On a Snowy Morning

It’s not the first snow of the winter, but it is the first snow of the year.

A thin blanket for a cold, cold beginning. There is something sad about it – is it the gray clouds which even now hover over the new-made world? The occasional gust of the wind, making the lonely chime sound its solitary note of cheer? Maybe it is the slight wish that this present had come not so close to Christmas, not so close to a time when presents are so plentiful.

I am off today. Off because of the snow. Yesterday was my first day back, and today is, now, another day off. I will enjoy today, but I will feel a bit guilty about it. I think this sums up my relationship with joy fairly well. If there really were a cosmic balance, a giant scale by which happiness and misery were dolled out,  what would I have in store for me but misery, in this life front-heavy with blessings? Misfortunes have been like lemons in a pie. How sweet, still, the sum of the parts!

2017 has been a well balanced, wholesome year. Less pie and more biscotti with whole wheat. The theme has been, sometimes too overtly, community. This was the literal theme for my church’s women’s committee (“living in the light of community“). And the inferred dream of all the up and coming adults in the area. Two different bible studies were started this year, each at a different church. Each by different personalities, with different life experiences. Yet each established with the desire to build relationships with more people, and to build more people’s relationships with God. In the midst of all this, the Geekette established a new weekly tradition: dinner, Stargate, and excellent conversation. All theses things have been a peculiar kind of blessing for me. A direct answer to a prayer I made in 2015.

Answered prayer is kind of like a fulfilled wishlist at Christmas. You look at your new treasures and wonder “Now what do I do with you?” Often, I think, when we ask for things – spiritual or otherwise – we only imagine having or receiving and we fail to fully think about using or living with. And this has been my experience with community this year. In bible studies, home, and at my church, I have suddenly found myself in that net of relationships that extends far under the surface of every group, like tree roots. Or mushrooms. And now that I am finding myself a part of it, I wonder what I’m supposed to do. What does a root do? It gathers what is necessary to grow and nourish the tree. Not by creeping up to the surface – which is rather my instinct, to find the light and be visible, to be the tree – but by functioning where it is placed, whether that’s rich or poor, loam or sand or clay.

Or, to summarize, though this year has been the year of community, the lesson I think I’m supposed to learn from it is the same lesson I have always resisted learning. Be still and wait.

Though the same, in looking back, I seem to see a nuance to this message which I have never noticed before. Or, perhaps, noticed only by its absence. The root does not wait, inactive, but rather waits through action. Its stillness is the quietness of living, content, not the motionlessness of death. And the waiting is not an impatient desire. An hourly frustrated expectation. The root, in its slow absorption of water and nutrients,  experiences the tree’s future second by second. The waiting is not for something to happen, but for what is happening to continue. The stillness is not in defeat, but in complete assurance that victory is present even here. Even now. Does the root have a certain point to which it desires the tree to grow? And does it chafe and fret if the tree grows slanted, towards the sun, or twisted in the wind, or thicker than its estimated girth? To wait is to live not just in expectation but in the daily fulfillment of that expectation. It is not a hope based on the whim of wishing, but one proved each day. Best seen in hind-sight, of course, but still there to be seen if one looks. To be still and wait is to look for God and to see Him, and to live looking and seeing.

I’m hoping that 2018 will teach me about friendship; about reciprocity, and thinking of others and thoughtfulness in general. But if the lessons on being still and waiting are to continue I would not mind either. What once I considered boring I begin to find enticing. The meekness that once seemed incapable I now suspect is the most confident of all. If I could be still, in living; if I could wait, in the midst of achieving; if I could thread each day through the weft of God’s promises, instead of tossing them away like stray ends, or storing them up against some coming time – what need would I for pie to make life’s lemons sweet to me?

Strawberry Fields and Military Sci-Fi

Aldis had freeze dried strawberries in the nut section last time I went in.

I have been curious about freeze-dried fruits, and, more specifically, how they would do in granola for about as long as I’ve been into making granola so naturally I bought a bag, combining a crushed handful of fragrant redness with (shelled) pumpkin seeds, almonds, candied ginger, vanilla extract, and honey syrup.

Conclusion: It does right well in granola, though more because the powder clung to the ginger than becasue the chunks are noticeable. Next time I will add less sugar, but for now the strawberries are pleasantly tart and smell heavenly; when topped with chunks of fresh peaches it is divine.

