The August farm and garden report

We interrupt our regularly scheduled programming for the August farm and garden report.

My fuchsia plants and I have a sometimes bumpy relationship. The two plants on our front porch have suffered with my sometimes irregular watering practices and occasional white fly infestations for almost five years now. At the start of Spring, one was so dry and withered that it looked dead. The other still had a few leaves, but they looked somewhat wilted and a few looked dirty or moldy. Thanks to a little diligent watering, some compost tea, and judicial application of bug and mite spray, they have rebounded… again. It’s nice to see the hummingbirds return to our front porch.

We have two major flower beds around our house: one in front and one around the side. Both have been somewhat neglected for the last few years; the pressures of a far too busy job and the needs of a small child have put gardened pretty far down on the list. Since I had a week off between jobs earlier this month, we took a day or so to do some much needed weeding. Ivy, blackberry brambles, and other things had taken over, especially in the side flower bed. The berries started to come in and ripen. It’s a shame that I don’t have a parcel where I can just fence them off and let them go wild because of those ripe berries tasted so sweet!

In the five years that we’ve lived at this house, our neighbor in the house behind ours managed to pick all the fruit off the pear tree near the fence between our two yards. He pruned it back pretty hard this spring and told us that he didn’t expect to get any fruit from it. The tree is a fruit growing machine. It immediately started branching once again, and it’s full of fruit. A few of the branches are on our side of the fence. I’m hoping to get a few pears this year. I tried one this week. It was still a little woody near its core, but the pears should be good in a week or two.

Our Meyer lemon tree is also proving to be an able producer this year. The green fruit start to appear in the summer, grow through the fall and winter, and start to ripen in early spring. Then, they get darker and darker yellow through the summer, gradually falling off through September and October. We’ve been slack about making lemonade and lemon pound cake this summer, and I’ve got a lot of limoncello left over from the last two years. I’m predicting lots of lemonade for Baby G.’s second birthday party in a couple weeks.

Finally, there is the apple tree. The guides I get from the local nursery say fertilize in February-March, just before leaf budding begins. I was late with the first fertilization this year (I use an organic “compost tea” made from an organic fertilizer for fruit trees.) I got to it after it started flowering. It made a lot of flowers, but only about two fruit. It then proceeded to start growing and branching a lot. As it would grow and branch, sometimes flowers would appear at the ends of the new branches. I fertilized again in June, and just a few days ago. The tree evidently decided that it wasn’t carrying enough fruit, because when some new branches bloomed in July, it added four new fruit from about 8-9 flower blooms. So, it looks like I will have half a dozen apples come harvest time in October instead of two…. if I can keep the fruit on the tree that long.

We now return you to your local regularly scheduled programming, already in progress.

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Hades

Mrs. Geek and I are more heathen-ish than good, practicing Catholics these days, at least as far as going to Mass on Sunday mornings is concerned. It’s not due to lack of faith, though I suppose you could say that an overflowing abundance of faith would drive you to Church no matter the reason. It’s more due the fact that we have not yet found a faith community that we feel comfortable being a part of. We don’t think what we’re looking for in a community is that complicated, but a number of factors are keeping us from committing to really get involved in a local parish.

Technically, Mrs. Geek and I are registered members of Church Z in the nearby big city about 20-25 miles away. It’s where we got married, and attended semi-regularly before we bought our house in September of 2007. Church Z has a number of things we really like:

  • It’s a very beautiful early 20th Century Gothic revival church. I know this really shouldn’t matter in the grand scale of things, but one should be able to worship in a space where one feels comfortable. In this, Mrs. Geek and I are both traditionalists. We want a church to look like a church, not a hotel banquet room.
  • It has a a strong commitment to music as a part of liturgy. Given that the Roman Catholic Church has a thousand plus year old tradition of liturgical music and had a big part in developing developing Western European notions of music and harmony, Catholic parishes in the United States can be surprisingly ambivalent about music these days. A commitment to liturgical music generally means a commitment to having a good music director and a good organist on staff (sometimes they are the same person) and a pastor who is willing to let good music be played. In this time of shrinking budgets and standards living, some parishes just don’t want to pay people. A shortage of priests also means that priests who would never be allowed to run a parish 50-100 years ago get the job by default (which has implications for music among many other things.) Church Z is very committed to all kinds of music, be it four part choral music, organ music, or Taize.
  • It is run by Dominican brothers who are highly educated and fairly progressive in their outlook. We want our political and ethical beliefs to be welcome in the community. Mrs. Geek and I are both moderates who lean in the progressive direction. An ultra-Conservative, pro-Republican parish is just not for us. The Catholic Church has a long record of service in social welfare and social justice issues which strongly identify with the Democratic Party. We don’t mind being challenged in our faith, but we don’t need to hear about how our country is going to hell in a handbasket on Sunday morning because the current government is pro-choice and pro-birth control. Not when the other option is a party growing more stridently radical in its disinterest in the poor and its avarice for power, warfare, and pro-Protestant theocracy. We definitely have heard some great preaching at Church Z. over the years.

