The FOS and DST

To Whom It May Concern:

As a cat owner, if that term can be used, I have become aware of a certain aspect of the Feline Operating System (FOS) that seems in need of an upgrade or at least a patch. The FOS has five main operating modes: Exploration, Observation, Expectation, Anticipation, and Procreation. For the sake of household tranquility, the Procreation module has been disabled in many domestic house cats but remains functional in those residing in feral status. Although there may be some hand-wringing and consternation about certain aspects of the Procreation module, that has nothing to do with my current letter of concern to you. There is also a sleeping or resting status that has some bearing on the other FOS modules and my predicament.

There seems to be at least a sequential hierarchy in the FOS based on my observations.

The Exploration module seems to be the first to kick in whenever a cat is introduced into a new household. This sometimes takes several days and during that time the cat seems to be largely invisible. In fact, the cat is not invisible but selects a particular hiding spot, a vantage point for exploration of the premises when the resident human or humans are not awake. I know this because the dish of cat food is empty, there is evidence left in the litter box, and my kitchen cabinet doors are open when I get up in the morning.

The Observation module is the next stage, based on my experience. The newly introduced cat will make its presence known and will carefully observe the human activity in the household. This module is the backbone of the FOS and the one most often in use. The cat will position itself in a location where it has unobstructed sight lines of household activities. In some cases, this will be on top of the refrigerator or the middle of the kitchen table. The cat seems to be programmed, or hard wired, for watching from an elevated position. Human attempts to modify this behavior are met with opposition on the part of the cat and are sometimes accompanied by retribution in the form of scratching on upholstered furniture. The human or humans soon learn to ignore the elevated observation position as much as possible. The cat soon learns every aspect of the human routine from feeding, sleeping, waking, resting, bathing and grooming, and even waste disposal. The Observation module seems to provide data, stimulus, and a feed-back loop for the Expectation and Anticipation modules.

The Expectation module is triggered when the Observation module sends a message that the human is preparing to do a specific task or that the cat has a basic need for food, water, or waste deposition. This module allows the cat to invoke pre-learned responses to events happening around it. When the human picks up car keys the cat will wait respectfully for a pat on the head which soothes the human as he or she leaves the premises. This is most commonly followed by the cat going into sleep or resting status. There seems to be a special function built in for hairball expulsion, but this is a less common and occurs at night and on the human’s bed. As you may recall, I’ve written to you before on this particular issue but your response (“A cat’s got to do what a cat’s got to do”) was somewhat unsatisfactory.

The Anticipation module is also triggered by input from the Observation module. It is similar to the Expectation module but with a higher degree of intensity and speed. For example, when the doorbell rings the cat will automatically go into this module based on behavioral cues learned from the humans and its pre-learned responses. In some cases, the cat might revert to the Exploration module and become invisible to all but the trained human eye. In some cases, the cat might become stalled in the Observation module. In many cases the cat’s movement will become swift and erratic and accompanied by a tripping episode or some other loud encounter with the resident human. There are many other examples of the Anticipation module coming into play, especially around the human’s feeding time or other expected activities. The cat will respond quickly to certain cues such as the human shaking the edible cat treat container. Cat treats, once dispensed as a gratuitous gift by the human, will occasionally be reciprocated by the cat with some form of dead household vermin or pest left in a conspicuous place as a gift for the human. These gifts, and occasionally the expelled hairball, will elicit a loud reaction by the human the next morning.

Of particular concern, and the reason for my letter, is the FOS and the cat’s failure to anticipate and respond to Daylight Savings Time (DST). It would seem to be an easy fix to adjust the FOS to spring forward or fall back on the appointed days. My telephone and laptop computer have this figured out. True, I must go and adjust my clocks twice a year and replace the batteries in smoke detectors, but I would think that something as sophisticated as a cat behavior module would be easily adjusted based on the calendar setting. My cat insists that I wake up and perform all my tasks and bodily functions on its pre-learned schedule rather than the DST clock-time that governs my work and relationships with other humans. The cat is slow to adjust to the DST schedule changes and can be downright obnoxious, especially in the morning when I hear slamming of cabinet doors, upholstery scratching, and the sound of hairball expulsion as I’m trying to get a few more minutes of sleep. Licking, biting and pulling of my hair is not welcome at 7 AM, at least not by an irate cat. So, in closing, I respectfully request that you take this respectful suggestion and my plea on the part of cat owners everywhere and provide a DST fix to the FOS at your earliest opportunity.

