Friday, May 22, 2015

An Adventure with Groceries

"We all get by with a little help from our friends."

I'm mowing our front lawn late one afternoon, and I notice a young boy struggling with a small bicycle. He's on the sidewalk in front of our neighbor's place to the east. The details escape me; suddenly, he's walking with the bike past our place. He's halfway past the house on the other side of us, and, just as suddenly, he's struggling again, bending over at the waist, walking stiffly with and apparently looking at the bike. 

My memory flashes back to walking a bike, sort of like that, trying to get a chain that had left the front sprocket to latch back onto it. His chain and sprocket situation seem to be OK, however.

I shut the mower off, walk toward him ( he’s maybe 10, 12 years old; I dunno ), asking, “Hey, I’m not a mechanic, but do you need some help, there?”

A strong, “Yes,” he says, surprising me.

“What’s up?”

He has a plastic grocery bag, with groceries in it, that has torn badly. Using both arms, he's been trying to keep the groceries in the bag and walk with his bicycle at the same time. It is not going well. “So, all you need is a new bag?”

“This one has a big hole ...”

“Let’s see the size of it.” It's a typically sized plastic grocery bag. “I can help. I’ll get you another,” I say, “wait here.” I walk to the house for another bag. I get three of them, thinking the odd-color one is larger than the other two, but realize as I get outside that it probably isn’t.

He tells me he lives just down the street, around the corner of the block we're standing on. He's a  neighborhood kid, and I suddenly feel kind of bad that I don’t recognize him. 

He takes the odd color bag and we begin putting his groceries into it. He has three half gallon jugs … juice and milk, I think, and two bags of bread. We're further squashing the already squashed bread.

“Why don’t you put just the jugs in that bag, leave the bread and come back for it?” I suggest. “The bread’s getting terribly squashed in there”

“Hmm, good idea,” he says, and I take the two breads.

“When you come back, if I’m mowing out front, I’ll have these on the front steps; if I’m not here, I’ll be in back, and I’ll take the breads with me.”

“OK,” he says; “thanks very much. Thanks very much.”

He is back in what seems like four or five seconds, walking on the sidewalk. He puts his hand up to the middle of his chest, palm outward, and waves shyly as he approaches the middle of our neighbor’s property.

“Where’s your bike?” I ask.

“Too much trouble with the food,” he replies. We walk to the front steps and load the bread into the plastic bag he has. “Thanks very much,” he says again.

“You’re very welcome; we all get by with a little help from our friends,” I respond, smiling. He doesn't seem to recognize the philosophical jewel I have just given him.

He walks back the way he had come. I hear him say, “Thanks; thank you very much. Thanks.” I restart my lawn mower.
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Monday, May 18, 2015

Back to the Apple

I love my gadgets.  Part of it is the novelty, I'll admit that.  They've also made my life better in a lot of ways.  Music and talk radio any time you like, for one.

When smart phones first came out, I knew that was for me.  I was disappointed when I found out they were almost $100 a month to have one.  I knew that would change eventually, and I was right, but in the meantime I had one option.  Apple made the ipod touch, and it had no competitors.

Nothing else offered mobile computing without the cellular connection.  First I just used WIFI.  Later I moved on to a mobile hotspot.  I loved that thing, and use it for hours everyday; reading, music, podcasts, and so on.

I was familiar with Apple being on the cutting edge.  At that point I'd purchased several ipods, and none had competitors at the time.  Yes, latter competitors came along, but by then Apple had something new.

There was of course a downside to Apple.  Having no true competitors made them a sudo monopoly, and they acted like it.  They used DRM, and made changes to their products in updates that took away functionality.  They made a habit of taking two steps forward, and one step back, so you'd have to buy the next model that put that function back.

When they purchased just to close down a competitor, I was out.  By then smart phone prices had come down, and I took the opportunity to move on.

But here I am, years later.  Almost all of the Apple products I purchased years ago still work great, and are still very useful and relevant.  My Macbook Air is almost ten years old, and I'm still the guy with a trendy looking slim laptop.  I write this blog post on it now.

Meanwhile, My two and a half year old Note II is outdated, and falling apart for the second time.  I've already done some repairs and spruced it up after the first year.  So I got myself last generation's used, like new, iphone and ipad mini.  And they are... amazing.

Once again, Apple makes me feel like I made a deal with the devil.

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Entreaty for a Post-Easter Retreat

An annual retreat is coming
the Thursday after Easter.
Last year’s gifts were many,
they still delight my soul.

