Just a mile or so away from my house is a man who collects small old Farmall tractors. Seems like I am always chasing a deadline when I go by, but today, by some miracle, I was running just a little early so I pulled in and introduced myself. I wanted to meet the curator of this collection which I have admired ever since I moved here. An immediate reason was also that I wanted to ask permission to take a photo of this country Santa that he has in his front lawn. I found the collector to be a very amiable and hospitable guy named Bernie Merli and he calls his place “Acre Farm.” I just have to go back when I can talk longer. His Santa is perfect for a “Country Touch.” When it rains, he either covers Santa or takes him inside. He covers the tractors during the winter so I can hardly wait til spring to get better acquainted.
What is it about us that many of us are just not happy to use a generic mailbox? Where I have lived, either careening cars or snowplows have taken them out often enough that it never would have paid to get too creative. But that doesn't keep me from admiring the variety that I see on the roadsides. I especially like the mailboxes that fit my "Country Touch" theme.
One type of "Country Touch" mailbox could be classified as the reused antique farm equipment genre. You have to have some room for this one so it is usually found in the countryside. Hopefully they are found in places where they are unlikely to be a hazard to errant drivers. Personally, I'd rather see this old John Deere with its lug wheels restored but... The plow one works because it is situated slanting uphill.
Then there is the type of mailbox where the building geniuses have been at work. Materials and themes vary. The example here is definitely a sturdy one made to look like the maple syrup shanties common in that area. The mailbox looks like it's made by a good welder and I don't think the road salt will bother it either.
A Country Trio
Don and MarySue Thompson's Corner Trio
I just love outside country decorating touches. I don't claim to be good at making them happen myself but I certainly do recognize them when I see them. And I usually know why I like them too. This little corner trio is at my sister MarySue's house. What a great way to treat an otherwise boring driveway corner.
- Being from the farm originally and having an appreciation for antique farm equipment as well, I have always liked the big wheels. In addition, I have handled milk cans like this one as a teen on the farm. Plus, I'm a gardener. So I am predisposed to like this trio. But there's more.
- I love the repetition of red and white. Notice the country touch of leaving the "weed" in the flower pot, I suspect because the flower is white and fits the scheme, in fact adds to it.
- I love the variety and the trio. It's a pleasing number of items with a delightful contrast of texture, shape and size with the large wheel, the middle sized can and the low spreading red petunias.
What a great way to treat an otherwise boring driveway corner.
Last week I took time for a walk up into the woods. The woods that I normally walk is filled with beautiful stands of oak, but on this particular noontime walk I happen to notice that there were many smaller black birch trees scattered in the hilltop area where I had stopped to half sit, half lean against a loaded-pallet sized boulder to rest.
I was suddenly taken back in my mind to a walk that I had taken with my family as a boy. Occasionally we picnicked in a deep wide ravine which we called Tough Gully. One day as we were hiking back up out of the gully from our picnic, my father pointed out a large black birch tree with branches hanging over into the field where we were walking. He plucked some twigs and told us to chew them because they would taste like root beer. I did.
Now on this day, more than 50 years later, I suddenly remembered and I walked over to the nearest black birch and knocked down a twig from its 9 foot perch with my walking stick and began to chew it, and, sure enough, it tasted like root beer! Thanks, Dad for the memory and the lesson. I’m sure such demonstrations are one of the reasons I know what a black birch tree is today and how its twigs taste. I snapped a picture of my twig with the tender bark gnawed away.
On the way down the hill from my walk I saw a young man walking up and I thought he might think it strange to see me chewing on a twig. So I explained what was going on. He gave me the strangest look.
I wondered to myself. Who in my family will know this little piece of forest lore when I am gone? Not that it is an earthshaking or survival-crucial fact. But how many other tidbits like it will fall forgotten when my generation passes? And how much practical info must have already fallen forgotten when the generations before us have gone on?
I thought about how important it is to spend somewhat unstructured time with future generations. For as things come up in life experience or in conversation, it is then that we in the older generation have an opportunity to pass on something that we have learned or that was passed on to us. Some of it might be interesting trivia, like enjoying the root beer tastes of a black birch twig. But something else more weighty that we share might someday become crucial for the emotional or spiritual or even physical survival of someone we love. Chewing on the memory made me value all the more the time I get to spend with my daughter and son-in-law and grandchildren.
Gather flowers before the frost
Last night was the first frost here in West Granby. So for me it was time for my annual tradition, going out and cutting armfuls of flowers for season-end bouquets. I especially associate this tradition with picking marigolds as they are not the easiest to arrange and they look better in the garden, that is, until you know they won’t be there anymore tomorrow. So I usually don’t pick them til frost threatens. So late yesterday afternoon I gathered bunches of the marigolds that my sister-in-law, Chris, had given me to grow and sat down at the table to arrange them in multiple vases. For me it’s a lot of fun as I put into practice the family knack for flower arranging that came down to me from my mother, Dorothy Jones, and my grandmother, Jessie Isaman. Here are this year’s results. All the bouquets this year are all-sided bouquets. The first bouquet, the largest, decorates the dining room table. It happily matches my wife’s fall colors. The second sits at her computer desk to cheer her spot. The third is on my chair side table along side my Bible, devotional book and notepad. There are full size marigolds and two colors of smaller ones along with a very hardy daisy type plant that blooms very late. Greenery is form a licorice plant and some shrubbery that grows out front that I have to trim anyway.