Most Sincerely Yours,

A Cat Owner



Speaking of Gratitude

One of the things I struggle with sometimes, and what my New Year’s Resolutions always try to address, is showing gratitude. I’m not the best at showing gratitude and when I do it seems contrived and fabricated as often as not. It doesn’t come naturally, and I don’t always know where to draw the line with expectations of other people. When is gratitude appropriate and when is it gratuitous?  Huh… Isn’t it odd that gratitude and gratuitous come from the same Latin root word: Gratus – meaning “grateful“ or “pleasing”? Gratuitous morphed into something like “free” or “without expectation of benefit” and then, after a while, to “unwarranted”.  Gratuity – as in a tip to a waitress – tends to retain some of the original meaning.

Um…But let’s get back to the topic of gratitude. (You see how my mind wanders, right.) I don’t consider myself to be an “ingrate” because if that was the case I probably wouldn’t even recognize my dilemma. I have seen and reacted to other people treating waiters, attendants or employees very badly when some expression of gratitude was called for. I’m a pretty big tipper in restaurants and bars because I’ve seen some deplorable patron behavior in this regard. That doesn’t seem to be the issue. I’m more uncomfortable with showing gratitude in closer or more personal relationships.

I recently had the opportunity to attend a brief class/lecture on “Exploring Gratitude” offered by a local Rabbi. This was unfamiliar territory for me as I’ve never been around a Rabbi except unknowingly maybe on a bus or simply in a casual encounter. This was a Rabbi doing Rabbi stuff and it was a woman Rabbi on top of that. My little traditional Lutheran head was prepared to spin but I came away with some very thoughtful and helpful ideas. There were about forty people in the room and the session was a somewhat interactive experience.

There’s internal gratitude and external gratitude and we most often think about external expressions of gratitude. That’s what comes to mind when out in the public world. Saying thank-you when someone opens or holds the door or tipping might be common and casual expressions. But what about internal expressions of gratitude. Part of the discussion focused on some Old Testament phrases from the Book of Isaiah or other passages that brought home the concept of being grateful internally and to oneself. In most cases it isn’t exactly a gift from God to have a roof over your head, clothing, ample food, the most recent iPhone, and a Lexus…those are details. Instead, we are given certain gifts and talents and endowed with the means to put them to good use. An intellect and a recognition of right and wrong and how to interact with others.  Maybe God has a hand in that broad stuff or maybe it’s good genes and good parenting — you can be the judge. We can be grateful for waking up in the morning and for the gifts and talents that we have found within ourselves or have been revealed by others. The Rabbi’s talk partially focused on chanting as a personal practice of gratitude and before long she had forty people chanting in Hebrew with only a slight understanding of what was being said. This was a practice of mindfulness and most of the reactions were positive. Some of the discussion that followed compared the chanting to meditation or Tai Chi which I and a dozen or so others in the class were familiar with.  When I practiced meditation (I was an early practitioner of TM) and Tai Chi I experienced a certain healthy, clear headedness that brought some lasting clarity to my daily routine. I was more responsive and open with other people. Over the years I have gotten away from regular practice and this session and discussion served to remind me of some of the self-gifted expressions of internal well-being – self gratitude.  Okay – this might be part of the path that I’m seeking at least on the internal part.

So, let’s say (or pretend) my internal issue is solved. What about external expressions of gratitude to family and friends?  This would usually be a face to face encounter requiring an expression of gratitude. My usual approach is to assume that this is implied by my behavior or actions but there’s no guarantee that the other person sees it that way. We go through life thinking we have all our bases covered but maybe we are not perceived in the way we think. When I was working as a program manager before I retired my employer would occasionally require us all to go to various inspirational sessions or participate in team building exercises. Sometimes these would require an assessment by subordinates of the manager’s style or relationship with employees. I was usually disappointed and realized I was not always perceived as I thought I was…as I tried to be.  I wouldn’t be surprised if this was the most common outcome of those exercises – that managers perceived themselves differently from the employees’ perceptions — but it was still bothersome. We can be oblivious to our relationships with others. I don’t recall ever asking my wife, now deceased, if she was truly happy in any direct way over the thirty-plus years of our marriage.  We relied on the other’s verbal or nonverbal clues and we had an exceptionally strong friendship and loving relationship. To me, at least, it was an obvious deduction based on behavior and verbal expression.  I see my daughter at least once a week and we are very comfortable together and typically don’t have discussions or expressions of gratitude. We do things for each other unasked and those actions typically pass without any expression of gratitude. That’s how we roll…so to speak. My point, and the nagging little stone in my shoe, is that we should probably be more explicit in our relationships and our gratitude.