What to do this year ...
What is it that I seek?

I want to ask you, God,
to help me grow once more;
to expand my heart and mind
to know for sure that You’re there.

Dare I ask so much so soon
right after celebrating Easter,
the greatest spiritual event of all?
How dare I frame the question?

“Well, yes, I dissed Easter,
did Lent without growth,
but now … I ask Your help
for my second annual retreat?”

But truly I worked at Lent;
praying, fasting, giving alms,
giving You your due and
hoping, too, I might benefit.

Easter is arriving,
the retreat follows;
both of them excite me
please open me to grace.
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Monday, May 11, 2015

Judge Me

Since my last blog post, a friend posted a general comment on Facebook.  She thanked all of those who like her for who she is, and for not judging every thing she does.  I figure I should probably come here and rant again.

How do people not see how important it is to be judged?

We are a social species.  We want to interact with others, and I'm not talking about the kind of interactions experienced between two gears.  We want to engage the mind of our fellow human beings.  We want to be loved for who we are.  I'm not just a human; I'm this human.  I'm Benjamin.

How can I like someone for who she is without judging who she is?  90% of Wikipedia editors are men.  Men are four times more likely to ask for a raise.  I don't think this fear of judging and being judged is entirely on the female half of society, but our preferences are definitely skewed.

As for my friend?  I told her I've judged her and I decided I like who she is.  Sometimes the truth is be the lesser of two evils.  Other times the truth is just great.

Sunday, May 10, 2015

A Digital Device for Seniors

“Press 2 if you would like to leave a testimonial about how much you love your Senior Tablet.”

Ellie and Loretta saw an ad in the St Paul paper for a Tablet for Seniors, designed to get seniors into today’s digital world. It was a compelling ad; Loretta had a smart phone but the tiny “keys,” text, icons and everything else made it hard. Yet she yearned to participate in the digital world.

Ellie asked what I thought. “Well … large icons, large keys, easy set-up, free cellular internet” … “I want one.”

 “That’s a good thing; we ordered one for Loretta. She’s very excited about getting it. She’ll be even more thrilled to learn you want one.”

Ellie had the first crack at setting the tablet up. She configured Loretta’s email but was unable to do more, and asked for help.

I started the custom ( Ubi ) browser. It was slow in the extreme. I started the standard Android browser; it failed to go to any URLs. I tried the App Store, resulting in an ever-spinning icon. I tried a phone call, then a text: “You have too little money in this account.” Both Ellie and I thought the system was missing something critical and foundational; this one thing, we thought, would solve all the symptomatic issues we were having. I took the tablet home.

I first connected it to our Wi-Fi.  Except for texting and calling, everything that hadn’t worked worked. I suspected Wi-Fi provided speed adequate to do things while the free cell network did not. I called the help desk.

 “Press 1 if you would like to order, Press 2 if you would like to leave a testimonial about how much you love your Senior Tablet, Press 3 for help.” Option 2 amused me but I pushed 3. A technician quickly answered. He confirmed some things and taught me others. The free internet connection is too slow for the Android Browser, hence the Ubi browser. Connection speed prohibits Ubi from playing both audio and video. It is too slow for the App Store. There is a second SIM slot, though, which would accept Loretta’s T-Mobile SIM card, and this would provide adequate speed.

Eager to check this we took Loretta’s phone and the tablet to a T-Mobile store. Unbelieving, the representative put a generic SIM card in the second SIM slot; the phone app worked. He inserted Loretta’s SIM and that worked, too. Amazement ensued. “I know a lot of customers who would like to have this.”  I was most interested in whether it had the required speed and was encouraged by the few things I tried.

We “casually chatted” with the representative, talking about the cellular plans we have. We determined that we could save $55 of the total $165 we were paying our 3 providers by signing up for T-Mobile’s Family plan, and none of us would experience a service downgrade of any kind. We thanked him, said we’d think about it. He pointed out that Ellie could unlock her phone and keep it, Loretta would keep the tablet, and I could get a SIM card in Loretta’s old phone and we’d not have to invest a nickel in hardware ( and I would have a better phone ). We said we’d think hard about it.

We took the tablet, now functioning as a large ( but not unwieldy ) phone to Loretta’s. I spent the rest of the evening evaluating it. “I want one.”

