year, the emphasis is on looking forward, as the kids continue to discover the joys (and pains) of independence and the grandchildren being to find their voices and understand the world around them.  The elder has memories of last year, so she had anticipated this moment.  The younger is taking it all in for the first time.  Next year both will be veterans.

I'm looking forward to Mass tomorrow, which is itself a sign of my spiritual growth.  Candy, scary movies and costume parties are all fun, but in my case they have become a bridge to something far more profound.

Fort Fright: a new Halloween tradition?

Once again, I spent the first weekend of October in Mackinaw City, savoring the fall color and the fun of Fort Fright, an annual two day event at historic Fort Michilimackinac.

Last year's event was big, but this was even bigger.

The staff seems aware of it, and it is now possible to pre-pay for tickets, which cut the lines down considerably.  Another interesting development is that more people are showing up in period costumes, adding to the historical flavor.

For the park, the event is a big deal, likely the biggest weekend of the year.  While it has its amusing aspect (the entrance to the Demon Walk has signs pointing to "Demons" and "No Demons" so folks don't wander into the scare by accident.

Halloween is second only the Christmas in retail sales, and over the years it has been heavily secularized.  I think that is changing as people become more aware of the spirit world, which increasingly becomes the only way to explain what is going on in our world.  Other than the haunted walks, much of the event is simply sitting around the fire hearing the ghost stories told there centuries ago, many of which originated in rural France.

Just as last year, there was a presentation in the reconstructed church about funeral customs, though this year the priest (or person dressed as one, it wasn't clear), seemed to stress the changes in the liturgy from present practices.  I notice a lot of that lately, and certainly Pope Francis seems worried about it, all but banning the Latin Rite.

At any rate, next year I will be sure to book my hotel weeks in advance, as I sense word is spreading and accommodations may be harder to come by.