I have a friend, a retired school psychologist, who lives 1,000 miles away and we often spent time together before I moved to New Mexico. Now we speak by telephone a few times a year and keep track, but months pass between our conversations. I recently heard from her when she was in a minor crisis. It was minor to me but major to her. She inherited rental property in St. Louis and the furnace stopped working.  In the dead of winter, she had tenants in a house with no heat and no idea of how to fix it. She was panicking because she lives 200 miles away and can’t be on hand to deal with the problem. I have several good friends in St. Louis, where I grew up, and made a few contacts and got recommendations for repair companies. I passed that information on to my friend and she reported back that the problem was solved and thanked me for the recommendations. This took probably no more than an hour or two on my part. I didn’t think much of it and was glad I could help. A few days later I received a greeting card in the mail with a gift card for Starbucks and a thank-you note. What a nice gesture of gratitude. It was, maybe, a little over the top considering my investment of time and effort but I helped solve a problem that was very stressful to her. Her expression of gratitude had more to do with her relief in resolving the crisis and her hope and expectation that I could be of help. She is relatively new at this landlord situation and she wanted to be responsive to the tenants’ problems so that was also part of it.

So that is where I am with this. I’m not sure I’m closer to my goal of showing gratitude but maybe I can work on it with a fresher perspective. Maybe I analyze too much but that little stone in my shoe tells me I need to be more aware of opportunities to show gratitude where it is due. At any rate, maybe I’ll take up Tai Chi again. First, I think I’ll go to Starbucks.


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To Lucinda, Whoever You Were

KEN8 (2)

What I know of you for certain is only what’s recorded on your tombstone
and two grainy old photographs. Certainly, you were once a girl. A wife.
A mother. You were a survivor of interesting times. Of Huguenot stock.
You knew duty. Did you know love? Did you know peace?
You were the family nurse, then a widow, a “Relict”, they said for decades.
The custom then, it sounds harsh today: Relict. But do we judge you unfairly?

You were a hard woman for hard times and kept a Bible cocked and loaded.
You weren’t afraid to use it. It was your preferred weapon.
Two of five children quickly fled when they could. A darling little girl
died as an infant. How you mourned. A son went insane, locked up forever.
One last daughter, a constant companion to the end, disappeared
without a trace. Are there really two people in your grave?

Your grudges piled up, un-dismissed for a lifetime. Cloying sweetness
masked failed manipulation. Did you feel unloved?
I think you were loved in spite of yourself. Your son fled to
marry an Irish “Papist” …oh the tears…oh the horror!
With hope in his heart, he gave his daughter your name: Lucinda:

— Illumination —

and she lived up to the name in ways you could never comprehend.

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Nevertheless, She Persisted

malalaPersist_zpss3lpdzjzSometimes our language fails us in both words and concepts. My wife had a term she applied to some people she admired for their persistence and tenacity: “stick-to-it-ive-ness”. Not exactly the most elegant of terms but it conveys the concept, in her mind, better than anything else. I was, on a couple occasions, the recipient of that honor but perhaps fell short more than a few times. She certainly had that quality about her and outlasted my puny capacity quite often.

Men seem to value the sprint while women go for distance. There is something that seems almost as a biological and intellectual capacity in women to move on, ever forward, in an undaunted manner. Our species would have slithered into oblivion without that quality.

Down through the ages. with few exceptions, men have held the power. Men wrote the Bible and the Koran and other religious texts. Women made the ink. Men told the history of nations and sang songs of losers and winners. Women made the beer and carried the water. Men heaped praise and glory on their heroes. Women saw them all before they had their morning coffee. Men pranced off to war in fancy uniforms. Women bound up their wounds and cared for their orphans.

Only in the last decades of the 19th century did women begin to extricate themselves from constant servitude. Women were legally oppressed under English common law and the concept of coverture. Once married, a women essentially became part of her husband and ceased to exist as an individual. If unmarried, she could own property and conduct business and enter into contracts but not as a married woman. That power and authority resided in the husband. If you think back to the decades around 1800, it is largely single, unmarried women who stand out as writers and artists.

KEN7Men, for the most part, were perfectly content with the old customs and didn’t see a problem. Everything was fine…a well oiled machine. Why change? Some men still don’t get it. Surprisingly, some women don’t get it. But, nevertheless, they persisted. Women have made progress and have come to claim, inch by inch, equality with men in many fields. There have been setbacks and ongoing battles. There have been grave sacrifices.  Nevertheless, they persist. My daughter enjoys rights and freedoms that her great-grandmother never dreamed of. We are talking of a span of about 100 years of slow and persistent progress. Women still have a way to go even in what we would consider our enlightened western culture.

