Neither free nor brave

I watched the international friendly between USA and Serbia yesterday on television. Of course, before the match, they played the national anthems of the two countries. Of course, “the land of the free and the home of the brave” got a self-congratulatory roar from the home crowd in San Diego. I shook my head.

All over the country, people are being denied their freedom. Bigotry based on fear-mongering is now the basis of immigration law. If all are not free, none are free. And the only people in this country who have the right to call themselves brave are at airports, protesting hatred and bigotry.

At The Cloisters, NY

This fountain is my favorite thing at The Cloisters. It’s not the oldest thing here, nor the prettiest. It’s my favorite because of what happened near it.
An annoying family of three seemed to be shadowing our every move. Every gallery we entered, they’d follow. The father babbled loudly and incessantly to his toddler son, injecting fake enthusiasm into his every utterance. (LOOK at the STATues, Jonah! Aren’t they GREAT?)We ducked into the courtyard where this fountain is the centerpiece, hoping to shake them. No luck. (Look! It’s a DOORway. Isn’t that GREAT, Jonah?)

As we tried to get away from them, Jonah had to be shown the fountain. (It’s WATER, Jonah! Isn’t it SO COLD?) And Dad balanced Jonah on the edge of the fountain so little Jonah could stick his hand in the SO COLD water (because he’s never seen water in his life, apparently).

And then it happened. One of the museum guards saw this idiocy and barked out, “Why doncha dunk him? I could get you some soap, you can give him a bath.”

As Dad squawked indignantly and hustled Jonah away, the guard continued, “Thing’s hundreds of years old. I know, I’ll put a baby in it. Morons.”

I love this fountain.

Hanging the Iguana

Several years ago, my wife’s mother gave her a life-sized metal iguana sculpture. She has always wanted it hung on our front porch wall. I’ve talked to several handymen about having it done, but most were unwilling to take the job, afraid of damaging the wall, the sculpture, or both. The only person who offered to try wanted to use epoxy to permanently affix it. That would have meant we couldn’t take it down if we needed to paint the house, so I declined the offer.The iguana sculpture in question
This weekend, I decided to take a stab at the project myself. The feet had threaded screw holes, and I thought I might be able to make a mounting bracket that I could screw to the feet, and bolt the bracket to the wall. The first problem was that only one of the screw holes could securely hold a screw. The threads of two of them were completely stripped, and the third was in bad shape, too. The correct size machine screw fit, but if I wiggled it, it came right out. The next size up was too big and wouldn’t fit at all.

I decided I’d deal with that problem once I made the bracket. I bought a piece of 1″ x 1/16″ aluminum, cut a 10” length, and drilled holes. I attached the bracket to the sculpture by inserting a sliver of wood between the screw and the side of the hole on the bad foot. It held, but it seemed a little shaky. Then I held the sculpture in place with one hand, and marked the spots for the hanger bolts with the other.

Drilling the pilot holes and installing the bolts was easy, but I discovered that even though I’d taken precautions to be precise, the bolts were a fraction of an inch too far apart for the bracket. I thought I might be able to widen the hole enough to make it fit, but all I succeeded in doing was ruining the bracket. Oh, and the screw in the stripped hole fell out the minute I tried to redrill the bolt hole.

I made another bracket, this time measuring carefully against the hanger bolts already in place. By chance, I drilled the holes to fasten the bracket to the feet a smidgen farther apart than the first bracket. That had the happy side effect of making it necessary to insert the screw for the semi-stripped hole at an angle, which made it secure in the hole. I slid the bracket over the bolts, secured it with wing-nuts, and now it looks like a live iguana is crawling up the front of our porch. And my wife is very happy.

Iguana sculpture mounted to our front porch

On Mindfulness Meditation

Yesterday, I finished a ten-session introductory series of mindfulness meditation. Although I was originally very skeptical, this short introduction has convinced me that the practice is worthwhile.

I first encountered the concept of mindfulness as I prepared to become a full-time ScrumMaster. I had long sought this career path, but I worried that I wouldn’t be up to the challenge. One of the books I read recommended mindfulness meditation. Around the same time, I saw a blog post recommending an app called “Headspace.” It’s a free app that starts you off with a free ten-day course, so I had little to lose by trying it.