Where Church Z lets us down a bit is in the area of a parochial school. Mrs. Geek went to Catholic schools K-12. She’d like Baby G. to attend K-8 if he can. Mrs. Geek went to a Catholic high school on the property of Church Z, but it was destroyed in a disaster in the late 1980’s. There also was a K-8 parochial school there, but it closed around the time we got married in 2004 for economic reasons. Being a part of a parish where you sent your child gets you a discount on tuition, so we’d like to belong where we could send Baby G. one of these days… and you can’t do that at Church Z.

Church Z. is also 20 miles away. It’s hard to be active in a faith community at that kind of remove. The travel time to Mass is somewhat prohibitive on Sunday. We were only about 10 miles away before we bought the house. That meant that travel wasn’t always easy, but it was often manageable.

So, we need to register at a parish near where we now live. There are several to choose from, but each of them have issues that make us hesitant to commit.

  • Church A is actually the one located the closest too us. It sits near the middle of a good sized Latin American neighborhood, and services that community. I’m sure we’d be welcome there, but it emphasizes a different language and tradition than how Mrs. Geek and I grew up.
  • Church B is probably the farthest away one we considered and it is one where Mrs. Geek used to teach. Based on that teaching experience, it’s a decent parish but there are a few individuals there we do not want to deal with… and dealing with them would be required if Baby G. went to school there.
  • Church C is almost as far away, but in another direction. Friends were active there for several years, but the last pastor had an “incident” with an underage minor and it was discovered that he had a history of addiction issues. Nothing ostensibly untoward happened, but the pastor was suspended, there is an ongoing investigation (last time I checked), and that whole community was shaken.
  • Church D is one of the closer parishes to us. It has a unique and beautiful building, a commitment to music that is decent (though not outstanding), and a good school. Mrs. Geek and I attended Mass fairly regularly earlier this year — me generally going at 8am, and her attending at 9:30am (Baby G. is a little to squirmy to go every week.) The 8am Mass was generally led by an 80 year old Pastor Emeritus and a 40-something permanent Deacon and ex-police officer who are (apparently) both quite conservative in their beliefs — so hearing about nearby Catholic pro-life rallies, and opposition to new federal regulations regarding insurance and birth control for 3-4 weeks in a row (apparently the freedom to afford birth control is an attack on religious freedom)… well, it was tough and it’s made me hesitate to go back.

We planned to try to get to Church D this morning. We are also seriously talking about registering there soon because they have a pre-school program attached to their K-8 school. Baby G. wasn’t feeling well overnight though, and we were all up from about 12:30am – 2am. So we all woke up feeling sleep deprived… and our lack of enthusiasm for Church D took over.

So we rested a bit, and I made waffles, from the America’s Test Kitchen recipe with the butter and the corn meal which is so tasty, and we were heathens who will go to Hades. Are there good waffles in Hades, do you suppose?

Predestination

One of the things that I find most repulsive about the current political landscape of the United States is this ever more prevailing notion that some people count (rich people) and others do not (poor people.) You can see this in the a Facebook posting by conservative lobbyist David Fowler:

Lesson in Irony: The Food Stamp Program, administered by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, is actually proud of the fact it is distributing the greatest amount of free meals and food stamps ever.

Meanwhile, the National Park Service [sic], administered by the U.S. Department of the Interior, asks us to “Please Do Not Feed the Animals.”

The stated reason for this policy is because the animals will grow dependent on handouts and will not learn to take care of themselves.

This ends today’s lesson.

You can also see it in a speech to the Heritage Foundation by Vice Presidential candidate Paul Ryan:

“We’re coming close to a tipping point in America where we might have a net majority of takers versus makers in society and that could become very dangerous if it sets in as a permanent condition. Because what we will end up doing is we will convert our safety net system — which is necessary I believe to help people who can’t themselves, to help people who are down on their luck get back onto their feet — into a hammock that ends up lulling people into lives of dependency and complacency which drains them of their incentive and the will to make the most of their lives.”

It smacks of some kind of twisted kind of Calvinist predestination. God has rewarded his predestined elect with wealth and plenty. The poor are reprobates to be cast into the outer darkness and shunned… because, who knows, some of their eternal laziness might rub off.

That’s not the Christian tradition in which I was raised. Roman Catholicism has many, many faults, but a universal world view that holds that all humans are at least created equal in the eyes of God is generally one of them (or as Monty Python irreverently put it, “you’re a Catholic as soon as you’re warm.”)