In other parts of the world the struggle is just starting or is taking a slightly different path. Progress won’t look the same everywhere. I don’t advocate for many non-profit organizations or projects but I do stand behind the ideas and efforts of The Girl Effect. There has to be a starting place…if doors won’t open, use a window.






A Chance Meeting on a Train


The chance meetings or random coincidences always intrigue me. I’m travelling cross country by train and I‘ve met two writers already just as table-mates in the dining car. One, age nineteen, has two published books (what was I doing with my time at nineteen?). The other is a ghost writer and mostly now does short stories. The nineteen-year-old just started a university writing program so, who knows, she may never write again – or maybe be a great success. I knew her when…

I had lunch in the dining car yesterday with a lady from the island of Hawaii travelling to St. Louis, which happens to be my destination. As we talked, she shared some of her experiences of moving to Hawaii and what her immediate surroundings were like…plants and animals. There was also another lady sitting at a table across the aisle who was glancing over from time to time. It turned out that she also was also from the “Big Island” and they were, in fact, near neighbors. They lived in adjoining communities. So what are the odds of two people starting off on separate journeys from the same general place at different times and meeting in a dining car in New Mexico on an east-bound train? How many different things had to fall into place for that to happen? I suppose someone could figure out the odds with enough information but I’ve learned just to accept it.  Maybe a butterfly in Tibet flapped its wings and things fell into place. Maybe not.

My life is full of similar random coincidences that defy explanation. My late wife’s birthdate matches exactly with my brother’s wife’s birthdate…same day and year. They were born in the same state but not the same city. Also, totally unknown until later, my wife once worked for my sister-in-law’s mother when she was starting her career before I met her.

About a twenty years into my work life I was living in a small town and employed in government as a program manager. I had to hire a new secretary so I interviewed maybe a half dozen candidates. I hired a local woman from the small town and never really thought much about her background or family. In small towns one doesn’t pry into family connections unless the topic is initiated by the other person. My experience was that many people were related to each other either directly or by marriage and it was best not to express opinions or comments about someone. Now, realize that I was born and raised 150 miles away and had no prior connection to this town. That is what I thought until a chance conversation with my secretary revealed that we were both cousins to the same person. Somehow one of my cousins married her cousin and we were commonly related to their children. It was a second marriage for both of these cousins; both being divorced in different localities.

I also have two insurance agents, both living in that same small town that I moved to at age 27, and both of these agents share my birthday. One is exactly the same — day and year – and the other a few years later. They don’t know each other and work for different companies. There are other date-related coincidences: my dad died ten years, to the hour, before the 9/11 attack on the World Trade Center. I could list almost a dozen other odd, seemingly random occurrences but you get the idea.

I was recently reading a short passage from Tolstoy’s War and Peace in which he questions how things happen. Often we see things as planned and managed by a talented leader (in this case, Napoleon) but maybe that is an illusion. Maybe things are set in motion in another way. Maybe a peculiar string of random events led Napoleon to Moscow with a huge army. Maybe he was just along for the ride. We plan things and sometimes the plans work out and sometimes they don’t. “Serendipity” is one English language concept – to find something good by accident without seeking it. In history, one person’s serendipity is sometimes another person’s catastrophe. I suspect that concept is not unique to English speakers.

At any rate, things have an odd tendency to fall into place in ways that, while seemingly random, also give a hint that something else is in control. My daughter says that it is the angels at work. She got that idea from my wife who attributed certain happenings to an unseen hand…”Let it be – marvel but don’t question” was her philosophy. Maybe so. Maybe the angels are bored and play these games to keep busy.

Carl Gustave Jung, a clergyman’s son and prominent psychoanalyst, was also intrigued by these chance happenings and devised the concept of synchronicity. To his way of thinking, events do not need to have a causal relationship to have meaning — perhaps meaning eclipses cause? Out of all of these events that I’ve mentioned above, or others I haven’t described, or those others have experienced, none of them really had much of an impact. I didn’t change my behavior or plans in response to the events and it made no difference to other people whose lives intersected in the events. It is just a curiosity, sometimes with meaning to the observer, sometimes there is no meaning. Abraham Lincoln and Charles Darwin were born on the same day. Other than that one fact, there really isn’t anything else to say except that they both went on to change the course of history.

For a number of years, beginning in 1975, my wife and I would take a week-long vacation each year…maybe longer some years. The dates of our vacation coincided with a number of major events including the stock market crash, the death of Princess Diana, the death of John F. Kennedy Jr., the assassination of Anwar Sadat, disappearance (and death) of Jimmy Hoffa,  various plane crashes, coups  and military invasions. We would occasionally joke about the CIA or FBI wanting to track our movements — something big was going to happen if we took a vacation. We still took our vacation and we were finally able to shake off the “curse” about fifteen years ago. Nothing would happen when we went on a trip. It was sort of a let down…we didn’t have any special powers after all.