Still, I resisted. It was scary to try something new, and I was skeptical of some of the outlandish claims I’d heard about the benefits of meditation. A little research revealed that most of what I’d heard had to do with Transcendental Meditation, a different thing entirely. There was solid data to suggest that mindfulness had a lot of benefits to both physical and mental health. On New Year’s Eve, I decided to start.

Sitting down for the first session brought up a lot of familiar anxieties. What if this doesn’t work? What if I look stupid? (Even when no one is around, this is something that plagues me, but that’s a subject for another post.) What if I’m wasting my time? What if I’m no good at it? What if I’m incapable of doing it? Will that mean something is wrong with me? I nearly quit before I started, but I’d promised myself that I would try it.

I keep my promises.

In the first session, I could take a deep breath in with no trouble, but exhaling kept coming out ragged and choppy as anxiety roiled my mind. I had a lot of trouble following the guide’s gentle direction. As though fear and anxiety weren’t enough to contend with, other concerns fought for attention: about my writing, fitness and health, home repairs, personal issues.

I got through it, though, and I did feel a little more tranquil when the session was over.

Over the next three days, as I got used to the practice, it was easier to breathe steadily, and it grew easier to settle my mind. I ended each session a little more relaxed than I started it. By the end of the course, I looked forward to my ten minute time out each day.

Naturally, I’m far from mastering the practice. During the last session, the guide said, “And now, let your mind do whatever it wants to do, just for the next ten seconds or so,” and I started to giggle. That was all I had been doing. It’s going to take a lot more practice, but at least I’m less troubled by the fact that my mind is awhirl with thought, and I’m no longer trying to chase those thoughts down or control them. In time, I expect that I’ll learn to unclutter and improve my focus.

I’m not sure that I’ll continue with Headspace itself. Additional courses are available as a subscription service, and I don’t like that business model. My father promised to send me some meditation CDs he has used. (If I’d known he does it, I might not have resisted the idea so much!) Meanwhile, I’ll run through the introductory course again. It certainly won’t hurt to review and reinforce the basic concepts.

Friday Five: Classes that stayed with me

There’s a saying that no education is wasted, but some classes taught me things I never thought I’d still use, long after I took them. Here are five that taught me more than I expected.

1. Algebra. I hate to admit it, but damn it, I use algebra almost every freaking day. Granted, I seldom find myself factoring polynomials, but basic algebra is one of the most valuable skills I ever learned. We’re just talking Algebra I here, though. Algebra II can still sit on it and spin.

2. Drafting. I took a drafting course in high school because I thought I might go into mechanical engineering. I couldn’t hack the higher maths I needed to pursue engineering, but when I need to design a wood working project, I use the skills and techniques Mr. Otto taught me thirty years ago.

3. Stage Carpentry. One of the required courses for the theater degree I didn’t finish at USF taught me fundamentals of woodworking that I’ve put to use for all sorts of projects over the years.

4. Introduction to Philosophy. Not for the philosophy, per se, but because years later, when I was learning about object-oriented programming, I grasped it instantly thanks to having read Aristotle’s theory of forms and ideas

5. Citizens’ Police Academy. A free nine week course offered by the Saint Petersburg Police Department that exposed Carolyn and I to the basics of all sorts of police work. Plus, we got to play with Luminol!

The Big Scrum: How Teddy Roosevelt Saved Football

I finished reading The Big Scrum: How Teddy Roosevelt Saved Football earlier this week. Any fan of football will enjoy this look at the origins of the game, since so many features of modern football result directly from the reforms of this period: the forward pass, the line of scrimmage, the ten yard rule, the fourth down, and many others.

Ironically, the book would have been better served by less focus on Roosevelt and more on the other figures behind the origins of the game. The biographical information is shallow and doesn’t cover anything we don’t already know about Roosevelt. And although the book credits him as the man who “saved football,” his contribution was mostly limited to using the power of his office and the strength of his personality to encourage much needed reforms. The yeoman’s work was done by others, but because the narrative’s frame is Roosevelt, the others get short shrift.

Still, the writing is compelling and anyone who enjoys football will get a lot out of this book.