Yet now I see that Cardinal Timothy Dolan will be offering a prayer at the Republican National Convention, no doubt to (silently) support the nomination of Paul Ryan. The bishop of Mr. Ryan’s home diocese gave his own sanction to the Republican platform when he said the following to the National Catholic Register:

“The preferential option for the poor, which is one of the primary tenets of Catholic social teaching, means don’t keep people poor, don’t make people dependent on government so that they stay stuck at their station in life; help people get out of poverty, out onto life of independence,”

Oh, please! Paul Ryan’s budget proposals are not so much about keeping people from being permanently poor as saying “sorry, we don’t want to pay to help you any more — let the invisible hand of capitalism figure it out”. You’re going to tell an elderly person 20 years from now who is going broke because high medical bills (since Medicaid will be abolished and Medicare defaults to block grants and high deductible private insurance) they’re just not working hard enough to get out poverty?

All four of my grandparents were working class people who did not die wealthy. They never would have lived as long or as well as they did as they got older without Social Security or Medicare. Does that mean they were bad people? No! They worked hard all their lives to make sure that all their children got to college, joined professions, and moved firmly into the middle class. Yet, by the definition of some, they were hopelessly dependent on government aid.

It’s all so callous. And I worry that I’m going to be told that I should vote Republican when I go to Church on Sunday. It depresses me.

The future is the past and the testament of Arkadia the link.

As I get older and I can remember with some maturity points that are 10… 20… 30 years old, I imagine what it must have been like for people to have a similar sense when I was very young. A case in point: I was watching the Godfather Part II the other day. It is a film made in 1974 that is set in many time periods, but much of it unfolds in 1958 and 1959 — a difference of only 15-16 years. Realizing that, I thought about what I might feel if I was making or seeing a film set 15 years in the past. I recognized that this was, what, 1997? That doesn’t feel long ago at all!

A link that touches on something far older and deeper arrived unexpectedly this morning. I was out in our back yard watering the fuchsia plants I have hanging by our patio before work when Mrs. Geek yells out to me “Could you take a look at this quarter? The change machine at Coinstar rejected it three times. It also makes a funny sound when you drop it on the table. Could you tell if it’s real?”

After I went inside, I looked at the quarter on the dining room table, saw this, and immediately understood why it was something different:

a 1936 quarter

The table is now 2-3 years old. The house surrounding it was built in the early 1950’s. Yet here was something likely created during the waning days of FDR’s first term, the Great Depression, the New Deal! My father was born in 1934, so he might be able to look back that far… but my mother would not be born until 1940. The human link for me to that time was tenuous indeed and this coin is not something you just find in your pocket everyday anymore.

Seeing it did take me back to my youth. My first cousins who lived around the corner used to collect pennies back in the early 1970’s. You’d get these punch out pieces of cardboard that had slots for pennies of every year. I always remember that the penny for 1943 or 1944 was on the unique one — war time shortages meant it was made out of nickel or some other base metal. The needs of World War II demanded copper and coinage had to be made of something else. I remember years later somehow talking about those penny collections with my Aunt (their mother) and her saying “Oh yes… those were the days when you could still find the old coins in circulation. You can’t do that anymore.” Memories about a time forty years ago… and here, a coin that goes nearly forty years further back.

Based on some looking on the web, the coin itself only probably in “good” condition and only worth its extractable weight in silver (about $5.) As a piece of “found art” and a piece of history, I think its value is much higher to Mrs. Geek and myself. I think we’ll hang on to it for a while.

Resignation

My escape from Company O. was the first time that I actually quit a job. Sure, I’d left jobs before – I nominally held some six or seven different positions with various employers before starting at Company O. Yet, these were jobs that had some kind of exit date built in: either summer jobs in college or grad school jobs that I expected to leave upon graduation. My job with Company O. was different. I worked there for almost 12 years, longer than with any other single employer by a large margin.

I hoped that cutting the cord with Company O. would be easy. It wasn’t, at least not at first.

I announced my intention to leave Company O. first thing on a Friday morning. The need to make the announcement had been building for the previous 3-4 days as the prospect of a real job offer became more and more real. When the offer actually arrived as an e-mail attachment on Thursday afternoon, I knew that Friday morning was announcement ground zero.

I rehearsed what I was going to say to my manager at Company O. I would start with I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but I have some news I don’t think you’re going to like and let that lead to the fact that I was leaving. As it was, my manager at Company O. guessed immediately what was happening after I uttered my lead line because he asked “So, where are you going?” After some back and forth about why I was leaving and an offer to work on a different project as an enticement to stay, I told him that I’d just been there too long and was done. I went back to my desk and my manager when to inform his manager that I was leaving.