The early part of our church’s history was during the Victorian era. So to enhance the sense of the age of our church, our Anniversary committee invited people to dress Victorian if they desired for the 200th Anniversary Sunday. JoAnne and I thought that would be a lot of fun. She has been a subscriber to Victoria magazine for a long time anyway. So we thought about how to make it happen. Actually, it was a serendipity for me. I saw in the Yankee Flyer that Simsbury Theater was having a costume sale so I showed up at their warehouse for it, explaining what I was looking for. They quickly told me that they had nothing that would help me on sale but that they did have such things for rent. That suited me fine —ahm — pardon the pun. So I had the able assistance of costumer Darlene of Simsbury Theater and her helper in getting fitted for Victorian clothes. Plus, Darlene found the perfect hat for JoAnne, who already had a black dress she felt would work for the occasion, one she had crafted herself years ago, and could still wear.
I had decided months ago to grow a beard for the occasion. I had never grown a beard before. I thought that if I ever did grow one it would be like Lincoln’s. So now you see it.
Everyone loved our outfits. I even got to wear suspenders underneath. They are very comfortable, I must say. They even rented me a string tie. They could not find a 19th century round collared shirt big enough so I had to make do by folding the collar of one of my shirts under. But with that some compromise, I was good to go. Also, since it was an inside event, I did not need the top hat.
We had a lot of fun with it as you can see.
A contrast between a message on love and the political fracas
The Sunday message today was about expressing love in action. In our small church, we sometimes have a Questions and Comments time following the message and one of the younger parishioners asked about the incongruity between the current campaign process and the golden rule. What a great question.
Mudslinging is not new to American politics by any means. But, as news outlets have observed, this year’s level of slander and dirty tricks by Republicans may be setting new low standards.
I observe that now Trump has officially dragged Rubio down to his level of verbal sadism. At this point the rhetoric has reached a plane where one does not know whether the actors are really serious or actually intending to be stand-up comedians. One thing is certain. What is being said is in no way loving. Nor is it in keeping with the Golden Rule.
The Golden Rule
Speaking of the Golden Rule, I have seen it misquoted in media sources twice in the past couple weeks, and misquoted in a way that totally perverts the intentions of Jesus. Both tragic misquotes said something like “Do unto others as they have done to you.” This completely defeats the high ethical guideline that Jesus was giving. In fact, the Bible expressly forbids harboring that sentiment.
“Do not say, “I will do to others as they have done to me; I will pay them back for what they have done.” Proverbs 24:29 NRSV
Here is the proper reading of the Golden Rule as Jesus taught it.
“In everything, do to others what you would have them do to you.” Matt 7:12 NIV 2011
That is a much higher loving challenge.
A churning question
The unspoken question in church and in many minds including mine is why the initiator of the mud, Donald Trump, is leading? Why is he supported by many Christians when his lifestyle and language have been so far from a Christian norm? Why are many believers either not discerning or willing to overlook so much?
An inadequate process
Many other Christians including myself are completely disgusted and disappointed with this year’s political process. It shows that media debates made for Trump style TV theater have little or nothing to do with how to determine who would make a good President. They are not a good way to show a candidate’s credentials. The person is forced to brag about themselves. Those who are best at bragging are not the best leaders according to Jim Collins in Good to Great. The highest and best leaders are humble servants of others. Among their highest characteristics are passion for their job and for the people who work with them. They are confident and forward looking without being arrogant. TV debates are not good at revealing those kind of leaders. On screen, self-promoters look better.
Voters not practiced in discerning character
Another issue that is resulting in the results we are seeing is that many voters are ill-equipped to discern character. Here are my suggestions as to some of the possible reasons for this phenomenon.
- Americans increasingly get their practice in character watching from screens. They view personal character from the illusion of character given by reality TV, movies, and music video. In that world, brash and arrogant and attitude works and even comes to be admired because the camera never has to show the emotional and relational wreckage produced by such pride.
- Character education has only recently been returning to education. It still has not made it back to most colleges. For years, schools at all levels taught only academic subjects. Now it is being recognized that skilled people with poor character do not make good employees. News flash—they don’t make good neighbors, spouses, carpenters, policepersons, or Presidents either.
- Much of the public is ignorant of Biblical values such as the Golden rule. The misquoting of it that I mentioned only underlines this fact. Statistically, unfortunately, church attendance decreases yearly in America and that is only part of the story. Not only does the number of people who attend church decline but the frequency of attendance by church people declines as well. The other part is the decrease in Christian education in the church itself. In some quarters, sermons use little Scripture. In other parts of Christendom, graying congregations are closing Sunday Schools for lack of students. The result is a populace with little knowledge of the Golden Rule.