(Revised from the original posted at The Green Room, August, 2016)



The Shadowed Wall

The Shadowed Wall
What lives were once protected
behind these shadowed walls?
What joys were shared and hopes declared
and private pains endured?
What voices spoke to say a prayer or
comfort childhood fears?
What buttons sewed?
What wondrous weavings wove?
What feasts enjoyed? What cheerful toasts proposed?
What missing friends or long-lost parents mourned?
Like brushstrokes on canvas, these past lives
paint shadowed lines on old forgotten walls.

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A reflection on a visit to Plaza del Cerro in Chimayo, NM



Cranberry Redemption

     I have a confession to make. I’ve never been a fan of cranberry stuff at Thanksgiving – not sauce, relish, whatever. It seemed like some sort of Holy obligation — I had to eat some because of the sacred tradition.  My mom always opened a can and dumped it on a plate like some sort of  gelatinous cylinder…festive, flavorful, and to me, kind of industrial looking. It would be passed around the table like communion and folks would take a spoonful and deposit it on the side of their plate but not let it touch any of the other food…it was something apart.
     Now there are many ways to prepare cranberries and my mom experimented with different recipes but she had her hands full with everything else. We knew that it was best to stay out of the kitchen. I recall one year when there were flames roaring out of the oven and my mom and my aunt were franticly throwing stuff in the oven to put out the turkey. Another year the turkey lurched out of the oven and bounced across the floor. She picked it up and crammed it back in the oven and the look on her face said…”I dare you to say anything…it will be the last thing you ever say.”  So the little plate with the cranberry cylinder was fine.
     The cranberry plant has an odd life. It is sort of a vine-like shrub   that lives in a sandy, wet bog in rather cold climates — a very acidic environment. The common North American version (Vaccinium Macrocarpon) is somewhat different from the European variety but I have no idea what that difference is. We have several varieties or species of cranberries that have some differences in growing requirements or berry color but Vaccinium Macrocarpon is the one that seems to be widely cultivated. The Indians loved cranberries and probably introduced them to the hungry Pilgrims. I suspect you have seen the commercials with the two guys standing hip deep in a pond extolling the wonders of cranberries. The berries float so the farmers flood the bogs with enough water to float the berries above the submerged plants and then harvest the floating berries. The bogs are then drained after the harvest and the plants get ready for next Thanksgiving.
     As I said, I’m not a fan of Thanksgiving cranberry stuff. I generally like the flavor of cranberry juice and I like dried cranberries. There are lots of cranberry relish recipes all over the internet. The recipes seem almost like a desperate attempt to make something out of cranberries. Some have nuts, some have a mixture of other fruit, some have lemon peel, some attempt to replicate the same stuff that comes out of the can. None of the pictures look like anything I would want to eat much of. A chopped up cranberry mixed with other things that I can’t identify is not very inviting. My mom’s experiments with real cranberries didn’t seem to be an improvement over the convenience of opening a can while the smoke poured out of the oven.
     My days of big Thanksgiving dinners are behind me. I live 1,000 miles from most of my relatives so it is just me and my daughter  — who lives a short distance away —  conjuring up some sort of plan for the holiday. Neither one of us want a great deal of leftovers so we keep it small. This year we decided to forego cooking all together and made reservations at a local restaurant for the whole parade of traditional Thanksgiving  delicacies…including cranberry relish. Even in this situation, the cranberry concoction was served up in it’s own little Holy sepulcher …not part of the main attraction.  It was of the chopped or minced variety…not the semi-transparent gelatinous form. I pondered it for a minute or so. My plate was full of turkey and mashed potatoes and stuffing (all drenched with turkey gravy) and green beans and candied sweet potatoes plus a basket of warm bread. That little dish of red stuff peered back at me…”Try me” it said, almost winking.  This seemed like too public a place to partake of the cranberry sacrament. Well…nobody was looking…I made a run for it and discreetly took a sample….and behold(!), I saw that it was good!  I tried some more…I was not deceived. It was quite good…very good.  It was clearly some sort of marriage of cranberry and orange marmalade.  Maybe I’ve been deprived all these years but I never considered those two flavors working well together. We enjoyed our dinner. My daughter also enjoyed the cranberries which I considered a good sign….it wasn’t just me. Perhaps the spell has been broken — we have reached cranberry redemption!  Shout Hallelujah!!!
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