I’ve since used the strawberries, powdered, as a base for salad dressing and as an addition to candied walnuts. I have a little bit left in the bag . . . . maybe something traditional like scones? I haven’t really had time to think about it: for the last 2.5 day I’ve been slogging through the muggy jungles of Marduk in a 1,000 page crawl of the Empire of Man’s opening half. I’m recuperating while my hold requests for the last two books are fulfilled. I do have three other books on my table, all also courtesy of the library (one on loan from a completely different county, using the Marina system. Magic) but, in all honesty, I don’t think I could read another line right now. Not with enjoyment, anyway.

Part of that is becasue all the books I’m reading are just similar enough to start running together. I’ve been kind of on a military sci-fi kick lately – it’s my new whodunit, I guess. For years I loved reading Agatha Christie and Arthur Doyle during the summer but, now that I’ve read a fair number of those stories and sampled a few others in the genre, I’m rather mystery-ed out. Even with my love of formula, between the literally cookie cutter nature of some mystery books, and the inevitable ruins they makes of the characters’ lives, I’m a bit numb to them. I can get my seasonal dose of scandal from police dramas, thank you.

Military sci-fi fits in perfectly to the void thus created. The situations are equally convenient, the characters unimportant, and the plot merely a carriage for death, cunningly achieved. At times authors of either genre will wander into arm chair philosophy; the whodunit focusing on the psychological origins of human evil and the military covering honor and death and what the struggle to live means when that struggle includes being willing to lay down your life for an outside cause.

Not that the characters in military fiction are merely bits of wood for the bullets to hit. However, they do sometimes seem so in comparison to longer epics that don’t make battles their primary focus but instead are full of random character dialogue. The Belgariad comes to mind as the best example of this – the characters are the reason you read the book and, when you are done reading it, you feel you know them inside and out. The Belgariad is such a part of me that it’s difficult to not hold other long, drawn out sagas to the same standard of camaraderie, even when they are obviously in a completely different category. And military fiction is a completely different category than Fantasy or Sci-Fi. Instructional rather than inspirational, Military Fiction is for the quartermaster in all of us. It’s about logistics and order in the midst of lack and chaos. That is what I love about it the most: the orderly, detailed unfolding of battle.

But that is also why it occasionally comes across as, well, flat as a cartographer’s masterpiece. Take the Lost Fleet series, of which I’ve waded through three out of six books. The battles are delicately orchestrated to be daring and dangerous while at the same time letting the characters survive without outright cheating death. They are filled with exhaustively persistent reminders that something ten light-minutes away will take thirty minutes to reach you if you’re going at point one light speed.{{1}} [[1]]Or whatever the actual figures are. I’ll admit, my love for a logical world was not strong enough to figure out how soon two ships would come together if they were five light minutes apart and one was moving at 1.4LS and the other at .9LS. The answer was, invariably, “not as quickly as it takes to tell it.”[[1]] If, by the end of the first book, you are not mentally begging for a good ol’ warp drive you have not been reading it closely enough. The human drama element is there – but it is there becasue that is a part and parcel of war and you couldn’t really have one without the other. As such the characters are sometimes conscripted to speak or act in ways inconsistent to their personality{{2}} [[2]]Assuming they were lucky enough to merit a personality in the first place[[2]] but necessary for the moment, effectively killing off any chance of the audience relating to them. This is good, becasue there are only three categories for named characters in war: the doomed, the enemy, and the hero. All in all, it is a wonderful argument for the chain of command and the military mindset and will make you ponder deeply the complexities of waging war in a vast 3D plain. It will get you thinking, but it’s not going to leave tears streaming down your face.

Of course there are military books that have relatable characters as well – L. E. Modestt’s scholar portfolio in the imager universe comes immediately to mind. But even here it is not all the characters. It couldn’t be – too many people die to keep track or care about all of them. And, let’s be brutally honest, no matter how much people are willing to follow a military leader there is something so tragic about them that it is almost impossible for them not to be somewhat isolated in the midst of their troops. They may know the name and backstory of every soldier, but at the end of the day the knowledge that they are sending these men to their deaths will wall their hearts round with guilt. Truly, MF can be almost as emo as a vampire love story. Which, of course, is just another reason to love it, becasue military fiction reminds us, again, that sometimes the hardest of us are also the softest, that it’s rare to have hate without love, and that numbness can only exist where feeling is possible.

