Beginner's Mind

"In the beginner's mind there are many possibilities, but in the expert's there are few." - Shunryu Suzuki-Roshi

Monday, July 31, 2006

Good Night July

And so we say farewell to July tonight. It was a busy month.

Karen's Aunt Jackie passed away, which led to loading up the family to trek out to Indiana for the service. She was a great lady, and will be missed.

Because my parents were only a little out of the way, we went through Tennessee to visit them. My in-laws were in a hurry to get back, but Karen, Ethan, and I stayed for a few days. This was during the country-wide heat wave that was, quite frankly, nuts. The trip home took us through NASCAR land, as I've previously written. It rained on us the whole way home. It was one of those driving rains we sometimes call a "frog chocker."

We had some stuff in a "weather resistant" bag on a rack which fits into the trailer receiver. The rack did fine. Apparently, "weather resistant" means that, like a sieve, it won't dissolve in water. It kept water out of the interior about as effectively as a sieve would.

Had a long and delightful lunch with Kate on the way home. She's always a blast, and a fountain of knowledge on health and animal things. She's one of the brighter, multifaceted jewels in Indra's Net.

Ended the month with the summer flu; runaway sinuses, burning sore throat, hot and cold running temperature, and dead-beat laziness.

When we arrived home, we discovered that a neighbor had come over while we were gone and cleaned up the damage from last fall's snow storm. Broken and downed trees were sawed and removed, and the yard had been mowed. What a great bunch of folks, and I feel very, very humble and grateful to have them as friends.

So, hats off to July, and a toast to August, which arrives in less than four hours. This takes us into the summery part of summer, the home stretch, as it were. I hope it's a good month for everyone.

Sunday, July 30, 2006

Becoming Yourself

From the July entry of the Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind calendar, quoting Shunryu Suzuki Roshi:

Without any idea of time, your practice goes on and on. Moment after moment you become you yourself.

I think that's true even if your practice is to not practice. You just may not be the you yourself you'd prefer to be.

Crying It Out

I knew we were pretty much going to have to start over. After being on the road, after long days of driving, and having to stay in hotels and thus having people on the other sides of walls, it was just easier to have Ethan sleep with us in our bed than putting him in a portable crib and letting him cry himself to sleep. We tried it the first night out, but, even though we didn't get any complaints, we knew we'd be keeping other folks awake. So, he slept with us.

I might have said it before, but I kind of enjoy having him in the bed with us. There's just a kind of bonding that goes on. You roll over, and in the dim light, there's this little person, breathing slowly, maybe dreaming, and, while dreaming, sometime smiling and even laughing.

But, once we got back home, it was time to start the procedure over again. The first night, we put him to bed, and started The Sleep Lady shuffle. This is a technique whereby you sit next to the crib to let the child know you are there, so they feel safe and fall asleep. The added benefit is that you can see your child, so you know he isn't being tortured, even though he sounds like it. The technique is as much about maintaining your own sanity as it is about getting the child to sleep on his own.

The first time Karen tried it, it worked pretty well, but then illness disrupted the cycle. So we started again, this time taking turns, so at least one of us was getting sleep. Then we went out of town.

Foiled again.

After two weeks on the road, the shuffle was clearly not working. The problem was, Ethan could see us, he could hear us trying to soothe him, but what he couldn't understand was, "Hey, can't you hear me!? I'm unhappy! I want to be held! Pick me up!" and we wouldn't do it. So, that just made matters worse. I finally figured out it was better to just put him in the crib, turn out the lights, and leave the room.

I haven't verified if this is the source, but I've been told the "let 'em cry it out" method comes from Dr. Spock. According to Ethan's doctor, it only takes three nights, and then they will stop crying and go to sleep.

Uh huh.

We were getting there. It was down to around five to ten minutes of bawling, then sleep would take over. But he's gotton big enough and strong enough now that he can pull himself up on the rails of the crib. This means we had to lower the mattress. This, in turn, means we have to start all over again. Nap times seem to play out the same way.

It seems to be easier on me than on Karen; I can tell it breaks her heart to just leave an upset, crying child alone in the semi-dark. It's been easier with me. The first night I took over the shuffle, Ethan screamed and cried for 45 minutes before I'd had enough. I just left the room, went to bed, and said out loud, "F**k it, he can cry 'til his toes are pruney." Karen laughed; she was supposed to be asleep, but wasn't. We talked about the situation, with her giving me the same bulls**t advice I had given her night after night (it didn't help that she giggled the whole time), until we both noticed that, Hey! he'd stopped crying and fallen asleep. I think that first night I went in to check on him eight or nine times, afraid he'd stopped breathing, curled up, and shed his mortal coil. And each time, he would be asleep, clutching his Turtle blanket, as peaceful as ever.

