Apr 202016
 

WW40cFirst of all, to my friends and family in Houston… I know some of you took some damage from the insane rains this week (Scott, Adam…). You have my sincerest sympathy. I know I whined about being scared by a tornado a few weeks back. You guys really didn’t have to do this just to show me up!  Thinking

I lived most of my life in and around the Houston metroplex. One thing I learned is that, while it doesn’t happen often, those floods can be devastating. I remember being stuck in my neighborhood a time or two, and MBH recalls being flooded out of her house when she was a kid. I even lost a friend during Tropical Storm Allison in 2001 when she was told to move her car from a flooding underground parking garage. She took the elevator down, where the rising water shorted it out, trapped her inside, and filled with water. Kristie and I were both members of the Woodlands Writers Guild, and had worked on some writing conferences together.

And I guess this post just took a rather maudlin turn, didn’t it?

Moving to a more upbeat tone… I spoke to my mom this morning, and she seems to be recovering from her knee surgery wonderfully. The staples were removed from the incision yesterday, and she has regained motion in the knee to the point of being able to bend to nearly 90 degrees (although she says bending that far is still painful). All in all, she’s doing great.  Big Smile

Chucklers is moving right along. Restructuring the book has led to some rewrites and character expansions. Otherwise, most of the first book would be from Charlie’s POV, but interspersed with occasional chapters from other characters. In short, it would be completely out of balance without the reworks. But like I said, the work progresses. At the current rate, I should know soon whether the existing manuscript is going to be one book or two.

WW40bA final note. I’ve mentioned before that I’ve begun researching and applying some herbal medicine skills. There are a lot of pieces to those skills. You have to learn what plants have what medicinal properties, how to make them into infusions, tinctures, infused oils, salves, and poultices. But none of that knowledge does you any good if you aren’t able to identify the plants accurately. Well today I learned to identify a new plant. I’d read about it in several herbal medicine books, and seen it on various websites, but Plantain has so many variants that it threw me. And seeing pictures of something just isn’t the same as being able to put your hands on it and see it in real life.

Today, while I was walking the girls, I noticed a plant in a neighbor’s yard that looked very much like the descriptions and pictures I’d researched. And after all the rain we’ve had here (no, nothing like Houston) they were pushing up an easily identifiable flower stalk. But I still wasn’t sure, so I took a picture and posted it to a wildcrafting site I follow asking if it was, indeed, plantain. Sure enough, several wildcrafters confirmed it for me.

WW40aBut I didn’t want to go into the neighbor’s yard and start digging up plants. Besides, I sure didn’t want to make an infused oil from a plant that could have pesticide or other chemicals in it. So I decided that since I was now able to accurately identify this handy little medicinal, I went into my own back yard, hoping to find it there. It wasn’t until I had walked all the way to the back that I found it, but once I did, I was happy to see that there’s quite a bit of it near the back of the property. (Most of the broad-leafed plants in the picture to the left are plantain.) Specifically, it looks like I have Kentucky Plantain growing in relative abundance in my back yard.

Plantain is one of the better antidotes for insect stings and bites, snakebite, poison ivy, rashes, burns, cuts, and other skin ailments. When heated, the leaves can be applied topically to swollen joints, sore muscles, sprains, etc. Studies have shown that it is rich in tannin (which draws tissue together to help stop bleeding), allantoin (which promotes the healing of injured skin cells), and is an anti-inflammatory. There are other reputed uses, but I’ll stick with the ones that have scientific studies behind them.

So that’s my little bit of excitement for the day. Now I get to experiment with trying to dehydrate it, and make some infused oil out of it. I’m curious about whether dehydrating it significantly lowers its potency in infusions and oils.

I guess I’ll find out.