I haven’t been really following football this year, but I always enjoy watching the Super Bowl ads. I am especially interested in Super Bowl advertising because it is such a mirror and microcosm of American culture, for better or worse. So again this year, I am reflecting upon the best and the worst of the Super Bowl advertising as I saw it. (I didn’t see every one so I can’t guarantee that this opinion covers them all.)
- Weather Tech – I loved the ad with its talk about buying American while at the same time advertising Weather Tech products. It was visually interesting, and I felt the patriotic theme unselfishly dominated the ad. And at the end, the ad accomplished the company’s objective of helping you remember their company name and associating it both with their product and with the fact that it is American-made.
- Avocados in space – Every year there is one commercial that rises high on the list simply because of its creativity and off-the-wall idea. This year, this is the one. The whole concept of future aliens looking back at current American society, totally misinterpreting some objects as undoubtedly we now do with things of the ancient past, and then getting to refreshment time and sampling avocados which are recommended as delicious was so creative. Every Star Trek fan was glued to this one.
- Pepsi through the Decades – This was a delightful ad, a joy to watch. Nostalgic interest oozes from it. And it accomplishes the goal of associating Pepsi with good times. The lead actor carries it well. I liked it also as the historical decades of music and dance theme goes with the idea of the 50th anniversary Super bowl.
- Marmot- This is a simple ad which at first I did not rate highly. However I changed my mind. The change came about because I was trying to figure out what the ad had been about. I had not heard of the company. The ad prodded me to Google the company name and find out. I discovered that the ad fit the company amazingly well and since I responded by looking it up, the ad must have accomplished its goal extraordinarily well also.
- Death Wish coffee – Here’s another one where the sheer creativity of the ad forced you to remember the whole thing. The drama of the ad was immense. The fact that it was for coffee at the end was a nearly complete surprise which increased the retention value.
- Super Bowl babies – This ad loses on two counts. First of all it was pointless. What was it advertising? I still don’t know. That alone is a fatal flaw in an ad. Second, the ad loses on moral grounds. The whole idea of basing the ad on the assumption of couples having sexual relations after the Super Bowl is at best in extremely bad taste. At worst, it trivializes the fact that huge sports events such as the Super Bowl are unfortunately taken advantage of by the illicit sex trade, one of the sad facts of our day. The ad reflects America’s too casual view of human sexuality.
- Toyota Prius getaway – I was visually upset after this ad. It disrespects police. It makes heroes of those who should be vilified. It participates in the moral confusion that is America today. Yes, I did see the mollifying ad during the closing ceremonies where the policemen got a Prius and finally caught the robbers and I was glad for that. But to me it did not undo the damage of the original ad. It flunked with me.
- Snickers Marilyn – This ad fails because the subject matter of the advertisement completely overshadows the object being advertised. After the ad, I did not even know what it was that was being advertised. If one remembers the ad, but not what is being advertised, the ad has failed. Any speaker knows that it is very easy for an illustration to distract from the desired point. If I had known what was being advertised, the ad still would have failed on a second level. It failed to give a positive feeling about the product because I found the ad disgusting and not believable.
- Puppy monkey baby – Here’s another ad that grossly failed to do its job. It was not interesting to watch. The level of intelligence to which it appealed was somewhere below idiot. And the supposed crossbreed in diapers was more stupidity than interesting. In addition, the story line, if it could be called that, completely over shadowed the product being advertised.
- Kia Bland closet – I flunked this ad as well simply for not giving a positive impression. The emotional impression of a bland closet was so much of a turnoff that the ad never did recover from it. The idea of a polka dot sock as a contrast just did not cut it either. To top it all off, if I remember right, the vehicle pictured was white. So the colored highlight of the ad was the sock??
Observing politics today is disconcerting
It is interesting and very disconcerting to me to observe what has happened in politics over the last ten years or so and what is happening this year. I used to call myself a conservative Republican, and even voted on the Conservative line often to reflect that leaning. But in this political cycle I find myself to the left of nearly all the Republican candidates. I don’t think I have changed much, but in my perception, they have moved decidedly right, becoming more isolationist, out of touch with the poor and more libertarian.
Where am I
I’m still pro-life and pro-traditional family. I distrust bigger government and prefer conservative constitutional interpretation, all of which are traditional Republican positions.
But I am also pro-immigrant, pro prison reform, pro traditional progressive income tax, pro-minimum wage increase, and concerned about racial justice. I also supported increasing those included in health care but along with many feel that the result has been disappointing. Today these kind of positions are more often found among Democrats.
Currently, I believe I am somewhere in the middle of the American political spectrum and the current divide between very leftist Democrats and extreme right Republicans is leaving me and many others in the middle without a good political home.
To compound the matter, the poll-leading Republican candidates (Trump, Cruz, and Carson) are my least favorite candidates of the bunch. Trump is so scary that I would vote for Hillary or Sanders before him.
What is needed
What is needed this year is a bridge-the-gap, common-sense party. Neither Democrats nor Republicans seem qualified for that right now.