I think it’s the juxtaposition of these two concepts – the obsessive attention to niggling detail and the yearning to serve and protect what you hold dear – that really makes military sci-fi. As a culture, we tend to divide things to their basest elements, putting the brain here and the heart there, but this one genre welds them together with spit, wire, and pure grit. This is the-needs-of-the-many level philosophy, where you must constantly weigh the worth of lives today against the uncertainty of victory tomorrow. In a strange way, it is a place in fiction where the hero will always survive but will never truly win, because every time a life is lost he fails. In a world that continually invites you to fall, how can we not relate to the relentlessly battered warrior, who sees his actions time and time again take the life of friend and innocent alike? Perhaps it is as much for the hope they lend – the encouragement to press on despite our despair –  and not just for the ingenuity of war that we continue to write and read them.

 obligatory ending photo

Incongruous Tart

Blueberry Morning

There’s a cereal out there called  “Blueberry Morning,” or “Blueberry delight,” or  “Eat Me, I’m Healthy and Taste Like Artificially Natural Dried Blueberries!

The cereal is good, and I wouldn’t say no to a bowl of it right now,  but I mention it only as a way of excusing myself incase I’ve accidentally used a copyrighted name as my title.

For my own blueberry morning I woke earlier then I had too, a feat accomplished by bribing myself with Merlin episodes and, after that wore off, with a blueberry milkshake. The shake was really quite perfect – though I can’t promise it was the shake itself and not just the heady taste of huddling in a chair with a blanket, binging on TV before work. The base is blueberries (as promised) and almond milk, but it would not have been complete if I had not carelessly – rashly even – dumped two handfuls of oats into the blender, added a clump of flax seed,  and pulsed before pouring in the frozen berries and milk. You know those blue-box, blueberry muffin mixes? The ones with the little candied “blueberries”? It was like drinking that batter.

Only really, really, cold. At dawn. During the winter.

Somethings are worth suffering for.

Emboldened by this success,  I tried adding oats to a chocolate-avocado shake last night. The result was . . . edible, and probably fixable, but nothing I could actually serve to another person. Not even my mom. On days like these, when I take the time to play with my food a bit,  I just can’t fathom who would waste their lives on alchemy and turning one tasteless metal into another tasteless metal when, hello, there’s food to experiment with. Magic is all around us, but it’s in the near-and-daer things, not the lofty, far-off wonders.

Old as Dirt

The world is another year older now. It’s trees have shed leaves after leaves, lying down the components for a new layer of dirt even as the clouds atttempt to wash away the old. My house, young as it is, as already accumulated a quite unyeidling layer of Stuff and Things and General Mess, which sometimes I think I will never be able to budge. Thanks to my week of culinary excess{{1}} my kitchen looks something of a war zone, and I know I’ll have some scrubbing to do today if I’m ever going to get it clean between meals.

Becasue my kitchen is so dirty and I’m tired of washing pots I’ve suddenly developed a passion for cleaning my room. Now, my room has pretty much been untidy since the day I was born, except for a few remarkably well kept years at college. Lately I have been using my floors as an excuse for my “drop-it-and-leave-it” ways, the argument being that I can’t put in proper furniture until I have my carpet ripped out and the wood laid down. It’s a good excuse, but it has gone on too long. If I think my room is too messy, it sure-as-yolks is.

Part of my desire to clean is really just a desire to redo. My room plans are pretty ambitious and I want everything to be well thought out before they’ve been properly begun, so when I realized I might have found a flaw in the propsed layout of my sitting room area I just had to go and move my bed and desk to the ooposite side of the room. This meant shifting boxes, and paper, and what I must admit can really only be called junk, to new spots on the floor. So I woke up on a completely different side of the bed than I normally do,  a nice change for a new year.

So far I like the new layout, but the best part is having to redo my whole design inside my head. I had just decided that I wanted a sunset with telephone wire painted just so there, and now I find that whole wall is likely to be hidden completely by shelves. Do I flip the painting to the opposing wall, or keep it out? What about the full length mirror?


[[1]] Soup and fish Satuday, stew and pretzels Monday, and soup again Wednesday [[1]]