I spoke briefly to my manager later that Friday, but then didn’t see him at all for at least three working days. His manager cornered me in a co-worker’s office at the end of that Friday, as I was telling the co-worker about my departure. It was an slightly uncomfortable encounter for me. This man, in my opinion, did a lot to support me during my last five years at Company O. and enabled a lot of my successes during that time. He also made a series of decisions that put in me absolute hell for about two years and fostered an organizational culture that I find a little difficult to work in. Our conversation was respectful and complimentary, but only underlined some of the reasons why decided to leave. That Friday left me feeling utterly wrung out.

After that, things just felt… unsettled… for a few days. It felt a lot like the end of a relationship, which I suppose it was. There was a distinct sense on my part that I was on the outside looking in, even though I was still following a routine I created over the previous 11 years. I didn’t do much but do what I could to close out and hand over the work on my desk.

Things gradually improved. A co-worker was good about making sure that we went out to lunch to celebrate my last day, and that a lot of people were invited along. I sent out a farewell e-mail to about a dozen people I’d worked with over the years, and many of the responded with well-wishes. I cleared away everything I could from my plate, and that helped me let go of my time at Company O.

There was some irony to the end of my time at Company O. It turns out that I performed my last act for Company O. after I had surrendered my badge and been walked off the premises by my now ex-manager. On my way home, I recalled that I had not checked in one last source code change to reflect a last software bug I’d filed earlier in the day. I fixed this problem from home later that evening using a remote access password that had not yet been cancelled. With that five minute fix, made when I was technically no longer an employee, my time at Company O. ended.

A Change To My Routine

The big news around here is that I finally engineered my exit from Company O. about a month ago and joined Company A. last week. Everyone has been asking “why?” and “how?” The “how” is fairly simple. I participated in a leadership development program at Company O. about three years ago that put me in touch with my then-third level manager, M. M. left Company O. last year and joined Company A. this past Spring. He remembered me when he started to put his team at Company A. together, and had a recruiter contact me at the beginning of July. From there, it was a relatively quick interview process to get me an offer at Company A. The “why” is not much more complicated. Some of my experiences at Company O. in the last three years had severely depleted my morale, and shook my faith in the skills of the people managing me. Other experiences in the last six months showed me that much of my day to day unhappiness at Company O. was due to conflicting business goals; a long term goal to correct a series of decisions made 7-8 years ago that would require significant time and investment would always lose to the short term goal of making incremental improvements to revenue by landing the next big account. That created a situation where work turned into an Alice In Wonderland world led by the Queen of Hearts where she routinely required seven impossible things before breakfast. Worse yet, the same kinds of mistakes and the same backward procedures seemed to repeat over and over and over like a bad dream. I felt my only viable option was to leave Company O. after nearly 12 years.

So now my routine has changed, in almost every way imaginable. I get up and go to a different gym to exercise (the gym at Company O. was my preferred gym while I worked there), sometimes forcing me to drive farther when going from home to gym to work. I come to a different building and see different people. Company A. has about 250 people worldwide where Company O. had something like 50,000. My cube at Company O. had relatively high walls; my workspace at Company A. is surrounded by low walls about a foot taller than my desk that let see everyone in the office, but makes the room much noisier. I use a different computer, running an operating system (Windows 7) that I never really used before. I knew M. at Company O. but I didn’t directly report to him as I do now, and we need to develop the right short hand for communicating effectively. I have never used the products of Company A. though they are similar to some of those of Company O., so the details I need to do my work are not readily at hand. Travel to Company O. always required taking a highway; the easiest route to Company A. is on surface streets and it’s a fairly easy bike ride.

It’s proving to be a lot for my brain to take in. Though I often seem outwardly calm, the extra stimulation of this shiny new world is wearing on me. I was a zombie by last Friday afternoon after my first week on the job. My sleep in the early morning hours is restless because my mind has a a hard time shutting down at night. The other night I dream that recycled much of the 1998 Denzel Washington movie Fallen — I was surrounded by people who may (or may not) have been possessed by the spirit of an ancient pagan deity recently released from a statue unearthed by archeologists. The possessing spirit passed from person to person by touch, so I felt that I was always surrounded by half a dozen people who may or may not have been the people who I thought they were. More recently I’ve had dreams where I am constantly trying to assemble something, but can never get the pieces to fit quite right. Sometimes I simply wake up and find myself trying to somehow absorb or process the information that’s been pouring into my head lately.

Yet, it’s all good. It’s a challenge, but I mean that in the best sense. The people seem nice, and the small size of the company seems to make everything a bit more personal. There are minor tensions because I am part of a newly assembled team whose members are adjusting to each other while trying to find our way in the company as a whole, but everyone seems committed to producing results rather than playing politics or protecting turf. I like the office location because it’s downtown with several decent restaurants nearby and a farmer’s market on Tuesday evenings. The only challenge before me is this: I’ve always been the kid who wants the ‘A’ grade with his hand up at the front of the class. It’s going to take a little while for me to feel like I can be in that role here because it’s all shiny and new.