And that’s it. Time to get back to work. Stay safe everyone. I’ll see you in a week.  Bye

 

Feb 242016
 

Hope you have your hip waders on. Today’s post gets a little deep.  Cool

AssortmentA friend of mine posted a link on Facebook that resonated with me.  It was on a website dedicated to the support of the 2nd Amendment.  What was surprising was that the article wasn’t really trying to convince anyone to support the 2nd.  It was the author’s thoughts on the nature of evil, and how you don’t recognize the truly evil person until it’s too late.

The name of the article is “I’ve Talked With a Spree Killer…”, and if you’re so inclined you can read it here, though I learned long ago that such articles seldom if ever convince anyone of anything.  Just as my little missive here is unlikely to convince anyone to my view of things.

But the article did start me to thinking about the nature of violence.  Just say the word to yourself.  Violence.  There is an almost immediate connotation of wrongness and disapproval, isn’t there?  Even when I think about it, I have to almost consciously step beyond the emotional stigma that society has put on the word.

Yet I have dedicated a fair piece of my life to the study of martial arts.  And without getting all Miyagi on everyone, you can’t get away from the fact that the study of martial arts is the study of violence.  It’s an acceptance of the idea that life is not all smiles and sunshine, and that people do not all behave as society says they should.  It’s the acknowledgement that some people will attempt to take advantage of others, sometimes to the point of attacking them.  Sometimes killing them.

And it is training yourself to use similar violence to prevent it from happening around you.

I’m not going to try debate why violence occurs.  Environment, upbringing, mental illness, demonic possession, or whatever… for the purposes of this post, it doesn’t matter.  The fact that it does happen is enough for me to make the point I want to make.

It happens.

That can’t be denied.  I don’t care which side of the gun control/gun rights debate you fall on.  As far as I’m concerned, for this particular post, you can take guns out of the equation completely.  Whether the instrument is guns, knives, fists, or teeth, violent attacks on innocents happen every day.  Period.  If they didn’t, we wouldn’t need a military or a police force.

But as an ordinary citizen, what can you do about it?  Well the way I see things, there are three basic approaches to an attack.

You can call the authorities.  Or if you are actually the victim of said violence, then you can hope someone else calls the authorities.  After all, that’s why we have them, right?  To take care of perpetrators of violence against the innocent citizen.

Of course, unless the crime happens in front of the police, then the chances of them actually stopping the attack are pretty much slim to none.  But maybe they’ll catch whoever did it and lock them up so they won’t get a chance to do it again. Right?

Right?

Of course, you can take the “turn the other cheek” approach.  But to be perfectly honest, I’m just not that righteous a human being (if that’s your definition of being righteous).  If someone strikes the cheek of someone I care for, whether it’s me, a loved one, a friend, or even an innocent I see on the street, I’m more likely to take the third approach.

As far as I’m concerned, the old adage of “violence begets violence” is true.  Just off the top of my head, I’ve known two people who were victims of attempted kidnappings, several who were victims of muggings or attempted muggings, and two who were raped.  I’m a strong believer in stopping the violence immediately, minimizing the damage done to the victim as quickly as possible.  And I accept that doing so means that I have to embrace a certain amount of violence myself.

The old Japanese idea of bushido embraced several aspects of life – frugality, loyalty, honor, the study of martial arts, and yes… violence.  But more importantly, it embraced the balance of these traits.  Violence alone?  Yeah, that’s a pretty bad thing.  It can easily throw off a person’s emotional balance.  It’s like the old adage that says if all you have is a hammer, then everything begins to look like a nail.

Used improperly, that hammer can destroy all too easily.  But in the hands of a trained craftsman, it can be used to build you up.  You can learn to accept it as part of your nature – that it doesn’t have to be feared, only controlled.  And like the hammer, violence then becomes one of many tools you can use in building the life you want.

Like it or not, violence is part of life.  I’ve not known anyone who truly doesn’t have any violence in them.  Only those who choose to suppress it.  For better or worse, I’m not one of those people.  I’ve accepted the violence within.  I embrace it.  And I balance it with compassion and love for my fellow human beings.