Ellie got up the next morning to find Loretta tinkering with her new device. Ellie texted me to tell me. I texted Loretta ( I hear you like your device ); she texted me back, virtually right away ( wohoo ). Within another 2-1/2 minutes ( exaggerating slightly ) we decided to go to the nearest T-Mobile store and sign up for the family plan.

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Monday, May 4, 2015

The Value of Love

The other day I was approached in downtown Saint Paul on my way to work.  This fact is not shocking.  There are often people around here looking for money or a cigarette.  This one eventually spat out, "God loves you," when I wouldn't stop for him.

It's too bad I was in a hurry.  I would have stopped for that.  Religion is something I think about a lot, and I would have been happy to share my thoughts on the subject.  Instead I let him know that he's not real, and moved on.

But he did get me thinking.  Assuming there is a god and he does love me, you then need to ask an important question.  "Why?"  I love a number of people to some degree.  Like everything in my life, I do it for reasons.  I love them for who they are.  At least I love them for who I perceive them to be.

Assuming there is a god, and he has some idea of who I am, is that why he loves me?  Does he love me who who I am, or does he love everyone?  How does this man know that his god loves me unless his god does love everyone?  And if his god loves everyone, regardless of who they are, then how could you say that he loves me for who I am?

Perhaps he does not make that claim.  But then you have to wonder about the value of the love of someone who you've never met, and loves everyone indiscriminately.  I've never been in love, but I'm sure it would be critical that I love her for who she is, and she feel the same.  If she loved everyone indiscriminately, than this would be impossible.  What kind of relationship could someone have who doesn't care about who a person is as an individual?  Could you call that a personal relationship?

How can anyone really value unconditional love?

Saturday, May 2, 2015

It's an Exciting Time

 “Well, yes, I guess I could.”

Ellie, Loretta and I planned to celebrate Ellie’s birthday on Sunday. We had a rather full plate; Loretta wanted to attend a memorial for a friend and Ellie wanted to go to a family celebration of her cousin Rosemary’s 65th year of being a vowed Catholic nun. The memorial service and the family celebration were both open houses, scheduled from 2:00 until 4:00. We believed we could get to both if we started early enough. Loretta wanted to leave the memorial before a scheduled 2:30 program of some kind.

The restaurant was not at all crowded. Unfortunately, almost as soon as we sat down, Loretta realized that she was feeling quite ill; “If I had felt like this when we left, I would not have come. Kind of woozy, a little nauseated.”

Not good; Loretta clearly needed to go home, and both Ellie and I wanted her to do that. Fortunately, we were not far from Loretta’s. Ellie took her home, I waited, and Ellie came back in what seemed like an instant. I wrote in my journal while waiting.

We drank a bloody Mary, ate a leisurely breakfast, had a bite of dessert. A major topic of our conversation was our concern for Loretta and how she was feeling.

We returned to Loretta’s, expecting to find her sleeping, or in bed, certainly not feeling very well. Wrong on all counts. She was up and about, had eaten a piece of toast, and was interested in determining what had taken us so long to get back. She still wanted to go to the Memorial Service.

It was well after 2:00; we’d never make it before the program began. The afternoon was looking like an exhausting expenditure of energy on disconnected activity, something each of us disliked. “You could go to Rosemary’s celebration and represent us,” Ellie said to me.

No, no, I hate that kind of thing,” my gut said. “Well, yes, I guess I could,” I actually replied. Though I am not fond of going into large social gatherings alone, I did not hesitate to take up this task, and I was quickly on my way.

I had been to this location several times. I parked the car further away than I was accustomed to and noticed, as I walked in the brightly lit spring day, that I was looking forward to the gathering and eagerly anticipating seeing some of Ellie’s cousins.

After some searching inside, I found  the gathering. Some familiar faces were missing but plenty of familiar ones were present. I paid proper respect to Sr Rosemary, spoke to several of Ellie’s cousins and their spouses, told the story of why Ellie was not with me at several tables, and was told that I was doing a fine job representing us. “However,” more than one of them said, “both of you better be at the family reunion up north on June 20. You got the ‘save the date notice,’ the actual invitation, and now I’m personally reminding you.”

When I walked back to my car it occurred to me that I was nearly weightless, and it wasn’t the fine spring-like weather. I had quite enjoyed myself.

Several years ago, had this need come up, I would have fought, covertly I am sure, to avoid doing it, and I may have been successful. This time, virtually immediately, I was on board with this idea of going alone. Someone asked what the difference is, several years ago until now. “I’m still growing up,” is the answer I came up with. “Spiritually and emotionally; it’s an exciting time.”
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