And yet, every morning he shows the resiliency of a rubber ball. If he wakes before we do (or rather, before we admit to ourselves that we are awake), he coos and plays with his fingers, toes, and Turtle, until either we go in and get him or he gets tired of wearing a 37 pound wet and/or dirty diaper and he starts to holler. On top of that, he is all smiles.

I just wish our bedtime ritual didn't include the crying (he's stopped now, he was doing a full lung press when I started writing this post). It has a similar effect of having your head smashed in a pair of cymbals.

Really, this is just a coincidence, but the Music in my head is Crying, sung by Roy Orbison.

Saturday, July 22, 2006

What Happens When We Don't Build Enough Fighter Jets

Thought I'd share one more experience of staying in our hotel.

You might have noticed that my previous entry was posted in the early morning hours. That's because I was awake kinda early. Maybe the following anecdote will tell you why.

When I staggered into the bathroom in one of the numerous pre-dawn hours, I noticed for the first time that the toilet in the bathroom had handles on both sides of the bowl, mounted just below the rim. These were sleek, stainless steel handles of about two centimeters or so in diameter.


I entered the room, turned on the light, and proceeded to, well, answer nature's call. When the light came on, there was this, well, sound that resembled a locomotive in heat coming from the ceiling, and the hair on the back of my neck (as well as the top) stood up. But, nature's call would not be denied. I sat down, underneath the exhaust fan, but immediately began to feel myself being pulled upward, into the exhaust fan.

Instinctively, I grabbed the well mounted, stainless steel handles.

As I stared up in the maelstrom, I noticed that the exhaust fan was made by Pratt & Whitney.

What a place.

Surrounded By Personalities

For reasons I will explain later, we are surrounded by NASCAR fans. Apparently the NASCAR Podunk Pennsylvania Pocono 500 is Sunday, and hotels across Northern PA are crammed full of race fans, even an hour away from the track, and even though the race is two days away.

I'm finding it very, very difficult to not be snotty and stuck-up and snobbish towards race fans, as least inwardly. In some ways, I feel I have at least a little moral justification for feeling superior, since in my not-completely-ended redneck days I followed NASCAR (I even bought a Ford because Bill Elliot raced in one..apparently there was a difference between the one Bill drove and the one I drove, as I couldn't drive 500 miles in my T-Bird without something falling off of it).

Somewhere along the line (perhaps when a piece of my transmission fell off on the freeway - it sounded like I had run over a steel armadillo) I started to notice a change coming over the race scene. At first, it was becoming less about racing and more about personalities. Instead of seeing Pennzoil and Castrol gimme-caps, the car numbers, soon followed by the faces of the drivers, began to appear on clothing. Instead of drafting, fender-bending, a lapping, drivers were getting out of their cars and beating each other up.

As best as I can tell now, there are NASCAR factions, somewhat akin to the alliances in wrestling or the schools at Hogwarts. Dale Earnhart Jr. is in Gryffindor, and Tony Stewart is in Slytherin. There are some Ravenclaws and Hufflepuffs who always seem to miss winning the (Quidditch) cup, but still drive fast enough to keep companies using the savings from denying their employees medical benefits advertising on their cars.

(It has just occurred to me, there are some factions of the populace who might improve their public image by sponsoring racers: the NAACP, gay organizations, President Bush. Even The 700 Club could sponsor the Holier-Than-Thou 100; they certainly aren't any more odious [pun intended] than the Winston folks.)

Anyway, around the same time, country music began to become popular, and, like NASCAR, more about personalities and less about the music (which, as is usual with things that become popular, coincided with the diminution of the quality of the art form). Suddenly, country music singers began to have only one name: Reba, Travis, Toby, Keith. It wasn't really that much of a problem, however; if it became difficult to distinguish one performer from another, that was OK, because the songs weren't all that different from each other, anyway. (Yes, I know that is a charge that has been brought against country music since the days of Jimmy Rogers.)

So, it wasn't any surprise when some Madison Avenue Brooks Brothers Bad Boy (who understood going into the "country" meaning leaving Manhattan) observed that, gee, by and large, the people who follow NASCAR are the same people who listen to (the current, dim simulation of) country music. Putting them together was a no-brainer, but I'm sure the first person to use this connection in advertising is now very wealthy; I certainly hope so.

In any event, we'll be home today, the Podunk Pennsylvania Pocono 500 is tomorrow, and I've let the snob in my psyche have his say. May your inner snob have as much fun as mine has.

Music in my head:Nessun dorma, Andrea Bocelli

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

A Great Picture

Ethan and his grandfather, "Pappa" Neill.
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This picture was taken by my mother-in-law last spring. It's been posted on our refrigerator for months, I just haven't scanned it yet. This image captures his spirit quite well. He loves to laugh! And does it a lot.

Music in my head: Cupid, Sam Cooke