I could give examples of people I’ve known who have used their martial arts training in defense of themselves or others.  But that’s not really the point here.  What I want you to take from this is that you have to find your own balance in life.  And just because someone else tells you something is so, is no reason to accept that it is.  There are always opposing views on any given subject.  Examine those views, make your own determination.

And in all things, find your own balance.

That’s it.  Enough of the deep musings.  We all have things to do.  So stay safe, and I’ll see you next week. Bye

 

 

Jun 152015
 

Monday. MBH and I had a really nice weekend, despite the dreary weather. As I mentioned in my last post, Friday was my birthday, and she seemed determined to make it a weekend event. She’s really too good to me. J She cooked banana pancakes for breakfast on Saturday, and on Sunday, we had some errands to run, so we ate breakfast out. Then she made some slow cooker barbeque ribs cooked in homemade sauce for dinner, and they were absolutely amazing! (YUM!)

Let’s see, what else? Hmmm…

Sumac - 20150614_201213Ah! Many of you know I’m a bit of a self-sufficiency aficionado, with a strong interest in prepping, homesteading, wild crafting, and related topics of study. Well, for the last few days, my wife has commented on some bushes we pass while walking the girls. She kept wondering what the plants with the big red blooms were. They were across the street from where we walk and in an overgrown area, so at first I didn’t pay much attention. I simply glanced at them, and being partly colorblind, saw a big, spindly plant with leaves that were roughly feather shaped, and reddish, fluffy seeming blooms. From a distance, it looked like a mimosa, and I mentally wrote it off as such.

But yesterday I had occasion to get a closer look. Now, here comes the apparent non-sequitur, but trust me, we’re coming back around to the topic in a few seconds…

See, while we love our girls fiercely, we have come to accept that they are often not the friendliest dogs in the world when it comes to meeting new people. Sometimes they’re fine, but the unfortunate truth is that it’s not uncommon for them to lose their ever-lovin’ minds when someone new approaches. They bark and growl, and in general sound like the doggie apocalypse is coming. As such, we usually make it a point to take them across the street whenever we see someone walking towards us. I know some of the neighbors probably think we’re being unfriendly, but I don’t want to have them worried about the barking teddy bears on the leashes.

Well, yesterday as we were walking them for the evening walk, some neighbors were out on the sidewalk ahead of us. So we took the girls across the street, which brought us closer to the mystery plants. Additionally, there were a couple of rabbits in the field near them. These factors combined to cause me to pay more attention to the field, and as a result, take a closer look at the plants. When I realized that the big red blooms on top weren’t blooms at all, but were in fact clusters of red berries that projected upwards from the limbs, I got a little excited. See, in my research on homesteading, permaculture, and backyard orcharding, I had learned about wild sumac.

If you’re like most people, the first sumac you hear about is “poison sumac”, and so you immediately develop a healthy caution with it. But in many parts of the world, sumac is a spice. In many places here in the US, it’s known as the “lemonade tree”. And when I learned that it grows wild in many parts of the country, I developed quite an interest in a plant that can be used as a spice, or to flavor cooking meats, or even to make a tart drink similar to lemonade. I read about how to identify poison sumac by its marshy environment, smooth-edged leaves, and yellow, green or white berries that hang downwards.

Its cousin is edible sumac, and comes in many varieties. However, almost all of them have serrated leaves, and either red or purple berries that grow in conical, upward pointing clusters. It was the berry clusters on that mystery plant that convinced me that we had stumbled across edible sumac. And, being the idiot that I am, I picked one of the tiny berries, and popped it in my mouth.

It was a stupid thing to do. My memory could have been off, right? It would have been smarter for me to take a picture, get back home, and confirm what I thought I remembered with concrete evidence from the interwebs. But as my wonderful wife will attest, I’m not always all that smart. I trusted my memory.

I got a little nervous when I didn’t taste any of the reported tart, sour flavor. Instead, when I bit into that tiny berry, all I tasted was a slight astringent bitterness, similar to biting into an unripe elderberry. But despite that lack of identifying tartness, I was still convinced I had found sumac. So I got home and researched more. It turns out that you aren’t supposed to chew the berries, but rather suck on them. The tart flavor is in the coating on the berries, and often washes off in rain. And we’ve had plenty of rain over the last few days.

So I am still 95% sure we’ve found sumac. Specifically, I’m pretty sure it’s “Smooth Sumac” (aka Rhus glabra). It’s growing on the edge of a neighbor’s property, so I need to check with them and see if they want the bushes, and if not, see if they would mind if I dig one or two of them up and try to transplant them to the back of our property.

How crazy is it that I get excited over finding a plant? Man, my life has changed.

All right. Enough for now. It’s raining again, and I have writing to do. So stay safe, and I’ll be back tomorrow.

Jan 012013
 

Well, it appears we survived the dreaded December 21 apocalypse, so I suppose it’s time to get on with life.  It’s now the first of a new year, and time for those dreaded resolutions.

Actually, that’s the wrong attitude, isn’t it?  It’s time to grab the new year by the horns and take advantage of the opportunities presented.  Yeah, it’s resolution time.  So, first of all, health – I need to lose weight.  I could stand to lose quite a bit, but I’m going to resolve to lose thirty by June and keep it off for the rest of the year. That’s going to be the harder part.  I gave it half-hearted lip service a few months ago, lost a couple of pounds, and then entered the holidays with a full appetite.  I haven’t gained any, but my weight loss stopped at two pounds. It’s time to change that.

Next – writing.  I will finish Streets of Payne, and have it published before the end of the second quarter of next year.  Additionally, I will have the first draft of the HPM sequel done, and will do everything within my power to have it published before the end of 2013.  I can’t promise to actually have it published, because I’ve found that there are some pieces of the publishing puzzle over which I simply have no control.  I don’t know what my editor’s schedule is like that far in advance (and neither will she at this point), just as I don’t know what the cover artist and formatter’s schedule is going to be like.  But I can control the writing, so that is where I will concentrate my efforts.

Now for the more esoteric stuff.  I’ve made no secret of the fact that I’m something of a survivalist.  I simply view it as learning to embrace a self-reliant lifestyle.  To that end, I’ve joined a web site called “13 Skills“.  The site is an offshoot of “The Survival Podcast” forum, and is designed with the idea that those folks interested in learning to be more self-sufficient should take the opportunity to learn “13 in 13”, or thirteen new skills in 2013.  I haven’t yet chosen thirteen skills, but the ones I’ve chosen so far are:

1. Aquaponics  —   Learn to build a balanced aquaponics system as research for upcoming book.

2. Archery — Acquire an inexpensive bow & arrows. Learn to shoot accurately. (Also useful as research for the upcoming HPM sequel.)

3. Concealed Weapons Permit —    Acquire CHL.

4. Soap Making  — Learn to make small batch soaps.

5. Sprouting — Sprout seedlings for spring garden.

6. Gardening — Learn and put into practice techniques for small footprint gardening. (Made a stab at this in the late fall, but it was just too late in the season, and everything has pretty much died.)  Cry

7. Cordage and Twining—  Learn to make paracord items such as rescue belt & explore whether or not same technique can be used for heavier gauge cordage such as climbing rope.

8. Canning — Learn to can & put it into practice.

9. Fitness —  Lose at least 30 lbs. & keep it off! (Already covered this one above.)

10. Water Catchment/Filtering — Acquire/build rain catchment system for back yard. Incorporate rainwater runoff for gardening.

 

That’s all I can think of right now.  What about you?  What are your plans for 2013?

Nov 042012
 

I know I’ve promised not to get into politics here, and I intend to keep that promise.  However, there are topics that are (to my mind) beyond politics.  They transcend the petty machinations of the talking heads, and speak to some basic parts of our psyche.  And the very reason they polarize us is that the way we grow up shapes the very nature of our souls.

How’s that for a philosophical intro?  Think of it as my way of warning you that you might want to make sure you’re wearing your hip waders before you read any further, because it’s about to get pretty deep around here.

I want to talk about the use of violence, up to and including the use of lethal force.  I will attempt to do this in as unbiased a manner as I can, and I will tell you right now that I know I’m going to fail.  My opinions are already formed.  I have already had the experiences that turned me into the adult that I am, and for better or worse, my mind is set.  So with the understanding that my attempt at an unbiased discussion here is doomed to failure, I will make you this promise; I will not squash any dissenting opinions that may arise from this blog post – as long as those opinions don’t descend into a trolling flame war.  So keep it as polite as possible when you comment.

So let’s dive into the subject at hand – the use of violence or lethal force against a fellow human being.  There are those who believe it to be a human or moral right to be able to use death, and the threat of death as a deterrent against the actions of others.  There are others who believe it is too abhorrent a practice to even contemplate.

I’ve been a martial arts student for most of my life, and I recognize that this has been a major influence in making me who I am.  And let’s not mince words here.  The study of the martial arts is the study of violence.  It is also the study of control, and balance.  To accept martial arts into your life, you must accept that violence.  And you must balance the violent aspects of the arts with proper control.  At some point in your studies, you realize just how fragile the human body is, and it’s a real eye opener when you suddenly realize that it is sometimes easier to kill a person than it is to stop them without harming them.

But here’s the thing – martial artists are just as human as everyone else.  They… we… are just as flawed as everyone else, and there are just as many schools of thought in the philosophy of violence, as there are in any other hot topic.  Over the years, I’ve debated the “proper” use of violence with other martial artists, and you may be surprised to hear this, but there are many martial artists who feel that one should never use lethal force unless one attempts to use it against them first.  Let me emphasize something here.  They don’t say one should never use lethal force, only that you should never do so until after someone attempts to kill you first — not just threatens you, but actually attempts to kill you.  They consider this to be a moral high road.  Some take it a step further, stating that one should never attempt to fight against a burglar or mugger, even in an attempt to disarm or defuse the situation, because there is the risk that someone could get hurt or killed.  The argument is that there is nothing in their homes or wallets worth risking a life over.

There are others who believe that when someone attempts to rob or mug them, the criminal is the one who has decided that the contents of the house or wallet is worth gambling their life.  For them, there is no ethical question as to whether or not it is “right” to react with violence.  To their way of thinking, they have already been threatened, and the consequences are the responsibility of the person who initiated the attack.

I’ve thought about both sides many times over the years.  If you study a martial art for any length of time, you will play a lot of “what if” games.  What if someone has a knife?  What if there are multiple attackers?  What if your attacker has a pistol?  What if there is a dog attacking you?  After a while you accept that you can never prepare for every eventuality.  But what if became a permanent part of my mindset.  So let me present you with some “what if”s here:

1. What if someone broke into your home and threatened you with harm?  Do you use force against force to protect yourself?  Does that extend to lethal force?

2. What if someone holds you and your loved ones up at gunpoint?  If you have an opening to use lethal force to stop them, do you take it?

3. What if you’re alone in a parking garage and a mugger threatens you with a knife and demands your wallet or purse?  Do you hand it over, or do you fight?

I’ll come out and let you know how I feel about it.  If I or my friends or family are attacked and I see the opening, I will take it.  To my way of thinking, I’ve had the training for this.  The next person the attacker holds up probably hasn’t.  My actions could determine whether or not the attacker gets a chance at that next person.

So what about you?  What if you had the training and the skill to fight against a mugger or an invader in your home?  What if you had an opportunity to defend yourself against the violence of another person, but only if you react just as violently?  What if you saw a loved one being attacked?  A child?

What if?

 Posted by at 9:24 am